Thursday, 7 October 2010



Hi everyone, please check out our new Thank You page. Navigate to it from the "Pages" area in the left hand panel of the main blog.
And here's a pic or two in the meantime...

Ye-ee-ee-haaa, fresh from our final bicycle ride and gleefully parading down Fort William high street.

After a cheeky wee dram to celebrate our final concert performance in Fort William at Kilmallie Hall.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Epilogue: Susie's take on Song-Cycling

I can only speak for myself here, but there is no denying that Song-Cycling has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I never dreamt that what merely started as a quirky concept could become such a hugely successful project. The fact that we've raised £23,000 for two wonderful charities, with money still pouring in, and cycled nearly 800 miles across the most beautiful landscapes of my Motherland, performing beautiful music to people of all ages and from all walks of life, instils in me the deepest thrill and personal reward.

Charity work of this sort feeds and nourishes the heart and soul in the most deep and meaningful way. It has made me all the more hungry to Song-Cycle my way along other roads in other villages, towns, cities, counties and countries, across mountains, meadows, pastures and bridges, through valleys, crevises and tunnels, and all the time meeting new people to love and cherish...

Dear Alice, for now it maybe that 'Ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road', but I've no doubt we'll meet again on Song Cycling II, whether it takes us to Loch Lomond or not... What do you think?

And for my dear friend Becky: Bex, I wore the pendant you gave me of St Christopher from the first pedal to the last and I carried you in my heart all the way. Together, at least we can endeavour to fight this horrible disease of Multiple Sclerosis. I love you, Bex.

To finish, the sentiment behind the pendant of St Christopher:

'In your long life ahead, you'll travel many roads and watch the sun rise and set in many countries. Wear this St Christopher pendant to protect you on all these journeys and remind you that there's a wonderful world out there, ready for exploring. Happy travels.'

Day 19 - Crossing the Finish Line

Waking up in a bunkhouse on the Bridge of Orchy station platform was both surreal and enchanting. Steve, the jolly proprietor of this unusual establishment was up to greet us with porridge and bananas - the perfect breakfast to fuel our final day of cycling.

After warning us about police being out and about in the Highlands with speed guns (I could only imagine myself huffing and puffing my way at -5 miles an hour up sheer precipices!), Steve waved us on our way and we braced ourselves for a windy and wet cycle to Fort William. In fact, I was quite grateful for the turbulent weather conditions - we really did get to see this part of the world in sunshine, wind, fog, and rain and every element painted it in a dramatically beautiful way. I remember one point when Alice and I were cycling through a heavy downpour when suddenly, half a mile ahead, a golden glow rose from the ground as the sun found its way through. It was simply awesome.

We arrived at Fort William in time for lunch. The wonderful Jenifer and Martin Roddy, all the way from Harpenden, were there to greet us in to the town and we set about finding a suitable pub to have a small tipple to celebrate our completion of this epic journey. Indeed, so proud we were of our efforts, we had no shame in instigating a postprandial march down Fort William high street waving our banners in glee and promoting our final concert of the tour.

Killmallie Hall in Corpach did not make the most glamourous of venues for our final hurrah, but it was filled with such warmth and generosity of spirit, that it really didn't matter. Margaret, our kind hostess for the evening and professional musician herself, had warned us that the pianos in Fort William and surrounding villages only get tuned once or maybe twice a year, and so I was not expecting a top-of-the-range instrument with which to bow out. However, the piano that had been moved to the hall for the evening served its purpose well and Alice and I enjoyed this final recital very much. What a supportive audience too! Special thanks must go to Catherine for all her efforts in making this such a successful evening.

With a final £280 or so into the pot, it felt like we had come full 'song-circle' since our first concert in Wells over two weeks ago. Wow, how so much tarmac had passed under our tyres in the days in between!

Saturday, 17 July 2010


The dotty divas are proud to announce that both the money and miles targets of £20,000 and 700 miles have been surpassed. Keep up the good support everybody!!! Sweet. xxx

Day 18 = S&M

I have only a string of random thoughts for today's 42 miles.

The first is the surprise at vaguely sado-masochistic pleasure I seem to get from cycling through strong wind and torrential rain. Susie and I have those cute little waterproof over-shoes which keep our feet nice and dry and this is quite satisfying. A sort of mini triumph of good over evil elements.

Mum's words from a few days ago also fuelled me with plenty of giggles to keep battling through the elements. We had (all 4 of us) stopped on a B road that ran alongside the A7 on the way to Edinburgh and had a little lie down in a sheep field. As we were setting off to go mum was ferreting around in the boot for I don't know what and popped her head out to cheerily suggest we take some porridge with us for the rest of the day's mileage. Now, Susie & I simply couldn't work out where we'd get the hot milk or water from to make this a worthwhile endeavour. Ah mama. I love you. I'm sure you'll explain it to us one day.

My nice red concert dress I discovered only a few glasses of wine after the concert last night has a gaping seam over my bum. Maybe that's the real reason why people wanted a few more turns and encores! Must get that repaired. Mused on the road today over whether or not those handy self-adhesive puncture repair patches might do the job in time for tomorrow's concert in Fort William.

Day 17 - Fortingall

The cycle from Caputh to Fortingall was simply stunning. The A822 took us through the Small Glen with babbling brooks on one side of the road and miles upon miles of magnificent tundra on the other. We passed through the picturesque village of Aberfeldy where there was a putting green to die for. Now, i'm no golfer, but this lawn was impeccably maintained and even had me wanting to try and sink that little white ball!

Despite a puncture on Stanley's front tyre with only 5 miles to go until our destination (and actually Alice and I were quite happy to put our puncture repair kit to good use - we didn't buy it for nothing!), we made it to Banald Farmhouse with plenty of time to relax before our concert.

Kate and John Coaton were our hosts for the evening and 'host with the most' they certainly were. We had tea, cake and sandwiches on arrival and the hospitality continued in this generous way all the way through our stay. Again (and apologies if I begin to sound like a broken record), the kindness of everyone we have encountered on this trip is staggering to us.

We performed in The Coaton's beautiful living room in the evening. I was blessed with a fantastic Yamaha Grand to play on and the salon feel was perfect for this, our 9th Song-Cycling recital of the tour. The room was packed with 60 generous and warm locals (including the lovely Mike and Fiona from our stay in Caputh) who seemed to relish what we had on offer and Alice and I were thrilled that this special event raised another £1000. Heartfelt thanks must go to Kate and John for engineering such a successful evening.

Now, onwards to the Bridge of Orchy. It's difficult to believe that this trip is fast coming to an end...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Day 15 - Late night Edinburgh action at The Cuckoo's Nest

My cousins run a pub in Edinburgh called The Cuckoo's Nest. After the success of the Scottish Arts Club recital, it only seemed right to put in an appearance on the way home. Sure enough, cousin Barnes was there to greet Allan and I with open arms and a couple of cocktails on the house. Then we were swiftly escorted downstairs where my other cousins, Toby and Sam, were hosting an 'Open Mic' evening. So, settled in with a g&t and looking forward to a chilled-out end to the day, I suddenly hear Toby over the mic introducing me:
'Now, my cousin from London, the international musician, Susie Stranders...' and I was thrust under the microphone. What to do?! The entire bar were sat looking at me expectantly, waiting for something, ANYTHING. The best I could do?
'Joyce the librarian, strict vegetarian, 40 and living with mum... etc.'
I don't think The Cuckoo's Nest had ever heard anything of the sort before but with the vamp of a steady clapping beat resonating around the bar to accompany Joyce and her antics in the library, I must confess this rendition to be a small personal triumph. I returned to my cocktail with my pride in tact - This cuckoo could sit proudly in her nest. This time at least...

Day 16 - Firth of Forth

Finally, the cycle leg I had most been looking forward to. The traversal of the Firth of Forth via the road bridge. We wended our way through the one-way Edinburgh city centre (SV1 mum, Andrea, would have been in her element with that one!) and survived a downpour to make it for a chocolate break mid-way along the bridge with views over the estuary framed by a moody sky.

Lunchtime took us to Kinross en-route to Perth where Susie got in trouble with the school mistress-like bar lady for daring to have a post prandial power nap. Health and Safety issues. Apparently other customers (of which there were none) might spill hot coffee over her (what coffee, where?).

A beautiful cycle through woodland and alongside a babbling brook inspired some crooning of Grieg and Schubert. The dotty divas really do sing and cycle. We sailed along the 60 odd miles to Culthill Farm in Caputh, Perthshire where Mike, Fiona and labrador Kyle gave us a warm welcome and kindly invited Mum & Dad along too to a delicious supper.

Day 15 - Mayhem in Edinburgh

Lovely ride along the pretty A7 to Edinburgh on Tuesday. Allan Smith, aforementioned eminent baritone, rocks up at Barbara Woods's Morningside abode in the evening in time for a little rehearsal and a lot of great grub from chef Barbara.

Wednesday didn't go quite so smoothly! I managed to leave my mobile behind which caused undue stress to my nearest and dearest for logistics re concert, luggage, transport, meeting friends etc. We had a lunchtime concert on George Street and Allan delivered a gorgeous performance of Ravel's Don Quichotte song-cycle with a fantastic stagger to round off the drinking song. Joan Busby sang some haunting unaccompanied Hebridean songs. Big thank yous to both Joan & Allan for the personal scottish touch they added to the programme.

Friends found. Reunion with mobile. Massage booked. All good. Time marched on to the concert at the Scottish Arts Club in Rutland Square. Diana Allen had sorted out some venerable bums on seats and ensured a warm welcome for the dotty divas. The variety of the programme pleased (again with Allan's drunken Ravellian collapse, getting the cheeriest applause of the night) and the socialites contributed nearly another £400 to the pot. David Ingram was the characterful MC and invited performers and audience alike to join him for a meal and plenty of booze. There was a cosy familiarity here as we were reminded of our pre-tour fundraising concert at the Arts Club, Dover Street. The boys certainly all had a good time as the wee drams made a re-appearance.

Day 13 - into Scawtland

So, we made it across the border into Scotland with a bagpipe serenade from our new friend, Allan Smith (not to be confused with the eminent baritone who joined us in concerts in Edinbrrrrugh). No passport control. No foot-and-mouth disinfectant. The wonder of the border crossing was in fact Susie's realisation, 33 years too late, that the Union Jack is made up of a combo of the UK country flags. Bravo!

The next wonder of the penetration of Scotland was the instant friendliness encountered. This was highlighted, as Susie already mentioned, by the welcome given by Doug & Vera of Teviot Cycles in sorting her nipple issues. But it was also reinforced by the generosity of Hamish of Hamish & Co Jewellry of Hawick. SV2 co-pilot, mummy Woodbridge's eagle eyes, spotted Hamish's establishment over her (cold) asparagus quiche, which prompted her to see if should could tease off from her enlarged wedding finger one of her uncomfortably tight wedding bands. She abandoned quiche mid-mouthful and charged across the road to chez Hamish. Gill emerged victorious 10 minutes later with a semi-naked finger and a £20 donation for Song-Cycling from said generous shop proprieter. Thank you very much Hamish.

Swiftly to Melrose after fudge and fruit jellies and the left-overs of the asparagus quiche. Pat and Alastair Matthew hosted us for the evening in their spotless Gattonside home. Mummy Woodbridge was especially keen on the kitchen design. (NB: Gill has vast experience in kitchen planning and is available for consultation). Daddy Woodbridge was more interested in the wee drams Alastair had on offer. Naturally. Alastair kindly put together a jigsaw map of our route to Edinburgh which got us there safe and sound the following afternoon.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 12 - Nipple Nuisance

Mozart piano duets, and the essential bacon and eggs all taken care of, we then say our goodbyes to the lovely Jane, Steve and Ewan and prepare to head off towards the English/Scottish border en route to Melrose...

It suddenly occurs to me that it would be a wise idea to pump up our tyres after the epic cycle the day before. No big deal. Out of the SV2 comes the foot pump and off with the nozzle cap on tyre number one. Pump pump pump...Good air pressure. Sorted. Now, there is a small nipple at the end of the nozzle which is released during pumping and needs to be screwed back on after pumping (is it me or does this start to sound vaguely pornographic?!). So, I am securing this aforementioned nipple back into place when it snaps off in my fingers. Nipple is now in fingers and not secure on nozzle and the more I try to put it back on, the more the tyre deflates. Whoops! Ok, no big deal - change the inner tubing: New nozzle, new nipple, pump, pump, pump and we’re away. If only it were so simple. Little did I know that all nozzles on inner tubings vary in length. Alice’s bike, the legendary ‘Little Gold Beast’ requires a 33mm nozzle. Susie’s tenacious bike, ‘Stanley’ requires a 60mm nozzle – whoever said that size doesn’t matter? All the inner tubings we have with us in our repair kit are with 33mm nozzles so ideal for the LGB but hopeless for poor Stanley. The more we fiddle around with the tyre, the more we realise Stanley isn’t going to get back on the road.

Yep, I am a failure. Stanley had to be taken on the car to Hawick (pronounced hoik) to be fitted with the correct tubing, nozzle and nipple, which also means Susie had to be taken by car to Hawick. I can’t express my frustration and sadness at not being able to cycle over the English/Scottish border with Alice and the LGB. Tears of infuriation welled up in my eyes but I hope all you readers don’t see these absent 25 miles from my journey as an unaccomplished mission? There was simply no other option.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and once we got to Hawick, we found Teviot Cycles – a super little bicycle shop owned by Doug and Vera. They were practically waiting for me with open arms as the car approached and couldn’t have been more keen and willing to help. Doug deftly fitted Stanley with the correct tubing and I was soon ready to be back on the road. Just as we were leaving, I asked for a couple of spare tubings and guess what? Doug gave me them for free as well as offering me a big ‘good luck with the rest of your journey’ hug. Once again, I was bowled over by the kindness of people we have encountered on this trip.
I then cycled back to meet Alice as she was cycling into Hawick so at least I felt like I’d cycled a part of this leg. Nozzles, nipples, tubings and tyres all erect, pumped and functioning once again...

Durham (appendage by Susie)

A lie in! And not only a lie in but Maddy came knocking with tea. Heaven! Our concert in Durham cathedral wasn’t until 2pm so we had a leisurely morning in Jean’s home before setting off. (Believe me, ‘Song-Cycling’ and ‘leisurely’ do not always come hand in hand so this was a treat!)

Wow, what a venue Durham cathedral made! We performed in the heart of the cathedral, and although we gave it all OUR heart, the concert only brought £125 into the pot. In a way, the grandeur of the place rather overwhelmed the intimacy of our offering. Where other performances have allowed us to truly connect with the audience, here in Durham cathedral it felt much more like ‘them’ and ‘us’. It must be said that the magnificence of the setting almost made up for it and it was especially lovely to have Maddy join the Dotty Divas for a couple of items.

Maddy and Jean: Here I am, saying it again - Such kind, special, generous people. Thank you both! What I am realising about charity work is that although you may not be earning in a financial sense, people give in a totally different way. I wonder whether this sort of soulful income makes us all the more rich?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Day 11 - Going native in Northumberland

Sunday 11 July is a day that will go down in history (for me, at least!). Something of an epiphany.

We had a leisurely morning, a lie in and a late and lovely yorkshire breakfast at Maddy and Jean's in Picktree before we piled down to Durham Cathedral to see if we could secure some rehearsal space before the lunchtime concert. Thank you to Jean for hosting us for the night, for your friendly chat and your yum scrum food, especially the strawberries.

Durham Cathedral really grabs you. It is immense with a beautiful cloister. The nave is soooo long and yet it retains a warm atmosphere perhaps due to all the vergers and tourists buzzing around. We were expecting to be performing in a little side wing of the cathedral but wonderfully instead found our space to be in the heart of the Cathedral where the naves cross with a view right to the far end of the building. What a joy to sing and play in that space. Maddy sang a beautiful Mimi aria and we chucked in a couple of Handel arias along with some Grieg, Faure and lighter stuff. Sadly we didn't muster much from the collection boxes on this occasion. I wonder whether tourists, not expecting to be faced with a charity concert on their tour of the Cathedral, just aren't prepared to dig deep for our causes despite stopping and enjoying the music. A shame but still what a memorable experience.

Maddy, beautiful Maddy, thank you so much for having us to stay with you and your mum and for contributing such lovely singing to the concert. I'm sure Susie will have more to say about it. Was great meeting you. x

Performing takes it out of you. The concentration and the physicality. So it was with heavy bodies that we got back on the bikes just after 4.30 that same afternoon to take on the long ride up into Northumberland. We had a strong head wind for the first 10 miles to our meeting point with a couple of other cyclists. I had to stop to check my brakes weren't rubbing against the wheel as I couldn't believe how much of a fight it was against the wind. Once we met up with the others we turned from west to north and into the country lanes so the wind was less of an issue. In fact, what a joy this ride turned out to be. The company of Ewan, Sarah and Ian was priceless. Lovely people (friends of friends etc - a big thank you to Lucy Scadding for making intros to Helen & Ewan) who took the time out to accompany us on the ride, keep up our morale, pace-make and generally have a good ole natter with en route. The scenery was breathtaking (not to mention the number of hills) and we had the most glorious sunset as we approached Northumberland National Park with cyclists up ahead on the brows of the hills silhouetted in the twilight against the red clouds. It was hard work but in a fantastically positive way - the immediacy of the physical connection with your body as it climbs the terrain and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I have not been so content and thrilled for a long time. This city chick is seriously contemplating a complete change of lifestyle! Going native in Northumberland - becoming a wild-eyed, crazy-haired creature of the hills - this is a definite potential life path.

We finally reached our destination just before 11pm (having gate-crashed a BBQ where we grabbed some hunks of meat to keep us going. Fiona & Alan (friends of Sarah) miraculously managed to cater for an extra 5 of us gate-crashers and even made donations to Song-Cycling. We love you! Also made an unplanned deviation herding sheep through a sheep farm, brilliant!). Susie was ecstatic to see the warm lights of the home where we were to bed for the night. So ecstatic she couldn't make the last few steps to the front door and instead flung herself on the grass in relief. I was ecstatic to find mum & dad still there to give us a happy hug of welcome and chatting with our hosts, Jane & Steve. A midnight feast rounded off an AWESOME day. Life is good.

Massive thank yous to Jane & Steve for looking after us so well. Many bravos to Jane & Susie for some spontaneous piano duetting on Monday morning at the Bluthner. And thank you, a million thank yous to lovely Sarah, Ewan & Ian for the pleasure of your company on the ride. You really made our day. xxx

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Day 10

Dad had a dream last night.

He was driving along (presumably somewhere in Yorkshire) and felt the car suddenly sink beneath him due to a violent puncture.

Strange coincidence then, is it not, that having mused to myself last night over how lucky Susie & I had been thus far with our bicycles and kit, when I went to pump up our tyres this morning, lo and behold - my back tyre was a goner. We had aimed for an early start as it was due to be a long and rainy ride to Durham. However, though deft at inner tube changing skills now, thanks to Angus MacP's handy hints bike maintenance session before we left London, not quite so easy getting that bloomin back wheel back on. Still, getting the tools out and getting oil over myself made me feel like a real cyclist even if it took an uncool amount of time to figure it all out!

The ride to Picktree, about 10 miles north of Durham, was neither hideously hilly nor gloomily rainy and those 60 odd miles fell away with a nice little lunch interlude.

"Go with the flow" is most definitely turning out to be our mantra. Too much to think about and too much can go wrong. No point worrying about it. We're finding we are actually quite good and finding those little bridges to cross rivers with.

Day 9

We awoke at the crack of dawn on Friday with the task of downing breakfast and getting 35 miles done in order to get to our venue in time for a bit of rehearsal in the space before our lunchtime concert at Wesley Chapel in Harrogate.

Our hosts extraordinaire were my friend Rob and his lovely grandma, Eileen. Susie, Andrea and myself were all a little in love with their loveliness and how grandson dotes on grandmother.

Bumpy road out of Wakefield accompanied by some rush hour traffic. Finally entered the splendid city of Harrogate at about 10.30 with plenty of time for tea, last minute rehearsal and some hasty mocking up of german song translations. Andrew Hitchin, concert manager at the Chapel, was right on the ball and along with Joan Pope had lined up a good audience to lend an ear to our delivery of Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder along with some Mozart, Puccini and Gershwin not to mention some ostentatious gavotte-ing from Manon. It is so heart-warming when people tell you afterwards how much they have been moved by the motivation for the project, by the performance and by the support Susie & I show for each other.

I'm sure Susie will agree that we are learning a huge amount about dealing with the unexpected, the uncertain, the last-minute, people (good, bad and difficult), learning, rehearsing, preparing, performing, addressing audiences, keeping to high standards but allowing for flex and reprogramming and accepting that the craziness of time constraints and resources for this project mean not everything can be perfect 100 % of the time. Back to the people from the list above. Everywhere we go is such generosity of spirit from SO many people. Without wanting to sound evangelical, it is easy to forget how much goodness there is out there and it is uplifting to come across it to the extent that we are.

After the concert, Andrew, being a proud Harrogate resident and something of an expert on the area gave us a mini guided tour of the city's Victorian spa day highlights. I was dying on my feet by the time we got back to the chapel. We had a quick power nap on the floor of the vestry before getting back on the bikes to get a few more miles towards Durham with a stop in Ripon for the night courtesy of the Horsey's (friends of friends of mum of my friend! - the power of word of mouth splendidly on display here).

SV dedication

Dear Andrea

We miss you very much. We were sad to see you leave from Harrogate yesterday, taking with you your chilled and happy "go with the flow" team attitude, your shining smile waiting to greet us as we approached each destination, your stashes of chocolate, your talk of the curiosities from the churches you had just been to visit, your battles with the sat nav and unwieldy one-way systems in town centres, your regular mildly panicked riflings through bags for car keys, camera, phone, phone charger and suntan lotion etc etc.

The best example of one of these riflings was after the Bakewell concert. The whole stage management crew (plus a few others) were engaged to help in the hunt for the car keys throughout the building while you and Susie turned the car upside down trying to find them. Ooh, the pressure! We did find them eventually. Amongst the bottles of our rehydrating powder bottles. We hurriedly went and rehydrated after that over a bottle of prosecco!

With much love and hugs.
And over now to SV're a tough act to follow!


Day 8 - appendage - Rose and Stanley

As a small yet meaningful appendage to day 8, I just wanted to wish my friend Rosie a Happy Birthday. The reason I single Rosie out is that she is the owner of my bicycle for this trip. How wonderful to have a friend as generous as this! I have named the bike Stanley and Rose, if you are reading this, you can be sure that Sus and Stanley are getting on just fine (and its me struggling up the hills, not him) Thanks so much for the loan of Stanley, Rose, and Many Happy Returns of the Day!

Day 8 - Wakefield

I don't think Alice or I ever imagined that the cycle from Bakewell to Sheffield would be so stunning - A seemingly banal road sandwiched between miles and miles of stunning English landscape. Negotiating Sheffield itself, however, was not so easy. There was nothing for it but to join the lines of heavy traffic moving through the city in order to escape through the other side. It would be nice to think we could have done this tour on nothing but country lanes but due to our concert itinerary and time restraints, we simply had to put ourselves out there on these busy thoroughfares. I guess this is where we are both grateful to the months and months of city cycling experience we've had commuting around London.

In fact, I'd say that most drivers have been very considerate to us on this tour. They wait for a good time to overtake and then give plenty of room as they pass. However, both Alice and I have had a dodgy experience at one time or other on the trip. My incident occurred as I was approaching the brow of a hill, and a VERY wide tractor decided to pass me. He couldn't see what was coming up the other side of the hill and sure enough, the driver of a car on the other side of the road had to perform an emergency stop. Why, oh why, don't some people have the patience to wait a few more seconds before engaging in a stupid manouevre like this? All I could do was shake my head in disbelief and urge my bike onwards. The chap driving the car, however, may well have decided to respond in a more overtly gesticular fashion...

Quick pub lunch off the A61 with mum, our loyal and loving support vehicle driver, and then on to Wakefield where we were greeted and hosted by Rob and Eileen. What a delightful couple! Rob, a friend of Alice's from Deloitte, and his gorgeous grandmother, Eileen, not only offered us comfy beds for the night but they fed and watered us AND found us a piano in the local church hall where we could rehearse our Harrogate programme, before sending us to bed with cups of tea and chocolate truffles. People like Rob and Eileen are special - it reminds me that the milk of human kindness is certainly not running dry in this world. Thank you both.

Day 7 - Continued...

Apologies for the rather sporadic blogging - infrequent access to internet is proving to be a bit of a nuisance up here.
Anyway, back to Bakewell. You've heard about the piano, well... now more about the other parts of our day:
1) First rain -the good news about this is that I got to don the incredibly high quality and expensive water/wind proof jacket that I'd invested in in St Alban's last week. The bad news is that the blissfully long winding descent into Bakewell was marred by sheets of rain gushing into our faces.
2) Bakewell Pudding - mum can testify that this was delicious. Alice and I, however, were busy consuming either coronation chicken jackets, steak and ale pie, or hunks of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. (Dairy Milk seems to be making regular appearances on this trip.)
3) Tessa - My dear friend Tessa came to sing with us in Bakewell. After a long morning's teaching she jumped in the car, raced up the motorway and was with us to perform a pot-pourri of folksongs, a little Mozart, and a beautifully-delivered Novello number, 'why do the wrong people travel?' which had the audience chuckling along, in typical Tessa style. It was a joy to have her talent, spirit and beautiful singing on board for this concert. Thanks Tess!
4) Andrew, Anne and the penne - So by the time the concert was finished and we were all packed up it was getting on for 9.30pm. Do you think there is anywhere serving food at this time in Bakewell? No, in fact, I don't think anywhere serves food at this time any further north than the Watford Gap. However, Andrew and Anne, our superb hosts for the evening, came up trumps with a delicious bowl of Penne Ragu with a spattering of parmeggiano - happy post-concert customers we were. Mille grazie to Andrew and Anne (and Georgia the dog) for looking after us so well.
5)Julia and Dan - Julia, a friend of Alice's from schooldays and her boyfriend, Dan, took the time out of their busy London lives to come up and support our Bakewell appearance. How this sort of commitment to the cause warms our hearts!

All in all, our day in Bakewell was a triumph. Thank you to all who contributed to this leg of the journey. Special thanks should be made to Mark at the Medway Centre for facilitating all aspects of the concert so impressively and then presenting us with a bottle of prosecco. Cheers!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Day 7 - Pianos on tour

As I cycle across the hills and dales, and up and down the peaks and troughs, it does cross my mind from time to time which piano I'll be confronted with next. Alice has her instrument with her all the time. I, however, have to leave this part of my job in the lap of the Gods. Before last night's concert in Bakwell, I'd had two Steinways in three concerts. Awesome! Last night was a small, bashed about upright in the Medway Community Centre, Bakewell. Not an easy instrument with which to support two rich operatic voices. Still, I was once nicknamed the 'Stranders Philharmonic' by an encouraging conductor and last night I gave that little upright my all. We really did manage to make some beautiful music!

My dedication today goes to the piano. Whatever it is like - old, young, chipped, polished, resonant, dry, responsive, awkward - it is my job to turn it into my best friend. Thank you to that little piano in Bakewell for helping us to reap another £480 into the pot. Next piano stop: Harrogate...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Day 6 - obsession with food sets in...

I'm a geek. I beg your indulgence.
Mum, you might want to look away.

Max speed today 41.4 mph. Yeeha!

So, it's starting to get a little hillier as we edge our way from Staffs and into Peak District territory but Susie & I keep saying with raised eyebrows and a glint in the eye how much easier it is proving than we expected. (I really hope that's not tempting fate). Those hills are simply just not registering. YET. However. My my my. Very familiar with the lowest gears already so at the back of my mind I am wondering how on earth the scottish hills are going to get climbed...but we'll cross that bridge etc...

Wonderful thing about all this cycling malarkey is not having to feel guilty about cooked breakfasts and Ivor & Norah laid on a grand one this morning. However, missing my habitual breakfast fruit & yoghurt and feeling constant cravings for broccoli & beans would you believe, I have gone the way of vitamin pill popping. Yes, it's probably all one big drug company con but willful self-delusion is always worth a try.

Funds safely banked, we hit the road for a mercifully meagre 30 miles today to Ashbourne in Derbyshire where we are staying with Pat & Ernest, (Susie's brother's in-laws). More food. Of the best variety. Home-made. Thanks Pat for a sublime meal.

Mum, it's back to you. You'll be pleased to hear I've taken your advice and Andrea has kindly acquired some tennis balls for massage purposes. Susie extols your genius. My quads thank you too.

Increasingly dismayed that nowhere outside the M25 seems to serve food beyond 2pm in the afternoon. Bakewell for some evening tra la la-ing.

Day 5

With Alice's voice still not 100% recovered, serious re-programming was called for in time for our lunchtime concert at St Laurence's Church, Ludlow. Out went the songs and arias with stratospheric high notes and in came the repertoire set at a slightly lower range. The wonderful thing about Alice as a performer is that her stage presence is so strong that even without her 'money notes', she engages the audience and keeps them right on her side.

The concert was a huge success! St Laurence's church made an impressive and beautiful venue, the new programme worked wonderfully, the audience was warm, generous and responsive, and Susie was thrilled to have the luxury of a stunning Steinway concert grand to play on. This concert made another £250 for Song-Cycling and really put a spring in our pedalling as we set off for our next destination: Stafford.

We were anxious that this was going to be a long hard ride after having performed a lunchtime concert. However, the sun shone and many of the roads had us sailing downhill in utter contentment.

Our rest stop for the night came in the form of the Wyndale Guest House in Stafford - the home of Norah and Ivor. We cycled up the drive at 8pm. Mission accomplished and another successful day for the Song-Cyclists!

Day 4

After a leisurely breakfast at Nina's, we hit the road again. Today's destination: Ludlow. We had a treat in store for us today as Alice's friend from University, Darryl, joined us for some of the ride. He joined us in Tewkesbury and accompanied us all the way to Worcester. How lovely to have a bit of testosterone on board to spur us on! Thanks Dazzler!

Lunch at The Crown in Martley with Andrea, our wonderful support vehicle driver and number one fan. Then, back on the road for our final leg to Ludlow. Naturally, the first thing we encounter en route is the longest and steepest hill so far. It really hurts when you think you are nearly at the brow of the hill and then you turn the corner and it continues up up up. There's only one thing for it - cycle through the pain and attack that hill! What a wonderful feeling when, two hours later, we arrive at our destination.

Ludlow is beautiful. We stayed at the lovely home of Fiona Pizzoni. A cup of tea on her patio in the late afternoon sunshine upon arrival was just what the doctor ordered.

With the Ludlow Festival in full swing, The City Waites was our entertainment for the evening - 'Music from the tavern, theatre, court & countryside of 17th century England' - This was certainly a way to unwind and divert the mind from our aching thighs and buttocks!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Day 3

65 miles under our (slimming??) belts today.

Brief interlude at Sandford Retirement Village just outside Churchill where we sang a few tunes to the residents. "Courage" (pronounced the french way) was required of Susie when she was faced not with the upright piano w
e had expected but a two tier mini electric organ thingummy with that wonderful in built few seconds delay between pedalling and sounding. Made our renditions of some show time favourites wonderfully eclectic :-) but the residents still loved it and dug into their pockets for the cause.

Swiftly back on the road for absolutely gorgeous bike ride in perfect conditions through Somerset and Gloucestershire via Bristol and a brief sunbathe on the Clifton Downs. Who needs to go abroad when you've got the lush, rolling meadows of Gloucestershire on your doorstep?!

The only blight on the canvas today was an encounter with a vast and hairy bum crack hanging off the side of a picnic table bench at the roadside Traveller's Rest we chose for quick en-route lunch. I have a photo of that too :-) for anyone who's interested in a little gore. You'll need to zoom imaginatively.

We arrived in Cheltenham this evening at Nina's stunning abode - like a mini mansion, mein Gott I can't say we're being deprived of luxury yet on this trip! Thank you Nina for your hospitality. I'm writing this entry as Susie exercises her fingers on the Four Last Songs in Nina's drawing room.

Unable to negotiate the town centre's one-way system we plummed for a Bella Italia in the town centre and had a window seat on the sophisticated lads and lasses passing by for their evening's entertainment at the local Wetherspoons. Only when negotiating our way home did we come across Cheltenham's answer to the Champs Elysées along the Promenade. Oh well. At least our window seat inspired us to come up with the prize-winning onomatopoeic word of the day....FAT!

Day 2

Lunchtime concert Wells Cathedral School centred round Debussy's Ariettes Oubliées. Fantastically florid flautism from Lisa and wonderfully heartfelt and moving words from her about her painful encounter with Alzheimers and from her student, Sophie, about the great work the Outreach programme does. Thank you so much both for sharing.

Off as swiftly as poss on the bikes to Churchill with unintended deviation and wobbly encounter with a tourist bus en route up Cheddar Gorge, feeling not quite right about our directionality, discovering need to come back down and go all the way up another one. Sweet!

But we made it with time for a little rehearsal before the evening concert at St John Baptist Church in Churchill. Hosted by the super star Jan Murray in her beautiful home and joined in concert by three gorgeous musicians - Mel Ragge (oboe), Alice Harper (soprano & Jan's daughter), Gordon Pullin (tenor). Thanks dudes for all that spicy variety and colour you added. The pennies are rolling in thanks to all of you. About £800 for the day. Bring it on!

[John Penrose MP (Minister for Tourism), Alice Harper, Gordon Pullin
Cllr Ann Harley (Chrm District Council), Alice, Susie, Mel Ragge]

Stealing everyone's thunder though yesterday was Tess (Iain's barking mad border collie, famous in Wells) who, bless her little white paws, goes to extraordinary lengths and bounding heights to obsessively chase & lick shadows. Photo will come at some point!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wells... Here we go!

The time has finally arrived: This evening, shortly after 18.30, the KIA support vehicle, driven by the wonderful Andrea Stranders and with two Dotty Divas in the back, and two road bikes on the boot, turned into the magnificent Vicars Close in Wells... May the Song-Cycling extravaganza officially commence!

We were met by the delightful couple, Iain and Naomi, who are hosting us for the night. They have the most exquisite house just across the road from the Cathedral and makes the perfect base from where to start the tour.

After an uplifting and encouraging rehearsal with Lisa, a bowl of pasta in ASK got the carbs on the up and up. Cup of tea, final logistics for our first day on the road tomorrow, and then sleep... Andiamo!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

trolls and blueberries

Norway, here we come! Here's hoping Grieg doesn't turn in his grave when he hears our delivery of his masterpiece song-cycle Haugtussa.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

What a wonderfully successful day 14 June was for the Song-Cyclists! The support of Coutts got the fundraising off to a super start, while the supportive vibe we experienced at the Arts Club was thrilling. I still cannot get over the generosity of some of my talented friends - Mark and John made our evening at the Arts Club so very special.

As Albert Einstein said, 'the value of a man lies in what he gives'. John and Mark gave us so very much, I can only think they are worth a fortune...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Song-Cycling has a night with the stars

Monday 14 June was a glorious day for Song-Cycling.

Lunchtime concert at Coutts with CEO, Michael Morley cameo-ing on the piano accompanying beautifully a couple of arias was a fabulous experience. Coutts very kindly donated £1 a mile to each of us raising a total of £1,400 towards our charities. Thank you very much indeed Coutts.

The same evening, the Arts Club in Piccadilly pulled in a full house to enjoy a wonderful programme of sparkling coloratura soprano arias, gorgeously interpreted Schubert song from international tenor Mark Padmore and opera super star bass-baritone Sir John Tomlinson with stunningly beautiful and subtle Susanna piano-playing. There was dulcet duetting between Mark & Alice and some startling and hilarious G&S action (including Mikado's, Three little maids). Thanks to all who contributed to make this such a fantastic show. I, for my part, loved every minute of it (except the ongoing splitting headache!) and thank Susie without whose talent we would never have got such great singers involved and managed to raise so much cash. Approx £2,000 with more to come we think.

Onwards to Song-Cycling's appearance at Corsham Festival on Monday 21st.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Song-Cycling launch weekend 5&6 June 2010

Song-Cycling is underway!

We kicked off with a fantastic Saturday chez Stranders BBQ-ing in the very beautiful back garden in Harpenden. Great turn-out. Good show. Lovely to see Susie's friend, Becky, the inspiration for raising money towards MS and to hear the words that the local MS Society rep had to say about the disease and what the money could fund. A huge thank you to Susie's parents for all their effort and organisation to create such a gorgeous event.

Sunday evening saw the London launch at St John's Notting Hill. Again we were very pleased with how many people came to support the project and very pleased with a stonking performance all round. A good round or two at the pub in Portobello was enjoyed after.

Thank you to everybody who supported us and for helping us to raise nearly £2,000 this weekend for our two charities.
We raised in the region of £800 at the London Launch! It was a wonderful evening and so well supported. Cycling in down the aisle was such a fun way to start! More later...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Song-Cycling London Launch - Sunday 6 June 2010

Come along and support the project while it's still in a hood near you!

We have a Harpenden concert on Sat 5 June swiftly followed by our London Launch at St John's Church, Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill at 7.00pm on Sunday 6 June.
Tickets £10 entry on the door.

The song-cyclists are performing a jaw-dropping programme centreing on Andre Previn's Honey and Rue song cycle and featuring arias and song by Puccini, Strauss, Charpentier, Gershwin, Bernstein and G&S.

Monday, 15 March 2010

About Song-Cycling

People do keep calling us bonkers and maybe there's a shred of truth in it but Alice & Susie are on a mission! So there's no stopping us. And, if you're spurred to action, please come and join us...keep reading for the how and the when...

We're cycling across Britain in July 2010, giving concerts en route in aid of Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis. Susie is a hot stuff accompanist and Alice a stratospheric soprano. Our friends and family are joining us on the way either keeping us company on the road or gently heckling at our concerts. Fellow musicians are also putting in cameos at our concerts.

The tour starts on 1 July in Wells, Somerset and sweeps through some of the loveliest parts of the country - Shropshire, Peak District, Northumberland National Park and the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. We finish up on 19 July in Fort William and wouldn't it be nice to finish up after a splendid concert with a rip roaring ceilidh...any offers from any bands out there??

Please come and support us. Get clipped in to your bicycles and come and meet us along the way. Or check out where and when we're performing, come along to one of our concerts and donate away.

If you can't participate but still want to give please visit our justgiving pages:
Alzheimer's Society & MS Society.

You can also keep abreast of our antics by joining our Song-Cycling group on Facebook or follow our "SongCyclists" Twitter updates.


Fri 2 July - 1.00 pm, Wells Cathedral School Concert Hall - Wells, Somerset

Fri 2 July - 7.30 pm, St John the Baptist Church - Churchill, Somerset
Sat 3 July - arrive Gloucester
Sun 4 July - arrive Ludlow

Mon 5 July - 12.00pm, St Laurence's Parish Church - Ludlow, Shropshire
Mon 5 July - arrive Stone
Tue 6 July - arrive Ashbourne

Wed 7 July - 7.30pm, Medway Community Centre - Bakewell, Derbyshire
Thu 8 July - arrive Wakefield

Fri 9 July - 1.00pm, Wesley Chapel - Harrogate, Yorkshire
Fri 9 July - arrive Ripon
Sat 10 July - arrive Durham

Sun 11 July - 2.00pm, Durham Cathedral Cross-Nave
Sun 11 July - arrive Rochester, Northumberland
Mon 12 July - arrive Melrose, Scottish Borders
Tue 13 July - arrive Edinburgh

Wed 14 July - 1.00pm, St Andrew's & St George's Church, George Street, Edinburgh
Wed 14 July - 7.00pm, The Scottish Arts Club, Rutland Square, Edinburgh
Thu 15 July - arrive Perth
Fri 16 July - arrive Fortingall

Fri 16 July - 7.30pm, residential concert (address tbc) - Fortingall, Perthshire
Sat 17 July - arrive Black Mount

Sun 18 July - 7.30pm, Kilmallie Hall, Fort William