Food for thought


Sitting round the boiler
In the old school room
We sewed as we sang
“Flow gently sweet Afton…”
Stoking memories for the future
Solid fuel for our fires
Sited next to the cattle market Early lessons in fatality
Like lambs to the slaughter, we
Filtered by failure, our futures foretold
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

I wonder where they are now

I wonder where they are now

Its a Perfect day

Stanley finds pegs fascinating

Stanley finds pegs fascinating

One of the songs sung by the choir I belong to at our recent concert is Perfect Day.
Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Today has been just perfect. It is usually called Grandma day as I look after Stanley on Wednesdays and Thursdays. But today it was Turtle Day as I had bought a turtle shaped sand pit for him to play in.
Stanley really is a delight in every way and just spending time with him makes me feel wonderful.
It was especially good today for two reasons
1. We have both been feeling very unwell until today, with chest infections followed by throat infections
2. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky and it was lovely and warm.
Stanley usually arrives at 8am to be greeted by my little dachshund, Dayna who races out of the front door to greet him. They both then race in to get to the best armchair ~ Dayna, and the Chuggington corner ~ Stanley. Now when my children were little it was all Thomas the Tank engine and I do feel a bit disloyal saying this but Chuggington is just so much more exciting! I have collected all the trains ~ wooden and die-cast, some track, two carrying cases, a hard back story book and a floor layout for imaginative play. Now Stanley is only 16 months old but he plays with Chuggington things for hours. He ‘rides the rails’ around, across and under furniture whether or not the dog is sitting on it, he builds tunnels with mega bricks (or grandma’s legs), and he drives the trains in and out of their sheds in the carrying cases endlessly. He just never seems to tire of it. At lunchtime as a special treat he gets to watch an episode of Chuggington which I have pre-recorded while he eats what I have prepared. I have 78 episodes recorded now so that pretty much guarantees peaceful lunchtimes until he starts school!
I jokingly say to my daughter that if I were to go on Mastermind, the BBC high brow quiz show, my specialist subject would be Chuggington ~ I know so much about it I have started creating new storylines as I watch. I also make pictures for Stanley by cutting out the card trains which come with each new toy and building a scene around them with the train names written on. I then laminate them. Stanley loves these and it is how we both learned all the names.
But today, even Chuggington came second to the TURTLE sandpit. I sited it on the patio near a gazebo so that Stanley would have some shade and Grandma would have somewhere to sit. Having forgotten to buy buckets and spades etc., I gathered old plastic containers, a colander and a jug, spatulas and wooden spoons, which worked almost as well. And then the fun started.
When Stanley had enough of that exercise he thoroughly inspected the garden. Being his first Spring at an age where he could make sense of his surroundings it was a joy just to follow him watching and listening. But the highlight for me was sharing the discovery that two of the birdhouses my daughter made for me are occupied by nesting blue tits. Stanley adores watching birds in the trees and bushes, in the sky or on the ground, at the water table or on the feeders. So to show him where they are nesting was a joy.
After that he toddled up to my shed. Now anyone who has read my post “Windows” will know that my sheds are very special places for relaxation and meditation and usually no-one else ventures in there. However, today Stanley looked at the shed, pushed at the locked door and said, “Open, Yea?” in a voice that would totally melt the polar ice cap. Of course I said yes and in no time at all the nicknacks in my sanctuary were all rearranged. There was a moment when I looked at him, ancient toy car in one hand and orange wooden rosary prayer beads in the other and the happiness I felt took my breath away. And I realised that at that moment Stanley and I were both in that place where ‘heaven happens’.

Palm Sunday 2014

I have celebrated Palm Sunday in many different countries, Kenya, Spain, France, Poland, Italy and UK and it is a church tradition that I love. When I was at work (teaching primary children) one of our jobs was to make the palm crosses for the local church each year. It was an eagerly awaited treat for the 10/11 year olds in their final year of primary school, to learn how to weave and fold the crosses from simple palm leaves.
I have written about other Palm Sundays before and the links are below if you would like to read them. I hope you do.
This year I am laid up in bed with a very nasty case of tonsillitis on antibiotics so I have not even seen a palm!
But I did look at the Vatican website to see the celebrations in St peter’s Square. My overriding impression is that this Pope, like Jesus is adored by the people because of his common touch and understanding of what it means to be poor in this world. But my fear is that like Jesus, he is rattling too many cages and there will be those who plot against him. I also see in his face that after only a few months in the job he is looking exhausted and strained.
Two Haiku I wrote last year sum up my fears.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Cheering throngs gather

In Messianic fervour

Fronds fall at His feet
Calling for His death

Crowds that cheered Him now decry

Innocent, He’ll die

You can see the Palm Sunday in Rome here
And my previous Palm Sunday posts are here:~

NaPoWriMo 6 ~ A Good hare Day

For NaPoWriMo on day 6 there was a simpler challenge than Saturday’s thank goodness. We were asked to look out of a window and write a poem using what we observed. Having to be always contrary I decided to look into windows instead.
This is because I went to Cirencester to see the March Hare Festival.

A dreary day in the Cotswolds,
Wind blows and cold rain drizzles down
Stone cottages are looking weathered and worn,
Daunted daffodils and bluebells bend low
Agitated pheasants scurry, flapping over Ermin Way,
Committed we continue, to Cirencester for the day.

Like Brigadoon this market town appears out of the mist,
One of those magic moments, a place by angels kissed.
A colourful celebration reflecting local life is underway;
A Festival of March Hares, some dazzling some restrained,
In windows, doorways, churches and shops creatively displayed

Cultured, cosmopolitan and colourful vignettes,
Cameos of ancient times are captured in mosaic,
Homages to industry, hospitality, trade and faith
Veterans of two world wars amusingly portrayed
Childhoods caught in acrylic, nature, myths and legends true
Captured by artistic celebrities, dignitaries and ordinary people too

Visitors and residents alike, excited and involved
Chat, sharing what they have found, advise, inspire, enthuse
Pubs overflow with merriment, cafes are buzzing too
Music pours from the Brewery Arts, crafters’ skills on show
Working in glass and gold and silver, in wood and pottery and silk,
Local artists interpret the world in paint and pen and ink.

In recent years there has been a spate of large ceramic or stone objects appearing in towns and cities of the UK. Having mentioned it to my daughter last night I know that they have been seen in the USA too. The first time I came across it was when my grandchildren, Ben and Rosie went to London and were photographed alongside large colourful elephants. Wallace and Gromit were in Bristol recently too.
Next I heard of a Gorilla festival in Torbay and Exeter. There was also a festival of decorated horses in Cheltenham in honour of the races. Now there are 5 foot tall hares in Cirencester.
Why hares you might wonder?
Well Cirencester was a very important place in Roman times. It was called Corinium and had very good road links to the rest of the UK, such as Ermin Way and the Fosse Way. In 1971 during an archeological dig in Beeches Road near to the River Churn, a Roman mosaic was discovered depicting a hare. The original is now on show in the Corinium Museum. Hence the theme of hares for this festival. There will be about 50 hares around the town eventually. Most of them will be 5 foot tall and decorated by local people including schoolchildren, members of the public, celebrities and artists. All of the large hares are named to reflect their sponsors. One of the most beautiful hares is on display in the Corinium and it is named Tess.
Apart from the large hares there are lots of smaller hares dotted around the town and there are prizes for discovering and photographing them. I think I will have to go back as I only found 10 large ones! I did however find the solid chocolate one which weighs 10kg in a lovely little chocolatiers called ‘Lick the Spoon’.
The festival does have a serious purpose which is to boost trade and tourism in the town. Judging by how much money I spent yesterday they are going to be very successful!
They are also aiming to raise the £50,000 needed for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to begin to develop the Green Hare Churn Walkway around the River Churn in Cirencester. This new trail project will involve schools and community groups and will have lasting benefits for residents and visitors alike. The hares will be auctioned off at the end of the festival to raise the funds.
I hope they do well as we had a wonderful day, and we will certainly be going back. The Festival of Hares is on until 14th September and is well worth a visit at any age. To give you a helping hand I have listed the names of the hares that are on display at the moment and where you can find them. Tomorrow there will be more as phase two will be hidden around the town! Some of them are in schools which won’t be open now til after the holidays.

Bare Hare at the Agricultural College
Harry, King of the Hill at Kingshill School
Mr Harebushes at Organic farm Shop, Burford Road
Via Albatine at Whiteway Workshops
Harebelle at the Twelve Bells
Flame, The Phoenix Wayfarer at Phoenix Way
Hareoh the Phareoh at St John Baptist Church
Whare’s Davey in Davey Law Offices
Haretherop in Waterstones Bookshop
Harriet in Mistral Clothes Shop
Harold O’Hare in Zippy Pix Photo Shop
Hartley in 51 Dyer Street
Harrison in Hampton’s Estate Agents
Daniel George in Bishop’s Walk
Hopportunity Hare in Cirencester opportunity Group
Corina at the Corinium Hotel
Tess at the Corinium Museum
General Lievre at Gardiner Haskins
Harelequin at Beeches House
Miles, the Millionhare at Limes hair Company
Wooly Jumper outside the Fleece
Madame Butterfly at McGill’s Chartered Accountant
Hicarus at Cotswold Airport
Eostra at Rendcomb College
Sign the Hare at Bingham House

NaPoWriMo 5 ~ Golden Shovel

The prompt for day 5 of NaPoWriMo I found incredibly difficult. The challenge was to write a “golden shovel.” This form was invented by Terrance Hayes in his poem, The Golden Shovel. The last word of each line of Hayes’ poem is a word from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem We Real Cool. You can read Brooks’ poem by reading the last word of each line of Hayes’ poem! It was a tortuous process but so rewarding as it introduced me to a poet I had not come across before, Terrance Hayes.
I chose a short poem to use for my golden shovel:

Their relationship consisted
In discussing if it existed.
-Thom Gunn

My inspiration was a walk back from town yesterday. I was admiring a beautiful display of daffodils when I was suddenly aware of a group of boys playing football nearby. They suddenly charged after the ball and threw themselves down on the grass with no thought for the flowers, bent, broken and crushed by their bodies. And so my poem was born…

Plodding through fields of daffodils their
Yellow hearts performing, I pondered the relationship
Between plants and poetry.  Concluding it consisted
Of long periods of silent suffering in
Deep, dark soil, alone.  Discussing
This is futile.  But bleak experience can be transformed if
Hidden hurts are buried in fertile soil for long.  It
Results in a joy and beauty we never knew existed.

Phew, I hope day 6 is a little easier!
daffodils by a fallen branch at St Peter's Grange, Prinknash Abbey

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Threshold

On the threshold of the new millennium

On the threshold of the new millennium

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

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘threshold’. Looking through my photos this one of the tile frieze made at the end of 1999 for the year 2000 leapt out at me. 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, systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really new what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 and what the new millennium would mean for civilisation. So I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent for my school.

St Thomas More School was a huge part of my life. 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, 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 focussed so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Music, Dance and Art 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.

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, ABW, 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. ABW had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would reflect the life of the 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 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 is still there in the school hall. And with it is a little piece of all of us who made it.

NaPoWriMo 4 ~ Lune

Today we were prompted to write a Lune
This is rather like a Haiku which I normally write but instead of 5/7/5 syllables it takes the form of 3/5/3 words.
My attempt is a bit of a cheat as it is both a Haiku and a Lune!

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature

The weather is so beautiful today, the cloud of pollution has lifted and the sky is clear. Obviously the charm I wrote yesterday for NaPoWriMo worked and dispelled the toxic smog!
Spring is such an exquisite time of year in the Cotswolds that I just have to quote Thomas Traherne, the 17th century Poet and Mystic

“Heaven! Is not that an Endless Sphere
Where all thy Treasures and thy Joys appear?
If that be Heaven it is Evrywhere

Taking a walk near The Manor by the Lake today all I can hear is the song of the birds. I feel the warm sun on my face and a soft breeze blows through the trees. A confused woodpecker is pecking at a flagpole on top of the old manor house, which has just been converted into a boutique hotel. Ducks are swimming purposefully on the lake to distract me from their island nests. There is white blossom on the trees. Magnolia is in full bloom and the ground is strewn with daffodils. Just metres away in one direction, is the new ASDA superstore, and in the other, is the litter strewn A40. But here, by the lake, nature’s treasures fill me with joy and I am in heaven.

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature