Jane Austin

Author of Renegade and News From Nowhere

I take part in a zoom with half a dozen old school friends, a habit that started during lockdown. This month we covered everything from clean air zones, the trials of poor internet, the challenge of playing violin in a Bartok piece, and the joys of being in a choir.

This is where I came into my own, having just joined London City Voices, a community choir at St Mary’s-at-Hill in Lovat Lane, a cobbled street off Eastcheap, a church with a stunning Christopher Wren interior. What is so special about raising your voice to the rafters, even from the back row of the second altos? Making a wonderful sound together reverberates through body and soul, in a collective endeavour that seems greater than the sum of its parts. The director writes arrangements that allow each singing part to have a go at the tune, in a noughties repertoire including Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You. And what fabulous acoustics in this beautiful church, with its Corinthian columns, Venetian window and central coffered dome. Next stop Hackney Empire for our April concert!

After rehearsal we go for a drink and singsong at nearby Traitors Gate pub, where I met Lorna, who lives in a flat in the Tower of London. Her husband is a Beefeater and his job is to protect the king, she explained, and it’s been a busy time, what with the queen’s funeral and the upcoming coronation. How magical, when a chance encounter opens doors to other people’s worlds.

We’ve just had the first meeting of the East London Book group; we didn’t all know each other, so this was a purely social gathering. We soon shared snippets from our own lives and experiences, made connections and exchanged ideas. Some of us swear by reading on a digital device (sometimes under the duvet), while others prefer holding a book and turning the pages. We agreed that a book group can introduce you to reading something you might never pick up, and even if you don’t like it, it’s stretching to hear others’ views. It’s easy to read one book after another and quickly forget what you’ve read and even mislay the title! Giving time to talk about a book keeps it firmly in place and is something to draw on later. In February we’re reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s, Klara and the Sun. After our first promising meeting, I feel sure we’ll all be buzzing over a glass of wine and discussing the book, the meaning of life and everything!