Sunday, 23 July 2017

The first elegant hops

The first hops

Telling Toads poems:

the pond begins to fill

The first Toadwords are in. Telling Toads was set up as a slow hop to wonder but in the first month, the first poems came in. We hope you enjoy them and if you feel inspired to add your own toadwords (of frog’s tale perhaps!) look here for more information

The prints accompanying these poems are by artist Maria Strutz who had a wonderful touch for animal work….see more of Maria’s work here

Many thanks to Juliet and John for these first contributions!

Toad's Adventure
Juliet Wilson

We stopped to watch a tiny toad
struggle its way across the road.
When it found my partner's boot
it strangely chose to take that route.
It climbed the sheer black leather hill -
an effort of great strength of will
then found itself in the strangest valley
with ridges, holes and little alleys.
It gripped on tightly to the laces
then decided there were better places
for toads to find their living quarters
so off it went to find some water.

Now, 4 pieces from John Roff in South Africa
Ode to a toad
John Roff

O waddling lump of cold porridge,
bulging your way across the lawn like
you own it…
Why do you insist on invading my
barefoot garden privacy with that
lazy excuse of a hop?
At least you could have had the delicacy of
a smooth-skinned reed frog,
piping on the evening breeze like a water flute;
or even the swift, purposed elegance of
those green river frogs with the stripe down their backs.
But instead I must contend with amphibian arrogance,
wrapped in a slack skin of warts,
and entirely unsmiling.
I even found a toad in one of my gardening shoes once,
probably plotting the downfall of the human race;
I cannot stand them –

Second ode, same toad
John Roff 

Ah, beautiful harbinger of spring rain,
when your familiar croak returns
I know the seasons
are coming round.
You remind me of the ancient cycles,
after long dry winter
damp refreshing spring;
moist enough to soften your skin and
draw you out of hiding to
snaffle those annoying crickets in my lawn.
I love it when you gorge yourself on flying ants,
poetic in your punctuated hopping and
grab and
munch and

Thoughtful you look, a warted Buddha
contemplating the vast expanse of inner lawn,
round brown sack of happy toadness,
beautifully ugly,
content with the world.

Amphibotanical (South-Western Cape)
John Roff 

A frog is a frog, it lives in a bog,
A toad is a toad, in its soggy abode.
But why do they differ, and why is a frog?
Does it wonder, you think, as it sits in the bog?
And does the toad ponder, while perched in a pond,
"Why is my name toadish, and not 'Toad the Bond'?"
"I think I'd like 'Bond, yes - James Toady Bond',
special agent of termites and croaking and pond."
But up croaks the frog “Hey, I'm being left out,
my frogness ignored, and my ego put out."
"Now give me a title in keeping with Frog,
with Noble and Honoured and Valuable Frog."
"I'd like to be Emperor, Lord of the swamp,
the place where my tadpoles and bulrushes romp."
 So Bond (toad) and Emperor (frog) set a duel,
they'd wrestle and fight high above a dark pool.
Frog chose for his weapon a restio shoot,
Toad fought with a stout wachendorfia root.
 And strange, as they wrestled, they took on the look
of the weapon that each for the fighting had took.
Our toad became lumpy with growths like a root;
the frog grew as smooth as a shiny new shoot.
 So now when you see them, eyes bright in the pool,
and wonder if they are enjoying the cool,
Remember to look just a little bit longer,
and see if they've sorted out which is the stronger.

Tree frog
John Roff

They sit tight in the lit hours,
all waking as the sun gives way
to moons and bats and unseen whistling things,
then shrill their mating calls into the wind,
and awkwardly manoeuver, foot by foot
through all the tangled undergarden,
eagerly cruising trees for prey.
(What insect could escape the gaze
of that cool never-blinking eye?)

Bright day returns, and down they hunch,
a blob of wet amphibian-stuff clinging
to whichever branch seems right.

Once one gripped my fingers
just as though I was a tree,
with feet that flapped
the cool deliciousness
of living jelly on my eager skin,
then leapt ungraciously
onto the leaf-leaden forest floor below,
sat tight.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Lost in the Adventurewoods

The Adventurewoods

The Lost Tales of Rudheath, pt 1

work with Rudheath Primary Academy

summer 2017

into the Adventurewoods

There are mysteries here,
In these dark woods,
Stories never told,
Treasures never found,
People forever lost…*

We began with characters: who should we send on an adventure. Individually we created small people for small misadventures. Collectively, we set a quest in motion

getting the story started
They woke in the morning to a missing pet.
A rabbit, much loved, much cuddled, was gone.
Its hutch empty,
Its run abandoned,

The story grew from there: each class picking up the adventure and moving it on. Some groups added details of landscapes, or extra characters who we might meet - or just hear rumour of on the wind that blew through the spaghetti trees

They had torches and towels,
A picnic, a map and a compass,
And a rope for swinging through trees.
They took lots of string for emergency things
And a bright green apple for healing.

They found sticks for campfires and shelters and sheds,
For a boat and for fishing rods.
They found twigs for drawing maps on leaves.

mapping details
The story wandered. We found treasure. Got lost. Found a friend. Got lost again. Felt ill. Strayed too far

you never know who you might meet
Through the darkwoods,
Through the dangerwoods,
Into the shadows and the trailing cobwebs
Of giant spiders.

We discovered strange little asides: stories that belonged to the streets of Rudheath and Witton but never told before, heard before or, let’s face it, thought of before…

The palace was wonderful, decorated with patterns of weeds and reeds and the wind on the water. The girl went in, passing halls and thrones. Everything was pink. The walls were pink. The floors were pink. The ceilings were pink. The chairs were pink. The tables were pink. The curtains were pink. The carpets were pink. She found a set of stairs that ran down, under the palace. Nothing here was pink. It was dark and gloomy and sinister in shades of grey and green. Here she found a dungeon. There was a chest right in the middle of the room.

treasures helped us add detail
As part of Creeping Toad’s Do It Together project for Rudheath and Witton Together, “The Lost Tales of Rudheath” involved all of the children at Rudheath Primary Academy. Workshops were organised as "family learning events" with parents, guardians or other involved adults invited to join us, to participate in lively sessions using activities that would transfer. We went for activities that needed easy-to-find resources and that would work again in a garden or on a wander through a park. There was a lot of interest from our grown-up contingent: getting 6 - 10 Mums, Dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other family members with each class
often i found whole stories i didn't know were developing

The full text of the Adventurewoods story can be found as a booklet to download here

The trolls chased
But it was too late for them.
The Apple Tree Man had been woken by all the noise.
He felt branches torn,
His trees being broken,
He clicked his fingers.
With every click, one tree
And then another tree
Tree Monsters and Woodland Warriors.
Long branches reaching out.
Twigs snagging in troll hair.
Sticks catching troll arms.
Branches like pythons, like anacondas, wrapping
The trolls into wooden cages.

school display in development
We learned a lot:  that broombrushes are smaller but faster than broomsticks, that bottles full of dust and smoke should be handled with care, that someone out there drinks tea while dragons toast marshmallows on their own breath

With many thanks to all the artists and storytellers of Rudheath Primary Academy and to the staff who welcomed and helped us  

*the italic sections are all extracts from the main story: 
groups gave me words, phrases, action and I edited things together


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Bones, bits and boxes

Bones, bits and boxes

Pop-up museum and activities

Summer 2017

finished tiles from the July workshop

 As part of Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project, I’ve been doing events using museum themes (local history, geology, ancient history) outside of the museum - taking the collection out into the landscapes it came from

tiles ready for firing
Summer events began a few weeks ago with a lovely Tile-making workshop at the Dove Valley Centre. Here, inspired by the patterns of 18th and 19th Ashford Black Marble and flowers and trees of the Upper Dove Valley, our group worked with local potter Sue Blatherwick to make their own tiles

This summer we have a pop-up museum popping up in various places

my own cabinets tend towards the natural history end of things
25th July:
Craftbarn, Hadfield nr Glossop. Indoors here, space is limited and the event might be fully booked by now. Check in with Julia at the Barn to see. The handling collection will be there and we’ll be making Cabinets of Curiosity to take away*

2nd August
Castleton Visitor Centre. After a major refit, the Centre is open again and we’re there to celebrate the new with some very old bits and pieces. Castleton was also the home of one whole element within our collection: pieces from Randolf Douglas’ (Randini the escapologist) House of Wonders
The House of Wonders in Castleton featured a fascinating collection of, well, stuff. From relics of Houdini's (and Randini's) careers as escapologists to models of miniature buildings and cabinets of strange curiosities, it was a treasure trove of marvels
With that tradition of being involved with the little things and leftovers, we will be there with flint tools to hold, geological treasures, ancient metalwork, fossils and bones to handle. Again there will be the chance to make your own Cabinet of Curiosity: an opportunity to make your own portable museum to give your wanderings and rummagings new purpose and structure*

16th August
what treasures would you choose?
Bogtastic at the National Trust’s Longshaw Estate. We’ll be there among this celebration of all things boggy: from bog-bouncing and wildlife spotting to face-painting (I really hope you can be painted as a bog body!)
We’ll be there, providing an oasis of fossilised calm with pieces from the eastern moors: fossils, flints, bones and bits. We’ll be making our own cabinets again: a chance to create miniature portable museums to assemble your own bog-collection in*

We provide materials and guidance: you have to find the treasures yourselves!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A flight of kites

A flight of kites (and other things!)

Summer events with Creeping Toad
Activities over the holidays
think, make, play, laugh

Events within our Do It Together project for Rudheath and Witton Together. These activities are designed as family events encouraging people to come and try something new. We are always keen to hear about other things Rudheath and Witton residents would like to do (we’re here to create creative activities)

Monday 31st July: Marvellous Medieval Medicines, at The Venue Sessions 10am - 12noon and 1 - 3pm
Address: The Venue, Gadbrook Rd. Northwich, CW9 7JL
“Become a plague doctor and discover the disgusting truth about treating diseases in the middle ages. Make a plague doctor mask, devise your own cures, make your own leech, write your own Pharmacopeia!”


Friday 4th August: kite making, Whalley Rd Playing Fields. Learn to make your own kite - and then fly it on the fields! Round kits, sled kites, diamond kites and decorations!
10am - 1pm, at Whalley Rd Playing Fields at the Grozone/cemetery end
Monday 14th July: kite making, Griffiths Park. Another chance to make your own kite - and then fly it on the fields! Round kits, sled kites, diamond kites and decorations!
10am - 1pm

These are the definite dates just now. Other events (and more details of these) will be posted on the Creeping Toad facebook page and here on the Creeping Toad blog

All events are free and materials are provided
No booking is needed, just come along and join in
Children under 7 need to bring an adult with them

Monday, 3 July 2017

Umbrella frogs and wartrees

Art, stories and creativity
exploring stories through art 
Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School
June 2017
a walk through a work-in-progress tin forest

We travelled this week from Chapel to Africa and beyond. We walked on beaches, rescuing dolphins. We helped lonely beasts find new friends. We slipped over the edges of the world to where the Wild Things are and explored the seas of strange imaginations among Tin Forests and Lost Things.

We took some books and unfolded them, sliding in betwen the pages, expanding ideas, letting inspiration ricochet off ourselves and each other
I’m not going to do a detailed breakdown of what we did with ac class and sessions were so hectic I didn’t get all that many photos but what did gow out of it allw ere some wodnerfully tasty words, so I’ll share those


  • The Greedy Zebra (we made animal models)
  • Handa’s Surprise (animal masks)
  • The Lost Thing (narrative poems)
  • The Tin Forest (shadow puppets and a tabletop forest)
  • The Lonely Beast (puppets)
  • Dolphin Boy (drama, puppets)
shadow puppet tree for a wild thing

Where are the Wild Things now?
1. Across a hot and sandy desert,
Over a long, rotten wooden bridge
Past the horrible green trees
In the dark, scary woodland where the tiger owls growl,
There is a cave,
beneath a mountain where the grizzly bear snores

2. Through space and time,
Through the magical bond between the past and future,
Between the power of infinity and space and time,
Through the crystal cave where a green dragon guards a treasure of gold and diamonds and rubies and on beautiful golden horse,
There the wild things are watching through the horse’s sparkling legs.

wild thing princess

The Lost Thing
Where do you go to find a lost thing?

Through the bluebell woods,
Past the spooky houses,
Behind the Blue John Cavern ,
And over the creepy bridge…
Dangerous rocks will come tumbling down.
Dark crystals glitter,
Under steep cliffs
Where roses grow,
Roses as blue as the darkest sea.

There is an abandoned warehouse there,
Broken glass catching the light
Cries echoing through the cracked windows,
Lights flicker,
Shadows move.

Venom leaker,
Baby carrier,
Creepy crawler,
Glass staining,
Mysterious object

Someone else’s,
Lost Thing.

In a Tin Forest there are egg and bacon trees with frying pan birds and spatula squirrels whose flat tails can flip the fruit off a tree in no time. Umbrella trees and lollipop trees, that grow in a shimmer of pipes and tubes. There is a bicycle tree whose wheels turn gently in the breeze and a frying pan tree catching food from the air.

Other sifters of the breeze include the scavenger trees, netting trophies from the storm winds: a shopping trolley, a ladder, a wheel, a bike chain and a crutch. A rubber glove tree grows nail varnish bottles as fruit.

Umbrella frogs open their wide mouths as they hang from the branches of a trees. They catch food on their long hooked tongues and then snap their folding mouths shut around their prey.

A Rollercoaster Tree sprouts spring swings while a Wartree grows spearhead leaves but when it is cut in its turn it will bleed, rusting slowly into dust.

with many thanks to all the staff and young artists 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

From leeches to kites

From leeches to kites:
Creeping Toad events this July

image c/o Weaver Hall Museum
Where can you find this Toad doing colourful, creative and  downright strange things this summer?

Saturday 8th: Venetian carnival masks:
Hucknall Library, NG 15 7BS, sessions 10 -12 and 1 - 3
Inspired by the old masks of Venice, you might make your own elegant bird, big-nosed hero, fine-featured princess or even invent a strange character no-one has ever met before…
Free, drop-in. Link: Venetian Masks

Sunday 9th: Credenhill Park Wood Fete with the Woodland Trust, Hereford. A free event with lots going on across this spectacular hill: watch horse logging and saw mill demonstrations, dare to stroke a reptile, join in with traditional crafts, enjoy face painting, crafts and forest fun.. From 11am. I am there telling stories and helping people draw little books about their adventures on the day!Link: Credenhill Park Wood

Sunday 16th: Tiny! Beasts, birds and butterflies:
another delightful day of Tiny! things: join us in the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton (find us by the younger children’s playground). We’ll be making tiny puppets, no bigger than a hand (more or less). Activities are free, materials provided, just wander by and join in. Sessons 11 - 1 and 2 - 4. A Stone and Water event as part of Buxton Festival Fringe
Saturday 22nd: Buxton Pride Picnic: 3 - 6pm: Celebrating Queer Buxton* ( or LGBT+ and all our friends) with an afternoon of gracefulness silliness and frivolous strength. Bring your own exquisite nibbles, an umbrella or parasol if appropriate, and join us on the lawn for a picnic. Add a poem to read from our queer history, an elegant dress or simply your own wonderful self to the mix for a relaxed celebration of Queer Buxton. A Stone and Water event as part of Buxton Festival Fringe

Friday 28th: I’ll be at Druid Camp with all you lovely folk  on a hillside in the Forest of Dean - doing a session on landscape, inspiration and animal spirits

Sunday 30th: Northwich: I’ll be there as part of the Do It Together project for Rudheath and Witton Together…Vickers Park, all day - making minikites and windsocks: more details to follow

Monday 31st: Marvellous Medieval Medicines: at The Venue, Gadbrook Rd, Northwich, CW9 7JL. In partnership with Weaver Hall Museum. Become a plague doctor and discover the disgusting truth about treating diseases in the middle ages. Make a plague doctor mask, learn about horrible ancient ailments and devise your own cures, make your own leech, write your own Pharmacopeia!
This event is free and no booking is needed: just drop-by and join in. Children under 7 years need to be accompanied by an adult
Another event in the Do It Together project for Rudheath and Witton Together

we'll make tiny animals...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Telling Toads: looking for stories

Telling Toads
Celebrate the wonder of Toads with a story, 
a poem or a personal anecdote
sing a song of Toadiness! *

Have you a tale you could tell? A poem that could hop its way onto these pages? A new story that should be spoken? This is an invitation to celebrate the amphibians of the world, from the Frog in your pond to the Toad who creeps through the woodland, from the sheer excitement of a wriggle of tadpoles to the glory of a toad’s golden eyes. Join me for a celebration of Toads through words.

In this, the Froglife Year of the Toad, here at Creeping Toad, I am inviting people to add their own creative ideas to a collection of Toad (and frog and tree frog,) stories and poems.  Initially, we will aim to encourage people to share these beyond the blog where they will appear, to read them aloud, to tell stories, declaim poems by ponds and generally celebrate Toads and their cousins.

Amphibians are in danger. Of all the vertebrate groups, amphibians seem to be in the most perilous of situations as populations across the world dwindle before pollution and habitat loss and the ravages of infections they have no defence against. Froglife is a UK based charity that sets out to promote amphibian conservation through active habitat management and wider education. While, Froglife is UK-based, the issues facing amphibians are global and I hope that by sharing our stories and poems we might add a little more momentum to a wider awareness of the wonders of the amphibian worlds. The decision to launch a Year of the Toad campaign grew out of the research presented in a Froglife paper: while the wonderful (and not always sad) book In Search of Lost Frogs by Robin Moore is a great way of connecting to the issues confronting individual species across the Earth. Robin’s book is reviewed on this blog, here

this tiny person is a Leptopelis from Malawi - from a very old slide!
I am not going to go into the conservation issues here. The Froglife website is a good starting point for UK folks and I am sure you can find local sites in other countries. Here, I would like to invite and challenge my friends in the storytelling, natural history writing and poetry worlds – and just about anyone who feels inspired - to drop their words into this Toad-pool. There are no prizes, probably no money, but I invite us all just to share our creativity because it is a good thing to do. Not because it is weak or feeble or over-privileged but because sharing rewards by its own action and if telling someone else’s story, reciting someone else’s poem can help excite a listener to look a little more closely at the frogs in the field, then we’ll be doing a good job.

What we’re looking for
We’re looking for poems or short stories about frog and toads. These might be personal anecdotes, reports of your own adventures, retelling of ancient myths, or pieces catching what you find is the essence of toad-life. We don’t want scientific papers – but the personal experience of that study might give us rich words to share
No of words: to keep this under some sort of control: maximum number of words is 500

Other practical stuff
Nature of work: if your work is racist, sexist, or discriminates on the grounds of species, religion or gender identity, or comes across as simply offensive, we will reject it
The work must be your own original work: if it has been published before, at this stage that is OK as long as we have your permission to put it on a blog. If we build to publication we’ll need to revisit this. We will, meanwhile acknowledge the original publication if you include the details! In submitting your work, you accept that it might be published online and that this is acceptable to you. If the possibility of publication with remuneration develops, we will come back to you
Editorial control: I am the editor of the Toadwords collection and while I will refer to other writers for opinions, I will hold editorial control
Submissions language: English please! Unless there is someone out there who might want to run a parallel Spanish or other language version

What will happen
1. First responses:  initally, we’ll see what sort of response we get. First submissions will be published on my Creeping Toad blog. If submissions build up in numbers, we’ll set up a separate Toadwords blog or website. LINK TO TOADBLOG
2.  Growing numbers: If numbers and quality of work merits it, we’ll look at producing an online resource for people to tap into. Perhaps as a downloadable pdf. If there would be charge for this, we will contact authors about royalties and permissions
3. As work comes in, selected pieces will also appear on the Froglife website and might feature in issues of the newsletter Natterchat

As word or plain-text attachments please to:

Froglife: and just so no-one can say they don’t know, yes I am not at all impartial. I like Froglife. I am one of their Trustee’s and think the whole Year of the Toad initiative is a good one for rattling a few cages (or splashing in a few ponds) and I have no qualms at all about saying that I think they/we are an excellent organisation

Newts, salamanders and caecilians: and no, we’re not ignoring the rest of the amphibian order, but as The Year of the Toad concentrates on Toads, this project has a tail-less emphasis. If you are inspired by salamanders, motivated by newts or just excessively excited by the caecilian muse, send it in!

* Pictures: all these pictures are by myself apart from * by Kenny Taylor

Dragonflies and printed beetles

Dragonflies and printed beetles
activities in Rudheath and Witton

A week of heat and stories in Rudheath this week with workshop in Victoria Rd Primary School and at Grozone

At Victoria Rd, we’re doing a series of family learning sessions, inviting parents and carers to join our artists as we work with each class in the school. This has been very successful so far: lots of laughter and fun (see this entry) and a good turn out from the grown-ups.

I was there this week, working with the Year 2 class making up adventure stories about the school’s eco-area. Inevitably, stories became complicated: we heard about a sinister house full of traps for the unwary, there were pet woodlice, a houseful of fairies, a boy who went adventuring with his dog and some very mysterious animals….

distracting flora
Then on Saturday, as part of the Big Get Together Weekend (and also the Big Lunch Weekend) we joined a picnic day at Grozone. This wonderful community garden project in Northwich kept distracting us with sunshine, ponds (I am very easily distracted by ponds specially ones with such an array of dragonflies and where newts hang delicately suspended in the water). We worked with visitors to make books about the garden: what they had seen, what they liked best, what they had had for their picnic lunches….

distracting dragonflies!

Our next sessions
The Family Learning sessions at Victoria Rd continue and a similar project starts at Rudheath Primary
Next public sessions:
  • 30th July; drop-in art sessions as part of the community fun day at Vickery Park
  • 31st July: Marvellous Medieval Medicines at The Venue – make your own leech and other delights!
  • August: there will be several kite-making workshops and other tasty wriggles of creativity 

Our Do It Together project is part of the much bigger Rudheath and Witton Together  (RWT) programme (a Big Local project for the Lottery), my colleague and fellow-adventurer Sarah Males and I are coordinate a programme of creative public events - and are happy to hear suggestions for events, themes, people and places! 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Heads rolling across the market place....

Beware of the bridge!

Traditional Hertfordshire Project

an old lady with a wheeled basket, an innocent moment? probably not!
There was another day of storyshaping – thank you Whitehill Junior School in Hitchin! A day of ideas and possibilities, plunging into the depths of Wymondley Woods (from the safety of the school hall), rolling bowling balls and skulls and toppled carriages down Hitchin High St, burying treasures in St Mary’s Church, in fake graves (look for the tombstone with a chest carved onto it), in the tunnels under the Market Place (“you can get into them from my house”)

We despatched people to hold parties on roundabouts on 15th June to watch for the headless ghost of Cavalier Goring riding from Pirton to The Priory, still hoping for safety from the pursuing Roundheads (at least they’ve still got theirs!)

Jack O'Legs as a puppet
Heads, or the lack of them, became a recurrent theme: there were headless horsemen, headless horses, and even a carriage that rolled around the streets collecting all these stray heads, until it toppled over (took a corner too fast) and spilled heads across the Market Place. We recommend not going ghost-hunting on the anniversary of that particular incident

And we heard of the (Horrible) Hair Rugs of Hitchin. There was, it seems, a household of elderly ladies and gents who would take pity on the poor waifs of the town and invite them in for tea and cake – and shave their heads (“you’ve got nits, my dear. This is the only way to get rid of them”).  No medicated shampoo here!. The out of the stolen hair the old folks would spin fine threads but with a slightly greasy feel, and weave rugs…so now, if you find yourself sitting on an old rug in a Hitchin house you should always rub it carefully between a thumb and forefinger then compare that feel with the feel of your own hair and make your own decisions about where you want to sit…..

There is a wonderful exhibition of Hitchin folklore panels that will be travelling around the county. The exhibition is full of interesting snippets and words and stories. We just added some new ones….

the Headless theme continues....

Public event on Saturday 10th: wonderful music (thank you, Paul Scourfield), wonderful Morris dancers (thank you Baldock MidnightMorris) and wonderful people – and more headless characters….and thank you North Hertfordshire Museum for bringing me along to be part of all this!

thank you, Midnight Morris, for music, laughter and enjoying the dance!