We all need to try new things…agreed? We do much the same thing week in and week out.  So when Helen R asked who was up for a bit of an adventure, we jumped at the chance.  Aerial Yoga was to be the adventure. I mean, how hard could it be?  10 women ranging in age from early twenties to over 50s all agreed to give it a try and the class was booked.  All of us having at least beginner yoga experience.

Now we all knew that this Sunday evening was going to be far from the norm but how far was yet to be discovered.  So we loaded into cars and headed over to Yoga Therapies.  All chitter chattering like children all over again. This was going to be a fun 2 hours.18-7-57

Walking into the room 5 silks hanging from straps on the ceiling were the first thing we saw and we all got a bit giggly.  But our teachers made it clear that we needed to listen and take this seriously as we could cause real damage.  Oh, so this is going to be a real work out? was our immediate thought. We all paired up, one person doing and one person assisting and we listened, paying close attention to their instructions.

Stretching and warming up is so important and that is obviously where we began. With the easy stuff……..how wrong we were.  The groans and moans rang out around the room and that’s when we all realised that this was going to be way more challenging than we had anticipated.  Pulling at leg muscles I’d never used before, we leaned and pulled and stretched and became used to the feel of the silks in our hands and how it would hold and mould our bodies.18-7-9

Everything we were asked to do was first done by our coaches Jane and Lynn.  They were amazing, very  kind and gentle, never forcing but always encouraging.  Talking us through every move and how by adding on this, you can push yourself more or leave it off if you feel less confident.  Before long, we were all engrossed in our own pairing, oblivious to the people around us, totally concentrating on what we were trying to achieve. I’m sure you could ask any of us and we would agree that the encouragement of our partners really helped us believe that we could do or at least attempt everything.

And we did. Nobody moaned. We all completely embraced the challenge and tried everything, all with varying degrees of success.  But we all left that room feeling completely invigorated and proud of ourselves.  This was not a Sunday we were going to forget anytime soon.

It makes you want to join a choir…

That’s what my friend who came with me said at the end of the concert. That is inspiration. That is Inspiration. That is what this choir called Inspiration is all about.

A choir that welcomes ordinary people like you and me to sing with them. The only requirement is that you love singing. And there are plenty of people who do, apparently. Over two hundred here, who are willing to commit to regular rehearsals, hours of private practice, a long day on concert day – and all because they are passionate about singing.

You can see it on their faces. I can see it on Helen H’s face. This is making her happy. Really, really happy. She is radiating joy. This is her place. She is singing her heart out. She’s giving it her all, totally transfixed by the conductor, completely obedient to his every command. She trusts him, knows that he can bring the best out of every individual and turn this group of individuals into a glorious whole, a musical force.

17-7aThe waves of voices in unison and in harmony wash over the audience and we are soaked in the ebb and flow, the crescendos and diminuendos, the changes of rhythm and changes of key. The programming is perfect – all works that will inspire and rouse the audience. As the choir perform, they sing every word as if they mean it.

Don’t stop me now – I’m having such a good time.

They urge us to climb every mountain and make them hear you.

They remind us that we are astonishing.

Don’t stop believing.

They challenge us to dare to dream.

I dare to dream. I can’t stop staring at the violins. They draw me in. I started playing the violin when I was eight years old. I played in orchestras until I was 28. I need to play in an orchestra again. That is my place.

Last night, Inspiration lived up to its name.

Gary Griffiths, the musical director inspired. The Royal Northern Sinfonia inspired. Cliff Lee, the signed song interpreter inspired. Hall One of the Sage inspired. The soloists inspired. Les Miserables and South Pacific and The Beautiful Game inspired. And of course, every single member of this wonderful choir inspired their friends and families who had come to support them.

That’s what music does. It unites. And it inspires.

Thank you for the music.



10 weeks of practise all aimed at this one day.  The culmination of all our efforts and hard work.  This is why we do it….Isn’t it?

Every Wednesday night for 10 weeks, over 200 of us head to Gosforth and spend 2 hours with our friends, learning songs, laughing and escaping from everything else in our life.  And we do it knowing that the end result will be awesome, no matter what happens over those 10 weeks. We know that on show day, it will all come together and we will love every minute.

We all have our little traditions and habits that make the day seems so special, but we all have the love of singing at its heart.17-7-2

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I always seem to wake early on choir day – it must be the excitement.  Checking and double checking that I have everything…..Toothbrush? Pass? Special snacks and sweets to throw into the middle of the table? Tights? (no bare grrrr legs allowed – Nicola Mulgrew will understand that one!)  It’s all the little things that help the day go smoothly.

I have never done a concert without my choir buddy Gill at my side and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is after all thanks to her that I discovered Inspiration.  And it’s about that as much as the singing. We all have our group friends, the people that make the day a great memory.

As soon as we walk through the door, there’s a feeling of excitement and for me of belonging. Maybe I’m alone in that, but I wear my Inspiration top and feel part of The Sage. I feel proud and like this is where we are meant to be.  I love it when people ask about us and I get to say “Oh yes, we’re singers, we’re performing in Hall 1 later on”17-7

So after a customary coffee and cake, we head into Hall 1 to rehearse with The Royal Northern Sinfonia….I know!! How cool is that? For 2 hours, we get to sing in an empty hall, tweak anything that needs tweaking and listen to the stunning orchestra.  That is a gift in itself. I mean Hall 1 is a beautiful place, a very calming place.  All we need now is an audience.  Once the rehearsal is done, we get time to eat and maybe have a cheeky glass of rose (just to calm the nerves).  And then it’s time to get beautiful.  Black and Red is the order of the day. There’s quite a strict dress code which does get a bit of grumbling but the end result is stunning. We all look smart, professional and finished.  Well people are paying to see us, so it feels right that we take a lot of pride and put in so much effort.  And then we’re off.

Curtain call and we all set off through the corridors back stage, to line up in our snake (just a really big line lol).  You can feel the excitement, hear the chattering, and all 200+ of us are all feeling the same.  We all seem to be giggling like children.  Calls of “shhhhh” rush along the line “quick, we’re on”………and on we go.

Usually we arrive on stage as the audience are getting their seats.  We all scan the room to spot ‘our people’.  Having friends and family there is lovely. Finally they can see what we have been aiming for, why the headphones have been fixed to our ears and why that lady/man has been in the car cd player for weeks.  This is what we needed, an audience.  Maybe we are just all exhibitionists. We all just want to show off.  The lights go down and silence descends…….

Gary, our Musical Director walks on. This is the man that makes it all happen. He has the power to make us do amazing things. When he’s there we all believe we can…….and we do.  With the lift of his hands, he stands us and we begin.  Our eyes, well my eyes are fixed on him, following his facial expressions, encouraging us to smile, to dance, to be more passionate or quieter.  His hand gestures turn us into puppets. All of us under his control, wanting to please him, to show him his effort has paid off.  If we impress him, we will almost certainly have pleased the audience.  We are all working on adrenaline. I always feel like I’m in a bubble, like its not real.  And then with one movement, he stops us…..and then…..the applause……Oh my goodness, they loved us, they really loved us, we did it, we made all these people happy.  We fed their soul and ours.  Song after song and then the show is over and we are all buzzing.

As soon as Gary waves at us, we are free to wave at our people and then it starts….the chattering between everyone.  ‘Did you see this?’ ‘Wasn’t that bit amazing?’ ‘I couldn’t stop crying in this’…… And we all feel it, we all have this bond, this connection.  Because we did it together.  Together we made magic happen.  And I want to do it all over again.


Twenty four years ago, in 1992, Sue took up her first teaching post as an Early Years teacher in Nursery in a Primary School in Felling, Gateshead. Twenty four years later, she is now taking up a post as an Early Years teacher in Nursery in a Primary School in Newcastle. After an extremely successful career in teaching, lecturing at Newcastle University and most recently as Head Teacher at Lobley Hill Primary School, Sue’s life has gone full circle.

It was great to have the opportunity to spend some time with Sue and find out why.

Because family matter more than anything else in the world
Sue’s family have always meant the world to her. She went away to University in Leeds at 18, brimming with confidence and independence. What she hadn’t expected was to miss her family so much. She hated that family life and family events like barbecues were going on without her. Within a year, she was back and continued her studies in the North East.

Sue and her husband Jonathan desperately wanted children. At a time when everything was fantastic at work at Newcastle University – where she was travelling and learning so much and meeting inspiring people – at home, the couple were trying IVF – with all the stresses and disappointments that IVF brings.

finn and poppyThey were successful on the third attempt and Finn brought them great joy. Sue continued to work – there was no question in her mind that she wanted to continue working – but she found a more flexible job as the Teacher Training Lead of the Gateshead 3-7 SCITT at Lobley Hill Primary School.

Two years later, she started the drug treatment for IVF again. She had a bad reaction to the drugs – and found out that she was already pregnant! Their second miracle Poppy was a treasured addition to the family.

On February 8, 2013, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was Poppy’s 7th birthday. Sue was now Head Teacher at Lobley Hill Primary School and that afternoon, went in to tell the teachers and students the news. Then at 4pm, it was Poppy’s birthday party.

Kids keep you going. I had to keep going. I had no choice.

That first weekend after her diagnosis, Sue organised a full on weekend of family activities, which was followed by a week away with the children in Keswick. Which is where, after three days of wonderful walks, she broke the news to the children.

Now, after two mastectomies, intensive chemotherapy and a double reconstruction, Sue has decided to take this next step and become a classroom teacher again. Her priorities have changed. Her children matter more to her than working twelve hour days for the rest of her life. She wants to have more time for them. For her husband. For her whole family.

Because learning to listen to your own body is important
In the second year as Head Teacher at Lobley Hill Primary School, Sue knew that there was something wrong. She was loving the role and giving it 100%, but every evening, she was so drained. She was going to bed as soon as she got home. She wasn’t functioning at weekends. She knew something wasn’t right and kept going backwards and forwards to the Doctor’s. The Doctor couldn’t find anything – asked about depression and stress. But Sue knew it wasn’t that.
In the February, when she found out that she had breast cancer, she was told she had probably had it for the previous six months. Now everything made sense. Now she could understand why she had been so washed out. Her body had been battling cancer.

After her initial mastectomy, Sue received six months of chemotherapy from March to August. She was back to work in the September. Within days, she realised this had been too ambitious. Her body was telling her it was too soon. So she stayed off until Christmas and went back in the New Year. She continued work then for about a year. She felt great. She’d beaten cancer. She was loving getting her reality back and proving she could do her life again. She loved all the affirmation. She was doing a great job and she knew it. She had no time to think. No time to listen to what her body was saying to her.

Harris: a favourite escape

Harris: a favourite escape

Because of continuing anxiety, she asked for another mastectomy and since that surgery and the double reconstruction, she has got so much better at taking time and space for herself and for her healing. No, she doesn’t have cancer any more, but her body still needs time. A lot of time. She’s had more time to let her emotions surface. She’s allowed herself to recuperate. She’s filled her time with family and friends. She’s enjoyed being a mum.
And now she is taking the decision to stop being a Head Teacher and go back to being a classroom teacher. She wants to allow herself the time to listen to her body. She’s seeking a better work/life balance.

Because work is important but no one is irreplaceable
Sue has loved where her career has taken her. She has always been passionate about her work. But she has learnt the hard way that her work does not define who she is. When she cleared her desk and walked away from school back in February 2013, she was completely devastated. She couldn’t imagine being able to cope with not knowing what was going on at the school. But the treatment plan was so intensive from that point on, that her healing became all that she could focus on for a while. The staff and pupils survived without her. More than survived.

The teachers at Lobley Hill did an amazing job – keeping her in the loop, meeting with her when she felt well enough during her chemotherapy…She is now confident that the school will continue to flourish. And there have been times when she has had to walk away. When she has had to allow there to be a void in her life where work once was. To discover that that void can be filled by other wonderful people and things.

Her identity is not her work. Nor is it her cancer. She is who she is. She wants to be able to walk into a new place where no one knows her story, where she can have a fresh start, where she can be herself – her new self.

Because cancer changes a person

Cancer has not beaten me. But cancer has changed me.

sue and jonathanOne of Sue’s friends told her that ‘More good comes out of this than bad.‘ Sue is at a point in her life where she firmly believes this. She has discovered the importance of family and friends in a way she never imagined. She has made new friends she would never have made. She has made a decision about work/life balance that she may never have made. She’s learnt to question things differently. She’s got to know herself and her ongoing fears and has learnt how to listen to her body. She has had the courage to walk away from a job and a school that she loves into a whole new environment.

She knows who matters.

She knows what matters.

She knows that she matters.

And that is what makes her an inspiring ordinary woman.

So a few weeks ago, we posted a piece about matching underwear which caused quite a heated debate. Little did we know that the next animated discussion would be about pegs!

I know where and when the subject came up, but not how. I was at an indoor garden party (you know, the type we hold all summer long in this country) on Saturday afternoon. In a room full of women of a certain age. And the conversation turned to pegs. Now the majority of women in that room all agreed vociferously that pegs have to match. And some went further. That there is an order of colour in which items must be hung out on the line apparently. And an order of size – largest towel to smallest, for example.

I couldn’t help myself. It may have been the mojito.

You are all a bunch of nutters!

Reflecting in the car on the way home, I started to wonder if it was indeed me that was the nutter. If they all agreed, then didn’t that make their behaviour normal and mine abnormal? If I was the odd one out, then was it me that was weird?

We make judgements based on our own behaviour all the time. We naturally do things our own way, the best way for us. Maybe simply the best way. So then anyone who chooses to do it differently is less than normal. When I admitted that I do not always wash my whites separately from my coloureds, there was an audible sigh in the room. The looks on some faces were unforgettable.

My mum used to call anyone who did that a dirty washer!

That was one comment that passed one friend’s lips.

People started to admit to other such tendencies. They seemed relieved that they were not alone. That they no longer need to battle with feelings of shame and embarrassment. That there were other people out there like them.

And there seem to be an awful lot of people out there like them.

pegsAnd some others, like me, who just do not get it at all. Matching pegs – what’s that all about? Why on earth would anyone feel the need to do that? And how do they feel on edge until they have put it right?

I love that the next day, one of the women taking part in that discussion, Susan, deliberately used random pegs. And posted a picture on Facebook to prove it.

I put a call out on Facebook for other examples of what I described as OCD tendencies (for want of a better description).

Linda was the first to reply –

I like to line the the light switches up so on each landing the all face up or down. I do it because it looks neat and symmetrical. I also peg out with the same number of coloured pegs on washing eg two blue and two white pegs. I enjoy it looking pretty and symmetrical. I change both if not ordered how I like it. Lol sounds awful in print xxxxxx

Ditch the apology, Linda. We’re all friends here. But you see, I’ve know Linda for coming up to 20 years and I never knew this about her. Because people feel they have to keep these little idiosyncrasies hidden. But it appears they are far more common than you might imagine.

Susan also worries about what other people may think of her –

I like to have books, CDs & DVDs in alphabetical order.
Labels on tins (in cupboard) have to face to the front.
Plus clothes in my wardrobe are colour ordered from dark to light.
Think I’ll stop now before you think I’m weird…

So what constitutes weird exactly? Different to me? Then pretty much everyone out there is weird – like Sandra and Barbara and all the others with ‘strange little foibles’.

She goes on to say –

Have thought of another – volume on tv, stereo etc needs to be an even number.
Ok I need help!

You probably don’t, you know Susan. It’s not like these things have a negative effect on your life. You say that once things are ordered, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to maintain order. No one is harmed by your preferences. You carry on a normal life (whatever that is). Don’t worry about it. Just be yourself.

Sometimes you may feel that your little habit has become too big of a deal and then you can decide to do something about it. Like Lorna –

I used to line up the chocolate biscuits in the tin but once I let that go I felt so happy as this was a daily task!

It appears that this little Facebook exercise has been helpful to those who feel they have secrets such as these.

Lorna: I’m so reassured to read all the above comments..

Linda: Feeling happier to read this so can now own up to lining toilet rolls so that the flap is all the same way lol.

However, those of us who do not do these things seem to be left feeling a little unnerved. Like Marj –

My, I must be a right messy woman after reading these comments as everything is just squeezed in in cupboards in any way possible…

And Julie –

Oh dear don’t know where that leaves me – I can’t think of anything that I do!!! X

Us non-matchers have some pretty strong opinions too!

Amanda: never even occurred to me but living in Scotland I am a big fan of the tumble dryer x

Sheila: I don’t hang out washing…toooo busy living my life.

Ruth: I have trouble matching socks never mind pegs!

Joanne: Gerra grip!!!! Matching pegs!!!!!

Kirsty:  I think I’m amazing if I’ve got enough pegs to hang our washing out!!

Rachel: Life is too short!

Well, where does that leave us? Pretty divided down the middle, I would say. Of course, as Karen points out, this has not been a discussion about actual OCD –

I don’t do it either – not that matching clothes pegs on its own is actually comparable to full OCD, being a potentially debilitating mental illness which shouldn’t be taken lightly IMO.

Describing these obsessive tendencies as OCD is pretty much the same as describing having an off day as clinical depression, I get that.

OCD, the little I know of it, can be a truly horrific condition to live with. And there’s that whole other side of the condition, where thoughts of disaster creep in and cannot be dislodged –

there’s a kind of OCD called ‘pure’ OCD (or pure O) which is less physically obvious, about disturbing thought patterns or not being able to control our thoughts – more obsessive, less compulsive! I often find when I get stressed or anxious that the little intrusive thoughts which everyone gets (maybe I left the oven on and the house will burn down / maybe my family are in a car accident / maybe I’ll get attacked / maybe I have some horrible disease) get much more exaggerated and much harder to ignore, sometimes to the extent where then I can’t focus on something else.

Thank you, Elaine.

One final thought: it seems to me that much of this is about control. We live in a world where much of what goes on is outside of our control and sometimes, little actions like this help to make us feel more in control. That everything is in order. Even I turn to sorting out a drawer when I am feeling particularly stressed.

We do what we can to make life more manageable. We do what we need to do to survive.

So let’s not judge the coping mechanisms of others. Let’s celebrate diversity. Let’s realise that there is no such thing as normal.

So Susan, if you want to go back to using matching pegs, I will not judge you. You do what’s right for you.