Sunday, 10 September 2017

Plagues, kites and other delights!

Flying kites, festering sores and other delights!

Summer activities and winter plans

Rudheath and Witton 2017

a single stalk of grass can set an activity in motion

horrible ailments proved remarkably popular!
After a summer of liveliness, in the Rudheath and Witton Do It Together project we are turning towards autumn and thinking of winter activities

Over the summer season, we saw the completion of the first of the Lost Tales of Rudheath (with Rudheath Primary Academy) and of art and story workshops at Victoria Road Primary School. In public events we made, flew and crashed a few kites, gave people horrible diseases with associated horrible medieval cures and catastrophes. We made small fluttering windsocks and delicate mobiles of natural materials. In public events we met more than 200 local residents and through school sessions including children and visiting parents,  another 400 folk joined the ranks of the “Did It Together”!

small corners inspired small stories
Our aim is to plan and deliver creative events: inviting people to try something new, preferably something that we hope they can go away and try again. So we have used everyday materials where possible, worked in familair places that people can come back to and used technqiues that are quick to learn and easy to transfer

Now we are looking at a colder season and new ideas. We have some thoughts and hope and plans but would like to hear from our Rudheath and Witton friends about other things they would like to do.

Our plans include the following: if you have other thoughts - or particularly like the look of any of these (or don’t like the look…) please let us know! Either leave a comment here or through our facebook page or by email:

the richness of autumn

Celebrating the seasons and the special qualities of Rudheath and Witton
  •     outdoor art with natural objects at Grozone
  •     a wintry storywalk
  •     lantern making: the lights of Rudheath: capturing buildings, shapes, people, activities, the sculptures in Griffiths Park
  •     small lights for houses: join us to hold onto miniature moments of Rudheath in tiny lanterns for table tops and corners, small treasures for the dark evenings
  •     an evening walk with lanterns and maybe some carol-singing in December
  •     Rudheath stories 2: collecting memories, writing poems and stories, working with artefacts from Weaver Hall Museum to remind of activities, games, dreams and promises
  •     maybe finding the next of the Lost Tales
last lights of autumn
Who to work with
  • anyone!
  • older residents
  • Church Walk Primary School - who we have not met before
  • Victoria Road and Rudheath Primary Schools - who feel like old friends
  • families
  • nursery age children either in groups or with parents

Where to do things!
  •     outside? Roker Park, Griffiths Park, the smaller green spaces among streets
  •     The Venue
  •     Social Club
  •     in the schools
  •     any other suggestions?

First activities will start in October and run through October, November and December - so get in touch soon!

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Chicken Cake Bird

The Holly Lodge Centre

Richmond Park

August 2017

birds in the bushes
And down in the woods, something stirred: or rather somethings: small birds, woodland lanterns, occasional pirates, treasure chests, more birds, nests and perches, pirate galleons we had them all during a week at Holly Lodge centre in Richmond Park

Working with children and young people with additional needs, with support groups and family networks, with life-limiting conditions and smiles, we had a lively week of activities

I think the poem we wrote with children from Knots Arts sums up the sense of adventure and inquiry and degree of silliness very well

"all of the children were raving about (the brilliant day) on the way home!
It was so lovely to just let them be able to play and explore " Knots Arts

printing: the growing landscape of the Park


Come into the Park,
Across a big field,
Behind a big tree,
Look up into the sky
Into the clouds,
And there you might …
You might see some big, black Crows
Watching you.

Keep walking.

On the very edge,
Of the very end,
Next to the pond,
If you are lucky,
You might see Fury the Phoenix.

Keep walking.

When you get to the Centre,
Go outside, through the window
Climb over the house,
Walk between the yellow birds,
Carefully, carefully between the yellow birds,
Look in the leaves at the top of the tree
There you might see the Chicken Cake Bird.

And in the woods
You might hear,

A bird in a tree.
I followed that bird and found
An Owl’s House
When the Owl was sleeping.

Under the roof,
Under a bush,
Across the water,
I found some sticks and blackberries,
I found a fallen feather and some leaves,
And a fairy cup for the birds to drink out of.

And there I heard the birds talking,
Singing the Song of the Beautiful Nest.

“Wood and leaves and bark and berries,
Leaves and wood and really cool sticks,
Tiny green leaves and blackberries
Will make a beautiful nest”.

Holly Lodge Centre 21st August 2017
created by children 5 - 8 years old from Knots Arts during the Creeping Toad Arts Week of workshops, 2017

with many thanks to the young people, staff and families of Knots Arts; Me, You and Co; Crossroads and Momentum

Wild words and leafy pages: training course


Wild words and leafy pages

4th October 2017
9.30am - 4.30pm
Dartington Estate, Totnes
£75 | £95 | £120 *

I am leading this day for Wildwise - contact them for bookings but details follow:

playful creativity
A day to play with words, this workshop encourages participants to find “adventures everywhere”... anywhere. It will offer activities designed to draw inspiration from simple observation, fostering confidence in participants own skills and encouraging innovation within supportive activity structures. The activities used will also allow ideas to merge as a number of short activities flow together to give longer more intricate adventures
The activities used here have been tried and tested with family groups, on adult events and with school children - often in situations where Literacy is an issue and activities are needed that remove worry and fear and encourage simple enjoyment of words

Programme will include:
  • first words: setting out on an adventure 
  • adventures everywhere: short activities with minimal equipment for use outside 
  • holding onto adventures: ways of recording our words 
  • bigger stories: working in groups to make quick, longer pieces
celebrate wonder
Activity options:
  • developing story characters,
  • deriving adventures from found objects or artefacts
  • making your own books
  • the value of treasure
  • story bundles
* rates for individuals / charities / businesses

For late availability and/or last minute bookings please call 07919 093784
 BOOK NOW: here

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A purple shimmer with peacocks

A purple shimmer of Blue John,
a peacock flare hidden in crystal :
the Unfinished Poems project at
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,

Polish black or shimmer blue,

Of languid tale or unslumbering wake,

Minerals glinting with a different hue,

Of rock and earth for sorrow or mirth,

For times gone by and of memories new.

(Laura Huxford)

The Collections of the Artists project is reaching its final stages now. Exciting pieces of work are poised to appear among the treasures of the Wonders of the Peak gallery in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

this landscape offers a lot
I have been writing poems and stories inspired by the collection. There have been earlier pieces here (links at foot of page). One of the latest pieces I have been working on is not a single bit of writing but is rather a set of unfinished poems: 2 lines that might provoke a response relating to different aspects of the collection. There are 8 of these poems, printed on postcards with a picture to colour in and some possibly useful words scattered around, inviting people to complete the poems as they explore, colour in the picture and send the postcard to a friend (but hoping they will send us the poems as well!)

The first poems are coming in now so I thought I would post these and invite readers of the blog to add their own responses to the opening lines. You may never have seen our Galleries but then you might have your own history of over-enthusiastic diggers, beautiful stone and prehistoric tool makers…

There are 8 Poems in the set: I’ll do the 3 here that we’ve had responses to and post others over the next couple of weeks
(uncredited poems are ones handed in by visitors with no name attached)

If you do write your own completed poem: send it to
I can’t promise to use everything but will try to

Ashford Black Marble with inlaid decoration


Starting points here are the Ashford Black Marble pieces and our Blue John carvings and window

these are the line drawings visitors have been colouring in

2. Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,
Polish black or shimmer blue,
In everything I seek,
None can compare
To the Wonders of the Peak

Unfinished poem:
Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,
Polish black or shimmer blue

Useful words: new, wake, make, bake, flew, blew


those cairns didn't stand much chance
A lot of our collection grew from the efforts of those Victorian enthusiasts who went out across and under the Peaks

3. Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound
Where my ancestor lies undisturbed
Until I pull him out.

 4. Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound
A spade is a spade by no other name
So, it is plain to say, just shovel away

Unfinished poem:
Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound

Useful words: worth, hearth, treasures, found, ground

And largely as a result of those Victorians above, we have a large collection of prehistoric tools including delicate Mesolithic flints that lie like notes on the staves of their display cards. There are careful arrowheads, polished stone axes and more…
mesolithic flints
5. A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
A knife splits flesh from the bone,
The echoes sound throughout the wood.

6. A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
The branch bends, the sinew sings,
That flint on an arrow
Brings the goose to the fire
And the family rests.
(Creeping Toad)

Unfinished poem:

A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,

Useful words: moan, groan, alone, bone, good, food

With many thanks to the writers, known and unknown, of our finished poems!  

Blogs connected to this proejct:

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A dark necklace

A dark necklace…

Telling Toads, 2:

poems and stories for the Year of the Toad

The poems are still slipping in. Slowly, carefully, toad-hopping rather than frog-leaping, possibly even salamander-crawling, but I am hoping to share a new set of words every month and here are the offerings from July

A Haiku special is brewing and a set of photos to give you something to think about is coming in the next few days

I put out a request on facebook for some extra photos to accompany poems and stories and am now wading through an amphibian tidal wave of images. It does, however, give me some rich images to choose from…

If you'd like to find out more about this project, visit the blog post here: Telling Toads

Thanks you, Jane Millum
1. Friend Frog
Tessa Strickland

Friend Frog, your eyes are water jewels.
   Looking at you, I see orbs
of liquid mineral looking back.

You are as inscrutable as a Buddha,
    and I wonder, what is it that you see
gazing out of your frog world

at this bulky, shadowed being-thing
    which has arms and legs, like you,
a heart, like you, but a breathing  apparatus

that can no longer live amphibiously,
    a body that can no longer leap
between river and hill.

Friend Frog, you who can
    hear the earth talk, who can sense
the shifting tremors of the underworld

with your small, exquisite body,
    you who can see and hear and interpret
the elements in ways that are lost to me,

Forgive me, Friend Frog,
   for the way I trample through your domain
in heavy boots.

one of Rob's Axolotls
2. Axolotl
Rob Bounds
In the 1980’s I had one of these amphibians – one of a number of waifs and strays pets adopted alongside gerbils, hamsters and an ill-tempered rabbit.  Said creature came into my possession after its previous owner thought it would make an interesting additional to his fish tank, resulting in his aquarium ending up goldfishless!

30 or so years later I now have another one of these fascinating “walking fish” – alongside a collection of other waif and stray pets…..

When people see this Mexican marvel they frequently say….

“What is that…?”
Some say he’s ugly, some say he is cute.
With his feathery gills he looks like a newt.
He’s not a frog and he’s not a toad,
you won’t see him in a pond or crossing the road.

He’s incredibly rare and can’t be found in the wild.
He never grows up – he’s a perpetual child.
He’s the Water Dog god the Aztecs called Xolotl
Meet my amphibian friend the Axolotl.

3. Haikode to the beginnings of Toad
By WeeVee left as a comment on an earlier post

Elegant toadspawn
Festooned from weed like bunting
Aristocrat toads

Frogs lay globulous
Blobs discombobulous
Toads think 'how common'

3 Pond thoughts
Gordon MacLellan
Some experiments here with a  fib poem (follows a Fibonacci sequence in its lines) and two cinquains (a set sequence of syllables). I then got caught in a personal discussion about whether "wriggling" is two syllables or three

And again,
And tadpoles squirming
Into a wriggling explosion
Fill a pond with life and hope and dreams of transformation.

A string of pearls,
Dark necklace for green weeds,
A gift of wriggling cheerfulness,
With hops.

Legs on a lump
Of knobbled mud, turning slow,
Blinking golden eyes, gulps a fly,
And stops.

With many thanks to our poets and photographers

What's going on? background to this project: Telling Toads 

First poems and pictures are publsihed here:  The First Elegant Hops

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Flamingo's Beak

The Flamingo’s Beak

and other stories

Visual Stories Project

Newark Library


A walnut tree drops green-husked nuts on the pavement outside Newark Library and squirrels busily chew their way into those tender centres. I wonder if any get a chance to ripen fully before our summer ends - or the squirrels take them all, but that is another story

We had enough stories of our own inside the library on Monday 7th August. New stories: not written into books or spoken onto disc, just stories growing over the afternoon, adding faces and feathers, settling into written words for some, staying fluid and shifting and verbal for others.

Koala mask and story-card
We heard about the sunlight and shadows that painted stripes on the zebra and the tiger that was hunting her. We met the koala reduced to wearing a furry grey onsie when the parrots stole his colourful feathers. There was a flamingo who dipped her beak in an inkwell and has been black-tipped ever since (but who makes some pocket-money writing postcards for all the other animals who can’t). Then there was the beautiful alicorn, adventurous mice, a cat, an owl, a dolphin and a seal.
My fellow artist in this workshop was Jessica Kemp who was getting the mask-making going. More of Jess' work can be viewed here

Goyle of Notre Dame
Goyle perched on his pedestal, his deep red eyes observing the world below. The chattering people were like ants - chittering constantly. Sometimes there was destruction but Goyle knew he was safe on the top of Notre Dame. As he padded along the stone columns and was about to lift his wings when he heard a crow.

“Dead things! Everything I eat, everything humans eat are dead things!”

Curiously, Goyle asked, “What about chocolate?”

The crow jumped up, “Eek! Ya scared me, son, but I will answer your question. Chocolate is dead coco beans like bread is dead wheat!”

When Goyle told his family they were so shocked they all turned to stone! So next time you scare your friends, make sure you do not scare them like the crow.

My apologies to the young man who wrote Goyle's Story: I didn't catch your name! if you see this post, let me know and I'll add it. Well done! What a neat, vivid tale.

This was my last workshop for the Visual Stories project but there are more library sessions (in Nottinghamshire) to come during the holidays. Visit the website here to find out where and when

To see about some of our other adventures in this project, visit this post:  As black as two top hats
The Unicat's Garden
an elegant Alicorn

Saturday, 5 August 2017

as black as two top hats

As black and as smart as two Top Hats

The Visual Stories Project,


Summer 2017

a watchful cheetah

a bird not be trifled with
In July and August I have been one of the artists involved in the Visual Stories Project* for Nottinghamshire’s Inspire organisation

Here, storytellers and visual artists (mostly mask makers) have been working with children from West Bridgford and Mattersey Primary Schools and other children in libraries during the school holidays to blend storytelling with mask-making and then shaping new stories either as individuals or as whole companies.

The results of school workshops are on display in West Bridgford and Retford Libraries just now. An online resource arising from the project should develop by the autumn.

In my sessions, predictably, our stories wandered in many directions. In Mattersey we heard stories about a bold Pirate Frog sailing his plastic boat across the wide seas of grass and of a lonely hedgehog. 

The artist team included
Anna Roebuck, maker
Stephen John Mask-maker
Nicky Rafferty, storyteller 
Jess Kemp, maker

The Frog Pirate
There was a frog who wanted to be a pirate and go looking for treasure. He made a boat in a plastic box, with dry grass for a soft bed and a stick mast with a big leaf for a sail. He sailed across the seas of grass where the grass sharks swam and mud-whales appeared until he reached the pond. In the pond, he could see an island and he thought there must be treasure buried on that island! When he sailed his boat onto the pond, the water bubbled in through the holes in its bottom. The boat sank. But the frog could swim so he was safe. He found some treasure but he couldn’t take it anywhere so he stayed there on the island in the pond counting his gold.

a tiger mask and tiger story
In library workshops, drawing on this year’s Summer Reading Challenge theme of Animal Agents, we wandered again. We have heard unexpected stories: of a seagull and a butterfly, of the mouse who tickled the tiger’s nose (not always a good plan), of a beautiful bird from Hogwarts Academy (a firebird, not the same as a Phoenix)

Firebird story in development: we worked with pop-up sculptures

Animal masks grew from card with Stephen Jon Mask-maker or from recycled plastic bags where the deft use of iron by Anna Roebuck melted carrier bag collage into tough plastic forms

I’ll post pictures below with some of our poems and stories….

Mattersey PS
Find your way into a world of animals and stories:

Behind the tree where the owl sleeps,
Across the sky where the arrows shoot,
Beside the tree where the deer leaps,
Between the trees where the fox waits,
Over a bridge where a troll sleeps,
If you stand there
You will find baby hedgehogs

Foxes chase rabbits, chase deer
Through this bright sunny forest
And if you come here you will find butterflies dancing together in the sky.

Two crows

There were crows,

Two crows,

As black as darkness,

As black as night-time,

As black as black as black,

As black and as smart as two Top-hats.

Two crows

As naughty as owls,

As naughty as little sisters,

Even naughtier than pigeons

That pinch people’s bottoms.

Two crows, out looking for trouble…

building stories with models and scavenged objects

Once there was a hedgehog who had no friends. None of the other animals would talk to him because he was so prickly and they thought he would prickle them.
One day he curled up in his hedgehog house under the shed and dreamed of rainbows. He dreamed of sliding down rainbows. He dreamed of meeting the rabbits that live in the sky and making friends with them.
Then he woke up and he woke up feeling sad because he knew he would still be lonely. But when he woke up he saw that all his prickles were rainbow coloured and beside him was a rainbow rabbit. They were best friends forever.

Summer Holiday Library workshop stories

The Mouse's Food Swap
One normal day, a mouse went to get his usual food which was apples but when he got there all the apples had vanished. The mouse was very disappointed until he spotted three trees full of berries. The mouse scurried up the trees as quick as he could. And from that day onwards he always ate berries and as he ate the berries and needed to climb in the trees to get them his tail grew longer and could wrap itself round branches
(Sutton-in-Ashfield Library)

Rosetta the Cheetah Queen
Once upon a time, there was lived a beautiful cheetah called Rosetta who was the Queen of the Rainbow World. One day, she went on an adventure so she packed her bag of delicious rainbow trifle and rainbow fizz and then she set off. On her way, she saw a beautiful rainbow but then she came across a cheetah witch who was very bad and tried to kill her. But she didn’t. To be continued….
(Stapleford Library)

Rosetta (on the left) and a beaker of rainbow fizz, with straw

*Visual Stories is a county (Nottinghamshire) wide project inspired by the Summer Reading Challenge theme Animal Agents. Animal Agents is running in all Inspire libraries from 15 July to 10 September.  Find out more
Visual artists and story tellers have worked with schools to create wonderful exhibitions for two of Inspires library galleries this summer in West Bridgford and Retford.

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.