Sunday, September 29

Nurse Deirdre

The story is set on a hospital train in a war. So the kids were fascinated to hear nurse Deirdre's stories of caring for the wounded in a war situation. She is from Northern Ireland, a Catholic, and told them how she once had to nurse a well known Unionist terrorist who would have been quite happy to see Catholics like her blown up - and had tried to do it.

You can see from the picture how absorbed the kids were.

It challenged them to consider the fact that Deirdre, trained to heal, was willing to nurse someone who was very much "the enemy" to her own side.  Children do understand in a practical sense that you sometimes have a conflict of loyalties, and it is good for them to get the chance to discuss such things.

They were, of course, very interested in the idea of nursing.  They could have sat there all day asking her their medical questions.  "Have you ever nursed one of those babies that's really two babies joined together?"  "Have you ever chopped anyone's arm off by yourself?" etc.  Some, like Frankie, whose mum is a nurse, were very proud to realise what good work nurses do.

Deirdre works at UCL Medical School, taking medical students into "hands on" situations like emergency rooms and ICUs.   She liked being with the kids, and said it was as much fun for her as it obviously was for them.

When it came to writing, they were absolutely inspired.

And they did some wonderful writing!

...which delighted Vanessa and me.

Wednesday, September 18

The Naming of the Fleas

The kids knew that the secret was something to do with pets. I thought they wouldn't be able to guess what kind of pets Mabel had. But in the end, Timothy guessed that they were fleas.  Mabel's pets are so tiny and quiet that they can all be kept secretly in her sewing box. Of course, she's not supposed to have them at all, and we did make it clear that fleas and hospitals don't normally mix.  But these are very anthropomorphic fleas, who are a bit like children with 6 limbs.  And they eat leftovers of normal food, rather than suck peoples'  blood.

The group was restless because there were only a few of them and the workshop was held in the hall, which was unusual, and without a teacher present, and with me there too, so in fact it was all a bit unusual.     Still, Vanessa kept control. She did a series of exercises to help them identify how people have different personalities from each other, and together they made up names and personalities for all five fleas.  

They are: Scary Simon, Brainy Barbara, Lazy Lara, Lively Lola and Bossy Benjy.  More of them, later.

It was warm and sunny in the hall, and directly outside the window was the relatively new chilllout garden and studio. The garden was built on an unpromising little corner of the school grounds not long ago.  I love its clever planting and inviting layout, and the studio room is clean and simple, very good for kids who are stressed.. 

Some of the children do get stressed. They have difficult lives, and several have in fact fled from war zones, which is one reason we need to be careful about how we present the idea of war.

Friday, September 13

Frank and the Old Days

Here's Frank, you can just see his pencil at the bottom of the picture because he's been doing some drawing.

He's done three background pictures so far, and is now researching what fleas look like.

Since Mabel went to Boutcher School, Bermondsey, like our kids, his pictures so far include the Alaska Building, the old factory that's very near the school.  

And here's a picture of the school itself,  shortly after it was founded by Mr. Boutcher.  It doesn't look so very different now, although the parents don't wear top hats and long dresses, obviously.

And a large tree or two has grown up, and they've knocked down the wall on the right, which I think might have enclosed what was originally the schoolmaster's house. 

Tuesday, September 10

Day 1, 9 September 2013. Finally, we get into school.....

After all the thought and preparation, we went into school for the first time today.  For me, it was all new. I hadn't been in a classroom during lessons for ....well, since I was at school myself.

Vanessa brought in several vintage items for the kids to look at, smell, touch, and (in some cases) listen to, and, ultimately, write about. The items included a vintage plate camera with leather bellows, old books, a sewing box - how many children have seen one of these?  My grandma loved knitting but she wasn't into sewing, although (or perhaps because) her dad always made her and her sister do sewing if they had nothing else to do. "The devil makes work for idle hands to do," he used to say

As well as the sewing box there was also an old pipe, and a fantastic robe with frogged fastenings.  An Edwardian man's dressing gown perhaps? I don't know.

The kids were all very interested. They put together a list of words they thought described the items, with some extra words suggested and explained by Vanessa. Then they wrote down how each object seemed to them. I was amazed at how creative and thoughtful some of the responses were. And how's this for a stunningly modelled robe?

Tuesday, September 3

Ambulance Train Coat of Arms

In a secondhand book shop the other day, I found a book made up of contributions from the crew of No. 16 ambulance train, which served in France and Belgium. The crew were Quakers, so probably pacifists, and were quite talented. One created a coat of arms for the train. If you look carefully you will see the coat of arms has interesting things in it.  I particularly like the 3 scrubbing brushes, just to the right of Number 16.  Look at the stretchers.  I don't suppose anyone imagined they'd end up as council flat railings, as described in the previous post.

Guess the crew sometimes wished their train did have wings, though.

The motto means something like "in the shadows you find friends"    I hadn't thought about this aspect of working together to help others, but it's probably the only way to deal with the horrors of war.