Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ye Traditional Wassail

We've been planning a Wassail, and being a bit of an urban chic hippy folky, I only had a vague idea it involved cider, making a noise, and possibly bearded men with bells.  So I did a bit of googling:

1860 Wassail Bowl Scene Moonlight Children John Gilbert
For history, Wikipedia was helpful dating it back to the 'Middle Ages' from southern England, christian celebration on the twelth night (6th Jan).  Other sources hint at a more general Germanic source, and pre-christian tree worship on the other twelth night, of pre Gregorian Calandar 1752 - (17th Jan), e.g.  this one, and ones here and here).
Thanks to Mister David

Wassail is a contraction of the Middle English phrase waes hael meaning literally 'good health', and most articles I read also refer to the 'Wassail bowl', filled with a mulled cider.  There are recipes for wassail, and some folk go further in suggesting particular woods needed for the turned wassail bowl, peculiarly Lignum Vitae from South America(?), or maple.

The art, and the music of Wassail tells of two different traditions merging slowly into one - a blessing of a significant apple tree, and door-to-door christmas carol singing, begging a sup of cider from the master.  See lyrics of the two most popular carols (of which there are many):

1856 London Twlefth Night Wassail Bowl Children Dog Party
Also hear the wonderful Kate Rusby singing one of them, or try youtube for range of folkies and others singing.

The Wassail Song

...We are not daily beggars 
That beg from door to door
But we are neighbours children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you
And to you your Wassail too,
And God bless you and send you 
A happy new year...

Gloucestershire Wassail

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee 

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek 
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef 
And a good piece of beef that may we all see 
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee...

Wassail hasn't entirely been subsumed into any religions, and being an 'English' tradition it has few champions, apart from an unholy alliance of cider drinkers, morris dancers and carol singers.  It's got a clearer message than other new year 'traditions', like fox hunting, Jools Holland and heavy drinking, so  here's wishing you all  WASSAIL!

Useful links:

Friday, 23 December 2011

Cake, pies and pomanders

Mincemeat from last week was ready to use - not enough time/ kitchen rather busy to do today, so left behind for another time.  We made one pomander, but spent the bulk of our time on the rather magnificent cake decorating:

Friday, 16 December 2011

BMAG History Galleries ready to go!

Today as a CAP member, I was invited to an informal ceremony at BMAG, over a mince pie and coffee, to mark the handover of the Birmingham History Galleries from the building contractor.

The History Galleries are a major £9m capital project which will tell the story of Birmingham from earliest times to the present day.  The galleries are not due to open to the public until September 2012.  We had the opportunity to have a look around the new galleries before the exhibition fit-out starts and see the building in its 'natural' state. In addition to exposing and restoring the Edwardian historic fabric of the Grade II* listed structure, there are some nice modern touches including naturally lit arrival and orientation spaces and a spectacular oculus rooflight which descends through two floors of the building.

It's a fabulous space now, and really makes the most of the features.  Looking forward to seeing it filled with goodies!

CAP is the Community Action Panel - a group of local people from different backgrounds and cultures, including community workers, artists, teachers, parents and musicians. It is one of three advisory groups that have been adivising BMAG on the History Galleries - if you want to get involved, visit their site.

A crude 300 degrees view of the main entrance space - the main exhib spaces leads off here, along with toilets and other bits and bobs, all newly fitted and looking shiny new - with Richard Stratham, Interpretation and Audience Development Officer, BMAG

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Co-construction of Wikipedia

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to do some Wiki training and become a Wikipedia editor, thanks Emma Buckler of the soon to end MLA.  Arts Council England takes over museums and libraries responsibilities, while The National Archives 'assumes responsibility for providing strategic leadership to the archives sector and advising government on its development.'  A curious arrangement leading to more unanswered questions over the future of libraries and museums.  But that's for another blog.

There are, in fact, many thousands of wikis, but the English part of Wikipedia is what we were interested in.  Love it or hate it, it is the biggest, and most widely used encyclopedia in the world, with over 20 million articles and growing at an incredible rate. Andy Mabbett, our trainer, outlined just what makes Wikipedia:

  • is [only] an on-line encyclopedia
  • strives to be balanced and impartial
  • is free content
  • editors should be nice to each other
  • no firm rules
These are the five pillars of Wikipedia, although I'd argue #5 shouldn't really be there - maybe I can edit it out of Wikipedia?  As quickly as possible Andy moved us onto editing our own content - not an easy task as writing entries is a little clumsy, and knowledge of .html is helpful.

Once we started, I was surprised how stringent Wikipedia is.  I had thought to train primary children to enter their own entries about people they thought were important.  It might yet be possible, but may take longer as the pillars suggest entries need to be 'notable' - to be notable you should cite at least three 'reputable' sources, and ensure you are being 'impartial'.  It is frowned upon to reference to your own blogs or write about yourself or your own organisation.  You also need to have some understanding of copyright and permission to use photos and other material.  Plagarism, unsurprisingly, is a big no no.

What also became clear is just how many people are out there apparently spending large portions of their day prowling wikipedia, as both vandals and vigilantes.  There is even a 'random article' button you are encouraged to hit and check articles existing in Wiki, in any spare moment you have.

One trainee had not completed all her citations before saving to wiki.  Within five minutes the entry was being deleted by another editor somewhere in the ether, before it had even been completed.  Another trainee received a slapped wrist, again from a wikieditor out there, for too closely copying material from another source.  By the end of the day we also had a case of 'Geohacking' happen and resolved by another wikieditor: The googlemaps link to a nearby heritage site was sending the Wiki user to a webpage about a strip joint in Birmingham.  

What I think is most surprising, and promising for the future, is how quickly volunteer editors picked up on all the above problems and corrected them - an indicator of the quality of entries and editors.  I can see why more serious academics are increasingly using wikis in a similar way to the more specialist journals which are increasingly on-line too.  Instead of peer review only, wikis open up your article for review and editing to a far greater number of people who will have many different specialisms and knowledge.  Wikipedia and the other associated wikis opens up serious academic articles to a far larger audience instantly, with free content openly available to develop ideas for the good of all.

My first entry was co-construction  of learning -  considering what wikipedia represents, a bit of a shocker no one had thought to put this one in.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

More xmas crafts

The last two weeks we've been hard at work painting the salt dough xmas tree shapes, making the mincemeat ready for next time, making real holly and ivy streamers and table decorations.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Missing the Chickens at Four Dwellings High

Feather-footed friend at Woodgate
On a beautiful sunny November afternoon, I was with my kids, admiring the feathered feet chickens, and avoiding the chinese geese at Woodgate Valley Urban Farm.  Looking out from the corner of the field, I think I saw the astroturf (or something light greeny) of Four Dwellings High.

Chickens are something you can't help hearing when you walk around Four Dwellings High.  They are there, strutting around in the central square - a living school farm in the middle of the school.  Strangely, when you spend a bit of time there, the noise isn't disturbing.  It's actually quite comforting, and in keeping with the relaxed, warm, friendly atmosphere you'll find there.  As the Head, Bernie Smith, pointed out in 2002, the chickens do represent something of the philosophy at the school:

'to get chickens laying, you have to get the conditions right. Even then it will be some time before they start to produce eggs.'

Looking to pioneering work nurturing young minds, encouraging engagement and participation with important issues of today, FDH keeps popping up.  I was at an event looking to the future of green schools at Thinktank - Four Dwelling students were there.  The chickens weren't, but were much talked about.  I was talking to a teacher from a girls school recently about Birmingham suffregettes - FDH have done it already:

Children’s Lives, which will be the first major project in Birmingham and the West Midlands to consider children’s lived experiences from the 18th century to the present day, again FDH are there.  It was one of a handful of UK schools identified in a report written by University of Birmingham:

'As part of the Carnegie Young People Initiative and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation programme of work on pupil participation, we were asked to identify case study schools in different contexts in England, which demonstrate good practice.'

So all this nurturing of young minds, is it working? Well, they recently beat Camp Hill to become Midlands champions in a national competition to inspire business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future last month - The National Final will be held at Wembley Stadium on January 25th 2012.  FDH also boasted two England shirts for the 1-0 victory against Sweden last month.

There are individual successes, but what is more impressive is the development of a community feel throughout the school, despite the distance many students live from each other, and 'many of the areas from which the school draws its pupils are deprived' (OFSTED).

I'm writing this blog because that feeling of 'family' - mutual support and empathy - includes staff and even visitors like me.

'Eternal Light' near Tommy Knocker's Tree
I first worked there in 2005 to support Graham Langley, working on 'Who are we?' - a project where we created a story (and a scrap model) from the wonderful local place names and performed to Four Dwellings Primary Yr6 as part of transition to the High school.

Since then I've worked on a range of projects as part of Creative Partnerships, with Birmingham Library Service and Birmingham Archives and Heritage, with various year groups, departments, staff and creative practitioners, all fantastic fun, and always reflecting the school’s philosophy to ‘make life better for all', listening and enabling students to make decisions, take action for themselves.

I agree with Bernie Smith and 'urge you to come and find out why it is so special', if only to sit and listen to chickens laying eggs.

Other projects:

The Goo!
Working with Science Embassadors (yrs 7 to 9) to make a short science fiction film and launch a school-wide 'science invasion' day.

Chocolate and Slavery

Film re-creation of a court case one hundred years ago in which William Cadbury sued the London Standard for libel, having been accused of using slave labour in his Sao Tome and Principe plantations.  Comparison with modern day slavery in chocolate industry and the positioning of media, the public and chocolate industry in light of continuing child labour, bonded labour and slavery.

Early Years Reflective Workshops