Not your usual Christmas Newsletter
Living it up in Las Palmas
Welcome to my attempt at a Christmas newsletter. Before I came to Las Palmas, Gran Canaries, where I am living for the winter (more about that later), I was clearing out a storage cupboard in London in preparation for some building work. This space, under the stairs, is where I throw non-essentials and years of memories.
It's where I store all the letters from various friends and partners going back to high school, twenty photo albums filled with pictures of my boys since they were babies to adolescents when digital images replaced physical ones, university yearbooks. I came across my first Christmas newsletters, written in the early 80s, in one box, typed and photocopied onto (now) yellowing paper. There I read about holidays I had taken, new boyfriends, out-of-work activities such as a jazz nightclub I briefly ran in the mid-eighties until the police shut it down. Exciting times.
This year has proved to be equally eventful after a reasonably disastrous 2020 where I lost most of my work and then discovered a new income stream through resuscitating a business with a new partner that has turned out to be unexpectedly profitable and rewarding.
January started with a new cohort of Startup School for Seniors, the eLearning course that my colleague Mark and I created in September 2020 following COVID-19 response funding from a London based trust. It proved to be so successful at transforming the lives of those over 50 who had lost their jobs during the pandemic to become self-employed that a couple of London based Local Authorities paid for us to deliver the course to its residents. As we enter 2022, we are looking forward to running our sixth cohort with further funding and interest from other Local Authorities, trusts and grantmakers. I'm finally able to draw a salary, instead of invoicing as a freelancer, for the first time since 2007! Go me!
In June 2020, I had to put my burgeoning singing career on hold when the venues I performed all went into lockdown. I tried my hand at various streaming services on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram before concluding that I would never be a sound engineer. Carrying on with my singing lessons and finding a jazz pianist nearby who had also lost his work and was happy to find someone with whom he could accompany, I continued to practise and learn new songs.
I resumed singing in July, taking part in the London Festival of Ideas. I was lucky enough to win a small bid via my not-for-profit, Advantages of Age, to create a jazz band of musicians aged 60+ and perform jazz standards on my local high street, in a spot typically reserved for evangelists and bible bashers. That was fun watching the comings and goings on the road for a couple of hours. The local drug addicts even gathered at one point to sit and watch. One commented they had never heard such good music on Kilburn High Road. High praise indeed! There followed a performance at the Regent's Park Jazz Festival where over 200 people turned up on a sunny day to sit on the lawn and listen to The Suzanne Noble Quartet.
In October, a show of Dirty Blues booked at my favourite little speakeasy for November took an eventful turn. My usual pianist, George, unexpectedly flew to New Zealand for an indefinite period, leaving me to find a replacement who could learn 20 songs in a month. The dirty blues I sing exist merely as scratchy recordings you can find on Spotify, YouTube and my L.P. collection. There's no sheet music for them, no chords available on any of the popular apps where you might go to find transcribed music.
A chance meeting during a friend's gig with a saxophonist whose father in law, now retired, was a former West End arranger and pianist, was fortuitous. Paul turned out to be a hidden gem. Learning the original arrangements to the music provided me with the opportunity or challenge, depending on your viewpoint, of relearning songs in a different style. We had our first gig in November at the Green Note and are now planning a show based on the songs of lyricist Dorothy Fields for when I return to the U.K. in March.
Creating a new show together means having to overcome considerable challenges, some technical and mostly related to being based in different countries as I moved to Las Palmas, Gran Canaries, two weeks ago. For the past twenty years, I would say when asked how I wanted to retire, I would reply, 'I want to travel the world like a Victorian.' I didn't mean that I wished for my Louis Vuitton luggage to be transported by servants from one grand hotel to another as I did the 'European tour,' but I wanted the freedom to move from place to place without a timetable.
I wanted the luxury of knowing that I could rough it in a hostel or choose to spend a night or two in a five-star hotel and be comfortable enough financially and liberated enough, workwise, to be able to make that choice. I had no date in mind to accomplish this but, turning sixty, combined with the dreadful, cold winter we'd endured in the U.K. in 2020, created an impetus in me to make a move.
It was then a matter of finding a place somewhere warm and preferably by the water to call home. OK, not forever, but for long enough to escape the wet, damp, frosty U.K. winter and to experience a different culture and style of living.
Las Palmas, Gran Canaries, seemed the most favourable place in all the islands for my requirements. It had superfast wi-fi, plenty of short term lets, a large, mainly transient ex-pat community and just about enough culture to mean I wouldn't suffer from lack of stimulation. I booked a flight and accommodation back in July and then spent the next five months praying that we wouldn't be in lockdown again or Spain wouldn't make a snap decision to refuse to allow anyone from the U.K. to enter.
When I touched down in Las Palmas on 2nd December, a smile immediately appeared on my lips as I emerged into the clear, blue skies and warm temperature. Just seeing the sun and the sea made me feel happy. I knew immediately I'd made the right choice to leave London behind.
My apartment is a little further than I would have hoped from the beach, but it's well equipped, clean and quiet. The bus to town stops virtually outside the door, and there's a big supermarket just across the street.
I discovered a wonderful group of musicians through a chance meeting with a German man at 'Tapas Thursday,' who plays jazz piano. We've rehearsed and performed together a couple of times, most recently in an arts centre that holds a weekly jam session. And are now seeking a place where we can put on a show. He lives on a 'Finca' (farm) with a regular weekly jam. It's a fun crowd of people, a mix of professional and non-professional musicians, and the atmosphere is lively and the people warm and welcoming. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to them.
If you want to keep up to date with my adventures, I am posting regularly on my Facebook page.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and subscribing to my newsletter. Have a healthy and happy time over the holiday season, and here's hoping that 2022 brings more opportunities for real (and less virtual) human connection!