A day in the sun…

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water  

W.H. Auden

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How often do you complain about the weather? If you live in the UK, then it’s probably on an almost daily basis. Wales in particular gets a healthy dose of rain, which at least keeps the countryside green. Water is our most abundant natural resource, falling from the sky in angry downpours or soft lazy drizzles before tumbling from the hills and running through the valleys.2017-04-01 15.47.56Rain splashing into the Monmouth and Brecon Canal

So full of water are we that we that during the 19th century we were seen as the go-to place for procuring the stuff. Demonstrating pretty shocking imperialist behaviour and an appalling disregard for the welfare of the indigenous folk, several English cities built a series of dams in rural mid Wales, flooding valleys and displacing communitites. More and more water was needed to support the growing population of cities which had expanded on the back of the Industrial Revolution. The workforce needed to be housed, fed and watered; driven by the greed of factory and mine owners, buoyed up by success and the Victorian establishment, the small Welsh homestead didn’t stand a chance. elan valley 14 june 2016Dam in the Elan valley

Between 1892 and 1952 six dams in the Elan and Claerwen valleys (as well as a 73 mile long aqueduct) were constructed, forming the Birmingham Welsh Water System. Liverpool was the driving force and beneficiary of Vyrnwy in the uplands of the Severn valley and then, in the 1950s, of Llyn Celyn on the Tryweryn river. This last is controversial even now, due to the political chicanery used by Liverpool City Council to destroy a village and its way of life. Today this example of absolute cynicism and contempt for the little people is seen as the way not to do things.

What all of this underlines is the absolute necessity of water – to so many chemical, engineering and industrial processes, but also to human life. It’s essential in order to drink, to wash, to cook and to provide safe sanitation. An obvious point, you may think, but tragically there are millions of people who don’t have access to this fundamental substance – as many as one in ten people on the planet. This is a quite shocking statistic in the 21st century and the charity Water Aid, whose mantra is “Give water, give life” is working to change it.water 2

“Clean water, the essence of life and a birthright for everyone, must become available to all people now.”

Jean-Michel Cousteau


Last Sunday, 18th June was Fathers’ Day but it was also the day that Water Aid chose for its 2017 Sing for Water event in Cardiff. These mass sing-alongs are held in various parts of the country and raise a huge amount of money for the charity. The last one in Cardiff was two years ago and our singing group went along and sang in the rain but this year the sun decided to shine, and how! There were approximately 650 singers gathered in the heat-wave, from all over Wales and from the western part of England, representing dozens of choirs and less formal musical ensembles (such as ours!).

A few of the songs chosen are about water in some way but as usual there were exceptions to this. We began with a Native American chant: Aho Mitakuye Oyasin. This means “all my relations” in the Lakota tongue and is traditionally intoned to invite and acknowledge all to take part. To be fair to the audience, they got into the mood and danced around or clapped along…when I say audience though, I use the term loosely. The sunshine had brought a huge number of people down to Cardiff Bay in search of entertainment and ice-cream, and (lucky them!) they happened upon us as well. One very curious lady from overseas stopped and listened for a while, asking Angie (who was standing next to me) what it was all about. I think she liked it…2017-06-18 14.54.23Sneakily, the audience grabbed the shady side of Plas Roald Dahl…

…so singers had to resort to inspiration in order to keep cool…2017-06-18 15.10.43

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Caught up in our own success we carried on singing, with Love like a riverLet the river run and the lilting Welsh folksong Ar lan y mȏr (beside the sea). A poignant moment came with United, a song written to honour Jo Cox, the young MP who was murdered by a right wing extremist at this time last year. The words of the song were taken from Jo’s maiden speech: We are far more united, and have far more in common, than that which divides us. All over the country, while we were melting in Cardiff, street-parties and outdoor community lunches were being enjoyed to celebrate Jo’s memory and ethos in an event billed as The Great Get Together. 

Finally we wrapped our tongues around Hlonolafatsa, a blessing from Lesotho, before we disbanded. Jane, Anna, Angie, Peter and I made our way into the delicious cool of the Millenium Centre for an ice-cream before the drive home, while we lost Helen and Anthony who were staying to watch the final concert in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. I put my feet up and enjoyed it at home, absolutely delighted that my pick, Scottish mezzo Catriona Morison, carried off the prize. I was also amazed when I recognized the woman who’d spoken to Angie earlier and asked her about our event – she was one of the judges and was none other than the wonderful South Korean soprano, Sumi Jo. Fame at last!!!2017-06-18 21.11.19Catriona Morison, taking the Cardiff Singer prize with a simply glorious performance


Enough of the famous people, and back to us! I’m not sure how much money was raised in Cardiff last weekend – every singer there paid £10 as a contribution and there was a collection on the day. There’s a link here if you’d like to make a donation for this hugely important cause: http://singforwatercardiff.org/


One final thing. Over the last twelve months or so we’ve heard too many ugly things and seen too many distressing events in this country as well as elsewhere in the world. Almost all of them have been perpetrated by people whose aim, for whatever reason, is to divide and destroy. Here in the UK, a lot of this hateful rhetoric and behaviour has been directed at immigrants to this country. How foolish – not to say repugnant. This won’t make any difference to the dullards determined to stir up disharmony (and worse), but a few months ago a team based at Manchester University announced that they had developed a membrane that could filter salt from sea water. Up until now it hasn’t been possible to produce anything like this on an a large scale but these guys seem to have cracked it. The implications are mind-boggling – I just hope they’ve patented it to stop some unscrupulous corporation somewhere from hijacking it, because this is a gift to humanity if ever there was one. And guess what? The head of the team, Dr Rahul Nair, is from Mavelikkara in Kerala, India.

Immigration is a wonderful thing; living and working alongside people of different races, faiths, and culture is a privilege, and one of the joys of life. Long may it continue.


If you want to read more about the brilliant work done at Manchester by Dr Nair and his team you can find it here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39482342

and here’s a link for Water Aid: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

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I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.

Mary Oliver

9 responses to “A day in the sun…

  1. Another lovely blog weaving so many strands together artfully. I am the daughter of an immigrant and the grandaughter of an immigrant. If i go back far enough one of my ancesters, the impressively named Osbert de Iden, landed on the Sussex coast in 1066. The sooner we recognise that the only thing we own is the time we spend on earth, the better. We would do well to spend the time wisely, generously & joyfully. And if we can squidge in some ice cream & chocolate buttons all the better. Thanks for supporting a wonderful charity.

  2. J & D > We really enjoyed this multi-faceted post. Those reservoirs and aqueducts are marvels of engineering, but the story of how they came to be built – the abuse of power – needs to be told. Interpretation boards at the reservoirs should tell the story honestly, though to be fair we haven’t been there for 20+years, so they may now do so.
    J > I recall reading, many years ago, Frances Brett Young’s ‘The House Under The Water’ about the Elan valley reservoirs: that put the record straight. FBY was one of my Dad’s favourite authors: this book in particular appealed to his socialist world-view.

  3. Horrendous that The Great Get Together weekend celebrating Jo Cox’s uplifting philosophy was hijacked by the Finsbury Park terrorist in a complete negation of all that. But he won’t win. Nor will the rest of his ilk.

    And we also support Water Aid, so it was wonderful to hear of your participation in the Cardiff event. And how wonderful that Sumi Jo caught some of the performance!

    • I agree about the Finsbury Park attack. Oh, to live in a world where these despicable events didn’t happen! But I agree – they won’t win.

  4. Well done! Water Aid is such a marvellous charity. My charity of choice. It’s such vital work. I use more than my fair share of the stuff but couldn’t imagine a world where it wasn’t readily available. Bravo to you!

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