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.

The heart of the moon

Necklace of Stars, poetry

How many of us
Have stood alone
With our thoughts and feelings
And gazed into this vast expanse
We call the universe?

I have, with my aching bones and my troubled mind
And I’ve asked the question — why?
Why does the moon beckon to me
What is this force that is pulling my gaze upon it?

Its a-luminous appeal
And surface scarred by time
Its craters remind me of the moment
The asteroids struck its heart
But we still both shine.

How the stars wink at me —
Are they calling me,
playing a game,
Or simply looking down?
Maybe guiding me to better times.

I take heart when the sun starts to rise
Life itself is enriched
By its warmth and energy
It shines so bright.
Now I have the answer why.
Do you?

Neil Sessions

Everything relates to the sun and the moon, to life playing its game. Why does the moon draw us with its craters, the knocks and bangs of life? The moon is very powerful, it gives us gravity, weight, it moves the seas. The waves of emotion in ourselves, the werewolves in us comes with the moon. I’ve got bruises of the heart – they relate to the craters on the moon. The moon must’ve hurt when those asteroids struck.

Surface scarred by time, that’s my life. But I’m still shining bright. That’s come from you, that idea. Telling me to be proud of what I’m doing, these poems. Telling me to rise up, to stand alone in my individuality. My poems are the voice I’ve found, words scattered on scraps and I’ve assembled them with you. You’ve given me a precious gift and I hope to pass it on.

Actually I’m dyslexic, it’s why they called me stupid at school, but I’m qualified to write this. I’ve got the certificate, I’ve lived a life that’s battered me and I write from experience. Sometimes my mind screams at me like a teacher — why can’t you spell this properly? But what we have got to communicate as human beings is more important than spelling it correctly.

I invite people to do what it says in this poem, to take time to look at the sky, to look at the whole universe, and gaze and ask why. We are going through some terrible times and we need to take stock. I understand, I used to do it after my wife died. I carry the whole night sky in my memory, I close my eyes and I see it all. And I’m still asking it questions. Asking why, asking why.

Neil Sessions

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.

Wake up to rise

Necklace of Stars

Widow


Dream, my dear wrinkly, in your lonely king-size,
Dream of using his feet to warm your own icy bones,
Put your arms round his flesh; arms, belly and thighs.
Dream of him living, his grunts, laughs and moans.
And may your dream end before you wake up to rise
From your untidy bed and the stab of him gone.

Tony

Tony: The virus makes you go into memory because the future is so uncertain. I plunge into memory and yet it’s distorted. The memories are juggled, they recede if I don’t want them, distant things seem like yesterday. A wonderful, happy day with my wife before she died. A day at the beach, seems so close and yet it’s a decade gone. I used to write for her and she used to write for me. So, to put poems on this blog is luxury. To write for someone else again...

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 featured image is an embroidery panel stitched by Joan B for the Necklace of Stars quilt.

On a Midsummer’s night

Necklace of Stars

Neil Sessions:

How many people have looked into the stars at night and been speechless? Have you? But inside yourself you ask so many questions. What’s beyond that light? I’ve had the honour of working in the countryside all of my life. Working stupid hours and never getting time to stop and admire life. The universe does talk to us, but do we listen to the universe? There is an aura off the starlight, it’s very powerful. It draws us to it, gives us peace and makes us feel our place. Now I’ve got the time I’m coming back to those questions. Instead of taking life for granted, I’m exploring it. Opening my eyes to the starlight. If you can’t see it, you can’t write a poem about it.

Stars at night

Many a feeling
Many a sight
As I walked out
On a Midsummer’s night
The stars listened through the trees
Dapples of light were reflecting off me
I turn the corner
What beholds me?
A vast expanse
Of light you see
Twinkling, glistening
Shimmers of light
Oh the stars
They were so bright.
My heart was pounding
With love and glee
The whole of the universe
Was talking to me.

Neil Sessions

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC 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.

Tantrum in Tesco’s

Necklace of Stars

There have been many, many limitations to everyday life during the Covid pandemic. The isolation, the reduced services, the shutting down of shared spaces. But one limitation that doesn’t get discussed so much is the limitation on being able to protest. Here our Necklace of Stars writer Jo makes a protest against invisibility. This is one of a series of pieces by Jo that explore ideas of rebellion. By writing and sharing them, the protest has happened – in you the reader’s mind!

August 1st, the big day is finally here.  She peers into the mirror asking
the reflection if they are sure they really want to do this?  The reflection
answers “Yes and don’t be chicken.”


The door opens, a deep breath taken and with the first step a new phase
commences. Its 20 weeks since her last venture out and everything
even more beautiful than before.


She reaches her destination and sees a lengthy queue and waits
patiently to enter the supermarket.  Her turn comes; she takes the cart
and walks through the entrance, her heart pounding.  Her inner self is
telling her “do it”  “go on do it” and with the final push she throws herself
on the floor and starts to scream and yell.  


Workers and fellow shoppers watch but no one knows what to do.   The
yelling continues, her hands and feet banging the floor.  The manager
arrives and enquires what the matter is and offers help.   She replies
“Nothing, I just wanted to be noticed by someone, the last 20 weeks I
have been forgotten and I just wanted to be noticed”.   She stands
up and makes her way to the checkout, feeling so much better knowing
she has returned to the outside world and made an entrance no one will
forget at Tesco’s.

Jo

Today’s blog comentary was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha. The short story Tantrum at Tesco’s is by Jo, from her series of written rebellions.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

Happy?

Necklace of Stars, Projects

 

How are you coping

As we go through lockdown?

Perhaps you are lonely

Perhaps you are sad

Yet be consoled; this too shall pass.

 

Annie Carter

 

While we have been working on the poems for necklace of stars, the Covid virus has kept everybody shut away in their own little worlds. For some this has been a shelter and a relief, for others a prison. This time alone, or else in small family groups, has forced people to look at themselves and think about who they are. And the question of happiness has come up over and over. When I ring up participants I very often ask how are you doing? And they want to know about me — how is it today?

Questioning happiness, contentment, the striving to find peace, is traditionally the business of poets. And so some of the pieces we’ve gathered for this lullaby project are not lullabies at all, instead they address fear. And the writers look very deeply to see if they can find peace, either in themselves or in the world around them.

And, as is the way of all things, just as peace arrives, it leaves again and we see the world in conflict once more… and the words of lullabies mean more than simply finding sleep, they mean finding harmony between ourselves:

 

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye

Sleep sweet to my lullaby melody

Dream of your place in the Galaxy

Safe from the chains of old slavery

May your life be filled with sweet harmony

And your fantasy never lack sanity

May you never be plagued by poverty

May you reach for the stars as your destiny…

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye.

 

Annie Carter

Joan B, embroidered stars

Joan Beadsmore, embroidered stars for Necklace of Stars, quilt. June 2020

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

 

Spring Greens

Necklace of Stars

“I’m still tired, but feeling positive now. I really appreciate this, the chance to write the poems. When life has been harsh to deal with, it’s helped.”

(Participant)

One of the things I have witnessed over and over again is that making art, writing poems, stitching embroidery, can help to unpick despair. Nobody really knows why, there are lots of theories. At times making a poem or an artwork is simply a distraction. It takes the mind onto other things, stops those restless thoughts chasing each other and becoming frantic.

Art can also help understanding. Writing a poem gives your thoughts new shape and perhaps allows new answers. An artwork is a representation of the world and connects you to it more deeply. Slowing yourself down to the intricate pace of an embroidery gives you time to meditate and find a richer texture in the whole of life.

“I’m feeling my way forward, using my poems as a guide.”

(Participant)

Making things not only shows the exterior world, it also reflects the inner life and makes it richer, brighter. If you can, take a little time to live with the prose poem below. It’s a celebration of trees, the wonderful, familiar friends that I often don’t give a second glance. But here they’re transformed by the poet’s eyes — into furniture, into children begging for pennies, into a swirling cloak that becomes an old coat, or into old pale bones against a winter sky. As well as trees, all the seasons of human life are in this little poem and so it helps me to appreciate my own. And for the makers of such work it is transforming too…

“I found this to be very useful. More than useful, brilliant in fact.”

(Participant)

 

Spring Greens

 

The Hollies are still wintergreen, come spring, leathery, shiny-tough, reliable as upright chairs in their utility upholstery.

Plum and cherry let the March winds take their snow and ruby blossoms from them, holding out small fingers for their fee, which came in copper verdigris and silver tarnish, well-used coins and promise of paper money for the fall.

Oak begins leafing out from nowhere, fine, fresh, lettuce-like, so young.

Sycamore sings, spreading hand spans which unfold into a summer cloak whose generous swirls conceal old mossy coat.

Beech, whose bones arched stark against the pale, cold, winter sky, now shimmers in the heat, the flesh full, lush, deliciousness.

 

Linda

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

All these things whirring

Necklace of Stars, Projects

For some people, lockdown is a blessing and for others it’s a struggle.

On the face of it, we have peace and quiet and an ever-stretching holiday. But underneath those things are nagging worries: fear of infection, fear of unemployment, fear of those around us, fear stoked by the media…

“All these things whirring.” (Participant)

And yet birds are singing, the air is purer than it has been in decades, the roar of traffic and the thunder of aeroplanes has quietened. The timid creatures that we share our world with have started to assert themselves again. Carparks have become wildlife habitats, the woods and moors are a sunshine paradise.

Today my phone calls with participants in the Necklaces of Stars project reflected the strange doubleness of this time. People have thrown themselves into making poems and songs. They have space and quiet to concentrate and so they dig deep, take journeys, into their deeper selves.

 

fine stitching, star, Joan

Detail, embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

 

Their poems appear in the Inbox each day. They’re funny, sad, thoughtful, kind-hearted. Some of them have pasted a grin on my face, others touched me beyond words. It’s good work. And they are rightly excited:

“I have never had this feeling before, where I have let the poem take me over. This time I’ve trusted it and jumped in. Let the form take me and learned from it. I used to treat poems like they were a competition to win, a test. I didn’t ever really let go. Now I’ve got many, many ideas, and I want to do them all…” (Participant)

 

“I am so pleased, so very pleased, to have done this, I was unsure at first but I’ve loved it. I had doubts about myself and my work, felt silly and slow. It’s wonderfully reassuring to be told it’s good, to know it’s reached someone else.” (Participant)

Today also brought tears and shakiness from some. The disquiet underneath the quiet is taking its toll. For those who are isolated alone, solitude weighs heavily on the heart. What is life if it isn’t shared? The missing are missed terribly.

 

And so we talk about…

 

Hope to see your face again in the mirror

On reflection let’s hope the sadness is gone

From the dark shadows where hope is fading

Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope.

 

Tricia Clough

Joan B star embroidery

Embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

The sun, our closest star

Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts

The Sun

 

In the morning the sun rose in the East and lay

Pale and delicately formed, tentatively

Regarding the tasks for the day.

Wakening, warming gently, watching attentively.

 

Then, growing in strength and sullenness

Swelling, reddening and ageing,

Began to dry, to burn and scorch;

Settling finally in a deep burst of anger in the West.

 

Maxine Broadbent

 

 

Our new project Necklace of Stars is our first project under the restrictions of lockdown, so our usual workshops have been replaced by phone calls and emails. We’re working with older people in Derbyshire to make a collection of poems, writing, songs themed around lullabies and the night sky. These words will be recorded and exhibited in conversation with a quilt that is stitched with stars.

 

Lullabies often explore themes of safety and danger. The hush-a-bye baby has the cradle rocked gently by the tune of that old song, but then the cradle falls. In some of the poems that are starting to emerge, there is also a hint of danger. The bursting anger of the sun. Beyond the safety of our walls during lockdown lies threat — and yet those safe walls hold us in, can become prison-like.

 

The writers have all used their words to stretch out beyond the limitations of four walls, to dream of the wide world, floating like seed heads beyond all restrictions, or else travelling in memory to other times. Because of lockdown, and the sunny weather, there’s time for some people to really throw themselves into this work:

 

“I’m delighted. I’ve been out all day in the garden photographing flowers to inspire my writing. But now — I’m knackered!”

(Participant)

 

detail, design board

Liz Jennen’s embroidered star square, and fabric ready to be stitched.

 

Above and below, we have two poems from the growing collection — one a whole lifetime, told in the rising and setting of the sun, the other a lullaby of pure delight, a celebration of sunshine food:

 

 

Kingston Lullaby

 

Hush little baby don’t you cry

Mama’s gonna make you a plantain fry,

And if that plantain fry don’t please,

Mama’s gonna rustle up some rice and peas.

 

And if rice and peas don’t have appeal

Saltfish and ackee will be your next meal.

And if saltfish and ackee comes too slow,

Mama’s gonna pick you a ripe mango.

 

And if that mango’s not your wish,

Mama’s gonna make you a breadfruit dish.

And if that breadfruit dish is raw

Mama’s gonna find you a nice pawpaw.

 

And if all this ain’t got what it takes

Mama’s gonna fry you some jonnycakes.

And if even jonnycakes make you frown,

You’ll still be the fattest little baby in town.

 

Glen Mulliner

design board, NOS

Necklace of Stars, quilt in progress, samples by Lois Blackburn and Liz Jennens.

 

Todays blog was written by Philip Davenport, lead writer arthur+martha

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.