Wednesday, 26 November 2008

workshop feedback

I was lucky enough to work with Violet Gamble again last Friday on the pilot for 'Patience', we met her on our first day at Stepping Hill, at the beginning of October. She wrote her thoughts about being in hospital onto paper, which we made into badges for her (and other patients) Although clearly in a lot of discomfort she welcomed us warmly and clearly recalled the session and the effect it had on her:

people like you make life interesting, to have someone to talk to, are you making badges? That was a funny day, a fun day, a big surprise, it was such a surprise- didn’t know what you where going to do with that big box. Very interesting- all very interesting. We where so proud of ourselves, we wore them all day, then wore them the next day, wore them until they changed my nighty, then put them by my bed, until I sent them home.

Its so rewarding to hear such feedback, especially after so long after the actual workshop.

Photo © Lois Blackburn 2008

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Ode to joy

Phil just sent me this edited poem from last weeks session- it was a wonderful afternoon, and this has brought it all back...

Ode to joy

the tea-trolleys go by
freedom from want and distress
I am very happy
a peacefulness, a feeling of peace
a figment
for a lot of ladies their first baby
children are special
can’t imagine life without
(I accept joy without any question
I don’t doubt it at all
makes you feel warm all over)
in order to feel joy
be in good health
some are inclined to be happier than others
I always try to achieve something more
than I think I can achieve
and that gives me joy
it can be very simple
joy is more short-lived than happiness
a very fleeting person
whereas unhappiness sits next to your bed
and starts knitting
sorrow sadness misery
can’t have anything without the bad bits
I am very happy
being happy is an involuntary action
we’ve got our own reactions: what makes one person
happy or sad?
come through atrocity and feel quite whole
or damaged?
some deal with it some can’t
genes – born that way
it sticks with you
develops with the child
there must be some overlap
with my grandfather
environment is so important
disposition comes into it
coping mechanism:
do you distinguish between joy and pleasure?
the tea-trolleys go by
freedom from want and distress

relationships with the opposite sex
academic success
realising an ambition
that little face those eyes
making each party
war was the most devastating
joy grabber
that’s my boy
you can’t will these moments
I’m very happy
(the saddest thing in this place
is watching people whose minds are going
or in the process of going:
how do you know your own mind?)
the tea-trolleys go by
freedom from want and distress

assurance of one’s place in the universe
up on the hills and walking
feeling insignificant
a perfect coffee sitting in the sun
with a handsome man
my family are happy I’m happy
happiness is a very big word
a very big word
my pleasure my children
I am very happy
my children my music
and most important of all the sunshine
I think the greatest pleasure
was to reach the top
I am very happy

MFH 14 Nov 2008

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

listen again

Two programs to ‘listen again’ to: the first links with our proposed project ‘Patience’ The Material World, ‘Art and Perception.

“The analytical facts of science and the imaginative dreamings of art sometimes seem poles apart. But they meet up in the human brain through the process of perception."

In Material World this week, Quentin Cooper hears from a leading neuroscientist - Professor Colin Blakemore and artist Daria Martin about the process of perception and how art can link the senses in surprising ways.”

The second program is ‘Saturday Live’ which has a moving interview on Saturday Live 15th November with Susi Linton recalling her experiences of Kristallnacht. material directly relating to our ‘Kindness’ Project, and the event for the Holocaust Memorial Day, Piccadilly Train Station, Manchester.

Morris Feinmann Home 14 Nov 2008

The big glass room is full of light and the view is tree-ringed – there are high-backed chairs arranged in small gatherings – we are in the Basso Lounge, the foyer of Morris Feinmann Home and N is being asked what she’d like for lunch – she’s tiny and frail and confused – people hiss ‘She’s confused’ if you ask – as though it is a temporary forgetfulness – but this confusion is actually enormous and carries in the wake of it a vast swell of fear – we worked with N awhile ago but she can’t settle to the sessions – cant seem to hold onto the thoughts long enough – the attendant leading her to lunch is a saint of patience – each question asked many times – would you like lunch? – can you walk? – would you like a wheelchair today? – shall I walk with you? – every movement a co-operation between the two until they’re gone, the gentle murmuring between them fading into lunchtime clatter from the dining room.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

14th November 2008 Stepping Hill Hospital

we’ve been gathering evidence and responses for our project ‘Patience’ (formally ‘Medical Dictionary’)

Prior to the session in the quiet room, Phil and I met a gentleman waiting to be admitted to the ward. We fell into conversation, he appeared relieved to have someone to share his thoughts in his time of great anxiety. He has been suffering from severe chronic pain for the last 12 months and was facing the prospect of loosing his leg- As an active and independent man, this thought for him was overwhelming.

Much of my job this morning seemed to be as a pair of listening ears, with patients isolated by disability, or lack of visitors or over stretched staff. There is a fine balancing act between my passion and commitment to facilitating the art and writing, and the patients simple need to have some human company. The most rewarding sessions are when you can achieve both….

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Stepping Hill 31 Oct 2008

J is a young-looking 90 year old, but her her legs don't work - 'Your car and my legs are the same, they're both worn out, darling' - she has that English charm, kindness in the form of good works - a life given to other people, perhaps as a makeweight for her own class-status - cups of tea and an empathy for all walks - 'Hospitals are great,' she says 'I get cross when people criticise who aren't in them. These girls work so hard' - indicates the nurses - 'getting me on my feet. When you get to my age independence is the only thing you've got left, yet you can't do what you want when you want to do it. For instance, I've just been able to get to the loo by myself for the first time in days. Very precious to me my independence' - she takes calculated risks at home, balancing the pain of falling with the necessity of movement, the pleasure of making a hot drink - 'Sometimes I go down. It's a hard floor in the kitchen and I get a black eye or something. So I try to fall on the lounge carpet, nice and soft...' - her bravery lifts me up and as I go to meet Lois by another bed I realise I'm smiling at strangers.


We're working our way towards the unique art project, ‘Kindness’ at Piccadilly Train Station, Manchester. It will mark National Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th January.

It feels a huge responsibility and honour to be working on this project. We’re in the process of designing and animating text pieces, all the words of older people from the Manchester Jewish community.

This work investigates family histories, experiences of displacement, refugee backgrounds and direct holocaust memories. But most of all we are collecting statements from people about the joys and sadnesses that they have in living now. We are interested in the bric-a-brac of people’s lives, the tiny moments, rather than the grand history. Many of the pieces created are humorous and gentle.

Here's a link to the draft works in progress, I would be interested to hear your feedback, you will have to use your imagination a little bit, to view it on a very large animated electronic billboard- on a busy train station.

Funding for Kindness has been provided by the Clore Duffield Foundation, through Sparks: The Clore Jewish Development Fund.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Born in Bradford

I just caught the tail end of a fascinating radio four documentary ‘Born in Bradford’. It caught my ear as it has links to our ‘medical dictionary’ (working title) project.. It’s a study into children’s health and causes of ill health and utilised the poet Ian McMillian in collaboration with Bradford mums to be to create new poems. The project is being illustrated by photographer Ian Beesley.

You can find out more at

Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be one of the programmes available to listen again to on the BBC iPlayer!

Radio illustration © Lois Blackburn. for more

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

24 Oct 08 Stepping Hill

Autumn sunshine thru the wards - the smell of potatoes - there are quiet figures in beds, or sitting by - often bent over, sometimes in positions that look awkward - stilled as if frozen partway thru movement - we're a little shaken - a woman Lo worked with was in a state of confusion about who was or was not a relative - asking Lo several times if she was related - then as we left the ward we heard her shrieking in the toilet, viciously interrogating a nurse: "Are you my relative? Where are my relatives? ANSWER ME GIRL." - we're not sure if our conversation has set off this anger - are we doing good, or making mischief?

Illustration © 2008 Lois Blackburn