6th November 2017
I was sitting at the library enquiry desk the other Monday when one of the old ladies from the Brendon Care group came up to me and said, “You were very good last week … I didn’t understand what you were telling us, but you were very good.” A bit backhanded, but still a compliment … I think. And what had earned me this curious accolade?
The previous Monday I had performed my Guy Fawkes piece for them. I’d kept it light and steered well away from the sheer gruesomeness of hanging, drawing and quartering – unlike the BBC’s Gunpowder (which I’ve still got to watch). It’s an interesting piece to perform as it involves playing two characters, Guy Fawkes and a secretary to Sir Robert Cecil and involves a costume change part way through – OK I change doublets, but in true Shakespearian tradition once you’ve changed nobody recognizes you.
I start the piece at one table, with a few props, as Guy Fawkes gives a (very) potted history of his life up until he is recruited to take part in the plot.
Then I switch to a second table where ‘M,’ as he calls himself, from Cecil’s spy network is preparing a report about the discovery of the plot and the fates of the conspirators. Now there are a lot of names to get my head around – 13 plotters to start with – so remembering everything is a bit of a nightmare. I’ve therefore discovered that the easiest thing to do is … cheat. The style of the performance makes this easy.
To start with Guy receives a letter outlining the plot and naming the conspirators. This means that I only have to remember the extra bits that I slip in while reading out the letter. Secondly ‘M’ is preparing a report and what do you need when preparing a report? Notes! I therefore have several sheets of notes and a handwritten copy of the fateful Monteagle letter on M’s desk. “Simples,” to quote a rather annoying meerkat.
So how did the day go? The new shirt and britches that I was wearing for the first time were comfortable and, at least I’ve got to use them, (just need an excuse to wear the Dutch coat). I did, however, have a bit of a heart sink moment just before starting. Guy Fawkes was born in Stonegate, York, so I do this bit of the performance with a Yorkshire accent. As I was getting ready to perform I realised that one of the Brendon Care volunteers hailed from Yorkshire, luckily she didn’t take offence at my efforts. I think I remembered everything – I’m not aware of any gaping holes in the performance. Better still, everyone enjoyed it … even if they didn’t always understand it.
5th October 2017
Autumn is a time of change and there’s certainly a lot going on at the moment. For a start Bournemouth and Poole councils have decided to combine their library services into something resembling a set of conjoined twins – two independent library services operating under a single management structure. As a result of the ensuing reorganisation Bournemouth has scrapped all of its library manager posts and most of its senior library assistants. I am therefore taking voluntary redundancy and will cease working at the library on 30th November, (7 weeks to go and counting).
I’ve already dealt with my last class visits – thanks Hill View Primary you were brilliant (and several children have come back into the library to join or renew lapsed memberships as a result of the visit) – and my last visits from the Brownies & Rainbows. While I’m going to miss working with my colleagues – Adrianna, Angie, Chris M, Ellie, Lucy & Summer are a great team, (I should also mention Peter, who left in January and Chris H, who left in June) – I’m not going to miss
- Working until 7:15 two evenings a week – I’ve recently discovered a storytelling club that meets in Ringwood, the second half of each session is done by one of their resident storytellers, and the first half is open mic. The problem is they meet on the third Thursday of the month at 7:30 and, since I’ve become aware of them, this has always clashed with one of my late nights. Once I’ve left the library service I can, at last, try my hand at storytelling in front of an adult audience.
- Having to turn down invitations to spend the weekend with family/friends because I have to work every other Saturday and there’s a date clash.
- And I definitely won’t miss having to deal with bored/rowdy teens!
My plan is to take December off, catch up on writing, figure painting, housework (!), and then start looking for work in the New Year. This does leave me wondering, ‘What is going to happen to Bartholomew?’ especially as I’ve just splurged out on some new costume items. Well, as I’ve got the December off, if anyone wants a Great Fire/English Civil War talk now is the time to book it as I’m free every day. Hopefully whatever I end up doing work wise I’ll be able to continue with the talks.
On a positive note, I am doing my Guy Fawkes piece on Monday 16th. Great fun, but a bit scary as I have to play two different characters, Guy Fawkes himself and one of Walsingham’s secretaries, which means having to learn two scripts. After so many years I could probably perform Bartholomew’s story in my sleep, which is one reason why I’m considering changing its format to keep it fresh (and me on my toes). Guy Fawkes, on the other hand, has only been performed twice so needs more preparation.
Also Kit Pearce – see my last blog – has sent me a link to the Reading on Screen website as they have put up a piece about August’s library event and the recording of the story. Ignore the bit about me being the head librarian; I am, to quote Uriah Heap, only a ‘very ‘umble’ library manager (for the time being at least). He’s also sent me recordings of the other 3 stories that I performed, which I’ll get around to putting on line in the near future. We are also discussing recording me reading a short story which I wrote recently about a young man’s encounter with a fresh water mermaid. I wanted to get away from the Disneyfication, cutesy nice modern image of mermaids and get back to their darker reputation; as a result it all ends rather badly.
The plan is that, once the story is recorded, Kit will layer sound effect like water lapping and the hiss of the wind through reeds under the narration, which should make the whole piece more interesting –I’m looking forward to trying my hand at something new.
14th August 2017
Nothing new on the performance front with Bartholomew, but I have just made a major purchase ready for the future. After over 30 years I decided that several items of costume had earned an honourable retirement, my breeches in particular which keep splitting around the ribbon ties. As fast as I repair them they split again – they just don’t make army blankets like they used to. I’ve therefore bought a new pair from Sally Green. They’re grey, like my old pair, but they’re made of a lighter woollen material, are less baggy and they’re lined. So they should be much cooler and less itchy – result! I also bought a new shirt and a very fancy Dutch coat – black lined with red, can’t wait for the first opportunity to wear the new ensemble.
I’ve done a bit of storytelling at work which was fun but a little disappointing – sounds like an oxymoron but all will become clear soon.
Some time ago I had a conversation with Kit Pearce one of our regulars at the library. He’d written a children’s story and, having heard me read/story tell to several groups of children, wondered if I would be interested in ‘performing’ it in front of an audience. I read the piece, liked it and agreed. Over a couple of weeks the project grew. Kit persuaded his niece, Elly, to illustrate the story and asked if he could make an audio recording of the event – Kit’s plan is to edit the recording and make it available online with the original illustrations (as soon as links are available I’ll put them on the website). I worked out a programme of 3 animal trickster tales to perform as a storyteller – Coyote and Wildcat, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby & Chanticleer and the Fox – before the main story and began to practise them.
We advertised the event on the library Facebook page, twice, put posters up in the library – including 3 large ones in the front window – we also handed out lots of flyers to children taking part in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. I also pinned a tweet about it to my Twitter feed, not that many people would see it but ‘every little helps’ as the old lady said.
On Friday afternoon everything was ready and the audience finally arrived – Kit (the author), Elly (the illustrator), a friend of Kit’s who was going to take some photo’s , Browen Thomas (from Bournemouth Uni’s Reading on Screen project), my son Dan (aged 23), one of our regular readers with her grandson, a family that happened to be in the children’s library at the time and stayed & a mum with a couple of young kids who had been handed a flyer just before the start. It’s not the first time that this has happened so I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to find an even better way of advertising these events.
Despite this the afternoon was a success – at least the adults enjoyed the stories. And, while chatting afterwards, suggestions were made about talking to some of the Uni. students to remind them about the long oral tradition of stories and storytelling. Now that could be fun!
24th July 2017
This blog is a bit of a misnomer as, with the summer holidays now upon us, Bartholomew is unlikely to make an appearance before the new school year – unless a local group want a talk. Having said that I’ve just come back from France with a couple of new props. I’ve been after a rustic looking stool for some time as it would be nice to do some of the session sitting down and I really don’t want to use a plastic school chair. The other Sunday Sue and I were in Rouffinac market and there was a stall selling handmade stools with woven straw seats, €22 job done – thank goodness we had driven to the Dordogne, I wouldn’t fancy trying to get one back on a plane. I also managed to pick up a very nice leather belt pouch at a place called Le Bournet, a place that demonstrates French life at the turn of the 19th/20th century, so Bartholomew now has somewhere fancy to keep his flint and steel.
Also at Le Bournet we saw a traditional bread oven being used so I now have some more photo’s to include in the PowerPoint presentation. This is somewhat ironic as while I was away I spent some time thinking about the ‘all Bartholomew super dramatic’ presentation which would not use the current PowerPoint. Still it should be useful to be able to offer two different formats for the session.
I did manage to get some other stuff done during the holiday. The current WIP, a novel set during the English Civil War, is still inching along. I went away with a section written but needing to be typed up and did write a, short, linking passage. I also managed to get some research done into the battle of Worcester.
The rest of my time was spent editing a collection of 12 stories with a supernatural twist which I’m intending to put out as a Kindle download – there I’ve put it in writing, now I’ll have to carry it through! Now all I need is a few willing victims volunteers to read them and spot any glaring errors. Anybody fancy a go?
23rd May 2017.
There’s not a lot happening on the Bartholomew front at the moment. With the half term holidays looming large, followed by the run down to the summer break I doubt if there will be any more bookings this school year. I have finished writing a first draft of Bartholomew episode 2, the rebuilding of London and what happened next also known as The Phoenix. It will need to be fact checked, tweaked and, hopefully added to, after that I will need to work on the visuals. With any luck it will be ready to perform in the autumn. I’m also considering using the family history programme that I use to draw up a family tree for Bartholomew and produce a professional looking history for him. Producing original looking baptism and marriage entries seems like an interesting challenge.
I’m therefore going to use the rest of this blog to talk about storytelling.
The other week the reception classes from Kingsleigh Primary school visited the library in conjunction with a talk at our local Tesco store about fruit and veg. It was arranged at fairly short notice so Chris, my deputy, had to handle the Thursday visit as I was elsewhere running a Wriggle & Rhyme taster session. Not a 17th century session, I hasten to add, three verses of ‘Martin Said to his Man’ followed by ‘Oyster Nan’ probably wouldn’t go down well!
For the Friday session I had planned to tell ‘Stone Soup’ as a story, but bottled it at the last minute as I hadn’t had very long to prepare it. I did, however, read the children ‘Banana’ by Ed Vere and ‘Eat Your Peas’ by Kes Gray which are a couple of my favourite picture books and which fitted well with the topic being studied. I then spent the next three or four days going over ‘Stone Soup’ so now I have a workable version that I can tell. Towards the end of the story (at least in my version) one of the characters reflects on ‘the power of a well told story’ and this idea was sparked by something that happened during the previous week.
We had had five class visits from Elm Academy – two from year 1 and three from year 2 – to learn about the library and to talk about fairy stories. I’d had plenty of notice and had been practising an old Russian story to tell at the end of each session. I had decided to start the fairy story section by getting the children to name as many fairy stories as they could, we would then work our way through the list and find out how many of them actually have a fairies in them. When you do this it rapidly becomes apparent that not many have. The first class, (year 2s), managed to list 8 and we only got there via Frozen, Tinkerbell, Harry Potter and Moana. I also noticed after the session that, of those eight, six had been made into films by Disney. Later classes named more stories as I introduced an element of competition, “Can you name more stories than the last class?” I was also interested to notice that the younger classes named more of the ‘traditional’ stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs and The Three Billy Goats Gruff – ah the innocence of youth uncorrupted by Hollywood.
Just as a backup I had a second story prepared and by the Friday afternoon had performed the Russian story three times and the backup story once. When I got to the end of the last session I gave the children a choice, “You can have the Russian story about a very clever girl who ends up marrying the Tsar, or you can one about a unicorn.” They picked the unicorn story.
About halfway through the story our hero, a woodcutter, finds himself at the edge of an unfamiliar, gloomy clearing. He thinks that he can see something white caught in a bush on the far side and starts to walk cautiously towards it. Suddenly he stops when he realises that what is caught in the bush is … a unicorn. It was at this point in the story that there was a collective, sharp intake of breath, from about half the class. ‘Brilliant,’ I thought. Then when our hero raises his axe to kill it, (he is very hungry), several of the children and some of the adults cried out ‘Oh no!’ That’s when I got the frisson, that little shiver that tells you that something has gone well. Which is why I enjoy story telling so much and why I slipped the thoughts about ‘the power of a story well told’ into Stone Soup.
Saturday 15th April 2017, posted Tuesday 18th
This is a different sort of blog as I haven’t done a talk since my last entry and I don’t have any more booked in the near future, (subtle hint for any teachers out there). Sue and I had planned to spend the Easter weekend in Addlestone with Holly and James, our daughter and her boyfriend. A week before we were due to go I got an email from Holly saying ‘thought you might be interested in this,’ there was a link which took me to the Museum of London’s website and their ‘Fire Fire’ exhibition which closed on Bank Holiday Monday.
On Good Friday we went into town – Holly and Sue were heading for the Sherlock Holmes museum, James decided to tag along with me. I was going to walk from Waterloo to the museum so we set off over Waterloo Bridge, turned into The Strand then walked along Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral and then onto the museum. This, of course, was the area that Bartholomew would have been familiar with. I had been along Fleet Street, walking away from St Paul’s, in February when we went into town with friends and found myself, without realising it at first, passing St Bride’s church – it now has buildings surrounding it and is difficult to see. There on my right was the end of Shoe Lane. I didn’t have much time to do more than note from the building layout the logical place for the Grey Goose would be in the block that occupied the right hand side of the street when walking away from the cathedral. Yesterday I had a bit more time, and my wits about me, so paid better attention to the area when I got there.
The area between Shoe Lane and New Bridge Street, which appears to be located where Fleet Street crossed the Fleet River, or Fleete Dytch as it was called in 1666 – the Fleet River is still there, it runs through a culvert under the street – is now occupied by two large buildings. The most noticeable of the two is a branch of Boots, so where Bartholomew (fictionally) dispensed beer, wine and hospitality Boots are dispensing aspirin (other pain relief products are available), pre packed sandwiches and pregnancy testing kits.
The ground level of London has risen since the fire but Ludgate Hill were St Paul’s stands is still higher than the surrounding area so it is easy to see how the melted lead from the roof ‘ran through the gutters like a stream of liquid silver.’
I really enjoyed the exhibition – seeing paintings and objects that I’ve known only as images in books or on line is a bit like meeting an old friend. Sometimes it can also give you a surprise; I have an image on my laptop of a burning city that was published in a book of predictions in 1665 which I’m used to seeing fill a screen. The exhibition had a copy of the book open at that particular image, which is why I noticed it, it was a bit of a shock to realise that the original is actually smaller than A5.
Another evocative item was the hearth tax return for Pudding Lane with Thomas Farrinor’s entry as, not only have I seen this document at the National Archives at Kew, I have actually handled it. I had ordered the document and been informed that it was in the conservation area as it was being prepared for an exhibition. A special pass was made out and I was taken into one of the conservation labs where one of the conservators produced a small cardboard box. Opening the box she took out the document, which consists of several sheets of paper folded long ways to produce a rather narrow booklet. This she put onto a special support then said ‘It’s getting a bit fragile along the edges so be careful as you turn the pages over,’ then she walked off and left me. So there I was with a 350 year old document from my favourite period of history, talk about feeling like a kid let loose in a sweet shop!
The entrance to the exhibition was designed to give the impression of a street at the time of the fire, narrow and gloomy. It was quiet when we went but I can imagine that given more visitors the impression would be even more vivid. Lighting throughout was rather dim – but when you are dealing with documents and textiles, (they had a set of bed curtains that are reputed to have been rescued from the fire); of that age you don’t want bright lights causing things to fade.
Some of the most fascinating items were those found in the ruins such as the three corroded and fused lumps of metal – one of which had a key fused to its surface. These were displayed in a cabinet with a button per item, push the button and an x-ray image of the item was displayed. They were all padlocks and not only could you see the shape of the lock under the corrosion, you could also see that all of the springs etc. inside appeared to be intact.
I’ve now got some good ideas to work into Bartholomew’s episode 2 which is progressing well – I picked up the exhibition catalogue/book for half price, one advantage in visiting a couple of days before the exhibition closed. So watch this space for when it’s ready to go on the road.
Monday 27th March 2017
I seem to have spent most of today inhabiting the 17th century. This morning I had the two classes from Kinson Primary’s year 2 in the library for the Great Fire of London talk, this had been in the work diary for some time. I would normally leave all of the props out and invite the children to come back after school to take a closer look at them. However …
Last Monday afternoon I had a conversation with the lady that runs the Brendon Care group that meets in Kinson library. She had seen me do the talk for the Rotary Club last year (see blog 2) and asked if I had done the talk recently so I told her about the West Moors performance and mentioned that I had one next week and would have to pack everything away to clear the room for them. She then asked me if I would do the talk for them. So there I was with two talks in one day for people at either end of the age spectrum.
I arrived at work early and got everything ready, including the purchase of a bottle of iced lemon tea from the local newsagent – due to a ‘cock up on the catering front,’ to quote one of the characters from Reggie Perrin, we’d run out of Earl Grey teabags for making my usual beer substitute. By the time the children arrived, slightly early, the fire alarms had been tested, the weekly staff meeting had been held and I was in costume ready to greet them.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t very satisfied with my morning performance. I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently thinking of how I can change Bartholomew’s section about and at the suggestion of a friend have considered adding an AV element. Now the problem with Bartholomew’s section is it’s basically a storytelling session, there is a script, of sorts, but during the performance bits may get added or (more likely) left out. This could be deliberately, as I did in the session at West Moors (blog 4) or more simply because of a memory lapse. I had one of these and suddenly found that while my mouth was carrying on with the story, part of my brain was thinking that if I was using the ‘new improved’ version I would now have a sound effect that would come in at the wrong point of the story! I got myself back on track and I don’t think that anyone noticed – one advantage of me knowing the script and the audience not.
The kids were brilliant as they were the first ones since I’ve started doing this talk who have worked out that Bartholomew’s mug is made from cow horn and haven’t suggested that it was plastic. A mention should also be made about the staff who all seemed to spot the reference to Samuel Pepys’ behaviour with the ladies and gave a chuckle, it was the best reception that that remark has received to date. The subjects talked about in the Q&A session after the main presentation included
- eating etiquette,
- the shoes that I was wearing – they are straight so there is no left or right,
- and questions about various items that were out on display – the cup & ball was popular as I managed to catch the ball at the first attempt, so was the spinning top.
The afternoon session went really well, I had several compliments from some of the old ladies when I appeared in costume – several of them were even taking bets as to whether my britches were made from an old army blanket (they are). I made a couple of stumbles in Bartholomew’s story, but not as serious as in the morning. One thing that I’ve learned from watching good storytellers like Nick Hennessey, (check out The Liberty Tree which he performs with Hugh Lupton or Fire in the North Sky), is that if you do stumble just keep on going and your audience will forgive you.
The chat afterwards was very informal and held over a cup of tea – real tea, with milk – but ranged over similar topics as that with kids in the morning. As a result of this chat I’ve been asked to talk about the Gunpowder Plot in November – good fun as I get to play two characters, Guy Fawkes and one of Sir Robert Cecil’s secretaries. I also mentioned that at some time I would like to do Bartholomew episode 2, set in the 1680s and dealing with the rebuilding of London, if it gets done they would like that too.
Now where did I put those notes?
Sunday 12th March 2017
I never know when I’m going to get a booking. Last Tuesday evening I got a phone call from one of the teachers at St. Mary’s School, West Moors that I’ve worked with in the past. She is now working in year 1 but, under the new curriculum that the school is using, the Great Fire of London has slipped from year 2 to year 1 – under a topic called Big City bright Lights. The catch was, if I was available, they would need me to do it a.s.a.p. As luck would have it I was having a very ‘odd’ week so that, instead of having Wednesday off, I was not working on Friday. After a bit of frantic texting between Wendy & various people at the school I got a message on Wednesday morning that we were good to go on Friday afternoon.
As this would be for a younger audience than usual I first had to decide which bits to ‘prune out’ of the talk. These were mainly some of the more gruesome/brutal aspects of the subject, e.g. what happens to a human body when you burn it for a long time at a high temperature (you can’t tell what you are left with from wood ash) or the story of the poor Frenchman who was beaten to death by a mob when he was spotted carrying a box of round objects, which turned out to be tennis balls not fire balls. I then needed to reprint the PowerPoint notes as I had replaced a couple of the photo’s on the slides the week before. Then it was the usual preparations that I usually make – ensuring that I had the correct coins in Bartholomew’s purse and remembering to brew a jug of Earl Grey tea the night before (looks like beer and tastes OK when drunk cold, with no milk of course).
To save time I decided to perform the first section of the talk – the PowerPoint presentation – in half costume and ‘become Bartholomew’ when I put on my doublet and hat.
The Q&A session threw up some interesting questions. As the class had spent a week or two studying modern London I was asked if Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the Gherkin were there in 1666. When I pointed out that the London Eye had been built to celebrate the millennium one little boy looked up and asked “What’s the millennium?” which just shows how much we, as adults, take for granted. I (sorry Bartholomew) was also asked how the ceramic mugs were made which got the response, “I know how to put beer into a mug and sell it to someone but not how to make the mug as I’m not a potter.”
The afternoon ended with a photo shoot with a couple of the pupils trying on Bartholomew’s hat and doublets while standing in front of the table full of props. I’d like to give a big thank you to Robins for being a great audience and asking some good questions and for their wonderful rendition of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down,’ I can’t remember the last time I heard it sung. I’d also like to thank all of the staff for their friendly reception, the thank you card that they gave me and a most welcome mug of tea while the children had their break.
After about 17 years I’m looking to change things around a bit. If I have enough time, i.e. a whole morning, I’d like to make the performance more dramatic. I’m thinking of starting on the Tuesday of the fire, it has already jumped the Fleet River and Abigail and Bartholomew are packing ready to flee. This way I can talk about the fire and all the props as I pack them away. What I need to do is work out how to cover the break when I’ll need to jump forward in time to the Friday and Bartholomew’s discovery that all has been lost.
Bartholomew’s next outing is on March 27th when Kinson Primary School will come to Kinson Library for the talk.