Lost Legends

Brenda and pupils with David Bellamy

I do hope this is not becoming a trend in my blogging, but yet again I am writing in homage to a legend. The naturalist, botanist, environmentalist and conservationist ~ David Bellamy, died recently and I could not let his passing go unmentioned as he played an important role in my career.

Many years ago, when I was teaching, I embarked on a study of our local river, The River Chelt. I was always keen on getting pupils out into nature, so a study of the river from source to mouth was a perfect excuse to get out into the sun and get the children walking. They were around 10 or 11 years of age at the time and the river is only about 11 miles long so it was not too onerous. I believe we started the project in 1984 and I became so engrossed in our ‘insignificant stream’ as it was once described, that the project continued for the next 10 years!

David Bellamy became a part of the project when, in 1987, our work on the river Chelt was entered in the ‘Bisto Kids Wonderful World of Nature’ competition on Rivers and Streams. And our entry won!

As part of the prize, David Bellamy came to our school and landed on the playing field in a gorgeous red helicopter. He spent the whole day at school talking to the children about the importance of protecting our natural resources. I for one have never forgotten his visit or what he taught us.  His message was a simple one about the importance of appreciating, conserving and sustaining the natural world, caring for others and sharing what we have. Wouldn’t the world be a much happier place if we lived according to this simple message!

It was a very special day and I hope that everyone who took part in it will have remembered it when they heard about his death.

I don’t think I will bore you with every detail of our little river. But if you are interested you can see photos and a wonderfully detailed blog about it on Cheltonia.

I will just ask you to pause and think about the fact that each tiny little raindrop that falls to earth in the Cotswolds will eventually surface in muddy little springs. From here they trickle, then flow, and occasionally flood as they become a river. Sometimes the river is hidden underground, often it meanders along behind rows of houses, factories, schools and parks unnoticed. Sometimes it tumbles over waterfalls as it runs its course along the 11 miles to Wainlodes where it joins the spectacular River Severn. The Severn is the longest river in Great Britain travelling 220 miles before it joins the mighty North Atlantic Ocean.  Our little river and every tiny drop of rain in it is a part of that!

Some years after this our school was linked with a school in Kenya. The teachers and pupils of the Kenyan school wrote about how they had to travel miles to get water from the river and how their river was running dry because of the drought. They wrote of how the crops they had planted were dying. The children wrote that they were praying for rain or for someone to help.

Our pupils were horrified at their plight and decided to do something about it. They planned to build a well in the grounds of the Kenyan school, and they set about finding out how this could be done, and raising the funds to do it. They filled Smarties tubes with 20p pieces, they organised a sponsored spell.  They held a bring and buy sale, and within 3 weeks they had raised enough money (£1300) to build the well. They wrote countless letters and received many faxes (remember those?). Tenders were received and contracts were drawn up. The work was started in the dry season and a borehole 55 feet deep was dug. Enough money was sent to buy a pump and maintain it for 5 years. By then, it was hoped the local people would be able to raise money themselves by growing and selling their excess crops. The well was finished by the end of August when a group of young people from Cheltenham went out to Kenya and drank water from the well which now had the grand name of Mrs Brenda’s borehole!

I hope that the children I taught will never take water for granted. They know it is the most important resource on earth, essential to all living things ~ far more precious than gold.  And, I hope they learned that each person is equally important in the great scheme of things just as each tiny drop of water is to the great oceans.

Below are some of my River Chelt photos taken between 1984 and 1997 ~ not in the order in which the river flows I’m afraid, as I can’t seem to get to grips with the media editor! But if you hover over each photo it will tell you where it is.

If you would like to read in more detail about our fascinating little river and its history you can find more on Cheltonia.

Or if you want to see what our little river is like when it disappears underground you can see inside the culvert

And finally a lovely Year 3 class of River Chelt explorers from 1996.  I wonder where they are now ~ 23 years later!

 

Ten Pieces Prom

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed today having listened to the Ten Pieces Prom on BBC Radio 3.  If you have any spare time it  really is worth clicking on the link to listen to bits of the programme

I was already rather pensive as a friend and former work colleague died this week unexpectedly.  I was very close to her for many years, and she lived quite near to me.  Yet, I had not seen her in months.  Life, with all its routines and demands, gets in the way of the people who should matter sometimes.  Of course, I make as much time as I can for family; but friends, neighbours and acquaintances are too easily neglected.

This all came home forcefully while listening to one of the ten pieces referred to in the title of the above  radio programme ~ Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  Dvorak, a Czech, wrote the New World Symphony while he was working in America in the 1890s.  It is incredibly moving and reflects the homesickness he felt.  Dvorak understood the anguish of the African Americans which came through in their spiritual songs.  He was also influenced by the native Americans’ music as well as by the beautiful poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called, The Song of Hiawatha.  I won’t reproduce the poem as it is very long, but I would recommend that you click on the link and read it yourself as it is incredibly beautiful.

 The Ten Pieces project is a wonderful initiative designed to introduce classical music to school children aged 7 to 14.  Working in their own schools they were inspired to produce creative responses to one of ten much loved pieces of classical music.  The results were impressive. 

I have always felt a total ignoramus when it comes to Classical music in general, and opera in particular. The infant phase of my education just after the war, was missed altogether due to illness.  Then, the Junior phase was spent in an almost Victorian school, which was a converted chemical works by the banks of the river Tyne.  We literally used to play on hills of smouldering sulphurous waste from the chemical factory or along the, then thriving, dockyards of the Tyne.  I do remember going to an amateur performance of the Mikado in the church hall once as a very young child.  I was mesmerised by the costumes and the Gilbert and Sullivan song of Three Little Maids!

 

My next experience of classical music was watching  the Sadler’s Wells Production of The Magic Flute at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon in 1963 on my very first date!  But, by the time I left secondary school, Bob Dylan was ‘Freewheelin’ and Joan Baez was performing ‘We Shall Overcome’, which awakened a social conscience in me.  I was also totally obsessed with theatre, particularly Shakespeare’s plays,  once again classical music passed me by.  So, I wish there had been something like the Ten Pieces Proms when I was at school.  It is absolutely brilliant at introducing children to the range of classical music and making it relevant to them.

One of the most moving parts of the programme in response to the New World Symphony, was a poem created and read by Brave New Voices ~ young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from across London.  These children, many from Syria, have had to leave their own homes in traumatic conditions and have found a home in the UK.  Listening to them describe the sights, sounds and smells of their homeland as well as the people they have left behind was heart-breaking.

And, I wonder, can we truly appreciate our own homeland wherever that may be before we leave it?  And, can we truly appreciate the people we love ~ and show it ~ before we lose them.  My friend and long-time colleague lived for her family and her faith.  So I am sure her soul is now at rest in Heaven.

Rest in Peace my dear friend

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A Lego Doughnut

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I have made a rather obscure link to this week’s photo challenge theme, which is ‘security’.  But, as regular readers of my blog know, I will use any excuse to write about my grandchildren!

One of the many advantages of spending lots of time with the grandchildren is that I can have fun playing with their toys.

Currently I am enjoying Lego Duplo with Stanley who is 4 and Thea who is 2.  The sets are a far cry from the uninspiring little pieces I remember from when my children were young.  They are so colourful and child friendly now, with animals and themed sets.   Yet they still stimulate the imagination and encourage a world of creative play.

Fortunately I don’t have a tablet, or an ipad, or a kindle, or any of the gadgets they seem to get addicted to as soon as they can hold them these days.  And, horror of horrors, I only have terrestrial TV channels, not games on demand!  So at grandma’s house creative play still rules.

Thea is particularly enjoying the Forest Park and Family Pets sets because she loves animals while Stanley loves the vehicles and characters.  But, however many sets they get, their first desire is still to build the tallest tower!

My older grandson, who has reached the ripe old age of 13, is also into Lego.  He has a bedroom full of it and is very expert.  I don’t even attempt to meddle with his models though, as they are very technical and way beyond my skills.

So, you can imagine how impressed I was to hear recently that part of our national security agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is based near my home, had set it’s employees the challenge of modelling the building out of Lego. This is not just any regular building,  it is shaped like a doughnut, which must be really difficult to model.  But they did it and the result is impressive as it would be with all their skills brought to bear.

I can’t take credit for the photo as it was on the official GCHQ website, but I do have permission to use it.  I think it is brilliant, especially as it was created in order to raise funds for a local charity, Elisabeth’s Footprint, which is very dear to my heart.

Do click on the links to see more blogs on the theme of ‘security’ and if you want to know more about the Doughnut Lego model, or the inspiring story of the marvellous woman behind Elisabeth’s Footprint.

What else can you do with grandchildren in the absence of gadgets? Well, We build dens, paint, play with sand and water,  picnic in the woods, take the dog for walks, or go to farms, parks and forests.  If it is cold or wet we make up stories, poems and fantastical adventures…

What did you do today?

Did you go to the airport with an alligator,

Or go to the beach with a bear?

Did you eat in a café with a camel

And frighten the people there?

 

Did you build a den for a dinosaur,

Or run through the grass with emu?

Did you go to the fairground with a fox?

Did he win a goldfish for you?

 

Did you play houses with a hedgehog,

Or go ice-skating with an impala?

Did you drive a jeep with a jellyfish,

Or fly a kite with a koala?

 

Did you eat lunch by the lake with a lamb,

Or play marbles with a monkey?

Did you go on a nature trail with a newt?

Now that would be quite funky.

 

Did you eat an orange with an octopus,

Or splash in a puddle with a pig?

Did you quiver and quake at a queen bee,

Then go out and dig?

 

Did you ride the rails with a reindeer,

Or go to the seaside with a snake?

Did you climb a tree with a tiger?

Now that would be a mistake.

 

Did you race upstairs with a unicorn,

Or drive a van with a vole?

Did you make a wish with a wallaby,

Or did you do nothing at all?

 

Did you swim with an x-ray tetra,

Or sail on a yacht with a yak?

Did you go to the zoo with a zebra?

Tomorrow ~ are you coming back?

 Poem by Brenda Kimmins.

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

tile-spirit-squared-for-abw

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

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Abstract

400 celebration face of stars4

For All Time

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

What an enjoyable weekend I just spent in Stratford on Avon.  I was there to join in the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and to commemorate his death 400 years ago on 23 April 1616.

The town, where I lived during my teens, was festooned with flags and shields from almost every nation in the world.  There were banners with Shakespeare’s likeness waving high across the streets or pinned to railings.  There was blue and yellow bunting in side streets and blue and yellow market stalls along the waterside leading to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  Shakespeare’s colours of blue and yellow amuse me as in theatre superstition wearing blue and yellow means you will forget your lines! My school uniform at Shottery Manor in Stratford was mainly purple but with blue shirts and blue and yellow striped ties. We wore straw boaters in the summer months with a purple blue and yellow band round them.  In the winter we wore purple felt hats with the same coloured band round them. Wearing the hats at the wrong angle on the head was considered a very serious misdemeanour and a detention would surely follow if spotted.

The RSC put on a special celebration, Shakespeare Live!, in honour of the occasion.  It included Opera, Comedy, Ballet, Hip-hop, Poetry, and of course extracts from the plays.  I thought the whole evening was a resounding success.  It appealed to almost everyone whatever their age or tastes in entertainment.

The well-known, justifiably renowned and much-loved, stars who took part included Judi Dench who took the part of Titania falling in love with Bottom played by comedian Al Murray.  The costumes were brilliant, the set was great, and the acting was superb.  The overall effect was slick, professional and absolutely hilarious.  I loved it.  There is a wicker sculpture of Titania and Bottom outside the theatre in the new Stratford Garden.  The flowers in it are all mentioned in the plays and the effect should be quite impressive when they grow.

Among lots of memorable performances in Shakespeare Live!, the most moving I thought was Sir Ian McKellan’s rendition of a speech handwritten by Shakespeare for the character of Sir Thomas More.  I, like most people listening I imagine, had visions of the horrific ‘Jungle’ at Calais and the wretched scenes of migrants behind the barriers and fences, which have been erected along European borders to keep them out.  Sir Ian McKellen brought tears to my eyes with this speech.  You can hear an earlier rendition of it here

The whole speech is written at the end of this post and here is a link to the very relevant and learned Shakespeare Blog.

On Sunday and Monday I indulged myself by taking a walk along the river Avon and revisiting many of the houses and museums connected with Shakespeare.  The weather was changeable but I managed to get some reasonable photos, especially at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage where the garden is a riot of spring colour with flowers including daffodils, bluebells and tulips.  I also spent some time in the newly restored Swan Theatre with its amazing abstract sculpture, ‘For All Time’ created by Steven Follen.  This representation of a head, shown in photo at the top, is made of 2000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine wires to make the shape of a 3 metre tall human face.  It is surrounded by other stars which closely represent the position of the constellations on the day of Shakespeare’s birth.

There are two additional places to visit in Stratford now, which in previous years were not open to the public.  One is King Edward the Sixth School for Boys, which Shakespeare attended.  His actual schoolroom is open to the public with professional actors dressed in costume teaching Latin and chatting to visitors in character.  It was a surreal experience being inside the actual classroom.  I have been to the school before in the days when Mr Pratt was Headmaster, but it was a joy to visit the most ancient parts of the building, which have been beautifully restored.

The second is Harvard House where John Harvard was born in 1607.  This is a three story Elizabethan house almost opposite New Place, the house which Shakespeare bought in 1607.  It is remarkably authentic in its preservation and restoration, with lots of oak beams and areas of ancient wall paintings.  John Harvard eventually married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is owned by the American University but looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  It is worth a visit just to see the Bible Box.  This is a beautifully carved oak box for storing the treasured Bible.  After Henry V111 declared that all bibles should be written in English (not Latin) so that they were accessible to ordinary folk who could read, it became fashionable for families to keep a Bible at home.  Wealthier families would store their bible in such a box.

Of course I visited Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare, his wife Anne, and other members of his family are buried.  It is traditional for all the dignitaries and important visitors who attend the bard’s birthday celebrations, to bring flowers to the grave.  At this time of year, when daffodils are still abundant, the sight and smell in the church is quite literally breathtaking.  There was a rather unusual floral tribute with Shakespeare’s dates on it.  It was standing on trestles with a huge candle at each corner.  It had been processed through the town earlier in the day looking rather coffin-like.

I have celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford many times, most notably the 400th anniversary  one in 1964, but I have never before attended a commemoration of his death. It was odd as both events occurred on the same date.  But I have to say it was all very tasteful ~ well except for the countless people wearing Shakespeare masks?!

Do enjoy some of my photos below.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Seven Ages of Man on Stained Glass in the Swan Theatre

Holy Trinity Church

King Edward Sixth School

Around The Town

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery ~ very close to my old school!

http://theshakespeareblog.com/2015/09/shakespeare-sir-thomas-more-and-the-immigrants/

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.