30 Days Wild – Day 12 Long Grass

grass  sunpic

Today I managed to haul myself down to the Festival of Nature in town. It was very interesting – amazing how many wildlife and nature groups there are in this city. Although I suppose as we’re the home of the BBC Wildlife Unit we should have lots. On the way home I walked back through the park – appropriately as I had spent some time talking to the woman on the Parkhive stall. We have some fantastic parks in Bristol, and one of the best is Victoria Park on my doorstep. The council are experimenting with leaving big swathes of the grass in the park to grow wild, it has looked lovely recently with banks of buttercups growing up the hill. I picked some of the park grass to make this picture using sun sensitive paper. I’ve used it before, but have seen some lovely ones on the 30 days Wild Facebook page, and it inspired me. Dead easy to do, and not just for kids! I’ve added a touch of yellow to the middle of the daisy (from the garden).


For Jan

mum_70 004

Thursday was the anniversary of my mum’s death in St Barts beautifully situated hospital in the middle of London. She died at 2 am in the morning in a room of her own, with me and her good friend Carol by her side. We had some cheering township jazz playing, and the hospital allowed us to burn lavender oil so the room, hushed and waiting,  smelt like a summer’s evening in a sun baked yard. We kept the lighting low while she gasped out her last breaths, and a strong full moon shone through the window. It matters – that the moon shone, that the jazz played, that the room smelt of summer, and that the historic heart of London beat outside the window.

A nurse, head titled sympathetically on one side, had explained that they were going to follow the Liverpool method and allow her to die with dignity. I had no idea what this meant but wanted to smash her stupid face in, and felt I was breaking with the effort of not doing it. It wasn’t her fault that my mum – from a family who generally lasted well into their 80’s – was dying at the ridiculously young age of 72. We hadn’t had time to say goodbye. When I tried the words stuck in me, untrained in saying too much emotionally, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have time to say thank you for everything you’ve given me – the strength and knowledge that you should always be yourself no matter what.

I think of those few days when she so rapidly went from in ‘for observation’ to ‘waiting to die’ and see it as a series of photographs. There’s the square in front of Bart’s steaming in the sticky London heat. There’s me, sat in the quiet of the hospital chapel, waiting, no longer hoping. And again there I am, being greeted at the entrance gate to the hospital grounds by a homeless man and his borrowed staffie, Sultan, a handsome beast happy for strokes. The man offered to let my mum stroke him if she could come out – he was sure it would have made her feel better. But she’s not coming out. She’s not talking, she’s just keeping herself alive, breath by awful breath. Finally there’s the moonlit square again, me and my brother and his wife walking back to the car as the Smithfield lights come on and we know, with numbed shock, that our mother is completely and unexpectedly gone.

I don’t know why the pictures of this time bring some comfort, but they do. I never took them as actual photos, they’re just memories, but 7 years later, still strong and still holding me with my mother’s quiet strength. Maybe making those few days into an album helps to categorise it and make it bearable, I know that after she died I spent a lot of time looking at photos of her and was eager to get hold of any I could. I still have albums and albums waiting to be dealt with all this time later, even though I don’t have room for them.

This poem was read at her funeral. It says what there is to say about death and how we felt and still feel about my mum.

A woman lives for as long as we carry her inside us
For as long as we carry the harvest of her dreams,
For as long as we ourselves live,
Holding memories in common, a woman lives.

Her lover will carry her woman’s scent, her touch;
Her children will carry the weight of her love.
One friend will carry her arguments,
Another will hum her favourite tunes,
Another will share her terrors

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then weeks, then months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach,
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day she will not have ceased,
But will have ceased to be separated by death.

Brian Patten (based on Pablo Neruda)



Coming through the Gatun Locks Panama Canal 1958

I’ve been scanning and scanning and scanning my parents slides over the past week. Each one takes about 3 minutes. It’s a slow process and I’ve been getting lost in the past in their photos. There’s something about the quality and the colour of old slides which is very evocative. The slides I have show parts of the journey over from New Zealand, a bit of life on the ship and the passage through the Panama Canal, as well as lots of classic tourist shots of London and Paris and other parts of Europe. I wonder if, when they were taken, either of my parents thought they wouldn’t see home again for nearly thirty years? In my dad’s case, longer than that. It seems inconceivable to me. But once they had a family they couldn’t afford to go back, and being kiwis they didn’t even qualify for the £10 passage offered to lure Brits to Australia. They were stranded here.

mum,dad+meInterestingly neither of them ever claimed the British citizenship which they were entitled to, and lived here the rest of their lives on ‘right to abode’ stamps in their passports. I don’t really know why they did this, either of them. Maybe they didn’t quite want to admit that this was where they had made home. And for me? England is my home, it’s where I belong, but I’ve always had this other country in the background, running along behind my life here, and when I go back to NZ, as I have done four times now, I feel strangely as if I am coming home there too. This was particularly true the last time I went back in January, and there is something about the scenery and the vegetation which is exotic yet familiar. This is why I’m scanning, scanning, scanning slides and forcing my creaky old computer to smooth out the jumpy footage I shot from our campervan – to show it all in the Frontroom art trail, and see what it ‘says’ about home and where I belong when it’s all put together. Maybe nothing very much, but who knows. It’s worth a try.


Supply teaching – a personal view

Rather annoyingly WordPress doesn’t let you embed videos into the post, I knocked this one together as described below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGCXxqxWaEs * horses Who, in their right mind would to do supply? I have spent this academic year ‘on supply’ and have loved it. For the previous year and a half I worked in a school in Special Measures. A victim of the cult of WWOD (What Would Ofsted Do), I had been broken. My sense of self as a teacher crushed under the boot of a dozen consultants, confused and befuddled by a dizzying array of ever changing policies and procedures, unable to get any momentum because of major half termly timetable changes. The cult never managed to rebuild me in its image, and as the summer started I realised I was going to have to stage an intervention and get myself out of its grasp. My dad had been diagnosed with dementia in New Zealand and I wanted to go and visit him, I was on a fixed term contract so simply had to decide not to apply for a full time job, rather than actually leave (I’m not sure I would have got a job there anyway). I decided to take a year out and go on supply. It was the best decision I could have made and has made me realise that I do want to stay in teaching, despite the drawbacks.

My first supply job was in a further ed college out in the countryside, as a support worker working with students with special needs. It was run partly on Steiner principles and included lots of craft based activity as well as horticulture and farming. I only agreed to work for one week as it was support work and not as well paid as teaching. I stayed for seven. I learnt how to turn a piece of wood on a pole laithe, how to make paper by hand, how to milk a cow (!) – it was like having occupational therapy but being paid for it. There were a few of us broken teachers on supply there, and in the beautiful English countryside we healed up. I found my confidence again, and was happy to give teaching another go when my agency offered me a three day a week long term post. It was great, a really well run, lovely place to work with excellent staff and really nice students. I went to New Zealand for 6 weeks, came back and went back there. I filled in the extra days with day to day work which is interesting – it’s mainly in special ed so a different set of challenges from mainstream supply. I like these challenges, but I won’t lie, I have also liked the lack of committment and the distance I have from the internal politics of each workplace. Everyone I have worked with has been helpful and friendly even when obviously rushed off their feet. I thank them for that.


There was a point, standing in the surf on another stunning NZ beach, when I thought about making this a lifestyle choice – supply teaching for most of the year, spending a month in Jan/Feb visting my extensive NZ family. Of course, I can’t afford to do that – although you might think supply is well paid, when you’re doing agency work it isn’t. And of course, those 3 months of desperately necessary  ‘holidays’ – are just 3 months of no pay. Not to mention the complete lack of any pension contributions. So I won’t be doing this long term. As we wend our way towards the end of the school year, the work has started drying up and I have realised that this was just a year out, a break from the misery of working in a school in SM. I feel rested and ready for action again, although obviously skint. I would recommend it to anyone who is feeling bruised and battered by teaching as a way of getting your mojo back – I’m looking forward again to getting stuck in and to being responsible. Let’s hope I feel the same this time next year!


* The ‘art’ bit * This video is a bit of an experiment with the trailers function on I Movie on the i pad. The music is from http://www.mobygratis.com/ – where Moby lets indie film-makers and students use his music for free. I wanted to try this out too – you have to register and request permission to use it, but I think it would be a massively useful resource for Media students in particular looking for soundtrack music. Not sure it’s quite right for this, but it was knocked together in about an hour including getting the photos from my knackered old phone. Lots of educational potential.

In the Dog House

I moved into this house just over 10 years ago, and in the November held my first ever Totterdown Frontroom ‘event’ here. We decided to do In the Dog House – partly because me and my friend that I was doing it with both love dogs, and partly because I had a ‘thing’ I’d made as part of my MA about our family dog. This was an interactive piece made in Director, including sound, family photos and short video clips, with all of the members of my family sharing their memories of the dog. Interesting because they were very personal to us (and different from each others) but at the same time quite universal to anyone who has had a family dog. I am currently trying (without much success, or to be fair, much effort) to rebuild this Director thing in Flash to put it in its entirety on the web. It has a lot of content which will need to be streamed and that’s something I don’t know much about.dogs

We invited others to contribute dog related items and even had a couple of guest appearances from local dogs. It was great, very enjoyable to put together. We also put out a pad of post its and asked people to share their dog memories – just as an aside. In the end the post its became a big part of the ‘exhibition’ and people were coming specially to share their pics and memories. We kept them all and stuck them in a sketch book, which I have just found in the bank holiday clearout. With the magic of the CamScanner app + Flipsnack I’ve made it into a flipbook which hopefully you can view on any device. It’s partly an experiment to see how easy it is to do as I think it would make a good classroom exercise, however Flipsnack is a subscription only service if you want more than 3 books and it includes a watermark on the embed coded one so probably isn’t really viable. Also it would appear that I can’t embed it on this free WordPress blog, although if anyone knows otherwise please let me know. Here’s a link to it.

In the Dog House

If you have any dog related memories you’d like to share, feel free in the comments. But be nice!

The wonders of Facebook

I posted the scanned photo in the previous post to Facebook to see if anyone recognised the people in the picture. Turns out that this little group here are my mum’s brother Tony and his family. One of his daughters, the one in the natty red shoes, remembers it. Even more bizarrely she remembers Tony introducing my mum and dad to each other from the dockside. He used to work on a casual basis for my grandfather (on my dad’s side) and so knew my dad. So even though they didn’t get together until they were in London, they had been introduced earlier. I guess that just goes to show how small Wellington was. And how handy Facebook is when you want to trawl back through your family….  Image

Slide scanning


I’ve managed to borrow a slide scanner from a friend, it’s pretty old, but good quality. A Nikon Coolscan V. To make it work with my Windows 8 computer I’ve bought some software called Vuescan – $39. I probably could have found a way round it so that I didn’t have to pay anything, but do you know what? Life’s too short and I couldn’t be bothered with any more faffing around. It works a treat so now I have to start working out the best resolution to scan it for longevity’s sake before I go mad scanning all the slides I have. Well, there will be some judicious editing going on – there are a lot of pics of weddings of lost-in-the-mists-of-time relatives and of unpeopled (and therefore undatable) Versailles. Some are a little out of focus, but actually I think that adds to their charm and filmishness. This one above, for example, is from the ship that my parents came over on (HMS Ragitane – the second) before it left Wellington in 1958.

This is looking down the Champs Elysee from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in 1959. I may have to go to Paris to retake this as comparison!


I’m stopping there, otherwise nothing else will get done this evening. It will all come together eventually.