Friday 30 January 2009


The happiest and saddest day is when your son arrives home from school and announces he would like to be a chorister. We knew this was a possibility from the very first day we enrolled Sebastian in St George's School but honestly we were hoping he would inherit his singing ability (or lack thereof) from his father and it would not be a topic we would have to navigate.

Sebastian attends St George's School which is the choir school for St George's Chapel which is part of Windsor Castle. St George's School was founded in order to provide an education for the choristers. It is their raison d'etre. The choir is an institution and being a member is an honour indeed and, of course, we are thrilled to have such an opportunity knocking on our door.

The first step towards him becoming a chorister is to give it a go. Last term he spent an afternoon with the choir and attended practice and participated in the Evensong service. Honestly, I had hoped he would be disappointed. No such luck. He was more excited than ever. and, apparently, he demonstrated the right demeanor for a chorister.

Next was to attend an actual service as a family and this weekend we decided to catch the surplicing Evensong service on Sunday evening. Surplicing is when a probationary chorister becomes a full fledged chorister. It was one of the most beautiful events I have ever seen or heard. I felt like I was listening to the voices of angels. Despite there being only 12 boys and 12 men I have never heard such a robust sound. It was the sound of worship and grace and glory.

We sat in the Quire where the choir sits and this 360 degree tour gives a magnificent view of it. Make sure you go up and look towards the ceiling. It will literally take your breath away. It was the first part of the chapel to be built in 1348 and Henry VIII is buried there along with one of his wives Jane Seymour (amongst other members of the Royal Family long since departed). I had to keep pinching myself to believe that I was sitting in such a grand historical place.

Sebastian attempted to follow along with the music and I could tell that he wanted to be singing.

On this coming Saturday Marc, Sebastian and I will attend an open day where we will get a feel for a whole day of choristing and what it means. To me, it means beginning next year he should board 1-2 days/week. I still can't quite get my head around him not coming home but I am trying to think of it as a standing sleep over date. By Year6, he will need to board full time Sunday-Friday.

The reason for the boarding is the level of commitment required for a chorister. They sing at least 3 hours/day for 6 days/ week. That's a lot of singing. They sing for a professional choir. For the men of the choir this is their full time job. They are at the command of the Queen. They are her choir. It it a job. Who puts an 8 year old to work?

But then again very few boys have an opportunity to gain this type of training. And it's not just about the singing. You can see from the website that they record and travel and meet lots of people and gain loads of life skills. And that's what education is all about. Not just the reading and the writing.

I used to perform with two choirs when I was in high school, A Capella ( a mixed choir of 50 or so 15-18 year olds) and Grace Notes (an all girl group of about 12 16-18 year olds). I still have a copy of the album we made my junior year (copied on to CD - Thanks, Suze!) and I listen to it in my car. It is one of my accomplishments of which I am most proud. We rocked. Our performance at the Easter Sun Rise service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado is a high light of my life. Very few people can say they've performed on that lofty stage. I will never forget that Hallelujah Chorus (neither will Suze!)

Not sure if I'm trying to convince you or me that this is a good idea. Ultimately, only one person gets to make this decision and it is Sebastian.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Split Second by David Baldacci

Another foray into the library to entertain a few spare moments with Abigail as she begins her journey into reading, meant that I walked out with this quick read. I'd never heard of the author (despite claims that he is a NY Times bestselling author) but I quite fancied a mysterious trashy novel.

I was not disappointed. I remember back in the early days of Grisham and how I would devour his books until they all started to sound the same. I fear that after I've read a couple of Baldacci's novels I will be similarly disappointed. But if you've never read any of his novels before and you are dying for some suspenseful page turning you need look no further.

Split Second follows 2 Secret Service agents who have both lost the presidential nominee assigned to them. That is a serious career limiting move for a Secret Service agent. Only 8 years separate the seemingly unrelated events. That is when the various dead bodies start turning up and soon a connection begins to emerge.

Baldacci does a superb job of maintaining the suspense without giving away too many details or making the reader feel he knows more than they do (which of course he does but you shouldn't really feel that way). The Secret Service agents, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, are likable characters with just the right amount of sexual tension without any of the diabolic sex. I love the strength of Michelle and the vulnerability of Sean, even though I was annoyed when of course it was the "superior" man who solved the crime. I put this down to aged wisdom rather than elevated cleverness.

I will say that at one point the novel went a few too many twists too far. I lost track of who was who and why anyone was there at all. But I decided to roll with it and don't think it really mattered.

A perfect book for a rainy afternoon!

Monday 26 January 2009

Lush Life by Richard Price

I am sooooo not hip. And whilst I love visiting New York City, hip capital of the world, I do my best to avoid the seedy underbelly of that electric city that is the source of its eternal hipness. I am all too aware of my mortality and that underbelly is a direct threat.

Instead I choose to live vicariously and read about other's soirees into the darkness of the Lower East Side. Lush Life is as realistic a literary trip as any I have ever taken previously. Richard Price is a well known screenplay writer which means that the dialogue is destined to be good and it is beyond amazing. The real surprise was the depth of his characters to demonstrate just how shallow they are set against the backdrop of a city glittering but not made of gold.

The waiters at Berkman's, the restaurant to be and be seen in, are really actors and this is just a gig on the side until they hit the big time. Except that they have been doing the side gig for too many years to count and the likelihood of them hitting the big time is well and truly in negative equity. One of them gets shot outside a bodega in the wee hours of the morning and nobody is entirely clear about what happened. The police jump to conclusions in their desire to reach a swift closure and the shooter is lost in his world of deprivation and poverty.

Worlds collide in this novel. Class is a grand canyon and there is no one building any bridges. The scenes are vivid despite the darkness. Even the smells jump out of the pages.

Most shocking is depsite the massive character flaws of these characters, you can't help but feel a deep sense of empathy for them. They fight inner demons whilst the demons of the physical world try to destroy them. They are likeable even though you'd like to just slap them across the face and point out how stupid their choices are. But that's always easier when examing someone else's life.

Price has written a seriously historical novel about the New York that never gets shown on the vening news and deserves to be read.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Top 10 Lessons

I hate making mistakes. As I've aged I've learned that making mistakes is part of the process. It is the place where I learn the most. What I hate more is not learning from previous mistakes and making the mistake twice. Doh! Although much more difficult for me but altogether more effective is if I can avoid making the mistake myself and learn from those of others.

With President Obama taking over from George W Bush, I would say there is a ripe harvest of lessons learned and examples of what not to do. Bob Woodward over at The Washington Post has kindly given President Obama a generous gift by identifying those costly mistakes and giving him a robust instruction on how they might best be avoided.

As I read through the list, I thought to myself, hey this doesn't just apply to the presidency or the leadership of a country. Any leader in any position could (without too much effort) translate these to make them applicable in their role.

Read and learn.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Historical Day

Today, I sat with my children and watched history be made. I have never been so proud to be an American as I am at this moment. I remember my mother making me sit and watch the Watergate hearings telling me that I would remember this day. I do but it wasn't a happy memory. It was a dark day. I hope that today will live in my children's memories as what is possible and an example of how democracy works and when right wins out over wrong.

If you haven't read The Audacity of Hope, read it. I haven't finished it but so far I am so impressed it has already made it to my top 10 list of favourite books. Dreams from my Father is on my "Read Soon" list. Hope it is as good as Audacity and have heard it is even better.

In the moment whilst Barack Obama was taking the oath of this most lofty office, new pages were loaded on to the government website. Take a look around. Let him know what you think. He's asked for our help, our opinions, our support. Let's give it to him. We all have a duty to make our government work. Get busy and get to work. For him and yourselves.

I was amazed to see him get straight to work: signing in his cabinet and, it is rumoured, moving to close the embarrassment that is Guantanamo Bay. Would love to have a look at his To Do list.

I'm not sure what kind of individual agrees to go through the most hellatious job interview for 18 months and then take over (for very little financial compensation) a troubled country with a catalogue of problems. But he seems like he is the right man, the right choice. And he seems to be building a coalition of people to work with him to identify durable, fair and compassionate solutions to the most insurmountable mountain of challenges.

Good luck, Mr President. Let Freedom Ring!

PS Didn't you just love what those adorable Obama girls were wearing?!?!?!?

Sunday 11 January 2009

Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson

Beach Rubbish. Holiday Nonsense. Brain Candy. 430 pages in less than 4 days.

A wholly improbable situation where 2 children grow up together as best friends when one's mother suffers from bipolar manic depression and numerous attempts at suicide. As adults they fall in love with each other but, afraid to destroy their friendship, never admit as much to each other. Every relationship they attempt to form outside of the one with each other is infected with their love for each other. And then she, Nova, agrees to be a surrogate mother for him, Mal, and his wife, Stephanie, who falsely claims to be unable to have children. Then he abandons her and their child.

I won't give the ending away but let's just say it isn't a happy one. Their story is full of lies and secrets. Stephanie is a particularly reprehensible character and whilst Koomson attempts to build sympathy for her, I just ended up despising her. Mal is in idiot for doing everything Stephanie asks of him and abuses his friendship with Nova. And Nova is so blinded by her love for Mal that she doesn't even see the treatment as abuse.

I threw this book across the room several times yelling at the stupidity of the characters. There was a point where tears welled up in my eyes but I challenge any mother not to cry about the situation of your child dying before you do.

There are just way too many great books out there to spend any time on this one.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

Had read that this man was the next great American novelist and this book might be the next great American novel.

Are they having a laugh?

The books seems to really be two short stories with the main character in common. The first half tells a story that he tells himself when he can't sleep. The second half tells the story of how he got to this point in his life. Neither half come together to make up a whole.

I enjoyed the first half of the book and thought it was very well written but it is obvious to me that Auster just simply didn't know where to go with it or how to end it or how to make it into a novel which would earn him loads of money. It deals with a parallel post 9/11 world in which the USA is embroiled in a civil war, a hot topic these days and a definite path to getting your book talked about (and selling).

So he added the second half which didn't relate to the first half (at least in my mind). There is no imagination involved here. And the story is weaker because of it. The narrator is a 72 year old man musing over his life's trials and wishing he could have a do over, a mulligan.

The writing in that second half isn't as tight or as captivating. And because I found myself constantly wondering what in the world this had to do with the first half I simply couldn't get into it. Ian McEwan or Philip Roth are 2 examples of great novelists who tell these stories better than anyone else.

I'd give this one a miss.