Close your tender eyes

Necklace of Stars, poetry, Projects
I was a child during a war
Bomb shelters and sirens
Go to bed ready dressed
And mum took me to the Anderson shelter
Go to sleep my baby
Close your tender eyes.
Lullaby singing.

Born 1934
I was five when it started
Wasn’t time for laughing
Dad worked in the steel
Mum in munitions
Wasn’t much time for
Stories and sitting on laps.
Jesus friend of little children
Dear friend to me.

Wondering after the next bomb 
Sirens call gives you a funny feel
Is your house still standing
Or not? Underground
Someone played the accordion
Baby, how I wish I was
Up above the bright blue sky.

Anon
Embroidered Stars, by Frances Cohen, for A Necklace of Stars quilt. (catch a falling star)

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post.

For what it’s worth

Necklace of Stars, poetry

“Aha! Good afternoon. Very nice to talk! You’re the first voice I’ve heard today…”
(Participant)

Since the Spring, the Necklace of Stars project has reached out to older people in Derbyshire, using phone calls to write poems and make embroideries. Today I was struck again by the value of these calls to all involved, to me and to the people I speak with. In this time of restrictions, it is a wonderful luxury to spend time in the company of new people without worrying about masks and viruses.

Several people I spoke with today have been isolated since the beginning of the year. Their seclusion has continued for months, and for some it feels unending. This is no longer about simply contracting an illness, it’s about living in a new way, especially for older people. And this new way of living needs to take into account emotional lives as well as physical health.

Whether Forecast

I’m cooking up a kitchen storm, lighting a flare,
leaving the doldrums in the yellow chair.
I’m braving a peasouper, blithely unaware
of fusing blue sky thinking to navigate the dare.
And if I reap a whirlwind then I’ll take to the air.
It’s time to break through the heavy side layer.

Linda Goulden

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February.

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February. To be isolated for such a long time is akin to solitary confinement in a jail. That particular punishment is meted out because it is so psychologically devastating. If we have any hope of getting through to the other side of the pandemic without a great deal of damage to everyone’s mental health, then we need to deal with the urgent need people have for human connection.

And sometimes that’s a phone call to discuss that poem you wrote about your grandma wearing a polka dot bikini, or astrophysics and its relationship to God, or childhood journeys to adulthood, or an argument with your big sister when you were eight years old.

How much is a poem worth? Well, that’s a big question, as Hamlet would say…

The Way

I talked with me today
and we agree: the way
we say that we must be
must be the way to be.

Linda Goulden

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post.

Riding the tsunami

poetry, Whisper to me alone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the insights of other vulnerable people in Manchester during the pandemic. Here’s WHISPER writer Anastasia:

I’m riding the waves at this very moment. It’s a Tsunami this one, but I’m not drowning. In the past I’ve hit the bottom of the ocean. This time I’m able to observe it, I am in it and at the same time outside it. Yes, I’m riding the Tsunami.

When you drown you panic, try and flap your arms and legs. But the best thing you can do is be still, stay calm. You know inside yourself that the waves will ebb and flow away, just like the clouds passing over our heads.

I see lockdown positively, it made us humans stop. Although it’s causing distress and isolation, a feeling of losing grip on reality, our whole notion of what is normal has been turned on its head – and actually that’s good. I think the positivity will continue, there are less cars for instance. Venice, New York, London, two weeks into lockdown the skies over those cities were bluer.

I’ve seen people become kinder, considerate. Customers in shops used to be demanding and rude. When I see shoppers now, they’re more appreciative, they’ve got to queue, they’ve learned patience.

It all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee …

At first everyone’s reaction was panic: our personal lives and the lives of our nations, how we work, how we think, how we view things — it all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee but we couldn’t because there was a lockdown and so you have to stay and face it.

But for the others, panic gradually changed into something else. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is acceptance. “I can’t flee, I’m in my house. I’m going to stop crashing about and be still in the storm. I’m just going to breathe.” Sometimes it’s all you can do, just breathe.

Then when they started lifting lockdown, the world got angry. Now they’re saying you can have some freedom, now they’ve taken all it away again. You hear the jailer come and you hear the key turn and you feel trapped.

The world is moving through a storm just like I move through my storms. People are coping. Yes, there’s been violence and despair, but also care. Support for one another gets through, like those little phone calls that mean so much between people. The world’s realised flailing and fury doesn’t work. You feel you are drowning and everything has been stripped away in the terrifying waves. But slowly, appreciation of life, of nature, of connection, is dawning. And sometimes a sense of freedom. That’s when you know you’re riding the waves.

Anastasia

The arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during the pandemic. The project centres on writing made during phone calls and in journal-writing, art and song, plus an embroidered quilt. The Manchester photos are by Sue Dean. Words and images from WHISPER will soon be shared on the forthcoming twitterstream https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

This project is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester.

Manchester umbrellas. Photo by Sue Dean

Life going through the cosmos

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

As sometimes happens in a workshop, todays was a game of two halves. Before the break, a couple of the participants where distracted, sat on the edges of the room, engaged in their own thoughts, and their own troubles. But after the tea break, gradually the atmosphere changed, as the art worker said;

If you leave out clay for long enough, people will pick it up and start making…

Some new people joined the group, and gradually everyone around the room fell into peaceful activity.

Karen Bowen, Project Worker at the Booth

Alongside the clay making workshop, my table of art materials and examples of embroidered suns. Karen, a Project Worker at the Booth Centre, took 5 or so precious minutes to sit and paint, explaining she hadn’t had a chance to create anything for so long, and how wonderful it was to sit and paint. Her work was immediate, energetic and joyful. She took a pack of embroidery materials away, with full intentions to stitch a sun tonight.

For others the process was a slower, more thoughtful one. ‘H’ had gone away after last weeks session with paper, themes and a head full of ideas. Today he arrived with pages of photocopies, the starting of designs of complexity, humour and thoughtfulness. The first thing he showed me was the beautifully written ‘Here Comes the Sun?’ he explained; “It’s the question mark that’s important.” ‘H’s work is never simple, there are always ideas of complexity behind them.

That question mark is so important in these times. Today listening into conversations around the room, I noticed more the undercurrent of unease, a sense of frustration, of mistrust of the government. Conspiracy theories abound. Thankfully the creativity also offered a sense of calm, release, distraction and purpose.

‘H’ design for Here Comes the Sun. ‘There was a science fiction film from the 70s, Demon Seed, the Alien’s DNA- Life going through the Cosmos

I come home tonight with a new collection of wonderful designs to be interpreted in stitch by our volunteers.

‘H’, “The old circular sun is out of date now, we need a new sun, with shapes we are not used to, for The Uncertain Future.

Thanks to everyone at the Booth, and thanks so much to Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session.

It’s not to late for you to join in with the project, our deadline for embroidered suns is 30th October. More details here. https://arthur-martha.com/portfolio/here-comes-the-sun/

Lois Blackburn.

Here Comes the Sun, is part of arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Sun is shining in Manchester

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

It’s been over 1/2 a year since my last visit to The Booth Centre in Manchester. So much is different, so much the same. The same friendly welcome on arrival, but with temperature checks and contact tracing, and due to current guidance, much fewer people in the centre. The staff and volunteers are well organised, everywhere is sparkly clean, the atmosphere calm and purposeful.

My two workshop visits are to create art and poetry for Here Comes the Sun, quilt, part of the Whisper to Me Alone, project. On a large table, I display a small selection of the 90 embroidered suns that have been made for the quilt, fabric packs and art materials. We’re trying new ways of working with the Sun quilt, a face-to-face and remote working, learning much as we go. One of the beauty’s of the project is how immediate it is to understand- the sun is symbol that is familiar in every culture, it’s approachable and accessible to everyone. The subject matter can be treated as light as a feather, or analysed in depth.

Roy (pictured above) approached his embroidery with his usual gusto, his resulting painting is rich and complex, he’s going create a stitched version next week.

One of the embroideries I brought in to show to the group was designed by Sue Dean, who in happy coincidence was there in the centre. She had previously created a series of sun paintings, which had been stitched by volunteers. She had seen a photo of the finished embroidery, but not the embroidery in the flesh, her absolute delight in seeing the embroidered version was obvious.

For some of our group, there isn’t a safe place to go home to and sew, so their paintings and materials are stored for next week. Others leave with packs of materials, creative ideas and promises to return next week.

And I leave with a belly full of good lunch, and a sense of relief, hope and optimism. It’s the Booth Centre way.

Thanks so much to Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session. I look forward to hearing more about her work with the fantastic Venture Arts next week.

Lois Blackburn.

Here Comes the Sun, is part of arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Press Release

Necklace of Stars, poetry, Projects, quilts

Arts Derbyshire – A Necklace of Stars

Following on from the success of the first phase of A Necklace of Stars, we are looking for older adults who are housebound (aged 65+) from across Derbyshire to join us in a creative writing and embroidery project.

Andrea Lewis, Shooting Star

Arts Derbyshire is running a remote embroidery and creative writing project where participants receive weekly* one to one phone calls with artists ‘arthur + martha’. The artists will guide people through the process of creating beautiful embroidered stars or creative writing themed around lullabies, for free.

The embroidered stars will be brought together to create a quilt which will be exhibited alongside the creative writing and lullaby soundtrack around Derbyshire’s cultural venues in 2022. 

A Necklace of Stars hopes to increase confidence and wellbeing, reduce loneliness, forge connections and re-ignite creativity.

If you are interested in taking part in this project (whether you have no experience or plenty), or know of someone who might enjoy getting involved, please contact Sally Roberts on 07395 904386 or email sallyartsderbyshire@gmail.com 

A Necklace of Stars is an Arts Council England supported collaboration between Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health, Derbyshire Library Services and arts organisation arthur+martha. 

* Weekly phone calls for approximately 4 weeks or until you are happy with the work you have created.

Michael’s Star

The feel good factor

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

Hands sanitised, masks on, socially distanced, we sat and talked, we all took small steps together out of lock-down, a lock down state of mind as much as a physical one. ‘S’ explained how nervous she’d been coming in on the bus, going into the unknown- for all of us, it was the first time in a group workshop for many months.

Phil and I have enjoyed keeping busy working since the beginning of lock down, connecting with people, finding ways to support creativity via postal packs, the phone, and on-line. Today was something different, something very special, creating work for the collaborative quilt ‘Here Comes the Sun’, part of the Whisper to Me Alone project. The host venue was Back on Track, it’s an inspirational Manchester charity that supports people who have been homeless or had mental health problems.

Our theme is the sun, a symbol of hope and re-starts, of warmth and comfort, of gift giving, as one participant described; “The feel good factor”.

A seemingly innocent and simple theme, it still leaves plenty of room for the imagination: “You don’t see dawn in the city, you don’t see sunrises, the blocks get in the way.”

Then the joy of putting our ideas onto paper started, the artistic play. I took in one of my favourite materials, oil pastels and ‘Brusho’. Brusho is a fabulous highly pigmented watercolour powder, you mixed with water, or sprinkle. The magic of creativity with your hands soon took over, creating a hushed room, heads down concentrating, the outside world disappeared.

20 fabric packs were laid out for our group to choose from. One at a time we walked with favourite paintings in hand to find the fabrics that matched the colours, texture and mood of the paintings. One of the group had experience of embroidery, the others- this was something new.

There is something beautiful about the simplest of stitches, running stitch, it’s where most of us start off when we learn to sew, it’s probably the stitch that you started with at school. When you’ve got the right needle and a rhythm going, there is something almost mediative in the repetitive nature of stitching. Then comes; choosing colours, textures, thread thickness, stitch size, pattern- when written down or spoken these creative decisions are complex, however when we make them, they are often instinctive.

The group left with their hands full of threads, fabric and paintings, and full intentions to return in a few weeks for our follow up session. Returning to share and celebrate their sun embroideries, and welcome new participants to the making of Here Comes the Sun.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along to my first group session of Here Comes the Sun, and to Back on Track, who as ever made me feel so welcome, and everything so easy for me.

Lois Blackburn

Here Comes the Sun is part of the project WHISPER TO ME ALONE. It gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. The poems, songs and artworks will be launched as a twitter poem later in September. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

A-Z of Childhood

Necklace of Stars, poetry, quilts
A memory alphabet, by Tony Shelton

A for Aeroplanes. I drew hundreds, but only going from right to left.

Birds. I knew only blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, robins on Christmas cards, and
the starlings which invaded to summer feast on next door’s overgrown cherry tree.
All the rest came much later. I was a city boy.

Class. What class are we? I asked my father as he read his Daily Telegraph. Working class,
he replied in a flash and turned to the Daily Mirror. It was good enough for me.

Death: When the old king died, I didn’t know what to feel. What was he to me? When my
father died, I didn’t know what to feel. He just never came home from hospital. I think I am
now ready to get to know my father.

11-plus. My first life hurdle. My first taste of anxiety, with the threat of failure and
condemnation to the notoriously rough Rowan Road secondary modern. And my first sweet
taste of success as I stop, halfway up the stairs, to tell my father that I have passed, and the
only memory I have of his praise.

Fire. Father should have known that stretching the Daily Telegraph across the newly laid
fire to encourage combustion was risky, since fire engines were a common sight in our road.

Games. Wednesday afternoons meant rugby, being crushed in mud at the bottom of a
heavy scrum, the acrid smell of the paint factory in the air, or cricket, suffering with the
streaming eyes of hay fever. The dread grew from Monday onwards.

Hard times. In 1947 my father and I trudged through the snow, pushing my old pram to
collect coke from the gas works, pausing on the way back for my reward, a brawn sandwich
in Sam’s Wonder Café.

Ignorance. When a tall, slim young woman called Freda came to stay with us in our
holiday caravan, I accepted it as normal until, years later, I saw the photograph of the four of
us and put two and two together: a ‘friend of your father’s’ mother would have said; if I had
asked.

Justice. I avoided Mr Bacon’s blackboard ruler, Miss Dooner’s slipper, the flying
woodwork tools of Mr Woodiwiss, the Head’s cane and the boot of blind Mr Judge but I was
once pulled up by my hair and slapped on the leg in the playground by Mrs Wilson and for a
moment, felt proud.

Knowledge. I knew things, I collected facts, swapped them, argued about them but I
never knew how to think.

Lino. We might not have had carpets but we had modernistic lino, light brown with lines
and squares, a Mondrian floor, a trendy choice of the young couple my parents must once
have been.

Mitcham Common. A paradise of long grasses, bushes, scattered trees and The Swamp,
where we waded in wellies, looking out for frogs and the boa constrictor, and became lost for
a timeless moment.

Nails: When Michael Naylor changed seats with his twin sister Anita so she could sit next
to me, she took my hand under the table and dug her sharp nails into my soft palm until she
saw the first tears. I didn’t know why. I still don’t. My first encounter with conspiracy.

Out. Out of doors, out with a friend, out on your own, looking, finding, watching, wandering,
wondering, out of contact, out of sight out of control, out of this world.

Posh Helen Bowdon lived in a posher-than-average house, had a queen voice to match
and was always picked to play the lead in the school play, until the year when the part went
to Yvonne Wilson who lived with her mum in a cottage and wore a gypsy ribbon in her hair.
Helen Bowden fled weeping, locked herself in the girls’ offices and wouldn’t come out. She
was still there when the bell rang and all the kids stood outside chanting La dee dah la dee
da, Come on out wherever you are until it was time for tea and she could creep home.

Quadratic Equations. Maths x 2 + Thursday mornings = fear + loathing.

Robin Hood. My Saturday evening Marxist hero with his band of men and own jolly sing-
along song.

Spheksophobia. I helped father dig the potatoes at the end of the garden until a painful
sting sent me crying indoors and caused a life-long fear of wasps.

Tooting. My Casablanca with its fabulous Moorish Granada and the exotic market, full of
large pieces of meat, strange things to buy and the echo of men shouting.

Underpants. Why do I have to wear pants? I asked. To stop you getting spotty, said my
father.

V-Bombers. Vulcan, Victor and Valiant roared over the air show runway, bringing father
and son closer in a communion of awe.

Winkle Pickers. At 15, I took the part of a teenager and bought impossibly pointed shoes
and yellow socks that glowed in the dark but no-one seemed to notice enough to
compensate for the pain.

X-ray Eyes. I always wanted the see-through vision of Superman but all I got was a
xylophone.

Ynot. It was an embarrassingly long time before I learned to write my name the right way
round. It now makes a memorable password element.

Zoo. Every child should remember a trip to the zoo. I don’t, though I know I was taken. I
have let my parents down.
Embroidery from The Great British Tea Ceremony, St Helens

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post. The embroideries that illustrate this blog post are images from The Great British Tea Ceremony section of the arthur+martha book THE WARM /&/ THE COLD. They were made by the Four Acres community in St Helens.

Threadwork

Necklace of Stars, poetry, quilts
Below an old tree,
among fallen leaves,
thread wraps a root
to weave a web about
life’s woodenness.
Thread reaches out,
across low hollows,
into farther woods,
to feed new bodies,
form new fruit.

Linda Goulden

I can’t imagine not wanting to write, but the pandemic silenced me for awhile. I felt so stupid, fuddled by all this – and I feared that what I wrote would be trivial. Trivial in the face of what’s happening. And I possibly still think that. But I’m writing despite it.

You’ve really helped me get started again. I wouldn’t have approached poems like this. It’s all seemed so freeing. And lately I have been able to go back to older unfinished or unsatisfactory poems and work on them too.

I’ve stopped thinking in terms of  “When this pandemic is over I will…” Last year I was travelling and thought this year I would travel more and be at more poetry readings but maybe I won’t. Maybe I won’t ever be able to travel again. I’m coming to terms with that.

It’s a funny feeling being an older person right now, after the lockdown. I see people living much more freely than I do, some recklessly. And I don’t live like that. It’s watching the world come alive and it’s not happening to me. I still need to be careful for my own health, cautious. People might think I’m over anxious, but I don’t. I’ve bought some masks and tried them on but I haven’t been anywhere I need to wear them yet.

We always did live in uncertainty, it’s just we were very good at not noticing.

You have to be conscious now, you have to be careful in this time of Covid. If you’re pretending things are normal that takes energy as well. And I feel a funny anger about the difference, about having to manage this situation, about how tiring life has become.

I feel exhaustion some days, certain days. I don’t know when they’ll arrive, or why. It is not easy to tell whether it is age, ailments, lack of fitness or the situation. I suppose if you keep yourself tense you tire yourself out. Yesterday I disappeared, I was lost to it. I wasn’t relaxing, I’d been holding myself too tight. Even meditating it took much longer to relax. Mind you, even before COVID I was trying to arrange that any busy day ‘on’ was followed by a quiet day ‘off’.

Linda

Writing takes a big chunk of my day, it’s very important to me just now. What am I writing? I’m living in the past, not the recent past which is full of grief for me, but the past of childhood. I’ve stepped beyond the grief and gone right back to something that’s relatively harmless. And going back to these memories helps me to know myself, I see aspects of the child that are in me today.

I think in snapshots, the little images that come to you when you start to dig around in the back of your mind. And the writing is a system for helping me to dig out these memories, I want to get to the core of the memory in my head. I’m very careful about how I describe them, making every word count, so the images are clear. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing who you were as a child. These things have been in my head for decades, but they’ve been asleep. Now I’m awakening.

Tony

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post.

Andy says hello

poetry, Whisper to me alone
Andy’s WHISPER journal, opening pages.

It’s one of those days that is so hot it hushes the city. Even the cars don’t seem to have the energy to honk their horns. The Booth Centre in the centre of Manchester is busy, but everyone is heat stunned.

I’ve here to jot down conversations and then rearrange the pieces with the speakers to make something new. I’m working alongside Briony from the Stitched Up Co-op, it’s her session and I am a kind of sideshow. People settle into the trance-like ritual of stitching, making cushion covers, embroideries, repairs…

I see a familiar face, one I’ve not seen in months. It’s Andy and we sit together to catch up and to make a piece. He’s been filling out his journal for our WHISPER TO ME ALONE project, he talks me through the journal pages, explaining his thinking. We are both wearing masks and so of course the chat turns to how strange it is, to be half ourselves and half medicalised.

The poem gradually finds its shape, other people chip in the occasional line or observation but the thread of it is held by Andy. When I read it back to him eventually, he nods brisk approval.
“It’ll do, Phil. Keep up the scribbling. I need a smoke.”

Reading it back, it contains all sorts of echoes for me. He mourns friends who are lost to the lockdown, scattered across the city in anonymous hotels, or simply gone into thin air. It throws a bit of dirt at politicians in general and our lot in particular. And underneath it all, under the mask, is an individual, who recognises danger but refuses to not be himself.

Red Dragon Zippo

A legal necessity, masks
I fully agree.
We just started too late and now the Dragon is here.
Listen to the ministers every day
A political mask. “Have a cigar old boy.”
Puff! The House of Commons is virtual
Defeated by the Dragon.

A mask changes you and now
I too am dragon-like
A dark persuader.
My neighbour says, “Andy you look better
Masked up.”
Cheeky sod. But I can’t smoke, can’t breathe
And the air has been sold off.

Cigarette butt in the night, a red jewel to see by.
All my pals, all my villains, where are you now?
Rich man, poor man, beggar man and thief
(especially the last two)
I salute you my lovelies
The subways are still open, though.

Pain in the butt, a mask
But it prevents people
Sharing spray with me.
Lean in
I’ll whisper fire in your ear…
Strike a spark, breathe it in – who am I?
Zippo with a red dragon
Tells me I’m more handsome in a mask.

Andy

As I cycle home from the Booth, I look out for faces I know. It’s difficult to tell these days because there are so many masks. I wonder if Andy would recognise any of the folks I pass by? Shoppers, office workers, rich man, poor man… Andy says hello.

WHISPER TO ME ALONE journal by Andy

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

During the first lockdown the Booth Centre ran an advice drop-in and accommodated people under the Everyone In scheme. At 11am every day they ran a Facebook activity session to combat isolation, which included the arthur+martha WHISPER TO ME ALONE 2-minute poetry videos.