Friday, 3 February 2017

Taking on the challenge: leap of faith.

Hello people. It's been a while since I've written anything, blog-wise. Life has been a bit of a challenge recently, but I'm not going to go into that. Suffice to say, I'm glad 2016 is over. I've learned a few things about myself and others, but it'll take me some time to fully process what that might mean.

Towards the end of last year I was invited to joint the Niume blogging community. At first I was really flattered and I even earned some money from it. I shared a couple of my old blogs from here and 2 of them were chosen to be featured, which was a great honour. But I soon began to realise that my blog doesn't really fit in. Most of the other blogs seem to be about sharing recipes, photographs or travel features. They have a rule that the blog must contain a minimum of 5 lines and the majority of them stick to the minimum, which makes my blogs appear quite verbose. Well to be fair, I guess they are, but I write as I speak, which is quite a lot.

So I stopped contributing. 

But this picture popped into my Facebook memories this morning and is challenging me. I realised I was scared of what would happen if I continued to contribute when I didn't seem to 'fit in'. Which was crazy really as they invited me to join in the first place, which means that they must have felt that I had something to contribute.

2016 didn't turn out as I expected. I had it all planned out that it would be a year of celebration, when I would be continuing my adventures. I did have some adventures, but a few of them were eithe,r not on my list, or didn't go to plan. I literally have scars to prove it for a couple of them. But instead of embracing the challenge, I let it rob me of my confidence and left me fearful about doing anything in case it goes wrong.

I'm still feeling a bit cautious, but, as of today, I'm choosing to not let it stop me living life and having adventures. I could see the Nuime blog as an opportunity to try something new, or just take the chance that what I write will continue to be well received.

Who knows? But I'm going to take a leap of faith and try not to let the fear of what might happen, stop me from trying to achieve what could.

Isabel Johnstone. 2017 ©

Photographs courtesy of:-

Friday, 2 December 2016

Scratch Messiah, the Return.

Being a 'lady of a certain age on a mission to prove that life can still be and adventure', I'm always on the look out for new challenges. I love to sing and I'm a member of a choir. But we tend to sing contemporary songs or songs from musicals.
Last year I decided to challenge myself and signed myself up to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London, as part of the 'Scratch Messiah.' For anyone who's never heard of it, this is an event which has been put on every year since 1974, by The Really Big Chorus. The idea is that people from all over the world rehearse Handel's Messiah in their own home towns or cities, then on the last Sunday of November, they all come together in the Royal Albert Hall in London, and perform it.
Now choral singing of this sort isn't really something I've ever done before. But I decided that it was an experience too good to miss. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but felt completely under rehearsed, so I decided to go for it again this year. 
I had to do most of my rehearsing at home using a CD and DVD which came with the song book. but I was determined that this year I'd be better prepared. 
We had a bit of a nightmare journey. Due to roadworks it took us three and a half hours to do a ninety minute journey. But we arrived with five minutes to spare, and after a quick visit to the loo, we were in our seats and ready to go.
There's a colour dress code for the choir members. Altos have to wear red, sopranos, blue and the men, black tie. I looked around and one half of the Royal Albert Hall was a sea of blue, right up to the seats near the roof, and the other half, red. The men were sitting on the floor just in front of the orchestra. There was a real sense of anticipation and excitement in the hall. 
Finally, the conductor, Brian Kay, and the 4 soloists took their places on the podium. 
The orchestra begins with the overture, followed by the tenor singing his first solo. Then it's the turn of the chorus. There were over 3,000 of us, with people from 12 countries around the world, from as far away as Canada to NorwayCan you imagine the impact that must have on an audience? This was the first time the young tenor had performed the Messiah and when we started to sing, his mouth fell open in surprise and then he looked around with a huge smile on his face. 
The atmosphere was amazing and the audience sat entranced until the conductor motioned them to stand as we sang the Hallelujah chorus.
After the last Amen, the applause went on for ages. No one wanted the evening to end.
A friend of one of my fellow choir members who was in the audience, a man in his 60's, said that it was , 'Magical. The highlight of his life.'
I have to agree. 
I've done it twice now. But I intend to keep on doing it every year for as long as I can.
Here's a link to a video of the Hallelujah Chorus from a performance a few years ago. Have a listen and see what you think.

Photos Isabel's own or by permission of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©

Monday, 19 September 2016

Nine lives

I'm currently reading Classical Studies with the Open University and have been learning a lot about the Greek and Roman gods. One of the things they seemed to like to do, especially Zeus and his wife, Hera, was to turn humans into animals. Well I'm beginning to wonder if I'm an animal that's been turned into a human. I think that I'm really a cat. Why? Well, cats are reputed to have nine lives and I feel like I might also have nine lives. Let me explain.

My guardian angel
This year I've been celebrating a significant birthday and have been enjoying participating in a number of 'experiences' which I received as birthday gifts. The latest one was an indoor sky diving experience. I was really excited about doing this one. I really wanted to do the real thing and jump out of a plane, but my hubby wasn't too keen on the idea, so this was the compromise. But even that proved to be a bit too dangerous for me. On the morning of the flight day, I was checking Facebook and this picture popped up in my memories. A first sign of what was to come, but at the time I just found it amusing.

We set off in good time and arrived early at the Airkix centre in Milton Keynes. As we made our way into the building I spotted this ambulance drop off point on one of the doors, so I asked my hubby to take a picture of me pointing at it, just for a laugh. Sign two. Undeterred, I made my way to the reception desk and checked in. As we were a bit early we went off to get something to eat. But I was too nervous and ended up wrapping my piece of coffee cake in a napkin and placing it in my bag for later.

Finally it was time to report for duty. After watching a short video, it was time to get kitted out. I'd spotted a Batman flying suit in a glass display case and asked if I could have one of those, but I think they only had them in children's sizes, so I just had to make do with a normal one. Fully kitted out with flying suit, goggles, helmet and ear plugs, I made my way up the stairs, accompanied by the other crew of flight 17.

When we arrived in the tunnel room, we caught the end of the
previous fliers. It looked amazing. Then as we waited for them to leave, a guy on crutches with his foot in one of those rigid boot things, came hobbling out of the room next door. I wondered if he'd sustained the injury in the tunnel, but convinced myself that he was probably just there to watch someone else fly. The third sign.

Then we were off. I was to be the fourth person to go in. The first three fliers seemed to be all over the place and keeping the instructor busy, but they were smiling and enjoying themselves. Then it was my turn. I leaned forward into the tunnel. I adopted the position we'd been told to take and I was off. I couldn't believe the force of the wind on my face as I swooped this way and that, occasionally having to push myself away from the wall or lift my chin to make me go higher if I touched the floor. Usually you're only in the tunnel for a minute at a time, but because we'd paid for extra time, I was to be in it for two minutes. But sometime into the second minute, my back started to hurt and I started to panic. I put my thumbs down to signal that I wanted to exit. What happened next came as a bit of a shock.

All I could think about was getting out of the tunnel. When I reached the doorway I launched myself through. What I should have done was grab hold of the door frame and wait for the instructor to place my feet on the ground. Instead I fell flat on the ground, hitting my chin as I landed. There was blood all over the floor in front of me. As I exited the other fliers had started to clap, but stopped very quickly when they realised what had happened. I lay there for a few minutes too winded to move, then I was helped up and into a room next door. The others started clapping again. Apparently my flying technique had been very impressive.

To begin with, my hubby didn't realise what had happened and kept on filming, even as I lay on the ground. But eventually it clicked that all was not right and he appeared in time to help me up. The first aider arrived and helped cleaned me up. I'd cut my chin and she recommended that I get it checked out at A&E. Then the guy on the crutches appeared. It appeared that he was one of the instructors. By this time the others had finished flying and as they passed me they expressed their concern and once again commented on how well I'd been doing up to that point, even the instructor said how impressed he'd been. I joked that I told him that he should've let me have the Batman flying suit.

The doctor at A&E couldn't help smiling when I told him what I'd done. It just needed a bit of glue and a few steri strips put in place to hold it together while it heals. The instructor on crutches told them to give me a voucher to go back at a later date. At this point I'm not sure if I will. I don't think my hubby or my Guardian angel would be too happy if I did. But I did enjoy the experience and have a great video record of it, including the fall.

After my previous incident when I was bitten by a cat, Story of my cat bite. you can see why I'm feeling like I must have nine lives. I have one more experience present left, but it's for a spa day. That should be safe enough, shouldn't it?

Photos and videos my own, apart from sleeping angel.

My video

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Popstar granny.

The photo I'd use for my album! Lol.
I'm going to make a confession here. I was that little girl who stood in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand, using it as a microphone, while I sang along to my latest record, dreaming of one day being a pop star. Well guess what? My dream has come true, thanks to my youngest son, who bought me a popstar experience for my birthday.

My friends on Facebook will already know that the first attempt was cancelled the day before I was due to go up to London, as the videographer had a family emergency. Then I received an email just as I was about to leave the house on the day of the second attempt informing me that they were having to cancel it again as the mixing desk in the studio had blown. Then, in August 2016,  I received an email confirming a new booking for a date in July 2016. I had to inform them that, as I didn't possess a time machine, I would be unable to attend. Finally, I was given a date in September.

The day we recorded 'Diggy, diggy hole'.
In the past I've had to keep 'mum' about a flashmob that Woapa were taking part in and also a recording of a video to be given to Oxfam. I thought that was hard enough, but having had two failed attempts at my popstar experience, I decided not to say anything about the third date I'd been given, just in case it got cancelled again. I'm not really a superstitious person, but I was beginning to feel like this was jinxed and was never going to happen. But I'm happy to say that I've been and gone and done it, and it has got to be up there as one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.

When the second attempt was cancelled, they offered me an extra hours recording time free of charge. They also said that instead of having to go up to London, they would arrange for me to do it in a studio in Oxford. So on Saturday 3rd September 2016, my hubby and I arrived at a little studio called Safehouse, situated in Cave Street, Oxford.

We arrived far too early as we wanted to make sure that we left enough time to find it. The technical guys were in the process of setting up the equipment, so I waited outside in the car until the appointed time. It was at this point, when I realised that it was actually going to happen, that the nerves kicked in and I told my hubby that I wanted to go home. But I didn't, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kit giving me my briefing.
There were three young men, Kit and Mike, who were the technical guys, and a young guy called Logan, who was there to video the experience. I found out during a break in recording, that I was his first popstar experience. He usually worked with his dad videoing weddings.

I was given a quick tour of the studio, it was so small it took about five minutes, and then Kit talked me through what was going to happen. Then I was in the recording booth, with headphones on, as Mike explained that to begin with we would run through the song a couple of times to get the levels right and then we would go for a take. The run throughs went without a hitch, but as I was launching into the chorus for the first time, everything went dark and silent. The computer had crashed! But Mike very quickly had it up and running again. I found it really amusing that this had happened, but it helped me to relax. I realised that I'd been waiting for something to go wrong, and now it had, but at least it was something that could be easily fixed. After another couple of takes, I sat back as Mike then worked his magic, cutting and pasting the best bits from each recording, to produce the best track possible.

Me, listening to my first take.
Although I'd been offered an extra hour, it hadn't been confirmed and therefore I'd only sent them one song choice. After Mike had finished working on the first song, we still had an hour left. Kit had been trying to get hold of the sound track for another song, but was unsuccessful. Undaunted, Mike found a way to download one and I had half an hour to record another song and for Mike to work on it. By this time I was exhausted and I could tell my voice was getting tired. But I'm absolutely thrilled with the end result.

My first song, 'Can't take my eyes off of you', has been added to the Songmaker official chart, I'd really appreciate it if anyone reading this would be kind enough to go on the website and vote for me. How cool would it be for this 'mature student' and grandmother to top the chart? Here is the link. type in the name Issi, and it should come up.

Here also are the links.

Update made it to no.1

Songmaker chart and have been there for 3 weeks.

Can't take my eyes... video

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Life goes on.

Our garden, but the grassy area isn't ours.
This year has been a bit of a challenge at times, (understatement). We've decided to eliminate some of the stress by taking our house off the market. I'm actually very happy with this decision as I had mixed feelings about moving in the first place. Our new neighbours are delighted as they didn't want us to move. But it has been really upsetting that the reason our house isn't selling is because of our garden situation. For those who don't know, we found out a year after we moved in that the bottom part of our garden doesn't belong to us, it belongs to the owners of a small industrial estate located at the bottom of the garden. We had to sign a lease which states that we can use the land indefinitely. It's been like this for over 30 years, but we weren't told about it when we bought the house. It seems unfair that we are being penalised for something we knew nothing about. Still, life is unfair at times.

A photo of me on a school trip to Hadrian's wall, shared by a school friend.
Still, it hasn't been all bad. At the end of July I was able to return to Scotland to attend a reunion of the Musselburgh Grammar Class of 1968. We were all turning 60 this year and a couple of my old schoolmates had decided to celebrate by organising the reunion. Roughly half of those eligible attended. A few were not able to attend as sadly they are no longer with us.

Friends who were at the same primary school as me.
I had a lovely time catching up with old friends and finding out what everyone had been up to. I've become friends on Facebook with some of them and there is talk of having another one in two years time, which will be fifty years since we all started at the Grammar School. The sad fact is that leaving it for another ten years at our age, could result in a few more not being able to make it. I even got to meet, 'the one that got away', and realised that it was probably for the best. The reunion was followed by a lovely weekend of catching up with family and other non-school friends.

August has also been a great month as we had our annual WOAPA DAY, which I always thoroughly enjoy. This year was no exception. For anyone new to my blog, I'm part of the WOAPA Adult Singing Group, which meets every Wednesday evening, during term time only. Every August, to give us our WOAPA fix, Brian and Lou, organise a day, usually a Sunday, when we meet and learn some songs on a theme, which we then perform in the evening for family and friends. This year's theme was Best of Broadway musicals. It is also an opportunity for those of us aspiring Diva's, (ME) to sing as part of a duet, or larger group, something we don't usually get to do with WOAPA. This year I performed a duet with Gail, the girl I sang with last year. We performed Carole King's, 'You've Got a Friend', from the musical, Beautiful, which is about her life and work. There was also a very special performance from a pair of sisters, one of whom is normally very shy and reserved, and it was very emotional seeing her being so brave.

WOAPA day wouldn't be the same without a surprise guest. Who can forget last year's special performance by Shirley Bassey, alias Louis Raschke. This time it was the turn of Dolly Parton, singing the iconic '9 to 5'. I was very jealous of her/his, legs, but I wouldn't have been able to walk in those high heels she/he wore.

I also managed to get a little bit of writing done. At Cogges, we sell a book about the places used as locations in Downton Abbey. But this book was published before they began filming at Cogges. I was asked to produce a double-sided leaflet about the filming of Downton Abbey at Coggges, to be inserted into the book and it is now part of the book. That cheered me up.

So, all in all, this year isn't turning out too badly. It's had its lows, but also some memorable highs, and hopefully, there's still more to come as i still have my Popstar experience and my simulated skydive to come.

That's all for now, I wonder what the topic of my next blog will be? Meanwhile I hope you'll enjoy watching this video of Gail and I singing our duet.

Photographs Isabel's own or shared by permission of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Video, courtesy of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

You couldn't make it up.

Well, 2016 is certainly turning out to be quite an 'adventurous' year. But certainly not what I had anticipated. It's been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, but not because I had nothing to write about; quite the opposite.

Plan for May, June and July.

19th May Visit of Countess of Wessex, Cogges.
21st May Popstar Experience.
2nd June Exam
1st July 12 night Mediterranean Cruise.
19th July re-scheduled Popstar experience.

What actually happened.

As I've already written a blog about it, you know that the visit of the Countess of Wessex happened, and was a very special day. But then, first of all, my Popstar Experience was postponed. Due to 'unforseen circumstances', the camera man wasn't available, so it was mutually agreed that it wouldn't go ahead on the 21st and I re booked for a later date. So I threw myself into studying for my exam.

 My exam went well, in that I felt able to answer the questions, and I left the examination hall feeling quite euphoric. Things were a bit stressful as my hubby had resigned and we were trying to sell our house, but at least we had the cruise to look forward to.

Then on Tuesday 28th June, three days before we were due to go on our cruise, I went along to feed the cats at Cogges. Bonnie and Patsy, the two females were there, but Clyde, the young tom, wasn't. This wasn't unusual, as he was the one who was the least friendly and who tended to spend most of his time off hunting.

After I'd fed the other two, I made my way down from the loft above the stables where the cats live, only to see Clyde sitting on the grass a few feet away. As I approached him, instead of running away, as was his wont, he sat there meowing quite insistently. Then after a couple of minutes, he set off in the direction of the stables, stopping occasionally to look back, as if to check that I was following.

When he entered the loft, he made his way to the back of the room and sat down, completely ignoring the food I'd put down. By this time I was beginning to suspect that something was wrong. He let me get very close to him and I could see that his breathing wasn't right. I ran outside and called on one of my colleagues to come and give me her opinion. She agreed that he didn't seem right and that we should take him to the vet as soon as possible.

I stayed with him while she went to fetch a cat basket. I decided to try to get hold of him ready to put him in the basket. I picked up a large towel and put it over him and then proceeded to try and pick him up. Clyde wasn't used to being handled, plus we have since realised, he was in pain and probably feeling quite frightened. I wrapped him in the towel and picked him up. He struggled, but I held on to him tightly, but before I knew what was happening, he bit my right index finger twice and his claw pierced the back of my left hand. By this time, my colleague had appeared so we placed him in the basket and she hurried off with him, while I wrapped my finger, which was bleeding quite profusely, in the towel, and followed on behind.

I stopped briefly in Reception to put an elastoplast on my hands. Meanwhile, the Director of Cogges, who had looked in the basket, set off quickly on foot to the vet, saying that speed was of the essence. I followed on, but when we got to the vet, who was only a few minutes walk away, it was too late, Clyde was gone. The vet thought that he'd suffered some kind of trauma and that he'd had a clot which had entered either his heart or his lungs and that was what had killed him. This was obviously a great shock, but what was to follow was an even bigger one.

On the advice of the vet, I took myself off to minor injuries where they washed out the wounds and dressed them. Meanwhile, the emergency paramedic who was treating me had contacted the hospital and they told her to start me on a course of antibiotics and tell me to report to the hospital at 10am the following morning.

What followed next took me completely by surprise, by 4pm on the Wednesday I was wearing a hospital gown and those lovely surgical stockings, and being wheeled into theatre to have an operation, under a general anaesthetic, to cut open my finger and the back of my left hand, so they could be deeply cleaned, or debrided, the technical term, as both had become infected. In fact, by the time I was taken to theatre, I could see the infection tracking up my arm and it had almost reached my elbow.

Unfortunately, because of this we had to cancel our cruise, for the next to weeks, instead of sailing around the Mediterranean and soaking up the sun, I was visiting the hospital and my GP and having my hubby act as my nurse, helping me to redress my wounds. Over two weeks later, I'm still having to redress them daily. They're getting better, but I'm still feeling a bit emotional and shocked by this turn of events.

When my hubby was telling a work colleague about it, she said, "You couldn't make this up." I wish I was writing about it as fiction, but unfortunately it is true.

We did manage to get away for the weekend to the Isle of Wight and are hoping to go away for a week later on. It won't be the cruise, but I'm thankful that I'm still here. Apparently cat bites are even worse than dog bites.

Has this accident put me off cats? No way. It wasn't his fault and if either Bonnie or Patsy ever have to go the vet, I would do the same thing again, only this time I'd make sure I had a pair of thick gloves on. After all, better safe than sorry.

This is no where near the worst experience I've ever had, but it's certainly been the most bizarre one.

During this time, I found out that I'd passed my exam, but didn't feel much like celebrating.

At least I had my Popstar experience to look forward to-right? Wrong. On the morning of July 19th,
I received an email from Songmaker to say that when they'd gone into the studio that morning, they had discovered that their mixing desk had blown and that they were having to re-schedule all their appointments for that day. As I've said, you couldn't make this stuff up. The good news is, not only are they giving me an extra hour free when, or if, I get round to doing it, they are also going to set it up in one of their recording studios in Oxfordshire, so I won't have to trail up to London.

I don't know what lesson I'm supposed to be learning, but I'll be glad when this year is over.

What's going to happen next? Watch this space, who knows? I certainly don't!

Photos Isabel's own, except the popstar experience, courtesy of :-

Friday, 20 May 2016

My adventures continue:- A royal visit.

Cogges Heritage Trust is celebrating its fifth year of re-opening the manor and farm. From a shaky start it's gone from strength to strength. In fact, I heard that we are about to welcome our 200,00th visitor. Not bad considering we only had 11,000 visitors the first year we opened.

To celebrate, Cogges hosted a lunchtime reception for all their volunteers and supporters, to which a special guest, HRH the Countess of Wessex, was invited. The schedule of the day was very tightly planned. The Countess was coming to plant a tree and unveil a plaque commemorating the day. The royal party were running late, but a marquee had been set up on the lawn in front of the house for the reception and we passed the time enjoying canapes and drinks. I was really touched as many of my fellow volunteers took time to come and wish me well as I had a special role to play in the day.

Finally, the Countess arrived. As the helicopter set down in the field beside the manor house, all the guests standing by the wall to watch the landing were covered in newly cut grass stirred up by the helicopter's rotary blades. I had to get my hubby to brush me down as I was covered in grass.

The Countess made her way into the Walled Garden where she was greeted by some local dignitaries. She was then given a short history of the site, a tour of the garden and a demonstration of a 'vegetable growing session', by some children. She then proceeded into the orchard where she was supposed to watch a wool weaving session by some more children, before planting an apple tree in the orchard. But as we were all already lined up to watch the tree planting, much to the horror of our Director, Colin, Judy, the Chairman of the trust, took her to plant the tree first. She said later that she couldn't just walk past us all, despite giving Colin a near heart attack.

While this was all going on, I made my way to the dairy lawn, where I was to wait to be introduced to the Countess and invited to explain to her how Cogges was used as a location for Downton Abbey, i.e. as Yew Tree Farm. As you can imagine, I was very nervous. But I'd been briefed by Colin, that she was a big Downton Abbey fan, and it was just meant to be 'two Downton fans having a chat.' As I'd only been given five minutes, to talk, I wasn't sure how that was going to work.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Countess and her entourage emerged from the orchard, but before they reached me, the Countess stopped to look at our Vorwerk chickens, and when she bent over and talked to them, I knew that it was going to be OK.

Finally, my big moment came. Judy introduced me and told her that I was going to talk about Downton, at which point she replied, 'I love Downton'. As we walked towards the farmyard, I explained about some of the changes the Downton art department had to make, including the making of a false dovecot to hide a security light. I showed her a photograph of it and she said that it was lovely and it was a shame that we couldn't keep it. I also told her about an amusing incident, concerning one of our Cotswold Lion sheep, that occurred on the first day of filming, which, thankfully, she did find funny. You'll have to come on one of my tours to find out what.

As we made our way over to the house, I explained how they transformed the kitchen into the interior of Farmer Drewe's cottage, and then my part in the day was over. I almost got away without embarrassing myself. I say almost. As we were walking towards the farmyard, a sheet of paper containing my notes fell out of my folder and onto the ground and Judy had to bend down and pick them up. Oh well.

In the kitchen, the Countess was introduced to some more volunteers and helped make some welsh cakes, before making her way to the marquee where Judy made a speech about the Cogges journey so far, and announced that we had been awarded the Best Team of Volunteers award by the OVCA. Judy then invited  the Countess to unveil the plaque. The Countess was then presented with one of our mugs depicting Cogges as Yew Tree Farm, which contained some fudge made by volunteers. Finally, it was time for the Countess to return to the helicopter and go on her way.

It was a really special day for all of us at Cogges. There was a lovely atmosphere and I was once again very touched by the support I received from my colleagues, both before and after my big moment. I'm so proud of them all and of what we have helped Cogges to achieve over the past five years.

Now on to my next adventure.

Photo's Isabel's own. Apart from:-

Sophie in the garden and kitchen, and the helicopter which are courtesy of Cogges at

Footnote. Reminder to self. Next time don't wear brand new shoes. I ended up walking home in my stocking soles as my feet were killing me.