Monday, 18 February 2013

The Great British Tea Ceremony

Videos: Philip reading poems by Irene and Doreen, Oldham Feb 2013

Philip writes:

We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection. The two videos document poems written using a very simple prop - teacups.

Today Lois and I brought in a mixture of teas and the group tasted them from old china cups - letting the tastes lead the reminiscence. Tea is one of the Great British Comforts. It's a lull point in the day when work stops and people have a moment of respite. During close family moments, moments of rest, or in crisis, the Brits reach for their Rosie Lee.

The two poems in the videos touch on the comfort tea brings (Irene's mum and her constancy and lemondrops) but also evoke a much harsher day-to-day  in the 1930s, when long working hours and lack of money were most people's lot (Doreen's recollection). Sadly, both participants requested that I read out their work for them on this occasion, but you can hear the beauty of their voices as they add comments along the way.

We've been trying a whole series of art and poetry exercises with older people, in response to the objects that might typically be in a reminiscence box - ceramics, old toys, cotton mill photos and so on. The poems featured in this particular blog were written by participants employing a simple, but effective technique. A single sheet of paper is folded in half and two separate pieces about two contrasting subjects are written into each column. The paper is then opened out and by reading across the opened page, both pieces blend together. Here, we asked people to write their taste impressions in one column and then memories of tea-drinking with their mothers in the other column.

A third poem, written by Reet during this session, gives an idea of how this looks on the page:

oolong teapot on the hob
in front of fire fruit
black leaded range
mum had a gentle

earl grey voice
but heavy-handed (ouch!)
I'm trying to fathom the taste
wonderful hot oxo made me cosy

lapsang souchong safe
my mum the smell is medicine
taste of smoke in the comfort.

These pieces were written quickly and during the distraction of conversation, but they also carry some of the spontaneous charm of that moment and the memories evoked. The poems might be re-edited, reworked, whatever people wish to do with them. The point is that they help distill memory and allow it to be shared - and valued.

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