Friday, 8 September 2017

Downton, Cogges and me.



December 2015, was a very sad time in our household. Why, what happened, you might ask? Well, 25th December, Christmas day saw the screening of the last ever episode of Downton Abbey. Now if you're not a fan, you'll be thinking, so what! But Downton Abbey has been a big part of my life, for four years and has definitely left a hole.

Not only did it provide me with quality entertainment, it also inspired blogs about embarrassing, as well as exciting encounters and given me a new role as a tour operator. Visitors, from as far afield as Japan, America, Australia and Denmark, are still visiting Cogges to see the site of Yew Tree Farm. This has been an amazing opportunity for Cogges because, not only did we benefit from being paid for allowing the filming to take place, but it's also generated a new source of income, which as a charity has been most welcome.

I've missed the excitement of knowing that they are coming to film and the anticipation of which of the characters will be involved. There'll be no more funny little anecdotes of things that happened during the filming for me to amuse the visitors with when doing a tour. I have it on good authority that there is going to be a film, but have no idea if Yew Tree Farm will feature in it, although I think there's unfinished stories regarding Daisy and Andy and even Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore. But as I'm not Julian Fellowes, I won't have any say in it.


A false dovecot on the toilet block,
one of my anecdotes about filming.
However, I'm very grateful to Downton Abbey as it's helped me to grow and stretch myself as a person. For the past three years I have had great fun talking to interested listeners about two of my passions; Cogges and Downton. It's very gratifying when they laugh in the right places. It's also had its challenges. We've had a group that turned up one and a half hours before they were due and on another occasion, I was on my own with a group of forty four, when a colleague didn't turn up. I was very pleased, if exhausted when they left having enjoyed their visit, without realising that I was being like a swan, calm on the top, but with my feet going like the clappers trying to work out how to handle the situation.

Me, with Charles Edwards.
Then there was the time that I had to work through an interpreter for a group from Denmark. It was definitely a challenge knowing how much to say before stopping to let the interpreter translate. But it was really funny when I told one of my anecdotes about the actor, Charles Edwards, alias Michael Gregson, Marigold's father, taking a selfie of himself when he was filming another period drama here, and sending it to Laura Carmichael, alias Lady Edith, saying, "Guess where I am?". Some of the group did understand English and laughed when I had finished, then the rest of them laughed when they heard the translation. Very gratifying for a frustrated performer like myself. But the best thing of all was when the tour leader told me that the visit to Cogges had been the highlight of their visit. He explained that, although they'd been to Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey, it had just felt like they were visiting any stately home. But he said that Cogges felt authentic, that it was really like being at Yew Tree Farm.

No one knows how long we will benefit from the Downton factor. But I'll always be grateful for the opportunity it has afforded me to add to my skill set. It's also given me more confidence when meeting new people. I even accost visitors at Cogges and ask them if they're here because of Downton and offer to give them a tour. I'd never have done this a couple of years ago. I'm also considering extending my knowledge and becoming a history tour guide at Cogges, but that might have to wait until I finish my degree.

Scene from first filming at Cogges.


I've still got my fingers crossed that Yew Tree Farm will feature in the film which, rumour has it, is due to start filming next Spring. We have had more filming at Cogges this year, but I'm not allowed to say anything about it yet. I can say that it features three well known stars of the big and small screen. You'll just have to watch this space.

I've certainly been challenging myself over the past few years and I'm really glad that I wasn't afraid to try. Now my next adventure is that I'm about to start the last module of my Open University degree. For the next nine months I'm going to be immersing myself in the Roman Empire and to get me in the mood, my hubby and I are off on a cruise which will include a visit to Rome. So I'll finish now as I have some packing to do.

Photo's Isabel's own apart from:-

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1709270949086116&set=gm.1649751095097609&type=3&theater&ifg=1


Isabel Johnstone 2017 ©

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Sometimes we feel that we are being held back, but...

"154 people who like, Isabel Johnstone, haven't heard from you in a while. Write a post". This popped up in my notifications feed on Facebook recently. First of all, I'm very flattered that 154 people like my page. But I'm sure that they've not been sitting at home pining away because I haven't posted in a while.

My last blog was about persisting even if, or especially, when something happens to discourage you. I'm still feeling chuffed that my short story was short listed, but I've been too busy working on my Open University degree to get down to any creative writing. But I'm now on my Summer break, so no excuses. If I'm being honest, part of the reason that I've not been blogging much recently is that I felt that I'd lost my direction.

My blog is meant to be about proving that 'Life can still be an adventure', but for the past few months it's felt like anything but. I began to feel that I was a fraud, who'd fallen at the first hurdle, and was letting life drag me down.

When I first started blogging I used to get inspiration from photographs with captions that people shared on Facebook. Just recently I saw one that made me think that perhaps this past few months haven't been a step in the wrong direction after all. It was a photograph of an archer and the caption said something along the lines of, 'Sometimes we feel that we are being held back. But we're actually being pulled back in order to be launched into even greater things.'

I'm not sure about the 'greater things' part, but I believe the point is that sometimes we need to take a step back, be still for a bit and decide what our next target, or goal is. It would be lovely if life was all fun and adventures, but we all know it isn't. But we also know that we need life's challenges to help us to grow, become stronger, so that we can deal with the hard times, which are an inevitable part of life.

Life is full of surprises. In December of last year, we were told that our 17 year-old cat, Chutney, had a type of lung cancer and only had a month or two at the most, left to live. We were devastated. But decided to make the most of the time we had left with him. But 5 months later, he was still with us. We decided to take him for a check up. To cut a long story short, he doesn't have cancer after all. He has chronic bronchitis, but is still enjoying life. In fact, only last week I had to take him to the vet as he'd been fighting and had an abcess on his ear.


We could've got upset and even angry with the vet because of the wrong diagnosis. But actually, we were so relieved and let's face it, we've all made mistakes.  To me, this just goes to show that, there is always hope. You never know what lies ahead.

I'm ready to keep living this adventure called life. I'll hang on in and see what I'm being 'fired into' next. Who knows what that might be?

Girl archer pic, courtesey of: https://pixabay.com/en/girl-sport-bow-arrow-exercise-1909006/

Isabel Johnstone 2017

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Twist of Fate

A Twist of Fate
Daylight filtered through the thin, nylon curtains of the motel room. Beth lay on the bed, still wearing yesterday’s clothes. That split second each morning when she believed that everything was all right had passed, leaving her with the too familiar dragging sensation in her stomach. She rubbed her temples but couldn’t stop the pounding in her head. The room stank of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol, making her nauseous. She pushed herself up on her elbows and reached for the plastic cup of water on the shabby bedside cabinet. A half empty pack of Marlboro Lights lay beside the cup. She shook one out and lit it, then coughed as the acrid smoke filled her lungs. As she pulled on the cigarette her mind began to clear and she remembered why she was here.
            ‘Not long now sweethearts. Mommy’s coming,’ she whispered, as she swung her legs off the bed and padded over to the shower room.
She peered at her reflection in the dim light of the solitary light bulb over the mirror. Haunted brown eyes with dark shadows under them stared back at her. She splashed some water on her face and dragged her fingers through her short, brown hair. A small, white plastic bottle with a ridged cap lay by the sink, its printed label faded by constant handling. She hadn’t needed them for a while. She used alcohol to help her sleep these days.

Beth screwed up her eyes against the early morning, autumn sunshine. People hurried by, their coats wrapped tightly against the cold north wind. She tried to light a cigarette, but her hands were shaking too much. In front of her stood the tall, pentagon-shaped structure of the Baltimore World Trade Centre, dominating the skyline. She stared at it, oblivious to the jostling of people going about their business. It was Thanksgiving and the air was filled with the sounds of children, chattering as they stood in line for the National Aquarium. A man walked by with a child on his shoulders, another one skipping along beside him. Beth looked away, but not before her throat began to ache and the familiar feeling of emptiness settled in her stomach.
She sat down on one of the benches in the harbour. The cold of the stone seeped through the thin material of her old, black coat, but she was unaware of the discomfort. She lit up and, through the haze of the smoke, stared at the Baltimore 9/11 monument which lay in front of her. Sheltered from the sea breeze by the Trade Centre building, the rectangular, grey, marble base reminded her of a tombstone. Her eyes travelled up to the three steel beams lying on top and shivered at their twisted, fused appearance, their bronze colour a stark contrast to the grey of the marble. Designed to act like a sundial, the shadow of the World Trade Centre crept across the base. She watched until it reached six minutes past ten, the time that Flight 93 crashed and then, as if in a dream, she stood up and began to circle the monument. Her eyes scanned the names and dates of birth of all the passengers that had perished on that day; their names engraved forever on its marble surface, a sad reminder of their brief existence. Her heart skipped a beat as, at last, her eyes lit upon the three names she’d been looking for. Through vision blurred by tears, she lifted her fingers to her lips, and kissed the tips before tracing them over each name.

On the 11th September, Beth drove her husband and two daughters to the airport in Newark, New Jersey.
            ‘You better go honey. You don’t want to miss your appointment,’ Frank said, his grey eyes twinkling and she remembered noticing a few grey hairs that had appeared at his temples.
She’d tried to smile, but only the left side of her lips lifted at the corner. Her right cheek throbbed.
            ‘Bye Mommy. Miss you already,’ said Zoe, as she stretched up her arms for a hug.
            ‘Bye sweetie. You be good for Dad and Grandma. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
            ‘I’m always good!’
            ‘I know you are. I’m just kidding you.’ She’d laughed, rubbing the dark curls on her eldest daughter’s head. At five years old, she considered herself to be all grown up.
            ‘I be good too, Mummy.’
            ‘Course you are Jenna. You’re the best little three-year-old in the world,’ she’d replied. Then kneeling down, she’d kissed the top of her youngest daughter’s head. As she’d stood up, their cheeks had touched and she’d winced at the pain that shot through her swollen cheek.
            ‘Bye honey. I hope the dentist can sort out that abscess once and for all.’
            ‘Me too, I don’t know how much more of this pain I can take.’
Beth had watched as the three of them disappeared through security, Frank carrying Jenna, her face resting on his shoulder, Zoe skipping alongside him, holding his hand.

Five years on, she could still feel the softness of her daughter’s cheek as it had touched hers. Her face had been hurting, but she realised now that she hadn’t know what real pain was then.
            ‘Quite something, isn’t it?’
Startled, Beth stepped back and stumbled as her foot gave way underneath her.
            ‘Oh jeez, I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to scare you,’ said a man’s voice. ‘Are you OK?’
            She winced at the pain that shot through her foot as she turned to glare at the tall, blond-haired stranger standing behind her.
            ‘I’m so sorry. You’ve hurt yourself. Here let me help you.’
 ‘I think you’ve done enough already, don’t you?’ she retorted through clenched teeth.
‘I’m really sorry,’ he said, a tinge of red appearing under the golden tone of his tan. ‘My wife’s always telling me off for “accosting complete strangers” as she puts it.’
‘Look. I’m fine. I just need to sit down for a minute, that’s all.’ But as she tried to put her weight on her ankle, a sharp pain shot through it. ‘Ouch,’ she cried, tears of anger and frustration now falling down her cheeks.
‘Please, at least let me help you over to the bench?’
            ‘Look, I don’t mean to be rude but I just want to be left alone.’ She tried once more to put her weight on her foot, but stumbled as another sharp pain pierced her ankle. ‘Damn it! Well don’t just stand there. Help me if you’re going to.’
He reached forward and lifted her right arm and placed it around his broad shoulders. Beth’s foot barely touched the ground as he helped her hobble over to the stone bench.
            ‘May I?’ he said, pointing at the foot. ‘I know a bit about first aid.’
Beth nodded, and then flinched as he lifted her foot; the pain making her feel light headed.
            ‘Sorry. Mm … looks pretty swollen. You need to get this looked at. My car’s just parked over there. I can take you to the ER.’
            ‘No. Thanks. I’ll call a cab and go myself.’
            ‘That could take ages and how are you going to get yourself into the hospital? Please, let me take you. It was my fault after all.’
Beth looked down at her ankle. She knew he was right. ‘Ok,’ she sighed, ‘but I’d feel more comfortable if we took a cab.’
‘No problem. I’ll be back in a minute. I’m Ethan by the way.’
But Beth just closed her eyes and remained silent.

Ethan’s footsteps echoed on the polished, grey floor as he pushed the wheelchair along the corridor. The smell of antiseptic and polish were making Beth’s stomach heave. She subconsciously began to rub the scars on her wrists. Memories of another hospital corridor tried to push their way into her mind, but she stared at the signs on the walls, reading each one in an attempt to chase the memories away.
As they approached the reception desk, the young woman standing behind smiled at them.
‘Hi, how are you today?’ Ethan said, returning her smile.
But Beth looked down at her lap; she’d had enough of cheerful people today.
‘My friend’s had an accident. I think she’s done something to her ankle.’
‘Well you’ve come to the right place. I’ll need a few details, if you can just fill in this form for me please?’ she said, as she handed him a large white form. ‘The doctors are all with patients at the moment. There’s a bit of a wait I’m afraid.’
Beth looked around at the stark white walls and grey floor, the sickening smell of antiseptic seemed to cling to her. Her heart was pounding and she ran her tongue over her dry lips. The unwanted memories, quiet up until now, forced their way into her mind.

Later that day, she was in Newark hospital’s orthodontic department. She’d watched in horror as the television screen replayed the moment the first plane hit the north tower. She stood transfixed as they reported that Flight 93 had gone down with no survivors. Three days later, she’d woken up in a bed in a side room of the psychiatric department. Her wrists had white bandages wrapped around them, but she’d been too numb to feel any pain.

The sound of Ethan’s voice brought her back to the present as he handed her the form.
‘Sorry. I can’t do this bit. I don’t even know your name.’
 ‘Beth; it’s Beth. Look, you don’t have to wait with me, I’ll be fine.’
            ‘So you keep saying! You sure are one stubborn lady.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m just having a bad day.’
            ‘I’d worked that one out for myself!’ he laughed.
Despite herself, Beth couldn’t help smiling.

The waiting room was remarkably empty. Ethan placed her wheelchair beside one of the orange plastic chairs before sitting down beside her. It was so quiet that Beth was sure he could hear her heart. It was beating so hard, almost as if it was about to leap out of her chest. She hated hospitals.
‘Is it something to do with the memorial?’
Beth started at the sound of Ethan’s voice and shrugged her shoulders. ‘Why do you care? You don’t even know me.’
‘True. But I’m guessing that you were at the monument for a reason. I know I was.’
‘Well it’s my business if I was.’ she retorted as she pulled down the sleeves of her coat, once more conscious of the scars.
‘I realise that. But I think that we might have something in common. Look, we’ve got a while to wait. Why don’t I tell you why I was at the memorial today?’
Beth got the feeling that she wasn’t going to like what he had to say, but something in the tone of his voice made her nod her head in assent.
‘I was in the north tower when the first plane hit. I was an investment banker with Cantor Fitzgerald and worked on floor 101. I was lucky, but I lost thirteen friends and colleagues that day.’
He stopped and ran his hands, through his close-cropped hair. Beth saw that they were trembling.
            ‘I’m sorry, that must have been terrible,’ she murmured.
            ‘It was.’
He leaned forward and put his face in his hands, she noticed that he had burn marks on the back of them. Like hers, the scars were faded, but still visible.
‘I had nightmares for years,’ he said so softly that she had to lean in closer to hear. ‘Every time I closed my eyes I would feel the heat of the flames and taste the dust and smoke in my mouth. But the worst thing was the sound of screams and cries for help.’
            Beth waited as he took a deep breath before continuing. She seemed unable to tear her eyes away from his scars.
‘I have images in my head that no-one should have.’
Beth’s throat and chest seemed to constrict; she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. She continued to stare as he took a tissue out of his pocket and blew his nose. Her eyes were stinging as she fought to hold back the tears that had begun to well in them.
‘I’m sorry; it must’ve been very difficult for you,’ she sniffed.
            Ethan nodded his head, ‘The guilt’s the hardest thing to bear. You keep asking yourself, why me? Why did I survive when others didn’t? I was in therapy for a long, long time.’
He sat up and Beth found herself mesmerised by the brightness of his blue eyes.
‘A couple of months after the disaster I quit my job and moved my family out of New York. When you’ve been through something like that, it makes you think about what really matters.’
Beth clasped her hands together to try and stop their trembling. She wanted him to stop but instead found herself saying, ‘So what do you do now?’
            ‘I manage a holiday resort in Vermont. I plan my work around when the kids get home from school. I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I’d been a lousy husband and father; working all the hours God sent. Now I make sure I have time to do things with them.’
‘Sounds like fun,’ Beth whispered, a wistful note in her voice.
‘I guess what I’m trying to say is that, when something tragic happens, it is possible to move on.’
Beth shivered and tugged once more at her sleeves, but said nothing.
‘There’s one thing the therapist said that I’ve never forgotten. Would you like to hear it?’
‘Sure,’ she shrugged.
He took her trembling hands in his and continued. ‘She said that the best way to honour my friends was to live the best life I could, make each day count. I realised that that’s what I would’ve wanted for my family, if I’d died that day. I’ve been given a second chance and I’m taking it.’
Beth stared at the large tanned hands holding her small pale ones. ‘But what if you don’t want a second chance? What if there’s no family to live for?’ she whispered, tears now running unchecked down her cheeks.
‘Well in that case, you should live it for yourself, in honour of their memory.’

Ethan was in the waiting room when the nurse wheeled her back, his blond head nodding as he slept in the chair.
            She tapped him on the shoulder, ‘Ethan, I’m back.’
Startled, his head shot up, his eyes blinking rapidly. ‘What? Oh good, how did you get on?’
            ‘It’s just a sprain. I just need to rest up for a few days.’
            ‘That’s great. What’s that you’re holding?’
            Beth looked at the letter of referral she was clutching in her hand. ‘Oh nothing, I just had a little chat with the doctor. That’s all.’
            He nodded his head and she knew that he understood. ‘How about a coffee before I take you home?’
‘Coffee would be great thanks, but I could murder a cigarette. Do you smoke?’
            ‘Nope! Gave it up after 9/11.’
            ‘Funny, that’s when I started.’

They sat by the window in the cafeteria. Beth stirred her coffee as she stared out on the garden. Children played on small wooden animals as their parents looked on. A little boy sat in a wheelchair, his left leg encased in plaster. He laughed as his mum tickled his foot. Beth smiled.
‘That’s more like it! I was beginning to think that you didn’t know how to smile?’
            ‘I don’t think I did! Not for a long time anyway.’
            ‘Want to tell me about it?’
A father walked by carrying a little girl, her face resting on his shoulder. Beth watched them until they disappeared. She shook her head. ‘Not now. I’m tired. Can you call a cab please?’

As Ethan pushed her along the motel corridor in the borrowed wheelchair the hospital had insisted she use; he talked about his son and two daughters. Beth could see by the way his face lit up as he talked that he was a devoted father. As she listened she closed her eyes and waited for the familiar sharp pain, but, this time it was more of a dull ache.

Ethan opened the door and pulled her into her room. It seemed brighter than Beth remembered.
‘Thank you, I’ll be fine now,’ she said, as she watched him taking in the shabbiness of the room.
            ‘Are you sure? I can stay for a bit if you like?’
            ‘No thanks, I’m tired. All I want to do is sleep.’
‘Well, if you’re sure?’ he reached into his jacket pocket and took something out of his wallet. ‘Here’s my card. Anytime you want a holiday in Vermont, just give me a call. Or, just call. I’d love to hear your story someday. When you’re ready.’
            ‘Thanks. You’ve been really kind. Sorry for being rude.’
            ‘No problem. I get it. Just remember, everyone deserves a second chance.’
            ‘I will,’ she whispered, as he closed the door behind him.

Beth pulled herself up out of the wheelchair and hopped over to the shower room. She looked at herself in the mirror above the sink. Was it really possible? Could she really have a second chance? She closed her eyes and pictured the names on the memorial.
Frank Reynolds; 1956; Zoe Reynolds; 1996; Jenna Reynolds; 1998.

They’d been so full of life. She thought about what Ethan had said about living life for them. It was exactly the kind of thing that Frank would have said. She picked up the bottle of pills from where she’d left them that morning. She turned on the tap and opened the bottle. A solitary tear rolled down her cheek as she watched the contents briefly swirl around in the water before disappearing down the drain. 

Photos, Isabel's own.

Isabel Johnstone 2017 ©

Friday, 3 February 2017

Taking on the challenge: leap of faith.

Hello people. It's been a while since I've written anything, blog-wise. Life has been a bit of a challenge recently, but I'm not going to go into that. Suffice to say, I'm glad 2016 is over. I've learned a few things about myself and others, but it'll take me some time to fully process what that might mean.

Towards the end of last year I was invited to joint the Niume blogging community. At first I was really flattered and I even earned some money from it. I shared a couple of my old blogs from here and 2 of them were chosen to be featured, which was a great honour. But I soon began to realise that my blog doesn't really fit in. Most of the other blogs seem to be about sharing recipes, photographs or travel features. They have a rule that the blog must contain a minimum of 5 lines and the majority of them stick to the minimum, which makes my blogs appear quite verbose. Well to be fair, I guess they are, but I write as I speak, which is quite a lot.

So I stopped contributing. 

But this picture popped into my Facebook memories this morning and is challenging me. I realised I was scared of what would happen if I continued to contribute when I didn't seem to 'fit in'. Which was crazy really as they invited me to join in the first place, which means that they must have felt that I had something to contribute.

2016 didn't turn out as I expected. I had it all planned out that it would be a year of celebration, when I would be continuing my adventures. I did have some adventures, but a few of them were eithe,r not on my list, or didn't go to plan. I literally have scars to prove it for a couple of them. But instead of embracing the challenge, I let it rob me of my confidence and left me fearful about doing anything in case it goes wrong.

I'm still feeling a bit cautious, but, as of today, I'm choosing to not let it stop me living life and having adventures. I could see the Nuime blog as an opportunity to try something new, or just take the chance that what I write will continue to be well received.

Who knows? But I'm going to take a leap of faith and try not to let the fear of what might happen, stop me from trying to achieve what could.




Isabel Johnstone. 2017 ©

Photographs courtesy of:-

https://pixabay.com/en/achieve-fluent-adventure-barrier-1822503/

http://ow.ly/UhA2308E1JH

Friday, 2 December 2016

Scratch Messiah, the Return.

Being a 'lady of a certain age on a mission to prove that life can still be and adventure', I'm always on the look out for new challenges. I love to sing and I'm a member of a choir. But we tend to sing contemporary songs or songs from musicals.
Last year I decided to challenge myself and signed myself up to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London, as part of the 'Scratch Messiah.' For anyone who's never heard of it, this is an event which has been put on every year since 1974, by The Really Big Chorus. The idea is that people from all over the world rehearse Handel's Messiah in their own home towns or cities, then on the last Sunday of November, they all come together in the Royal Albert Hall in London, and perform it.
Now choral singing of this sort isn't really something I've ever done before. But I decided that it was an experience too good to miss. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but felt completely under rehearsed, so I decided to go for it again this year. 
I had to do most of my rehearsing at home using a CD and DVD which came with the song book. but I was determined that this year I'd be better prepared. 
We had a bit of a nightmare journey. Due to roadworks it took us three and a half hours to do a ninety minute journey. But we arrived with five minutes to spare, and after a quick visit to the loo, we were in our seats and ready to go.
There's a colour dress code for the choir members. Altos have to wear red, sopranos, blue and the men, black tie. I looked around and one half of the Royal Albert Hall was a sea of blue, right up to the seats near the roof, and the other half, red. The men were sitting on the floor just in front of the orchestra. There was a real sense of anticipation and excitement in the hall. 
Finally, the conductor, Brian Kay, and the 4 soloists took their places on the podium. 
The orchestra begins with the overture, followed by the tenor singing his first solo. Then it's the turn of the chorus. There were over 3,000 of us, with people from 12 countries around the world, from as far away as Canada to NorwayCan you imagine the impact that must have on an audience? This was the first time the young tenor had performed the Messiah and when we started to sing, his mouth fell open in surprise and then he looked around with a huge smile on his face. 
The atmosphere was amazing and the audience sat entranced until the conductor motioned them to stand as we sang the Hallelujah chorus.
After the last Amen, the applause went on for ages. No one wanted the evening to end.
A friend of one of my fellow choir members who was in the audience, a man in his 60's, said that it was , 'Magical. The highlight of his life.'
I have to agree. 
I've done it twice now. But I intend to keep on doing it every year for as long as I can.
Here's a link to a video of the Hallelujah Chorus from a performance a few years ago. Have a listen and see what you think.



Photos Isabel's own or by permission of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©




Monday, 19 September 2016

Nine lives


I'm currently reading Classical Studies with the Open University and have been learning a lot about the Greek and Roman gods. One of the things they seemed to like to do, especially Zeus and his wife, Hera, was to turn humans into animals. Well I'm beginning to wonder if I'm an animal that's been turned into a human. I think that I'm really a cat. Why? Well, cats are reputed to have nine lives and I feel like I might also have nine lives. Let me explain.

My guardian angel
This year I've been celebrating a significant birthday and have been enjoying participating in a number of 'experiences' which I received as birthday gifts. The latest one was an indoor sky diving experience. I was really excited about doing this one. I really wanted to do the real thing and jump out of a plane, but my hubby wasn't too keen on the idea, so this was the compromise. But even that proved to be a bit too dangerous for me. On the morning of the flight day, I was checking Facebook and this picture popped up in my memories. A first sign of what was to come, but at the time I just found it amusing.

We set off in good time and arrived early at the Airkix centre in Milton Keynes. As we made our way into the building I spotted this ambulance drop off point on one of the doors, so I asked my hubby to take a picture of me pointing at it, just for a laugh. Sign two. Undeterred, I made my way to the reception desk and checked in. As we were a bit early we went off to get something to eat. But I was too nervous and ended up wrapping my piece of coffee cake in a napkin and placing it in my bag for later.



Finally it was time to report for duty. After watching a short video, it was time to get kitted out. I'd spotted a Batman flying suit in a glass display case and asked if I could have one of those, but I think they only had them in children's sizes, so I just had to make do with a normal one. Fully kitted out with flying suit, goggles, helmet and ear plugs, I made my way up the stairs, accompanied by the other crew of flight 17.

When we arrived in the tunnel room, we caught the end of the
previous fliers. It looked amazing. Then as we waited for them to leave, a guy on crutches with his foot in one of those rigid boot things, came hobbling out of the room next door. I wondered if he'd sustained the injury in the tunnel, but convinced myself that he was probably just there to watch someone else fly. The third sign.

Then we were off. I was to be the fourth person to go in. The first three fliers seemed to be all over the place and keeping the instructor busy, but they were smiling and enjoying themselves. Then it was my turn. I leaned forward into the tunnel. I adopted the position we'd been told to take and I was off. I couldn't believe the force of the wind on my face as I swooped this way and that, occasionally having to push myself away from the wall or lift my chin to make me go higher if I touched the floor. Usually you're only in the tunnel for a minute at a time, but because we'd paid for extra time, I was to be in it for two minutes. But sometime into the second minute, my back started to hurt and I started to panic. I put my thumbs down to signal that I wanted to exit. What happened next came as a bit of a shock.

All I could think about was getting out of the tunnel. When I reached the doorway I launched myself through. What I should have done was grab hold of the door frame and wait for the instructor to place my feet on the ground. Instead I fell flat on the ground, hitting my chin as I landed. There was blood all over the floor in front of me. As I exited the other fliers had started to clap, but stopped very quickly when they realised what had happened. I lay there for a few minutes too winded to move, then I was helped up and into a room next door. The others started clapping again. Apparently my flying technique had been very impressive.

To begin with, my hubby didn't realise what had happened and kept on filming, even as I lay on the ground. But eventually it clicked that all was not right and he appeared in time to help me up. The first aider arrived and helped cleaned me up. I'd cut my chin and she recommended that I get it checked out at A&E. Then the guy on the crutches appeared. It appeared that he was one of the instructors. By this time the others had finished flying and as they passed me they expressed their concern and once again commented on how well I'd been doing up to that point, even the instructor said how impressed he'd been. I joked that I told him that he should've let me have the Batman flying suit.

The doctor at A&E couldn't help smiling when I told him what I'd done. It just needed a bit of glue and a few steri strips put in place to hold it together while it heals. The instructor on crutches told them to give me a voucher to go back at a later date. At this point I'm not sure if I will. I don't think my hubby or my Guardian angel would be too happy if I did. But I did enjoy the experience and have a great video record of it, including the fall.

After my previous incident when I was bitten by a cat, Story of my cat bite. you can see why I'm feeling like I must have nine lives. I have one more experience present left, but it's for a spa day. That should be safe enough, shouldn't it?

Photos and videos my own, apart from sleeping angel.

My video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fy9zQczb90

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©



Sunday, 11 September 2016

Popstar granny.

The photo I'd use for my album! Lol.
I'm going to make a confession here. I was that little girl who stood in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand, using it as a microphone, while I sang along to my latest record, dreaming of one day being a pop star. Well guess what? My dream has come true, thanks to my youngest son, who bought me a popstar experience for my birthday.

My friends on Facebook will already know that the first attempt was cancelled the day before I was due to go up to London, as the videographer had a family emergency. Then I received an email just as I was about to leave the house on the day of the second attempt informing me that they were having to cancel it again as the mixing desk in the studio had blown. Then, in August 2016,  I received an email confirming a new booking for a date in July 2016. I had to inform them that, as I didn't possess a time machine, I would be unable to attend. Finally, I was given a date in September.

The day we recorded 'Diggy, diggy hole'.
In the past I've had to keep 'mum' about a flashmob that Woapa were taking part in and also a recording of a video to be given to Oxfam. I thought that was hard enough, but having had two failed attempts at my popstar experience, I decided not to say anything about the third date I'd been given, just in case it got cancelled again. I'm not really a superstitious person, but I was beginning to feel like this was jinxed and was never going to happen. But I'm happy to say that I've been and gone and done it, and it has got to be up there as one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.

When the second attempt was cancelled, they offered me an extra hours recording time free of charge. They also said that instead of having to go up to London, they would arrange for me to do it in a studio in Oxford. So on Saturday 3rd September 2016, my hubby and I arrived at a little studio called Safehouse, situated in Cave Street, Oxford.

We arrived far too early as we wanted to make sure that we left enough time to find it. The technical guys were in the process of setting up the equipment, so I waited outside in the car until the appointed time. It was at this point, when I realised that it was actually going to happen, that the nerves kicked in and I told my hubby that I wanted to go home. But I didn't, and the rest, as they say, is history.
.
Kit giving me my briefing.
There were three young men, Kit and Mike, who were the technical guys, and a young guy called Logan, who was there to video the experience. I found out during a break in recording, that I was his first popstar experience. He usually worked with his dad videoing weddings.

I was given a quick tour of the studio, it was so small it took about five minutes, and then Kit talked me through what was going to happen. Then I was in the recording booth, with headphones on, as Mike explained that to begin with we would run through the song a couple of times to get the levels right and then we would go for a take. The run throughs went without a hitch, but as I was launching into the chorus for the first time, everything went dark and silent. The computer had crashed! But Mike very quickly had it up and running again. I found it really amusing that this had happened, but it helped me to relax. I realised that I'd been waiting for something to go wrong, and now it had, but at least it was something that could be easily fixed. After another couple of takes, I sat back as Mike then worked his magic, cutting and pasting the best bits from each recording, to produce the best track possible.

Me, listening to my first take.
Although I'd been offered an extra hour, it hadn't been confirmed and therefore I'd only sent them one song choice. After Mike had finished working on the first song, we still had an hour left. Kit had been trying to get hold of the sound track for another song, but was unsuccessful. Undaunted, Mike found a way to download one and I had half an hour to record another song and for Mike to work on it. By this time I was exhausted and I could tell my voice was getting tired. But I'm absolutely thrilled with the end result.

My first song, 'Can't take my eyes off of you', has been added to the Songmaker official chart, I'd really appreciate it if anyone reading this would be kind enough to go on the website and vote for me. How cool would it be for this 'mature student' and grandmother to top the chart? Here is the link. http://www.theofficialchart.co.uk/search.php type in the name Issi, and it should come up.

Here also are the links.

Update made it to no.1  http://www.theofficialchart.co.uk/view_archive_day.php?day=2016-9-19http://www.theofficialchart.co.uk/view_archive_day.php?day=2016-10-3

Songmaker chart and have been there for 3 weeks.

Can't take my eyes... video



Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©