Blog December 2nd Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sonheim

My old friend Martin Connor who lectures at the prestigious “Guildhall School of Music and Drama”” invited me to see his students perform the musical “A Little Light Music.” I did not know the show and remember not being particularly impressed until about half way through the second act when I heard the instrumental intro and then the words “Isn’t it rich- are we a pair” and from then on, I was captivated and “Send in the Clouds” became one of my favourite songs.
And as I am sure you are aware the composer was Stephen Sondheim who died this week aged 91. Here are some extracts from his obituary in The Guardian.
Sondheim was a leading light of musical theatre over the course of more than six decades, from the moment in 1957 when he achieved renown as Leonard Bernstein’s lyricist for West Side Story he went on to establish a place for himself with intelligent, unconventional works such as Company (1970), Sweeney Todd (1979)
“Send in the Clowns” was his most famous, song, recorded more than 500 times – notably by Frank Sinatra in 1973 – and then in 1975 and 77 by Judy Collins. (Today’s featured song is sung live by Judy while she was in her eighties!)
Born in New York, Stephen was the only child of a comfortably middle-class family. His mother, Janet (nee Fox, and known as Foxy), a dress designer, and father, Herbert, a clothing manufacturer, were partners in a New York fashion business. They divorced when Stephen was 10, and he ended up disliking his mother so much that in 1992 he did not go to her funeral.
Foxy was friends with the wife of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (of “Rogers and Hammerstein, South Pacific” fame.) After her divorce Foxy and Stephen moved to live near the Hammerstein’s, on a farm in Pennsylvania. During his adolescence, Sondheim would look to Hammerstein as a substitute father.
Sondheim had started playing the piano by ear from the age of four, before studying the piano and organ sporadically at school. Ravel was one of his early musical discoveries, which he eagerly shared with Hammerstein.
He wrote a musical called “By George,” and showed it to Hammerstein, who said it was terrible but talented, and showed him where he had gone wrong. This process turned into an unofficial yet fundamental course on which Sondheim learned to write musicals, adapting various plays, working on non-dramatic narrative and creating an original story. While many musical-theatre creators specialise as either a composer or lyricist, Sondheim excelled at both.
The Queens Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue was renamed in 2020 by Cameron Mackintosh as the Sondheim Theatre and Macintosh said on hearing of Sondheim’s death “The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers.” Andrew Lloyd Webber called him “The musical theatre giant of our times, an inspiration not just to two but to three generations [whose] contribution to theatre will never be equalled”.

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Blog November 26th Kes

What More Could You Do Lord? featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album Precious recorded and produced by Ross Gill

When delivering In Service Training to teachers and coaches I would often show a clip from the film “Kes.” Here the PE teacher famously takes a football lesson practicing just about everything that a teacher should not do (although I have to say there were times when I would join in with a 5 a side game as “George Best or Bobby Charlton!)
The acting of Brian Glover as the PE teacher is absolutely brilliant (I hope he was acting!) and I would have shared the clip before but I thought I would have to show the whole film. However, one of my all-conquering Testbourne School football team, Clive Wanless, shared this clip-on social media and it is priceless. BTW I say all conquering football team because that’s what they were! I was in my first year of teaching at Testbourne (then called Whitchurch School) and was given the job of “managing” the Year 1 (now Year 7) football team. I had the usual “trial” with about 50 turning up- each one apparently a centre forward. At the end of the session the Head of PE, George Garner, asked me what they were like- of course I had no experience of taking a team before so I simply said that they looked pretty good to me- I would just have to let them know that they could not all play centre forward.
Back then matches were played on Saturday mornings and we won our first game about 15- 0 and after discovering that this was not a fluke, as we won every local game by the same margin, we entered the Hampshire Cup and won that too. A great team indeed and I was so chuffed when a number of the team tracked me down which resulted in me having some great reminiscing phone calls to many of the team who are now located as far away as Australia.

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Blog November 18th Alpha Taster

Bathe Me In Your Light featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album I Look Up To The Heavens recorded and produced by John Hodginson

Alpha is introduction to the Christian faith and from October 19th to November 9th 2017 I shared my experiences of Alpha with you- and my experiences were absolutely great. Later, however when I have been involved in helping to run Alpha courses, I have realised that after the first week “Who is Jesus” things get quite a bit more challenging for those in the early stages of their faith. “Who is Jesus” was easy because it is not too difficult, based on the weight of evidence, to accept that Jesus is an historical figure. Week 2, however focuses on why He died and can include theological ideas such as redemption, atonement and justification – pretty heavy stuff in week two especially if you are just coming to grips with the idea that there is a God!
So, starting Alpha from further back in the journey – exploring whether or not we can believe in God makes sense and that is exactly what Richard England, the Holy Rood Vicar did on Monday for an Alpha Taster evening.
It is our featured video and really is worth a watch.

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Blog November 11th Sir David Attenborough

There’s More Than One Way Of Saying I Love You- featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard and the Mustard Seed Soul Band from the album Uplifted recorded and produced by Bob Ross

First an explanation of why COP26 is so called – COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and was attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994. The 2021 meeting was the 26th meeting, which is why it’s called COP26.
Sir David Attenborough addressed the recent conference and concluded with the following words:
It comes down to this. The people alive now, the generation to come, will look at this conference and consider one thing. Did that number stop rising and start to drop, as a result of commitments made here? There’s every reason to believe that the answer can be yes. If working apart, we are force powerful enough to destabilize our planet, surely, working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.
Sir David is an amazing 95 years of age and for so long has focused on the wonders of the natural world and more recently been vocal in support of environmental causes. Being so involved in the life of our planet I wondered what his religious believes are – it turns out that Attenborough considers himself an agnostic so he neither believes nor disbelieves in God or a god or religious doctrine. Agnostics assert that it’s impossible for human beings to know anything about how the universe was created and whether or not divine beings exist. I suppose another way of saying it is that an agnostic is someone who says that they don’t know whether there is a God or not. On the surface that would seem a very reasonable stance – not sure whether to be a believer or an atheist, so sit somewhere between the two.
Interesting, however what Stephen Gaukroger says of agnostics in his book “It Makes Sense” says of Agnosticism:
Either there is a God or there isn’t – one or the other. To the question “Are you married?” the answers “Yes” or “No” are the only two options. “Possibly” is a nonsense answer. The atheist could be right – those who believe in God could be right – the agnostic is bound to be wrong!
Imagine for a moment you are drowning at sea and two boats come to rescue you. You know that one of the boats has a bomb on it and will explode within minutes but you don’t know which. Because you know only one of the boats can be trusted you choose to stay in the “safety” of the water. Sure, enough one of the boats blows up and sinks like a stone while the other sails off to the safety of a harbour – meanwhile you drown! You were so right that only one boat was safe but so wrong to stay in the water. The option was 100% doomed to failure. At least in one of the boats you had a 50/50 chance of success. Permanently ignoring the only two options an agnostic is condemned to making the wrong choice.

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Blog 4th November – Dan Walker and Strictly

Father Help Me Acknowledge You” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album I Look Up To The Heavens recorded and produced by John Hodgkinson.

I am probably in the minority when I say that I do not watch “Strictly Come Dancing”. I have watched it in the past and I think Craig Revel– Horwood and his “Disaster Darling” comment are brilliant but for me a lot of the dancers who do really well are trained dancers already.
However, Sports Commentator Dan Walker is definitely not a trained dancer and I am so pleased that he has not yet been eliminated. (I may not watch it but I still ask Caroline, my wife how Dan is doing)
Dan is a personal favourite of mine (as a commentator not dancer!) and featured in my blog of July 17th 2020- and here he is again as the focus of today’s blog. Why? Because like me he is not a Halloween fan. Here is the story, courtesy of Premier Christian Media, of why he did not dress up in “spooky clothes” as many of the other contestants (and jury) did.
Strictly Come Dancing contestant Dan Walker opted for silly over spooky on Saturday’s Halloween special, saying he doesn’t celebrate the occasion.
While most of the show’s stars embraced a scary theme in their performances, the Christian broadcaster danced a fishy jive with partner Nadiya Bychkova to the B-52’s ‘Rock Lobster’ in matching lobster costumes.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Walker explained that the Strictly team had made an exception for him and allowed him to avoid the Halloween theme due to his beliefs.
“So, we don’t celebrate Halloween in our house and I’ve got to say a huge thank you to Strictly because they enabled me to be a part of that programme without sort of doing Halloween.”
Walker went on to explain that he wanted to set a good example for his children by living by the standards he teaches them.
“And our kids, they would normally go to a light party on Halloween weekend or whenever that might be and I couldn’t go on that programme and be a disingenuous dad.
“Anybody who’s got children and they talk to their children about what they can do and what they can’t do and why they do things a certain way…
“And I can’t say, ‘Do as I say but not as I do’, so that’s where the lobsters came from.”
This is not the first time the BBC Breakfast host has made public stands for his faith. Early in his career he made a choice not to work on Sundays, something he has maintained to this day. He has also spoken out about his belief that God created the world, a view that has received some negative responses in the press.
Speaking to Premier, Walker explained that his ‘strong faith’ informs who he is and is integral to his existence.
Responding to media backlash he added: “I never mind what people write about me, or say about me, because, as a Christian, I don’t take my value from what people think about me. I know that I’m valued.”
Dan and Nadiya’s jive earned them a score of 27 from the judges on Saturday, putting them low on the leader board at number eight.

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Blog October 28th – The Cross – Jewellery?

Love is Patient, Love is Kind from the album Love is the Way featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard – recorded and produced by John Hodgkinson

I was one of the countless people in front of my tv screen cheering on Emma Raducanu to victory in the recent US Woman’s Tennis Open. I have to say I was less than impressed when she ditched her coach – but that’s another story.
I noticed Emma was wearing a cross around her neck while she was playing- I could not find anything to suggest she was a Christian but I did hope she was. I then noticed in a later interview in which she was glamorously dressed that a large gold neckless and not a Cross adorned her neck. This made me wonder if she had just worn the cross when playing as a piece of jewellery rather than as a statement of faith.
This reminded me of the story of a young woman that went into a Jewellery shop and asked the shop assistant if she could see their range of crosses. When the assistant returned with a number of them, the young woman exclaimed “No, not one of those – I want one with a little man on it.”
How sad!

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Blog October 21st “What goes around comes around”

As regular blog readers will know I read “Word for Today” and the other day I read this which I would like to share:

In the late nineteenth century, a member of parliament went to Scotland to make an important speech. He travelled to Edinburgh by train, then took a horse-drawn carriage southward to his destination. But the roads were bad and the carriage became mired in mud. A Scottish farm boy came to the rescue of the team of horses and helped to pull the carriage loose. The member of parliament asked the boy how much he owed him. ‘Nothing,’ the lad replied. ‘Are you sure?’ the politician pressed, but the boy declined payment. ‘Well, is there anything I can do for you? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The boy responded, ‘I want to be a doctor’. The member of parliament offered to help the young Scot go to university, and sure enough he followed through on his pledge. More than a half century later Winston Churchill lay dangerously ill with pneumonia; stricken while attending a wartime conference in Morocco. A new ‘wonder drug’ was administered to him, a drug called penicillin that had been discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming. You’ve guessed it: Fleming was the young Scottish lad who came to the aid of the member of parliament. And the member of parliament was none other than Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s father. Yes, what goes around comes around. Jesus told the truth when He said, ‘Give, and it will be given to you.’ So, when God tells you to sow a seed of kindness into the life of someone else, it’s because He has a harvest of blessing waiting for you somewhere down the road.

Todays featured video/song is the last extract from our demo reel of “Theophilus The Musical”- the sequel to “Risen- The Musical” – and as I said last week we have been asked to put on a hybrid musical/concert version next year so please watch this space!

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Derek Prince

Blog October 14th “Balloons in a Room”

There is a great post that has been doing the rounds on social media – here is a simple version I would like to share today:

A wise teacher once brought balloons to school, told her pupils to blow them up and write their name on one. After the children tossed their balloons into the hall, the teacher moved through the hall mixing them all up. The kids were given five minutes to find the balloon with their name on it, but though they searched frantically, no one found their own balloon.

Then the teacher told them to take the balloon closest to them and give it to the person whose name was on it. In less than two minutes, everyone was holding their own balloon.
The teacher said to the children, “These balloons are like happiness. We won’t find it when we’re only searching for our own, but if we care about someone else’s happiness- it will ultimately help us to find our own.”
I have also shared another extract from the demo reel of our forthcoming musical “Theophilus – The Musical.” Actually, we have been asked to put on a hybrid musical/concert version next year so watch this space!

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Blog October 7th “Sophie’s Final Journey”


I have been sharing the story of Sophie’s journey and could not leave it without this most poignant episode.


The featured video and photographs re tell the day so well but I am going to give the final word to Charlotte – Sophie’s amazing mum.


What an incredible day yesterday. I was so worried about it and something not going to plan. I didn’t finish the PowerPoint slide show until 1am of the day of the funeral. Amelia then didn’t sleep very well as she was anxious about things.

Thankfully the day went like clockwork and it was the perfect send off for our beautiful warrior princess. So much time went in to organising everything yesterday and I couldn’t have done it all on my own. I have the best friends around who all helped me organise things when I needed them. I had my trusted spreadsheet helping me work through everything including the invite list which gave me a lot of sleepless nights.

Amelia also decided at the last minute she wanted to do a reading in the church. It was a quick case of finding one she was happy to read and writing it out for her.

The turnout from the village and wider community was truly unbelievable. The horse and carriage was stunning, so fitting for the princess that Sophie was. The horse and carriage came from a company in London who wanted to give it to us free! We put the tiara that Holly Willoughby gave her on top of the coffin. Going past so many of you who took your time out to pay your respects was incredible. It brought me to tears in the car. When Lucy and Amelia joined the horse and carriage for the final bit it was so moving. To see them support their sister is something they won’t forget. Thank you to everyone involved in decorating the village, it looked so full of colour.

The church service was beautiful. The vicar Richard England was incredible, he pitched it just right. Gareth and myself carried Sophie into the church along with two others from the funeral directors. We wanted to take Sophie on her final steps and be by her side. The song by Jo Downs (The Arc of a rainbow) played when we entered and it was so perfect. Lucy was in tears from arriving at the church and I had put her first to speak but then I was worried about if she could do it after seeing her so upset. She wiped away her tears stood up and shared her words in front of a few hundred people. That takes some strength at 15 and I’m so proud of her. Amelia then stood up and said her words which was perfect and she spoke so well. Again a really difficult thing to do for your sisters funeral. Sophie would’ve loved it that they both did this for her.

Richard then read out the eulogy which I wrote and he delivered it so well. Then Lorraine Phillips (Executive Head teacher) of Sophie’s school shared lots of memories which was really touching. I then had my piece to share. When Richard said it would be a good idea for someone to talk about the last year of Sophie’s life and legacy I just knew it had to be me. It’s been my journey with Sophie and I knew it was going to be hard but I had to do it.

Even through my practice runs I cried reading it I kept saying I just need to do it. Sophie hated my crying and would often tell me to calm down and pull myself together. I think Sophie gave me the strength to get through it as I wanted to do her story justice.

We had a beautiful montage of photos along with music which was put together by Dan (a colleague of my sister in law).

Our friend Andy Vaughan read a beautiful poem we found about passing over. Everything was just perfect.

The immediate family then headed to Portchester crematorium and on the way Fareham Fire Station had pulled out the trucks and stood out to pay their respects, a beautiful tribute.

After the crematorium we headed back to The Crofton Club for the wake. We had lots of children’s activities arranged as I didn’t want them to feel it was a sad and sombre day – that was never Sophie. My friend Kayrn organised so many things (huge thanks). We had the extremely talented man ( The Bowtie Balloon Guy) making balloons for all the children and adults, he gave his time up for free and I would definitely recommend him. We had arts and craft activities provided by The Creation Station Hampshire Fareham. We had cinnamon swirls provided for free by Sainsbury’s in Fareham thanks to Teresa Panks. Rainbow cookies were made by For Bakes Sake UK which tasted delicious.

The food was provided by Wright Choice Catering and tasted delicious. A huge thank you to Neon & Blush Weddings and Events who provided all the balloons in the church and in the Crofton Club. She’s absolutely incredible as this is the fourth event she’s given up her time for free for us – if you ever need balloons Claire is your lady! Thank you so much to Jo from Driftwood and Daisies Florist and Flower School who did all the flowers for the funeral as well as the table displays at the club, they were stunning and it’s great to support a local business.

So many people attended the wake and I’m sorry I couldn’t see you all. Quite a few I missed even those that came such a long way, we really do appreciate the effort people put in to attending and giving Sophie the best send off possible. She even gave us so many rainbows yesterday morning which was so fitting. I’m just glad it didn’t rain when the horse and carriage went through the village.

We couldn’t have asked for anymore. I’m so pleased we gave Sophie the send off she deserved. The funeral directors Co-op Funeralcare in the village went above and beyond. I would like to particularly praise Grace who from start to finish was so professional, caring and thought of everything. She’s only 23 and took so much care of Sophie from when she arrived at our house to take Sophie to Naomi House right through to the very end.

It’s now the hardest time for us as things settle back to normal, people carry on with their lives and we have to adjust to living without Sophie. It definitely will be the hardest part especially when I get reminders that I only have two living children now. I logged on to get some more medication for Amelia and noticed I only have Lucy and Amelia as my children attached to my name. It would’ve been nice to have had a phone call or letter from the surgery but nothing, not even to see how Gareth or myself are. It was lovely seeing the Stubbington doctor surgery all stood outside when we passed yesterday and they had a huge balloon rainbow arch outside (these are not our doctors!).

You can still watch the full service on the Holy Rood Church Facebook page if you didn’t catch it yesterday. I will also post a video of the horse and carriage which is just stunning.


Thank you so much for what has been the most difficult times of our lives. We really felt the community spirit and support yesterday and we’ll never forget that.


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Blog October 1st “Sophie’s Journey Continues”

Sophie and Charlotte Fairall

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled – featuring Ben Morris from the album “Risen! The Musical” recorded and produced by Joffy Girling

I have been sharing the story of Sophie’s journey and wish to do so again via this video to tell the story of how her horrible illness and tragic death have inspired so many, many people and have raised the awareness of the underfunding of childhood cancer.

I also have to share this video with you – it really does exemplify the impact that Sophie had – I have never heard of a professional football match being stopped (after ten minutes – Sophie’ age) to allow everyone, and I mean everyone, players, coaches and fans from both teams to join together with a minute’s round of applause.

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