Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

This week I am telling in the wonderful Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. Originally a Tudor hall it grew and developed as fashions changed and it is now a museum and gallery full of twists and turns, nooks and crannies, step ups and step downs and creaking floor boards. Lots of creaking floorboards! It is packed full of fantastic furniture stained with the dark hues of everyday use and touch. There are little rooms here and there, austere Tudor and Stuart portraits, their occupants sitting in judgement on all the meaner sort like me who pass by. There are all sorts and sizes of room, from rich men's closets to the scullery and kitchen where the meaner sort like me once turned spits and fetched water. It's a labyrinth because as fashions and tastes changed the house grew and in later times furniture and even whole building from elsewhere in Ipswich were absorbed into the structure. There is too much there to describe, from Georgian costume to Tudor bed warmers and cucking stools and so I have decided to focus on one object that caught my eye....

The joy of courtship...
Click on image to make larger

It's this small jug made in the late 18th century in the ceramics collection and it's subject reflects a major theme of many of the stories I tell. In truth I'm not really into ceramics, but this jug had a certain appeal because of my stories, namely the struggles between man and woman, husband and wife. Occasionally I have been challenged for telling such tales, but historically the subject had been a constant cause of both concern and jocularity. Clearly that's the case with the jug, for as it says...

When two fond fools together meet
Each look gives joy, each kiss as sweet
But Wed, how cold and cross they be
Turn upside down and then you'll see...

And then when you turn it upside down the message is complete!

The realities of Matrimony!

This is not an attack on men nor women, but simply a joke that makes people laugh and so hopefully lessens tension between men and women, husband and wife. Surely we all need a laugh every now and then!

Thanks to Caroline and all the staff and volunteers at the mansion house for looking after me so well and being so into storytelling!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Celtic Harmony, Hertfordshire

On May 2nd this year I told at a Beltane Celebration at Celtic Harmony Camp. It's a mix of Iron Age round houses and technology but overlaid with messages about the environment and sustainability. In essence using our Celtic heritage to promote harmony with the natural world, whilst providing natural & cultural heritage education.

One of two roundhouses at Celtic Harmony
Click on any image to make larger...

Inside and looking up at the smoke blackened roof of the roundhouse

The organic looking Iron Age roof

It was this that particularly attracted me to the site. Having worked recently at Center Parcs at Elveden in Norfolk where the access to nature is limited for the most part to cycling or walking through it, I have to be honest and say that the Celtic Harmony approach is much more hands on and I think better for it. That's not to say there is anything wrong with the center parcs approach - it does after all get people out and about who might not otherwise have access to nature; it's just that I like to see both kids and adults getting their hands dirty. That's precisely what happens at the camp, because at least one of its founders, Luca, is trained as a Forest School teacher where the emphasis is on positive learning through access to nature but also importantly through fun. And there can be no greater fun as far as I'm concerned that messing about with mud! One of the activities when I was there was creating Green man Clay faces at the mud pit and plastering them to a nearby tree.

Earth and water make mud and mud is fun!

The finished product -
Green Men al waiting to finally banish winter...

Its not just about nature though, because the hands on activities also include more historical sessions such as grinding grain to make flour and simple forms of bread and cakes. This was taking place in one of the roundhouses where anyone who wanted to could grind their own flour, make a simple 'cake and cook it over the fires. The smell of both smoke and cake was great and it was good to see that nothing was fenced off. Everyone was getting involved, getting their sleeves rolled up and using their own common sense!

The grindstones kept turning all day...

Cooking the cakes in the roundhouse

It was good to see, because like many people I sometimes worry that kids and adults for that matter are becoming detached for the world around them and that convience rules, especially when it comes to food. And at Celtic Harmony the message is clear that the animals had their many uses including meat. Its not forced down your throat, but its clear that the animals here were not just pets.

Messages about our Celtic past and sustainability are dotted here and there...

A Goat!

The emphasis was on fun and so hopefully learning by the back door. Even the ceremony at the end of the day where Queen Winter was banished by the May Queen and the Green Man, involved lots of shouting and audience participation and I think that it's precisely that pantomime element that will make everyone remember what happened and maybe take away just a little bit of a 'feel' for life long, long ago..

The May Queen (Middle) banishes Cruel Winter (Left)
with the help of the Celtic Harmony Chieftain and many, many kids!

Thanks to Luca and Clare and to the storyteller Molly for making me feel so welcome...