This seems as good a time as any to get back to the blog after Christmas and New Year, a chance to take stock of various things, an opportunity to panic at the realisation that I have eaten far, far too much over the festive period, and also to confess that the day before yesterday I found some written and addressed Christmas cards tucked into the back of one of my notebooks. Apologies, therefore, if you failed to receive one this year and were on the nice list.

That nagging feeling at the back of my mind that the next few months will fly by in a blur of watching nothing in particular on the television while eating Chocolate Coated Sugar Bombs in my pyjamas has had me out of bed at a very early hour over the past few days, trying to burn off some of those extra calories before settling down to a solid morning of work. Those starts have finally caught up with me today, so I am a little late at my desk, but I think that this is potentially a good habit that I can form if I stick at it.

The resulting progress on the first draft of the orchestration for the Cantata of Saint Dunstan has been a happy result of my self-imposed discipline, and I am telling myself not to get too worried about the details at this stage given that I have more than enough time for a second and third sweep through the writing and some tidying up as well. Progress in terms of pure writing has been less evident, but I do need to prioritise the tasks that are on my desk.

I have also had some time for other endeavours, and spent the New Year in Malvern breathing in the Elgarian air and wandering around the town that he knew so well. As we drove back down the M5 and stopped at the award-winning service station there I also managed to breathe in the air of my youth, times in Cheltenham and Gloucester and round about, and that poem of F. W. Harvey, written so far away from home and in such desperate times and set so wonderfully by Ivor Gurney would not leave my head.

Harvey and Gurney both went to the school that I later attended, and the former’s words and latter’s music capture the essence of that landscape in a way that possibly only those born and bred in that area can understand –

I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
To see above the Severn plain,
Unscabbarded against the sky,
The blue high blade of Cotswold lie;
The giant clouds go royally
By jagged Malvern with a train
Of shadows. Where the land is low
Like a huge imprisoning O
I hear a heart that’s sound and high,
I hear the heart within me cry:
‘I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain!
My hills again!’