Thursday, 13 August 2015

(Tuba) history is made

We don't actually know whether Jamie is the first person with Down's Syndrome to ride a tandem from Land's End to John O' Groats and then play the tuba, but we are going to go out on a limb and claim that he is.

Here is the proof.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Tandem and Tuba Official Prize-Giving

The results are in. It turns out cycling the length of the country doesn't happen all by itself, and I think it's time to admit that we had a lot of help along the way. Big round of applause please...

Gold Awards for cycling the WHOLE way on the SAME saddle

Jamie Carstairs (the man himself, tandem engine and tuba player)
Markus Dell (cousin, filmmaker extraordinaire, did it on a mountain bike)

Gold Awards for cycling the WHOLE way (on various saddles)

Joe Carstairs (little-but-much-taller brother, did it in his sleep, 99% on the same bike)
Harry Carstairs (big brother, probably annoyed everyone by singing the whole way)

Silver Awards for cycling HALF of the way

Mungo Carstairs (dad, the mastermind behind it all, chief navigator and blogger)
Sarah Carstairs (mum, source of common sense, kept show on the road with supreme organisational skills)

Bronze Awards for cycling SOME of the way

5 days: cousin Oliver Dell
3 days: Nelson
1.5 days: Lidia, Habib and Uncle Jamie
1 day: Uncle Richard
And half a day: Katie, Annette, Joe (Stanger) and Susy

Best Aunties Ever

Katie Hill and Susy Carstairs, both of whom kept us going with never ending enthusiasm and some very tasty cooking.

Five Star Hotels

The awards for hospitality go to...

Relatives David and Judith for a comfortable night on our way down to Land's End. Included enough beef to keep us cycling for a week and a laundry service.

John and Helen for lasagne, beds, and an expert local guide. We'd have been very lost in Liverpool without John cycling in front.

Christine for putting us up and feeding the hordes with a delicious casserole in Edinburgh.

Very Special Mentions

Oliver Haas for designing our logo and poster... Granny and Grandpa who showed their support from start to finish... Izzy who cheered us on for three days despite the pouring rain at Taunton... Pat and Adrian who waved us off into the Lake District... Nana who met us in Dalwhinnie... the Todd family for a cheer at John O'Groats... Oz for cooking up the tastiest chicken ever... Amy and Malcom for appearing in St Briavels with ALL of our favourite curries...Callum for feeding our cat (yet again) while we were away...

The Baking Prizes

Best motivational chocolate cake - Louise Ritchie and her girls
Most delicious flapjacks - threeway tie between Penny, Esme and Susy!

Commendable Cups of Tea

No adventure would be possible without a good brew now and again! Due credit goes to...
Jan and Oliver Haas
Colin and Katrina at their Morangie B&B in Tain
Bruce and Dorothy Field 
and the man who gave us some hot water (it's the thought that counts)

...and simply EVERYONE who spared us a moment by waving a flag, tooting a horn, donating to the YMPA, watching the videos and even just reading this blog.  Thank you to every single person who made our journey from Land's End to John O'Groats a reality, a pleasure, and a success.

PS. I hear that footage of possibly the first person ever to play the tuba sitting on a bench at John O'Groats is on its way to you SOON!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Video 8 - Northern Scotland

This is the penultimate video, documenting our two days of cycling between Aviemore and Helmsdale. Finally, a highland cow!


Cameraman Markus is almost back in Plymouth again. End to end, and back again in 12 hours on the train. He has plenty of footage from yesterday, and we can't wait to see the final video once he's had time to edit it.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

End of the Road

We've made it. Here are the four End-to-Enders - Jamie, Joe, Harry and Markus!

And just for comparison, here's us in 2007 (Jamie, Sarah, Harry, 'hoodie' Joe)!

There's plenty more evidence coming up before we sign off the blog, but right now it's time for feet up and some fish 'n' chips!

Friday, 7 August 2015

One more pin

A long but scenic day today, weaving through Alness, Invergordon, Tain (with a welcome tea break at Morangie B&B), Dornoch and Golspie (second tea break!) before finally reaching Helmsdale at about 7:30pm - only to be surprised by Graham and Sheila (aka Granny and Grandpa) who have flown up to Inverness to see us complete the journey they cycled themselves in 1991!

We've heard the waves crash into the cliffs of Cornwall, seen the ponies wander across the hills of Dartmoor; we've been through the orchards of Somerset and passed through countless farms and forests. We've been soaked by the rain in Cheddar Gorge and battled the wind by Crosby beach. We've pedalled our way along every kind of road, from canal tow paths and disused railways to winding lanes and bustling carriageways. We've smelt the bracken of the Scottish Borders and the sea air of the Cromarty Firth. 

Isn't it amazing where a bike and your own two legs can take you?

It's a blur of memories now, and all that remains is 55 miles of Northern Scotland's heather-clad hills. As Jamie likes to say, it's been an "epic journey".

Video 7 - The Cairngorms

Saddle up for video seven, in which we venture north of our home in Perth and try some challenging highland passes on our way through Blair Atholl and Aviemore. Be warned - no food or shelter for 30km! It's worth it for the view at Loch Morlich though...

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Photos, Perth to Culbokie

The next video diary is almost ready, but until then here is some photo evidence!

Markus celebrated his 21st in Perth, where Louise brought Jamie this amazing cake!

Another puncture stalls us on the way over Drumochter

Slochd summit felt tame after Drumochter's 1508 feet

Jamie takes a look at the Old Packhorse Bridge for which Carrbridge was named

Beyond the Great Glen

Sunshine and following winds took us from Edinburgh to Perth, despite the hard slog of climbing over Hill of Cleish and up to Glenfarg.  A night at home (and celebration of Markus's 21st birthday!) was followed by a hectic morning of repacking, and after a send-off from friends and well-wishers (and see tomorrow's Perthshire Advertiser!), the shortest ride of our route brought us to Blair Atholl and a very welcoming B&B.

Wednesday (day 17) brought the crossing of the Drumochter Pass - our highest point at 1500 feet, and a serious matter in bad weather, but passed safely despite a few punctures. We met a tandem en route to Land's End, on a fast 13 day schedule. Thanks to John's tip-off we bypassed the road closure near Ruthven Barracks, and had a lovely finish on the back road from Feshiebridge to Aviemore (but no osprey spotted on this occasion).

Thursday dawned wet but soon cleared up, and the climb up to Slochd Summit was accomplished. Cycle Route 7 down to Inverness took us past the Cairns of Clava, a most interesting prehistoric site which none of us had visited before. Another long day's riding ended at Netherton Farm where we were treated to a spectacular view across the Cromarty Firth, and an even more spectacular dinner prepared by Oz and Susy.

Whisper it: we are quite tired. We didn't manage to squeeze any rest days into our schedule, and it is taking its toll. But with only two days left, and the roadsigns showing 100 miles to go...we dare to hope and believe we are going to make it.

Video 6 - the Scottish Borders

Follow us as we enter home territory (Scotland!), have two beautiful days cycling through the peaceful border country, cross the Firth of Forth and make it home to Perth!

 Of course, we can't stop yet. But only five days more should take us to our final destination.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Home and Away

Tomorrow night (Monday) we shall be at home in Perth. We have carefully designed a short ride the next day (a mere 36 miles to Blair Atholl) to allow a bit of a lie in and sort out of odd socks. If anyone wants to wave us off on Tuesday, we are aiming to set off from the North Inch (War Memorial) at 12 noon or thereby. You'd be very welcome to cycle with us for a while, in the direction of Pitcairngreen / Bankfoot / Dunkeld and points north. It looks like we shall have a mighty wind behind our backs (less good for those turning back)!

Today's route took quiet roads, through Innerleithen and up the B709 to a lunch spot with a spectacular view to Edinburgh from the escarpment of the Moorfoot hills. A kilogram of Dairy Milk was added to our emergency supplies from the Coop (well it was reduced to clear).

Video 5 - The Lake District

Episode five of the video series follows us into and through the beautiful English Lake District. Enjoy the ride as we come within bowshot of the Scottish border. Passports not required (yet!).

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Ettrick Valley via Tibet

Tandem and Tuba are officially in Scotland!

The Lake District seemed to whizz by in a blur of misty crags with Jamie powering up the hills. Dropping down into the borders, we were glad to be away from the queues of caravans and amazed to find the entire length of England behind us.

Each day I seem to find myself thinking "today is the nicest day yet". But today was surely the nicest day yet. A cooling breeze helped ease us up deserted roads through wide open country and swathes of green forest. We even had a Buddhist temple to stop at for lunch.

A sudden downpour threatened to ruin the fun, but we soon arrived at our yurt in the Ettrick valley. This cosy, glorified tent in the middle of nowhere makes a change at least! (Thankfully it's too cold for the midges.)

Snacks at the end of Thirlmere, Lake District

Empty Scotland

Video 4 - Lancashire

The next instalment of the video diary. Watch to see us cruising over the Mersey to say goodbye to the Welsh borders!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

We come to the mountains

Yesterday (day 10) was perhaps the most urban of our whole route, as we progressed through Southport to Preston before reaching the Lancaster Canal towpath northwards - very beautiful, but quite slow going on grass. We were further held up by a most enormous ice cream which Jamie took the best part of an hour to enjoy. He is not a lad who believes in rushing anything.

We took to the road for a quick burst of speed to finish, with Harry and Jamie on tandem racing Jamie's other uncle (also Jamie!) who has joined us for a couple of days.  A luxury night in a lovely canalside inn and an excellent dinner felt like a suitable way to celebrate the half way point.

Today we enjoyed glorious sunshine, albeit with a bit of a head wind. We continued by the Lune Estuary (egret?), then back on the canal path (now hard and fast going), through Lancaster over the aqueduct, before meeting friends Pat and Adrian at Beetham for lunch, slightly delayed by a couple of punctures.

The afternoon brought a lovely ride up the Lyth Valley (another corner of England I had never heard of), and so to Lake Windermere and Ambleside Youth Hostel. Dinner of pasta and tomato sauce was eaten by the lakeside with a beautiful sunset for backdrop, and swans for company.

The high hills rise before us, and the next few days will see some hard work. I hope we are up to it.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet;
This is not done by jostling in the street.
- William Blake

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Video 3 - The Heart of England

Join us through Avon, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire,  Shropshire, Cheshire... Remember your raincoat!


With ironic timing, the night before we set off, we caught a bit of the act of a certain popular Scottish comedian on TV.  He made a joke at the expense of the Youth Music Initiative, something on the lines of

"My Mum's a crack addict, my Dad's an alky, but I've got a xylophone, so that's sorted."

The poor man is obviously hopelessly misinformed and doesn't know what he's talking about. Come on Kevin, you would never start a beginner straight in on tuned percussion.

We hope we're showing a bit of initiative with our bike ride, but don't forget that the real heroes are the teachers who work year in and year out with their pupils. If we can do even a little bit to help another child to experience the self-confidence, discipline, comradeship and excitement that learning music can bring, we'll be more than happy.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Across the Mersey

Hello from Formby. 

Look how far we've gone now!

Mum and Dad keep bickering about who gets to cycle, or who gets to drive the car, I think us boys will have to set up a strict rota for them to follow. In the end, Dad did the first 50 miles through cold rain showers to the Mersey Ferry, then Mum did the last 15 miles from Liverpool in the sunshine with beautiful seaside views over to North Wales. I guess that gives him the bragging rights but she got a nicer cycle. As for Jamie, he just sat on his tandem and pedalled from 9am till 7pm without a complaint (apart from “I'm starving” shortly before we arrived at a plate of delicious Lasagne cooked by our friends John and Helen).

Enjoying a little boat ride across the river

Jamie takes a break by the beach
Markus is currently slaving away in front of a laptop with bleary eyes... if he stays awake long enough there should be a new video for you in the morning!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Middle aged spread

Well, you certainly know what the weather is doing when you're on a bicycle.

After Friday's downpours, Saturday dawned bright and fresh, and our ride down the Strawberry Line to Clevedon felt effortless. After a picnic rendezvous at Severn Beach, with a view of the new(er) Severn Bridge, we rode (now with Sarah's sister Katie for company) through a field (not sure why), then on to and over the old bridge. We had about two miles in Wales, then left Chepstow for Gloucestershire and the road up to St Briavels, and its extraordinary Youth Hostel housed in a 13th century castle. In fact they were hosting a mediaeval themed banquet that evening, but we had our own feast, as friends Amy and Malcolm arrived from Cardiff with vast quantities of delicious curry. I had thought we might lose weight on the journey, but so far it seems to be heading in the other direction. Our bedroom was in the East Tower up a steep spiral stair. If the castle ghosts were noisy in the night, we were too fast asleep to hear them.

Sunday reverted to drizzle, not as heavy as Friday's, but enough to leave the cyclists pretty wet by the time they reached Leominster. The video unfortunately missed the moment Sarah was drenched by a passing car, surely worth £250 to one of Jamie's favourite TV programmes. One week accomplished! Legs and backsides are starting to toughen up, now we need to make sure the bikes are not neglected, and keep brakes, gears and chains in good order. A longer day in prospect tomorrow, but - fingers crossed - dry.

A Week on the Road

It's 9pm, and after some pizza for dinner in Leominster team Tandem and Tuba are all just about ready for their beds. It's been another wet day to round off a busy week on the bikes. Here are the official statistics:

Miles cycled so far - 305 (Almost one third of the way to John o'Groats)

Time taken - 6 days, 7 hours

Average speed - 2.0 mph (Sounds pretty unimpressive when you put it like that)

Feet ascended - 12,303 (42% of the way up Everest)

Number of punctures - 5

Pasties eaten - 19 (a good 15,000 calories)

Ice creams eaten - 0

Wildlife - 1 albino ferret, 3 squashed hedgehogs, 5 dead badgers, 4 ostriches rhea, a peregrine falcon, heron, and lots of ducks

And here are a few pictures:

Jamie celebrates reaching Tintagel on day 2

Stopping for coffee (read: lots of biscuits and bananas) on our way to Okehampton, day 3.

Markus, the cameraman, getting some shots at the edge of Dartmoor

The team are joined by Aunty Katie and grandparents Graham and Sheila for lunch by the Severn Estuary, day 6.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Video 2 - Devon

Video #2 in which Joe narrates our progress through the hilly West Country.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Level crossing

No wifi, so just a brief update for yesterday from Cheddar Youth Hostel.

It rained. A lot. Jamie's uncle Richard kept us company from Taunton. We made it across the Somerset Levels. We saw a train at a level crossing. We got very wet and muddy but no-one complained. Well done team! Terrific bolognese, well done Katie and Izzy.

Onward and upward!!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Well in to Zummerzet

Or, Wellington, Somerset.

The tandem is restored thanks to the superbly helpful Matt at Okehampton Cycles.

We said goodbye to our friends Lidia, Habib and Nelson, who had nobly cycled with us for the first three days.  A long and quite hilly route today, and various body parts are getting sore. We are ready for tomorrow's short flat route and a longer rest to recover. But for tonight, the luxury of white sheets and a comfortable bed in a lovely B&B in Rockwell Green.

Cornwall - Video Number 1!

Jamie's cousin Markus has not only been slogging up the steep hills of Cornwall with us - he's also been making the time to capture it all on camera and produce this great 3 minute film documenting the first county of our journey. Hit play and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


This is the Tandem and Tuba Explorer resuming contact with planet Earth...we are on course and outbound from Cornwall, with a full payload of still and video images, and memories, awaiting upload when we can get organised...

We set off on Monday in thick mist from (we think) Land's End, and arrived fairly damp at Newlyn for a coffee stop. The first sight to greet us in the gallery café was...a tuba! This had to be a sign. A sunny (but hilly) afternoon took us to Perranporth Youth Hostel, in a spectacular clifftop location overlooking the surfers' beach.

Blue sky and a drying wind at Perranporth

Tuesday was sunnier - and hillier. After a lunch break when hammocks were slung and swung in, a weary but determined band of cyclists continued, to arrive at Tintagel Youth Hostel (brake or go over the cliff) in an even more dramatic setting, only enhanced by a peregrine falcon hovering motionless in the gale just over the car park. Some of us enjoyed an atmospheric walk to Tintagel Castle in the dusk at 10pm, a nightjar calling from the undergrowth.

Today (Wednesday) was the hilliest yet, but didn't quite feel it. Just maybe we are starting to get into the swing of it.  The narrow country lanes of Cornwall gave way to broader views in Devon, with a beautiful downhill run to Egloskerry. The tandem suffered on the off-road (read: no road) stretch of Cycle Route 27 on the edge of Dartmoor, but was able to make it to Okehampton Youth Hostel thanks to the long stretch of converted railway line to finish. Repair or replacement of bent derailleur will be needed tomorrow. Tonight we celebrated Harry's 20th birthday with lasagne, chocolate cake and cider!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Here we go!

Think global, act local - and bike national?

Tomorrow morning we drive for the last time for 3 weeks - the ten miles from Penzance Youth Hostel to Land's End - and then start cycling. The forecast is good, and we are really looking forward to getting started. We are also delighted that our fundraising has just passed £3,000. Thanks once again to all contributors; every bit counts and makes a difference.

OK, it's not quite true about not driving for 3 weeks. Mum and Dad will take turns to drive the 'support car', but we non-drivers (Jamie, Joe, Harry and Markus) are planning to cycle every mile of the route.

We have collected cousin / nephew Markus from Plymouth, who comes with an impressive collection of film equipment. All being well, he will be posting a video diary of our progress. Watch this space!

This Friday's Perthshire Advertiser features a photo of Jamie, tuba and tandem. Here we are yesterday morning about to set off from home...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Where are we going?

The route!
It should be more or less like this. Click on the links for details.

Week 1 (starts Monday 20th July)
Land's End to Perranporth - to Tintagel - to Okehampton - to Wellington - to Cheddar - to St Briavel's - to Leominster

Week 2 (starts Monday 27th July)
Leominster to Hordley Hall - to Formby via the Mersey Ferry - to Conder Green - to Ambleside - to Longtown - to Ettrick Valley Yurts - to Edinburgh

Week 3 (starts Monday 3rd August)
Edinburgh to Perth - to Blair Atholl - to Aviemore - to Culbokie - via Cromarty Ferry to Helmsdale - to John O'Groats!!

No, we haven't finished the ride yet. This was us (Jamie, Sarah, Harry, Joe) 8 years ago, on our way back from a holiday in Orkney that remains the only one we have ever abandoned prematurely. It was a bit windy for camping. The boys have all grown somewhat since. We'll try to reproduce the same photo on August the 8th to see by how much!

A brisk ride from Perth via Rait to Longforgan and back yesterday - 40 miles, and we set off after 3pm, making it home just in time to watch Andy Murray win his latest match at Wimbledon.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Train, train, train...

...train of fools?

An obscure Aretha Franklin reference there, I suspect my Dad. We have had several comments on the lines of "you must be crazy", but we just can't agree. What nicer holiday could there be than three weeks free of all worries other than getting on your bike, cycling through Britain's wonderfully varied countryside, eating a large meal, sleeping like a log, and doing it all again the next day. Three weeks of blissful freedom from all those unnecessary deadlines we manage to fill our days with. Heaven!

Today's training ride took us over Kinnoul Hill to Glendoick Garden Centre, and back up the hairpins to Pitlowie and Murrayshall. Nearly 2,000 feet of climb altogether, and only relieved by large pots of tea, fruit scones, fruit loaf and ginger beer. In a few weeks it will be Cornish cream teas that will revive us as we start to eat our way through Britain.

Contributions continue to come in, for which we are as ever grateful. Over £160 was collected last Sunday, our thanks to fans of Perthshire Brass.

The last week of term approaches. I had a solo spot in the end of term Summer Showcase on Thursday. Here is a slightly fuzzy photo of me playing Jurassic Park!

Now is that not a beautiful instrument?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

L - 30

Yes in just 30 days we should be setting off on Lejog from Land's End, a slightly scary thought.  We managed a good training route this afternoon, up the hill to Path of Condie and back to Perth via Glenfarg. 30 miles, with more climbing than all but three days of our planned route to John O'Groats. And through beautiful countryside, on one of Scotland's better efforts at a summer day so far this year.

End of term fever is setting in. This week we enjoyed Joe's school's terrific production of The Good Person of Szechuan, and next week I get to play a small tuba solo at my school concert.

But first, tomorrow there is Perthshire Brass's annual concert, 7pm at Perth Riverside Church.
It is always a fun event - and there will be home baking!  Not to be missed if you can make it. Oh, and they are very kindly taking donations for refreshments in support of our bike ride. But never mind that, just come and enjoy some great music.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Thank you (#2)

I had a great time at St Ninian's Cathedral this evening, enjoying the Perth and Kinross Intermediate Music Camp Concert. We were treated to an evening of wind, string, percussion and choral entertainment, including a spectacular performance (impressively from memory) by Stephen Smith on violin, as soloist with the string orchestra. The large audience seemed as thrilled by the show as the young performers themselves.

We were also there to promote our bike ride, and the audience were once more extremely generous with donations, which raised £230.76.  Thank you everyone!

Our next 'public engagement' will be a stand at Perth Concert Hall next Wednesday morning, at the People First event as part of Learning Disability Week 2015. But before then we really must get out on the bikes and get some training miles in the legs.  Only five weeks until we head for Land's End!

postscript, Sunday: a ride out to Little Glenshee, at the edge of the Scottish Highlands. Always nice to get up into the slightly wilder countryside, and we saw a Perthshire 'Big Five' - deer, red squirrel, hare, lapwing, and a curlew with its wonderfully evocative call.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The poster has a poster!

Many thanks to our friend Oliver (haas design in his professional life) for coming up with a promotional poster for our trip.  It looks great...

Our accommodation for the route is pretty much planned out, but we were very sad to hear of the major fire which has put the Gordon Arms Hotel in Ettrick out of action for the time being. Our best wishes go to the owners and staff in their task of restoring the property, and it is encouraging to see they hope to reopen the bar this summer. Maybe we will at least be able to drop in for a hard-earned drink after cycling the beautiful (but hilly!) route from the border with England.

More generous donations have come in, including one from the Royal Bank of Scotland charities fund - very many thanks to all our supporters!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Special, needs

A good training ride on the bike on Sunday morning, snatched between the downpours. I'm not sure it reaches 1 in 5 for more than a few metres, but it is a steady climb from the A9 up to Findo Gask, on the hill crest where Roman soldiers manned the signal stations two thousand years ago.  Poor guys, they didn't have the option of stopping off at the world's best farm café at Gloagburn, as we did.

And Sunday afternoon, as usual, brass band rehearsal with Perthshire Youth Brass. A perfect day!

Do you have children (well, if you don't, imagine you do for a moment)? Which of them are special? And which of them have needs? I'm guessing you'd have to be a hard case not to answer “All of them of course!”.

That's something that any educator understands too. Every child is an individual, with their own unique potential, and the same simple needs - to be valued, to belong, to be listened to, to be treated the same as everyone else, to learn how to be themselves.  For some children, there are extra obstacles that make those needs harder to meet - physical or health problems, trouble with language or communication or learning, 'different' behaviour.

Music can help break down those barriers. Sometimes it just takes an inspired individual with a belief in the child. My fantastic tuba teacher Elaine Moffat is that kind of person. Here are some quotes from parents of her pupils.
  • “an exceptional ability to 'see a spark' which is almost totally hidden, and nurture that into something meaningful”
  • “very unusual for someone to have such high expectations for —”
  • “his siblings can be proud of him for the first time”
I seem to keep quoting Nicola Benedetti! Here she is speaking last week:

  “ is not an isolated subject. It gives you life skills that will help you deal with everything else.”

And only today there is this report on the positive impact of the Big Noise project (Sistema Scotland) in Stirling and Govanhill.

Music can change lives. Every bit of support for our bike ride will help Elaine and her many wonderful colleagues to keep doing that, for more children.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Thank you (#1)

Thanks to everyone who donated so generously at this evening's Junior Music Camp Concert. We raised the terrific amount of £230.56! We hope you enjoyed the concert as well, we certainly did.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Magic food

I'm raising funds for a charity that helps children to learn music. You might think that is a luxury for the few. Here's what I feel about it.

Learning music has taught me to work hard, over months and years; to concentrate; to improve my memory; to pay attention; to listen to others; to listen to myself; to wait when it is time to wait; to be ready when it is time to be ready; to appreciate quiet and silence; to find ways to overcome problems; to work with others; to take responsibility for my part; to be organised; to practise; to turn up on time; to overcome nerves; to be bold and brave; to be supportive; to discover I can achieve things I never thought I could; to be proud of myself.

I think those are pretty useful things, and not just for playing music. There must be many other ways of learning them, but somehow, music seems like a magic food that is full of all of these wonderful ingredients. And - it is fantastically good fun!

But no need to take my word for it.

Here is Nicola Benedetti on Desert Island Discs:

    “...what El Sistema has demonstrated, is what we all know to be true, and what has been documented so many times, but for some reason is still not listened to, is that if you give children quality experience with great music, and a quality orchestral experience, and creative experience, not only will it allow them an insight into great art and great music, but it will affect every single part of their life, and that's from their communicative skills, [to] their social skills, their ability to work together, their ability to express themselves.

I would say, harking back to El Sistema, ... the discipline involved in learning to play an instrument is really second to none and ...I have a breeze in trying to apply that to anything else, because there are very few things that are going to be quite as challenging, in terms of discipline.

And here are some quotes from parents of musical friends of mine:

    “as his ability in music grows, his confidence.., self-esteem.., social skills improve..”
    we never thought we'd be watching our child perform in public”

Let's give the last word to a very young musician coming off the stage after his first concert:

    That is the best thing I have ever done in my life”

Monday, 27 April 2015

Better do some training...

Time to start building some fitness, and making sure the bikes are in shape as well.

April holidays saw a few days at Balgowan - near Laggan - near Newtonmore, a favourite spot for rest and recreation. On our first day we rode down past Wolftrax with its smart new cafe (not open but they kindly let us sit in to drink our coffee), down to Loch Laggan and the track past Ardverikie House of "Monarch of the Glen" fame.  The loop round the beautiful Lochan na h-Earba and back to base made for maybe 25 miles, half off-road, and it only hailed on us once!

Start of the cycle route to Pitlochry
  Dad and I managed half of the journey back to Perth on the tandem. Here we are about to set off from Dalwhinnie back to Pitlochry, on a beautiful sunny day.

The back tyre developed a slow leak, so on went the spare, and we carried on without further mishap to complete about 30 miles. 

 After lunch, the temptation to put the bike back on the car proved just too great.

The start of the Kinross Sportive
The next challenge was the Kinross Sportive (which conveniently doubled up as my fitness challenge for Duke of Edinburgh Bronze). The family tackled the Blue Route, the shortest at 'only' 44 miles. After a week of dire weather forecasts, we were relieved when the day dawned dry, though with a chilly head-wind, and it just kept getting better until we ended in bright sunshine. We climbed slowly but steadily up the Lomond Hills ascent, and enjoyed coffee and biscuits at the picnic tables at the top (apparently not quite the done thing, to judge by the stream of cyclists going past).

All was going fine, and a skylark sang over our heads, when suddenly - BANG (or 'Big Bang Theory' as I put it) - the back tyre had blown, and the chain was off for good measure. The passing support van quickly helped us repair the tube and get the spare on, but as he drove off we realised that the tyre had a hole through which the tube was rather perilously poking. Fortunately it held for a few more miles, before giving out once more (not quite so dramatically) just before the feeding station at Newburgh. Here we were rescued by a large number of sugar doughnuts, and a helpful man with a roll of gaffer tape, with which we patched the inside of the tyre.

The rest of the ride was straightforward. We were about the last to finish in every category, but we didn't mind a bit. About 8 of our planned days to John O'Groats should be no harder. But then some of them will be quite a lot harder....

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

We're all going on a summer holiday...

I'd better start with a confession. I'm not really that interested in writing, so I'm leaving it to my Mum, Dad and two brothers to do the blogging. It seems they have got a crazy plan that we all cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats this summer (July 20th - August 8th 2015 to be precise). It's fine by me, I love cycling (I go on the back of the tandem). It won't be our first cycling holiday (we had one in Holland, and another round the Austrian lakes) - but it will certainly be the longest. We are not speedy cyclists, and will be taking three weeks for the trip, at 50-60 miles a day, which we hope won't be too strenuous, but there are sure to be some tough days.

We'll be fundraising for a charity as well: YMPA Perth and Kinross (see their Facebook page). They raise funds to help children attend the fantastic music camps run by the (equally fantastic) Perth and Kinross Instrumental Music Service (IMS). In fact, I am at Senior Music Camp right now (another reason why I am not actually writing this post). If you are near Perth, why not come to our end of camp concert, Saturday 11th April at Perth Concert Hall, or Perth Youth Orchestra's concert the next day.

I'll blog more about the great work of the IMS another time, and my progress in training for the big trip. Our next milestone is the Kinross Sportive at the end of April!

p.s. why 'tandemandtuba'? Well, if there is one thing I like more than riding a bike, it is playing my tuba. But I haven't yet figured out a way to do both at the same time...