we need your help....
cheese pig
You all probably know that I play in a duet with Annie Walker. She plays harp, I play hammered dulcimer, and we've been playing together for the last few years – at weddings, funerals, busking events, publicity things and community celebrations. This is separate from the stuff we do with Liam and Tim, our husbands – which is broadly badged as “Piepowder”. We play English traditional tunes and the odd self composition, and occasionally use our instruments to accompany our singing. As we get more work, get more confidence and are doing our stuff, we need a name for ourselves as our first step towards better marketing and promoting us...

It needs to be a serious name for events of some gravitas – funerals, weddings etc. but also vague enough that it can mean something or nothing to those people and organisations that book us. It also needs to be a name that we love and want to talk about – no one wants to be an apologist for what we do...

So... your ideas and suggestions are much appreciated and we'd really like your help in finding an identity for us. We can't afford to pay you, but any name that we eventually settle on will receive our heartfelt gratitude and an appropriate musical tribute...

Thank you, in advance, for your thoughts and suggestions...

love frank and annie xxx

The comfort of strangers
cheese pig
I've just come back from a fabulous holiday in Tallinn, Estonia. First time I've left the UK in a year, and very much needed. There is a great deal to describe and percolate about this trip - it has been a revelation in many, many ways and I can say with complete certainty that I don't have the bladder control to get them all down in one post. Perhaps I might actually start posting a little more frequently...

I used to love travelling. The more remote, the more unlike Lincolnshire, the better... bring on the challenge, the perspective of the other... I loved the observational thrill of another country, another culture, of different light and smells and a view from other opinions and values that weren't mine. As I've moved into a new phase of my life - one characterised by staying in one place, living in the now and making a commitment to place and people that isn't shaken easily - travelling has become much harder, and much more challenging.

Some of these challenges are practical - my sclerotic friends place limitations and obstacles every day, regardless of how zen I or anyone else is about them. Legs get tired. Bladders don't work. Backs ache, balance and dizziness gets out of sync and flying becomes less of a grown up bit of thrill seeking as you zoom down the runway approaching take off and more of an exercise in managing pain in my facial nerves and teeth. But that's not news. Not to me, anyway.

Travelling has become an immediate, involving and unremitting experience of comparison and observation, of testing out values, assumptions and expectations against the realities and limitations of language, time and circumstance. It seems very difficult to travel lightly - to see a place without making reference to elsewhere. Nowhere is like nowhere else on earth any more.

When I first went to New York, I was struck by how familiar it was - how much of the visual and cultural landscape had permeated to me through film, television, education and art. When I first went to Tallinn, it was immediately and fabulously new - the furthest north and east I've been in Europe, the light, the influence of it's occupied past all alarmingly new, contradictory, beautiful and desolate. And yet much of my thinking about the place and my experience and description of it is to attempt to make sense of it by comparison.

This strikes me as a metaphor for all those incessantly worthy treatise I used to churn through when doing equalities work... prejudice is natural, it's how we make sense of the world ad nauseum. What saddens me is that I need to do this. I have been surprised, challenged, refreshed, inspired, entertained, saddened, roused and stimulated by a place, and in return, I attempt to convey this by comparison to that which is known and familiar. Am I now unable to revel in the joy and mystery of things that are incomparable?

Just in case anyone is reading this pompous diatribe and thinking that I'm either stoned or insane, I had a really great holiday, came back with a load of Estonian crafts, liqueurs and photos and would heartily recommend the place. Herring lasagne and two Depeche Mode theme bars? What's not to love???

The dream of freedom
cheese pig
So, after a year of "the system" and four years of "the illness" there is now the most wonderful thing on the horizon: "the future". This week I've finally come to the end of the process of being made redundant on the grounds of permanent ill health. The long and the short of pieces of paper, meetings about meetings, calculating with calculators and being measured, interviewed and categorised is that I have been given a piece of paper that says I am permanently unfit for work, and a pension that will enable me to live, simply, prudently and happily for the rest of my life. There won't be any cruises, unless we're talking about the overnight boat to Amsterdam. There won't be any golf courses, because there are never enough bushes on golf courses for my unreliable bladder. There won't be any timeshares, although I'd quite like a timeshare goat.

I am free. In the mixed blessings of life, a disabling illness has freed me from the confines of work, of status, of expectation and of conforming to my own and others sense of place and purpose in the world. The irony is that diagnosis of a disease with no predictable pattern, clinical markers or certainties has given me a life freed of Monday to Friday routines, pay scales and taxes. There is no plan. The University of Frank has not yet decided what will be done or what will be studied. There is only the ultimate wealth - time - and time to be. To be still, to be busy, to rest when my legs stiffen and to feel the wind in my hair and the blossom on the trees when I go to the park on my pushbike. This most precious of gifts will not be surrendered easily, and yet there is much to be done... causes to fight for, songs to be sung, vegetables to be grown and horizons to be widened.

From Summergangs Lane, Gainsborough to Pennsylvania Avenue, DC
cheese pig
A few years ago, I used to be politically correct for a living - which is to say, I worked to help a council implement something called the Equality Standard for Local Government. It was, at best, an ambitious plan, and after a couple of years of realising the sheer scale of organisational, societal, political and economic limitations on the work, I shuffled off to do something different. (I'm a bit bad at staying anywhere very long...)

One of the problems with passing legislation designed to make people tolerant and fair is that life is fundamentally neither of these things. Frequently, the best way to reach elusive things like "peace" "inclusion" "integration" and "cohesion" is to identify a shared goal that both parties can aspire to and work towards. Hence, Northern Ireland (which will no doubt figure in other ramblings about seals, men and how to get through university without getting into debt)is perhaps, arguably, working towards a shared and sustainable peace precisely because all parties involved recognise the goal of wealth, employment and economic prosperity.

Last night, I went to a seminar at one of the local Universities (we've got two in Lincoln, bizarrely enough...) organised by their Centre for Social Justice. http://www.bishopg.ac.uk/?_id=10371
The seminar dealt with issues in educational opportunities for travellers, presented by local representatives from the community. It was great, thought provoking, necessary - great to hear voices, attitudes, perspectives on the world which I don't necessarily know, share or understand.

And while much of the debate in the room after the seminar sought to affirm, reach out, agree and understand, to find some common ground, it occured to me that so much of our social thinking on peace is concerned with the outcome, with the creation of a solution. But peace is never a fixed state, because there is no such thing as a finite contentment. The different needs of a settled community and a travelling community will never meet in the middle, and nor should we seek for them to do so.

And therefore our aim, whether through educational seminars, government legislation, social initiatives, organisational strategy or inauguration speeches, can be no more than the creating of staging posts along the way towards an elusive peace - and the confidence to acknowledge that we will never arrive, but simply progress... What we should do is set out our goals for peace - whether personal, national or international. Write them down. Find people who share them, and more importantly, find people who don't share them. Talk about them. Refine them. Measure your progress and the progress of your elected representatives against them. Then make a new set...


how to be redundant
cheese pig
So, for about the last 20 years, I've been aware of the societal, maternal and peer expectation that we work for a living, live for working - whatever way you look at it, we are not expected to roam free through our thoughts, lives, gardens, talents and failings with aimless or purposeful abandon. In short, as Billy Bragg might put it "all they taught you at school was how to be a good worker / the system fails, you don't fail yourself"

All my life I have struggled to know what I am in a professional or working sense - I've been thinking about what I'll do "when I'm a grown up" since I was about 10, and still at 36 I couldn't say for certain what it is that I would actually write, were my passport still to demand it... My marriage certificate tells me I was a "project manager" when I got spliced in 2005, but I manage more projects now than I did then without ever leaving the house.

Today, I sat in a doctors office, and admitted that I no longer think I can work. He will write a report, other doctors will write reports, a doctor unknown to us all will write a report, my boss will read the report and have meetings. Pieces of paper will move between offices. Brows will be furrowed. Options considered. Costs calculated. Stamps and time and effort will be spent. At the end of this, at the end of this process which involves people I am not allowed to know of and who will determine my future without ever meeting me, I may well become the youngest person I know with a pension. But I may not.

I know now what I want to do when I grow up - I want to be free of the label, status, role, process, hierarchy and competition that comes with the working world. It has been an interesting career, but from here on, my life will be delineated by me - not by an organisational chart, pay spine, anonymous expert, pension plan or advert in the press..

It might be worth saying that I didn't chose this - my body and it's cannibalistic tendency to eat my own spine chose this. But I wouldn't have it any other way. This just might be the true defining of me - a life without a label...

Frank x

oh for the life of a modern folk wife
cheese pig
So, it's been a while. I kept thinking after the first post that the sky would fall in, or something pretty spectacular, or the blog police would turn up and ask me lots of questions. Clearly I have no idea about how to write a blog or connect to other bloggers... The deafening silence is glorious...

It's been a cracking couple of weeks - lots of great stuff happening.
Once a month we (me and the boy, Trouser) run a ceilidh dance which is an unholy alliance of great music, great cakes and great dancing. If you can put amateur actors, morris dancers, folk dancers and a selection of relatives, mates, random passers by and the odd journalist into a room, shake them up a bit, give them sausage rolls and pint glasses and encourage them to dance until they collapse smiling and slightly sweaty into plastic garden chairs; and call that traditional English culture then I'm all for it. One of the reasons I love doing ceilidhs is that for one night a month I actually get to experience(albeit briefly) the highly addictive pursuit of music - yes, being married to a musician who would rather be playing than doing almost anything else you would think I'd learn by now - but the immense joy of creating something magical - or as one dancer remarked "the perfect night out" - is pretty great fun... And we get to take a small, unremarkable former church hall and briefly turn it into something pretty extraordinary - running children (bring them on) dancing with older people, and month on month, people get to know one another, get to dance, eat and drink together and find something pretty intangible round here - a real community...

Outside of trays of cheese pigs and coffee walnut cake, the wheels continue to spin in our little folk corner of England. Radio 3 have been on their sonic voyage across Lincolnshire and recorded the boy doing some wonderful playing and committed to the airwaves the previously unknown penchant for whipping and being whipped of one of the most celebrated music collectors, and created the unusual (in this age) phenomenon of the pair of us sitting in rapt silence listening to the wireless. Long may they continue to research and deliver interesting, thoughtful and involving programming... there isn't enough of it round these parts...

We got to (despite half the country being under masses of snow) hang out at a session in Retford, organised by some of our regular ceilidh dancers from the ever effervescent Rattlejag Morris. Not deterred by clean, quiet and well gritted roads and to my perpetual annoyance, not a flake in sight; the latest adventure in hammered dulcimer playing was being part of a fantastically diverse session, organised once a month to help a growing group of musicians develop their skills and repertoire. There is nothing like being in a pub full of other musicians and not having a clue what key we're playing in to sharpen the ears and fuel determination to get at least a few bars right by the end of the tune...

The days are slipping by with appalling speed, despite the new job ostensibly providing some sort of routine. Just don't ask about seagulls trapped in the south of the county and tabloid newspapers... more coming soon.. reviews of the legendary Martin Carthy settling the argument about whether there is any play that can speak as eloquently on any subject as a good 5 minute folksong, the delights of Saddleworth and envrions and, of course, new adventures in long sword dancing.


the art of beginning...
cheese pig
So I guess I'm making my first tentative sentences in the mysterious world of blogging. Er... hello..
Life is good in my small corner of the planet - a life almost entirely free of strife, and shaping up nicely for now. I got inspired to do this by my friend Annie, whose ruminations and postings to her live journal have been a source of great delight since she reviewed my wedding a couple of years ago, and after the furtive dairy keeping of my teenage years, (I think I meant to say diary keeping just then but I really like the idea of furtive dairy keeping) it seemed to be a good time to try and commit some thoughts to a different sort of canvas.
And besides, there is a limit to how much time you should spend on ebay...

I'm getting back into the working world after watching my horizons shrink to the four walls of a vicious long term illness (which I'm certainly not going to bore anyone reading with right now) and one thing that has really occurred to me in the last couple of weeks is how much people rely on work to shape who they are and provide them with an identity. The great freedom of long periods not working is that you get to redefine who and what is important, and in a world that seems to get ever smaller, faster and become conversely more immediate and remote, there is something to be said for the feeling of immense joy sitting in the yard with the sun on your face and a pile of clean washing on the washing line on an autumn afternoon. And then again, there is something to be said for being able to pay the mortgage..

Other sources of unreconstructed joy... pillows and good books, singing loudly enough to make the sound resonate back through your fingers from the piano keys, the smell of my newborn niece's head, a crisp copy of private eye, gigs, cold wind felt from beneath a big scarf and wool coat and a big cup of tea. Talking of which... well, this was supposed to be the art of beginning. And not rambling on for ages making odd lists. That would be too predictable. Hello again. Thank you for reading.


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