9 April: We want you to come back every week!


There is definitely something in this. The idea of older people working with still older people. The culture has been fixed for a very long time on intergenerational work and there is some brilliant stuff around. There is also some really bad stuff around (I know, I’ve done some of it). Take younger people teaching older people about going online. Really bad plan, generally. As an older person I know, when there’s a little bright spark at your elbow going “See? and then you just (*?????$*£&$*$&$????)”   “Oh I understand,” says the older person, none the wiser but far too embarrassed to ask AGAIN what that bright spark just did on the computer “thank you for explaining everything so clearly.”

I was speaking to the activities worker at Willesden Court about intergenerational visits from local schools. “They love seeing the children who come in and sing. But it’s not possible for them to have any kind of relationship with the children. The children like coming in and singing but are really shocked by the language of some of the residents – c words, f words – some of them talk about sex a lot and it’s not really possible for them to be around children.” Of course the ten members of Bolder Voices who go to the residential home have no problem with this at all. They may not be wild about the language but they understand it, they’ve heard it all before, they’ve lived. 



Our format is working. Why am I surprised? Ten really lovely sociable people, come to visit and chat. With so many, it’s possible to have one to one relationships. Bolder Voices do stretchy exercises, teach a new song. We add choreography to the song we wrote about things they like. Andy’s golden fingers can play anything and today we had lots of wild Calypso dancing. We all just had a really, really good time. Image


And we like SINGING………….. 27 March


I suppose you could say it was class. The next day when we went to Compton Lodge in Swiss Cottage, the other nursing home, instead of liking ackee and Yorkshire pudding, people here tended to like Mozart, oil painting and the waltz. My feeling was that this would be a far more “talky” group and indeed we did chat about what people had done (produce radio plays, painted pictures, lifted torpedos and lived in South Africa). It was a diverse group, a boxer and fisherman had snuck in there, much to Bolder Stan’s delight.


But honestly, things didn’t take off until Andy got rolling with his guitar. We stomped in, not to everyone’s taste at first (I get that – you’re sitting there, catching up on a bit of daytime telly and in stroll all these noisy people who want to know about you). But once we started singing – it really was magic. One woman who spent a lot of time furious, growling and poking her tongue out, really angry about something, by the end of the session was hugging everyone, so excited for us to come back.

Why isn’t this more universally recognised? I know that it’s used in a limited way but I long for one of these massive bids on changing the quality of life for older people includes a healthy dose of music and singing. Is that too much to ask?


Wednesday 26 March – Our First session in Brent – and we lived to tell the tale

so Andy, Andrea Bolder Voices and I meet at the rehearsal space to go through a new song and practice teaching warmups and songs to each other. Of course it’s harder than it looks. You never expect people not to get it or to ask for you to repeat something. Or for yourself to get totally flummoxed. So here’s Bolder Sonya practising teaching her song with Bolder Stanley. Image

Image  later in the residential home Willesden Court, Bolder Florence runs a stretchy warmup as Andy plays on guitar. When I think back on putting all this together a lot of tension and anxiety arose over people being stressed out over not being able to work the CD player or the music being too loud. What joy to have Andy’s magic fingers there as we stretched and relaxed.

ImageBolder Betty talks to resident Derek about things he loves. We collected all the things everyone loved – including tapdancing, ackee and rice, knitting scarves, clubbing in Hammersmith Palais and roast beef and Yorkshire pud and will put them in a song for next week. And then we sang and sang. We held hands around the world (down by the riverside), we did the hokey cokey, we requested (in vain) for Mr Tallyman to tally me bananas. The hour flew by. My inner control freak could have used less space in between songs – but why did that bother me? Everyone had a great time. I’ve never had such a great time in a residential home – there’s a lot to be said for going in with ten enthusiastic, engaged people and just letting what happens, happen. In the end, we all just had a good time.


Tomorrow we go to the home in Camden. More games and drama. Still crossing fingers.


9 Months later – Bolder Voices run 8 musical sessions in two residential homes

25 March, 2014

So it’s a new twist on singing seniors. The plan is to take Bolder Voices into two residential homes – two very, very different residential homes. So the cast of characters: Bolder Voices, age 65+ political singing group from Brent and Camden in London. Here we are in Parliament Square last December protesting about traffic safety and older people. That’s me on the drum. Eat your heart out Ringo Starr.

Bolder voices

And our fab team is: Andy on guitar, Andrea making flapjacks and keeping everyone happy and our two residential homes. Last week we did a gig for each home and asked what kind of music they liked. The Hokey Cokey, My Old Man, Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley, We’ll Meet Again.

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Here are some of Bolder Voices on the C11 bus in between residential homes (Andy with the beard). Tomorrow we go and do our first real session: Bolder Voices are running stretches and warmups for the residents, we’ll have a little bit of storytelling and hope to get a few phrases to start to make a song, and then the amazing Andy with his fabulous guitar fingers will get us all singing. Nothing can go wrong, can it? Can it? Wish us luck.

2 June – 25 days later in London

ImageI thought my next blog would be a significant date – like a week later – or 2 weeks later – or a calendar month later – or something. But it’s a chilly sunny Sunday morning and I’m drinking the last of my Peet’s coffee – that San Francisco brew which is a must for anyone visiting the city. Yes! walk on by Starbys and find a Peets. You’ll never look back.

I deliberately left May pretty free of work – just drama session Thursday mornings with the Bolder group. Plenty of time to process the amazing 5 weeks of the journey, keep in touch, make contacts over here, tell people to apply for this amazing opportunity, process, process, process…….

But it didn’t turn out like that……..

In 25 days I have…… Imagebeen to Prague for a weekend singing with one choir, been to rehearsals with other choirs in Staines Camden and Kentish Town, been to Leeds for a wedding, run taster sessions for work that starts next week, setup rehearsals that start  next week, Saturday workshop in Redbridge, chaired a meeting, appointments with osteopath, hairdresser, dentist, neurologist, helped my son study for his Game Theory exam, had a co-mentoring day, wrote two songs, wrote two scenes, saw friends saw friends saw friends  and cooked and cooked and cooked……

What I discovered when I was away that over 5 weeks I cooked ONLY  TWICE. What happens during the fellowship trip is you slip out of your life – not entirely – but it’s not a holiday (no matter how often my sister urged me to go to Alcatraz, who can be bothered?) and it’s not work (you can see 1 session a day, or 2 or 3 or nothing – have a walk, have an adventure, and process it). And you are responsible for no one but yourself. You’re not trying to make anyone happy. 

Then back you go and life hits you in the face and of course so does cooking and your family and all the stuff you put on hold 5 weeks ago. WHAM.

So here’s what I know.

My life is good. 5 weeks gives you that distance to look at friends and family and work and see that. I’m very very lucky.

And I’m hoping that I can connect the dots and some of the amazing people I’ve met and the projects I’ve seen, who I’m still communicating with, will inform the Bolder project and help shape its future. I’m saying hoping cause I’m lucky but if I don’t say “hoping” it’s too much like tempting fate.

And just to finish off my trip….. if anyone is following my story about me and The Coat, I didn’t need it all the was through San Fran when it was really hot, dragged it onto the plane, dragged it through the airport, was met by my son, dragged it onto the train to Paddington, hopped into a cab and…… haven’t seen it since.


Monday, 6 May – Last session – Chinese Singing Group in the Tenderloin

It’s my last session before I leave San Francisco for London tomorrow. I’m feeling pretty cocky about my knowledge of SF – I’ve hopped on dozens of buses and trams and seen great chunks of the city in ten days. So I hopped on a 38 bus – a new bus route! where will it take me!  with great excitement to get to the Downtown Senior Center for the last session and I am totally unprepared for where I get off. Haight Ashbury and the Mission District at night are very like Camden town where I live – young, loud, drinky, druggy. Places I used to feel at home and now make me feel ancient but not scared. But the 38 drops me bang in the middle of the Tenderloin, one of the places I was going to stay when I was frantically hunting for a hotel. At 1pm, it’s terrifying if you aren’t expecting it. “Got a dollar, got a dollar?” a tall skinny guy with red eyes asks me. I reply that I don’t. “I gotta have a hit” he says to a pusher on the corner. The pusher shrugs. This scene is being played out all over the street. There are 2 people up against a wall and I’m trying not to look to carefully but I’d swear they were “doing it”. Oh Lord. Where is the Senior Center??? Image

And suddenly, there it is. An innocuous beige building in the middle of all this. I go inside, rapidly and find Marie, the woman from the Solera singers who suggested I come along. She tells me the turtle on the sign is the Chinese turtle, which stands for long life. It is very unlike other sessions. It starts very late, people drift in. Marie tells me she no longer sings with them as she is too busy, but she’s also not comfortable because there are lots of politics involved. Half the group would like to sing in Cantonese (the predominant Chinese language spoken in San Francisco) and the other half in Mandarin. Their current director, Vivien Chan conducts in Mandarin. The pianist comes over to me and says “I’m Sali Lu. I’m 88. From Shanghai. I been here 24 years. Social worker ask me to come play piano.”

ImageThe session is conducted in Mandarin and the songs are in Mandarin. Vivien warms the group up with breathing and humming and they listen to a song which Sali Lu then plays and they sing.

ImageThen it’s the break. And the party takes off. I take a group picture. Then everyone wants pictures taken with their friends. They simply stand in front of me and pose. I take more pictures than at any other session on my trip. People bring me nuts, crackers. People being me homemade Chinese cake (I make this cake!) which is very like baklava. People pass out chocolates, biscuits. So I take pictures and stuff my face.

ImageImageThe break is over. Vivien sings a song in Mandarin and the others then sing it. Everyone goes home, smiling, very happy.

I speak to Sue Horst the Director of the center. She tells me the Chinese Community within the Senior Center will be part of the five year Community Choir initiative I spoke to Julene Johnson about the other day. “We’re in year 5″ she said. I speak to her colleague Peggy  who is in touch with a group who are trying to do a Western version of Young @ Heart – “The Redwoods” – “They’ve having a blast” she reports. Just speaking to the two of them makes me realise the longer you stay in San Francisco the more there is to discover – it seems almost infinite.You peel back a layer and more and more things turn up. 

I push off into the hot street, pick my way through the bodies and jump on a bus.



Friday 3 May – “If You’re Not Doing Anything Friday” – the San Francisco Folk Music Club

So I’m getting my fabulous ride home from the Union Chorus on Thursday when Glen, the man sitting next to me says “If you’re not doing anything Friday the San Francisco Folk Music Club is meeting. It’s 885 Clayton Ave at 8pm. I’ll be there. It’s been meeting since 1968 every other Friday.”

This is what seems to happen in San Francisco more than anywhere else I’ve been – people say “If you’re not doing anything…. there’s this – and what about this – and can you come to this?”

So I go. Why not? It’s a steep climb from Haight Ashbury which is still crawling with the druggy – peacenik – transvestism  of the 60s but also features a purple Ben & Jerry’s whose motto is PEACE LOVE AND ICE CREAM.Image

885 Clayton is the home of Faith Petric, now 97. She started it way back when but now  there is a committee who organises the entire thing and a lovely thing it is too. A big old wooden San Francisco home, one room is singing, one room is jamming. It’s free but food is a dollar.  In our room I counted 8 guitars, 2 banjos and a mandolin. There is always a theme and people find songs and learn them on this theme. Tonight’s theme is FRIENDSHIP. You can sing a song a capella, asked to be accompanied (though you probably will be anyway. As soon as anyone starts singing, all the guitars start picking, and harmonies develop). You can request a song, or ask everyone to sing a song. There is no clapping after the songs. You go round and round the room til eventually everyone gets exhausted and goes home. Faith sits in state, Queen of proceedings. She goes to bed at 10 and is sung off in style. She is adored and cherished.


I sat next to Rick who told me: “I went to the first two sessions of this in 1968. Then I got wasted, into drugs, and for 40 years was lost, man. Then I got clean, came back to San Francisco, and vaguely remembered this place. I knocked on the door, and said “Did there used to be a folk club here?” Faith said ‘Every other Friday.’ I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been coming every since.”

The singing is everything between patchy and fabulous. It’s hard to leave. But just before I do, Rick says, “If you’re not doing anything Sunday……….”