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“no strings”

July 30, 2017

Something remarkable happened yesterday …

small person has the capacity to engender love, to inspire kindness and, seemingly, to touch people. She has also been known to drive people (me) to drink and to cause me to have to leave the room to avoid bursting with frustration, but mainly she inspires.

She went to piano summer school last week, she played alongside other 5 – 17 year olds on beautiful Steinway pianos, she watched a harpsichord player and worked on composition. It was formal, it was structured and she loved it, identifying strongly as a musician, as a pianist. Yet while we were there she fell even further in love with another instrument.

The violin.

At the end of term, the school music teacher took a violin into her classroom, the children tried it out and listened to its sounds. She came home and demanded that she start lessons in September, and has since ‘played’ the violin on everything from chopsticks to leafy twigs picked up in the garden. At summer school, several wonderful violinists accompanied children on various pieces.

So anyway, after piano summer school we had a night’s sleep, woke up and put our festival clothes on and headed to a joyful and very different musical event. The Cambridge Folk Festival.

She clog danced, she had her face painted, she played with other children, she sat on my shoulders and clapped along with Ward Thomas, with Sharon Shannon and other bands and she watched fascinated as lovely Les, The Hairy Growler, made exquisite jewellery from old coins and spoons. Beautiful Clare and Julie from Medusa Silver Jewellery gave her a pretty daisy chain ring in exchange for washing up services provided. We laughed and we got very muddy. She also kept on and on about going to ‘buy’ a violin. The folk festival has an area where instrument makers display their wares, beautiful hand made guitars, polished and painted violins, penny whistles and so on. Small person had spotted the violin makers stall and was determined to buy a violin.

On the second day, the second drizzly wet day, she’d finished supervising activities on the jewellery stalls and had counted out her money (£1.83 in her pink and silver poodle dog bag), she decided that before heading to the children’s zone she was going to buy her violin. She knew exactly where she was headed as we weaved past the flow of people with pints, with garlands, with hats of all ilks. I was tired, distracted and wearing a bin liner to keep the rain off, I had a tummy ache and was feeling abit out of sorts. We got to the stall and I said rather vaguely to the woman who was sitting there that she wanted to buy a violin, I kind of nodded in a ‘please humour her, we don’t have any money’ kind of way, and small person opened her dog bag. “I have money”, she announced dropping penny pieces in the grass, “I like that one”, she pointed at a beautiful hand painted violin, one which had a little sign saying £2,500 infront of it. “Don’t touch anything”, I muttered, wondering how to distract her and get her away before she realised there was no way we could afford a violin.

“I have the perfect thing”, the quiet man who had been sitting eating lunch out of a little cardboard take away box stood up and took a beautiful small violin from the display. Panic set in, we really didn’t have any money to spend and really she learns the piano, violin might happen next year, but struggling to make ends meet already, it might be the year after. “Oh no ….”, I said anxiously. Small person, however, walked over to him with a fitful of coins, beaming. He smiled, “It’s not one I’ve made, but I reconditioned it, it’s a half size, so a bit big for now, she really needs a quarter size one, but she can grow into it”, “Yes Muma, I’ll grow into it … I have money to buy it”.

Me, “Oh! no, it’s lovely but …. ”

Violin man, “No strings, if you know what I mean, I don’t want anything”

Small person, “No strings?!!! Does it have a bow?”

Violin man, “yes it has strings, and a bow”.

Small person advanced on him with her money. He counted out a few coins and then said he had to give her change. The change was counted back into the dog bag, the violin was zipped into a proper, lovely hard violin case, and the deal was done.

Small person glowed with pride and happiness. I stood there mouth opening and closing like a cod fish and burst into tears. Things like this don’t happen, not really, you read about them on viral facebook posts … but they do, it just did!

I protested vaguely and sobbed, the man said there really were no strings, he wanted her to have the violin, she would love it and if she stopped loving it, we were to give it to someone that would. Small person just stood there clutching the violin in its case and gave me a, “why are you crying Muma, I just bought it with the money I’d saved up” kind of look.

We left, walked out into the, by then, torrential rain, and went to the children’s area. She showed them her new violin and headed off to play in the ball pit. I went and had a Guinness, and continued to cry, tears mixing with rain, adding to the general bin baggy state of me. I picked her up an hour later and we went and had something to eat, she showed our friends her violin, she played it, and she packed it all away. We waded through the mud back to the jewellery quarter and again she solemnly unpacked the violin, telling the people there she saved up and bought it, but that the nice man had helped and given it to her as a very good deal.

We came home, she ran into her very precious Granby and very carefully unpacked the bow and the violin on her bed, “Look Granby, look at my violin, I bought it, Muma said I hadn’t saved up enough, but I had, LOOK, it’s a bit big, he said I have to grow into it, and I will, and AND it has strings, AND A BOW”.

I had to walk away again and compose myself.


“look at my violin Granby, I bought it with my own money”


“I’ll grow into it”

Tim Phillips, Violin Maker, has to be quite possibly one of the loveliest people on the planet. This act of kindness, this gentle, generous unexpected act, is quite the loveliest thing that has happened to us, and at a time when the world seems more absorbed in itself than ever, at a time for us when we’re really up against it financially and emotionally … this act of kindness has made me glow, has made my daughter so so happy and has reaffirmed my love for people.

Mr Tim Phillips, violin maker and extraordinary man, if you ever read this, THANK YOU … thank you so so much for your gracious kindness. May you sell violins far and wide, may the tunes they play reach around the world, and may the love you’ve sent out into the world come right back to you many times over. Thank you.


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2017 2:56 am


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