My next tea-talk is with a composer and choir mistress called Sheila, who has written an entire show of orchestral choir pieces about bees. The first concert of which, raised over £500 for the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Jane had played me some of the music earlier and I jumped at the chance to meet the composer. Sheila started a community choir and after taking courses on choirs it has become her work. I asked Sheila what it’s like to live in Stroud.
“There is a lot of singing and dancing in Stroud. There are about fourteen community choirs (that don’t audition) then there’s the church choirs and the choirs that audition.” Sheila tells me.
“Ha! That’s amazing!” I exclaim delightedly.
“Stroud was in the early industrial revolution with wool mills because of the rivers. But then the mills moved north where the water pressure was higher. It feels like now we’re at the beginning of this revolution. It’s on the fertile edge of the Cotswold and Severn Vale. There’s something tangibly positive for the future here.” she says. It’s something that I am to keep finding throughout Stroud. Initially ideas may seem strange to me, yet they are all grounded in a practicality. These are people working hard to make the future better, and I find myself becoming very fond of Stroud, and it’s singing inhabitants.
“It’s a healthy place to live too.” says Sheila. “People live well, but there are higher rates of asthma and arthritis because of the damp. The word Stroud actually means damp.”
Later I ask Alison what she thinks of health in Stroud. After wandering around I hadn’t seen many obese people.
“There’s lots of hills that people have to walk up.” she said, “The local doctors surgery partly uses some Steiner methods and thinking. They don’t accept payments from the drug companies when they recommend a drug, and they’re in financial difficulties. The surgeries get more money the more vaccinations they give and doctors normally get payments for certain prescriptions they issue. There are bonuses and seminars and conferences all paid for by the drug companies. They sponsor the monthly lectures for the doctors, updating them about new drugs.”
One of my good friends is a senior pharmacist so this was not news to me. I remember as she studied and started working in hospitals, how alarming she found the financial influence of the drug companies.
I gather all my possessions together in the hallway and return to the kitchen for a final cup of tea, where Jane and Alison teach me more songs. An African walking song, an upbeat ‘tum ba’ round, songs for morning, a song for night and several folk songs. As I learn them I record them on my ipod so I won’t forget. Seventeen songs in all. I look forward to having walking companions that I can sing them with (they are mostly rounds and are very pleasing when sung together).
“Morning has come, night is away. Rise with the sun and welcome the day.”
“Yonder come day, day is a breaking. Yonder come day, oh my soul, yonder come day, day is a breaking, the sun is a rising in a my soul. Suuuuuun riiiiiise. Suuuuun rise oh sun rise. Suuuun riiiise. Sun is a rising in a my soul. Yonnnder, yonnnder.”
“Now good night. The day is over, evening falls. The sun has set, no blackbird calls, so now good night.”
Jane and Alison see me off from the door, playing a couple of small drums. It feels great to get my pack back on and walk down the steep hill into the town center. I’ve been on the journey for twenty four days now and it’s feeling like this is my natural way of life.