Last night, I was ten minutes late for bellringing practice. With my hood up, I walked through the rain, listening to the rounds and call changes. I could tell a couple of the learners were ringing: there was too big a gap between some of the bells near the back, then a bit of clashing. It still sounded beautiful, most especially because the bells had been half-muffled, ready for the Remembrance Day service on Sunday. A piece of soft leather is tied to one side of each clapper to soften the sound on the back-stroke. The street lamps kept catching the layer of bright leaves on the pavement, as a haunting sound came from the bell tower. First, the sound of six bells, then a strange echo, like the faint sound of a piano up in an attic room.

We only ring half-muffled for Remembrance Day and for the few funerals where ringing takes place. I always find it strangely beautiful and moving.

Kafka on the Shore

Last week, I read Kafka on the Shore by Murakami. I was mesmerised. Very few books have swept me away like this.

The Lord of the Rings is among them. In the sixth form, I refused to read it. Being an arrogant little punk, I was suspicious of a book that so many of my peers raved about. Luckily for me, my first friend at University insisted I read it and lent me her copy. Despite having an A level in English lit, I had never read anything like it. Back in 1972, there simply wasn’t as much fantasy literature around. I was, of course, entranced. Wales, where I studied, suddenly transformed itself into Middle Earth. I shall be for ever grateful to my friend, Polly.

Probably the next book to have this effect on me was The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J P Donleavy. This was recommended by a guy I worked for as a systems programmer at Addenbrookes Hospital. He also recommended Kurt Vonnegut, another author who made an immeasurable contribution to my life.

There are so many wonderful books, but, occasionally, one grabs you by the throat. Kafka on the Shore just did that to me.


I’m very pleased that coffee has become part of my life. For years, I was convinced that I didn’t like it and, in any case, it gave me headaches. I spent so many holidays in Europe, desperate for a decent cup of tea. Any cup of tea! It had not really dawned on me that my dislike of coffee was down to the fact that my early experiences included cups of Camp coffee (ie chicory essence) at my auntie’s and some cheap jars of instant.

A year ago, when my son went to live in Sweden, he left behind his coffee grinder and Aeropress. Now, making a delicious cup of coffee is part of my morning routine. I grind a scoop and a half of beans for fifteen seconds. I put these into the Aeropress and add water, freshly boiled and then left to cool down for twenty seconds. I stir the mixture for ten seconds and then leave it for a further twenty. Finally I turn it over onto the top of my cup and push it down through the filter, topping up with water.

I find my favourite beans on a stall at the monthly Producers’ market. It’s a small company from Rhyl called Mug Run Coffee Roasting (mug-run.com). Each month, the guy has new delights on offer with lovely tasting notes. I’ve been enjoying some beans from Rwanda, but they’ve come to the end of the season. Seasons? I never even thought about that! So, a week tomorrow, I’ll find out what’s new.

Minor Keys

At last, I feel well enough to practise my violin again. I should explain that I’m only a few months into this, so most things I play sound pretty ropey. Still, it’s nice to play along to the practice track on the CD. It sounds better when you’re playing along with someone else.

One of the pieces I practised today is called ‘Greek Night Out.’ I remarked to my teacher that I liked it, and it reminded me of a Klezmer piece I’d played called ‘Jewish Wedding.’ ‘They’re both in a minor key,’ she replied. ‘This one’s B minor.’

When I got home, I looked at the key signature and thought, ‘That’s D major, surely?’ I’m just working through the Grade 1 theory book so, you know, I’m pretty hot on this stuff! I wondered what the key signature for B minor looked like, and, sure enough, it’s the same as the key signature for D major. In fact, I learned, to find the relative minor, you just go down three semitones (as in D to B). The key signature remains the same.

But, how does it sound so different? The piece I’m playing starts on D, and it doesn’t have that many bars. It’s a beginners’ piece, after all. And yet, it has an entirely different sound from a D major piece. I need to ask my teacher how you can tell, just by looking at the score. Wow, music, it’s so mysterious!


This week, I’ve been clobbered by some bug that has kept me coughing most of the night and left me feeling lousy. I’ve had to duck out of going to bellringing practices, a lunchtime concert, a Pilates class and my violin lesson. The cabbages on my allotment have probably been eaten by badgers. I managed a bit of shopping at the market yesterday, and that’s it.

Well, sort of. Actually, I’ve done lots of writing and reading, unencumbered by guilty thoughts of where else I ought to be and what else I should be doing. Among other things, I’m halfway though Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I’ve fallen in love with his writing.

All the stuff I get to do is great, and I’m really lucky to be able to do it. But sometimes it feels good to hide away from all the usual obligations and expectations. I’m going to do this more often, without the need for unwelcome germs as a prompt.

The Market Piano

There’s a community piano in Shrewsbury indoor market. It’s great. All sorts of people use it. Quite often, someone is having a go at a simple tune. Sometimes people bring their sheet music along and entertain the shoppers for an hour or so. Today, it sported a notice, which read, ‘Children must be accompanied by an adult if they wish to play the piano. Failure to do so may result in the piano being removed. Thank You.’

‘Thank You’? Hah! There was no-one around, and I almost whipped out my pen and wrote ‘Meanies’ on the bottom. I suppose I’m not the one responsible for keeping it in tune, but still. As a poor kid, whose mum couldn’t afford piano lessons for me, and who frequently went around unaccompanied, I’d have loved to have had the chance to make some sound on a musical instrument.

Later, I saw three kids playing excerpts from Chopsticks and having fun on the piano. They were unaccompanied. Great!