Valerie Vaz: From green benches to green fingers
This article is from the July 2013 issue of Total Politics
My biographical details usually state that one of my hobbies is gardening – it is, but I have had little time to pursue it since being elected in May 2010. Unfortunately, the same can also be said for my interest in music and playing the piano.
Before being elected, I started to retake my ABRSM grades and hoped to get to Grade 8 piano, but now find myself stuck at Grade 5. To progress requires jumping the hurdle of the Grade 5 music theory exam. Similar to New Year’s resolutions to do more exercise and eat less chocolate, this is great in theory but difficult to execute – perhaps if I enter myself for the exam I’ll be able to keep to the September deadline. Meanwhile, the occasional practise session reverts back to old standbys, pieces learnt – but clearly not perfected – as I strive to eliminate those stubborn errors. This has its consolations; playing music is so evocative of mood and memory, and I’m often drawn back to my mother’s singing, playing and teaching. Playing the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata from memory may be a cliché to a professional or a music buff, but to someone of my standard, still trying to improve, it’s a memorable milestone and a joy to play.
Relearning the Carole King and James Taylor songbooks is proving just as difficult. Who’d have thought three-minute songs that are burnt into the memory would also be problematic? – although, my rendition of You’ve got a Friend often finds our cat sharing the piano stool with me, so it can’t be that bad. All this sounds as though I practise regularly, but I’m still trying to find a rhythm to parliamentary and constituency work that will give me some hobby time as well.
It was the sight of the cherry trees in bloom that inspired me to buy some seedlings to plant; tomato plants and chilli peppers in the sunny spot. Elsewhere, beans, courgettes and aubergines are in the ground and the lavender, after its hard prune, promises a good crop, which will be dried and made into lavender bags. But here’s the confession: last year’s dried lavender still hangs waiting to be heated in the oven and pounded. Last year, the peony I planted didn’t thrive. This year, however, it’s emerged with strong growth and beautiful flowers (see picture).
Walsall has an arboretum, but this summer I’m hoping to use my National Trust membership to visit houses and gardens within striking distance; Wightwick Manor and gardens and Benthall Hall look promising.
Finally, taking advantage of being in central London on a weekday evening, I hope I won’t be tempting fate by standing in the open-air yard at the Globe Theatre for The Tempest. It stars the excellent Roger Allam (an eerily good chief whip in The Politician’s Husband, and lately of The Thick of It) as Prospero and Colin ‘Merlin’ Morgan as Ariel.