October 9, 2014

The Chronicles of Steampunk Bob: The First Field Trip

Two weeks ago Poetato John (Performance Poet/Comedian/Alternative National Treasure John Hegley) came to Lunsford school, played the mandolin, sang about the guillemot and helped every pupil in the school make a poem about a person or an animal they treasured.
The pupils reacted immediately to John’s warm curmudgeon persona, happily following his gesture orders (‘Flap your arms when I say “guillemot”. Faster. Now stand on one leg. Sit down. Flap again. Faster! Good.’) and singing the poems they were inspired to write to the music of Jean Phillipe Rameau.

John Hegley still 7
The following week Shula Shoop (Shula Hawes from Ladder to the Moon) accompanied Steampunk Bob and People United’s own Sarah Fox on two school field trips to Abbeyfield St Martins & Lavenders Care Homes to share some of their poems. A few of the pupils had been to a care home before, but for most it was their first experience. We were all warmly welcomed, and the obvious delight that residents took in both their recitations and their presence quickly eased any initial nerves. As the afternoon went on, the affection the two groups had for each other grew. One of residents at Lavenders pointed at adorable Year 1 pupil Lilly Rose and said to me: ‘That one, right there, bring her to me.’ She stretched out her arms and Lilly Rose came over with a smile, leaned in and gave her a massive hug. The room quickly filled with laughter and chatter, and buzzing, engaged people.

After the poems were read, we broke into small groups. I had written a number of questions on cards and sealed their envelopes with wax. As this project is focused on the idea of role models (we’ve interpreted as people you treasure), each question had follow-ups that touched on an aspect of sharing, examining what makes a person want to share with others, to care for others, what makes others care for you? I kept the topics rooted in the present as well. During a preparatory conversation with Sue Mayo, a wonderful artist experienced in intergenerational projects, she talked about how we are continuously ‘futurising’ young people: getting them to think what things will be like when they are older, when we should focus more on what they are like now. Similarly, in many ways are also always ‘pastuerising’ older people: asking what it was like in years gone by, what they did when they were younger…

Here are a couple examples of question cards:

Who makes you feel safe & snug?
• What do they do to make you feel that way?
• Who do you make feel safe and snug?
• Talk about a time when someone helped you feel safe, or when you helped someone else feel safe…

What’s your absolute favourite song?
• What person would you most like to sing it with?
• Where would you sing it together?
• Talk about a fun time you had when music was playing…

These question cards were meant to be jumping off points, helping the groups to start conversations, and trying to keep in mind the idea that we all experience our life with other people in it, around us, all the time. How we can best make that experience positive, maybe even inspiring, for both ourselves and for others?

Hands Double 2 (2).jpg RESIZED
At the end of the hour together Shula & I took photographs of residents’ & pupils’ hands to remember their time together, as later this month a different group will visit to the homes: this time to sing. Our next visiting artist will be singer/choir leader Gitika Partington, and she’ll lead two school assemblies, teaching everyone at Lunsford some of the residents’ favourite songs (noted from that second question above). We’ll learn A Long Way to Tipperary, The Streets of London & Moon River. These songs (which Gitika has chosen from a list of suggestions) all touch on the themes of treasuring other people: ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary/But my heart’s right there!’ ‘One more forgotten hero/In a world that doesn’t care…’ and of course, ‘We’re after the same rainbow’s end/Waitin’ round the bend/My huckleberry friend…’ It’s going to be a very fun month ahead…

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