Magnificent – a fun evening with Elbow

The beautiful grounds of Hampton Court Palace

We went to see Elbow in concert on Friday night. It was a very beautiful evening in the impressive setting that is Hampton Court Palace. The slight breeze carried the band’s powerful, haunting melodies and clever, clever lyrics to the delighted ears of every Elbow fan.

“Another sunrise with my sad captains, with who I choose to lose my mind. And if it’s so we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time.” (My Sad Captains)

After a picnic on the bright green grass of the historic gardens, we took our seats in the Palace courtyard for the concert. The section we were sitting in still had a few empty seats, apart from one in which a young man – a modest 6’7” in stockinged feet, I’d guess – sat, in front and slightly to the left of my seat. That gave me a perfect view of the back of his head, around which I could see the fringes of the stage lights. I wondered who’d invited Murphy and his Law to join us again.

(Murphy has accompanied us to a few concerts. Once to Kew the Music at Kew Gardens, when a woman pushed her way past us halfway through the concert to stand right in front of us. When my husband reached up to tap her on the shoulder and ask if she’d mind swapping places with us, she scoffed and told us to sue her for being tall. We also listened to Lisa Stansfield at one of her concerts, and caught occasional glimpses of her through the beer mugs of a group of people standing in front of us at Scala in King’s Cross. And then, in the midst of 65,000 fellow revellers at Hyde Park, waiting for Barbra Streisand to make her appearance, I asked a man in front of me if he wouldn’t mind shifting ever so slightly (I’m talking millimetres) to his left so I could see past him. He swung around, looked me up and down, and told me he wasn’t Jesus Christ and asked how the [expletive] I expected him to do that.

Those extreme experiences are fun memories to laugh about. Little knots in the thread of our music concert tapestry, haha!)

Back to Hampton Court Palace…

The concerts take place in a courtyard through a couple of those archways

My disappointment must have bored into the back of the young man’s head, as he moved into the empty seat to his left, giving me an unencumbered view of the stage. Yay! But that joy was to be short-lived; approximately seventeen seconds later a family arrived, and took up that and two more of those very seats to his left. The kind chap moved back to his original seat. Darn. Now what? Ha! There were still a few empty seats to his right…

The seats all around the venue started to fill up, and I kept an eye on those empty seats in front of us with greedy longing. One of those was mine, and I willed it to remain empty. And, as the concert began, it did. I waited to see if there were any late-comers, so enjoyed the opening number, Dexter & Sinister, from the very very edge of my seat, and the very very edge of my left buttock.

Guy Garvey, Elbow’s frontman and gifted lyricist, welcomed us warmly and told us how lovely it was to be performing again. He said it felt like they’d come home, and we all agreed. I decided to stay put for the dreamy, beautiful Mirrorball.

“We made the moon our mirrorball
The streets an empty stage
The city sirens violins
Everything has changed.”

The coast then looked clear so I took my cue, and my cushion, and moved to one of those seats in front of us. Ah, what bliss – with two empty seats in front of me, I had an uninterrupted view of the beautiful stage. It looked fabulous, and Fly Boy Blue/Lunette sounded sublime. I looked around, satisfied and, okay, a little smug.

The thing they say about pride also applies to smug, I guess. As I turned back to look at the stage as The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver began, two tall people nestled into those empty seats in front of me. After giving each other a few excited cuddles, which blocked my view completely, they settled into their own seats and I could see the stage – just! – between their heads. Until, that is, she took out her phone and started to video The Birds. I didn’t really feel like watching the rest of the concert through her phone, so I moved back to the very very edge of my original seat and, once more, to the very very edge of my left buttock. The irony of Elbow’s next number, The Bones of You, wasn’t lost on me.

Such a beautiful setting, under an azure sky, on a warm June evening

On the odd occasion when the guy in front of me moved his head slightly to the left, it wasn’t too bad, really. I was able to relax into the middle of my seat for the wonderful My Sad Captains, and a rousing and gorgeous Magnificent. After that, the couple two rows in front stood up and left. The move looked permanent, so I took my cushion and moved back to my first second seat to enjoy the wry Grounds for Divorce.

“There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.”

I should have known those lyrics to be a portent of the couple’s return to their seats. When they sat down, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I noticed the phone wasn’t coming out of the woman’s handbag, and the two weren’t cuddling as much this time, so I stayed. About fifty-five seconds later, they leapt to their feet, and so did everyone else. We all sang and danced and, as the band left the stage, all 3,000 of us clapped and stomped our feet to get the band back on for an encore.

Elbow obliged, and gave us the gentle Lippy Kids before getting us to sing along and harmonise with them in the rousing, fabulous, exultant One Day Like This. And then Elbow took their bows, thanked us for being there and, to thunderous applause, cheers and whistles, bid us goodnight.

After the past few years of lockdown, isolation, and no live events, the words of Elbow’s exquisite final song sum up perfectly the joy and triumph of a welcome return to live music:

“Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right.”

Indeed.

Sunshine signing off for now!

Do you hear what I hear?

Morag, the narrator of my novel, Sweet Charity, comments a lot on the funny things people say. Whether it’s Coach’s delightful malapropisms, or Morag’s own southern African pronunciation that others tease her about, language features a lot. So I thought I’d share five of my family favourites.

  1. I loved it when our boys said or heard things differently. Like when he was in his first year of school, our younger son won an award for swimming. But when the teacher called his name (initial plus surname) to go up and collect his certificate, he didn’t move. The teacher repeated his name, and still he sat still. Someone nudged him and said, ‘That’s you!’ He said, ‘No, it isn’t. My name starts with a Curly C, not a see.’
  2. That same son wanted to be one of the Three Kings of Orientare in his nativity play, and his older brother was shocked when he heard someone do a square word. They both loved strangled eggs for breakfast, and their favourite movie for a time was Homerlome. And when our younger son asked me to send his hair apart, I just couldn’t work out what he meant, until he folded his arms in high drama and told me he wanted his hair like his older brother’s: sent apart.
  3. Both of our sons thought their grandfather came from the Outer Hebridean island, North Joost (as opposed to North Uist – the Afrikaans name and the island name have similar pronunciations), and, until recently, I thought the words to Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light included “wrapped up like a douche”, rather than “revved up like a deuce”. My husband still teases me about when I told him I’d just heard about Cher’s new album, ‘Five Barrel Eyes’. How does ‘I Paralyze’ make any more sense, I ask you?
  4. When we were little, my sister and I hurried each other up to get ready to go to the pant of Daddy’s, after our dad had told us we were going to see a pantomime. My sister thought patience was a virgin and I thought the Serviette Union got a lot of mentions on the (very boring) radio news channels.
  5. A couple of years after we got married, my husband and I went on a long, extended holiday to the UK and Europe, from our home in Harare, Zimbabwe. We spent the last three weeks of our three-month trip, completely broke and living off very little but sunshine and sea breezes on the Greek island of Santorini. We got home thin, hungry, and tanned. When I returned to my gym, someone asked me how I’d got so tanned. When I said, ‘Greece’, she was amazed. She told me she’d tried oil before, but it had never worked. That amused me so much, I wrote it up and sent it in to Readers’ Digest. (Remember those?) They called me, asked me to put them in touch with anyone (not family members) who could verify the story and, once they’d done so, they came and took my photo and published the anecdote. That whole story still makes me chuckle.

What words or sayings have you heard differently or got wrong? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Introducing Morag and Sweet Charity

I am so thrilled to let you know that I’ve now published my long-awaited novel! Sweet Charity is the story of Morag, a Zimbabwean/Saffa, coming to terms with working for a London charity/non-profit.

It’s:

  1. A light-hearted satirical story of Morag and her co-workers.
  2. Viewed through the lens of Morag’s crushing neuroses and wild exaggerations and everything.
  3. About Morag’s and the team’s efforts to pull their charity out of a potential disaster when an especially annoying colleague tweets an awful and malicious tweet.

Along with Morag’s keen observations and wry humour, which she often shares in lists, the story takes you on a journey through office politics, teamwork, anger management, love, redemption and everything. Oh, and there’s also a good helping of sport.

I started writing the story when I was on sabbatical here in Cape Town two years ago. I spent many early morning hours walking along our local beach, developing Morag’s voice and imagining the book’s cast of weird and wonderful characters, and crafting the storyline! So, it’s fitting that I’m back here on holiday, walking along that same beach in the mornings, thinking about sharing the news that I’ve now published it.

Two years in the writing, about 25 years in the brewing – I hope you’ll enjoy the finished product. Please do leave a review if you do!

It’s currently available only on Amazon, on kindle and paperback, although it will be more widely available in due course. You can find it here in the UK, and here in the USA.

Sunshine signing off for today!

My writing circles

I started my Sunshine in London blog many years ago, as a random collection of posts about job-hunting, living in and exploring London as a newly-arrived Zimbabwean/South African, and pretty much anything else I could think of. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done – not only did it give me a chance to write every day of the week, but it opened my world to the most beautiful, generous and wonderful community of fellow writers right across the globe. I learnt so much from reading your amazing writing every day – it was a fun and hugely valuable learning experience for me. Thank you to every single one of you.

So to bring us back to today – the final day of 2021 – I am thrilled to announce that I will soon be publishing my first novel! For more years than I care to remember, I’ve longed to write a book – I just never knew how to approach it, or where to start. And almost exactly two years ago, I just went ahead and started. I had boxes full of notebooks in which I’d noted quirky and random observations from the past couple of decades; the universe had served me all the characters and context on a silver platter! I just needed to find a hook and build my story around it.

I started writing, and I kept going. Not always forwards – often backwards, many times sideways, sometimes in circles, but always learning. I annoyed myself intensely many times. But I followed my nose and my instincts and I hope you’ll enjoy the final product – a feel-good comedy.

Keeping hold of all of my characters and story threads and plot-lines sometimes felt like I was doing all my grocery shopping without a basket or a trolley. I hoped like mad I hadn’t dropped anything and I’d reach the till with everything I’d set out to buy.

Having started writing at the beginning of 2020, just before the global pandemic began, I ended 2020 with my first draft and 2021 with my final manuscript. Morag, my main character and Sweet Charity’s narrator, is as nervous as a kitten to make her debut and hopes she doesn’t make an idiot of herself and everything. She feels exactly the way I did the first time I pressed ‘publish’ on this blog, and she really really hopes you’ll like her. I do, too.

Sunshine in London signing off for now, and wishing you all a blessed, beautiful and peaceful 2022.

When work-from-home becomes work-from-the-office again

Having been on furlough between April and November last year, I’ve now been back at work full-time, from home, since the end of 2020. Our organisation’s agile working policy means we all return to the office again next month, for 40 percent of our full-time hours. I’m looking forward to it in some ways, especially the part where we all get to see each other in person for the first time in yonks. But I’m also wondering how it’s going to be after living in a different world for the past 19 months. (And I told you about that one disastrous day I had, returning to the office a few months ago.)

When the world went into lockdown last March, my colleagues and I – along with millions of others – had to adapt, at pace, to working from home. It soon became a natural way of working and I’ve just been thinking about how tricky it could be when we start going back to how things used to be, sort of.

Take office meetings, for example. At the moment, in our organisation, we meet on Teams and, for the most part, these meetings are efficient and productive. And really easy to set up too.

But will we just transfer our working-from-home ways to our working-from-the-office ways? How will it all look?

A global pandemic aside, here are my top ten (light-hearted) questions about our imminent return to in-person meetings:

  1. Will we bring our laptops and phones into meeting rooms?
    I’m not talking about using our devices for taking meeting notes, I mean, how else will we email, book holidays, chat to friends and pootle around on social media when meetings get a bit boring?
  2. What happens if we’re having a bad hair day?
    Without the option to turn our cameras off, will it be acceptable to put a cardboard box on our heads just while the meeting’s happening?
  3. How will we take deliveries?
    Will we change our delivery addresses to the office and, when the front doorbell goes, just jump up and go to collect our deliveries? Will we bring them back into the meeting room and open them, hoping no-one will notice us doing that?
  4. Will we wear acceptable clothing on our full bodies?
    It feels like my trousers and skirts and dresses have gone way out of fashion since the world went mad. What will we wear, after almost two years of limiting acceptable clothing to our top halves? Is a silk shirt, shorts and slippers an okay look for the office, do you think?
  5. What will we do when our meetings finish?
    Will we wave goodbye to each other, stay seated in our chairs in the meeting room, close our laptops and yawn and stretch? And then faff around on our phones, make a cup of coffee and gently return to our email inboxes? How will we remember to go back to our actual desks?
  6. What about unforeseen interruptions?
    Will our family members and housemates pop their heads into our meeting rooms to ask about the mouldy cheese in the fridge, or to ask if we’ve put tomatoes on the shopping list? Will they wander around in the background, half dressed and on their way to the shower or to get something from the fridge? Will pets come to work with us and walk across the meeting table?
  7. How will we survive without the mute button?
    Will we just pretend we can’t hear certain colleagues when they’re going on a bit too long? Or just speak over them? Also, will we ask people if they’re still there if they haven’t said anything for a while?
  8. What happens if the meetings get boring?
    I can see the cardboard box might have multiple uses. Will we put those on when the meeting gets boring, so we can get up and have a quick wander around the kitchen or the garden, or go and have a quick natter with a housemate or family member? Or just to answer or make a random phone call?
  9. How will we manage sneaking in a late breakfast?
    Will we just eat our bowls of cereal in front of each other, or do this under the bad-hair cardboard box too?
  10. What happens when there are too many of us for the meeting room?
    I make use of the large gallery preview on Teams, when there are more than nine people in a meeting. That means I can have everyone on my screen, but the more people there are, the smaller their images are on my screen. What’s the in-person version of that? Will we all just pile on top of each other, squeeze each other off the table, or what?

What else do you think we’ll do when we return to in-person meetings? Silly answers only, please.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Lessons from a lapsed commuter

I think I’ve forgotten how to commute. It used to come easily to me. But as I discovered yesterday, commuting into central London isn’t really like riding a bike. After not doing so for 15 months (commuting, I mean – I haven’t ridden a bike for ages), the skill didn’t return as naturally as you’d expect. Here are some lessons I learnt.

That’s Tower Bridge

1. Make sure your umbrella isn’t broken.

Okay, I know I chose the worst day possible to go into the office for a day, after a period split down the middle between furlough and working-from-home. But the challenges began when my umbrella broke. It started to drizzle as I left home, and I pulled my jacket hood up over my newly-straightened and now-long hair. A few minutes in, it was clear the hood wasn’t enough to keep me dry, so I put my umbrella up. (I’ve had little use for my umbrella in my current commute from the bedroom to the lounge.)

The rain was steady but gentle. Not enough to make my umbrella collapse, though, which is what I now realised was happening. I pulled it up to get that reassuring little click, and the entire shaft broke in two. I now had half an umbrella in each hand (I hate it when that happens). I managed to put the two pieces together again, but I had to hold the two halves of the umbrella together for the rest of my walk to the pier.

(Full disclosure here: part of the reason I was so eager to go into the office was because it meant I could travel in by boat. It’s much more fun when it’s not pouring with rain, or at least when your umbrella’s still in one piece.)

As I approached the boat, I tried to close my umbrella but it wasn’t co-operating. Like a child not wanting to do what you’re asking them to do, it went all stiff-legged and plain refused. I talked kindly and gently to it and was about to throw it into the river (not really, I wouldn’t do that to my umbrella, or the river, or my child, promise), when it folded itself up. I put on my mask, tapped in with my Oyster card, and tried to hide my frustration and my wayward brolly as the nice man welcomed me on to the Thames Clipper.

2. Wearing a mask is not just about wearing a mask.

I learnt yesterday that you can’t do the following things all at once. They don’t work well together:

  • listening to a podcast with corded earphones
  • wearing a mask that has loops around your ears
  • wearing hoop earrings
  • having newly-straightened now-long hair.

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. But the combination of these four things involved a disproportionate amount of faffing. And then when the cord of my earphones got caught under the arm of the seat as I stood up, it pulled nearly all those things off my head at once. I think I still have a bit of whiplash.

3. Sometimes memories are more romantic than reality.

(a) I alighted at Bankside and managed to get my umbrella open and in one piece (ish) again. I couldn’t wait to take the wonderful walk past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, gazing at the changing tides of the Thames, St Paul’s in the distance, before walking past the Tate Modern, through a stylish Richard Rogers-designed complex and on up to the office.

But, to be honest, it’s not that much fun when it feels like someone’s walking alongside you pouring a bucket of water over your head all the way. The rain was relentless and sometimes horizontal, matched only (apart from the horizontal bit) by my determination to stop the rift between the two halves of my umbrella. Add to that puddles that required a diving suit and snorkel to get through, and you’ll understand the walk wasn’t as much fun as I’d hoped it would be. Oh, and I didn’t even see if St Paul’s was still there. I think it is, though. I’d know, otherwise, right?

(b) In my previous commuting life, I had a regular morning stop at a coffee shop a few blocks from the office. I got to know the server there; she was a delightful and chirpy, chatty young person who got to know me, my reusable cup and my usual order. We’d chat about our various interests; she knew I was writing a book, and I knew she loved writing poetry. ‘I think up poems when I’m out and about, and I don’t always remember them,’ she told me one morning. ‘Can’t you use a notes app on your phone?’ I asked. ‘I don’t have that kind of phone,’ she said.

I bought her a notebook so she could write down her poems. The day I gave it to her turned out to be my last day of work in central London before lock-down. I’d written a note in the front of the notebook, encouraging her creativity. She loved it and wanted to hug me to say thank you, but we couldn’t.

The coffee shop is still open, but it’s somehow lost the charm it had before. When I got there yesterday, I looked through the window from under my broken umbrella and the unfamiliar face behind the counter pointed at her watch and told me they weren’t yet open. I went back a while later and she had no recollection of the person I’d met there last year. ‘She must have been a temp, I don’t know anyone of that name,’ she said, with little interest in me or my usual order.

Shradha, if you’re out there, I hope you’re still writing your poetry. You brightened my mornings last year.

4. Make sure your backpack’s waterproof.

I got to the office and to my assigned desk, now called a docking station. I peeled my soaking jacket off and tried to stop my sopping trousers from sticking to my legs. I took my notebooks out of my backpack and both were sodden. So my backpack, like my umbrella, wasn’t waterproof. And when I went to the bathroom later, I saw it wasn’t only my notebooks that had gone curly and weird from the rain. My previously-straightened and still-long hair had done the same. (Oh, another lesson I learnt: don’t forget to take a hairbrush with you. I spent the whole day with what looked like a long, damp shaggy carpet on my head.)

5. It’s weird the things you miss about the office.

I had a number of Teams meetings online yesterday and in almost every one of them, my colleagues working from home said how they missed the trees they could see through the window behind my docking station. And they cooed to see trains going past in the distance too. At least that kept their gaze away from my weird-looking-hair silhouette. On the other hand, I loved being able to see some colleagues and the office again in 3D, and being able to chat to colleagues from merely walking distance away. There was a bit of shouting because of the distance and the masks, but still.

6. London is still amazing.

It was sad to see how many shops had closed since I’d last been in central London, and the amount of empty office space. But I was encouraged to see places that were still open and some signs of the buzzing central London that I know and love. A few blocks from the office, I stopped when I saw a group of people standing together, posing under see-through umbrellas. I didn’t want to walk into their photo so when they started walking, I did too, and walked straight into their film shoot. I hadn’t seen the camera crew under the arches around the corner. It’ll be easy to spot me in the midst of that group – I’m the one with a broken umbrella.

I was glad the rain had ended when I left the office at the end of the day, as my broken umbrella had now been assigned to the bin. I’m sure I’ll get used to commuting again, I will grow to love going into London on the boat again, and I will get a new umbrella. But I probably should have put in some practice before yesterday. My shoulders still feel tense today; I’m not sure if that’s from the weight of my backpack, the incident with my earphones, or the tension from gripping my umbrella. One thing’s for sure, my Wednesday hair appointment can’t come quickly enough.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Two Sirs, with love

It was beneath a warm Tuscan sky in July that we took our seats for the second gig of the 19th Lucca Summer Festival. It was surreal in so many ways.

Our seats were in the front row, the outdoor venue (Piazza Napoleone, in the heart of the historic walled city) was magnificent, we were on our first-ever trip to Italy and we were about to see two legends on stage: Sir Van Morrison and Sir Tom Jones. I was lost for words.

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The couple sitting next to us arrived shortly after we did. She was beside herself, and I couldn’t help but engage with her. While we were there for Van Morrison, she – and her reluctant partner – were there to see Tom Jones.

“I don’t know what it is – whenever I see him, I just go funny all over. He doesn’t have to sing or anything – just looking at him, I just go all funny. I’ve never known anything like it. He doesn’t like it,” she said, pointing to her disengaged, eye-rolling partner.

On the dot of 8.30pm, Van Morrison and his band opened the show with the beautiful and lyrical Moondance. With characteristic lack of engagement with the audience, Van moved on to The Way Young Lovers Do and Magic Time, with its superb trumpet solo.

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He followed with By His Grace, Someone Like You (the romance in both the melody and lyrics floor me, as did the performance of Van’s stunning backing vocalist, Dana Masters), Whenever God Shines His light, a fabulous remix of Have I told you lately, and Wild Night.

I’ve learnt that when Van picks up his harmonica, he starts to play it upside-down. He did so and remedied it quickly in the intro to the stunning Enlightenment, and again enthralled with his saxophone in Little Village.

It was at this point that my neighbour demonstrated what ‘going all funny’ meant. She jumped six inches off her seat, her legs went flying and kicking, and she screamed spontaneously. She was the first of thousands to scream in adoration as Sir Tom Jones strode across the stage in front of us to join his good friend, Van, for What Am I Living For?

It was Sir Tom who introduced their second number – “This is one we actually recorded together,” – Sometimes We Cry.

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Sir Tom left the stage and Van picked up the pace with a medley of Baby Please Don’t Go / Don’t Start Crying Now and, as the light began to fade, Here Comes the Night. He followed with the lilting and romantic In the Afternoon / Ancient Highway / Raincheck, before strapping on his guitar for The Beauty of the Days Gone By, Why Must I Always Explain, and Think Twice Before You Go.

Van took his cordless mic, and I knew the end of his set was in sight. Not before the popular Brown Eyed Girl and Help Me. A quick “Thank you!” and he walked off the stage.

He responded to the audience’s applause and imploring screams to come back, and we leapt to our feet to his rousing, signature encore: Gloria. Van briefly thanked his band and, at 10pm, left the stage.

I often listen to Van – and on such wonderful occasions as this, watch him – and wonder where the music comes from. Where does he find it? That depth of passion and emotion? His words reflect deep, deep feelings and he writes extraordinary, awe-inspiring music to express it.

I don’t go ‘all funny’ when I see Van. But when I listen to his music, he reaches me in places I didn’t know could be reached. His gift is astonishing, his music sublime. He speaks a lot about ‘transcendence’; I think I’m getting to understand just what he means.

It was 10.30pm, the beautiful Lucca night was gently cooling and Sir Tom walked on to the stage with his fabulous band. After a moving Burning Hell, he greeted the audience in Tom style.

“Everybody feeling all right? Are we gonna have a good time?”

He talked about his years in Las Vegas in the ’60s, and introduced his next song:  Run On.

“I used to spend time with Elvis Presley. After the shows, we’d sing all night – well, he did and I’d listen. He loved gospel music, bless him. I learnt a lot from him.”

His huge band backed him with enthusiasm, a huge amount of fun and jolly fine music. We couldn’t take our eyes off the horn section – the saxophone, trumpet and trombone/tuba players. The three excellent musicians who sang, danced and interpreted the lyrics in such a spirit of fun were a delight to watch!

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Sir Tom followed with the popular Hit Or Miss, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Didn’t It Rain, and the wildly ‘funny-inducing’ Sex Bomb.

“Grazie!” he yelled to the audience. We responded loudly with screams and whistles.

After a brief nod to the recent wins of his much-adored Welsh football team, he talked about his late wife.

“When I used to make a new album, I’d bring it home and play it for my wife, Linda. She always had a favourite song. This was hers on my new album, The Long Lost Suitcase.

After a beautiful and emotional Tomorrow Night, he said, “Ok. Well, here’s a happy song!”

A delightful and high-energy Raise a Ruckus drew huge applause and a huge “Yeah!” from the 76-year-old legend.

Take My Love (I Want to Give it All to You), led into the new Latin-esque Delilah. This got his band dancing and the entire audience singing.

“I love Lucca! It’s humid, and that’s good for the voice. That’s why Italy has so many good singers. And why Wales does too!”

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The Soul of the Man followed, then Elvis Presley Blues – a haunting tribute to Elvis, written by Gillian Welch. The Tower of Song, and Green Green Grass of Home and a samba version of It’s Not Unusual were followed by a raunchy You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Between each number, Sir Tom yelled, “Yeah?” We responded, “Yeah!”, so he yelled, “Oh yeah! Come on!”

After If I Only Knew, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Early In the Morning offered each of Sir Tom’s band members a chance in the spotlight. As  I Wish You Would ended, Tom left the stage and the audience screaming, whistling and shouting for more.

It was past midnight, and Sir Tom and his band came back on stage for Thunderball, with a collage of Bond movie-clips on screen behind them. The beautiful Kiss, a gracious tribute “to the genius that is Prince”, was followed by a song that Tom described as “rock ‘n roll, blues, gospel, with some boogie woogie on the side”. An extraordinarily arranged Strange Things Happening Every Day showcased his band’s energy and depth of talent, and ended the evening on a high.

Sir Tom Jones, to the adoring screams of thousands of devoted – and a whole lot of new – fans, assembled his band members. He introduced each fondly, and then thanked the audience.

“It’s because of you, that we do what we do. Thank you, and God bless you!”

The Two Sirs, the two legends, have 146 years between them. The two friends, with two hugely differing styles, gave us four hours of musical magic. It really was one hell of a gig.

 

 

 

He’s the soul man

We nearly didn’t see Gregory Porter. I’d booked our tickets in July last year and, as the April date grew imminent, I realised I’d noted the date incorrectly. I’m so glad we didn’t miss out. It was a privilege and a joy to experience an evening of beautiful jazz delivered by the soul man.

Gregory PorterNashville-based singer/songwriter, Kandace Springs, opened the concert. Showcasing songs from her new album, Soul Eyes, she also shared a beautiful cover of Roberta Flack’s The first time ever I saw your face.

Porter’s band took the stage to an enthusiastic welcome. Pianist, double bass player, saxophonist, trumpeter, Hammond organist and drummer welcomed the nattily dressed, hat-wearing gentle giant to the stage with beautiful music.

Gregory Porter opened with Holding On from his upcoming new album, Take Me To The Alley. When the audience responded with appreciative applause and whistles, he introduced his band. Throughout the evening, he shared the stage generously with his band. He stepped out of the spotlight at every instrumental solo, and never failed to show appreciation for his band. And so he should – they were a superb match for his liquid velvet voice.

On My Way to Harlem was his second number. Porter clicks his fingers through every song, feeling every beat, every nuance, every note. After some gentle scatting, he brought the number to a close, before moving on to the beautiful Illusion.

“There’s a lot of trouble in the land,” he reflected, before introducing his next number.

“At the end, feel free to join in with me. But not until the end. I love you, but I don’t want to hear you,” he said.

The son of a preacher mother took us to church and brought us back into the room with No Love Dying. We joined in at his command – at the end – and he seemed pleased with our performance.

“There’s a good vibe in here tonight.”

He encouraged us to clap to the rhythm of our hearts in Liquid Spirit. Porter moved across the stage, taking his mic stand with him. The song featured an insane piano solo, and an equally insane drum solo.

The lyrically and melodically exquisite Hey Laura followed, before another clearly personal track from his new album, Don’t Lose Your Steam.

Boy, you hear me calling your name
The bridge is your time
Your engine rolls hot
If the bridges fall down, don’t lose your head of steam.  

“I wrote that for my three-year-old son to help him eat his cereal. Just carry on doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be all right. But especially for my three-year-old.”

As Porter sat down next to the piano, the rest of his band left the stage.

“This next one is called … whatever I feel like,” he said.

He chose the very poignant and beautiful Don’t Be a Fool, which he and his pianist presented with intimacy and tenderness.

His band returned to the stage, and his very smiley double-bass player opened the next number: a rousing and soulful cover of Motown’s 70s hit – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.

Musical Genocide, again with an extraordinary piano solo, and The Consequence of Love followed. Porter, tall and with a towering presence, never hogs the limelight. He appears to revel in the talent of every band member; he feels and appreciates every note.

After another cover – Nat Adderley’s 1960 Work Song, made famous by Nina Simone – followed the moving story of Be Good. This brought with it an outstanding and beautiful sax solo – delicate, sultry, sublime.

An astonishing trumpet solo in 1960 What? – the song inspired by Porter’s own stories of life in Detroit, as well as Martin Luther King’s assassination – brought the concert to a close and the audience, screaming and whooping to its feet. Porter again acknowledged his band, said “God bless you,” to the audience, and walked off the stage.

He came back with the energetic Be Free. He sang his gratitude to the audience and hoped we’d felt the love. He bowed, waved to us and walked off the stage, leaving his band playing. Starting with the pianist, each band member took it in turn to play solo before walking off the stage. The double-bass player – now on an electric bass guitar – and the drummer challenged each other to a musical duel, before the guitarist left the stage with guitar flung over his shoulder.

The drummer held the stage for a further five minutes. He teased us by pretending several times to stop playing, and then continuing his awesomeness. When he eventually stopped, put down his sticks and sauntered off the stage, the audience went crazy.

Give me a blues song, tell the world what’s wrong
And the gospel singer, giving those messages of love
Woah, and the soul man, with your heart in the palm of his hand
Singing his stories of love and pain, woah.

Thank you, Mr Soul Man, for holding us all in the palm of your hand for the evening. What an outstanding band, an awesome concert. Woah!

Sunshine in London signing off for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pocketful of Rye

One of the many wonderful things about living in the UK is that if you’re not already living in a beautiful little town or village, you’re always just a short drive away from one. Mr Sunshine and I have just returned from a short break in an exceptionally beautiful part of England, and it was less than two hours’ drive away.

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Rye is an enchanting, medieval town in the historic county of Sussex. You have only to walk along its cobbled streets and through its narrow alleyways, marvel at its Tudor buildings, and soak in its charm and character to know you’re walking through a town rich in history.

At its heart is the Mermaid Inn, on the beautiful, cobbled, Mermaid Street. Once the haunt of notorious smugglers, the Inn is laden with stories and creaking floorboards. With cellars dating from 1156, the building was rebuilt in 1420. It maintains much of its original character, including crooked walls, higgledy-piggledy staircases and sloping ceilings.

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The Mermaid Inn, on Mermaid Street

We stopped for a drink in the hotel’s Giant’s Fireplace Bar, which we heard boasts the second largest open fireplace in the UK. The barman also shared with us some history of the hotel, which was frequented in the 1700s by local smugglers – most notably the Hawkhurst Gang. He also stage-whispered the whereabouts of the now-not-so-secret passageway into the bar.

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The second oldest open fireplace in the UK

A walk along Rye’s central street introduced us to a range of vintage shops, antique shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and nothing that looked typical of a UK high street. We found Thomas Peacocke’s Rye Grammar School, built in 1636, which is now home to a large store selling second-hand CDs, vinyl and DVDs.

We stepped into Edith’s House, lured by its offering of teas and scones, and it felt like we were sitting in a family home from the 1970s . The walls are papered in textured florals, the crockery and furniture are all a mish-mash of styles and colours, there are doilies on the dining and side tables, an ancient television set, and teapots and old telephones dotted around. Everything about it feels comfortable and welcoming, and the food is outstanding.

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Inside Edith’s House

We walked past the Wobbly Wardrobe, the Hatters House, Simon the Pieman (the oldest tearoom in Rye), and saw that we could buy fossils, crystals and gifts from A Pocket Full of Rye.

The Parish Church of Rye, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and sometimes known as the ‘Cathedral of East Sussex’, is the oldest building in Rye and dates back more than 900 years. It is told that in 1377, when the town was looted and set on fire by French invaders, the church bells were carried off to France. The next year, men from Rye and the neighbouring seaside town of Winchelsea, sailed to Normandy, set fire to two towns and recovered much of what was stolen, including the church bells.

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The churchyard of the Parish of St Mary’s Church

We heard those bells at close quarters , when we visited the church at noon and climbed the 85 stairs to the top of the bell tower. The stairways, ladders and passageways are very narrow and low, with several cautions to ‘Mind your head’. I enunciated one such warning in English, and my very best French and German to Mr Sunshine, and then stepped up and bumped my own head.

From the top of the tower, the views across Rye and surrounding countryside were stunning. You can see from there the second oldest building in Rye – the Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower, which was built in 1249.

As you walk around the bell tower, you can see the three rivers that frame Rye, and in the distance, the sea and a glimpse of Winchelsea.

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The view from the bell tower at the Parish of St Mary’s Church

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Rye Castle – or Ypres Tower – up close and personal

When we visited Winchelsea beach in the early evening, the tide was low. The pebble beach opened out on to acres of sandy shore and it felt like the sea was miles away. (At high tide, as we saw the next day, the beach was a tenth of its low-tide length, and only pebble.)

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Winchelsea beach at low tide

As the light faded and the shadows lengthened, we watched lambs gambol and sheep graze in the green fields across the road, as the sun set beyond them.

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Rye sheep at sunset

We found great, character-filled pubs and restaurants in Rye where we enjoyed excellent fare. We explored some of the countryside around Rye, and discovered places of outstanding beauty and views that went on forever. We stumbled upon a most delightful little place in Pett, called the Tic Tockery: a bespoke hair salon, tearoom and giftshop (yes really). Overlooking rolling hills, the tearoom was filled with homemade cakes and treats and colour and character – unfortunately, we couldn’t stay as they didn’t take card payments and we had no cash on us.

And on our drive home, we found the Five Bells Inn in Brabourne in Kent. This divine little country inn not only served excellent food, using only locally sourced, sustainable, traceable and fairly traded ingredients, but it looked like this:

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The Five Bells in Brabourne

With good food, a peaceful town full of history, beauty and charm, plenty of sleep and some blue sky and spring sunshine, and surprises all along the way, I’m not sure our short break could have been any better. If you get the chance to visit Rye, go.

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

Diamonds and dust

I first posted this piece in the wake of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in 2012.

Yesterday’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant was an extravagant spectacle to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the British throne. In March 1995, in South Africa, the Queen commemorated something similarly historic, with slightly less pomp and ceremony, in a dusty township in South Africa. The occasion was no less grand.

In May 1994, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as President of the newly-democratic South Africa. I remember voting in those historic elections and feeling an overwhelming sense of being part of something special. In March 1995, the Queen and Prince Philip paid their first official visit to the newly-free country.

Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk
Queen Elizabeth II with South African President Nelson Mandela on an official visit to the newly-democratic country in March 1995

At that time, I worked for a non-government organisation that received funding from the British government. Ours was selected as one of two beneficiary organisations in Cape Town that would receive a royal visit.

Planning began in earnest about four months ahead of the visit. The Queen’s time was limited, so we two beneficiaries set up a ‘visit site’ at the other organisation’s premises in Khayelitsha. Their premises proved bigger and more adaptable for the visit than our premises, which were mostly in church halls and community centres.

Khayelitsha is an area of the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa. The Xhosa name means ‘new home’ and it is reputed to be the biggest and fastest growing township in the country. Our organisation worked in that and other communities, to train unemployed people to start their own small businesses.

Being the project manager for the visit, I met three or four times with the royal team of Private Secretary to the Queen, press and police secretaries, as they made regular scoping trips to the country. We faxed letters to each other regularly. Information was paramount, planning was detailed, timing was precise. We learnt fun facts such as:

  • when the Queen drives through residential streets lined with people, she drives at 4mph
  • she always gets out of her car on the right-hand side
  • verified information is required about each person the Queen is due to meet
  • equally, the people who will meet the Queen get the information required for meeting her.

The day dawned: Tuesday 21 March 1995. Human Rights Day in South Africa. We all travelled together to the Khayelitsha venue to get ready for the visit. Everyone was dressed to the nines, ready with their own story to tell the Queen. We were excited; animated. The royal entourage arrived on the dot of their expected time and began to make their way through the itinerary we so painstakingly put together.

I remember seeing the Queen up close and personal and thinking she looked radiant. She had soft, smooth skin and shining blue eyes. She took an interest in each person she met, asked beautifully well-briefed questions and graciously listened to each person’s story. Prince Philip broke away from the entourage and typically adopted a more spontaneous approach. We got wonderful images of him, head back and laughing loudly as he chatted to my colleagues. The Queen, gentle and genial, proved photogenic as always.

I don’t think even the most strident of cynics would have criticised that visit to dusty Khayelitsha in 1995. It was a privilege to be part of a visit that was truly special, relatively and appropriately ordinary and supremely intimate. And most importantly, it took place away from the glare of the media.

For us, months of planning bottlenecked into a 10-minute visit that will stay with each one of us always. The weather was never going to disappoint. It was windy that day, and the sun shone as it always does. Not only was it a royal seal of approval for the micro-enterprise development work that our organisation did, but, more broadly, it was one way of welcoming South Africa back into the international community. No number of boats could have done that quite as perfectly.

Sunshine signing off for today!