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.

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