Friday, 20 June 2014

Speaking on tongues

Rizla papers are an icon in the ritual of smoking. The little green packs are a staple part of every roll your own ciggy smoker's toolkit. Being pieces of paper, they can also be adapted to the job of writing.

Today, equipped with Rizlas, we visited a Residential Care Home in Oldham in the morning and a social tea-drinking group for older people in the afternoon. We wanted to make work that conjured memories of pubs - starting with drinking, cigs and snacks - gathering thoughts from the groups. Pubs can be heaven, or hell, depending on your disposition, so we were wary with this subject matter. In fact, everyone took a shine to it, while acknowledging that uneasiness.

We brought in beer glasses, ashtrays, old cigarettes (Senior Service, an unsmoked box from circa 1960) and made notes based on the conversation. We then asked folks to pick lines or words that they liked and rewrite them on the Rizla papers. Lined up in random order, the Rizla lines made little poetic jigsaw pieces that, in a few sharp details, evoked a much bigger world, but one that is now the past.

Below is one of these poems, written in several hands. It starts in the pub, of course - the Hen and Chicken - before moving onto the Spotted Cow and then discussing the various pipes smoked by 'my husband's gran' and favourite tobacco smells, before concluding 'I'd rather have a cheese and onion pie'. It's a pub crawl in miniature and the paper it's written on carries overtones of taste, smoke - and the act of making language, on the tongue.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Between here and there

Entering the Hindu Temple at the Indian Association building
in Oldham.

Project: Making Memories. We've worked at many venues in Oldham over the last two years, using objects to stimulate creative reminiscence. 

Phil writes:

Once again in the Hindu temple, the sounds and the colours. Outside it's a grey, cold Oldham morning, but in here are rich textures for all the senses. Golds, pinks, purples. The smell of cooking gently warms the air with spices. The gods are in their shrines, people come in, greet one another. A bell is rung, chanting starts.

We've run several highly productive workshop sessions here at the temple and the welcome has always been warm and generous. I'm now here as part of our finishing-up process, to show people some of the work they've done, answer questions, take photos and record sound, make neatness of the loose ends. It's a pleasure to be back in the temple, and a sadness too. When I leave, I feel suddenly downcast, out in the grey again.

What has been fascinating for me during the project is hearing of people's life journeys to this place, which often stretch across two cultures and two or more continents. Many of the people we've worked with at the temple arrived in the UK in the 1970s or 80s, having spent their childhoods in India, Pakistan, Uganda. The details of their journeys and arrivals have been the subject of several poems, which we've shared on this blog in recent months.

Today's mission: a poem-making process that explores dual identity. Each verse has to discuss some element of double-ness, duality, pairing, or halving. The form is very simple - it is simply a set of questions. One of the women at the temple tested this out with a fascinating piece - a journey from Gujarat to Oldham, which we'll feature in a separate blog. As with any of our ideas, this exercise can be freely adapted, chopped and changed, or totally reinvented.

Between here and there

For each pair of questions question, write a verse in reply. The verses much each be the same length, whatever length or style suits. Mention both the 'here' and the 'there' in each verse. Answer as many questions as you like:

What is your clearest memory of your childhood country - and your first impression of your new home in Britain?

Who accepted you, who rejected you?

What did you learn, what did you lose?

Who do you miss, who have you met?

What have you kept from childhood, what have you been happy to give away?

It can be as simple or as complex a piece of writing as you want to make it. Once it's been typed up you could consider laying it out in two columns, to emphasise the idea of pairs and splits.

Friday, 6 June 2014

'Got any gum chum?'

Hulland Ward Day Centre run by Age UK was the host for yesterdays Stitching the Wars workshop, a fascinating, rewarding and productive session. All the group got involved with making the quilt, some in doing so facing up to fears and physical disabilities- Annie, a visually impaired women, knitted for the first time in years, without sight she powered away using muscle memory. Dorothy who has lost the use of one hand, carefully embroidered 'Cloud Farm' onto tweed, with the assistance of Olga holding an embroidery frame, and with encouragement Geoff took up needle and thread for the first time in his life. 
Dorothy Cowley with her embroidery.

As we embroidered and knitted conversation turned to the D-Day anniversary:

Noreen Chessell

D-Day (Isle of White)

We had a lot of Americans and Canadians through Cowes where we lived. My parents had a restaurant, American and Canadian soldiers made a pile of money on the table- there was no talk of where they were going or that they might not come back… but they didn’t want to go with any change in their pockets. The little waitress’s had families at home so shared the money out. Those soldiers didn’t know if they were coming home or not- and many didn’t.
            They were happy, always happy. ‘Got any gum chum?’ They’d  come to the Isle of White to train, often we’d see them sat in groups exhausted, the next minute up playing baseball. 

Noreen Chessell

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Uncle Bill and the D-Day Landings

Stitching the Wars 4th June

With the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings coming up on Friday, conversation at the Handicraft group at the New Mills Volunteer Centre,  moved between knitting for Service Men and the landings themselves. The following is a snap shot.

Nelly and Margaret

Uncle Bill was in the D-Day landing, landing tanks. He was in about 3 different Regiments in all, the Desert Rats, the Kings Own, the Lancashire Fusiliers and some Scottish Regiment. They moved him about- that many of them got killed, but he never had a scratch on him- so deaf though you couldn’t say a word to him.

When he was getting on a bit, he still had a pair of Khaki shorts that he’d kept since he was in the desert. His wife threw them out, he was so mad at his wife- they were covered in blood, German blood!


I knitted socks, mittens and balaclava’s, did the socks on 4 needles, Air Force blue, Navy and Khaki, they used to give us the best wool as we were the best knitters, they’d give us other peoples knitting sometimes to un-pick and re-knit. I have a certificate somewhere from the British Legion, as I was only 13 when I was doing all that knitting. 11 when the war started. 


Knitting patterns were much more complicated in the 30s and 40s, people would sit and listen to the radio and knit… the pattern sizes wouldn’t be so good now either, everyone was so much thinner then with the rations and everything…

Granddad Jack Blackburn

Lois Writes;

Thanks to all the members of the group who have kindly donated knitted rectangles for the Stitching the Wars Quilt, I came to the session to find a bag full of beautiful knits, and more were made as we chatted. 

Coincidently, the pattern books that feature in this post were published by Patons & Baldwins, Ltd, Alloa, Scotland. My Granddad Jack Blackburn used to work there before and just after the 2nd World War as a box man, he went around the Mill with a big box on wheels, taking the wool round for the women to spin. Two of my Granddads sisters also worked at the mill and a Great Uncle was a transport manager there. 

My Granddads real passion was his music, but he felt had to have a secure job (he'd been brought up in the 30s depression) My dad and Grandma wanted him to go full time as a drummer in the band- but he wouldn't take the gamble. 

The house my Grandfather, Grandmother and dad lived in was a house provided by Patons, a house for life. They moved in in 1939 the year war broke out. He joined the Royal Airforce and was stationed at Biggin Hill where he worked as a Anti Gas Instructor, looking after the Gas Masks for the pilots. They were bombed relentlessly there, he became ill with the stress, a stomach ulcer- he was brought back to Scotland where he worked in the Scottish Airfields. 

He was very knowledgable about wool, and the quality of wool- perhaps some of that passion, got passed down to me.... oh and my son is learning the drums...