Learning to Enjoy the Silence


IMG_20171001_150935_470 I am developing a new and challenging habit … to sit in silence; or at the very least, not have the radio on as I potter about my flat.  This is unusual behaviour for me because I’ve always hated silence, always needed noise to fill the void; and that sound has invariably been the radio, or whichever album I’m currently in love with.  Yet in recent months, I have started to switch everything off and just be with the sounds around me.  Not a problem when those are birds singing or neighbours coming and going, but more challenging when my fridge starts ‘snoring’, which it does for about fifteen minutes every hour of the day; I was told it’s the gas.  However, I have persevered and am writing this in relative silence – the oven is cooling down from dinner (homemade ratatouille; not bad if I do say so myself) – and my studies over the last year have also often been accompanied by silence.

So why the self-imposed change in habit?  Primarily it’s because of work.  I’m a teacher, and my desk is in the middle of a large, open-plan office, so it’s difficult to get quiet time during the day.  Then there’s the commute to and from work and the gym, which I frequently do with headphones on, often to drown out unwanted noise.  When I swim, I’m in a little cocoon of googles and swim hat; just me, my thoughts and the water, bliss!

It’s still a challenge sometimes, to be with whatever reaches my ears from the world around me, (especially when it’s my neighbour’s TV as it is now while I’m typing this) but I’m learning to welcome silence into my life, and my brain often thanks me for it because everything quietens down, not just on the outside but the inside too; and that is a relief for someone whose mind rarely stops chattering!  I even prefer to meditate in silence now, and try to time it when little aural stimulation is likely.

The one time I struggle to be without the radio is when I go to sleep; I still need a little background murmur to help me drop off, especially when I can hear the TV from above or below my flat.  However, I will continue to make the most of the silence as and when I can.

I hope you can find a moment of peace today and enjoy the silence.





Better live now


I grew up in the eighties, so Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince were my world and their music was the background to every event, both happy and sad. I have now lost two of them.  I was sad when Michael Jackson passed, but not as much as I have been since the awful, truly shocking news appeared on a TV screen at the gym last Thursday, where I was when I heard that Prince had passed.  I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to; how could someone with so much vitality and passion for life be no more?

Even days later, as I struggle to write this through tears, listening to BBC 6Music paying tribute to Prince, I still cannot comprehend how we’ve arrived at this moment so soon. You know you’re idols will pass, you know it will be sad when they do; but you assume that will be when they are much older, and at the right time to do so, not aged 57 and still in their prime.

The thought which keeps running around in my head, along with so many of Prince’s songs, is ‘better live now’; Let’s Go Crazy is one of my favourites of his and the message of that song is poignant today. He lived life to the very max, ceaselessly working and producing at least one album a year, in addition to incredible live performances and after shows.  I was extremely lucky to have seen him at the 02 Arena in London during his 21 night residency there.  Needless to say he was amazing, and hearing the words ‘dearly beloved, we are gathered today’ as he rose up through the stage made me cry with joy.  Oh, and he was hot! I mean really sexy, but in a sensual way, which never degraded women but worshipped and often put them in positons of power within his tales of love and lust.

We are now gathered to mourn his loss and celebrate his life, as he gave so much to our own. Personally, it’s going to take me quite some time to get over his death and I cannot put into words how I feel, nor do justice to his genius.  Apart from the music, I hope everyone can take away that insatiable desire for life, and live it to the fullest ‘before grim reaper come knocking on your door.’

In loving memory of Prince, thank you.




Radio – my constant companion


I achieved another small goal recently; I had a film review read out on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review on BBC Radio 5 Live.  Now, this might not seem like much to you, but as a radio fan, I was ecstatic.  I have always loved listening to the radio; it’s always been there for me, often when I’ve felt no-one else was.

I guess I would have first listened to BBC Radio 1 as a toddler in the late 70s; my parents predominantly raised me on rock and heavy metal, not a taste in music I have followed to a great degree, much to my dad’s dismay.  In the 80s, I started to discover music for myself, with Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson being dominant in my record collection.

The radio shows I remember the most from my childhood and early teens are Simon Mayo, presenting the Radio 1 breakfast show and Steve Wright in the afternoon; the latter of the two being particularly important because I was at secondary school by then and had no friends because of bullies.  The show started at 3pm, when the school day ended, and I’d run home, through the door and immediately turn the radio on to listen to Steve, ‘the posse’ as they were referred to, and a myriad of funny characters who I felt were my real friends.  Then I felt happy and safe as I’d dance about to whatever was on the radio, singing loudly before my mum arrived home with my younger brother.

In my final years at school and throughout college, I listened to Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq on Radio 1’s Evening Session, filling my ears with indie, rock and Brit Pop, and Mark Radcliffe and Mark Riley, otherwise known as ‘Mark and Lard’, from 10pm.  Again, those difficult years, when I was often very low, were made all the easier by the familiar voices coming over the airwaves.  This was even more important at university as I was very lonely due to extreme shyness, and those same people kept me company.

Like many listeners back then, I recorded songs and shows from the radio, and especially loved Bank Holidays, when Radio 1 would have an entire day of utterly eclectic tracks, not always aimed at their target ‘youth’ audience and this exposed me to new forms of music; easy listening being one of them, as there was a revival of the genre in the 90s.  I put my broad taste in music down to my love of radio, and the opportunity to listen to a variety of stations.  I admit, I am biased towards the BBC, but I think they produce the best stations and shows, and I can’t stand adverts.  I listened to Classic FM in the evenings for a while, but got fed-up with the constant interruptions.  I’ve tried Radio 3 on occasion, and listen to Radio 4 most days for the news and comedy, but my Radio 1 listening-days are long gone.

I still listen to Simon Mayo on Radio 2’s Drivetime show and on the Radio 5 Live podcast for Wittertaiment with Mark Kermode (hello to Jason Issacs).  However, the station I am most grateful for is BBC’s 6 Music; without it, I’m not sure how I would still be able to discover new music every day.  I love the variety of genres played; you can hear Led Zeppelin followed by The Beastie Boys, followed by The Staves; such a myriad of styles and sounds on a daily basis.  No, I’m not getting paid for this, I just love the station where I can still listen to Mark Radcliffe, albeit on catch up via the iPlayer (whoever invented that deserves a medal by the way), who now broadcasts with Stuart Maconie, who I also used to listen to all those years ago on his music review programme with Andrew Collins; Mary Ann Hobbes with her soothing voice at the weekends, and Shaun Keaveny; the only person able to make me smile at 7am.

Since the difficult years of my teens and twenties, I have fortunately overcome my shyness as a result of teaching, so luckily actually have friends now.  However, I still love listening to the extra ones I have on the radio, and long may that continue.

So thank you radio, even in the age of YouTube and various other online distractions, ‘someone still loves you’.

‘All you can do is dig the moment you’re in’


Wilko Johnson is an extremely lucky man.  He shouldn’t be here.  The Dr Feelgood frontman, having been told he had pancreatic cancer, and only months to live did want anyone else would do, he went on tour and recorded what he thought would be his last album.  Yet by chance he met a photographer, who was also a cancer specialist, who put him in touch with the team of surgeons who have since saved his life.  By the time the lump from Wilko’s stomach was removed, it weighed 3 kilos and he looked six months pregnant.  In the attached interview on BBC 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie show, Wilko talks of how calmly he reacted to the original diagnosis, and then how he walked outside on a winter’s day, ‘looking at the trees against the sky and getting this fantastic rush … God!  I’m alive!’  He goes on to describe how he hadn’t ‘felt that vibrance of just living’ since he was a child.  Wilko’s story is truly remarkable, and a reminder of how we, as he puts it, ‘go around, day-to-day … thinking about this … and that’, and completely missing everything around us.  Completely missing the moment we’re in; even if that moment is a mundane one.  After listening to the programme, I walked to work the next day and made a point of looking up from the traffic moving slowly beside me to the sky, the trees, birds flitting to and fro, and making an effort to appreciate the beauty around me.  My favourite quote from the interview is ‘all you can do is dig the moment you’re in’.   That’s what we all forget.  We get so focused on what’s ahead, that we don’t stop and look at what’s here for us now.  I know I’m guilty of constantly planning and obsessing over the future.  I clearly need to remind myself of Wilko’s words, and just dig it.

Link to the original programme, which will be available on the BBC iPlayer for 4 weeks:


Enjoy the Silence


I’ve just returned from a short city break to Barcelona with friends. We had an enjoyable time, although it was unusually hot for the time of year.  Bearing in mind I live in England, where temperatures of 29 degrees or more make headline news!  Yet, even the owner of the apartment we rented commented on how it was hotter than the norm for September.  Some days my friends and I would chase the shade wherever we could find it, as we feared our skin would start to sizzle if it caught sight of the sun.  I love city breaks though.  Probably because I live in a seaside town and therefore love to spend time wondering around museums and galleries, looking at incredible architecture and eating wonderful food.  The only thing I’m not so keen on is the noise.  Shortly before I went away I was moaning that the new fridge the landlord had bought for my flat was noisy and sometimes woke me up at night, and my windows are broken, so I haven’t got any fresh air at the moment either (hopefully they’ll be fixed soon).  Yet after four days in Barcelona, I was longing for the peace of my flat, even with the fridge and stuffy air.  When you first arrive in a city, the sounds of life are exciting and add to the feeling of ‘here we are!  Let’s explore!’  However, after a few days of this I do long for my humble abode, with often only birdsong or the lift for aural stimulation.  My brother said to me today that we often don’t realise how lucky we are, and it’s only by seeing the world from a different point of view that we understand this.  My friends and I flew back from Barcelona on an early evening flight, and so when I entered my home, all was silent … and I immediately turned the radio on!