I’m not big on joy – more steady progress, appreciation, a bit of peace… Joy is one of those ‘hot’ emotions, which can feel like it’ll just cause me bother or be too much like hard work.

So imagine my surprise (having been dreading it for weeks) to be utterly joyful last evening, at a work event. 

We had a ceilidh which involved 90 minutes of lung-busting jigging around bumping into each other; swinging folk you hardly know around, ‘stripping the willow’ and prancing like the ‘gay Gordons’. 

I had a spill and hit the deck, as we sought to spin our foursome fast enough, for the two ladies to take off and fly with centrifugal force. I then nearly re-enacted the Large Hadron Collider with a Greek particle physicist in some poorly-coordinated galloping. What a laugh. Everyone finished hot, flushed, sweating and beaming. 

The last time I remember everyone beaming like this at my work, was at an awards night when the staff choir brought the room to life. And this has set me thinking…

I’ve been listening to Bach’s passions this week – and perhaps there’s something to be said for a bit more joy. Singing, dancing, music, performance; they’re as old as the hills. But they still make life feel worth living. Here’s to joy.

Tree of Life


Instead of ‘keeping plates spinning’, I’m coming to the conclusion that a better metaphor for my middle years, is a spreading oak, full of twittering birds.

Many feathered, they can’t be tethered; birds come and go and freely choose your branches. Some stay a while, some just pass through. Some coexist peacefully with the rest of the tree. Some scare others away. Some sing beautifully, others cheep incessantly. And quieter birds just appreciate the support and shade.

Right in the centre of my tree is the ramshackle but solid nest which is my little family: cheeping, pecking each other and squawking periodically for food. Sustenance delivered, this nest is the driving purpose of my whole tree.

Sadly my oak – like so many urban trees – suffers regular vandalism. A couple of people regularly urinate on it. Every now and then a f#ckwit carves “I am a f#ckwit” on it. Periodically someone tries to strip the bark and make my branches droop.

But my tree is home to a good many happy singing birds most days. From the smiling faces in the coffee shop, via the cheery waves from security and the cleaners to the rather more demanding nesting birds of the people who work for me. And of course the noisy but life-filled family nest, bursting with love, at each end of the day.

My tree of life ain’t a bad habitat. And seeing its many occupants cheeping, twittering, singing and flitting in and out is a happier picture than the pointless spinning of plates.

Keeping the vandals away, the ravens at bay, the roots deep and the branches strong, is all I need to do to enjoy life-filled and happy days. That, and a heart of English oak.

Carol Singing


School Christmas carols
Parents wedged in
Younger siblings
Making a din
Silence falls
Like a blanket of snow
Then many small voices
Sing tunes we all know
All upstanding
The grow-ups join in
All in good voice
The joy of a hymn
Our spirits all lifted
By seasonal cheer
The annual sing song
Gets better each year.

The annual Christmas carol service, at my daughter’s new school, is a step up from the childish plays of recent years.

Opened with an expert trumpet solo, studded with eloquent readings and conducted with vim and vigour throughout, this was a classy – and very traditional – Christmas performance.

She, smartly dressed in red shirt and blue skirt, never spotted us – lost in the crowd. But I could see her, through gaps in many heads, singing her little heart out. It lifted mine as I stood to sing too. You can’t beat a proper Christmas hymn.