Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Fear borne of blank sheet

Have got a bad case of artist's block.  It has been so long since I got out my watercolours I can't think what to paint.  Quite fancy sticking to the Faerie theme but am looking for ideas. HELP.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mumblings and ramblings

One of the joys of teaching is what you learn on the way.  Throughout the process of planning my storytelling project I have turned over many interesting stones and found such wonders underneath.  In turn the children are beginning to turn over stones of their own, piquing interest and finding out new things.  I had no idea the urban legend of The Slender Man has his roots in Native American mythology.  To be honest I had no idea who Slender Man was until one of the children in my class set off on her trail.

In addition to my own I have been helped along the way by the lovely Terri Windling, Anthropomorphica and also (inadvertently) by Rima at the Hermitage.  I had chosen shape shifting as a theme, which led some of the children to Beauty and the Beast and the Frog Prince.  The theme is a strong one and there is a shapeshifting tradition in nearly all myth and legend.  It would seem that the human spirit has an inherent need for an animal totem and a wish to change it's skin for something wild.

Some times these shifts are the realm of evil spirits: in Native American mythology shapeshifters are not to be spoken of for fear of attracting their interest.  They are the embodiment of all that is dangerous.  In Icealnadic to Scottish lore the Selkies are mer-folk, magical, special and wild.  In Greek legend the gods chose many animal forms for their congress with man; each anima different and with its own consequences.  The persistence of belief is such that men still believe that witches will change their form, witches as hares, the devil as familiar.
               three interlinked hares

I intend to continue on the collections of stories, long after the children have finished their stories and left school.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

At the greening of the day

Today I have had a play with Tim's new camera.  Our last Lumix pocket camera was wonderful for walks, small, compact and with a fantastic lens.  However it was subject to a range of unfortunate events that sadly heralded it's demise.  We have two very good 35mm cameras but they are heavy and really not that practical on long walks, unless photography is the purpose of the expedition.

After a scan through Ebay, Tim found and bought a second hand compact.  It doesn't quite have the spec of the other but is acceptable as a replacement.  It needs a little different approach to zoom and close up, not being quite as versatile.  Needless to say a number of photos have ended up in the virtual bin.

First up was a walk.  We took a stroll through my favourite ancient wood, Ploughman's Wood, which is ever changing with the seasons, the coppicing and the light.
The Bluebells were on the verge of being over,  we were too late for the Anemones.  However the Wild Garlic was burgeoning and there was Ragged Robin and Queen Anne's Lace.

The bottom of this tree sported a double Bracket.

Every now and then the light was magical.

Some trees hide secrets.

Because this is a managed nature reserve, the paths are maintained to prevent erosion.  My boys  love the walk and chose the route they like the best.

Photographing the photographer.

Along the path the wood is being developed to return to it's native strengths. Oak, Alder and Ash are being encouraged and given the space to thrive and grow.

Framing the green with trunks straight and true.
Once we had returned I turned the eye of the lens on our garden.  I am not a gardener, I am a bodger of the first order.  I have very little time for intensive cottage gardening so we have a rather wild and weeded patch.  However I insist that weeds are not weeds if you love them and want them for the bees, moths and butterflies.  By now I had worked out how to get close up photographs.  Still not completely successful but definitely better.
Euphorbia and Grape Hyacinth, nestled amongst Wild Garlic and Herb Robert (also known as Bishops Wort , it is meant to relieve gout).

White Granny's Bonnet and Bluebells in front of the Coal Shed door.

The bench behind another Aquilegia is a good one for watching our resident pipistrelle bat, and  the tawny owl if you are really lucky.

False Comfrey; brought to England by the Romans and used to dye cloth.  Rampant, invasive and annoyingly bristly.  It is loved by the bees so I tolerate it, though little legs of small visitors object.

My peony, about the only cultivated plant I have any great success with.  I love the blousy redness and overblown sensuality of this flower.

The delicate bloom of the quince flower.

Tiny wild strawberries, hiding under the edge of the mock orange.

We live in Nottingham, a Bramley is a must.

California Poppies, thse have survived the cold winds as they are hidden in  the base of a rosemary bush.

My pretence at a herbacious border, this bed has a cornucopia of weeds, self seeded flowers and very neglected roses.  I love it.

Vinca, Ivy and Holly, Blackthorn and Hawthorn, it is a mixed hedge that provides refuge for insect and bird life.  We have a cat and I prefer not to encourage his predations.  He struggles to reach the birds in here and they know it.

Just outside the Dining room window is a Wisteria Alba, it smells heavenly but is a pain as it  rips into next doors fence.  We are considering training, which makes it sound like a badly behaved pet.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Help wanted, to find a new skin

Last year my class created work that we published in a book (bless Blurb for making this possible).  I have ambitions to do the same thing over the coming Summer term.  The grand scheme is to take the tradition of oral storytelling, teach the children how stories are heard, remembered and retold.  They will then read, retell and then write up their own versions.  This will form the basis for the book.  I want them to understand the process from idea to published form, taking on board how authors work, how editors work and what it takes to plan, layout and design the finished product.
Image from
Now here's the rub: storytelling covers such a huge breadth, geography and theme that we could become overwhelmed by the choice of story.  However rambling through the wealth of creative work out in cyberspace, visiting haunts that I love gave me inspiration.  Much thanks to the spark lit by Anthropomorphca's latest doll; by a character from Cornelia Funke's Mirror world and by my favourite books of the moment: East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Crane Wife.  Shape-shifters.  I plan to introduce the children to a range of stories from around the world, Anansi, the selkies, The Magic Bird, wolfskins, bearskins.  We can learn versions, retell versions, paint, draw and model characters, then imagine and tell our own versions.
evolution story telling Storytelling In Abundance
From the Dare website, 

I need a list of stories.  I have started compiling the ones I know of but would be very grateful for additions. particularly from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.  Any ideas or sources would be gratefully received so that I can put together a pack for the class to kickstart their ideas.  Leave on the comments below, tweet or e-mail me.  Thank you in advance

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Dance under the surf

the sea took her for a partner, turning and twisting in the perpetual dance.

Year after year the sea and her denizens danced with the skeleton girl .  Year after year the skeleton girl danced up to the surface of the moon lined sea, to stretch her arms out and stir the surf with her bony fingers.  

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Singing of bones

There, whilst the young man slumbered on, a formal dance began.  As if removing veil upon veil the skeleton shed the fishing net.  Gently dropping it to the floor, the ivory white toe bones kicked the now shapeless net under the fisherman's chair. Then the slender form twisted and stretched herself upwards, each movement accompanied by soft clicks as the bones realigned themselves.  Moonlight continued to steal through the cracks, illuminating and reflecting off the sea washed ribs, vertebrae, skull.  Fully upright now, she stood still, waiting.
Moment upon moment passed and still the skeleton did not move.  Behind her the young man shifted uneasily and nestled himself into his dreams, his hands pulling his coat to hold in the warmth.  Outside the hut , the North West Wind blew around the brick, under the door, down the chimney and through the cracks.  He came to return the stolen voice, which he had kept to himself all these years.  The skeleton woman held out her hands, fingers cupped, and received the voice that had been stolen from her.  She threw the curling sound into the air, tilted back her skull and swallowed in the song.
From that moment the bones began to sing and as they sang they danced to the music that they whispered into the quiet of the fisherman's hut.  The bones sang of the making of flesh;  they sang of sinew and muscle; they sang of nerve and vessel and the blood that coursed hot through a living body.  The skeleton danced and as she danced her hands wove the shape of womb and belly; shaped the heart and sketched out the skin to cover it all.  The song and the dance knitted together  the body that had been lost, until all that the sea had stolen was returned.  Now a fully fleshed woman stood in the centre of the fisherman's hut.  The song was silent and the figure was unmoving, her face tilted upward.   Still the North West Wind stole around inside the hut.  Finally he swirled up around the figure of the woman until he reached her lips; he kissed the cold mouth and in doing so passed back the living breath he had taken from her all those years ago.
With a gurgling, gasping intake the woman sobbed in air for the first time in a century.  At this sound the fisherman started and woke.  He could not credit the sight before his eyes for there (in the centre of his wooden floor) was the crumpled heap.  Not of the bones he was dreading but of warm flesh and blood.  Without questioning the changes he took his coat and laid it gently over the weeping woman before him.  Knowing it was not a time for words, he went and fetched what water and bread he had and put it onto the rough wooden table.  Gently lifting the woman by the arm, he led her to the chair and gestured towards the food.  Then he quietly backed out of the hut, understanding that he was an intruder in a moment of rebirth.

What of the aftermath?  The fisherman  continued to take out the boat every day, realising that his strange visitor would need to learn her life again and that the best way to do that was in solitude.  He brought her wild flowers, to brighten the hut; he brought her cloth to sew into clothes and food to strengthen her body.  He told her of the brightening skies, silver seas and the journeys of the seabirds.  To him she returned only a smile.  Until one day, returning with a rich catch, he burst into the hut only to find it empty.  Sadly he searched the room for signs of her, hints that she had not left only slipped out for a while.  But there was nothing of her left but a scent in the air.  For she had given her heart and lost her voice and breath once and would not do so again. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Landing the catching

After a few minutes more he felt the boat twitch along the tiller.  Underneath his feet there was the rhythmic knocking of something tapping against the keel with each wavelet.  Fearing that the net was caught on something and about to drag his craft over he started to haul in the net.  Imagine his surprise when he found the weight of the net was that of a full one.  He hauled and pulled and heaved, each time hearing the tap-tap-tapping, like the sound of wood on drum.  Finally with one almighty pull his net slid out of the water and flopped onto the bottom of his boat.  The young man peered eagerly forwards to see what marvel he had caught, only to fall backwards with a scream ripping from his throat.  For there, in the knots of the net , grasped the bony fingers of a skeleton hand.
Tangled rope, knotted fingers, toe bones that gripped and clutched at frayed ends and caught under the ribs a single red glass buoy that mocked at the missing heart.  With a despairing wail, the young man pushed the net with his feet, trying to send the horrible catch back into the sea.   The rowlocks caught between the forearms, the net turned and twisted over, catching on the splinters.  The young man grasped at the tiller of his boat, hoping against hope that he could sail against the tide;  that by sailing the surf he would shake off the horror he had brought up from the bay.  Matching the clouds pace for pace, the young man took his boat around the cove and into harbour.  Matching the boat wave for wave, the net and its cargo followed behind, one arm caught  onto the side with a grip that would not let go.
Mervyn Peake, Nightmare Life in Death, Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Beaching the boat and dragging it up the stony beach made the net and catch bounce and rattle out a rhythm to match each heave.  The fisherman realised that he had landed a fish that would not go back to the sea.  With a softly expelled sigh the young man took up the net and teased each snag off the boat.  He pitched the net onto his back, skeleton and all, before heading wearily back to his cottage at the edge of the village.
The fisherman shouldered open the door, half stepping and half falling into the single room that served as kitchen and bedroom.   He flung the net away from him, onto the stone floor, barely hearing the hollow thump made by the falling bones.  Using the light from the moon, he found some stubs of candle and that would provide him with light.  Once lit he slumped into his chair, regarding the shadow on the floor that was net and cargo.  Slowly his head drooped and his eyes closed.  The young man drifted into an uneasy sleep; the last thought in his mind was how to untangle his only net.  Finally the candles guttered out, the breast of the fisherman rose and fell in tune with his dreams, dreams that were to be unlike any he had encountered before.
Deep, deep in his slumber, the young man twitched and turned as he was pulled by the strings of his dreams.  Deep, deep in the netting, the bones twitched and turned in the half light that slipped between the shutters that held back the moon outside.  If there were eyes to see and mouths to report,  they would have told how bony fingers unknotted the strings that bound them.  Inch by inch the hands pushed aside loops of cord, as if slowly undressing itself from a dress of holes.