Wonderful Wildlife

This week at Walton Hospital in Chesterfield, Cavendish Hospital in Buxton and Newholme Hospital in Bakewell, we’ve been looking at wildlife – and talking about some of the stars of BBC’s Springwatch such as barn owl chicks, and feisty fish Spineless Si the stickleback. We read some classic wildlife poems, such as Come In by Robert Frost, The Unknown Bird by Edward Thomas, and The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes, lovely thoughtful poems about our relationship with nature.

As we’re in Derbyshire, with lots of countryside and wild places, the patients and staff have a close relationship with wildlife. Outside the wards, swallows swooped and sparrows chirped as we talked. The world outside is a constant source of inspiration and solace to us, sometimes making us laugh or gasp with exasperation, but always fascinating.

In my garden

In my garden,
The bluetits, robins
House sparrows,
Woodpigeons,
All watch out for the cat.

The foxes sneak cleverly,
A mouse scurries,
The swan’s grey goslings waddle,
Rabbits bob their tails running.

Insects buzz around the flowers
Butterflies crowd the buddleia;
Lavender keeps them happy.
At dusk, moths show beautiful colours.

The hard-working birds start their dawn chorus
Singing from the lilac tree
The elm, the acer, and the holly.
In the spring woods, bluebells grow
Dandelions – bright yellow.
Daisies by the roadside.

The sloe berries and the elderflowers
Are a harvest for us too!

Our wild world

The dog starts barking at the birds,
Chasing and barking but never catching them.
The early light wakes you up –
The wood pigeons cooing,
Getting so full they can’t fly away.
Boys used to catch sticklebacks
Bringing them back in jam jars;
Collecting frogspawn, newt eggs
The tadpoles hatched in the pond.
There were rats in our school.
Kids used to feed them.
All hell broke loose when we saw a rat run
Through the science lab, carrying a banana!
But I’m a farmer’s daughter,
So I’m not scared of anything like that.

Wildlife Watching

He was lying in the grass, quiet and watching.
He saw the badgers hold a funeral
They pulled the dead one out of the set
And all followed; a burial procession.
You can see a lot if you’re quiet and wait
In the hides at Carsington –
The drama of the birds on the lake,
Even the mice finding scraps on the floor.
People come from miles around to watch
Peregrines nest on the tower of Derby Cathedral
And Winchester; watching chicks peep over the parapet.
A pigeon tried to nest on the arm of my satellite dish
And I couldn’t see a thing on TV!

We also enjoyed making some brilliant wildlife collages, using pictures cut out from the wonderful RSPB magazine.

Trooping the Colour – Pop Art tributes to the Queen

This week, we’ve been talking about Trooping The Colour – the annual ceremony to mark the Queen’s official birthday in June with a massed parade of the Household Division, the Queen’s personal troops. This ancient ceremony goes back to Charles II’s reign in the 17th Century, and is now an annual event in June (this year it takes place on Saturday 13th June 2015).

We also talked about how events in the Royal Family’s lives shape our own lives, whether we are monarchists or not. Most people remember where they were when the Queen’s coronation was held, when Prince Charles married Diana, when Prince Andrew married “Fergie”, when Princess Diana died, and more recently, when Prince William and Kate Middleton married and when their children were born. The Queen will be eighty years old next year, and she is a rock-solid presence in the lives of everyone who lives in Britain.

We also looked at the Queen’s taste in art – she owns a series of Andy Warhole pop art prints of herself, and we decided to create some pop art pictures of the Queen – and her beloved corgis ourselves.

The Queen

Someone had to do it –
She was thrown into it when she was young.
Very coy and shy, but she grew into it.
At the Coronation, each child got a book and an orange.
We had a party at home,
Crowding round to a neighbour’s house
To watch their brand new TV,
The picture flickering, tiny, grainy black and white.

We had a special coin for the Jubilee.
When Princess Charlotte was born this May,
Babies born on the same day got a coin too.
For the Silver Jubilee, we had a street party:
Bunting, flags, wearing red, white and blue.

I met the Queen in London – at Hyde Park Corner.
She was very softly spoken.
The Queen once came to Cromford –
Can you believe it?

Reading Treasures

This week, in Derbyshire hospitals, we talked about the books that we remembered from childhood. I brought in some old books, and we enjoyed passing them around and having a good browse. Some patients had really strong memories of reading as children, and old lady said that her daughter brought a regular supply of books to the for her. One lady recited the whole of If by Rudyard Kipling – children often had to learn poetry by heart, and those poems often stick in people’s heads for their whole lives. The smell and feel of books bring back memories – as do illustrations. I still vividly remember the pictures in my old Ladybird books.

I told the patients and staff about my recent adventures at Hay literary festival and showed them my pictures, and had to explain the concept of Harry Potter to the patients! We enjoyed reading some of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, which I’ve loved since I was a child – very gory and violent though, but sometimes that’s a good thing – unless you’re trying to get children to sleep without nightmares I suppose!

This week’s sessions proved that a love for books is for life – and that reading can continue to give pleasure and enjoyment regardless of age or illness.

Reading Treasures

That fusty old book smell brings it all back –
Opening the tattered pages,
Finding the treasure inside.
The adventures of Gloops – the cartoon cat from the Sheffield Star,
Rupert annuals for Christmas,
Twinkle and Jackie for the girls.
Precious stories – Black Beauty, Heidi, Noddy.
Reading the Secret Seven under the bed covers.
A set of Encyclopaedias to explore the world –
The workings of a jet engine.
Reading Granny’s almanacs to find out the future.
Treasured Sunday School prizes.
The poems we learned in school –
Albert and the Lion,
The Owl and the Pussycat,
Daffodils, If by Kipling,
Every word still known by heart.

A trip to the flicks

We had a great time at the end of May, making microwave popcorn and talking about the old days of cinema, when a trip to the flicks cost tuppence, and you’d stuff yourself with choc-ices and monkey nuts bought from the greengrocers next door. Kids flocked to the Saturday morning picture clubs where they could catch up with the latest cowboy serial – or cause havoc by throwing sweets around. There were also fond memories of teenage clinches in the back row of the pictures – the cinema was a good place to go for a first date, as you didn’t have to talk much.

Most people lived within a short walk of their local cinema – it was a friendly, local experience, a far cry from today’s huge multiplexes and bank-breaking popcorn concessions. Before the age of TV, cinema newsreels were the only place you could see what was happening in the news – essential in war time. In the 1960s, the ABC cinema in Chesterfield also hosted rock ‘n’ roll shows, including Jimi Hendricks, and one patient recalled seeing Billy J. Kramer there.

But by the 80s, local cinemas were really on their last legs. I remember exciting trips to the Palladium in Kendal in the Lake District where I grew up – enthralled by E.T. and old Disney films but scared by the peeling wallpaper and dog-eared posters from long-ago films. A few years later, most of those cinemas had closed down, soon to be replaced by big modern cinemas with surround sound and the latest films. However, in recent years, there has ben a revival in the interest in the old At Deco style and luxury of the old cinemas, with the craze for all things vintage.

A trip to the flicks

Cherry lips, floral gums, Parma Violets
Sour apples, torpedoes and bon bons
Pontefract cakes, Rainbow Drops and wine gums
Crisps and ice cream tubs with a wooden spoon.
A big brown bag of monkey nuts for half a penny.
Kia-Ora and choc-ices our weekly treat.

A boyfriend with his arm around your back.
Meeting for a date in the milk bar.
Ideal for a first date – you didn’t have to talk much.
Half the time, you didn’t watch the film.
Too busy canoodling in the back row,
Watching out for the usherette’s torch.
Scary films were the best for cuddling.
But no easy feeling!
My sister always came as a chaperone –
We had to be home by 10pm or there would be trouble.

Expectation mounted at the start of the film:
The curtains drew back,
The organ came up through the floor
Entertaining us while we settled in our seats.
The Wizard of Oz.
John Wayne as The Duke
Old Yeller – about a dog
Crying at Lassie films,
Bambi and Black Beauty.
Jaws made us jump.

Saturday morning picture show for tuppence
You could afford to go twice a week
Cowboy films and serials
Newsreels before every film.

As TV arrived, cinemas grew shabby and scruffy
Peeling plaster and worn plush seats.
The old ones closed down,
Demolished or turned into bingo halls
Popcorn and multiplexes just aren’t the same
But our flea-pit memories still remain.