Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Creativity with Christmas cards

A box, a scene, a Midwinter moment?

recycling Christmas cards

inappropriately summery scene?

Having a bit of a fidget?
Nothing to do?
And it’s raining again?


Make a little winter a scene to hang on a tree, a branch, a hook on the walll to stand on a shelf, or make a box to put that extra special present (or maybe just the key that makes it go) in

Why not dig out last year’s Christmas cards from the bundle at the bottom of the cupboard, or stealthily purloin one of this year’s, or the birthday cards you don’t quite want to throw out, or use a cereal packet (good card for making and folding, just maybe not as exciting in images as cards) and make a lovely little box?
You will need: a card or two, sharp scissors, a ruler, pencils or pens, glue (PVA is good here) and glue spreader, stapler, bradawl (or something for making holes - a pair of compasses would work), thin string

1. Cut the card in half along the fold - keep the “plain” half, you will need it later
Stage 1

2. Using the picture half of the card, on the plain side, draw a margin maybe 2 cm from each edge of the card

Stage 2: drawing margins

3. Where the lines cross at the corners, carefully cut along one of those lines to the point where the lines meet
Stage 3, cutting into corners

4. This card usually folds quite sharply, so now (use the ruler for a straight edge if you want to) fold up along each of those lines and where you have cut in, fold the short bit to make a corner
Stage 4: folding

Stage 6: glueing corners


5. Before glueing it all together, decide: if you are making a scene, keep the picture on the inside of the box. If you are making a box: you might want the picture inside or on the outside (you could always line the inside with some spare wrapping paper, or make a bigger box to become a lid.). Reverse the folding if you want to change the position of the picture

6. Making sure the sides of your box are sharply upright, glue the corner tabs onto the next side. A staple will hold it all in place. If the outside is too plain, you could colour it in or add some coloured tape. Or sprinkle it with glitter!

Stage 7: tab

Stage 7: an owl!

7. While the glue dries, prepare the scene to go in the box. Using the other piece of card (from stage 1 above), you could make a little tab to fix a figure to (we used some “embellishments” bought cheaply in a local craft shop), or you could draw your own character. Fix by glueing the tabs into the main scene. Again a staple might help. You might want to colour the tab so it fits into the background of the scenes. Some extra glitter might help again.

Finished scene

8. Use a bradawl or compasses to make a couple of holes (aim for places about 1/3 and 2/3 along the top side), thread a piece of glittery string or ribbon through, know it and hang your scene.

 Experiment with papers, colours, tapes, sequins.

Try different places to hang your scenes: a picture hook on the wall? from your ears? on your fingers (and create a fabulous dance around them)? a snowman’s nose?
box with picture on outside

Sunday, 15 December 2019


This blade of a beak 

...in celebration of ravens 

Raven, c/o Chris Foote
I like corvids. Big, black and thoughtful; smaller greyer and jesters or flamboyantly jay-bright and magpie striped, they are birds to command attention. They scare some people, annoy others and wake ire in still more but as a family they are a success story. And they have rook-walked into our stories across countries and centuries. They tend to turn up regularly in both the traditional stories I tell or the new poems and stories I write

Ravens, especially, are often sitting there, looking over the shoulders of my imagination and making “helpful” suggestions as I write (even more distracting when they do that when I am ‘telling!).  This is for them…


A blade of a beak
To slice flesh from bone
And shave hair from skin,
To free from blood from body
And hope from hearts.
A bright, black bead of an eye
To see now, and then, and maybe.

A dark, silent flight,
A snow fall of crows,
A blizzard for the dying,
To lift soul from pain
And into always.

Watching life’s beginning
And roisterous ending,
Ravenboy shakes a cloak of
Midnight feathers into wings, while
Ravengirl combs hair into quills
And Huginn and Muninn
Fly back to the claw-worn shoulders
Of the All-father’s throne.

And down in the woods,
On the rocks,
By the sea,
A woman,
All glamour and seduction and threat,
Rattles the bones in a bag
Of her own crowskin
And sings the hero to his fate.

The pictures used here are from members of the Facebook group “For the love of crows”
Many thanks to both Chris Foote (portrait) and Faye McNiven (flight). The raven strip pic is my own and is from Orkney
Ravens, c/o Faye McNiven

Friday, 22 November 2019

Cold mountains, hot deserts

Cold on a mountaintop

I spent a lively day this week in Our Lady and St Edwards Primary School in Birkenhead. We shared stories: Hiram Bingham and Machu Piccku ran alongside ancient stories of giants and the beautiful mountain sisters of Kintail with their dresses of green and winter cloaks of white. After stories from me,  our young artists and storytellers plunged into a world of extremes. We were writing about deserts and - or - mountains. There were discussions about camels, of when to walk across the hot sands of a wind-blown desert and whether the ancient goddess Sekhmet stands in the centre of every  whirling dust-devil. The red sands of Autralia might have been the blood-coloured beer that lured Sekhmet to sleep. Mountains like dragons. Mountains to fear, to wonder over. Mountains to climb and slide down.....

Mountains called up many feelings and the following grew out of a quick discussion….

This wind is bitter, cold on this freezing, beautiful, snow-covered mountaintop

I am so high up now, I am proud but exhausted, too, and anxious. The height overwhelms me when I look down, and down, and down. Going down goes on forever. And I am frozen, petrified by the knowledge that I need to climb all that way down. Why didn’t I pack a parachute?

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Bumblebee Lantern Workshops!

Bumblebee Lanterns!

a procession of buzzing excitements!

Public events in November

a bumble lantern row

balloon bumble colouring up
Do Bumblebees fly at night? Yes!

Do Bumblebees glow!Yes!

Or at least they will in the Bolsover Lantern Procession on Saturday 30th November

Creeping Toad is working with the Bumblebee ConservationTrust’s Pollinating the Peaks Project  to make a set of bumblebee lanterns for the procession

Over several days we are aiming to make a whole colony of bumbles with lots of small personal lanterns ready to fly around a giant Queen (or two). There will be quick balloon bumbles ready to decorate. Or you could take a bit longer to make a small willow bumble or a willow pyrmid dorated with lots of bees and maybe some bee-friendlyflowers! Then there will be our big Queen Lanterns that we'll will need somehelp to make. 

Why not join us for a buzzing good time of willow, tissue, glue and laughter in Chesterfield? 

Find out a bit more about Bumblebees, as well! Maybe over the winter as our Bumbles sleep you could plan a bee-friendly garden for them to wake to in the spring?

willow lanterns need glue and tissue!
Lantern making

We have two days of lantern making workshops

Dates: Saturday 16th

Sunday 17th November

Place: At Loundsley Green Community Centre, Cuttholm Rd, Loundsley green, Chesterfield, S40 4QU

Times: 12 – 4pm

Cost, etc: this event is free. No experience is necessary - materials, help and guidance in lantern-making are all provided!

Children: should bring a grown up with them
Wear: clothes to get messy in!

decorate your lantern!

Make 1: your own small bumblebee or flower lanterns to carry in the procession

Make 2: help us make our large bumblebee queen lanterns

Can’t join the Procession: don’t worry! Make a bumblebee to light the winter evenings of your own home!

The Procession: organised by Junction Arts, this colourful event starts in the grounds of Bolsover Castle before heading through the streets of the town

Date: Saturday 30th November, 6 – 8pm

Meeting point: Bolsover Castle
What’s happening: Parade entry: 4pm
Lantern Competition: 4:30pm
Parade starts: 5pm
Carols at the Cenotaph: 5:45pm

come bumbling with us!

Friday, 25 October 2019

Between the in-field and the out

Between the in-field and the out

Whispers in the Grass 

July 2019


Back at the start of the summer, a group of us had a lovely day in the fields and garden at the Dove Valley Centre. Out of that Whispers in the Grass workshop have come various poems and pieces of writing (follow this link to see more of them). We also poured ideas and images into a communal pot - or maybe a pond - or maybe we seeded our own flowerbed or left the fields of our imaginations free to grow what they would…..we fed thoughts into a collective piece about visiting the valley….

On the long hill out of Longnor,
The narrow walled fields are interrupted,
The boundary between the gritstone and the lime,
Between the valley and the hill,
Between the in-field and the out.

A steep climb, then,
Changing worlds,
From the hilltop,
Dropping down,
A steep fall,
A winding road,

Buildings ahead, a relief.
Stone steps lead up to a window,
A house holding its own stories and a view across the dale.
A garden,
A man with a coffee cup and a welcoming dog
Wild flowers, bushes, a veg patch, roses, foxgloves
Wine for my soul and a blue spire of a flower,
Tall as a foxglove, that has not told me its name,
A gateway invites,
And a topiary hen guards the way.

I know this place.
    I don’t.
Will it welcome me?
    Will I feel safe?
Will I be noticed?

No time for hesitation,
The dale draws us deeper,
The road dropping again,
Hedges reaching high,
Curving round,
Leaving us by the barns.


Huge trees open gorgeous leaves,
Beautiful flowers catch the light,
A smiling peace, a chance to rest,
I shouldn’t worry, but I do,
Trying to let go and let this tranquility touch me.
Echoes of memories, camping and camping stoves, beans in a pan by a tent.
Naming the hills: High Weeldon, Park House and Chrome,
The villages, Pilsbury, Sheen, Hartington.
Down the dale are Wetton, Alstonefield,
I have been here before.
I remember the peace.
It returns to me and offers itself for the first time to others.
Just pause.

When the world calls me back,
That peace will go with me,
    And the calm,
I may take a painting or a poem.
    There will be friends and photographs.

Whispers was a joint event where Creeping Toad worked with old friends from Borderland Voices  and the team from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The event was part of Buxton's Festival Fringe

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery was 125 over this last year and to mark that anniversary, the BM125 project brought together experienced with new and emerging artists with 12 months of artistic initiatives. all sort sof things are still unfolding from animated scimitar-toother cats, to dances celebrating ancient axes and musical crystals. Visit the Museum wordpress site to explore some of our birthday adventures!

Photo credits: images 2 and 3: c/o Richard Egan and Borderland Voices
all others, G MacLellan

Saturday, 19 October 2019

past watchful Toads

Watching Toads

a new Telling Toads piece

There have been lots of poetry posts recently...and here is another. This piece by Cherry Doyle is part of the Telling Toads* project and that is as much as I need to say, i think!

Cherry Doyle
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam'
Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist

The pond was my flax-dam; black hole into
the centre of the earth, in sticky shade
of conifer and stone, it sucked the light
straight from the leaves. And lurching from the soup
of night and algae, clods of earth upon
itself, with eyes as still as long-dropped beads -
the toads, fat sentinels of rock and pot.

A stoic throb of sides preceded feasts
on garden slimers. Silent plots were formed,
like patient Venus creeping through the dusk
their moon-curved shapes somehow familiar.
And morning, strung along the half-chewed leaves,
cascaded trails of silver carnage, long-
forgotten when the sparkling lace remained.

That summer drifted through the apple trees,
and lingered on the jagged edges of
the greenhouse, lit a treasure map across
the lawn, to crawlers making their escape
from every lifted pot and shifted leaf;
an emerald, a clutch of golden coins,
a secret hoard of gently muddied sun.

*Telling Toads is back to gather new poems and stories celebrating amphibians and reptilesWhy not have a look at the notes about what we are looking for and unleash your inner frogliness across a page or screen…..find out more, here

Photo credits:
Pool and tucked away toad: c/o G MacLellan
Toad's eye: detail from a picture by Kenny Taylor

Monday, 14 October 2019

Lizard's flicker, snake's slide

Puddocks and cruddles

Froglife and Creeping Toad part 2

Lizards flicker, snakes slide and crocodiles lie like old memories on riverbanks.  Frogs hop and toads may creep; a newt can hang suspended in a pool but few can ever compare with the enigmatic smile of an axolotl. Enjoy the wonder of a cold-blooded world!

a friendly frog from North Uist
Try playing with words, on a quiet moment of today, list the names you know for amphibians and reptiles. Then shuffle them, play with them, rearrange and read them aloud. Enjoy language. Recite them to yr friends and alarm your colleagues….use whatever languages you like

Frog and toad and natterjack, 
Puddock, taddies and cruddles, 
Lesair agus nathair, cnadan agus liugair

Over the week 6 - 13th October, Creeping Toad posted (at least) 2 posts a day in  "social media takeover" for Froglife. The first few days' posts became the blog post The Blink of a Golden Eye, the rest have been amalgamated to become this entry. There is an underlying theme of the proximity of hibernation, trying to catch the sense of impending sleep and the call that draws reptiles and amphibians to the safety of cool, dark places....
Froglife twitter: @froglifers
Froglife facebook: Froglife

Globally, many frogs and toads need help. The charity Save the Frogs campaigns internationally, supporting projects around habitat conservation and community education. Saturday April 25th 2020, will be the 12th Save the Frogs day.
Leptopelis from Malawi

"Conceived and coordinated by SAVE THE FROGS!, Save The Frogs Day is the world's largest day of amphibian education and conservation action. Our goal is to provide frog enthusiasts with educational materials, ideas and inspiration and empower them to educate their local communities about amphibians. Since 2009, SAVE THE FROGS! staff and volunteers have conducted over 1,400 educational Save The Frogs Day events in at least 56 countries around the world."
(Quote from the Save the Frogs website)

There will be a Creeping Toad StF Day event in Buxton. Plans are still dreaming with the hibernating toads: thoughts are wriggling around small sculptural landscape lanterns or huge pictures where people can draw themselves into a landscape on the same scale as a frog. Why don’t you join in and celebrate the wonderful world of anurans? What you do doesn’t need to be big or wild or ground-breaking. How about a tea-party of frog-shaped cakes? Those terrible rock-cakes your friend makes could easily become cheerfullly lumpy toads! How about a cake iced blue as a pond with marzipan water lilies and silver bauble frogspawn?

But to return to the dream of toads…

After the sleep, did you creep?
Did you hop? Cross a road with hope?
Did you swim? Did you stop?
Did you wait in the pond for the lover who never came?
What does it portend when the water is no longer your friend?

Ponds need care, need tending, need love for the frogs to thrive. And then they will use the ditch by the road!

But now….

The cold calls us now to sleep, folding limbs, closing eyes, toad folds into mud. A long slow silence in the dark and the damp. Winter dreaming is the home that holds us through the centuries. Shadowy peace in the echoing silence….

Photos: all these ones are by me, c G MacLellan

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The blink of a golden eye

The blink of a golden eye

Froglife and Creeping Toad

Aha! This week, with a toadly creep and occasional froggy hops, Creeping Toad is taking over the Froglife twitter and facebook platforms. The aim is to add a different flavour to the regular Froglife posts and give their regular followers something perhaps a little unexpected to meet. For my regular followers, we hope that connecting to Froglife might bring you into a whole hoppy world of cool damp skin and the dry scales of reptilian cousins….

Because Twitter posts have to be so short and I’m a storyteller with a tendency to ramble, posting is an interesting execrise in shutting up but here I thought I would string those first posts together in their full form as a journey towards hibernation.

The season changes, autumn comes with witner a cloud on a horizon of blowing leaves

The summer is behind her. A spring of swarming waters and wriggling company, a season of damp grass and clambering, the slow learning of dangers and dinners and now a chill on the edge of awareness.

Watch as you garden for the summer’s small survivors: nature takes so many young amphibians, try not to add to the tally.

The darkness calls to froglet, toadlet and matriarch alike, an invitation to sink into ancient dreams, memories drifting down through centuries, through millennia of amphibian feet pressing into soft earth, clasping branches, the chance to step into the long slow sleep that remembers giant dragonflies, tree ferns and the shock  of those first steps onto dry sand

A pile of sticks might be enough. Dead leaves, logs or rocks, a heap and a half, holes and sheter and small tight squeeze points. Our amphibians are heading for hibernation places now. Try taking a look at your garden or the wild place at the end of the street: is there a corner that could be left? A haven for the sleepy? Undisturbed the winter through, a sanctuary to sleep for spring….

Before the winter comes at last, pause. The pond mirrors trees, reflects us, the toad’s eyes mirror other depths, a shimmer of gold, the dream of a damp world, an invitation to see the world at toad height or frog level.


All c/o me apart from the final image c/o Kenny Taylor

Froglife is an obvious link but you might also enjoy We Are The Ark with their advice on turning any space you can find into a sanctuary.....

Friday, 4 October 2019

A mirror reflecting trees

A Ribble Celebration 

Still, dark,
A mirror reflecting trees,
Slow, deep,
A cold safety for trout
the river's king?

Bold, the schools that braved the rain and mud
Brave, the children who read their stories and poems
Lively, the company who performed their animals
Running, rushing, racing, the swirlng spiral of people who made our river.
Muddy, the groundsheets that filed my car afterwards!.
the river's queen?
On Thursday 26th September, 6 classes from 4 different schools wound their watery ways through the streets of Barnoldswick to join the Ribble Rivers Trust and Creeping Toad at Victory Park for a celebration of our rivery creativity of the previous week. Drawing together new understanding of river animals and water safety gained through sessions with RRT, knowledge of the shapes and flow of rivers through school work and a bit of messy creativity with the Toad, our scientist/artists had worked as separate classes to create elements of the river as a whole

We met swarms of small river animals, infesting the fingers of Coates Lane children. There were colourful flags from Gisburn Rd giving us river life to futter and flap above our heads. There was a flood of larger creatures who could carry us down to the river mouth where the sharks and turtles waited for the river to empty its cargo of adventurers into the sea (thank you, B’swick C of E!)
But we explored rivers in other ways, too, and we saw the strange and wonderful legendary inhabitants of the river from festering Mummies to River Princesses, Monsters and Marvels

not a company to mess with...
under the bridge....
Our celebration was balanced between wind, mud and approaching storms and we didn’t hear all that we coulld or see all that we might (extra stories may appear here shortly!) but we laughed together, swam through streams together, and stamped a river’s whirlpool into the playing field together

Thank you all the children, staff and artists of our schools and thanks to Ribble Rivers Trust for setting it all up!

Our River Friends

Ribble Rivers TrustPrimary Schools:
Gisburn Rd
Coates Lane
St Joseph's RC 
Barnoldswick C of E
wind enough to blow the river away
Photos credits:
Artwork on its own: Gordon MacLellan
Photos including children c/o Ribble Rivers Trust