May: The month of May has been our ‘Musical Month’ for years now. Our local theatre, The Newbury Corn Exchange, has a Musical Spring Festival every year and they offer Home Educators free tickets to many of the day-time events and then we try to buy tickets to two of the evening concerts. This year we were rather pleased with some of the events on offer. Kieran and I particularly enjoyed the Fugata Quintet, especially their guitarist Antonis Hatzinikolaou. I even had to track him down and send a note from Kieran, which he did reply to. Wasn’t that nice? Hazel really enjoyed the performance by the Cavaleri String Quartet.
Question for you, now be honest—do you know what ‘nonet’ means? No googling it! Well, I had no idea until the festival. When I booked tickets for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra—I had no idea what a ‘nonet’ was and was rather surprised to see that not all of the orchestra was there. Turns out ‘nonet’ means a group of nine. Oh well, never too old to learn something new! Even though it wasn’t the full orchestra, I was once again impressed by the National Jazz Nonet.
The main event for the month was seeing the amazing Nicola Benedetti with the Oxford Philomusica. What a great performance. Hazel also spotted that a violinist and the viola player from the Cavaleri String Quartet were also in the Oxford Philomusica ensemble. I think that was a good way for her to learn that musicians can play for more than one company, and basically they probably need to to ensure they can make a living.
We also visited Petworth House in May. Petworth House has a gorgeous garden and we all enjoyed our time there. I have to say though, that I enjoyed the art gallery the most. I was so pleased to see a couple of Blake’s original works: ‘Satan Calling up his Legions’ and ‘The Vision of the Last Judgement’. That made my day! There was a film crew on location—I think it was for a movie about one of the past resident artists, but can’t remember which one for sure, could be Turner or Constable.
May also saw us continuing with many of our normal activities, RAL, Intech and Astronomy space lectures, music lessons, badminton and scouts—which they joined just after Easter in 2013. Hazels best friend Eleanor slept over during the first weekend. The Mini Band had a performance in Tilehurst for a local festival.
June: The main event for June was Hazel took her Grade 5 Music Theory exam. Hazel started to learn music theory the summer before and had on average 2 half-hour lessons a month for the year to take her through the 5 grades so she could take the exam. The only reason to take it was because the ABRSM music board won’t let them take grade 6 or higher musical exams unless they do theory. We felt it was probably not the best way to learn this, meaning we didn’t like her studying to ‘take a test’, but needs must be met. She went to the exam very calmly and was rather surprised at how easy the process was. I think the proctor telling her she had lovely hand-writing was the highlight of the day. Pleased to say she did pass with a Merit, only 1 point off of Distinction. Not a shabby result for her first exam.
We also visited the Fleet Air Arm Museum, the “largest naval aviation collection of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, the flying arm of the Royal Navy”. We all enjoyed the museum; highlights were walking in a test concord plane and seeing the planes from the birth of aviation onwards. There was so much to see and we all learned something interesting, it was well worth the visit. Kieran is desperate to go back.
Much of the month was spent outdoors, enjoying any glimpse of the sun. Hazel had a great strawberry crop and she made many scones to go with the strawberries. We also put one of the tents up in the garden and the kids spent a couple of nights outside.
Bird watching hit fever pitch when the neighbours nest box (right next to our hedge) was very busy hosting two broods of blue tits. On one day we saw three hatchings take their first flight. Hazel got a great photo of one blue tit peeking out. Later in the summer we spotted our first nut hatch ever, and it was in the garden. It was taking a peanut from our feeder and eating it on our neighbour’s aviary.
July: July gave us a day to remember! It was the 6th of July and the event was Hazel’s first piano exam, Grade 4. Not something you think we’d all remember so well, but we will. We weren’t given much information for where the exam was being held, just a house name, a road and that it was ‘supposedly hard to find’. As Michael was going to take Hazel I kept suggesting a drive by, but Mr Sat Nav said it’d be no problem. Oh, famous last words!
I was in town with Kieran when I get a call from Hazel, when she should be in the exam, that they couldn’t find the location. Obviously she is upset, but having a stressed out man driving her was probably the worst part of it. I decided that they were to drive back to town to get us, and then we’d set off to look for it. We did eventually find it, about one and a half hours after she should have taken the exam. I was on a mission by now—and still took Hazel in, thinking they ‘WILL’ let her take this exam after giving such bad information. I talked to the woman in charge and she refused to give us a definite answer—the usual nonsense about the examiner having to leave right away. I told Hazel to take a seat in the waiting room and we waited. And waited. About an hour later they let her take the exam—but gave her no warm up time. The piano was new to her and only had two peddles—Hazel had no idea which to use. But Hazel was Hazel. She held her nerve, and just did her best. I would say that her achieving a Merit on that exam says volumes about what a determined, focused and talented girl she is. The only thing she had to say afterwards was that her dad was never taking her to an exam again!
The other main event that night was when we were gardening. We were watering everything in preparation for going away for a few nights, and it was very warm.. While I was watering I decided to chase the kids and Michael with the hose, as one does. Lots of fun! Until I tripped. What a trip! It had been years since I’d fallen and in that slow-motion-mid-fall-thinking-time, the only think I was thinking was ‘This is going to HURT!’ It did. I banged my knee rather badly. Of all the times of the year to bruise your knee I would do it during short weather season! (Sadly months on I am still feeling it as I gave myself Achilles tendinitis.)
The month picked up in the morning! We drove up to Liverpool to celebrate our youngest nephews first birthday. We had a great day in the sunshine with all the family. Michael and I had decided that on the way home we would take a few days and drive through the north of Wales, some place the kids and I had never been. We spent Sunday afternoon in Llandudno and had enjoyed the sunshine. The side of town with the main beach had a zillion jelly-fish, so we drove back to the town side. I managed to find a bench hidden from the sun by a huge pillar for Michael and I to sit on while the kids had a swim.
We then drove through Snowdonia, a place I’m sad to say we have only been to this one time. We must go back, as it was even more beautiful than I had imagined. The highlight of the drive home for me was the next day when we spent the day walking along Carding Mill Valley in the Shropshire Hills. Having a sunny day anywhere always makes it that much more special, and we had a gorgeous day there.
The other outing for the month was to Bletchley Park, I cannot recommend it enough. We had the most brilliant tour guide, Tim Pulverman. He was informative and witty, just my kind of guide! We will be returning there in the future!
The kids were thrilled to become the proud of owners this month of their first body boards! We went to Avon Beach in Dorset a couple of times and we whisked off to the shop to buy them on our first trip. They had loads of fun with them—but did learn that they need to wear t-shirts with them as they both got a rash from laying on them without shirts.
In July Kieran’s band had a couple of performances in town. They played at the local rugby clubs Beach Festival and it was a great day out. The only down side of the day was the poor kids were performing in a stage that felt more like an oven—it was sweltering!
The kids also finished up most of their normal activities, but we keep music lessons up for the summer. As soon as the schools broke up Hazel went for her first ever sleep-over to her best friend’s house. She had a great time and they went to Basildon House for a visit. Our two also did a mini-swimming course, but can’t say they learnt very much in a week. We were hoping to see their strokes improve, but as they were ahead of everyone else in the class it was a futile exercise.