How to shine…
“Talk to Chandra, my next door neighbour. Not only has she had a very interesting life but you’ll be amazed at what she does…”
This was part of a conversation Laura Lock and I had sometime in April this year. As is the nature of such conversations, one thing led to another until I eventually found myself knocking on Chandra’s door. I was welcomed into room whose principal occupant was a handsome baby grand piano. The musical notes such instruments produce appeared to have flown through the lid and on to the surrounding wall of Chandra’s music room where each appeared to jostle for supremacy on their individual notated sheets. As it transpired, they represent an important part of Chandra’s life and how they came to be attached to the wall is part of the record of how Chandra came to be where she is now.
Born in Ipswich during the nineteen fifties, Chandra started life on Ipswich’s busy Bramford Road, with family members close to hand. Her Grandfather worked in a local Garage as a Blacksmith.
“We used to go and watch him making various objects. We would watch the hammer bounce as he hit the metal with it. No one bothered about health and safety at the time and we would walk around in bare feet.”
Before the A14 By-pass was built the road was one of many leading into the town centre, running parallel to the Norwich Road. Chandra’s first school was Bramford Road Primary School next to Bramford Road Methodist Church and then the nearby Springfield Junior school on Kitchener Road. This was conveniently placed but around about the time secondary school beckoned, her family moved to Westerfield Road. The long deceased Tower Ramparts should have been Chandra’s next educational destination but for several reasons, she put down her young foot and refused to go to it. But school is a place you more or less have attend, regardless of your personal wishes and it fell to her parents to identify an alternative. They chose a small private school, Fonnereau House School; the students numbered seventy or eighty girls, it was conveniently close home and the walk to school went across Christchurch Park. The school didn’t have any grounds of its own, just gritty hard surfaces which might otherwise have been gardens. Games lessons, or rather, Hockey lessons, had to take place in the park. School came and went and Chandra left after taking her G.C.E. exams, uncertain of what she wanted to do. Her mother used André Bernard’s Hairdressing Salon and suggested a Hairdressing apprenticeship would be a good move and this was where Chandra started her employment career for the next two or three years. Working with a wide range of clients enabled learning on two fronts. Firstly, the immensely practical and always desirable skill of cutting hair. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the social skills required to make customers welcome and at their ease.
But clearly, Chandra is not a hairdresser today, other than exercising her skills in the domestic sphere. What happened next was marriage and children and a move away from her Suffolk home to Leicestershire, although the change of scene was not for long, partly because she missed her family. A newsagent’s business in Manningtree was a much closer option and this is where she and her family lived next although again, not for long. The newsagent’s business expanded and a third move to Capel St. Mary followed alongside the opening of two news agents shops in Ipswich.
Next came a move to Springfield Road, in Chelmsford[ii] and this is where Chandra’s career began to evolve. As her children were slightly older and more independent she took a typing course. This was before the arrival of desktop computers and involved the use of solid, old-fashioned type writers. With the qualifications she gained, Chandra had an opportunity to start working in London. Secretarial work was an obvious opportunity and with a daily commute from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street of about thirty-five or forty minutes, this is where she headed. Her typing skills proved invaluable and as a part-timer, work was flexibility in terms of hours and offices. Her first foray into office work was as a Temporary Secretary at ‘International Distillers and Vintners’, a company who imported wines and spirits from all around the world. Their origins went back to 1857, when Sir Walter Gilbey founded and marketed a gin distillery, although subsequently it became the subject of many mergers. Chandra’s Line Manager was Ann Eastman, the organisation’s Corporate Communications Director, a kind and supportive Boss. The work was surprisingly wide-ranging and included taking items and objects to Photographers for advertising purposes.
Alongside the work in London and caring for children and the home, Chandra was developing another line of interest, or if you prefer, a second string to her bow. This focused upon the musical side of her life, whose origins could be found way back during the early years of her childhood. As a young girl she learnt to play the clarinet almost by default. Her father brought the instrument home and everyone in the family tried to play it but Chandra was the only person who could extract respectable notes from its temperamental single reed. She was sent off to learn how to create even more notes and so began her musical education. Her childhood home had always had a piano and whilst her sister, Carol, benefitted from lessons, Chandra played informally. But significantly, the music lessons she did have, were to spark a life-long interest. During her twenties, she missed having a piano in the house and took the decision to redress this by purchasing an old honky-tonk for very little money. Gradually, as she started to play her dexterity returned and she found herself as a musical student again, but this time, the piano was her instrument of choice. She worked her way through A.B.R.S.M.[iii] until she completed Grade 8, took an A Level in Music at Suffolk College and then moved on to take the A.L.C.M Teacher’s Diploma.[iv] examinations.
Over the years, Chandra’s musical endeavours had not been confined simply to simply gaining qualifications. They were put to good use in 1993 and 1996 when she and her sister produced two musicals they had written together. The first one was ‘Rasputin’ and contained, I believe forty songs.
“We probably went a bit over the top!” was Chandra’s view.
The second was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The musicals involved a twelve piece orchestra and were performed in the Spa Pavilion.
While Chandra pursued her musical studies, her working life continued to progress. As circumstances changed, Chandra moved to Felixstowe, although she maintained the daily commute to London and ‘International Distillers’. Tony, who is now her husband, would take her to the station and then collect her in the evening at 8.00 o’clock. Anyone who has ever caught the 18.30 from Liverpool street will tell you how the train is packed with people tired from a long day’s work and who struggle to keep their eyes open. On more than one occasion Chandra was one of the weary ones who slept through their destination, waking just in time to see the Ipswich Station sign slipping from her sight as the train headed on to Norwich; it’s a regular hazard for the Commuter. The commuter pace continued for ten years and then almost as if she had sleep walked her way there, she discovered herself working in the Legal Department of the late Eastern Electricity Company at Wherstead. The new job was in their legal department and the person who appointed her to the post, was Neville Moss, now a member of the orchestra Chandra also plays in. The work was different and new skills, representative of the times, came to the fore. Some of these included learning how to give presentations, leading people through times of change and also putting together I.T. packages for employees. Delivering presentations wasn’t confined to the Wherstead office; Chandra had to travel to seven or eight European offices to train the staff in situ. With the increased responsibility, came the opportunity to undertake some formal business qualifications for herself by studying part time at Suffolk College and Chandra completed her M.B.A.[v] while working and travelling. The practical result was she moved up the salary scale with an increased understanding of the theoretical side of business life. As the assignments were all based on her workplace, her understanding of the organisation also increased.
Sometime later, Eastern Electricity was taken over by the American company, TXU[vi] It was their decision to move to a new Headquarters in purpose built offices in Ipswich. This building, now known as Endeavour House, was intended to be the company’s flagship office but before the locational transfer could happen, TXU went into administration in 2002. Endeavour House was eventually sold to Suffolk County Council and inevitably, along with all the other TXU staff, Chandra was made redundant. Although this is never a desirable situation for anyone, it created a natural thinking space leading to the thought,
“Do I do what I’ve been doing for twenty years or should I do something different? Perhaps I could teach music.”
Having created a wide ranging backlog of musical experience, Chandra’s confidence and capabilities were robust and her reflections positive. After considering her options, the answer was affirmative. Yes, she would try something new and different.
Leaflets were designed advertising her presence as a music teacher. Once they were printed and distributed, there was no time to sit back to see what would happen. Within fifteen minutes of posting the last flyer, the telephone rang: it was Chandra’s first musical student, Ray Long, and the result was two people embarking on a new venture with two different goals: one to teach, one to learn. There was an enthusiastic market for teaching and by the end of 2003, her first full year, ten students were on her books. Success was celebrated in-house with a small concert for family and friends. The following year there were twenty students and to accommodate the increased numbers, a hall was hired. Every subsequent year the annual concert has grown and even more so when she shared the experience with her sister Carol in 2012 and 2014-15.
Chandra’s musical world has expanded exponentially with present and former students feeding into various orchestras, choirs and bands. The annual concerts have expanded into even larger events. The Thomas Theatre in Kesgrave High just about accommodates everyone and all of Chandra’s students have the opportunity to perform to a wide and eclectic audience. Her own musical engagements continues to expand. She is the musical director to Ipswich Institute’s Birkbeck Singers, plays in a Swing Group and has her own Clarinet Choir. Not only that but she is also the founder and Musical Director of Felixstowe Harmonies. She describes her musical life as ‘all learning together’. Her philosophy is one of sharing and joining in because,
“Most people in the world are united by music.”
About ten years ago, Chandra married her husband Tony and setting aside the obvious happiness of the celebration, it provided her with an opportunity to spread her creative wings by organising a Tudor Wedding at Kentwell Hall. The bride’s dress was an example of a queenly costume worn at the time of Henry the Eighth. Tony was dressed as the King, Chandra made three Tudor bridesmaid’s dresses and all the guests merrily entered into the spirit of the times. The marriage ceremony was followed by a traditional Tudor Banquet. The many small courses were served on pewter platters to those on the top table; those below the salt had to eat off wood. The guests threw themselves into the occasion with gusto and their enthusiasm justified Chandra’s decision to use her sparky imagination to create an exceptional wedding day.
The conversation began to move towards a close but drew fresh breath when Chandra showed me some of her art work. Approximately ten years ago, her daughter Jennifer introduced her to the ancient art of mosaic work, whose provenance goes back to the days of the Byzantine Empire. I was shown a variety of mirrors and pictures produced using mosaic techniques, a skill which Chandra has taken considerable time to perfect. Popularised by Luciana Notturni and based at The Mosaic School in Ravenna, Chandra and Jennifer have attended two courses to learn the immersive designs and techniques. The results are stunning and echo the Italianate style of their origins. Many of the objects have been constructed in her outside studio, home of her oil painting and water-colour work.
Chandra is leading a life she finds fulfilling and which encompasses all the things she wants to do and all the people she loves. The technology has moved on since her days at TXU but her granddaughter Rose, a gifted young dancer, is keeping her up to date with instructions in how to use Snap Chat. Having had an enjoyable working life in a variety of situations, it would be truthful to say she is now maximising everything life has to offer. As she said,
“Someone shines when they are doing exactly what they want to do.”
The mosaic mirror in the Music Room
If you have any comments or would like to be part of this Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
[ii] Chelmsford Prison is situated on the Springfield Road. It was the prison used by the B.B.C. when they filmed ‘Porridge’.
[iii] Associated Board of the Royal School of Music.
[iv] Associate of the London College of Music
[v] Master in Business Administration
[vi] Texas Utilities