‘Old ladies’ exhibition day: 4 December 2011 – everyone round for tea, cakes and remembering our mothers.

I have not written this blog for almost two months partly because i have been tied up doing my Gersen diet, partly doing  projects. I  am pretty much following Gersen: enzymes IP6 and Inositol, Quercetin, Bromelain, CQ10; fresh green and carrot and apple juices, Hippocrates soup and about 3 coffee and camomile enemas a day. (I am still waiting for Dr Callebout to send me the ‘regime schedule’ he promised after i sent blood and urine for special diagnostic testing a month ago now.  Not sure why it is taking so long…).

I keep remembering the classic story Basque writer friend  Bernardo Atxaga told me once: death comes to a man in the early morning and tells him he will be with him by midnight. He spends the day riding on his horse to the end of the kingdom to avoid death, only to find him when he gets there. Death wonders why he spent his final day riding rather than with his family and friends or something like that! I have an image of St Paul at the gate of heaven when i get there (of course)  saying ‘ ah you’re the one who  spent most of her final months/ years juicing and doing enemas – what was wrong with living…! Maybe i’ve put the other side of that joke in an earlier blog – anyway bears repeating: get to the pearly gates and am waiting for room allocation (will it be bunks in sunshine or hammocks even?). And i say i hope i’ll be billeted with the musicians. And the eprson at the agte loks at their clip board and says: ‘Ah a music journalist: you’ll be with the roadies and sound men!’ (i.e. for none music scene people- in purgatory with old grey haired, ponytailed men in tight old black jeans with their bum cheeks showing, and black  t-shirts!)

Of course i am doing plenty of living: been to a few great gigs – Malian kora man Toumani Diabate, female sitar player Anoushka Shankar, at Usher Hall (thanks Karl, thanks  The Scotsman!); saw lovely opening film of French Film festival – sequel to Manon des Sources – forgotten its name!;  enjoying the MET  operas live  into the Cameo cinema almost every other Saturday night at the moment – going with friends  Judy and Dave and Clive and eating cold porridge from a pot now instead of sharing the smoked salmon sandwiches and home-made cake and glass of white wine with the others.  OK the  last two times i have actually had a sandwich and a small slice of cake… and some high cocoa dark  chocolate

The recent highlight, however, was this Sunday when i invited  friends around to see an exhibition of photographs I have assembled and framed of ‘old ladies’ (and’ old men’). I have hung them (thanks to my lovely daughter Fran who did most of the work there) down the staircase like a small gallery. And they look fabulous. I am quite thrilled. There’s a lady high in the Peruvian highland sierra out with an axe  cutting brush for bedding; a  lady who sells castanets in the Albaicín in Granada;  a lady  cleaning  a family grave in Busquítar, Alpujarra on All Souls Day (thanks Mo Fini); my friend Dorothy Walton who lives in Edinburgh, sitting talking in the Yemaya house in my garden; my friend Val’s mum Marjorie Fraser at her weaving loom  in Wales with small pics of her spinning and of the wool she dyed and spun to work with; a group of friends who gathered here last year to knit squares for the ‘big knit’ blanket which was put together in Glasgow (potential ‘old’ ladies!); a Spanish sister and brother in their late 70s /80s making baskets together, which they’d been doing since they were about 8 years old in the small village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana on the Spanish Portuguese border above Huelva (thanks David Flower for lending Fiona and I your house for a few days); lots of old folk met  when i walked part of the camino to Santiago de Compostela, many of them out with their sticks taking a ‘constitutional’ in the winter-spring sunshine; a woman and her family living in the hills above Vinales in Cuba who farm coffee; a woman making and cooking food on Coyoácan, Mexico City; children from a small school i visited in the Peruvian highlands near Lares when  i last went to Maccu Piccu! (lucky enough to go there 1971, 1972 and 2009) (thanks Kathy for fixing that trek for me).

Everyone brought home made cakes – delicious ones –  Dutch apple cake, French chocolate heart cake, Dundee cake, carrot cake, gluten free cake,  mince pies, small pop in the mouth cakes, cup cakes.  Rebecca of The  Monsoon Mountains Tea Company  came and did a tasting of tea from Sri Lankan tea  estates (many of which have links to Scotland) which people enjoyed.

Perhaps the most amazing and unexpected  bit was that my fantastic musician friends Dougie (Hudson) and Andy (Cooke) (they have a group called Baobab Tree) made music for all in the living room on guitars, thumb piano and hunter’s lyre, with percussion from Chimp; later joined on another guitar by Carlos (Arredondo).  It was my mother’s birthday and i wanted to remember her, warts and all (just wish she’d celebrated  us more openly). My sister Mary came up from Cambridge for the weekend which was special.  Quite spontaneously in the invite I asked people to bring a picture of their mothers with them. And everyone seemed to do so.  Dougie said he had a song about his mum. So he sang it (a beautiful, friendly song;) and then improvised its’ chorus, and one by one each of us (at least 35 in the room) held up their photo and said some words about their mother, with extraordinary degrees of truth, also naming them, all linked by Dougie, Andy, Chimp and Carlos playing and us all singing chorus riffs.  It was truly magical – fantastic – beyond my wildest dreams – a real celebration of us all, as well as our mums, and ‘old ladies’. Whether i created this day and this exhibition because i may not become that ‘old’ an ‘old lady’ is moot: i just always had a passion for taking photos of old ladies or women – women or ladies- brushing yards, sitting crocheting or knitting, or simply sitting,  or standing  looking out somewhere – as well as making, cooking, cleaning, weaving, working – or just walking along the street. I have always been drawn to old ladies and it was really joyful to sharephotos of  them – or better said –  to be sharing them –  as they will be there for a long time yet!  I can remember the circumstances of all the photos; where they were; who i was with etc. There are so many stories in each picture and anecdotes, to tell to myself above all.  Rich and lovely times. i may put some of them up on this page but i feel a little cheeky as they are images of other people not myself or my family, which i shy away from anyway.

As i stood there singing along with Dougie and others, and swaying to the music,  looking at everyone around the room, and their photos as they spoke,  I felt right in the moment – only once or twice did i think ‘is this really happening?’ ‘ why is something so brilliant happening?’ – everyone made it what it was – thank you everyone! Bit of bliss on a Sunday afternoon. Not sure what it was like for the children there- the wee ones or bigger ones like my Fran, and Merlin  who came with his mum (and sacks of logs – thanks Merlin!)… hope it was good!


About Jan Fairley

I am an experienced and passionate ethnomusicologist working as an arts and music journalist and broadcaster, writer and editor as well as researcher, lecturer, radio presenter and producer. I have a breadth of organising experience at home and abroad. I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I love travelling and have worked abroad (notably Chile 1971-3 and again in 1994) and researched in Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Finland.
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2 Responses to ‘Old ladies’ exhibition day: 4 December 2011 – everyone round for tea, cakes and remembering our mothers.

  1. Jane Cornwell says:

    wonderful Jan – am in Australia and checked in to see how you’re getting on. All very life affirming xxxx

  2. Jan Fairley says:

    this blog is playing up so i save dit and it got posted without spell checking- do it another day

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