Susie Mallett

Parent blog

Sunday 3 May 2015

Memories and inspirations

Patchwork tapestry from 1986, Caroline's piece is top right
I spent my Easter break in Norfolk with my Dad then on the last weekend I travelled north-westwards, not too far from home, to Cambridgeshire. This part of the country is so near to home but somehow I felt like I was in foreign country during the few days that I stayed there.

In places it is just as flat as Norfolk, if not flatter, and there seems to be more open space and more sky, and it seemed in a way more rural, more oldie worldie and more touristy. There are however rises in the countryside that enables one to see even further than in Norfolk, with views across farmland and yellow stone villages.  

Not only did I feel that I was in a different country but I felt like I was stepping back in time too.

This was because the reason that I was in Cambridgeshire was to join the family of a client of mine from thirty years ago. This client had died just before Christmas and the Memorial Service that I attended to celebrating her life was planned to coincide with what would have been her fifty-seventh birthday. She was the same age as me and perhaps this is why we had got on so well. 

I had kept in touch with but not met the family in all the years since 1987 when I had left my work as an art therapist and art teacher at the place where my client had lived.

I felt so at home and so at ease with all the people whom I met at the service and especially with the people who were there from the home where my client had lived for all those years since I had worked there. What surprised me most was that Caroline’s friends remembered me, and that their carer, who had as a fourteen-year-old been helping out in the 1980s doing a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, remembered me too. We had a great time looking through the album of photos that I had compiled for the family and reminiscing about those happy times thirty years ago.

It was while I was working in the amazing art and craft studio, that I describe below in the piece that I wrote for the Memorial Service, that I first discovered Conductive Education.

1987 had been the year that the first Birmingham trainee conductors began their training. In the previous years while I had been working at that wonderful arts centre the British papers had been full of the Pető Institute and its work, about pressure groups set up in the UK and with reports about British families travelling with their children to attend groups in Budapest. I had been really inspired by what I had read about Conductive Education and knew that this was what I would like to do. I was excited when I saw an advert in the Tuesday Guardian’s education supplement for trainee conductors and had been motivated to apply, although I knew that I did not have the qualifications that they required.  

I sent off the application anyway but was to be disappointed as I had not worked in a state school so was not yet a fully qualified teacher, and I had no music experience, which at that time had been another of the criteria for the training. Two years later, having worked in a state school for a year, I re-applied I was accepted, and my conductive life begun. But I shall never forget the experience of working in that lovely centre with my client from Cambridgeshire and her friends, and my lovely arty colleagues. I learnt so much during that time and I am sure that it was because of this experience that I was so open to everything that I saw and learnt in Budapest. I soaked it all up like a sponge.

It was with thanks for having been able to take part in this inspiring work that I participated in the celebration of Caroline’s life. Everyone said what wonderful work my colleagues and I did there but it was I who had been motivated and inspired by my clients, so motivated that I sadly chose to leave them and to become a conductor. I thank them for their part in my life at that time and I thank them also for the welcome back into their lives on that windy Sunday afternoon just a few weeks ago.

A step down Memory Lane

 My speech given at Caroline's Memorial Service on April 12, 2015

I met Caroline thirty years ago her home in Bedfordshire where she was a member of the group of very creative artists whom I had the pleasure to work with. We worked in the arts and crafts workshop that Sue F, Geoff B and I ran almost along the lines of an art school! Caroline and her friends excelled in this creative atmosphere.

We worked with a music therapist, an art therapist, the farm workers and further education teachers, as a huge, happy and creative family of which Caroline loved to be a part. 

Caroline and I were friends from the start, we were the same age and we soon discovered that we had something very special in common. We both had a Mum who sent us two or three postcards every week, sharing details with us of life at home! Homes that both of us loved and often missed.

I loved receiving my Mum’s cards, and I still have them all, so I knew how precious Caroline’s were to her. I used to leave mine on my kitchen table for a few days before finding them a spot on the wall, but Caroline always carried her postcards with her in her skirt pocket where they stayed until the next one arrived. Everyone she met during the day could read them to her and it was in this way that I got to know her family. I learnt about new-born babies, brothers and sisters, and lots about Dad and John and the comings and goings on the farm. 

Reading about her family on her cards also enabled me to understand Caroline’s beautiful drawings and tapestries that almost always depicted home and family members.

Caroline's tapestry of home with family and Mum's green house, 1986
Before long I began to take my postcards from my Mum to share with Caroline and the rest of the group. 

It was quite some time, and many postcards later, before I met any of Caroline’s family in the flesh!
Caroline's Mum
Sue, Geoff and I encouraged our ‘arty students’ to produce a huge range of creative work for which we soon realised we needed an outlet. It was at our first exhibition in our workshop that I eventually met Caroline’s Mum and Dad. They must have wondered why I felt that I knew them so well!

Frank Ifield in his gallery in Bedfordshire
Eventually we were very lucky to be given the use of a local art gallery, owned by Frank Ifield and the private views were a highlight for Caroline and friends. We sold many of the works of art and from the proceeds we were able to take the ‘artists’ out for treats. I remember  joyful occasions when Sue Feast and I took Caroline, and her friends Becky and Diane, for cream teas in Ampthill and another time when we travelled further afield to an art festival where Caroline and I had such fun together at an origami workshop. 

Whatever we were doing Caroline was always there joining in and having fun with often her main aim being to make us all laugh as much as possible.

Caroline was always great fun to be with, everyone loved her and her wonderful sense of humour.
Caroline dressing up
I am so glad that Caroline always kept in touch. She did so with Christmas cards, at first with help from her Mum and later from her sister, Elizabeth. 

When Elizabeth wrote to tell me the sad news of Caroline’s death I was reading a book of nature stories by Mark Cocker and one of his stories brought memories flooding back of the detailed descriptions of farm-life that I read aloud to Caroline from her Mother’s postcards.

As none of Caroline’s postcard-stories exist today I would like to close with an extract from that story I was reading, a story that coincidentally mentions butterflies, which Elizabeth tells me were one of Caroline’s passions, after Dr Who.  Amongst these butterflies flew a solitary, velvety, purple peacock. I know that now, whenever I spot one, I will always be reminded of Caroline.

19 May 2008

Wheatacre, Norfolk

The sudden flush of heat across East Anglia has set the farm fields racing skywards, and on the southern edge of the Waveney floodplain the world has divided into just two colours, the green spiring up and the blue pressing down. Yet one colour has also bled into its neighbour. The cow pastures at Wheatacre are made up largely of a flowering grass, rather oddly named ‘Timothy’, and there is a faintly bluish tone to each separate inflorescence of this species. When reviewed in aggregate across the flats, the fields of Timothy made it seem as if that ozone blue had somehow come down to Earth, secreting itself among the vegetation.

Over this shining green-blue landscape, which rippled gently in a cold westerly, butterflies struggled against the breeze. They were mainly whites but every now and then a peacock sallied across the grass canopy as a scrap of plush purple velvet.

Mark Cocker

Caroline and her Mother
Me and my sister.

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