Family Arts Conference


From young children, to grandparents and every age in between, how can people and their families be involved in the Arts? And indeed why should they be?

These were some of the questions tackled at the Family Arts Conference in Bristol this week. Delegates spoke about the need for inclusion, for family friendly performances, for access for people who are disabled. Among other topics there was mention of role models for various disadvantaged groups, among which older people can be included. Some are isolated through circumstances, or ill health, others are on very low incomes and all of us have been castigated by the media for robbing the next generation of any hope of owning a home of their own, taking their jobs and being a huge burden on the NHS.

Whatever our circumstances, being older is not currently valued in our society and however hard you try this attitude does inevitably affect the way you see yourself. Being an artist, in whatever discipline, however, allows you to value yourself and your work.

I took part in the Family Arts Conference as a delegate from Ages and Stages Theatre Company. ages-and-stages-5When Jill Rezzano our director, co-ordinator, leader, I’m not sure which title adequately describes all that she does, asked for volunteers, Jackie and I said we would be interested in taking part.

At our session on Intergenerational Work for Older Families, Jill gave a succinct run down of the inception of Ages and Stages and all the work the company has done since then. Jacky and I talked about how we joined the company and what being part of a theatre group has done for us.

My involvement came about by accident. I’d gone along to the Live Age Festival fully intending to take part in one of the writing workshops. When I got to the venue however it occurred to me that taking part, and/or leading workshops is something I’ve done numerous times and maybe opting for the drama workshop would be an opportunity to challenge myself.

I enjoyed the session so much that I came along to the next meeting of Ages and Stages at the New Vic and the rest as they say is history.

On a more serious note, being challenged is one of the reasons why taking part in the Arts is so important. It is so easy to stay safely ensconced in the comfort zone, but, once you dare to set foot outside it, life becomes infinitely richer and more exciting.

I found myself acting in public for the first time since my university days. I was challenged, not just by performing, but because I had to attain the same high standard as the rest of the group.

It is this striving for excellence, even though you know that you will never reach it, which is why the Arts matter so much. It is also the reason why, one day, in some glorious future, there will be no need to have conferences about inclusion because people will be valued for what they have contributed to their art, not for who, or how old or young they are.

In the meantime, I had a great day in Bristol. The sun shone, the sky was blue, Jill, Jacky and I ate our picnic lunch outside.240px-Stgeorgeschapel The venues were great and I learned so much  from the speakers in our session; Fergus Early and his inter-generational work with The Green Candle Dance Company, Susan Langford, the director of Magic Me and Emma Robinson of Age Cymru and Kate Organ whose talk on the Inclusion for Older Family Members was truly inspirational.


Wardrobe Malfunction: Part three of a Bulging Wardrobe


I haven’t been keeping up to date recently with clearing out my clothes. Life got in the way and it didn’t seem that important, until I wanted to find my blue striped cardigan. I knew it was there somewhere, I’d seen it only a few days before, but at the crucial moment it was nowhere to be found.

Half the cupboard had to be emptied before it was located, scrumpled up in a sad heap on top of a pile of shoeboxes. Another casualty of my propensity to keep every garment I’ve ever owned, it did however re-start the life-laundering initiative.

Today’s selection is a top I’ve not worn for years. I bought it when I went shopping with my younger daughter, before her daughter was born, so that is at least five, if not six, years ago. In those dim distant, pre-grandchildren days, we could spend hours wandering around the shops, trying things on, stopping for coffee and cake and a long chat about life.

She might be looking for clothes for work, or a specific occasion. I’m not a great buyer, just a humongous hoarder, so I’d often come away with nothing, but I was instantly drawn to this particular blouse. Not only was it a perfect fit, but at first glance I thought the fabric was Tana Lawn.

This amazing material, which is light as silk, and even though it’s 100% cotton doesn’t crease, was named after Lake Tana in the Sudan, by one of the buyers from Liberty, William Haynes Dorrell in 1920.

When I was a student in London, a boyfriend who was studying architecture would take me round various buildings he considered important. Apart from watching the original Barbican being constructed and a tour of Art Deco toilets in the Black Friar Pub, I was taken to Liberty, the famous mock Tudor store in Regent Street.Liberty.

To my shame, I’d never even heard of the shop, let alone seen anything like this. It was a magical place of infinite wonder. Oriental rugs hung draped from the balconies that overlooked each and every floor. Amber jewellery, Art Deco furniture, leather bags and belts, silk ties and designer clothes, were on sale, the list was endless. Most was way beyond the reach of a seventeen year old on a grant. About the only thing I could afford was a lavender bag made from Liberty fabric and it wasn’t until much, much later that I made myself a skirt, which is still in my wardrobe, from their lovely Tana Lawn.

My top, however fine the cotton, isn’t of the same quality and while the skirt stays, the top goes. It has, however, sparked another slew of memories and with any luck will provide a little more space in my bulging wardrobe.


World of Bunch #2

Jan Edwards

gasmaskAnother oddity that arose in researching the home front aspects of WW2 for my crime  book Winter Downs concerns gas masks and whether they should be a part of the background information.

The fear of gas attack in 1939 was very real. This may possibly have from memories of gas warfare in the trenches of the Great War or reports of gas bombs being dropped on Gurnica in the Spanish civil war. Whatever the source the British government intended every person living in the Britain would be issued with a gas mask. This gargantuan task began in July 1939, and by December of that year over 38 million had been distributed.

pic-2The public were urged through nationwide adverts and leafleting to inform their local Air Raid Warden if they had not been issued with their gas mask, and it was the responsibility of those wardens to ensure that everybody had been…

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Not Feeling Well

poorly-bearI’m not feeling very well today. My nose is running, the glands in my throat are up and I have an annoying, intermittent cough which lies dormant for most of the day, peaking at about 3am so that I don’t get a proper night’s sleep. I am, in fact, suffering from a virus. Alternatively I’ve got a rotten cold, but it was the use of the word suffering that prompted this blog.

The words we use define us. Suffering suggests something really serious. It means that whatever you are have cannot be ignored. People have to take notice of you. You become a patient, which incidentally is another interesting word as its Latin root suggests passivity and suffering.

For the past three of four days I have been so exhausted that I couldn’t do any of my usual activities. Since writing group on Wednesday, where by the end of the evening I had lost my voice, I’ve done very little. I’ve been sensible, had lots of hot drinks, kept warm, looked after myself, because I am ill.

I have the luxury of being able to do nothing. It was quite different when I went out to work, when I would have felt that I had to stagger in, regardless of how bad I felt. Not a clever thing to do, but as a working woman this is the picture I had of myself. Nothing as trivial as a cold was going to keep me away.

No longer having that impetus, I define myself differently. I am not well. I am taking things easy. I give myself permission to convalesce and to be looked after.

Tomorrow I am going to be better. The story of this particular virus is over. I’m getting bored with it. I want to be up and doing again and I am lucky that I will be able to do so.

Because I know that there are those among my friends and acquaintances, let alone the wider world, who know that they will not feel better in a few days’ time. People who have long term, chronic conditions won’t be able to say that they’ve had enough and tomorrow they will be back to normal.

My few days of exhaustion has filled me with admiration for these people who keep going however terrible they feel.

And they don’t go on about it either, because that too is telling ourselves our story and once we begin the narrative, it is just possible that we feel we have to live up to it.

I have no knowledge or insight as to whether fighting a disease helps you recover or not. I have friends who have found the concept helpful and those that haven’t.  I wouldn’t presume to comment, as I believe everyone deals with what life flings at them in their own unique way.

For me, getting out of bed, having shower and putting my makeup on helps the recovery process. In my mind, sick people don’t wear eye-liner so if I’ve applied mine I must be better.

And of course there is the writing. Lost in the word of my latest protagonist, I forget to dwell on the narrative of my own ill-health.

So back to WIP. (Life Laundry has been put on hold.)


The World of Bunch: part one

Jan Edwards

rat_bookWhilst writing Winter Downs and the world of my heroine, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, there were many things that required some careful research. The first that came to mind was the knotty problem of rationing. Conducting a small straw poll it would seem that the general perception of  many people  is that rationing came in with a bang and remained there until the end of the war, when it was lifted immediately. This was not the case.

Mindful of the privations suffered in the Great War, the Ministry of Food was set up to oversee supplies and there was an original plan to implement full rationing from September 1939. The MoF did announce rationing several times in those early months – only to postpone them due to some vociferous newspaper campaigns, spearheaded, by all accounts by a series of editorials in the Daily Express; which for example, urged the public to…

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How Many Red T-shirts Does a Woman Need?

Or the latest bulletin from the Bulging Wardrobe. Strictly speaking I have momentarily moved on to my bulging chest of drawers, where I am sorting through several decades’ worth of T-shirts.

So far, and there may be others lurking, I have discovered that I own at least five red T-shirts. Is this a reasonable number? They are more or less the same colour red and to be honest there isn’t a huge difference in style between them. Added to which, one or two I scarcely recognised as it is so long since I last wore them that I had forgotten they were there.

red-short-sleevedtshirtGetting rid of the short sleeved one, will be easy. I don’t do short sleeves and the neckline is not flattering. The others will be harder.

The Laura Ashley with the bow on the neckline is a case in point. Unlike my flowered skirt, there’s not much of a story to this one, but something equally potent has kept me from passing it

The fantasy element: that hope, or is it a dream, that wearing a a certain garment will transform the wearer into someone they would like to be. It’s what sells clothes and magazines ruthlessly compare high street versions to those worn by celebrities to get us to buy the latest trend.

In the case of the red T-shirt with a bow, I nurtured the illusion that  with my cut off trousers I would have that  vintage look, like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” It won’t, of course, not only because I’m not as slim, or as young, or as beautiful, but also because in our miserably cold climate, I hardly ever wear cut off trousers and if I did, I’d need a pair of socks and a big jumper to stop my blood from freezing. Hardly the outfit to go with a glamorous convertible. I don’t have one of those either, my preference being for a car with heated seats.

One final point. If my T-shirts look in need of an iron, it’s because there is no room in the drawer.