Minstrel's Tales

Stories From a Guitar Case

Poem for the Day

Posted: 3 March 2018

Poem for the Day

Entranced, you turn again and over there
It is white also. Rectangular white lawns
For miles, white walls between them. Snow.
You close your eyes. The terrible changes.

White movements in one corner of your room.
Between your hands, the flowers of your quilt
Are stormed. Dark shadows smudge
Their faded, impossible colours, but won’t settle.

You can hear the ice take hold.
Along the street
The yellowed drifts, cleansed by a minutes fall,
Wait to be fouled again. Your final breath
Is in the air, pure white, and moving fast. 

Ian Hamilton

A Snow Haiku

Posted: 3 March 2018


Now surrounding us
The perfect silence of snow
Lies like cold,white thatch.

Bill Adair

22 October; Kochi Street Art

Posted: 28 October 2017

Fort Kochi has a wealth of street art and almost everywhere you turn you see it, from the stark black and white social comments by ‘GUESS WHO’, Kochi’s very own Banksie, to the images of Che Guevara, which seem to be everywhere.

     Not far from my hotel I came across what appeared to be the local branch of the Communist Party of India (CPI). 

     When I was here last year I photographed this wonderful mural. Just as the shutter clicked a passing cyclist came into the frame and made a nice photograph into something very special. Murals don’t seem to last in Kochi as I found out when I visited the same place to find it had been replaced. Quite nice but not as good as last year’s. 


   I have no idea who ‘GUESS WHO’ is; no one has but his/her work shows up all over town and while it has a humorous side it also makes some very serious points. Look out, Banksie, there’s a new kid on the block. 




I was amused when I saw this image of Kerela’s beloved Che, more beloved it would seem than either Ghandi or Mother Teresa, as part of the decoration and advertising of that most 21st century high street capitalist outlet, the coffee shop. Still, it is a far cry from Starbucks. 

A small pictorial guide in and around this wonderful town that is Fort Kochi where there is always something to see.




18/20 October: Our Ladys Convent High School for Girls

Posted: 24 October 2017

If your idea of a nun is a gentle, timid soul who spends her days in quiet meditation think again. And if you have an image of a figure clad in black and white then you couldn’t be further from the truth. At least the truth as in the shape of Sister Lizzy Chakkalakkal from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and who is principal at Our Lady’s Convent High School for Girls.

     Sister Lizzy is, not to put too fine a point on it, a force of nature. When faced with a mountain of problems she doesn’t sing about climbing that mountain. She doesn’t even try to climb it, she just picks up the hem of her colourful sari and bulldozes her way through. 

     I met Sister Lizzy when I went to do some work with the girls at Our Lady’s. As I waited in her office drinking sweet masala tea, I looked as the many trophies won by the school under her guidance and leadership and as I took note of the number of community projects she had inaugurated I began to get a sense of what kind of person this lady was. And I was terrified. I was ten again and waiting outside the headmaster’s office on account of some minor misdemeanour. And as we know when you are ten and waiting to see the headmaster there is no such thing as a minor misdemeanour.

     Suddenly, to my left, there was a blur of bright orange and there, sitting across the desk from me, was a small, slight, bespectacled lady looking as much like a nun as Julie Andrews dressed in curtains. 

     ‘So, Mister Bill, you are a very famous musician.’ It was a clearly a statement, not a question.
     ‘Well hardly,’ I stammered. ‘In fact not at all.’
     ‘No, no, no. You are very famous. I have read your web site. We are very pleased that you have made time to come and visit us at Our Lady’s.’
     ‘Honestly,’ I began, fearing that perhaps there was another ‘Bill Adair’ they were expecting. The real ‘Bill Adair’, maybe, ‘I am not famous. I……..’
     ‘Come,’ said Sister Lizzy, ‘ I will show you the class.’ It was fairly evident that as far as Our Lady’s Convent was concerned I was the famous Bill Adair and you cant really argue with a force of nature.

     I worked with some of the girls at Our Lady’s for two days and it was amazing. It has all been amazing. The children here in all the schools I have visited are so eager to learn and to take part it just lifts your spirit. And nowhere more so than Our Lady’s.

     On my last day at the school Sister Lizzy asked if I could arrive in time for the morning assembly. The school doesn’t have an assembly hall so it is held around the quadrangle with the girls gathered on balconies around the space. Hundreds of them cheering as I walked into the quad. They made me feel like a rock star and I just loved it. I sang ‘Glory of Love’ for the school and then a small group made up from some of the girls I had worked with sang what had come to be known as ‘Ally Bally’. It is at time like these that you realise that you are being given much, much more than you could ever give. 

     Later in her office Sister Lizzie told me about some of the other work she and her order are involved in.
     ‘Many families here have no homes. Poor families, widows, children, they all need a place to call home. That is a fundamental human right.’
     ‘And can you help in some way?’ I asked.
     ‘Oh yes,’ replied this humble little woman with a mischievous smile on her face. 
     ‘What do you do for them?’
     ‘We build them a house. At present we have completed 70 family homes in Kochi.’
     The enormity of what she had just told me took a while to sink in but she went on to explain in a very matter of fact way.
   ‘You just build them a house? You make it sound so easy.’

   ‘It’s not as big a deal as you think. We set up the House Challenge Project and we generate sponsorship from local business people and individuals to pay for a house to be built, then we give it to someone who needs it. Children need to be safe and to have a roof over their heads.’
     ‘And who do they pay rent to?’ I asked.
     ‘No one. The house is theirs. They pay for electricity and water but the house belongs to them.’
     ‘That is truly amazing,’ I said.
     ‘Not really. Anyone can do it if you have the support of people who are willing to share without expecting anything in return.’
     Sister Lizzy then showed me some of the houses they had built and they were beautiful. She went on to tell me that only the very best materials were used without any kind of compromise on quality.
     ‘These are poor people. They cannot afford maintenance and renovation. And they should have the best.’
     Apart from her constant knocking on doors to get support for the project, the last house was built with a single donation from a retired banker, Sister Lizzy, the other nuns, her staff and some of the older girls all take part in what they call the Birthday Fund where they donate the money which would be spent on celebrations or presents. Force of nature doesn’t even come close to describing this little woman.

     Her school currently has 2800 attending and the school is in desperate need to update and replace 30 computers and a printer in the school’s IT suite.
     ‘It’s in God’s hands,’ she says, ‘ and he will provide us with what we need. I have seen him working in the school many times. In the young girl who needed a sponsor for her higher studies; in the builder who called to donate cement we needed for the construction of a house which almost failed because of a shortage; in the group of young people who came to offer their services, working in any way they could. God is always here. Maybe that is why you are here. Maybe he sent you to us.’ I couldn’t be sure but I am pretty certain that she winked at me. 
     I am a big foggy about that kind of thing but I am in no doubt at all that as long as Sister Lizzy and her team are at Our Lady’s Convent High School, things will happen, work will get done and not just for the school, but for the whole of that community.

   Later on I did some more work with about 40 of the girls and we recorded and videoed a few songs which was terrific. I am constantly amazed at the way the children here just embrace singing. I thought such an enthusiastic choir deserved a name and so I asked the girls to suggest some. Quite a few names were proposed before we all eventually decided on ‘Angel Voices of Peace’. Perfect. Look out for their video on my Facebook page.



17 October; Armavathy Lower Primary School

Posted: 22 October 2017

Armavathy is in one of the poorest areas of Kochi and yet as soon as you step foot into its primary school you know that you are in a very special place. 

      Poverty is an acute problem in India. It is an inescapable fact that greets you everywhere you go. It is the way it is, the way it has always been and, according to some, the way it will always be. Some will say that India is this way because it is still shackled to a colonial bureaucracy and it suits politicians and officials to remain within its corruption and red-tape.  

     There are many who will tell you that they believe India is a kleptocracy, governed for seventy years by those who would maintain, and add to, the oppressive laws imposed by the British, in order to satisfy their own greed and exploit the natural resources at the expense of the poor. In ‘The Hindu’ it was reported that a huge majority of the people, and in particular the youth, are of the opinion that the rules and administrative systems, established by years of British rule and which were there to keep the country in order and in a state of slavery, are still there and that the laws enacted since partition are of the same kind, there only to strengthen this slavery and decrease individual freedom. As it was put to me in one conversation, ‘The police are here only for the poor. They don’t touch the rich and influential.’

     The World Bank recently stated that by any measure of human development India has the poorest indicators of social growth compared to most other developing countries and yet, in the same report, it says that it has the fastest growing economy anywhere in the world, a statement which is both true yet difficult to believe. Some say that the India’s failures to deal with these problems lie in its past with its history of invasion and dominance by other nations. Some lay the blame at the feet of religion  and culture, citing its caste system as fatalistic while some even say the climate is to blame as it has sapped the will of the people, leaving them no energy for anything other than acceptance. 

     Within all of this uncertainty and corruption you find places like Armavathy Lower Primary School where, for at least a few hours, children can find a haven from the dangers of the street and relax and just be children. 

     Armavathy caters for both boys and girls of all abilities and handicaps. I worked with a class of eleven year olds whose enthusiasm to learn and share was intoxicating. You have to ask yourself what these young people could achieve if given any of the advantages we have in the west instead of it being squandered by generations who fail to appreciate the value of what they have.

     Singing a few songs will not make things better for these children but when you look at the joy on the face of someone like Sandrima, a young girl whose body has been ravaged and twisted by cerebral palsy or you listen very closely and hear Joseph, so shy and backward and afraid that he can’t even look at his classmates, quietly singing to himself, you hope and pray that as India emerges as a leading economic power that somewhere within that growth there will be politicians and officials who will fight to put an end to this kind of poverty.


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