Tuesday, 26 March 2013


We've been working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to devise new ways of working with memory boxes to stimulate reminiscence. We're particularly interested in capturing people's voices, thoughts, minds-eye images – because these things are aids to future remembering.

Oldham 20 March 20

Our two memory boxes have been given broad working titles of High days & holidays and Ceramics. We play fast and wild with these categories, taking tangential journeys off them just as the human mind does in reminiscence.

So this week in our ceramics session we brought in a potty/chamber pot/gazzunder/pee pot, to stimulate conversation. Because the subject of toilets is slightly taboo, it brought a frisson of energy to the discussion which gave the sessions a buzz.

The two writing exercises we brought to the session are listed below, as a start-point for a similar workshop. We also make a habit of jotting down the conversation and reading it back to participants. We are careful to use exactly their own words, but only jot down the sentences that are most unusual or interesting to our ears. One of the delights of this is the treasury of funny, fascinating descriptions it unearths. For instance, a potty in the 1930s was often called a 'gazzunder', because it 'goes under' the bed, for use in the night if the only other alternative was a cold outside toilet.

We've often found that the domestic details of life often tell the biggest stories. Out of this humble discussion came tales of back-to-back housing, social unrest, the British fondness for earthy humour, Saint Benny Hill style, and most of all a clear, physical description of just how hard life was back then. It's easy to forget that those 2D faces in the photos of the 1930s and 40s were once people who felt the cold just as we do now and a good way to reach back to them is to touch their physical lives.

1. Tear up a newspaper into rectangles, roughly double the size of today's loo paper. Write a word describing the memory of parents' or grandparents' inside/outside toilet, or the legendary potty of childhood. Now write down the name of a newspaper – or headline of a newspaper story – from childhood. Repeat the process until your group has written 20 or so sheets. Put them all into a container – preferably a potty – mix them up and take them out in random order. Read them out – this is your lavatorial poem.

(Or as a variation, pick a word on the piece of newspaper that seems to pair up nicely with this first word. Draw a circle around it.)

2. Potty mouth. Draw a potty. Fill up the rest of the page with the most elaborate, ridiculous insults you can think of. You must include the phrase 'potty mouth' somewhere. Technical tip: Shakespearean insults are a good start, many of these can be found on the internet if they're not in your head. Whoreson dog! Varlat! Buggerlugs! Perhaps the words can spill out of the potty...

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