Thursday 21 January 2010


To St George’s Chapel in the evening for one of the finest pieces of singing I have yet heard there; and the last for a bit. I shall never mind going to war if I know that I am fighting that such institutions as St George’s may live, for they are England and epitomise the spirit of tradition and worship – the laying before God of the most perfect and beautiful singing that man can produce. Just as much work and practice goes into each service even when no one is there but God. There is nothing slip-shod or cheap there, and the result is inspiring and uplifting”.

Written by a young Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards in the summer of 1943, before going off to fight in WWII. He died in Italy, aged just twenty-one – taken from the Friends 1949 Annual Report.

Monday 18 January 2010

Choir Background

This video should provide some context for what Sebastian does as a chorister and where he does it.

The video was made last summer and many of the boys & men are the same although a few boys obviously graduated last year. As ever, the quire in the castle where the choir sings remains the same and has for hundreds of years.

Lots of you ask what is the choir. Well I've got data galore!

The Choir of St. George's Chapel comprises 23 boy choristers and twelve Lay Clerks singing alto, tenor and bass. The boys are educated at St George's School which is situated in the Castle grounds, and the Lay Clerks live in the Horseshoe Cloister, just to the west of the Chapel, and on Denton's Commons.

St George's Chapel exists to provide a place to give thanks to Almighty God and to pray for the Sovereign and the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and the work of the choir is central to that aim. The choir was founded at the same time as the founding of the College in 1348 and, with the exception of the Commonwealth period (1649-60), has sung the services continuously since then. The choir sings regularly in the presence of the Queen and other members of the Royal family, and in recent times sang at the marriage of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones; it sang also at a concert in celebration of the seventieth birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, and at celebrations for the eightieth birthday of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. The choir sang at the funeral of Princess Margaret in St George's and also at the Thanksgiving service for her life held in Westminster Abbey.

Any questions?

Saturday 16 January 2010

Death Penalty

I used to know things for sure but these days I'm not so......certain.

20 years ago I would have defended the death penalty as an apt and just punishment for those who commit unspeakable acts against mankind. These acts are so heinous there seemed little point in allowing them to continue to live in any conditions. Even the worse conditions would not be punishment enough and the world would be a much better place after their eradication.

10 years later I began to doubt the fallibility of the criminal justice system and the people working within it. The threat of killing just one innocent person wrongly convicted was enough to put an end to my unequivocal support.

The advance of the sophistication around the evidence provided by DNA has caused my support to swing once again. DNA can and does provide irrefutable proof of an individual's guilt/innocence. 

But does an eye for an eye really serve as a deterrent?  I doubt a criminal stops before he kills and thinks he might just get the death penalty so maybe he'll just shoot his victim in the foot.  No, they aim to kill or don't even give it a second thought. 

Is the death penalty really a just punishment?  Ending the suffering of incarceration could be seen as an easy option; better not to have to live a life in prison than to spend the entire rest of their life deprived of their freedom.

By taking someone else's life have we as a society not become just as heinous as the murderer?  We condemn executions in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanisatan.  So, am I to presume it's ok if we do it but not our enemies?  Hypocrisy.

Killing a murdered doesn't bring the victim back to life.  And I'm not sure how much comfort it can bring to the family of those left behind.  What I do know is that it creates a whole new family who has to deal with a loss.

The cost of keeping someone on death row is extravagant.  These people have all of Maslow's basic hierarchy of needs met which they may not have when they were outside their imprisonment.  Many prisons can be seen as an easier life than the criminals had on the outside which is one of the reasons cited for such incredibly high recidivism rates.  Prison can seem like as fun as a boarding school. 

But it isn't.  And all prisoners should be afforded the basics.  Many people cannot afford cable or satellite television.  Neither should the prisons.  Access to computers with internet access should be withdrawn immediately.  Prison should be hard.

The last execution in the UK was the hanging of Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans for the murder of John Alan West in 1964.  The statute for allowing execution as a penalty was stricken from the books in 1998.  There are 389 people on Florida's death row alone.

Wikipedia has an excellent objective entry for capital punishment.  The trouble is, it isn't helping me make up my mind. 

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Feliz Roscon de Reyes

The day the kings present Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is also known as the 12th day of Christmas or if you are in Spain as Epiphany. This day falls on 6 January and is a big national holiday . What we hadn't expected was how much fun we were going to have on the Eve of Epiphany.

In every town, village and city there is a parade. In El Rompido our 3 kings arrived by boat at 4 pm on the pier and immediately started chucking sweets at the people on the pier. A band then led the way to the thrones where the kings seated with their harems were to be pulled by tractors and then paraded around the streets. From the trailers the kings and harem threw confetti, sweets and small toys into the crowds which lined the roads and chased after tractors. There was quite a battle for the balls which appeared to be the most coveted toys. We filled my handbag and every pocket with sweets and Marc made a spectacular catch of a red ball that had bounced off a light post. Even our car had sweets on it when we returned to it.

The kings then gathered at the entrance to the local church where they were presented with flowers and they laid their boxes of gifts at the altar. And we went off to get some food for dinner.

We had been noticing these round cakes filled with cream or chocolate or custard and we realised that this is what a typical Spanish family eats on the night before Epiphany. So we just had to get us one! And so we was delicious. We found a plastic toy inside the piece we cut for Abigail and a inedible nut of some sorts wrapped in plastic in Sebastian's. Near as I can figure this is for good luck.

As we pack and prepare for our departure early tomorrow morning, we have had a wonderful holiday. We saw and learned a lot of things we didn't know about Spain. We were surprised with unplanned adventures several times. The children have made some wonderful memories. I wish it had been warmer and sunnier but despite my best attempts I just cannot control the weather!

There is a blizzard in England and sever weather warnings are in place for tonight. It is forecast that 16 in of snow will fall over night. Hopefully the airport we are flying to won't be affected but we will certainly find the drive home a challenge. The weather may beat us yet!

Lost in Seville

I think I have fallen in love with Seville. Prior to today my favourite European city was Florence followed by Rome but I'm afraid my Italian devotion may have come to an end.

Once we overcame the trauma of parking, we embarked on a never ending treasure hunt of narrow lane after narrow lane. Stopping at a cafeteria the children snacked on ice cream and we had some coffee to fortify ourselves for some heavy duty sight seeing.

Around every corner was a new breath taking church. Entering the cathedral literally took our breath away. It is the largest cathedral in the world, even bigger than St Paul's in London or St Peter's in Rome. The stained glass was incredible. We paid our homage at Christopher Columbus' tomb and headed outside to marvel at the tower.

The sun was shining and we wandered the twisty turny streets to find some lunch at a local tapas bar. We tried the local orange wine which was mmmmmmmm gooooood!

Back into the streets headed for the Alcazar we could see the storm clouds gathering and managed to make it inside just before the mist turned to downpour. The only trouble with this is that the Alcazar is half inside half outside and around every corner we would find ourselves running across yet another charming courtyard to avoid getting soaked. The children thought this was a fabulous game.

When the skies cleared we explored the streets of the Barrios de Santa Cruz aimlessly until the day turned to night. The Sevilians packed the streets. They are like little vampires who only come out after dark. Before heading for the car we popped in for some more ice cream and coffees and then to the local grocery shop for some basic provisions (milk, bread). As we were bagging up it started to rain. A lot!

Donning our rain gear we headed into the streets. Marc turned left and I turned right. The we deicded straight ahead was the right way. Then left. Then right. Then right. Then left. And so on and so on and so on. At which point the children asked us if we knew where we were going. And we realised we didn't. Nor did we know where we were. After 20 minutes of walking around in circles in the dark driving rain panic started to set in. Trying to refer to a not very detailed map in the torrential downpour presented its own challenges.

We then realized the police were closing off roads and locals were lining the streets as if to watch a parade. Initially we couldn’t even contemplate stopping to watch as we were dead set on just finding the car park. And then we took a moment to just live in the moment.

We could hear a band in the distance and joined the throngs of people lining the narrow lanes for a short wait. Not sure what we were waiting for but everyone seemed very excited, especially the children who appeared to be all holding letters. We knew that the 12th day of Christmas, 6th January, is a national holiday and that Father Christmas delivers highly anticipated gifts (not unlike our Christmas Eve). Marc and I guessed these letters contained the equivalent of our letters to Santa.

Soon the band was upon us. And then Spaniards dressed in Arab garb complete with dark brown painted faces began collecting the letters and in return throwing candy into the crowds lining the roads. Even though our children had no letter to offer they were happy to collect the sweets. A man in a red suit on a donkey brought up the rear of the parade. Clearly he was the man, the top dog and the target of the letters. After just a few moments the parade had ended and everyone went about their business.

We then looked up and realized we were on a street corner that we recognised as one we had passed that morning when we left the car. We knew exactly where we were and how to get to where we were going.

I am so glad we didn’t miss it. I’m so glad we stopped and lived in that moment. We took time to breath and enjoy and all was good.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Off Road Adventures

We bid farewell this morning to our host family as they left the driving rain of Spain and returned to the sleet and snow of England. Faced with the prospect of staying at the house with Spanish television or venturing out on our own we decided to explore the countryside around Huelva. After suitable perusal of the travel guides we decided to head east to the small town of Niebla to explore its walls and towers. We were not disappointed and although the rain meant we did a driving tour, the roads were deserted leading Sebastian to remark that the town had obviously been abandoned. Not true as I believe the many beautifully tiled homes were occupied but like us everyone was staying indoors and out of the rain.

We had 2 unsuccessful attempts at trying to find a place to grab a bite to eat and made a spur of the moment decision to head for La Palma del Condado. After one hair raising experience with a toilet at a petrol station we found ourselves at this breathtaking town, a centre of Spanish wine production. The rain lifted long enough for us to have a walk around the town square admiring the beautiful church, narrow lanes and gorgeous homes. At this point we ducked into La Agencia for lunch which is so far my favourite part of the trip.

No one spoke any English. They didn't even have a menu with bad English translations. The waiter did his best and everyone was so friendly. Sebastian managed an hysterical conversation about football (go Chelsea!) and Abigail wants to know why everyone keeps petting her head of blonde hair. The children had some fabulous chicken. I had a wonderful steak in gravy but Marc wins the grand prize for the most spectacular tapas choices ever. I couldn't even begin to tell you what it all was but we wanted more!

We had one last stop to make. We had seen a sign directing us to a site of archeological importance, Dolmen de soto, which should be a burial mound or possibly a plinth like those found at Carnac. We decided to investigate and turned off the main road or rather what looked for all intents and purposes to be the road. The road was marred by larger and larger pot holes. At one point we were crossing a bridge that I'm not entirely sure really was a bridge. And there were holes in that. I had visions of ringing the hire car company and having to explain (in Spanish) why their hire car was stuck in in a hole. I am certain that the alignment of the steering will never be the same.

The good news is we found the site. The bad news is despite a large visitor centre being evident the site was closed off. A large hole in the fence provided a few Spaniards entrance but we decided not to risk it not wanting to fall foul of the legalities of trespassing and returned to our car never having seen the attraction. Still not even sure what it was we were looking for.

The day was filled with adventures big and small (trying to purchase laundry soap at a petrol station) and by the time we returned to our home we were all shattered!


Yesterday we made our way east into the heart of Andulusia to visit the once great city of Cordoba. Originally founded as a Roman city in 152 BC the Moors established it as the centre of Moorish Spain in 756 and it became the centre of the western Islamic Empire rivaling Cairo and Baghdad. The primary attraction of the city is the Mezquita which is considered by most to be the grandest and most beautiful mosque ever constructed by the Moors.

The drive from Huelva (near us) to Seville was a long slog through featureless landscape scarred with tasteless urban development and despite only being 90 kilometres it seemed to take forever. Once beyond Seville though the next 130 kilometers opened up to reveal beautiful undulating green hills dotted with olive and orange groves. We didn't even notice the length of this leg of the journey.

As you come down the hills and around the last bend Cordoba reveals itself and as a tourist it is quite obvious where to head. We took quite a bit of time trying to figure out what the various parking restrictions were in place but finally just took a chance and left the car where we had initially pull in and given it was still there when we returned and we didn't have to pay a penny I would say parking was easy peasy.

Given all the rain we have had recently it was no surprise that the river was high and in fact one side had flooded the bottom floors of the gatehouse. The locals seemed in awe as they photographed the rushing river below us.

After passing a series of elaborate archways, we entered the orange tree filled courtyard of the Mezquita. This was the ablution garden complete with numerous fountains, a peaceful oasis despite the sightseers. The Mezquita was originally a basilica and there is now a Catholic church built on/in the mosque but the numerous columns, arches and open spaces are unquestionably that of a mosque.

After the Mezquita we toured the narrow alleys of the Juderia, the Jewish quarter and fell into our seats in a crowded tapas bar to enjoy the various gastronomic tidbits, my favourite being the deep fried aubergine (eggplant) slices. The children loved the local speciality of Iberica pork loin. Marc just loved his cerveza.

It was a chilly day (only 12 C - 50 F) but the sun was shining and I got a bit of pink on my face as evidence of a great day out!

Friday 1 January 2010

A Decade Later

I remember 10 years ago today like it was yesterday. Marc and I were at the Dart International Sailing Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I did my first open water dive on New Year's Eve 1999. We were drinking gin and tonics for .35p on a veranda overlooking the sea. The temperature was roughly 96 F and there was a lovely sea breeze. We drank until we rang in the bells of 2000 and our best attempts at staying awake to see the sun rise over the horizon failed. We went for a long and possibly the scariest walk I've ever been on down on the beach where we were the only white faces in a sea of thousands of black faces. We decided that we might not want to go very far so instead we returned to our hotel and enjoyed a lovely braai (BBQ).

Where has the time gone?

In a decade, Marc and I have married. We have 2 gorgeous children. We have a gorgeous home (2 in fact). We run a successful business. I've got an amazing job. We have lost (and gained) numerous pounds. We have laughed and we have cried. We have sang. We have danced. We have made many friends and lost a few (I so miss my grandmother). We have changed in ways that were unimaginable.

The world around us has changed in ways that are unfathomable. In December 1999, Y2K was threatening (but I secretly knew it was all a hoax). September 11 hadn't yet happened and airports were more like shopping malls than lockdowns. No one had Sat Nav. Or an iPhone. Or Facebook. Or a blog.

I don't think I've ever looked back on a decade and experienced such upheaval. I look out into the future and can't see beyond tomorrow. In the next decade at least one of my children will have probably (hopefully?) left home. But beyond that I can't see that far. In December 1999, I never would have guesses that I would be sitting in the sunshine in a gorgeous home in Southern Spain surrounded by laughing, screaming children playing Nintendo DS Lites drinking Cava with fabulous friends I didn't even know but are now our closest of mates.

Maybe I'll lose those final unwanted pounds (and keep them off). Maybe I'll write a novel. Maybe we'll buy our yacht. Maybe we'll win the lottery.

I hope we are always relatively healthy. And warm and dry. And well fed. And happy.

But my overwhelming new year's resolution is to remember to enjoy this moment. And the next. And the next. And the next. But each moment in and of itself will be worthy of enjoyment. And so I shall.

May your next decade be filled with moments that all add up to the realisation of your hopes and dreams.