Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bloody hell the family is growing up!

It's been a while since I posted here and I was wondering why?
It really is a matter of time or lack of it. I can't believe the family is moving on so quickly. Adam is now in 6th year and will leave school next June to begin a gap year (God knows where!) before hopefully going on to study medicine at Edinburgh University. That will be the first out of the house. Will I be sorry to see him go? Yes, in one way, it means I am getting older! No, because he needs to move on and develop his own life. We all have to. He can't do that living at home with a younger brother and very much younger sister.I just hope that he is successful in what he wants to do.

Fraser is now 15 and in 4th year at school. It doesn't feel that long ago that he was leaving Primary school!He is sitting his Standard Grades this year and if he carries on the way he has for the last 3 years then I've no doubt he will do very,very well. He has so many talents and able to do so many different things. He will sit his Grade 6 Cello and his Grade 6 Piano this year as well. That is not bad for a person who is not always the most willing of practioners!!
If time flies as quickly as it has been then it won't be long before he shoots the craw as well! I don' t know what he will do for a living but whatever it is I am sure it will be a success.

Then there is Kate! What can I say? She is the surprise. The one that nobody expected. She is also the most incredible little girl. She is now 3 years old and has really turned our lives upside down. Have we ever regretted it? Not for a moment! Kate has completed our family and more than any of us could have imagined. The most amazing thing is she is not just a combination of Caroline and myself but a mixture of us all. It is fascinating to see and watch this little person develop all the different influences from myself, Caroline, Adam and Fraser. The good thing is that she seems to have picked all the good traits (except for nail-biting!) of us all and what a lovely person that is!

Here they all are together (including Gar)! When I look at them I realise just what a lucky person I am to have my clever, good-looking and talented family!!

Sunday, September 03, 2006



Is another story of despair and tragedy that brings home very vividly the dangers of Drugs and Alcohol. That a young and talented life can be snuffed out so easily by the illness of addiction is a sad reflection of a society that can, in most cases, accuse such people of nothing more than spineless and lacking in willpower. A person who has no worth to society because of their addiction and who is seen as only a burden.

I think Mathew's diaries show the anguish and pain that exists inside the head of an addict. Not only their own pain but that of those closest to them. In those moments of clarity that exists in their lives they think, not so much of themselves, but of those other people they are equally destroying. Therein lies the whole paradox. They cannot afford to think of others, if they are to recover, but only of themselves, because in that selfishness everybody will begin to recover.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Exam results

Well Adam has done well but is it good enough, I don't know. 4 A's and a B in English is not quite what he envisaged for himself. English has been his strongest subject since he started school and he even got the English prize at school this year. I just hope he accepts the result and makes up hs mind to do something he will like.

The whole thing is so stressful but should it be or even more why is it? Theses exams are put to them like a last chance saloon. "If you don't get this then you will not be able to do that". If we all took that attitude in life then it would grind to a halt. many people who failed at school have gone on to be very successful entrepenuers, engineers, doctors, you name they have done it. So the question is do we really need exams at all?

We probably do but only as a way of gathering all the information we have collected throughout the year; a sort of annual tidying up. We could then see who keeps the cleanest house and who is able to retain the information they are given in any given year. It doesn't have to be a do or die.

Medicine (Adam's preference, career wise) seems to make it very difficult to get into. We have a shortage of doctors yet it is made so difficult to get into that people nowadays are put off before they even start. I, as a musician, understand the word vocation but does it have to be that way as a doctor. Do you have to have the calling? I don't think so. You certainly need to be clever bot you also need to be practical, imaginative and have people skills that are second to none. I don't see that in every doctor and I do see it in other people who have either been scared off medicine or who have been told, because of exam results, that they will never make good doctors. Why?

I believe that a lot of doctors and other professions miss out on ideal candidates because they write them off at too early an age. It's a case of an individual trying to fit the system rather than the system fitting the individual. It's a bit like the medication we all take. Because it works for one person then it must work for everybody else. IT DOES NOT!!

Whether it will ever change I don't know but for just now Adam will have to do something and if it's not medicine then it will be their loss

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Annual Concert

I am very tired today and this is the reason why! I started this string group from scratch 3 years ago. They have all been taken from 4 primary schools that I teach at through the week. It is only 4 of the 11 schools I visit throughout the week but these 4 now holds a special place in my teaching.

Most of these children had never seen a violin up close and even more had never heard of a cello. Now we are able to put a 50 strong junior string orchestra together that is able to sustain an hours worth of music. It really is quite an acheivement and none more so than in the children themselves. They have worked very hard to acheive what they have and it has now become a desired activity for many of the children in the schools.
I was very fortunate to be asked by an inspiring Primary Headteacher, who had the insight to realise what music could bring to children, to set up a programme of string teaching in the 4 schools. She managed to get money from the Social Inclusion Partnership (SIPS) which enabled me to buy string instruments for the schools. This was quite unique in todays climate of wasting money on instant fixes such as computers and computer games. She wanted something that would last for years if not generations and so it began. It has taken a lot of hard work, none more so than when I was attempting to teach violin as well as cello, but when I heard them all together on Friday I knew it was all worth it. Thankfully I can now call on a specialist violin teacher to help me and it has made a difference. I would still like more help but I know that these things take a long time and I am in for the long haul.
I wouls love to replicate this set-up in my other Primary Schools but I know that you do not, for one, come across many Headteachers like the one I have had the good fortune to meet and that without the desire of others it will be very difficult. I would never give up on it happening because I get so much from it but I can always look at these photos and know that I have begun to acheive something very significant in my life.

If you would like to see some more photographs, click here

Thursday, June 15, 2006

West-End Festival

Some photos of the first of the summer festivals here in Glasgow. This the West-End Festival
It's now in it's 10th year and has grown year on year to become a pretty large festival now. The parade started in the Botanic Gardens with the usual array of Dragons.

Unfortunately one had to fight it's way through the copius number of trees in this beautiful park

Others just joined the parade!!

But Kate knew where to find the fun!!

And survivied
to tell the tale!!

It was a really good day and showed Glasgow at it's best with the Byres Rd. being closed to traffic and being taken up with bands, street musicians and other entertaing acts. I wish Glasgow could maintain the festive atmosphere the whole year round but on the other hand we would probably all become complacent and some would even get sick of it. There is no pleasing everybody!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Exam Time

It is that time of the year once more! I remember the dread I use to feel when May/June came about. The weather was always hot and I would be stuck in some sweaty, nervous driven hall waiting, with my stomach churning, on a paper that could decide my future.

Thank God I don't have to do that now. That was 33 years ago. Now is the turn of my eldest son, Adam. English, Maths, Modern Studies, Biology and Chemistry. 5 exams to decide his future. Or does it? I was lucky in that I was already accepted for Music College and knew what I wanted to do. I still felt under pressure to do well in my exams but it wasn't vital that I did (which is just as well!).

Adam wants to do medicine and needs very good grades to get into Medical School because just about everyone wants to do medicine. The added pressure is that he needs them now in his 5th Year. 6th Year is just for topping up. Is this pressure fair? Is it fair on any of us in the family who have to watch Adam move around like man waiting for the gallows? He has tried to put a brave face on it but not sleeping is a dead giveaway everytime. I KNOW he's been shitting himself.

Maybe it's good to come under that pressure at a young age, if for nothing else, to see if he can handle it. I still don't believe, however, that no matter what he gets at the result time, it will be the end of the beginning. He could still do medicine if the grades aren't what he wants, it might just take a bit longer. But I have no doubt that whatever he gets he will do something worthwhile that will eventually give him satisfaction and a good life. How do I know this? He's my SON!!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Choosing a University or a University choosing you

Points of View - The Herald

I recently had this letter published in the Herald newspaper and again it covers the mess that education is in. Now it's about Universities and their choice of students. Parents are getting their knickers in a twist over the fact that their child is not getting into the uni of their choice despite their offspring getting 5 A's in their higher results.

What do these Higher results tell us about that student? Is it that they are super intelligent and should be offered a place of their choice because that's what they deserve or does it tell us that they have been hothoused through their exams and are able to retain enough knowledge to pass an exam?I believe that in many cases it's the latter. I believe we have to trust the universities to take a look at the proposed student as a whole and not just the exam results. In that case many pupils from state schools will impress more than a privately educated child who's parents have paid for tutors as well as their education at school. After speaking to an Oxford Don about this he did confirm this was often the case because of the work ethic of somebody from a state school who has proven they can achieve impressive results in spite of many drawbacks.

This is not the same as my letter which was trying to point out that in the beginning there is no difference between a state or privately educated child. the prejudices that exist are taken from parents on both sides who have either something to prove(state) or because it's being paid for there is a right to whatever University they choose(private).

The truth is neither and the sooner parents can see a level playing field the better. There is no right for anybody to advance to University but those that do have be considered there on merit not privilage.

Some of this may sound simplistic but why is that so wrong? Over complication of issues are often the reason we get ourselves into a mess, keeping it simple is prize philosophy

Monday, April 03, 2006

The crisis in schools music

Telegraph Arts Discord that drowns out the real crisis in schools music

This was an article I found written by Jullian Lloyd Webber. I actually discussed this with him when we met last month and interestingly people in the audience at the workshop asked about this subject.

It is one very close to my heart and I do despair at the standards that are being required for examinations in Scotland despite Julain's very complimentary remarks on the health of music in Scotland. We are lowering the standard all the time and the latest example of that is you only need play to an ASS. Board level grade4 to pass your higher music. Most children who start in Primary school and are well taught will reach that standard by the end of their time there. What is the point in them doing music as a subject. Most schools will not now teach them any theory of substance and the rules of harmony have just been forgotten. If you are an at all talented musician and are wanting to do this for a living then there ios no point in taking music as a subject. This lowering of standards is self-perpetuating thing as well. There is a need for music teachers in schools but because of the standard of the music students now we have teachers who are less musically able than half of their pupils!! The teacher refer to excerpts of melodies by the "Greats" in such terms as "The tune from the Hovis advert" instead of Dvoraks "New World Symphony". This is, much to my horror because that teacher was told the same thing when they were at school!

This does not happen in other subjects such as Maths and English. That is no easier now than it was when I was at school. Why is it? My belief is that because Maths and English are core subjects that all children must do then it is properly taught and to a high standard. Music tries to attract the lowest common denominator and the result is rubbish!! My view as well as Julian Lloyd Webber and other good musicians is we are failing our children by not exposing them early enough to the great music of this world when the child, as in my eldest son, can then go on and develop their own tastes but by having a little understanding of the subject they can make a much better, informed choice.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Julian Lloyd Webber Workshop

This was a great day! A workshop for 30 cellos and 10 Double basses, directed by Julian Lloyd Webber and myself. It was wonderful to hear this new group perform for the first time. It has taken a lot of work on my part to get this off the ground but it was all worth itgiven the success of the day. There was a great range of ages which made it all the more satisfying because I know that it will keep going after the older ones have left.

The hair and cello
go well together!

Fraser does not appreciate
having his photo taken while
trying to have a nap!

Two photos of pure consentration Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Aging not so gracefully

We all age, it's the only thing in this life that is certain! Why, though, do some age with ease and confidence and others become bitter and twisted or just so pig-headed that they forget all self-respect. I'm not talking about people with altzheimers or with the common problems that can accompany old-age. I'm talking of sheer belligerence and lack of thought for anyone else bar themselves.

I have an Aunt Betty who at 82, is the same age as my mother but who is so bitter and twisted that nobody wants to know about her, not even her own children. The only one of her 5 children who talk to her is her son, who is not exactly a beacon of humanity; the others don't even send her a Christmas card. It sounds so sad, yet she has had plenty of opportunities to try and make amends for being a thoughtless mother but is just not able to get off that high horse. Is that what pride and intolerance can lead to? Total isolation.

My Mother-in-Law is another case of pig-headedness that causes us all a great deal of strain and anguish. With her inability to accept help until it is almost too late this family is suffering unacceptable amounts of stress. I have often made excuses for her, in that she has had a lot of tragedy in her life, but many others have too and are only too thankful to accept unconditional help. Help that will ease everybody's stress levels.

The similarities between these two women are not striking, except for the fact that they are both control freaks. Is that what it is all about? Control! Even when they are losing their own self control they will try to hang on to that last vestige of power....... Control over others. Even up to the point that it will go beyond the grave. Both talk incessantly of what they will leave behind when they die. They use it as a weapon for stirring up trouble or as a means of getting people to do their bidding. Telling each individual exactly how much they are going to get when they eventually snuff it! I don't CARE!!!!! The money or properties don't mean that much to me and even less when I see the price that is being asked! I cannot say that it isn't nice to receive gifts or that I couldn't do with more money. What I can say is , not at any price.

I don't know yet how I will be when or if I reach their age but I know that just now I am grateful for all the help I can be given, whether it's with the children or work or just my insane head at times, and I hope I have enough humility to accept that whatever happens to me when I'm older will be made a lot easier and more bearable if I can keep my family close to me.