A Song for Friday

It's a Friday.

It's almost the end of February - my second month writing this blog.

I have to say sometimes - just sometimes - I've struggled to be inspired as to what to bring you.

Shall it be another diatribe based on something that happened 'On This Day in History'? Just something that popped into my head, a picture I've seen, a quote I adore?

Or in this case, a piece of music?

Little known fact ... unless you're me or a few people I know who've heard me go on about this endlessly ... one of my favourite stage shows is 'Les Misérables'.

When it first came to London's West End I heard the soundtrack, saw some reviews and was absolutely determined to see it live. I didn't live in London so every time I was visiting the UK capital, for whatever reason, I would try to get tickets. To no avail! 

One time I even queued for hours in the hope of getting some 'return' seats. Nothing!

In 1993 when I moved from Jersey to the UK, I was in a better position, and eventually, sometime down the line, I got my opportunity. Ticket in hand I found myself in the theatre.

Absolute Bliss!

It did not disappoint. Loved the songs, loved the staging, the characters. Everything.

And since then I've seen the show about seven times, including once at the Jersey Opera House, a most excellent amateur production a few years back by the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club. They were amazing, and the best thing was a few of my friends were in the cast. Perfect.

Now, don't worry, I'm not going to go on endlessly about the show, or the film, or the (very long - five 'volumes') book that it's based on. I've read it by the way, and it's a classic!

But just to say, Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and dramatist had started writing the tome in the 1840s but the book Les Misérables  wasn't published until 1862. It's based on events which had taken place around thirty years previously.

Hugo had apparently walked the streets of Paris during the June 1832 rebellion which is the culmination of the novel. He saw those barricades. But the novel - considered one of the greatest of the 19th century - is not just about the conflict and unrest in France over the decades preceding 1832. It's a narrative on poverty, and injustice, and social and class division. Its themes are philosophical as well as historical. 

Hugo was not just a writer but also a politician and he had very strong views on issues like social injustice, he was opposed to the death penalty and in favour of freedom of the press, among other things. And this, ultimately, got him into trouble.

When Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III, seized power in France in 1851, he established an anti-parliamentary constitution and when Hugo openly declared him a traitor the writer had to flee the country. He moved first to Brussels and then to Jersey.

Unfortunately he was expelled from this /my lovely island for supporting a local newspaper that had criticised the Queen of England, Queen Victoria. So Hugo moved just across the water to another Channel Island, to Guernsey, where he and his family settled at Hauteville House in St Peter Port. The writer lived in exile from October 1855 until 1870 - and by the way, you can visit the house even today to see how he lived.

It was while he was in Guernsey that Hugo created some of his best work, including completing Les Misérables. It delights me that this classic was written quite close to my home!

Anyway, back to the stage production. And all I'm going to do is share one of the fabulous songs from the show. Hard to choose, so many great tunes but this is one I've selected for you today, sung by the amazing Josh Groban.

Oh, and if you're wondering - I'm posting this today because Victor Hugo was born on this day - 26 February - in 1802.




A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

A classic and inspired opening line from one of the best loved children's stories of all time.

Yes, today I'm talking about 'Peter Pan'.

Not just the Boy who Wouldn't Grow Up but the book, and the play and the man who created him - J.M.Barrie.

Full disclosure here  ... I am an avid reader of classic children's stories. I have a good collection of them, some of which I read first as a child and some which I re-read over and over, always finding something new in them every time of reading.

Yes I know many of the books I love were written in a different time, and maybe some might say that they are not as 'relevant' to the young generations that have come along since they were written, but what I love about these tales is that they are often beautifully crafted, invariably include fantastical storytelling and they have the ability to transport me into another world.

As a would-be children's author (I'm still working on it by the way) I recognise now that I was probably born in the wrong time, because these days to be a children's writer I guess one needs to be more 'edgy' than people think the writers of yesteryear were.

Except that it's all relevant. In their time, many children's stories DID speak into issues and situations, including social issues,  and sometimes challenged them, albeit subtly. And many of them are just simply about human nature and those values which, I hope, we will all want to treasure regardless of the times.

Peter Pan coverWhich brings me to the story of Peter Pan, which is really partly about 'youthful innocence and escapism'. Peter is a mischievous, free-spirited, rather cocky and careless boy who doesn't want to grow up. He is determined to be independent but it's only when he meets a girl called Wendy and her brothers that he gradually realises that love is also part of the human equation. I don't know about you but that's a lesson lots of us can learn, whatever era we live in!

These days the story of Peter and Wendy and their adventures in Neverland, the fairy Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, the ghastly Captain Hook, are all well known to us through numerous interpretations, including in various movies and cartoons down the years.

Although J.M. Barrie created Peter early on, he really made his first main public appearance in a play ...  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ... which debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27 1904 - interesting because stage productions of Peter Pan are often now associated with the Christmas period and the pantomime season, at least in the UK. Peter Pan first page

In 1911 the story of Peter and Wendy began to reach a wider, worldwide audience when it was reworked as a novel with that classic opening line.

My treasured copy of the story, which I picked up years ago in an old book shop, was first published in 1951 and at the start of the book there is this inscription ...

Do you know that this book is part of the J.M.Barrie "Peter Pan Bequest"? This means that Sir J.M.Barrie's royalty on this book goes to help the doctors and nurses to cure the children who are lying ill in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

SO much has been written about Peter, Wendy, Neverland, the dog nurse Nana, the whole 'cast' of the play and the subsequent stories, books and movies,  J.M. Barrie himself and the children who so-called 'experts' reckon Peter and his characters were based on.

J.M.Barrie is best known for Peter but he wrote so much more, including many plays and stories which address social concerns. And I love the fact that in 1929, Barrie assigned the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children's hospital in London.

I understand the copyright status is unclear these days because Peter Pan is now generally in what is called 'the public domain'. Original copyright in the UK ran out on June 19th 1987, the 50th anniversary of Barrie's death but that was later extended to another couple of decades, and there have been some developments since in other parts of the world. But that doesn't take away from the fact that down the years GOSH has benefitted greatly from the 'Peter Pan Bequest'.

I know Great Ormond Street Hospital a little, having visited to report as a journalist and in a personal capacity with loved ones, and they do amazing work. It's a hospital dedicated to the care of children and it IS a very special place where children are at the centre!

So today - as we mark the day in 1937 that J.M. Barrie left this earth - I was trying to think of a way to celebrate him and his most well known characters. And I found this quote and this image ...  which is just inspiring. 

Whatever we 'believe' in, we all need trust and faith, if only in those around us. And a little of 'pixie dust', even if not scattered by Tinkerbell herself, helps us to dream and create a little bit of magic for ourselves and others.

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Today I'm celebrating a favourite and brilliant actress ... an amazing performer and a real inspiration to me and to many millions more.

She's renowned for playing Queens of England on film ... Queen Elizabeth 1 and Queen Victoria spring to mind. But she's so much more ... and she's graced our stages and TV and movie houses for many years, and she's still going strong.

In recent years younger audiences will know her for playing 'M' the chief of MI6 in eight James Bond films but for those of us with slightly longer memories we will recall her time on TV in Shakespearean classics, amazing movies and in gentle British comedic dramas like A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By'. There are also fairly recent roles in popular movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  and thought provoking and challenging roles in films like Philomena, one of my particular favourites.

I'm talking, of course, about the wonderful Dame Judi Dench, who's birthday it is today.

Dame Judi was born on December 9th in 1934 and she is, without doubt, one of the best actresses in British history. She's played every part under the sun, from Shakespeare and classical plays with companies like the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage musicals like Cabaret. She's won so many awards down the years, it's astonishing. Dame Judi is a multi-award winning performer, including seven Academy Award nominations - she won the Oscar or Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in the movie Shakespeare in Love - and during a lifetime's work she's been honoured with Olivier Awards, BAFTAS, Golden Globe Awards, a Tony ... the list goes on. And, of course, she's been recognised at the very highest level by the Queen of England with several titles, including the honour which made her a 'Dame' in 1988... when she was awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Dame Judi is not just hugely talented and charitable but also feisty. She's not afraid to speak out on stuff like injustice. And she's been very outspoken on the prejudice she has encountered against 'older' actresses in the movie industry. She is reported as saying she is tired of being told that she's too old to try new things.

In 2014 she told the Hollywood Reporter: 'I should be able to decide for myself if I can't do things and not have someone tell me I'll forget my lines or I'll trip and fall on the set. [...] Age is a number. It's something imposed on you. It drives me absolutely spare when people say, 'Are you going to retire? Isn't it time you put your feet up?' Or tell me [my] age."

Good on you Dame Judi ... I absolutely love that. That's one of the reasons why Dame Judi inspires me ... and I suspect that the older I get,  the more I feel I may rant against a world which wants to put me in a compartment and define me through their own 'ageist' prejudices and tell me what older people may or may not do. We need more people like Judi Dench to speak out against this sort of ageist nonsense. She's proved time and again that age is no barrier to excellence.

And here's another thing about Dame Judi and one you may not know - she has been a Quaker since she was a school girl, and her Christian faith is very important to her. In 2013 she is reported to have said of her faith ..."I think it informs everything I do. [...] I couldn't be without it."

As I said ... inspiring.

So to celebrate Dame Judi's birthday today I'm actually turning to one of her most recent projects... a song recorded by the singer/TV presenter Aled Jones with Dame Judi narrating ... It's on his 2020 album 'Blessings'.

'How can I keep from Singing?' is an adaptation of an American folk song and hymn written originally in the 19th century by the American preacher and hymnwriter Robert Wadsworth Lowry and it's beautiful. 

Just take a moment and listen to the'll lift your spirit!

How can I keep from singing

My life flows on in endless song above the earth's lamentation
I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging
It sounds an echo in my soul...
How can I keep from singing?
What though the tempest 'round me roars? I know the truth it liveth
What though the darkness 'round me close? Songs in the night it giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth...
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smooths ... since first I learned to love it
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart. A fountain ever springing
(All things are mine since I am his)
How can I keep from singing?
(How can I keep from singing?)

Happy Birthday Dame Judi! Keep on being brilliant and strong and wonderful! 




There are some performers who are good, some merely average and some who are just brilliant.

And, for me, one of those who falls into the latter category is the legendary Charlie Chaplin, star of the early years of film who was best known for playing the forlorn character known as "the Tramp" or the 'Little Tramp'.

Born into poverty in London in a dysfunctional family, with a mother who suffered poor mental health, by the time Charlie was seven he was being 'cared for' in a workhouse and various schools for destitute children. When he was 14 he was caring for his mum who then was committed to an asylum and Charlie was homeless once again.

But he was a natural performer and he made ends meet doing lots of different jobs and performing on stage. Age 14 Charlie had registered with an agency which gave him access to work, including in a circus. By the time he was 18 Charlie was signed to the Fred Karno comedy company. Other young comedians and actors included another British performer who would become an icon of the silent movie era -  Stan Laurel.

Eventually the work with Fred Karno took Charlie to America for a 21-month tour of theatres on the vaudeville circuit, which was then followed by a second tour of the USA during which time Charlie was invited to join the New York Motion Picture Company, to be part of their wacky Keystone Studios.

Chaplin signed his contract in September 2013 and arrived in Los Angeles in early December. In fact today - December 16th in 1913 - has gone down in history as the date that Charlie Chaplin began work for Keystone Studio ... which is why I'm posting this today.

He was on set for Keystone for the first time on 5 January 1914 and he made his first film appearance in the movie Making a Living. His trademark character - 'the Tramp'  - first appeared in his second film, also in 1914, a movie called Kid Auto Races at Venice.

The Tramp - Charlie ChaplinCharlie was just 24 when he created the character for which he would become renowned and which would become an iconic figure in movie history. He is a mixture of a bumbling good hearted chap, a vagrant who tries to behave like a gentleman, even though he is at the bottom of the social pile. He's cunning and a survivor, childlike in his innocence at times and often trying to outwit the law. 

Charlie Chaplin went on to act in and produce and direct many movies. He had a colourful life ... private and public ... but he is still best known as 'the Little Tramp'. That's the image that stands firm in the public memory. 

But what some people may not know is that Charlie was also a talented musician and composer. In fact, he wrote one of my favourite songs - SMILE.

It was first composed as an instrumental theme used in the soundtrack for Charlie's 1936 film Modern Times. The title and lyrics were added in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.

The words seem to echo some of Charlie's own heartbreak, and the pathos of his most famous character. But it also encourages us all to smile through any tears that may come.

So today, to mark the day when Charlie Chaplin began his foray into film, which would result in a legendary career which means he's part of world history ... let's listen again to this fabulous song.

It's the version - my favourite version - by another iconic entertainer, Nat King Cole, and of course, it features that Little Tramp.



Lessons from Literature

What makes you happy?

It seems like an easy question to answer, right?

Happiness is ... what's your list?

Having loads of money, living in a big house, wearing all the 'right' clothes, driving a big car, having luxurious holidays? Keeping up with the trends you see on social media, looking a 'certain' way or at least trying to?

How about ... romantic love? Children? Family and friends?  

Or ... living in a beautiful place? 

So, again, I ask the question - What makes you happy?

I've talked before in this blog about dreams ... and reaching for new things in our lives. I think that's great - we all need dreams and things to aim for. But maybe we do need to ask ourselves if any new reality will make us happier than we are now.

And happiness is not just about possessions ... surely it has to be more.

Today I'm thinking about a book written by a particular brilliant author who was so clever and so observant. Her characters leap off the page and even though they were written 300 years ago, they are so identifiable. Human nature doesn't change, not really.

I'm talking, of course, about the works of Jane Austen - born December 16th in 1775 and the author of what we now know as 'classics' of English literature - Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815/16), and two other novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818 - the author had died in July 1817.

Her books have rarely been out of print in the past 300 years, although during her lifetime they brought her only moderate success or fame, because they were initially published anonymously. 

It was on this day in 1815 that Emma was published, although the official publication date on the title page indicates that it would go into circulation early in the following year.

If you've never read it, I encourage you to do so. It's about lives and people you might recognise today.

As with Jane Austen's other novels Emma reflects on issues like marriage, sex, age and social status and the challenges of being a woman in GeorgianRegency England. But it's main theme is the excessive pride or self-confidence that young people often have, and romantic misunderstandings.

The central character, Emma Woodhouse, is pretty, clever and rich, a likeable person living in a comfortable home. She has everything that would make her happy. However, she's a bit of a spoiled brat who's never really been told off for her behaviour. She's rather self centred and over confident, particularly when it comes to matchmaking. She's a busybody, she thinks she knows best, and is always trying to hook people up with each other, even though she has no skills in this area, or real life experience, and she doesn't realise that her 'meddling' in other people's affairs and love lives and manipulating other people's emotions is the cause of great pain for some of them. 

If you've not read it, I won't tell you how it works out ... no spoilers here. Suffice to say she gets her comeuppance.

As I said before, Jane Austen's characters travel through time to our own day, and down the centuries the novel has been adapted for a number of stage plays, TV programmes and films ... including a 1995 American movie entitled Clueless, based loosely on Austen's plot and set in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles in California. The teen comedy stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, a rich spoilt teenager who's always had her own way, and thinks everyone should aspire to be like her. In current language, she thinks she's an 'influencer' but she has all the self confident, insensitive traits of Austen's Emma. She also tries to meddle in people's lives and ends up only hurting others. 

As I said - Emma is very modern really. When it comes to human nature - plus ça change! 

HappinessAnd when it comes to happiness, or chasing happiness, people don't change.

There's this interesting quote in Emma which relates to happiness and chasing happiness, which I find thought provoking.

Sometimes we look at our own lives and we compare ourselves to others - we  chase all the things that the world tells us will make us happy - success, money, status, possessions, a certain 'look' which might even mean we want to change our appearance. How many people these days have cosmetic fillers and surgery to achieve a certain 'look' but then crave more because those changes might have altered their appearance but haven't made them happier?

Sometimes we may get involved in other people's lives, trying to make life 'happier' for them. We try to organise people thinking that we're doing the 'right' thing for them. We might (insensitively) suggest that people should lose weight, or wear better clothes, change their appearance ... like that really will make them 'happier' and like we know what is best for them. I think not!

But this quote reminds us that true happiness lies within ourselves. Perhaps it is as simple as the people around us, the love of family, a good job, a park we can walk in, our pets. 

Oftentimes we don't recognise what is right under our noses which is capable of making us happy, right now, right here. Normal things which have nothing to do with what we own, our so-called 'status' in life, or what people think we are.

As I said, there's nothing wrong with dreams but sometimes we just need to stop and think and be the judge of our own happiness. Don't just follow the crowd but be true to ourselves. Let's not compare ourselves with others, but just be happy as we are, the best that we can be.

And if there's someone trying to order YOUR life and manipulate you, be brave and maybe trust your own instincts. Don't be put into someone else's mould, but know your own heart. Try not to listen to the critics, to those who might think and tell you that you are not attractive enough for a particular job, or too old to have love or too young to have success, or not 'current' enough to be important.

Love yourself, get to know what makes YOU happy ... and just .... breathe into it ... be grateful for life! And enjoy!