Friday 24 February 2012

Showing off School Archives

Last week Greg James from Radio 1 asked his listeners to try out 'stop showing off' -  'the ultimate put down'.  Many listeners responded with stories of how people responded to Mum's favourite phrase to keep Greg in his place.  I don't remember my Mum saying this, but as I was planning a workshop, based on Katy Aquaye-Tonge's suitcase workshop, it made me worry I was just 'showing off'.

When I met James Irwin, I thought was Buzz Aldrin

The purpose of my workshop is to explore what an archive is, and what exactly belongs in a school community archive.  I've collected a few things of my own and will ask the children what they think.  All of these things are personal and I think say a lot about the childhood I had, although I will be interested to see how the children respond.

As I was selecting items, I did try to select items relevant to children now - some memorabilia from the Queen's silver Jubilee, a signed photo of Irwin on the moon, a couple of my action men, alongside other items which may be a little alien or exotic to them - letters to my Dad, a signed picture of Cathy Secker, or a camera script for Songs of Praise.  As I selected items, I wondered if what I was planning was right.  If I was showing them about my childhood, was I just 'showing off''?

Maybe, but if that's how I feel, imagine how it feels to be 9, 10 11 years old, talking about yourself?  Maybe for Greg this 'put down' stung so much because he felt what he had to say was unimportant and that his opinions mattered less than adults.

I don't want to present my mini archive as 'the definitive' school archive collection, but I don't want to be embarrassed to show people what I thought and did as a child.  I want to encourage children to start showing off.

To end with a quote used by Nelson Mandela, from Maryanne Williamson:

Who are you to not let your light shine?...when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others

Here's some of my stuff:

Old boys badge

A letter to my Dad detailing shoe inspection

Selection of school photos, including boys shining shoes

School photos from Queen's silver jubilee
Coins from Silver Jubilee and Charles and Di's wedding

My Action men

Mum coming last in egg and spoon race, again (but not dropping egg once).

The wonderful Cathy Secker

My school uniform

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Monday 20 February 2012

Militant Secularists join with others

Today Baroness Warsi, Tory Chairman, suggesting we are being 'overtaken by militant secularists'. It wasn't a term I was familiar with - militant islamists, yes, militant feminists, yes, militant secularists?  The usual term for what, I think, she was talking about (mainly in American politics) - Militant Atheism.  The 'Conservapedia', alongside a large image of Stalin, defines it:

Militant atheism is a term applied to atheism which is hostile towards religion.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Militant atheists regard their doctrine as something to be propagated,[3][8] and thus differ from moderate atheists because they hold religion to be harmful.[4][3][2]

Baroness Warsi warns of a 'rising tide of militant secularisation reminiscent of 'totalitarian regimes'.  As a secular from the moderate wing, I was curious to know what our militant comrades could be doing, somewhere in the UK, linked in some way (apparently) to those radical secular Europeans.  She is, of course, defending the actions of Eric Pickles, Community Secretary, in reversing a High Court ban on councils in England holding prayers 'as part of a formal authority meeting'.  Before the case was heard, Archbishop Rowan Williams suggested what seemed to me like a reasonable compromise - councillors could hold prayers immediately before a meeting, or a moments silence as the meeting start for those who wish to pray, compose thoughts, whatever.

Wihile the seculars have been labelled 'militant', I have not yet heard what adjective is attached to judges or vicars stemming from this hearing and its outcome, but judging from Rowan Williams and other bishop's criticisms of coalition plans on welfare reform, it may not be so long. We've already had 'grubby', 'drunken' and 'promiscuous' nurses', 'scruffy' teachers, any number of adjectives describing union leaders and those scrounging single mums.

I found a site dedicated to help politicians find the right adjective to insult someone - a political insult generator.  Militant, or extremist, are favourites at the moment, and as technically the opposite of 'conservative', a clear favourite with Conservatives.

At least Conservapedia, in the interest of balance, states:

Catherine Fahringer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation suggested that the label militant was often routinely applied to atheist for no good reason – "very much as was the adjective 'damn' attached to the noun 'Yankee' during the Civil War."[154] The Freedom From Religion Foundation, however, has been called a "militant atheist group" in The Washington Examiner.[155]

What exactly is meant by 'militant', and in this case why do we all appear to be arguing for tolerance, but end up putting forward intolerant and confrontational solutions?  Why is it the 'moderate' voices seemed to get drowned out by noise, insults and mud-slinging?

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Basket Weaving

First week of two looking at re-using materials like card and plastic bags.  This week, we made a fruit bowl:

Thursday 16 February 2012

Seeing a murmuration of starlings

Today I learnt a new word - murmuration, which I think is a large number of starlings.  Our good friend Emma, who regularly gives up her house in Cornwall to our brood, took us out to Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor.  We got a brief glimpse of the starlings on the drive there - this is what we saw:

The visual effect of thousands of birds flying overhead for so long, is stunning, as is the hum of their wings in the air.  What I thought was more surprising was the (imagined?) warmth from the trees and the amazing feeling of intimacy - you can't actually see the birds in the trees, but the noise makes you feel like your roosting up there with them.

How better to spend your valentines night experiencing a brief moment when you feel completely connected with a world far bigger than you can imagine - to see, hear, feel a community of thousands around you, chattering and singing, swooping and diving, making their home in a mile square of farmed forest.

I love the Valentines Day of cheesy cards, posh meals and hank panky, but it's not necessarily the same as that connection with people, with everything around you, even with birds.  That sense of awe and belonging, of community and love, on a small or big scale, is the real Valentines - it's there in front of me but mostly I don't see it. 

When we got back to Emma's house, Nikki pointed out the image on the stairs was not an unusual collection of biro marks on paper which I thought it had been, but a photo of a murmuration of starlings.  Thanks Emma.

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Monday 6 February 2012


Today was second week of candlemaking - over last two weeks we've made ice candles, mosaic candles hand mould candles, sand candles, cardboard moulds.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Thoughts on Herman the German

Recently we were given a (or is it the?) Herman the German Friendship cake mix from our friend Clare Chapman.  He's not much to look at - a bowl of bubbling gluey stuff, destined to a be a sourdough cake of some sort in a couple of weeks.

I wonder how German he is, and given my German ancestry, why I'd never come across him before.  The ancestry of this particular cake mix, apparently goes back to the 1970s - a bit worrying given the health and safety implications.

When you get a Herman, the first thing you do is wait a few days (do not put him in a fridge or he will die).  Then you feed him flour, sugar and milk, and leave him a while, wait a few days, then feed him some more.  At this point you divide him up into four and give away three of them to friends (there really is a bit of him that goes back a few decades).  He's a sort of 'pyramid' cake, where the intention is to make friends, not money.

As you can imagine, it's getting quite exciting now, as we think about who to give our mix to (anyone interested let us know!), and what type of Herman ours will become - at the moment apple is a strong contender, with outside chance of poppy seed.

It's the same kind of excitement I got when we had a turnip glut from our shared allotment in 1997, and I must have had a bit of time on my hands.  That was the year of the infamous turnip wine, and turnip cake.  We found a turnip cake recipe in a Guardian supplement years later, which I think justified the experiment - Wine and cake didn't taste bad, but left an unmistakeable turnipy after-taste.

Anyway, back to Herman.  First thoughts are, what a fantastic creative buzz, and yet, is there anything remotely creative about the cake?  You just follow instructions passed down to you.  Then I dug up David Gaunlett's definition of creativity:

'You have a world of people doing amazing, silly, clever, pointless, or heartfelt things, and putting them out in the world for others to experience, because they want to, and that seems to be more like what 'creativity' is meant to be all about.

Creativity is something that is felt, not something that needs expert verification.'

Herman might not be new or innovative, but he is to me.  He's made me feel part of something far bigger, and at the end of it, I'm passing that onto three very select friends, and a few more when we eat him.  Thanks Clare.

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