Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…

Previously, in Ode to Our Piano …

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When we left off, our lovely old walnut piano was to be collected by Forces Support, the charity that supports families of injured and lost service personnel, providing professional help with unfinished house and garden projects. We were so pleased and relieved that such a great charity was going to benefit.

Here’s what happened next…

imageThey didn’t turn up! The van broke down. They did, however, come the following week. With no wheels and a broken tailgate lift. There were two of them. A big strapping young man and a small, pencil-thin 17 year old who looked like he’d fall over if you breathed on him. He was horrified when he saw the size and weight of the piano. He wouldn’t even try to lift the lid, let alone the whole item. I felt sorry for him. The strong guy kept looking at it and huffing and puffing, clearly shocked at the fact that a) it was a piano not a sideboard that he had to pick up and b) the weight of said item.  No way were they going to be able to get it out of the house let alone into the back of the truck.

They left, apologetically, saying they would report back to HQ and see if they could get more bodies, some wheels and a truck with a working lift. They would call us in an hour.

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Nope. None of those things came to pass. Next day, when I called, their manager said he had no further help and no other van and so we agreed that it would not be possible for them to take it after all. We were so deflated.

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We couldn’t believe how hard it was to donate such a beloved piece of our family history! During all of this, I had read that a recycling plant in Bristol destroys 300 old pianos a week because no-one wants them. They cost up to £6000 to recondition and people can buy new ones from China for £600.

Everyone I told said ‘It’s a sign’ and ‘You have to keep it’. It made me tear up, but the decision was made and it had to go.

We reluctantly looked at eBay, but pianos were just not selling, even for 99p. Next was an ad on Freecycle, but even that was against us: the photo went on upside down!

imageFinally, the tried and tested method of giving stuff away for free: a notice on the garden gate! We put one on the drive gate, one on the path gate.

The piano was positioned in the window to be shown off to its best advantage. All the schoolchildren filed past day after day, some craning their necks to take a look, some laughing at our tomfoolery, one girl took down our number. The signs were in plastic covers and tied on tightly, but they blew about forlornly in the wind and rain. Even the weather had its opinion.

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After several days we had all but given up. We were resigning ourselves to sending the piano to the local recycling centre – for which we would have to pay.

Late one afternoon, however, after the schoolchildren had paraded past once again, there was a light tap on the front door. I struggled to get to the door and couldn’t find the key! Eventually I opened it to find a woman standing there with her son still in school uniform.

Hesitantly, she asked if the piano was really available for free. Yes, Yes, Yes! Come in, I gushed, ushering them in like they were the Royal Family. She took one look and said I love it! Wait, I said, for I didn’t want any more hitches, you have to know that the left pedal has never worked and the third bottom key doesn’t work and the cat knocked over a vase of flowers on this corner, so there’s a mark and… and…

I could ‘hear’ my husband hissing stop, stop, you’ll put her off! but I wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting.

I’ll have it! she laughed. I laughed. Her son looked on amused almost shaking his head at these oldies.

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It turns out she has 6 children. The son who was with her, Will, had seen the ad on the gate and told her about it. His 13 year old sister, Lottie (love their names), was desperate to play piano and was teaching herself via YouTube! They thought she would love ours. I was delighted it was going to another family.

So today, their older brother, Sam, and his two unsuspecting mates turned up with a van – and no wheels! – and after half an hour of pulling and pushing this way and that, turning it first one way, then around, a lot of head-scratching ensued – how did we get it in there in the first place?!  Then, after getting it and one of the lad’s thumbs and another’s toe wedged against the door jamb and the staircase, they got it out, on its side. My heart was in my mouth the whole time, concerned someone would put their back out and at the way this poor old lady was being manhandled. I completely missed the photo of the successful manoeuvre when they had to tip it up!

I hope it’s not completely wrecked and they’re not disappointed.  Of course, these poor lads had to do it all again at the other end, which was just down the street.

So bye-bye, piano. My eyes filled up as they drove away.

She has finally gone.

Along with half the paintwork!

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Except, it didn’t end there! See Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

Today is a momentous day. A dear friend is leaving us and I am quite emotional about it. The silly thing is, it was my idea. But that was last year. It was a whim. I don’t think I ever really meant to do it. But then, in the spirit of change that has swept through our house this past year, the idea grew wings and took flight last week when my husband suddenly uttered those fateful words: ‘if we got rid of the piano we’d have a lot more space.’

I let it sit. I thought about it. I felt sick. I went round and round with it. All the grandchildren loved playing around on it. Our daughter had her first lessons on it. My husband spent decades trying to play Frère Jacques on it (I won’t miss that!!) Our gorgeous ginger cat, Charlie, used to sit imperiously on the top, watching us all (and gave me a hard lesson about vases of flowers on pianos when she knocked it over and ruined the bottom notes forever).

And how can we forget our 5 year old daughter getting up at dawn on Sunday mornings, wearing her purple Victorian-style dress with its lace collar, Mickey Mouse shower cap on her head (!), singing Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ while dusting and polishing her piano. (How I wish I had a photo of that, there must be one, surely!)

I remember the trapped fingers, the music holder breaking as Number 1 grandson and friend let the lid drop before folding it back; the blackbird that somehow came down the chimney, got trapped in the big lampshade then found its way into the back of the piano and refused to come out! Every toddler in the family has had his or her first music lesson on that piano. It is in the background of all our Christmas photos, bedecked with holly from our garden and candles made by our grandsons.

But the hardest part of letting go is the reason we have it in the first place.

Our daughter and her grandma were close: it was a relationship built on a mutual love of Polo mints and cleaning! She always carried a packet in the pocket of her apron and Grandma’s housework routine definitely had an influence on her grand-daughter. (If anyone needs any decluttering done, she’s the one to call!) Sadly, when our daughter was only just five, her grandma suddenly became ill and died.

Here is a photo of Grandma (wearing the ubiquitous apron) with me, taken in her garden where she had just cut me a bunch of sweetpeas, my favourite flowers.

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When Grandma died, there was a little insurance money which the family had to fight hard to claim – Denis Healey, former MP and then Lord Healey, helped us – and we wanted to do something special with it. We wanted it to be spent on something significant, that she would have liked and that would keep her with us. My husband said she always liked the piano even though she never learned, I too had always wanted a piano and our daughter had been showing interest when she went to nursery where they used to sing around the piano every day. So this seemed a good idea. We bought a reconditioned Wilson walnut upright with flower inlay, you could see that it used to have candle holders too.

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The chair was Grandma’s and went perfectly.

It was so exciting when the piano was delivered. We had a piano! I never thought I would see the day. I remembered my great-grandma’s black piano with the lace runner on top; the brown upright in our school hall that I loved to watch Miss Johnson play every morning in assembly, her toes going up and down and her fingers operating magically all at the same time; my best friend’s dark mahogany piano that I always envied and wished I could learn to play. Her mum said I could practise on it if I had lessons, but we couldn’t afford them. The nearest I ever came to playing an instrument was my wooden recorder! (But I could read music).

We organised lessons for our daughter when she was seven and I was sure it wasn’t just a whim. She and I would go along to her tutor’s house on a Saturday morning, and I would sit fascinated by the number of pianos and keyboards he had, always trying to work out how he got the grand piano into the living room – which also had an upright – and once when that room was having some work done, we had to go upstairs into a tiny box room where he somehow managed to fit an upright and two keyboards. It was like the Tardis.

In years to come, she went on to do her grades and play clarinet, five recorders and guitar. She loved Tori Amos and worked her way through her songbook during her student years, having long since given up formal lessons.

Now, her sons are having music lessons. They chose violin as their first instrument, and their mum accompanied them on our piano during reluctant violin practice at our house in the holidays. Here is the youngest teaching himself on the same piano having found his mum’s beginner’s book. He and his mum played a trick on me when, in a very bored voice, he called me to come listen to him do his violin practice. I found his mum playing violin and him at the piano with a cheeky grin on his face! He has since become keen on keyboard and drums and likes to compose his own music.

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This instrument took on such significance in our lives that it even had a room named after it: being in the fortunate position of having two living rooms, one of them became ‘the piano room’!

The piano also became a repository for significant, much-loved items:

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From the left, a cookie jar from Portugal (a wedding gift from student friends), my great-uncle Billy’s bachelor silver teapot (an apprentice’s passing-out piece), the Russian sculpture of a young woman’s head that has a thick plait down the back (a birthday present from my husband two days before our son’s first birthday). Next, my husband’s Morris Minor teapot, a gift from my mum and a replica of his real life pride and joy. Finally, the cake stand made for me by my very talented son, who seems to be able to turn his hand to creating something from anything being thrown out or abandoned. In the earlier photo of my grandson, you can just see in front of the sculpture, there is a clock he made from a bicycle tyre!

(Where am I going to keep all these now?)

This room’s become a bit of a museum: it also houses my great-grandma’s rocking chair, my grandmother’s Father Christmas cream jug, my great-aunt’s porcelain basket of flowers, a three-legged stool my mum bought me when our son was born and a more modern version made by Number Two grandson at school last year. That’s not to mention the shelves of photograph albums and 70’s cds (husband’s).

It’s time to let go. Our grandchildren live a long way from us and are growing up fast. The oldest (below) gave up piano and harp long ago, the boys now have their own piano and keyboard, the tiny ones will no doubt also benefit from them, too. When everyone visits, there’s never enough room to sit (especially in winter when everyone gravitates to the room with the woodburner), and I want the room to have a makeover.

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So we’re saying goodbye to our old friend. We wanted her to go to a new home, but finding one was a bit of a struggle. The local charity shops didn’t want it. Age UK* didn’t want it. I widened my search to the surrounding towns and a lovely lady in a Sue Ryder* charity shop gave me the name of a new shop nearby: Forces Support*. They help families of injured and lost servicemen and women with house and garden maintenance and building projects etc that were started but can no longer be finished off. The man who answered my call couldn’t have been more helpful or welcoming and once he had found his ‘spectacles’ took down my details and arranged a day for collection.

Now we are just waiting for the men to arrive. Agony of agonies, they phoned last week to say the van had broken down and could we rearrange?! It’s somewhat nerve-wracking. A bit like the day we had to take a very old and sick Charlie to the vets and she didn’t come home.

My eyes are watering.

Not long to go and it will all be over.**

Hang on: what are we going to call the piano room now it no longer has a piano in it?!

*http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

*http://www.sueryder.org/

*http://www.forcessupport.org.uk/

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** Except it wasn’t! See Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?, and Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew!

Here’s a fun video of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box to cheer us up! (If you’re reading this via email, you’ll need to click Like or Comments to take you direct to the post so you can see it).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Water: They Can’t Get Enough, But We Can Help!

Recently, while I was thinking of writing a post on hydration, there was a sudden deluge (pardon the pun) of articles and tweets on the subject. Everywhere I looked, someone was urging that I drink more water. I thought to myself, If I drink any more, I’ll float away! But as I sipped my regular morning hot water and lemon and then had a shower and washed my hair, cleaned my teeth and flushed the loo, I started musing on how much we take our clean water supply for granted and how much we complain about the incessant rain.

Have you ever experienced a drought, even temporarily? I have.

Have you ever had to use a stand pipe down the street in one of the hottest summers on record and queue up for a restricted amount of water, carry heavy containers home, ration it out, use the same washing water for all the family, then use it to flush the toilet that has had to be used several times without? I have.

Have you had to do this with a toddler still in nappies – cloth ones that needed sterilising? Or with a baby using feeding bottles? I have. Have you ever been heavily pregnant during a hot summer and had the water go off because of a burst pipe, making it necessary to walk a couple of streets away to the nearest public toilet for a day and a night? I have. During that hottest summer, I was also coping with a slipped disc.

It was indescribably difficult.

Yet our difficulties and inconveniences (pun intended) were nothing compared to those endured week in week out, by millions of families in developing countries where mainly wives, mothers, sisters and daughters spend hours every day walking miles to collect water that is often contaminated with bacteria, parasites and disease, for example E. Coli, Cholera and Hepatitis A.

Between 600 and 700 million people have no clean drinking water, while over 2 billion do not have access to toilet facilities.

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Image from Jerry Bottles

While I was contemplating this, tweets began appearing on my timeline about Matt Damon and Gary White’s charity Water.org and the British organisation, Water Aid UK. Then purely by chance, someone called @jerrybottles liked one of my tweets. I looked them up. While I did so, two other companies showed up: Conscious Step and Three Avocados.

These companies have one thing in common: they are non-profit businesses that sell unique products to raise money for clean water projects around the world.

100% of their net profits go to these projects.

This all seemed serendipitous and I decided to promote their organisations via my blog. If one person buys one item after reading this, then I will feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.

These companies sell very different quality products and I want to point out that I haven’t been given any to promote, nor have I purchased or used any of them. Purely and simply, I looked at their web sites and products, read their missions and wanted to help in this small way.

First up is Jerry Bottles

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Leicester-based businessman, Harun Master, set up his charity in 2011 to help fund and co-ordinate clean water schemes in India and Africa. Their stainless steel bottles – named after the large jerry cans used by women to collect their water – are stylish, dishwasher safe and sustainably produced. Along with Tobias Gould and Taj Bharma, he built a company whose mission is to educate about pollution caused by plastic bottles, encourage the use of refillable steel bottles and use the profits to provide safe, clean water – starting in Tanzania. As a bonus, the co-ordinates of each project will be printed on the base of the bottles so you can see where the proceeds from your purchase have been put to use. They keep costs and staffing low to maximise the funds available for the schemes.

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They are also working with local shops and businesses to build a scheme whereby you can refill your Jerry water bottle for free when out and about. They aim to add to their range by working with designers to create additional quality bottles and accessories. The web site is informing and fun, as are their tweets!

Three Avocados is the fascinating name of a coffee company in St Louis, Missouri, founded by Joe Koenig in 2010 after a trip to Uganda. The poverty surrounding him inspired him to set up a company which sells 100% Arabica coffee – produced by small farmers in Uganda and Nicaragua for fair prices – and donates all its net profits to clean water projects worldwide. One of their partners is a women’s co-op which uses the money earned from growing coffee to send their children to school.

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In Uganda alone, without clean water, 63 children die every day. Since the company started, over 20,000 people have benefited.

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Women and girls are usually the ones who walk miles every day to collect large jerry cans of contaminated water. They are unable to work or attend school. They are at risk of assault. Providing clean water allows them to gain an education and employment as well supporting a healthier community.

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Oh, and why is a coffee company called Three Avocados? Well, visit the web site and read their story – just have some tissues handy when you do.

Conscious Step is the brainchild of 3 like-minded men: Hassan Ahmad, Adam Long and Prashant Mehta, left their respective careers at the World Health Organisation, Engineers Without Borders and in Microfinance, and came up with the quirky idea of selling uniquely designed and manufactured Socks for Causes,  to combat Hunger and HIV/Aids, promote Education and provide Clean Water.

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In partnership with Water.org net profits from these blue Argyle socks provide clean water for one person for 18 months!

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(Images from Conscious Step)

The socks are certified Fair Trade and are made from organic cotton using non-toxic dyes.

I asked in my previous post ‘ What Colour’s Your Wee?! Water: Part 1 – Are You Getting Enough? Well, for some, this question is moot. They can’t get enough. What they can get is more often than not a long trek away and unsafe to drink.

You can help change that.

Copyright: Chris McGowan