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‘Let me bring you songs from the wood/To make you feel much better than you could know
Dust you down from tip to toe/Show you how the garden grows
Hold you steady as you go
…………………Let me bring you love from the field/poppies red and roses filled with summer rain
To heal the wound and still the pain/that threatens again and again…………………Songs from the Wood/Make you feel much, much better’……..

Jethro Tull struck the right chord in 1977 with their album ‘Songs from the Wood’ – as so often with Ian Anderson lyrics, he knew how to hit the nail right on the head. We all went down to the woods from the Totem Pole, Early Years Learning & Development Centre, Belton, Grantham today (9.11.10). Everyone was in disguise, not for a picnic, but for an introduction to Forest School principles ( We didn’t go alone either, our guide and instructor Mark Whelan divided the day into two clearly defined sessions; the morning spent indoors, the afternoon spent in the great outdoors engaged with forest skills and activities.

The morning began with a presentation of photographs illustrating children at play – in groups and as individuals where imagination and invention was a key and natural ingredient. Risk and danger was an integral element of play in past times but the over riding message was the sense of enjoyment and fun of being outside. The expressions of joy on the faces of individuals frozen in time was unmistakable. Comparisons were made with our own childhood as we were asked to list our personal memories of play; climbing trees, hide and seek, ball games, swimming in rivers, exploring and playing in the street being common to all. Generations of youngsters have enjoyed similar experiences and what was learned through play was character building and life enhancing – through developing friendships, teamwork, respect for safety through practical involvement – all a natural part of growing up.

The first activity Mark introduced after asking us to collect five sticks was to bind them together with a piece of string by means of a clove hitch. Simple maybe, but very awkward when trying to work with two arthritic thumbs. We completed the task and then manipulated it into a five point star – Mark quickly found out he was in for a very tough day!

The afternoon was spent in a woodland environment. Mark suggested that we divide ourselves into three groups; for shelter building, clearing and preparing an area for a fire and collecting kindling and wood for it. Safe boundaries were then identified to N, S, E and W of the Base Camp and playing out a Hide & Seek game not only brought out the inner child in us, it reiterated and reminded the group of ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas. In my mind I recalled a short essay by Laurie Lee, ‘Eight Year Old World’ which was included in his book ‘I Can’t Stay Long’. Imaginations can run riot in places like this. We weren’t exactly singing in the rain, but calling out responses to ‘1-2-3 Where are You?’ in our individual and unique dulcet tones was pretty darn close.

The longer we spent outdoors, the more Ray Mears-like Mark became. Despite the wind and downpour, he demonstrated fire lighting efficiently and successfully – even rubbing two boy scouts together wouldn’t have created a spark in those conditions. Employing the outdoor environment as a classroom is second nature for Mark, his passion and interest for his subject was certainly infectious and illustrated how important it is to keep a contact with our natural world. There is a danger that the city based and increasingly indoor lifestyle of young people could lose touch with it completely. Todays activities were of particular interest to me, as a landscape painter my work embraces the sensations associated with being en plein air. However it doesn’t stop there, I believe that walking the landscape has helped heal me and because of this, many compositions contain symbols and subliminal messages. There’s a lot of me in there. Much more than merely ‘the view’.

Nature is available for exploration seven days a week, free of charge and age is no barrier to enjoyment – the only requirement is to be dressed appropriately for the conditions. To hear the wind whistling and singing in the tree canopy we all experienced Songs from the Wood that afternoon, whether they were related to Jethro Tull or not. Spending a few hours with nature for company was refreshment for the soul, and reminded us that there’s a treasure trove outdoors waiting to be explored, far preferable than another afternoon spent indoors with central heating in a stuffy room. As far as we were concerned, despite the rain, walking in the fresh air on a carpet of autumn leaves and spending a few hours with nature for company was, in the words of Tom Hanks in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’…………………like magic!

– scribbled recollections of a Creative Partnerships new technology training day

The day began early, driving north almost beyond civilisation as we know it, most traffic heading in the opposite direction, the A16 to Boston like a cue left discarded on a billiard table. Was this for ease of access – or to enable a quick getaway? We were about to find out. The pearl in Lincolnshire’s crown? I’m not sure. A nugget maybe, or the glacé cherry at the centre of an iced Bakewell tart. Encountering the Stump reaching toward a clear blue sky and glowing warm yellow ochre in the bright low morning sun however was a sight to behold. A magnificent building reassuring all visitors that they had reached their destination, it could not be mistaken for anywhere else. The sight of the Stump. The smell of creosoted wood. Yes, this was Boston.

Two sessions, each lasting 3 hours, flew past in invigorating and stimulating fashion in the wink of a digital eye with the concept of Social media and networking explained, illustrated and demystified, thoughtfully and with clarity. I began the session in the dark, feeling like a needle in a haystack – I ended it feeling informed and either larger as a needle or that the haystack had shrunk a little. As a professional painter uncomfortable with promotion and marketing, Abhay showed first how I might develop a voice in my wilderness, then how to project that voice. The sound of rusty cogs gradually stirring in my brain deafened everyone in the room.

I’ve found inspiration from an assortment of sources and mentors, and this introduction encouraged consideration of how others might have reacted to change in their work place. JMW Turner, my guiding light, willingly embraced new technologies and I have no doubt that if photography were available he would have slipped a digital camera in his pocket which would not have prevented him still producing hundreds of notebook drawings. This is a practise I have adopted and I feel comfortable with it. Likewise, I’m certain Vincent van Gogh would have been an excellent blogger, the thoughts and observations he shared with friends and his brother Theo in letters is public knowledge now. In his lifetime however he was unknown, misunderstood and sold only one painting, perhaps WordPress might have made a world of difference for him had it been available. I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit but for a variety of reasons my recent past has certainly been lived in the shadows. I have written a diary for many years, perhaps an extension of this habit could shed some light in my direction. Could Social Media benefit me? I came to the conclusion that maybe it can.

The day’s light bulb moment? There were many, all special and memorable, the superb presentation by Abhay for starters, but despite this brilliant and impressive effort he may have been outdone by some curious off-beat moments. Katie not only successfully balanced 101 coffee cups on a tea tray but also negotiated a locked door to deliver them safely to the kitchen sink, making her a strong candidate. With no cutlery available at lunch the innovation and initiative shown by Gizella serving mixed salad with a paper cup deserves special mention too. Good try everyone, but I think the last chocolate brownie goes to Charlotte for invention, freedom of expression and ingenuity with an elastic band. Not just a fashion accessory, that flash of red zig-zagging across her footwear not only had a practical application, it made a statement too – as immediate as Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover. Brilliant!

Boston was obviously sad to see us leave, a deluge of tears fell from Heaven when we parted company to jet-ski homeward. My 13 year old Corsa dislikes wet weather and squealed like a little piggy all the way home. With the wipers struggling to cope with the stair-rods hammering on the windscreen they nevertheless maintained a metronomic rhythm to accompany The Sensational Alex Harvey Band thudding at full volume from the car radio. It was a deafening journey, but the soundtrack was a perfect accompaniment – and kinda spooky too!

With music and cinema having played such an important role in my life I often slip a lyric or a line from a film script into a conversation. Following the Digital Footprints workshop as part of the Creative Partnerships programme at Haven Online in Boston last week, the seminal Moody Blues album came to mind. Very seventies maybe – but appropriate.

The session Dr. Abhay Adhikari presented was excellent. With new technology and vocabulary surfacing at an alarming rate it’s easy to be quickly left behind, especially when you have little or no knowledge of what it was that overtook and drove off into the distance………and how could digital networking benefit me exactly? I hadn’t the faintest idea. Abhay demystified the information and put all of us in the picture, suggested its relevance to us as individuals, how we might incorporate it into our working practise, how to get started and, most importantly, used language we could all understand.

If I had imagined social media, networking and blogging as a large building, on Monday I was locked outside but on Tuesday Abhay opened the door, welcomed us in and showed us around inside. Not only that, he gave us our own key. We drifted along corridors filled with doors and into a selection of the rooms. Later we were invited to explore this ‘building’ by ourselves. We opened more doors, and some of the rooms even had lights on! I no longer feel I’m on the outside staring up at Norman Bates’ motel. I’ve been invited in, and it feels okay. I don’t know how large the social media building is, or how many corridors and rooms there may be, but I’m willing to explore to see who else is in there.

Thank you Abhay. You were obviously the person I needed to explain this Brave New World. I’m indebted to you. The Kings of Leon couldn’t have said it better, ‘I’ve been roaming around, I was looking around at all I see/Painted faces fill the spaces I can’t reach/You know that I could use somebody……….Someone like you and all you know and how you speak……….Someone like you’

The concept and opportunity of social media is one thing, but considering the very busy life I lead, when on Earth would I find the time to add yet another activity to my already very full routine? This was when the Moody Blues came to mind. Marilyn Monroe said that in order to remember a new phone number, she had to forget an old one and I feel my small brain and lifestyle acts in a similar way – like a teapot. If I pour too much in the top, something will have to come out of the spout. I’m not advertising Tena for Men, simply pointing out that although times change what never changes is that there will only ever be 24 hours in a day. New technology continually slips into work and home routines, and if we feel it is appropriate, we adopt it naturally. We don’t have to force it in. I came to the conclusion that it’s not time to panic. It’s just A Question of Balance.


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