Archive for October, 2009

news and review of Shirley Williams in Ely 26th Oct 09

October 31, 2009

As part of a series of talks arranged by Topping and Company given by prestigious authors, Shirley Williams spoke at St. Peter’s Church in Ely on 26th October 09. She was supporting the publication of her autobiography Climbing the Bookshelves. Shirley did not read from her book as expected but gave a charming and entertaining talk that revealed the content of her autobiography in an informal and entertaining way. After her talk, we definitely felt we knew Shirley better and that the media hype she has endured in the past had little relevance to this erudite speaker who showed sensitivity to the nature of her audience and who used approachable language and amusing anecdotes.

As events unfolded, we became aware that her autobiography title stemmed from her childhood when her brother urged her to climb up the bookshelves in her father’s study to reach the books that her parents did not want their children to see. We learned that her parents were people of considerable influence. We began to appreciate how Shirley developed her strong principles. Her father was a political scientist Sir George Catlin and Labour activist. Her mother was the writer, pacifist, and feminist Vera Brittain who lost her fiancé and brother in the First World War and was determined to give them a life through her writing in her book Testament to Youth. Shirley spent time in America because both her parents were blacklisted by the Gestapo in the Second World War. If Germany had won, both her parents would have been executed immediately. While In the USA she was pipped at the post by Elizabeth Taylor for the lead role in the film National Velvet.

Shirley revealed a strong sense of principles. She admitted to having a little trouble with being part of a secular event in a church. Her strong sense of principles led her to break free from the Labour party and became one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party (which later merged with the Liberals to become the Liberal Democrats).

Humour permeated many of her anecdotes as did a streak of feminism and an avid concern for political issues. When she was first elected, her determination to gain admittance to every nook and cranny of the House of Commons sent her through the doors of a certain ‘room’ that should have been marked Gentlemen Members Only. The ‘Ladies’ was a much more modest affair. Her visit to a school on the governing body led her to mistakenly being interviewed for a position as a needlework teacher.

She described the different types of female politician, the strong influence of their fathers and how she decided to become a ‘chum’. She never flinched from expressing her strong beliefs:  there should be more free votes in Parliament, MP salaries should be at least equal to GPs and there is a need to renew laws after 10 years or let them fall. She spoke against the 3000 new criminal offences, some as minor as dropping litter and the loss of civil liberties after the passing of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act.  At this point I understood more than ever the important role people like Shirley have in our society: The media and personal experience indicate that this act may well be being used on the families of people needing care.  Shirley also spoke against the extreme centralization of English democracy and expressed a wish that the powers of local government should be restored. We glimpsed her political edge when she described Tony Blair as a good communicator and good actor (with an amusing aside: ‘mostly playing King Henry V’).

She described how, above all, she values her friends, many of whom are not politicians and are frank and honest with her. She admitted that she can be critical of the Church but nevertheless believes that the Gospels provide a solid basis for living. She reminded us that ‘the price of freedom is vigilance’. She believes that surveillance is out of hand and disagrees with the setting up of three unaccountable committees to keep tabs on protestors: we should have the right to protest. She believes that the voting system is slanted heavily and not equal. She supports comprehensive schools and is against a curriculum that is too rigid curriculum. She believes there is too much testing and advocates bringing back technical colleges. She also believes that parties should be able to agree more e.g. on human rights and education. Concerning Iraq, she praised the work of Robin Butler and described his study as most subtle: ‘full of unexploded bombs’ indicating that the government did give exaggerated accounts.  

After meeting this sincere and highly principled ‘chum’ it was difficult to envisage her in her more powerful and high profile role as Baroness Williams of Crosby.  This was indeed a most illuminating and rewarding event.

Further events at Toppings Ely will feature Sir Ralph Fiennes (5th November), Alexander McCall Smith (18th November), Tracey Chevalier (25th November) and John Lyons (26th November).


Topping and Company (01353) 645005

review Ely Choral Society:Purcell and his Time

October 27, 2009

Review: Ely Choral Society “Purcell and his time” in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral 24th October 2009

Under the directorship of Andrew Parnell, Ely Choral Society has become a choir of considerable worth. In their concert Purcell and his time in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral on the 24th October, the impressively large number of singers produced a rich, strong, and powerful sound that was very skillfully shaped by Andrew. Their polished performance included notable contrasts of expression and sensitive awareness of the need for clear diction. Angelic thirds proliferated in the sopranos and altos and there was much tonal splendour, vibrancy and fullness in the men’s voices. These qualities were particularly noticeable in the performances of Purcell’s Miserere, Come ye Sons of Art, in the second Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts and in O God Thou art my God .

The event offered a fascinating chronological journey through life during Pepy’s and Purcell’s time. With careful voice production (in order to overcome the difficulties of the unique acoustics of the Lady Chapel), Nick Huntingdon read a fascinating series of excerpts from Pepy’s diary in which he described life in London in the 17th century.  The Plague, the Fire of London and the activities of Lord Sandwich were among his intriguing descriptions.

 Rebecca Duckworth, an alluring soprano, filled the Lady Chapel with some glorious sounds in her solo Evening Hymn (Purcell) and in her roles in O pray for the Peace (John Blow) and in The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel (Purcell).

Jonathan Lilley, confirmed his commendable abilities as Assistant Organist at Ely Cathedral by his highly competent and sympathetic accompaniments on the smaller, more intimate portable organ in the Lady Chapel. 

A team of skilled brass and percussion instrumentalists provided variety: Gavin Bowyer and Richard Hall (trumpets), David Minchin and Sarah Minchin (trombones) and Dave Ellis (drums). Their contributions included Four pieces for Sackbuts and Cornetts c 1661 by Charles Colemen. The third of these was particularly appealing with its lively rhythm and strong contrasts. The players added colour and vibrancy to a number of other items especially in the main highlight of the event: Funeral Music for Queen Mary (Purcell). In this collection of works, the Chapel resonated with spine-chilling effects. The most unforgettable of these were the gradually increasing and decreasing drum rolls by Dave Ellis as he processed into the Chapel at the beginning of this collection of works and as he recessed out of the Chapel at the end until the final, almost silent single drum roll brought this section to a breath-taking close. The choir’s vital, cohesive and broad chords, the brass players’ precise and timely embellishments and the ominous drum calls held the listeners spellbound.

This was indeed a splendid evening.


Future events to look forward to include:

Saturday 5th December 2009 A King is born at St Mary’s Church Ely

Saturday 30th January 2010 Peace Child – Alpha Omega by David Gordon (Cat Steven’s brother) Ely Cathedral

Saturday 27th March 2010 St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach with Rogers Covey-Crump of The Hilliard Ensemble, a specialist period orchestra and Jonathan Lilley

Saturday 19th June 2010 Summer Concert

Saturday 30th October 2010 Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini Lady Chapel Ely Cathedral  

Rosemary Westwell

review: A L Kennedy at Toppings Ely

October 25, 2009

Topping and Company’s bookstore is striking gold in the world of literature. High profile names are offering book readings in this charismatic store, or when the need arrives, in larger, local venues as notable as Ely Cathedral.  

Recently A.L. Kennedy read from her fifth and latest book of short stories: “What Becomes”.  There was no doubt she is an inspired writer. Who else could create a series of profound emotional experiences based on having a mouth of large teeth?  We were soon suffering with the victim, reliving the feelings and the tricks of the mind that a visit to the dentist can engender or reacting wildly to the effects of over-enthusiastically applied anaesthetic.  With tremendous literary skill, she weaved perceptive images that remained with us long after her talk. Who else could craft such memorable phrases as ‘a whole piano’s worth’ of teeth, ‘werewolf earlobes’ or ‘I can speak alcohol’? Her style is undoubtedly extraordinary, succinct and unique.  

Her stage experience as a comedian added considerable flavour to her readings on this occasion. With expert timing, an occasional lifting of an invisible veil with which she shields her inner most thoughts and seemingly off-the-cuff personal asides, she fixed our attention.

No subject seems sacrosanct in her writing: sex, prostitutes, alcoholism and violence are all par for the course. This variety by no means diminishes the depth of her understanding: her serious and dedicated approach to her research is undeniable – the research for some subjects can take her over three years to complete. At his point it is also important to reveal how she insists that her writing is sheer fiction, NOT based on her own personal experiences!

This author is definitely worth reading. Her books include “Day”, “Now that you’re back”, “Original Bliss”, “On Bullfighting” and “Paradise”.


Topping and Company (01353) 645005

Further events at Toppings Ely will feature Shirley Williams (26th October), Jenny Uglow (29th October), Sir Ralph Fiennes (5th November), Alexander McCall Smith (18th November), Tracey Chevalier (25th November) and John Lyons (26th November).

Rosemary Westwell

A Poetry Reading evening with a difference: a very personal response

October 16, 2009

A Poetry Reading evening with a difference: a very personal response

On Thursday 15th October, The Dignity in Care campaign, The Department of Health and Cambridgeshire County Council presented an evening of poetry reading featuring John Killick and John Lyons. These contrasting poets represented the Cambridgeshire Poet in Residence and the voice of Trinidad respectively.

With wine and cheese in abundance, in the charming environment of Ely Library, the audience was enthralled with the very moving poems shaped by John Killick from the words of people suffering with dementia. As the wife of a dementia sufferer, the words meant much more to me than mere strings of phrases uttered by forgetful people. The poems were shaped in such a way that each contained hard-hitting messages, ones that have meanings for the all of us. I was reminded of my husband’s suffering when he realized his mind was going. The people who spoke to John Killick evoked much of the fear brought on by the confusion the disease creates. The victim who spoke of the difficulty of following the map of life, the one who talked about people who helped her/him and how some ‘are less than alive now’ and the person who spoke about his love of horses who ‘show him the way to go home’ caught the imagination and touched on feelings that we all share.

In a brighter, more rhythmical mode, John Lyons brought alive the senses and feelings engendered by his early life in Trinidad and his life in the UK. The audience learned about eccentric characters from his family and the little boy in him impressed us all.

Future events include:

‘You are the Words’ when John Killick will be reading his poetry again in the Central Library, Grand Arcade, Cambridge CB2 3QD on the 29th October 3-5 p.m. and on the same evening,  Samantha Harvey, author of “The Wilderness” ( a story of an Alzheimer’s Disease sufferer) will be reading from her book  6.30 – 8 pm. Refreshments will be served at 6.30 p.m. contact 07796 336301

Books by the authors are available at Toppings bookstore in Ely including “An Elephant in the Room” and “Cook –up in a Trini Kitchen”. Cook-up in a Trini Kitchen” by John Lyons features recipes, poems, stories and pictures from Trinidad.


This was my first introduction to ‘Dignity in Care’ and I was very impressed with their ideals. Phil Hope MP, Minister for Care Services offers a worthy statement:

“Being treated with dignity and respect is the right of every human being. I want to make it the core principle of care.”

It is with some regret I have to report that as the wife of someone who is in care,’ respect’ by those in the care ‘business’ (rather than those in the home that are directly responsible ) is at present, sadly lacking.

In the early stages of my husband’s illness, I arranged for colleagues to cover my work load so that I could attend meetings. These meeting achieved very little and as I was under such considerable stress already, attending them was obviously not going to help.

 From the moment the ‘powers that be’ decided to move my husband from ward to ward, finally closing the ward he needed so that the administrators could move in, my husband has received little consideration. At the time when my husband was being moved, no one would speak to me about what was happening. I was told by one respondent that I was ‘not permitted’ to speak to those responsible for moving him. Since then my husband no longer has the right or dignity to be called patient, husband or father by them.  I cannot praise his current carers too much, but the administrative system that is supposed to support him, in my estimation, has failed. Communication has been so poor, that I have had to resort to asking for every communication to be in writing. In doing this, and in questioning the behaviour of those who have been making decisions, I as his representative, have been largely ignored and treated as ‘the enemy’ .  

A feeling of distrust has gradually been established e.g. I believe that one of the administrators for Cambridgeshire County Council was prosecuted for stealing money meant for care homes. As a consequence, I have not sent the money demanded in threatening letters. Although I have written and asked how I may begin the process of appeal – again, I have been ignored.  I have resorted to asking for a solicitor’s help. My solicitor tells me that my husband most likely meets the criteria for continuing care. My husband is certainly worse than the condition of Pamela Coughlan whose case in 1999 established her right to continuing care.  

As the ‘service’ has become more and more divorced from a ‘caring’ organization and has become more aloof and even threatening, I am left feeling vulnerable, intimidated and insecure. I know I am not alone in this.   

If the Minister for Care Services is serious about treating everyone in or to do with the care system with ‘dignity and respect’, he must change current priorities from those that are clearly based on financial gain to those that put people, patients and their needs first.

Rosemary Westwell who suspects she has recently been referred to as a ‘perpetrator’.

Songs from the Shows by the Isle Singers

October 11, 2009

Report on the Isle Singers’ Concert given on the 9th of October 2009 in St. Andrew’s Church, Witchford, Ely, Cambs. UK

The evening poured with rain. I struggled down to the church with the stand, my umbrella, a heavy raincoat and my brief case containing the music and wondered if it was worth it. It definitely was – we all enjoyed singing and hoped that the audience appreciated it too.

The programme was as follows:

The Isle Singers’ Programme  Friday 9th October 2009

In St. Andrew’s Church, Witchford 7.30 p.m.

director Dr. Rosemary Westwell   accompanist Pam Austin


The Isle Singers:

  1. “Any Dream Will Do” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice
  2. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice
  3.  “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” music by Leonard Bernstein, words by Stephen Sondheim
  4.  “Tonight” from “West Side Story” music by Leonard Bernstein, words by Stephen Sondheim


Items by St Andrew’s Sutton Youth choir directed and accompanied by Helen Bradley


  1. “I could have Danced all night” from “My Fair Lady” music by Frederick Lowe words by Alan Lerner
  2.  “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney
  3. “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess lyrics by Du Bose Heyward music by George Gershwin arranged by William Stickles
  4.  “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” music by Richard Rodgers words by Oscar Hammerstein 11


INTERVAL of about 30 minutes


The Isle Singers:

  1. “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from “Oklahoma” music by Richard Rodgers lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 11
  2.  “If I Loved you” from “Carousel” music by Richard Rodgers lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 11
  3. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” music by Richard Rodgers words by Oscar Hammerstein 11
  4. “My Heart will go On” (Love Them from ‘Titanic’) music by James Horner, lyrics by Will Jennings


Items by St Andrew’s Sutton Youth choir directed by Helen Bradley


  1. “Moon River” composed by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mancini (music) in 1961 from the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” 
  2. “When I’m 64” Paul McCartney
  3.  (both choirs) “The Lord is my Shepherd” Psalm 23 from the BBC TV series “The Vicar of Dibley” by music by Howard Goodall



The Isle Singers are an amateur female vocal group. They have been singing in the Ely area for over 30 years. The have been on TV and radio (briefly), they have been a surprise Birthday treat, a Cabaret act and they have sung madrigals in the minstrel’s gallery in Trinity College Cambridge. Contact: (01353 663918)

News: events in the Ely area

October 7, 2009

Events in the Ely area:

Monday 26th October 2009 730 Topping’s Bookstore Ely author Shirley Williams

Wednesday 11th November 2009 Hayward Theatre, King’s School Ely Concert Society Series , 730 p.m. violinist

Saturday 14th November 2009 Cathedral Girls’ Choir with Henry Olonga, St. George’s Church Littleport

Wednesday 18th November 2009 730 Topping’s Bookstore Ely  author McCall Smith

Friday 20th November 2009 730 Hayward Theatre The King’s School Ely ‘The Old Dispensary Concert’ 

Monday 23rd November King’s School Ely Senior School Play ‘Our Country’s Good’

Saturday 28th November 730-915 p.m. Ely Cathedral Cambridge University Music Society  Mahler Eight

Friday 4th December 2009 730p.m. King’s School Ely ‘A Night at the Musicals’

Saturday 5th December 2009 St Mary’s Church Ely, Ely Choral Society Christmas Concert

Sunday 6th December 2009 Ely Cathedral Ely Sinfonia Christmas Concert

Monday 7th December 730 p.m. Recital Hall King’s School Ely ‘Unplugged’

Friday 18th December 2009 5-7 p.m. Ely Railway Station Isle Singers Christmas Carols


Saturday 30th January 2010 Peace Child – Alpha Omega by David Gordon (Cat Steven’s brother) Ely Cathedral

Saturday 19th June 2010 Summer Concert Ely Choral Society

Saturday 17th July 2010 Ely Cathedral Cambridge Philharmonic

Saturday 6th March 2010 Ely Sinfonia ‘Northern Lights’

Friday 1st October 2010 Ely Cathedral Ely Sinfonia ‘Travellers’ Tales’

Saturday 27th March 2010 St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach Ely Choral Society with Rogers Covey-Crump of The Hilliard Ensemble, a specialist period orchestra and Jonathan Lilley  Ely Choral Society

Saturday 30th October 2010 Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini Lady Chapel Ely Cathedral,  Ely Choral Society

review Witchford – WADS YOUTH ‘Our Day Out’ by Willy Russell

October 4, 2009

Review of WAD’S production of Our Day Out at Witchford Village College

Our Day Out, a play by Willy Russell about underprivileged teenagers going on a rare outing, was the perfect choice for the 11-16 year-old members of WADS YOUTH to perform at Witchford Village College. The large cast featured strong characters including a very uptight senior member of staff Mrs. Briggs constantly at odds with Mrs. Kay the sympathetic, supportive teacher who organized the outing, a bashful young teacher Colin struggling to overcome the excessive sexual advances of Linda, a troubled young girl Carol threatening suicide in a bid to avoid returning to her problematic home life, the inevitable couple of streetwise lads at the back of the bus Reilly and Digga, a seasoned bus driver with low tolerance to children Ronny and a control-freak of a Lollipop Lady .  

In this cleverly crafted play, the remaining cast added spice to an almost predictable kaleidoscope of disastrous events culminating in a delightful scene with the children attempting to abscond with various animals that they had ‘acquired’ from the zoo. The remaining cast included Ronson, Sue, Little Kid, Pam, Kathy, Susan, Karen, Andrews and Headmistress, Zookeeper and Maureen.

This production was extremely well orchestrated and the slides and videos as part of the staging helped bring the production alive and make the local adaptations entirely appropriate –the production was a real ‘Witchford’ event. The Director Esther Hiller and Co-producers Keith Gallois and Sarah Boor are to be congratulated for such an excellent show. There was additional excellent input from the prompt and those responsible for lighting: Keith McPherson, graphics: Tim Bustin, Simon Gamble and Keith Gallois, costumes and props: Sarah Bloor, additional vocal training: Tessa McGinn, programme editing: Emma Grace and stage construction: Adrian Peberdy and Parents.

If the very high standard of this production is any indication of what is to be expected in the future, WAD’S next show: Snow White on the 5th and 6th of February 2010 should be outstanding. Book early!

local contacts:


Rosemary Westwell

Review Ely Sinfonia’s 10th Anniversary Concert

October 4, 2009

Ely Sinfonia, ‘the first high quality orchestral ensemble to be based in Ely’, has certainly blossomed over the past 10 years. The concert in Ely Cathedral presented as a celebration of its 10th anniversary was an excellent tribute to this organization’s talent, musicality and dedication.

Conducted by Steve Bingham, the orchestra opened the event with an highly accomplished performance of Beethoven’s popular 5th symphony. The players worked as one, developing Beethoven’s dramatic contrasts into episodes of accumulating tension and creating a constant sense of urgency that was never hurried and a momentum that never dissipated. The charm and appeal of the second movement exploited the more subtle effects of Beethoven’s style while the Scherzo and final Allegro brought the work to a typical robust and triumphant climax.

The evening was marked with a first performance of a work especially written for the occasion: The Martyrdom of Latimer by Adam Pounds who was present in the audience. The warmth and enthusiasm the audience showed towards this piece was certainly warranted. This profound work explored the excitement and darkness of death and spiritual revival. After the opening appealing melody was taken up in turn by the different sections of the orchestra, the toll of impending doom heralded the contrasting development of dramatic conflict, building up to an exciting climax with trumpets off-stage broadening the experience until the work’s final thunderous drum call brought this fine composition to a memorable close.

After interval, the evening culminated with a glorious presentation of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor. The orchestra was joined by the combined forces of Ely Consort and Swavesey Community Choir and soloists Helen-Jane Howells (soprano), Olivia Ray (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Bewes (tenor) and Simon Adams (bass). Steve Bingham led this magnificent mass of performers towards moments of sublime expression. His sense of dynamic and rhythmic drive urged the music forwards, always enhancing the sense of poignancy that permeated the score. Singers and instrumentalists added potency to their performance with an unreserved and personal involvement that has rarely been seen in choirs and orchestras of such magnitude. The soloists were outstanding, producing sounds of rare beauty especially noticeable in the Benedictus. The poignant semitone phrases and contrasts of the Lacrimosa and the strong, wholesome chords from the choir in the Agnus Dei were only two of the wonderful effects that pervaded this moving performance.

This was indeed a wonderful celebration. At the end of the evening, the occasion was marked with the presentation of an award to Robin Moore who has been largely responsible for the development and growth of this fine orchestra. His efforts were very much appreciated by those attending.

Future events to look forward to include:

Ely Sinfonia:

Sunday 6th December  Christmas concert, The Maltings, Ely

Saturday 6th March 2010 Northern Lights Ely Cathedral featuring Grieg, Sibelius and Nielsen          

Saturday June 2010 Music in the Park in Chippenham Park

Ely Consort:

Saturday 5th December Christmas Carol Concert Chippenham Church

Saturday 13th March Ely Cathedral Faure Requiem Tippett Spirituals from A Child of our Time

Saturday 26th June, Sutton Church Puccini Messa de Gloria

Swavesey Community Choir:

Saturday 5th December Advent Concert St. Andrew’s Church Swavesey featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria


Rosemary Westwell