Too many flowery sods…the stately homes of Derbyshire

This week, we’ve been talking about the stately homes of Derbyshire, and making a collage of one of the most famous grand houses in our area: Hardwick Hall, near Chesterfield. Derbyshire is well known for its mansions and ancient aristocratic houses, from medieval Haddon Hall near Bakewell, to the Classical Palladian mansions of Chatsworth, Kedleston Hall and Calke Abbey. Many of them are  now open to the public and are a firm favourite for day-trips and cream teas.

We read the poem ‘The Homes of England’ by Victorian poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans, which was the first time that the phrase “stately homes” was used. We were also rather amused by the phrase “flowery sods” in the poem!

Here is our reply to the poem:

No flowery sods for us!

We wouldn’t like to live in a stately home.
There are too many windows to clean.
Too many flowery sods about!
How many miles would you have to walk, sweeping the floors?
And if nature called in the middle of the night,
Imagine how far you’d have to stumble down the corridors?
If the heavens opened, the leaky roof would have you
Running everywhere with mops and buckets.
The electric bill would be enormous,
Lighting all those rooms.

Doing the garden would be an endless chore.
(Even though a ride-on mower looks fun!)
I’d need a giant leaf-blower too!
None of this is for me.
I’d rather have my semi-detached!

A Celebration of all things Scottish – a Belated Burns’ Night Celebration

Last week, I was unable to update this blog due to a computer malfunction, so here it is! Patients and staff in Derbyshire hospitals looked at the traditions of Burns’ night – a celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.

We celebrated all things Scottish, from haggis to tartan, and here are the poems that we came up with.

A Celebration of Scotland

As we sit here eating shortbread
We’ve been listening to Rabbie Burns’ poems
Haggis, neeps and tatties,
The mountains and heather that Scots call home.

Porage* oats to make you strong
With some salt sprinkled on.
Made with water if you can’t afford milk
To keep warm from Scottish rain pouring down.

Tartan outfits worn with pride
The Queen in her favourite Balmoral home
Queen Mother lived in a Scottish Castle
Where the Monarch of the Glen does roam.

William Wallace, Braveheart Warrior
To John Brown, Queen Victoria’s favourite
Played by Scotland’s own Billy Connolly
In a kilt and Highland garb

Lots of actors from north of the border
From Will Fyfe to Ewan McGregor
Sean Connery, the first James Bond
To Robbie Contrane, our Scottish sleuth.

scots keep us entertained
Lulu, Annie Lennox, lovely Lorraine Kelly
The stories of Robert Louis Stevenson

And without Alexander Graham Bell,
We couldn’t chat on the telephone.
We wouldn’t have TV without John Logie Baird!

The land of Robert the Bruce –
We’ve got a lot to thank you for!

* Yes, that’s the way that Scott’s have been spelling their famous oats for many years!


A Weekend in Scotland

Iron Bru – I love you
A tot of finest whiskey too
All-butter shortbread, petticoat tails
In a winter blowing snow and gales.

Men in skirts – they call them kilts
We love how your accent lilts
The colours a sounds of Edinburgh tattoo
Stroll around a loch to find Nessie too.

But that bag piper’s driving me mad
And the midges itch me something bad!
No thanks to that haggis, it sounds offal!
Deep fried pizza and Mars bars must be awful!

But with the wonderful wildlife and scenery too
We’ll still be coming and visiting you.

Scottish Wildlife

I searched for Nessie in a loch
I saw Canada Geese in a flock
The beavers had built their dams
Surrounded by leaping spring lambs.

I walked my Westie on a lead
Watched red squirrels as they feed
As Flora and Morag the Highland cattle
Watch red deer stage fight their battle!

What the man in the moon wants for Christmas…

The man in the moon

John Lewis Christmas advert 2015. The advert is a partnership with Age UK to highlight loneliness at Christmas. Watch the video here.

Before Christmas, I worked with dementia patients at Walton Hospital in Chesterfield on the theme of Christmas. We looked at some Christmassy music videos, and one of the films I showed the patients was this year’s John Lewis advert, which is about a little girl who sees a lonely old man who lives on the moon through her telescope and decides to send him a special Christmas present.

I worked with the patients and staff to write this poem – about what the man in the moon really wants for Christmas. This is what they came up with.

What the Man in the Moon Wants for Christmas

A glass elevator to bring him home to his granddaughter.
An Alsatian to protect him from aliens and keep him company.
Ginger Rodgers to foxtrot him around the moon crater,
Or John Travolta to do some disco dancing!
A good Christmas dinner with turkey and sprouts.
A tin can telephone with the string stretching to earth.
Some tinsel for his hut and solar lights.
A Christmas tree sparkling with stars.

And then he’ll get out the sherry and mince pies,
Then Santa can visit him, bringing the man’s granddaughter,
So she can bring him the best gift of all –
A big hug!

A poem about the man in the moon is quite appropriate for today – the day that Major Tim Peake has blasted off into orbit on the International Space Station.

As a bonus, here’s another poem that the patients and staff wrote together, based on ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

A Christmas Surprise

The children are sent upstairs to wait for Father Christmas.
The stockings are hung at the end of the bed.
A carrot for the reindeer, mince pie and a sherry –
To make sure Rudolph’s fed and Santa’s merry.

The children are excited, and cannot sleep.
The oldest one wants a sly little peek.
Santa is due any time soon.
Down the stairs, the boy starts to sneak.

Under the tree, he feels the gifts.
One by one, shaking and squeezing in turn.
He tips his new drum over with a terrible crash.
And hides it under the Christmas tree.

From upstairs, he hears a loud creak,
And a tiny noise, like a mouse’s squeak.
(The cat is fast asleep, the mice are having a treat!
He didn’t catch a thing on Christmas Eve.)

The boy thinks it’s time to flee.
He runs upstairs as fast as he can.
Jumps into bed, and settles down,
Just as Father Christmas parks his sleigh.

Before they know, it’s Christmas morning.
No chance of Mum and Dad still snoring.
The children are all wide awake.
It’s Christmas day – so celebrate!

Christmas Angels made by Children at Mickley Infant School, Derbyshire.

Scarily Good Poems for Halloween!

Pumpkin lanterns

Pumpkin lanterns

I haven’t been running my hospital sessions this week, as it’s been half term. Yes, I know that hospitals don’t have terms, but Derbyshire County Council Adult and Community Education does. However, I thought I would save our brilliant poems until this week, just in time for Halloween.

Last week, we looked at Halloween traditions. Until relatively recently, Halloween wasn’t really celebrated in the UK, and people tend to think that the holiday was imported from the USA. However, many of our traditions actually come from the British Isles, although we carved swedes and turnips rather than pumpkins! We looked at local ghost stories as well, and really got into the “spirit” of things, by telling each other about our own spooky experiences.

A Fright at Hardwick

I didn’t think I believed in ghosts
Before I visited Hardwick Hall
I felt cold shivers down my spine
As a woman from another room did call.

There was nobody in that room
But creaking footsteps I did hear
As I stood, alone in fright,
Ghostly footsteps drawing near.

A phantom figure I did see
A lady with a ruff and a silken dress
The figure walked and passed right through me
And left me feeling in distress.

I ran downstairs as fast as I could
And quickly found a volunteer
I said “who’s the lady that lives upstairs?”
They said “It’s been haunted up there for years!”

Hardwick Hall is a National Trust property near Chesterfield

Hardwick Hall is a National Trust property near Chesterfield

Things that scare us (that shouldn’t do!)

Creaking floorboards late at night
Wind whistling through the house
Tapping branches give us a fright
The scratching of a mouse.

The radiator goes “tap tap”
The hooting of an owl
A yowling cat disturbs my nap
The neighbourhood dogs howl

The spooky film watched before bed
Eating cheese before you sleep
Shadows like a horseman with no head
All these things make me want to weep!

But everything can be accounted for
Just imagination running wild
Only weather and a creaking floor
Still makes me feel like a scared child.

Spooky shadows on the wall

Spooky shadows on the wall

Trick or Treat

Will we see some ghosts
On our spooky night-time walk?
The children trick or treating –
Who will get the most?

Everyone’s wearing costumes,
Dressed as witches or ghouls
The night is dark and windy
We won’t be taken for fools.

The ghosts are all gathering
For their midnight feast
The food is looking spooky,
Fit for a phantom feast.

But it’s really all quite tasty
Not horrible at all
There are skulls made out of pastry
And cobwebs deck the hall.

And it’s quite nice being scary
But cold and wet makes us moan.
And Halloween is lots of fun,
But it’s lovely to come home.

A traditional Jack o' Lantern made with a swede.

A traditional Jack o’ Lantern made with a swede.

Harvest Festival Poems

This week in hospitals in Chesterfield, Buxton and Bakewell, we’ve been talking about harvest, and writing our own vegetable poems. We talked about helping out with the harvest as children, picking blackberries, scrumping apples and noisy cockerels.

Here are some of our poems. Some of them are haikus – a Japanese poetry form with three lines, of five, seven and five syllables (sometimes we cheated, but everyone seems to do that).

Harvest time

Harvest time

Harvest Poem

Help bring in the harvest fair –
A supper that we all can share.
Collecting harvest festival gifts
For those in need, their hearts we lift.

Apples and berries sweet and ripe
Some like tomatoes served with tripe!
The baker makes the harvest bread –
With a mouse running up to its plaited head.

Butterflies and bees have a final feed
Before the flowers go to seed.
Leaves that turn to brown and gold
Too soon, now the weather turns cold.



Like tiny green trees
We cut down each one to eat
To cook with cheese sauce.

Broccoli tree trunk
Solid and heavy clumps of
Green, and tasty steamed.

sweetheart cabbage


Heavy green teardrops
Give the outer leaves to bunny
Salt and pepper – delicious!



Dirty orange root
But the rabbits still love them
Goes in any stew.



Makes you cry when chopped
Unless you leave the root intact
Strong-tasting flesh.



Green peels like petals
Hairy brown, tangled top-knot
Smooth and shiny seeds.

Derbyshire Well Dressings

A well dressing in Victorian Tissington

A well dressing in Victorian Tissington

In my last sessions before taking a few weeks for a summer break, we looked at the Derbyshire Tradition of well dressing. It doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed since the launch of this blog, when we blessed the well dressing at Newholme Hospital.

So what is well dressing? It’s a tradition of decorating wells and springs with pictures made of flowers and natural objects – a wooden board filled with clay, and with flowers, seeds and leaves pressed into it. Well dressings are displayed in Derbyshire villages (stretching down to Derby, east into Staffordshire and North into Sheffield). People come from miles around to admire these floral creations, which take weeks to create.

The origins of the tradition are lost in the mists of time, but are thought to date back to ancient times, when people thanked the water gods for the springs, streams and rivers so essential for life. Nowadays, well dressings often have biblical themes, or commemorate anniversaries and recent events. Click here to find your nearest well dressing! This website tells you all about well dressings in Buxton, which are happening this weekend.

At Cavendish Hospital in Buxton, we wrote a poem about well dressings and their meaning.

Give thanks for the water

To give thanks for the water
That we depend on
An offering of fruit and flowers
Young and old coming together
To do a good job
Lots of time, and lots of hard work
Patience – and nimble fingers
Are needed to create
A beautiful picture
With petals, moss, ferns and seeds
A parable from the Bible
Or a design to mark a special date
The Sunday blessing, where all gather
Teenagers pulling faces at their nanas singing loudly!

We also made miniature well dressings at Walton Hospital in Chesterfield, and at Cavendish Hospital.

At Newholme hospital, we had the real thing. We had a go at “pedalling” part of the well dressing – well, we were using leaves. to make the background for the top section of the well dressing, which was incredibly heavy and needed two people to carry it. One of the patients was also an expert well dresser from Youlgreave, one of the most popular well-dressing villages, so here are some of her top tips and insider insights.

Newholme's 2015 well dressing in progress

Newholme’s 2015 well dressing in progress

Well Dressing in Youlgreave

Coaches visiting – tourists having teas
There are five different wells to see
The same families work on the well dressings
Year after year. Starting them young
With children gathering flowers and leaves.
Friendly rivalry between the wells.
No one’s allowed to see the designs
Before they’re finished: the hard work
In garages, barns and sheds of the village.
Locally quarried clay, kept damp with water
From one of the springs that still feeds the taps
Of half the houses in Youlgreave. Water clear and pure.
Hydrangeas for blue sky, colours graded from pale to dark
Dog daisies and elderflowers quickly turn brown.
Rain is good. The clay needs to be kept damp,
Hung with sacks at the back, sprayed with a mister.
Petals must be laid the right way, so the rain runs off
Like living tiles on a roof.

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,
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?

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Riding Through the Glen!

This week in Derbyshire Hospitals, we looked at the theme of Robin Hood. Everyone’s heard of Robin Hood – the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor – and I bet that most people in the UK and around the world too have seen a film or TV adaptation of this ancient legend – from Errol Flynn in the 1930s, to the 1970s Disney version with Robin Hood played by a fox, to Kevin Costner in 1991 and the latest BBC adventure.

Robin Hood is famous all over the world – as a legendary figure who may or may not have existed – and whose exploits have been re-told by storytellers, singers and writers since medieval times. He’s most famously associated with Sherwood Forest and Nottingham – less than an hour’s drive away from Derbyshire, and as my family are from Nottingham, my childhood included a Robin Hood dressing up outfit made by my nan!

But Loxley on the outskirts of Sheffield, is supposedly Robin Hood’s birthplace, and Barnsdale Forest near Wakefield, was another one of the famous outlaw’s hideouts. There are also lots of Robin Hood related places in Derbyshire – most famously, Little John’s grave in Hathersage, Robin Hood’s Stride – a rock formation near Matlock, Robin Hood’s cave at Stanage Edge, and various pubs, farms and street names! The legendary Robin Hood certainly left his mark around here.

Everyone remembered the theme tune from the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood! We had some good sing-alongs.

The Legend of Robin Hood

He robs the rich to give to the poor
All in green, with Maid Marion and his merry men –
Tights and a feather in his hat,
Dressed like Peter Pan.
Will Scarlett, Little John Friar Tuck,
In Sherwood Forest.
Everything I do – mostly it’s for someone else –
Cooking, washing, gardening –
For someone else to appreciate.
That much is true.

We finished our sessions by making paper Robin Hood hats – simple, but surprisingly effective, and lots of fun.

Beautiful May Blossoms

This week in Derbyshire hospitals, we’ve been talking about May Day and making paper blossoms, which will hopefully last longer than the beautiful cherry blossom on the trees, which is over so quickly. At the moment, Sheffield (where I live) and the Derbyshire countryside, is covered in blossom, from blackthorn hedges to the ice cream pink and white of apple blossom.

We remembered union parades, maypoles with ribbons, Morris dancers, May Queens riding on farm trucks covered with greenery and blossoms, and Whit parades wearing white frocks.

However, as I arrived at Cavendish Hospital in Buxton, there had just been a blizzard, and as we talked about spring, large hailstones were falling outside the window! But by the time I’d arrived in Bakewell, the sun was shining again – and as I was driving along, I saw my first swallows. It was definitely a case of “four seasons in one day”!

Springtime in Buxton

Springtime in Buxton
Sees the snow fall
Spring cleaning indoors
Is the safest bet of all.

Taking down your net curtains
Washing all your woollies – and putting them away
But keep your winter coat at hand
Clean your windows – to see out is grand!

Making plans for May Day weekend
The plants bursting into green
Sweet peas and the blossom of fruit trees
Hanging baskets will soon be seen

Celebrating a special birthday
With cake, eating salads and fruit
Walking the slopes to see cherry blossom
Lighter evenings lift our mood.

As we come slowly out of hibernation.

Warmer Weather

Warmer weather’s here at last
please put bad weather in the past
Flowers breaking through the earth
Lambs running here and there with mirth

Blossom blowing in the breeze
All that pollen makes me sneeze
May Bank holiday – a great day off
A picnic spread on a tablecloth

Children dancing around the maypole
Let’s hope we’re not feeling cold
Morris men on the village green
The prettiest May we’ve ever seen!

Favourite things to do in May

A pint and a nice ploughman’s lunch
Gardening and pruning
Dancing around the maypole
Seeing blossom in bloom
Climbing up Froggatt Edge
Watching lambs gambolling.

Here are pictures of the paper blossoms we made, surprisingly simply, using this technique.