Saturday, 29 June 2013

Gawain, 2013: the adventure begins

and Gawain has probably been sidelined already...he has had adventures, we haven't!

An exciting and damp day at Wycoller Country Park has given our "narrative poem"project a big boost with ideas about places where adventures might happen, characters we might use and encounters that might befall our heroes. Our aim is to create a story-poem whose process has encouraged children to extend their vocabulary, to enjoy poetry with rhythm and alliteration but not worrying about rhyme, and to meet other ways of structuring stories. While our story develops a musician (Hannah Kidd) and Ruth Evans, a textile artist, will both work with the groups to take the story into othe rmedia. In a couple of weeks we'll go back to Wycoller Country Park and tell the story in public for the very first time....

Everything is still open, but we thought you might enjoy some of our first images and ideas....

We scribbled ideas onto sheets and had a washing line of pages that we could move around which was fine as long as it was sunny! Our aim is to write a collective adventure poem, set in  roughly medieval world and using the places we visit, the things we find and our own wild imaginations...

The beginning of the adventure, maybe?


A cloudy, rainy, stormy day
When only ducks and slugs are out
Dripping rain, dripping children
Soaking through their shoes
But a day hoping for rainbows

Characters we might use

Knucklehead knights,
Strong and brave with sword and spear and shield
Mighty, magnificent men-at-arms
With mace and mail and morning star
Monkeys or mammoths on their shields.
Quiet as moths and mice and mean as midges
They serve the King and Queen of the Woods
And are not very bright

The Wycoller landscape gave us settings...

The rugged rocky ruins,
Old, ancient and rough
Thin windows, huge fireplace
that will hold
A whole company warm
Or roasting

Tall trees grow in those woods
Towering, toppling, tumbling trees
A tangle of leaves and branches and bark
Old, old trees and new saplings,
A world of green and brown

There are children in the trees
They hid in the leaves
Under the leaves
For so long, for too long
And they became green and 
As secret and silent as the trees themselves

Partners in the adventure:

with funding from the Clore Duffield Foundation

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hathersage, 2

our story corner in the schools's wildlife area
Little John? Highwaymen in my house that used to be a pub? Us!...people in Hathersage who could be in an adventure!

iris by the pond, newts in the water!

As tall as as a tree
as loud as thunder
Nettle-sharp eyes and
The giant climbs over the wall
And stamps across the field

His eyes are knots in trees,
Under eyebrows as wild as moss,
His teeth are sharp thorns,
His bushy hair is sticky weeds
His ears are big, round shells
And his voice is as loud as church bells

small story moments turned up everywhere

two hedgehogs went adventuring - and built themselves a campfire!

pirates were popular heroes, here with a feast

Year 1 sent themselves out into the wild and
built themselves (very small) shelters

young pirate and friend with treasure-sniffing dog 
pirate with fishing net by her shelter 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Hathersage stories

Today was the first of two days building stories in the wide and exciting grounds of St Michael's Primary School in Hathersage

A few morsels.....

mixing storylines!

Journey poems led us into characters and stories:

Under the roots,
And over the trees,
Across the forgotten field,
Behind the mossy wall,
Through the holly bushes
And there beside a muddy stream, beneath an old grey willow,
A damp goblin lives

playing with ways of presenting words
I use an activity "here, there, everywhere, and nowhere" just to get ideas moving. Today with Year 3s it gave two quick pieces that seemed to feed one into the other...

Group A
Here comes a black knight, marching out of the gloomy forest

There, in the mini-beasts' home, curious ants creep up towards the surface

Everywhere, a strong wind blows from a ghost's breath

There was nowhere we could escape from this terrifying school

Group B
Here are the children standing quietly by the window
(here are the children, climbing out of the window)

Everywhere the teachers are looking, 
because there is something suspicious going on

There by the minibeasts' hotel, the children suddenly disappear

The children were nowhere to be seen!

 I like these two sets... this final image (for now) is a bit grimmer, but I love the "dusty old graves"!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


A new Gawain - or a different Green Knight?

our stories will use the atmospheres and
settings of Wycoller Country Park

Some 700 years ago, possibly in the now lost Dieulacres Abbey near Leek, an anonymous scribe wrote down a narrative poem of heroes and temptation, enchantment, deceit, chivalry and naughtiness. A single manuscript survived the centuries and now Gawain and the Green Knight it is one of the gems of early English literature
Packhorse Bridge at Wycoller

Inspired by the story of Gawain and the recent translations and retellings by Simon Armitage and Michael Morpurgo,  Mid-Pennine Arts, Roughlee Primary School, Whitefield Infant School and myself have embarked upon an exciting heroic adventure of our own.

Playing with the sounds and rhythms of words, inventing our own characters and working in Wycoller Country Park, we're writing our own new alliterative, narrative poems

Our stories will grow, patterns of words will change, ideas will become music (with Hannah Jones), adventures will become textiles (with Ruth Evans) and everything will go…wherever it needs to go!

First session yesterday: telling the story of Gawain to get us started, making the story with people, howling like the wolves in the woods, falling in moats, being locked in dungeons…..

More instalments will follow!

First character studies:

the wet-weather witch watches 
from windows, waving 
at passers-by

In a wild wood, wild boars snort and snuffle in the leaves,

Horses run through the trees,
And in a dark cave, deep in the woods,
At the foot of a hill lives a black bear with her babies.
Every day the bears bathe in a raging, rushing, rattling river

One knight was riding through the forest and saw
beyond the trees,
beyond the woods
The ruins of a castle
And the golden broken remains of a temple

I have worked on Gawain projects before - most notably a puppet performance for the Flash TeaPot Parade a few years ago (you can work it out - the village itself is called Flash, not necessarily a description of the various teapots)

This new project is supported by
the Clore Duffield Foundation
Duchy of Lancaster

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Once And Future Giants: book review

Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals 
Sharon Levy
Oxford University Press, USA; 2011
ISBN; 978-0-19-993116-3

I have a deep and abiding affection for mammoths and an awful creeping suspicion about our ancestors’ role in their extinction. So I started reading  Sharon Levy’s book with a mixture of wariness and excitement. 

Both were justified.

This is a fascinating read, exploring the changing landscapes of an Ice Age and post-Ice Age planet, mostly from the perspective of the megaherbivores. My mammoths were there - and so were herds of large grazers, mastodons, ground sloths, giant kangaroos in Australia, moa in new Zealand, Aepyornis in Madagascar - and giant tortoises just about anywhere else that didn’t have any of the others. Mixing sound observation with deduction and careful parallels with modern ecosystems, Levy dives into the ecology of those prehistoric landscapes. It makes fascinating reading: from the sheer physical impact of herds of mammoth (and all the other) to their role in maintaining biodiversity, their vulnerability to predation (yes, we were there, too, alongside sabretooths and giant eagles) and the decline of, especially northern, ecosystems in their absence. It’s not that long ago: 10,000 years - and less, hundreds in some cases - is not long in ecological terms and that absence is still felt

Levy weaves research from different disciplines to make a coherent and compelling argument for the vital role of giant herbivores in maintaining viable and diverse ecosystems and while work on extinct animals has to be speculative, she draws carefully on current research on extant equivalents to fuel her arguments and to lend weight to discussions. You only have to look at how wildlife “management” missed the long term impacts of elephants on East African landscapes to appreciate that those large animals have been deeply misunderstood, their impact seen in the short term and to realise how little we really know about even the largest of our terrestrial neighbours. Looking beyond its immediate subject matter, Once And Future Giants is a celebration of the intricacy and subtlety of natural systems, in constantly reminding us that modern science hasn’t been looking at these processes for long enough to grasp the depth of the processes and that, where the knowledge survives, traditional cultures can fill in a lot of the spaces - and equally that traditional knowledge is not infallible and in the end reflects upon practices that helped humans survive - sometimes at the expense of other species.

Elephants feature again in the final chapters of the book: the reintroduction of large herbivores. That could mean returning lost species to familiar landscapes - beavers or moose in Britain, perhaps. “Rewilding” inevitably gallops onto the pages.This is fascinating, exciting and provocative work: essentially, allowing animals to get on with it with minimal interference (and even less “management”). In western Europe there are notable examples in the Netherlands and an interim stage can be seen with the feral, or half-wild herds of ponies and aurochs-like cattle in used in some nature reserves. This then feeds into discussions about the presence or absence of predators and opens up old discussions for Britain about our native ponies, feral sheep and goats and soaring numbers of deer. But always we come back to what counts as a megaherbivore: big, hefty and doing a job that seems to have been lost. And we step straight into Australian controversy  with camels and water buffalo possibly replacing lost marsupial giant kangaroos and wombats (in tandem with Native Australian fire-setting regimes). We meet reintroductions advocated for reindeer, musk-ox, horse and bison in other northern climes and some ambitious plans for Siberia (at least they still have wolves and occasional tigers). One of the most charming campaigns is the spread of the Bolson tortoise in the deserts of the American south-west. Large, but not a giant, it still trundles in as the biggest herbivore in its small world and has enthusiastic champions among ranchers and environmentalists. And elephants - dreamers talking of replacing those lost Columbian mastodons with African elephants in continental America, letting them roam over the rangelands and start rebuilding older, richer ecosystems.

And my mammoths? Acknowledging they have gone (regardless of excited claims from gene-spliced scientists), the passing of those heavy-footed, hairy herds is marked with a sigh - at least by me

A book to be recommended. Fascinating, rich and readable it gives the reader a lot to think about, discussions to have and arguments to pursue - if only with oneself!

Does anyone have other books in this subject area to recommend?

marching off to obscurity and controversy....
Models in photos, made by:
Mother and baby mammoths: Papo
Ground sloth: Schleich
Mammoth herd: Papo and Schleich