Thursday, 26 July 2012

13 children, top and tail

Lois writes: As part of the project working memories, I've been working with The Stroke Support Group, at New Mills Volunteer Centre. I never know quite what form the visual work will take until I meet the people I'm working with, and hear their stories. Last week we were reminiscing about textiles in all their forms: blankets for warmth, aprons for protection, clothes for fashion and practicalities.... memories of rag rugs and patchwork; recycling enforced by poverty, inspired my own visual response. 

Members of the group helped to select lines from their reminiscence, and wrote them onto stripes of fabric, which I took away to embroider. The pieces illustrated here are works in progress, I will quilt them, to make them more tactile, for handling materials in the 'memory boxes' that I am creating for the project.

'13 children, top and tail' © Lois Blackburn 2012
Used the rugs on top of the bed for extra warmth, as well as coats. If you had lots of beds you didn’t always have enough blankets, and lucky if you had a sheet. 

Grandma lived in a two bedroom house, 13 children top and tail. A lot of people had blankets from the mills, they were like felt. To cheer them up some people did herringbone round the edge, they were heavy but not very warm. They wore well and lasted for ever. Lots of people had them for drafts on the door.

'13 children, top and tail' © Lois Blackburn 2012
We wore pinafores, the coveralls used to cross over with a couple of strings, or a pinny. We used to make them, mother made them from an old frock. One for cooking and one for cleaning.  

'13 children, top and tail' © Lois Blackburn 2012
Spent many happy hours cutting up old coats, 6inc by 1inc, through Hessian. My Grandma used to cut up old coats, it was very colourful, used to help when I was young. They harbored muck though, didn’t have hoovers or ewbanks. We used to hang them on the line and hit it with a longbrush or carpet brush.   

'wore well and lasted forever' © Lois Blackburn 2012

On your hands and knees cleaning. Mop it and polish it maybe. Me mother used a dolly tub and dolly pegs, all the white things had to be boiling in a bucket on the fire, everything had to be rinsed 5 times then starched, spent a whole day Monday. Tuesday we ironed on the table on old sheets, Wednesday was baking day.

Dolly Blue, all them coal fires, and they were white. Hard labour in those days. My mother could use those dolly pegs better than any washing machine to day. A mangle, big rollers a handle to get the water out of them.

To dry the clothes, had strings all round the kitchen,  some people had an airing rack over the fire place. A very damp atmosphere on a Monday. A fine day the washing would go out. Cold meat and bubble and squeak on a Monday.

The real 'call the midwife'

(Lois writes) As part of my project working memories I've been working with the Stroke Support Group, at New Mills Volunteer Centre. This week I spent the afternoon reminiscing with Anneliese, Mary and Margaret. Below Margaret beautifully describes aspects of her training and life as a Nurse and Midwife in the 1940s, 50s and 60s:

I trained as a Nurse at Manchester Royal at 18, had to go in a school for 3 months, a block then on the wards for 9 months, then 3 months school and went on like that. Life was good when you got used to it. In war time the companionship of others was all important.

We had a room of our own, that room was ours. The Night Nurses had a special section, so they could sleep in the day without disturbance.  If you were on a split shift you worked from 7.30 to 12, then back on 5.00 till 9.00. You got used to it. Night duty went on at 9.00 and off at 8.30 in the morning, that was hard. The companionship, you had worries but you could moan to your friends. I met my husband there, he was a patient. It was the second ward I was on, it was nearly all old men, this one was 26, coming in to get his varicose veins done…how romantic! My first words to him were, ‘can you take your trousers off?’

When you’ve done your three years training, you had to give a year to the hospital, you could usually pick the ward you would be a Staff Nurse were on. If young people died that could be traumatic, there was no support, it was left to your friends. Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t thought of. You were so busy you got on with your work, that helped you get on with it.

Then Midwifery, In 1953 I went into a very modern hospital in Sheffield only for 6 months, The Jessop Hospital. Every patient had their own room with babies in there to, it was quite modern for those days. Then I went to Derby, a very old house that had been converted for midwifery, with bikes for the midwifes to go out on. There women had beds close together, 20 or 30 in a ward, it wasn’t good. 50 babies in the nursery, they could scream all night! When it was feeding time, we carried a baby in each arm down the spiral staircase. (thankfully nobody dropped one whilst I was there!)

After 3 months it was over to the bicycles, the first night I got a decent bike out of the pool, and off I went, the father came running up to me ‘she’s had it, think there might be another.’ She was a sweet lady, already had 3 children, well she had twins, I was just in time to deliver the 2nd twin. They all lived together in one room. Isla and Iona the twins were called. A lovely little family, but how they managed in that one little room?

When I finished my training I was home for a fortnight, but I was so bored that I took a job at the Cavendish Hospital, Buxton. Then after I got married then a job as the District Nurse in New Mills. I had a second hand pink and silver racing bike (the tires often punchered going round those rough roads) I had a big bag made for the bike, started of at Newtown, gradually made my way into New Mills. There was no telephone, so called at the Doctors Surgery every day, then the chemist. In 1957 with the Suez Crisis, learner drivers could go out alone, without that I wouldn’t have passed.

There were a lot of injections to do, as there were no water tablets in those days, there were no disposable syringes, you had to boil them wherever you went. When you were boiling the water for the needles on solid rings, your heart sank- it took so long, fire or gas was fine.

It was general care: washing them up, looking after leg ulcers, caring, making them right for the day.

There were no incontinence pads, you could hire rubber sheets from the red cross, or people used to tear up big sheets for drawer sheets. The dressings you had to bake in the oven in a biscuit tin, if they were pale brown they were done. There were no plastic aprons, it was all starched aprons. There was poverty down at the bottom of High Street, but work was plentiful, however not much support if you were ill. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

wish for a good one

Barry's embroidered quilt

I was really pleased to be able to work alongside an artist who has inspired me the other week; Lynn Setterington joined us for the day at The Big Issue and The Booth Centre. The afternoon was particularly productive, memorable for me was the cajoling of Barry into creating his first embroidery- (Barry's not your typical embroiderer) With encouragement from Lynn, he produced a lovely piece and seemed very pleased with himself, if a little embarrassed. 


The warm and the cold

I enjoyed my day on the project and meeting everyone involved last Friday. It was really interesting to see another model of engagement and envy you the sharing of roles and delivery. Some of the stitched phrases and observations were so poignant and exact in their immediacy and sparseness. I am really looking forward to seeing all the results come together in the autumn. Using the denim was a nice idea, it’s a great signifier with universal currency and the marks from the worn jeans added history and pathos to the sewn words. Many thanks for letting me share in your day.

Lynn Setterington

Barry, Martin and Lynn

Peter's 'Absent Friends' collaboration with Lynn

Friday, 13 July 2012


Lois and I started the other day at the dementia buddy cafe in Salford, discussing our work there with Dr Caroline Swarbrick. Caroline is an unusual doctor, she presents unlike just about any medical person I've met, in a glamour of gothic-ness. Her attitude is fixed, in as much as it is fixed, to wide open.  This blog is a summary of our conversation from my notes. I write it because chatting with Caroline, amongst the bustle and palaver of the morning group, seemed to bring great focus to our work later in the day.

We talked through what we've come across in our many conversations with folk at the buddy cafe. What's being said - and what isn't. The emerging themes seem to be the very basic human issues of identity (lined to memory), loss, isolation, friendship. We've consistently asked questions about the medical service that people receive when they've had a dementia diagnosis, or are waiting for one. But while this has been discussed, especially with carers, the main business of the day is more to do with friendship and peer support. That is what people come to the cafe for and they vote with their feet to get it. This place is very popular indeed, filled with laughter and a certain subtle bonhomie. It isn't about having a medical label "that equates dementia with an absence of capacity" (Caroline) instead it focusses on ability and on connection.

In a way, what's happened is that we set out to find one thing (details about medical services) in order to discover where the gaps are - and people have indicated exactly where the gaps are, by talking about what they WANT instead.

Caroline commented: "It's telling that people don't talk about the medical service particularly. It's not interpersonal. They're given a diagnosis and some pills and told to go away. It doesn't fit with them, with their lives as they're living them or understand them."

Dementias affect the core of what it is to be a person, stripping away memories and the very 'machinery' of understanding. This simply can't be described in terms of pill regimes. What people here seem to do in response is support one another and confirm identity, as we all do, by greeting, telling stories, sharing common memories, and having a cup of coffee between. The buddy cafe is a replication of 'normal' life - you can still have a coffee morning with your friends and tell each other the gossip. Because perhaps it's more than just gossip. Perhaps it's this that keeps us alive.  

"'s a difficult thing to describe

one of them things it comes and goes

and most of it goes." (Dave, poem extract)

Harry at the Buddy Cafe

Monday, 9 July 2012

freezing hands in my pocket

Afternoon 1-3 @ The Booth Centre: Mcr Cathedral
Cold weather.. freezing hands in my pocket

I thought the hands theme could have become something quite amazing, the stories that came up about use of hands. One participant had had a stroke and could no long use one of his hands, he spoke of his active, able life of all the amazing things he has done and how I would never believe the things he has done. I wished I could have found a way to capture his frustration and in contrast his fatalistic attitude about his future. I guess one thing I have learnt is the fact that we can't capture and make everything right or visible but giving it our best go and persevering in the face of difficulty like these folk do every day is enough.

David painting ceramic mug

Working alongside Philip and Lois has been again an insightful experience, observing their expert eye and ear for a poignant phrase or word. Leaving the predictable, the over- done, the obvious and getting to the heart of these peoples experiences in a meaningful, beautiful, simplistic way. A great learning opportunity for me- pushing and challenging my own boundaries and ways of working... something I would like to explore more of.

Claire Parker

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Girl Guides

Accident prevention, metal badge, Rambler, Reading, Firefighter and Map reader badge © Lois Blackburn 2012

Lois writes: As part of my project 'working memories', I've been working at The Bakewell Day Centre, run by Age UK. A gentle routine has began to emerge, with half the day spent gathering reminiscence, the other half drawing/printing/creating artwork in consultation with the group. Creating artwork in front of people can be a little nerve racking, you are really on show- and the creative process can at times be messy- it doesn't always go to plan, somedays I want to rip up everything I do! It's a good reminder of how vulnerable individuals in our groups must feel at times, the importance of making time and environments 'safe' to experiment and play.

Homemaker, Metal badge, Handywomen and Camper badge © Lois Blackburn 2012

Last session our conversations led us to the subject of Girl Guide leading, and memories of being a girl guide:

"The Girl Guides were having their camp, it came through in the fields above us that the war had ended, nobody knew what to do, we were to young to really understand. The next day they had a big party in the village which was great fun. I didn't like camping, when I finished with the Guides said I would never camp again.

First aid, emergency helper, metal badge and First aid badge © Lois Blackburn 2012

Used to drive my mum mad, she used to sew the badges on all down the arm. 'you should be doing this'... I would say 'but you do it so much better'. (Joan)

Used to love singing sat round the fire 'coughing your not having it' used to say, then it was 'the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, in at the nose, out at the mouth...' Dib dip dab. 
I had 7 Guides who won the top award, always had about 30 girls in the group.  (Mary) 

They'd train you to do knots; slip knots, clover, reef, granny knot. (flora) I still hang my washing up on that knot. (Joan) 

Local History and Backwoodsman Badge © Lois Blackburn 2012

Friday, 6 July 2012

the hands of the friends we've made

Friday 15th June The hands of the friends we've made

Morning @ The Big Issue Office 9-12

The stories behind the rings, the life behind the hands, the marking, tattoos and nails.
Jaoa entrusted me with many details of his life captured here on his hands- as he reminisced he seemed to be taken to some where else, his face brightening and rising up in his seat staring into a space somewhere as a memory of his sister burst forth. He tried hard to remember where all his rings came from and the stories behind them.

I drew around his hands onto a mug and onto a plate- while holding and pressing his hands I felt a warmth between us, I sensed his vulnerability and the tremendous burden of his situation through the stories he told.

Blue inside my mug for sky... smiling

Jaoa's rings

Holding, containing, warm and cold, inside and outside, half full, half empty.

Claire Parker

coded by colours

Afternoon 1-3 @ The Booth Centre: Mcr Cathedral

The afternoon session whizzed by with Steve, Peter, Yvonne, Andy, David, Ivan & Colin. Alice worked with Colin building on his interest in a stitch or pattern he was interested in... at first saying he couldn't do it and then basking in the joy of having done it...

Alice's embroidery of Ivan and Yvonne
Peter and Yvonne beavered away working on some stitching and finishing off their collaborative project 'the teapot'. Alice brought  a beautiful piece of work having stitched some of the drawn faces of participants onto fabric. I was working on a complex embroidery of my own an embroidery of words with David.... he believed we were all wasting our time here in this place that it was all a monopoly board a game in which we are trapped- either in free parking or jail...the conversation was intense and tricky to follow, I was desperate to catch the threads he was trailing to make sense of he obvious bitterness and distrust of a system he felt trapped in. He talked of us all being numbers, all coded by colours and past lives. He drew a beautiful grid or map of this thoughts with a watching eye in the middle. I asked if I could photograph it but he said no, and later I found he had pulled out the page from my sketch book.

Alice and Colin
Towards the end of the session we were able to find a way to begin a collaborative piece on the large plate- placing hands to paint around we began the piece- perhaps a bit predictable – perhaps a bit cheesy, but I felt it was a lighthearted, fun and cheery way to end the session and a starting point for next weeks discussion and work.

William painting mug

Claire Parker

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

taz, he's a bit of a softy

Friday 8th June The people behind the faces The warm/&/the/cold

Morning session @ The Big Issue Office 9-12
Claire Parker writes: The morning session at The Big Issue office was quiet. I was sorry not to spend time with Joe, he did appear but seemed not to see me and was in and out. The two students were great, enthusiastic and clearly very talented having been to a session before they knew what to expect and got on with some ideas of their own. Once the ceramic painting was set up I went out on the streets with Nathan who works in the Big Issue Office providing vendors with magazines and support. I accompanied him on his rounds of the available pitches, met up with Robbo, Kev, Andy, Chris, Taz the dog. 

# Your'e doing well Kev

# Yeah I think I am anyway... you wouldnt believe the changed Ive made...

# I know why I was drinking, it was a coping mechanism....

# Once he's had a drink he turns into a different person

# A proper cooked dinner, chicken and mash and gravy, not cold sandwiches

# Dont carry cash … im sick of hearing that one

# Al the crap in my life … too many steps backward

# Every day its getting harder to get out of bed

# Im in that place where I just …....

# I dont....I try to stay content with what Ive got

# taz... he's a bit of a softy

Taz the dog, Claire Parker

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

put your gong on

My last day in St Helens with the project 'text from grandma' was very productive and informative. The  morning was spent at Mayfield Care Home, with the group of regular attendees. As ever there was a constant flow of reminiscence, that was in turn selected from to create one-off badges. The shaky handwriting, the accidental splatters, they soon become miniature works of art.

I started the session with the theme of accessories, Vinny soon inspired a change in the conversation with his memory 'had my brothers wrist watch, hidden it away when he went in the army.' This flowed into a conversation about military medals, and war time memories. 

Norman's badge, ink pen and pencil. 

'The Military Medal the MM, for being a daft fellow, doing something daft. I got mine in the Middle East, 20 and daft enough, got carried away. You wouldn’t do what you would normally do. Was brought up in the Bluecoat School, so more or less ready for the army. Put your ‘gong’ on, that’s what we used to say.

I was totally blind, enough to frighten me, they flew me to Israel, famous hospital for taking blind people. Was looked after by Suzie Baxter (funny the things you remember) A bomb to close blinded me. Playing soldiers.

I was in Berlin at the end of the war. In my tank, an American tank, the Stuart Tank’ was very good if you like that kind of thing. Alright till you were in battle then it was different. It was normally quite comfortable, but frightened you often. You had to get stuck in. Was brought up in the Bluecoat, semi military anyway, it made a difference what school you went to.' Ernie


'The most significant part of the war, landed early morning on D Day, landed on the beach, quite exciting. Came day light, 6.30 in the morning, that was it, D Day. They told us about it, to keep quiet about it. Was in the Royal Artillery, that was it. Got called up, conscripted, told to go. Posted to the Far East when I was in Germany, spent the last 6 months in the camp. A tropical place, always hungry, best years of my life' Norman

Ernie's badges, name, initials and MM/MC award. Ink pen on paper.

the news reader

Afternoon 1-3 @ The Booth Centre: Mcr Cathedral

I am always interested to see how people approach a new medium- the pottery and glazes on offer were approached with a combination of wariness,  have- a- go and curiosity. It was clear to see that the process and sense of sharing in the afternoon group experience was enjoyed by all, a comfort for some and an empowering experience for others. A great mix of people with a great variety of skills to develop and ideas to share. It felt a privileged to be a part of this project and has inspired me to look at other possibilities and projects with this client group. 

Yvonne painting ceramic teapot

The afternoon flowed well, starting with an address to the group and a communal reading of poems and words gathered in previous weeks. Many lively and interesting characters filled to small room. Ambassador David was a cheery breath of fresh air enrobed in a positive melancholy, he threw in snippets of tragedy amidst the comedy that he acted out personally and to the group. He worked on a mug which held a glimpse of the difficulties he has faced and overcome but continues to feel pain. Malcombe (the news reader) worked on a long latte mug carefully chosen amongst the huge mugs, tiny ones and ordinary cups. He worked in between snoozes as I guarded the pottery from sure disaster.
Humour and humility reigned over us throughout the session, I offered techniques and colours in the hope that an idea would spark. The warm and the cold was inspired by The poet Ted Hughes an introduced the bitter sweet themes around the warm and the cold.

Claire Parker

Ivan and Claire

Monday, 2 July 2012

that's what I said

Claire Parker- The Big issue office and Booth centre in Manchester 

1st June 2012 Getting to know the people
I embraced the project with optimism, looking forward to meeting new people and hoping to find a way to make the voices of the people we meet visible. It struck me early on through conversations with Lois that it is this that is the essence of the project. 

Morning session @ The Big Issue Office 9-12
During the morning a man came into the Big Issue office in a despondent state- worn out, elbows on table, head in hands, his whole demeanor submissive and deflated, shattered. He sat at the table where we were working laying out pieces from the week before. I was suddenly felt maternal towards this guy who was probably the same age as me. Sitting quietly and working, he began to unravel a little, he began to bring into focus the work on the table before him. Lois showed him a piece of work that had been embroidered the week before, the embroidery held his words and he was delighted.. remembering 'thats what I said' (looking at it cheerfully almost in disbelief) 'I'm made up about that' (staring at it with a steady gaze) he was thankful that Lois had chosen Red as he is a MUFC supporter. I was struck by how the simple act of putting his words out there- making his story a piece of art, stitching it for all to see made such an impression, changing his whole mood, I guess he sensed that it was something of value.  He left shortly in a far more positive frame of mind. 

Jaoa painting a mug
On the same morning I made friends with Jaoa, he said 'they call me Mario but my name is Joe'. We spent some time chatting.. what fascinating lives and rich stories and experiences. Sleep, health and food were reoccurring themes during many chats I had with various visitors to our project during my 3 Friday sessions- mornings at The Big Issue Offices on Swan Street and afternoons in the Booth centre under the Cathedral. I was intrigued by Joe's hands and his collection of rings, but felt it was a conversation for another time. I painted a few mugs in the hope that the vendors who came in and out of the office might be interested enough to have a go. We collected words, thoughts and ideas and made some good relationships and contact.

Claire's drawing of Jaoa's hand