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Sunday 31 May 2009

Choosing the appropriate hat

Above: Norwich cathedral cloisters, 2006

My owngreen men, 2009

Busy, busy, busy!

I am lucky, I do not find it difficult to find the hat to fit the job.

Hats have always been a passion of mine ever since when as a toddler I delved into our amazing dressing-up box, full of Victorian treasures, and then as a teenager when I spent lovely afternoons in the hat department of Garland’s of Norwich trying on the biggest and the best hats with my Mum.

(Garlands was a wonderful old-fashioned department store that got destroyed in a fire just a few days after Mum and I had enjoyed such a hat-trying session in the early 1970s.)

I am still the only person at a German summer fete who wears a hat and each year. I look longingly at my father's Panama, regretting that we didn't buy the one, complete with its travelling tube, that we admired at the car-boot sale last year.

My work-a-day hats

I am actually very happy to have so many different hats that I can choose from, especially these days when job-security is high on the agenda of most of my everyday conversations.

It could in fact be that at the moment being self-employed is more secure than having a “proper job”. It is certainly more flexible and the ability to make a quick change of hats is giving me a better chance of staying put and not having to spend yet another year travelling all over the place in search of work.

The charity that I often work with here in Germany provides a wide range services for children and adults with disabilities. As I get to know the different departments better I am discovering that I can step in to most areas and just pop on the hat that I need.

Of course it is in the Conductive Education department that I wear my favourite hat and where I have my regular clients and groups, but in the past month I have had a stint in the physiotherapy department, the residential home, the special-care unit, the flat-finding department and the integrated kindergarten.

As an added bonus this month I have aquired another new hat, by setting up a new, very small art-therapy department.

I have had so many different hats on recently that I haven't known whether I was coming or going. Hence the lack of blogging!

Looking back, the best hat of all was the the bits-in-between hat, the Susie-the-artist hat. Just occasionally I wish that I could be wearing wear this all the time. When I have my artist’s hat on my knees and back don’t ache so much!

I was, however, more than delighted to be back in the conductor's hat when I helped out in the kindergarten at lunch time each day this week.

I have had a very special thirty minutes every day to sit and commune over lunch with a delightful six-year-old. She tells me with just the pressure from a hand, with a blink of an eye or a smack of her lips, exactly what she would like to aim for next on the fork!

It made eating a very different experience for me and has been the highlight of my week.

When I told this little girl how much I loved to be there with her I received the most wonderful smile to take home with me. I believe that it was as nice for her to know how much I enjoyed our time together as it was for me to be there.

On my bike

With the coming of spring I have had Susie-the-cyclist's hat on for a couple of months now, but it was only this week that it has been time to get the summer cycling gear out, even though with early morning temperatures ranging between twenty-seven and just eight degrees celcius. it has been a bit chilly around the knees some days.

Although cycling the ten kilometres each way between my flat and work tires me, it does give me a valuable thirty-five minutes with my dreams, with the cuckoos and the clover, and it also keeps me fit.

Back to being an artist

I have had an interest in gargoyles and green men since I was a teenager. There are many in and on the churches of Norfolk where my passion for them started. The Norwich Cathedral Cloisters have about ten green men embossed in the ceiling. I walk there each time that I visit home and know every leaf peeping out of every ear, and every bulging eye.

Over the years I have discovered and photographed them in many other cities, including Paris. Notre Dame has some lovely green men, as do the streets of Bamburg in Germany. Nürnberg's numerous churches have some wonderful "Wasserspeier", gargoyles with gaping mouths which drain off the water from the roof, many of which have acted as an inspiration for my own creations.

I have painted funny faces and have designed my own oddities and I have also attempted on several occasions to make masks, gargoyles and green men from both paper-mache and from clay. About fifteen years ago I made a lovely pixie-like head that still hangs beside the front door of a flat that I once lived in. It has a gapping mouth where the loud-speaker and the device for opening the door is hidden. It is still able to give even regular visitors quite a shock.

Wearing my artist’s hat, over the past two weeks I have had another go at "green man" production. I believe that this is my most successful attempt to date and I love the technique that I have just discovered of using oxides to colour the biscuit-fired clay.

The few people who have seen the finished creations say that they already look like antiques, that they could be a thousand years old! These “fans” also ask why I don’t sell them, as they believe they would go like hot cakes.

Before anyone asks

Sorry they are not for sale! They are going to decorate my balcony or be given as presents to friends.

Who knows, maybe the next batch will go on the open market. It all depends on how the credit crunch develops.

Sunday 24 May 2009

It is the tenth "Blaue Nacht" in Nürnberg

"Blue Images", by Susie Mallett,
May 2009

A cultural evening on the streets

The lamplights have blue bulbs in them, the castle is floodlit in blue. Flashing blue brooches are worn on lapels, in glass frames or as ear rings. Some crazy people like me have blue hair and others wear bright-blue wigs. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on Nürnberg for the tenth Blue Night!

The museums are open until late into the night, the cinema has special shows and the art museums special performances. Church towers can be climbed to view the spectacle from above.

There are events such as hot-air balloons floating over the main market square, films projected on the oldest of buildings in the city, and arty installations of all sorts. There is free live music to be heard and of course bratwurst and beer to be consumed. After eight p.m. there was not a seat to be found anywhere to enjoy a quiet glass of wine, soak up the atmosphere and people-watch.

It is Saturday, 9.30pm as I write. I have already taken a walk up the road once. I love it, I only have a five-minutes walk until I reach the “blue” flood-lit castle. I was there long before many of the expected 300,000 visitors had even thought about leaving home, before the blue lights were lit, when it was still light enough to recognise people in the streets. I then walked home in the dark having seen the first of the Blue Night light effects.

I will take another look later when the hot-air balloons take off and maybe, just maybe, I will get a seat in my favourite café, so that I can drink that glass of wine before walking home once more from what is probably the highlight of Nürnberg’s summer calendar. It is the first of many musical and cultural weekends in and around the city between now and September.

How lucky I am to now live right in the middle of it all.

Second attempt

It is now Sunday and the Blue Night is over, my hair has taken on its natural shade again, the streets of Nürnberg are relatively empty and once more spotlessly clean.

On my second visit to the Blue Night yesterday evening I still couldn’t find an empty seat so I wandered the streets for an hour or so and soaked up the atmosphere that way instead. I watched a couple of the arty events then made my way home.

The most impressive event was the projection of a film on to one of Nurnberg’s old buildings. It was actually very good and hours of technical and artistic expertise had obviously gone into its creation.

Windows of the actual building had been covered in white cloth and these very window frames and brick work were actually featured in the film, all projected almost exactly to the centimetre on to the original wall, with all sorts of coming and goings taken place in front of and behind them.

There were some very spectacular moments which I tried to capture with my camera as you can see above.

The Blue Night has changed since its first conception ten years ago. I still remember, from the year 2000, the huge stilt-walkers in their amazing magical, floating costumes and the man who told the story of the colour blue on an enormous see-through canvas. He stood behind it and climbed up and down ladders, and he painted and narrated. We, the audience, sat in front with mouths open in wonder at his beautiful painting as his story of a blue dot of paint developed.

Each year there are new creative events to watch and the usual museums to visit, but the masses of people make it virtually impossible to get near many of them. Even so it is an evening not to be missed and I expect that the plans for Blue Night number eleven are already on the table in the Rathaus (town hall).


Blaue Nacht

Thoughts on being a blogger on life and conductive practice

"Quiet contemplation", by Susie Mallett, 2005

When I left for work on Friday morning I had read what that early in the day was the first and only comment on Andrew Sutton’s posting “C’mon everybody”

Birth of a blog

Later I was on my bike making my way in the early sunshine and at the same time composing in my head what I would say in answer to Mr or Mrs Anonymous. I was hoping that at some time over this busy day I might eventually get a chance to sit down at a computer.

The comment didn’t get forgotten but my time got filled with a hundred-and-one other work things which got done wearing one of my ever-increasing number of hats. Work was interspersed with several inspiring bike rides and several train and tram journeys between one job and another. The tram and train journeys are usually ideal opportunities for one or two important things, especially writing down notes for blog postings or having forty winks. Today I was tired and I fell asleep instantly, as soon and the train got into motion.

The day got later and later and I eventually cycled home up the castle hill, arriving at my flat at long past midnight. When I finally switched on the computer at one a.m. on Saturday morning, to check my post, I discovered that there were by then eight google alerts to inform me of new comments. Two more had arrived by the time that I woke up a few hours later. And Gill had posted on this on her own blog too.

I realised that I would have a lot of reading to do before I could get started on typing up my own comment. I thought that I would probably need to do some rethinking too.

First thoughts on Anonymous

First I will concentrate on my immediate response, that ran through my mind all day yesterday after reading comment number one, the one marked "Anonymous".

These thoughts have followed two tracks.

Track one follows directly on from Anonymous's comment. I ask myself who wrote it. From which point of view is Mr or Mrs Anonymous making his or her remarks?

Track two is related to that fact that I must be the lone conductor who Andrew Sutton mentioned. The conductor who is writing a blog about her actual conductive practice. What is my motivation?

Taking a look at track one

Is Anon a user of conductive services who is afraid of “copy cats” who do not offer the real thing? But if so surely writing publicly about practice will give users a far better idea of what they should and should not be getting for their money. Couldn’t it give a refreshing insight into what conductive practice really is after reading so much "theory"?

Or could Anon be perhaps a centre manager, afraid that assistants might learn more and therefore be after more money?

I have worked with assistants who were so surprised, to the point of being shocked, to be taught by me how to work as a part of the conductive team in the group. Shocked to be given the responsibility to take part in the actual conductive programme and not just given all the “dirty work” to do.

Perhaps this is the view point of Anon.

Or is Anon a conductor? If so, then afraid of what?

It isn’t really all that important to me to know who Anon is. I respect the fact that some people prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, especially when writing thought-provoking statements, but I find it fascinating to consider these three possibilities about why this particular Anon is against conductors “telling what you do”.

I for one would love to read more from conductors “telling what they do”. I can imagine how much I could learn from them. I would love to work with more assistants, with parents and managers and teach them about what I do. Surely this can only make for improved conductive practice?

Going along track two

Having read Andrew Sutton’s posting I also began to consider why I write my own blog.
  • I have a better understanding of my own work through writing it. I think this is by far the most important reason why I write. Since I began to write about my practice I am conscious of how much I think about what I am doing. How conscious I am of how I touch someone, speak to someone, don’t touch someone, don’t speak to someone. I am more aware of why I am doing what I do and more importantly how I would describe it to others. And doing this for public consumption certainly sharpens how I think about it
  • Over the years of gathering experience my work gets more and more interesting, and more and more enjoyable. By writing about it I begin to realise how much I have learnt and how much I still don’t know. It has always been great to work as a conductor but, now that I write about it as well, it is different. It has taken on a new dimension.
  • I write my blog to share my experiences with other conductors. I know that there are a lot of young conductors working in isolation in all corners of the world. I hope that they can sometimes read something in my blog that may just help.. I hope too that they may begin a private dialogue, with me or between themselves, to lessen the feeling of being all alone. They ask me questions and I learn a lot from their questions.
  • To a degree we can simulate the group work between conductors which is missing in so many centres. (Conductive Education is group practice, you can read this in most conductive theory missives. But how many centres employ just one conductor? "The group" includes the group of conductors who learn from and inspire each other, not just the group of children doing the same!) .
  • I write my blog hoping that parents of disabled children will read it, and adults with disabilities and their carers. I hope that people who are already involved in the conductive world will read it, and also people who are not. I write because I would like to communicate with these people. (Slowly this is happening. I receive emails and phone-calls from all over the world).
  • And why do I like these people to read my blog? Because I would like to reassure some of them that they are on the right track, doing or getting the real thing, and to show others that maybe they are not. I want to show people who attend blocks of Conductive Education that there is a conductive life to be lived outside the block system. I also like to reassure people that they are doing fine, despite their anxieties and uncertainties.. I hope maybe that they get a tip or two from my postings on how they can try something new, or achieve success through a different method.

Yes sometimes I do hope that they read, and copy!


Thursday 21 May 2009

When it comes to the crunch

"Mid- summer" by Susie Mallett, 2004

I have been reading with interest Andrew Sutton’s recent postings encouraging people not only to attend conferences but also to present papers or poster boards, or simply to advertise themselves on a stand.

I too get very exasperated because people in Conductive Education just don’t go.

Then I suddenly realised that I am one of those people who don’t go, but I have tried and I will keep doing so.

Only six days ago I described how I had submitted a proposal to a conference in Finland.
(You can also see there what I wanted to say. I believe that it is important.)

I was prepared to pay some of the costs myself but I certainly could not afford all of it. I thought that I had found some financial help but this fell through and now I am well past the closing date anyway.

I wonder how many other conductors are actually trying to put themselves about, to attend conferences and spread the word, but are just not managing to get there.

When it comes down to it, if anyone from the conductive world goes to these things then most of the people who are able to make it are not conductors.

So where does this leave us with the development of our work and our knowledge?

We are probably not going to be doing it by way of conferences.


Maybe this is especially a problem now because of the “credit crunch”. I can see that it must be very difficult for people to promise that they will be able to afford to fund me in a few months' time. But I can also see that people who are arranging conferences have to know well in advance whether enough participants will be able to pay to be there.

None of this of course is my problem, at least not directly, except that I am stuck in the middle and don’t get to go!

Rediscovering Britain

"No fusion here"
Gellert Hotel, Budapest 2006

Each time I visit the UK I learn something new about the place, about the economy, about new customs, about the changing fashion, and often about the language.

On my last flying visit I was shocked by the effects of the credit crunch, by the rise in prices and the closure of many large and even more smaller shops.

I was thrilled by the clothes, especially the wonderful shoes on sale. They come in the most amazing shapes and colours and with ever more amazing heels. What I found even more fascinating was actually to see young woman wearing their five-inch stilettos on a Saturday night in town!

New food, new language

When my niece and nephew were younger, I would always learn new “cool” words from them. Now they are older they use a similar language to mine!

This last visit I discovered that yet again there was a new language to learn, that has come about through the appearance of numerous new and interesting fast-food stores and restaurants in every high street.

This new food is called “fusion food”, that is combinations of foods with different countries of origin, and is now to be found on every high street, bringing many new dishes that I had not come across before.

Ÿ Thai green curry pie, peas and mash,
Ÿ Masala chicken tikka pizza
Ÿ Indian tapas

all alongside good “old-fashioned” curry and chips!

I had never heard of “fusion food” before but when I googled it there are pages and pages of suggestions. There were also fusion restaurants, fusion recipes, fusion catering services, fusion lifestyle, fusion clothing, even something headed fusion descriptions, whatever that maybe! So it is not that new at all. Just new to me.


I suppose the nearest thing that I had previously heard about before, resembling fusion food, was the chips with curry sauce served at a chippie in West Bromwich long before I even went off to Budapest in 1989. It was however not at that time available in Norwich!

Was this then a combination of the best of British and Indian?

I think that these days “fusion food” means something a bit more sophisticated.

I spotted a few different trends. There was the use of a traditional dish adding new ingredients like a pizza with Mexican toppings, there were noodle or rice dishes from different countries being combined, while “wraps” contain just about anything theses days from chicken curry to mozarella.

There are restaurants selling entirely new dishes created from ingredients from different cultures, and there are restaurants selling dishes from various different Asian countries all under one roof, and Italian too.

Fusion food, that was my new expression when I was in UK in March. I look forward with interest to my next language lesson this summer!



Below are few of the pizzas available on a flyer advertising a new pizza delivery service. Apart from the usual Italian ones that are still available you can also purchase the following –

Hawaian - sweet Caribbean chicken, sweet corn and pineapple
Mexican special- onions, spicy mince. Jalapenos (peppers) and crushed chilli
Meat Mayhem - pepperoni, meat tikka, spicy beef and green peppers
Classic- onions chiken-tikka, pineapple, green chilli, green peppers.
New Oriental Express – onions, pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms

Extra toppings - tikka, spicy mince, tandori etc, etc

By the time I got to the end of this list I had actually forgotten that I was reading about pizzas!

The Conductive Education Children’s Library?

On your marks!
Get set!
May 18th 2009

Gill Maguire has left a lovely comment on my posting about Knautschi the Caterpillar,

She asked me if I know about the book The Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, 1969. She has even given me a reference for it.
Thank you Gill.

The book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was, and I believe still is, very popular in England. I remember it well from the bookshelves at my sister’s house in the 1980s, her children loved it and so did I.

Its that synchro - thing again

Only yesterday I went into the Kindergarten group to collect a child to come to work on my latest project. A child who had not yet met Knautschi. I met her coming towards me with a book in her hands. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it was Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt, (The Small Insatiable Caterpillar)!

It is popular here in Germany too!

A few years ago a puppet theatre put on a wonderful performance of Die Kliene Raupe Nimmersatt for our “Petö” children and their families. There were a great many adults enjoying themselves too.

And it seems that Gill is a children’s librarian too!

So conductors take note for when you are searching for that elusive book that will add just a little bit extra to next week’s curriculum, Gill could be your man!


Monday 18 May 2009

Bruises, pain and tiredness

"The adventure of a lifetime 1989-1993"
The Chain Bridge, Budapest, 2006

Andrew Sutton referred recently in his blog to a TV programme first shown in the USA in 2004. I read the transcript of this show and, as Andrew reported, it is a truly awful account. Reporting that Conductive Education causes pain and tiredness in children. Really!

Here is just one small piece of what I read:

“Most of the time, it's hard work on hard wood for these kids. A group of six-month olds may be ready for a nap, but instead, they’re working on a table called a plinth. Petö modeled it on a Nazi concentration camp bunk with little cushion or comfort. The idea is to force a child like Blaine to feel the movement -- a controlled and constructive use of pain.”

One of the parents responds with the following:

“He [Blaine] has bruises. All the kids have them and they laugh about them, because they’ve been working so hard,” says Blaine’s mother, Lesley.

Kids like any other. Why not?

I have been thinking about these few lines on and off ever since I read them and asking myself a few questions.

Why is it that many people think that children with motor disorders should not get tired after a full day of activity, just like other children do?

Why do some people think that children with a motor disorder should not hurt themselves when they play just like all other children do?

Why is it that some people think that children with motor disorders should not go home with bruises after a day full of play, just as other children do?


It is lovely to see children playing together or alone, playing so hard that they drop off to sleep anywhere. Arms and legs and head drooping just like a rag doll as they are carried to bed.

Absolutely soundo!

Why is this lovely state of exhaustion so often denied children with motor disorders, or even frowned upon? These children are children too. Children who should also be allowed to tire themselves to exhaustion.

Many times I have heard how, after a first conductive session, a child has slept all afternoon or has aching muscles, or bruises, and had questions inquiring whether this is normal.

Often we are asked what have we done to the children to make them so tired. Some parents are surprised: they have never seen their motor disabled child exhausted by play before. The children will have used parts of their bodies which are rarely in action and have got aching muscles. This is often a new experience for their parents too.

Most parents are satisfied with a calming reassurance that their child is now experiencing what is normal for all three- or four-year-olds who have just started attending Kindergarten: they fall asleep in the afternoon. These children carry on attending the conductive groups.

A few parents, though, are so shocked by the experience of a tired and bruised child that they stop coming to the group, returning home to wrapping their child once more in cotton wool.

A similar example comes to mind, not this time with children but with a teenager. My client wanted so much to march the hills with his dad and brother in the Schutzenfest march. So we trained together for weeks. He reported to me afterwards that many “omis” ( he meant old ladies) called to him from the crowds lining the streets saying: “You don’t have to do this!”, “Oh you poor boy you must be so tired.”, “Sit down and have a rest!”

These remarks upset him, he had put his hands over his ears so he couldn’t hear them any more. He was so proud of the work that he had put in to achieve the fitness needed to be there beside his Dad, yet here were some people trying to take it away from him. Thank goodness there were twice as many cheering him on, praising him for his achievement. He couldn’t understand why these people took it for granted that his twin brother was there but thought it all too much for him.

Fortunately he is a very determined young man. He stayed at it and completed the march, not once but three times over the weekend. He had aching muscles but the whole family including his very own Oma (Grandma) had huge smiles on their faces.

These are children and young people like other children. They just do not move about quite as much as non-disabled children, unless encouraged to do so.

We need to encourage them to do so. We need to encourage them to get exhausted. The strength and stamina that they build up through natural movement will help them in all aspects of their life, posture will improve, all physical abilities will develop, so will their perception of the world, their concentration span and social skills will improve.

Tiredness is a natural state of being after a hard day of physical or mental work.

Pain and bruises

It is difficult to get tired through physical work or play without hurting oneself and acquiring a bruise or two along the way, as all conductors will know from their personal experience!

As a child I learnt to count in the bath, by counting the bruising on my legs as I washed away the grime of the day’s play . I learnt about more and less than by comparing legs, I learnt about big and small by comparing sizes. I learnt the names of the colours that occur at the different stages of bruising lilac and pink, yellow, blue and green.

A child with motor disorders may have even more bruises than I had as a youngster. Often they have very bony arms and legs and many bruise very easily. I doubt whether there were any children in our group last week without a bruise or two, and no conductor either. We were all working flat out, and a bruise or two is all part of our day’s work.

I do not stand behind each child to prevent an elbow or a knee hitting the wall as they walk past or banging on to the plinth as they roll over. If I were to prevent this pain each time, then they will never learn how to prevent it themselves.

Of course, I hope I will be there to grab hold of them whenever they decide it is time to roll off the plinth!

Out of interest...

In the British news this morning was the announcement that the new Chief Scout has been chosen to take over the five-year post from Peter Duncan later this year. I am a bit out of touch with what goes on in the TV world in general as I have no televison but I do know who Peter Duncan is as he was a former presenter of the long-running children’s TV programme Blue Peter.

By the way, when I was an art student in Farnham, Surrey, I used to see the famous Blue Peter dog Shep going for a walk with John Noakes along Farnham High Street.

I must admit that Bear Grylls is a name that I do not recognise. He does, however, sound a bit rugged, an ideal choice to fill the post. He is a real live adventurer, ex-SAS, with his own survival TV show, and this is what the Scouting movement is all about. About testing your limits, learning skills,having fun and while doing so getting tired and bruised and healthy!

It seems that there is something of the 'Scouting Spirit' to be seen in a conductive upbringing.


Andrew Sutton’s blog -

Mind and muscle (TV report) -

Bear Grylls, new Chief Scout -

Three birds in the hand and a patch of clover

" Spot the odd-one-out!"

" Spot the four odd-ones-out!"
May 17th 2009

Peace and quiet before the start of the day

I left my bike at home today. The weather is cold and damp and I have a bit of a cough, so I decided to enjoy a tram ride and a ten minute walk through the fields. It is nice to do this sometimes when I start work a bit later and can miss the early crowds on the public transport as I did today.

The cuckoo

This morning I took the time to stand quietly for a few minutes in the middle of a field, listening to my first cuckoo of the year.

Every year I am somehow surprised when I hear this really quite boring note from a far for the very first time. I suppose it is because it is still so cold in May that it is hard to believe that he is already back.

The odd thing is that, although I hear him every year somewhere or other in Europe, I don’t think that I have ever seen one.

The sparrow

This makes me think about the experience with the sparrows on Saturday afternoon. Those cheeky sparrows that stole my cake!

Usually sparrows are flitting about here and there, quite scatty birds really. But here was a bunch of them who were really trusting and came close enough, and sat still enough, for me to get a glimpse of what sparrows really look like and see how extremely beautiful they are. I could see the pattern of their feathers and the shape of their beaks. I could even see the cake crumbs sticking to them!

The nuthatch

My favourite bird is one that I often see around the Conductive Education centre in Nürnberg is the nuthatch. As they scuttle up and down a tree trunk they sometimes freeze for long enough to see every detail. I am making one at the moment out of cardboard that’s quite a job, turning out harder than I imaged. I got started on this when I saw a model that a friend had made of a bird of prey and it was so realistic I thought that it was a stuffed bird!

When I discovered that it was a cardboard kit I just had to have one. Having decided that being a beginner at modelling I should start small I chose a nuthatch. Watch this spot, perhaps in a year or so there may be something to see!

The clover

I was on my return walk through the fields this evening and just as I reached the spot where I was when I heard the cuckoo this morning he started up again, singing the same old tune. As it seemed like he was singing especially for me I stood quietly again for another listen.

The pictures heading this post are what I saw as I looked around.

As I said in my “ Natural Observation” posting on Sunday, I don’t search for them they just jump out at me as did these four…..

…..and yes, I did pick them after taking the photographs!


References on my blog



Model birds-


Cuckoo rhyme

In April the cuckoo shows his bill;
In May he is singing all day;
In June he changes his tune;
In July he prepares to fly;
In August away he must.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Developing human potential

"A musician in the park"

I had a conversation last week with someone who I respect, someone I have known for a long time and who has been involved in Conductive Education for almost as long as I have.

It is someone I think of as having a conductive soul, someone who really understands.

I was therefore shocked when I heard him speak these words: “Science, neurology, changing the pathways in the brain through Conductive Education”.

I have been pondering over this all week.

What do I do?

Could I have been so wrong in my judgement of this person, was I really wrong? Perhaps only a little bit wrong. Perhaps it is all the strange stuff that is written about Conductive Education that leads to people talking that way, whatever they actually “know”.

I tried hard to explain what I thought about this to him at the time.

I explained what I do as a conductor. This isn’t anything like what he was supposing, which was the “remoulding of the brain and mending of broken pathways”! This isn’t possible, well it isn’t yet proven that this is possible.

So, what am I?

What I do as a conductor is to develop human potential, to use abilities that are in fact already there, undiscovered and teach clients how to build on these and how to create new ones.

I begin by teaching my clients “tricks” to perform the actions they wish to make but first I need to know what the clients themselves intend to do.

I then break down the intended action to in as many movements for each individual as needed and check whether clients can make these relevant movements.

If we are making coffee I ask many questions. Can the client stand up, remain standing, lift an arm, grasp something, supinate and pronate the arm? Can the client actually remember the process how to make coffee?

The intention to make coffee is there the brain power is there but maybe the knowledge or the movements are not. This is where conductors and Conductive Education step in. I teach step by step how to achieve the client’s aim of standing, or perhaps even sitting, in the kitchen to make coffee and then to drink it.

I never give a thought to “brains”, “pathways” etc, and wouldn’t be any the wiser if I did.
What am I?

I am a pedagogue!

Natural observation

"Kleeblatt"- Friday's catch!
Observing nature

While walking home from work on Friday (the 15th) I found seventeen four-leafed clovers and three five-leafed clovers!

That brings this year’s tally to about thirty, which is well below last year’s total of over one hundred. 2008 was my best year ever for the amount of four-or-more-leafed clovers that I have collected but it was in 2002 that I found the clover leaf with the biggest number of leaves. It had eight!
I don’t go searching for them I just happen upon them, but if I find one I do look for a second on the same plant. More often than not there can be three or four more in the same place.

I was fourteen when I found my first four-leaf clover.I was cleaning my teeth in a field. We were camping in at Corfe Castle. With my head bent low, to avoid white stripes of toothpaste on my button down shirt and first-ever pair of Levi jeans, I “spotted” it.

I have been “spotting” them ever since. Or maybe they spot me

Maybe I do look at the grass more than most people, I am fascinated by the miniature world that exists below my feet. I like nothing better than lying on my tummy, face close to the grass watching the comings and going in what appears to be a jungle.

I really don’t go hunting for clovers. The pattern of a clover patch is different when there is a four-leafed leaf amongst it. It is this change of pattern that I notice. This may have something to do with my training in the visual arts or quite probably more to do with why I trained in the visual arts. I was observing oddities like this long before I went to art school.

The motivating pedometer

Northern Germany, May 2009

Last weekend I unexpectedly spent a couple of days with my young client in Northern Germany. Not a work visitbut a social one, which was nice for a change.

On the Saturday we had the whole day to ourselves, which gave us the opportunity to try out the new Schrittzähler (pedometer) that I had bought for him for his birthday.

We were very interested to find out how such a machine would work on the hip of a young man with athetoid cerebral palsy, on a body with lots of movements other than those that would normally be measured by a pedometer.
Auch in Deutsch

After breakfast we set about reading the manual. I had the English booklet and my client the German version. Between us it took less than half an hour to get it set up, to programme the time, the weight and step length of the user, and to set it up with a German voice! Yes it speaks too!

I was impressed with my own technical skills but I was surprised when my young man said that he was too and that until then he had not had much faith in my technical abilities. Now there's confidence for you!

I hadn’t been too worried as luckily there are five teenagers in the house who could have rescued us if the technical language had been too much for me!

My client was relieved and happy when eventually he had his new machine clasped to his jeans and it began to speak to him. He discovered the time, the temperature, his burn-off of calories, as well as the steps and kilometres that he had walked.

Now to put it to the test

What would this pedometer do with all his over-movements? The answer was nothing other than what it should do. It measured the steps forwards but also those backwards, which are often needed to retain balance, but it still worked, measuring only steps and no other movements.

So with the breakfast table cleared, pedometer securely fastened on hip, walking boots tied tightly, extra T-shirt on and windcheater fastened to the chin, we were off.

Off to the highest, windiest, southerly side of the village. It is part of our usual tramp. Always the first port of call is the graveyard where we admire the flowers and say 'Hello' to the Great Grandmas and Grandpas, the Omas and Opas who lie at rest there.

We now know that this first stage is 1000 paces, 0.6 kilometres, from home.

From here we continued on through our favourite wooded area, around the eastern side of the village, back down into the valley and up the other side. All this time the Schrittzähler was continuously telling us the time, the temperature, and the distance travelled! I worried that the battery would soon run low but I was thrilled by how motivating it was and how it brought a new dimension to our walks together.

My young client loves the countryside where he lives, often telling me how herlich (beautiful) it is. He asked, as he always does, why he had never come walking here before. He forgets that he couldn’t.

It is only since he trained so hard, nearly three years ago, to join in the marching on the weekend of the Schutzenfest, that he can now walk so far.

It really was beautiful

As I have never been here in May before it was probably also the first time that my client has walked these paths in May. The fresh colours were amazing, especially the yellow dandelions in the bright green meadows. These will soon be mown for fodder for the milking cows, who sadly live indoors.

We decided on taking the short cut home as it was nearly lunch-time. After lunch the pedometer was the motivation for a second round and we ended up with ten kilometres on the clock before it was time for me to catch the train home.

We had had a lovely day together and we are both thrilled to bits with the success of the pedometer. Especially pleasing is the fact that it has a loudspeaker which makes it much more practical to use. There is also a personal alarm which my client is pleased with as it will give him peace of mind if he is out walking alone.

Having seen this weekend how motivating using the pedometer is I am going to invest in another one to use with other clients. It is amazing how quickly the kilometres accumulate, especially just walking around the house and up and down the stairs. It was wonderful to see how motivating this is.


In one of the photos above you can see my client, who was taking a rest after walking several kilometres, absently mindedly plucking at the petals of a flower.

How many of us do this?

We don't think about it. We just pick a flower and pull off the petals, sometimes at the same time saying the rhyme "She loves me, she loves me not".

Watching my client doing this just as anyone else would do it brought a lump to my throat. I thought about the hours that we have spent over the past eleven years, learning not only to walk, to drink and eat, to speak and sing, but also to pluck the petals from flowers!

We have also learnt to rock at rock concerts, swing at parties, cook dinners like on TV, paint for exhibitions and to march the surrounding countryside!


Schrittzähler – pedometer
Schutzenfest- shooting club festival, usually in July or August

Not alone for long

Hesperiden Gardens and Johannis Cemetery, May 2009

Sharing bits in-between for conductors

Fresh air

Just what the doctor always orders, it works wonders. And what wonders there are still to be discovered in St. Johannis, the area of the city where I live.

Today I took a walk around the Hesperiden Gardens, which were reconstructed in the 1980s.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries the Hesperiden gardens were part of the gardens of the Patriziers, the local wealthy business men. Seen as a status symbol of the blossoming culture of the city of Nürnberg they were decorated with many Barock statues and fountains and planted with citrus fruits.

The name is taken from the gardens in Greek mythology, where the daughters of Hesperos were given the job of guarding the Golden Apples, which were non-the-less stolen by Heracles. In English we call these the Hesperides.

It is nice to see that the lemon trees are blooming in the gardens again. After taking a walk and photographing the beautiful pathways, trees and statues I made my way to the Kaffestube, a tiny courtyard where I could drink coffee and cake in the last rays of the sun.


I sat alone at a table for six but alone I remained for only a few seconds. As soon as my apple cake arrived so did several very friendly sparrows. They stole crumbs, actually I think they would have attempted to remove the whole cake if I had allowed them. One or two of braver characters ate from my hand.

As I was unsuccessfully guarding my apple cake, just as the daughters of Hesperos had failed in guarding their apples, a man sitting opposite photographed me. I am waiting for the photo to arrive by email!


There was an interesting arrangement at this café. It closes at 6 p.m. and reopens immediately as a restaurant for the rest of the evening, owned by different people.


Now that could be a business arrangement that could become widespread in the future.

Here we are already beginning along a similar path of cost-sharing by sharing our conductive rooms, when not in use, with the neighbouring kindergarten, which needs a bit of extra space, especially on rainy days.

Lets just hope that it doesn't lead to job sharing!

After the sparrows had finished off my cake I began to make my way back home but changed my mind and walked back towards the Johannis Cemetery, just next door to the coffee house.

I have walked past the cemetery many times, I even considered moving into a flat that overlooks it, but I had never been inside. I hadn’t realised how enormous it is. There are rows and rows of horizontal grave stones, all covered in spring flower arrangements. There are many famous Nürnberger Burgers (folk) buried there.

It is beautiful.

More nice bits in-between for conductors! I will certainly be visiting both these places again.


Hesperiden Gardens

Patrizier -

Saturday 16 May 2009

Knautschi’s metamorphosis

Knautschi the caterpillar and butterfly

Knautschi has been accompanying us in our work throughout the past couple of weeks, actually ever since I found him in the streets of Nürnberg on May Day (first photo).

The children have learnt to love him.

Actually, with some it was love at first sight but with one little boy, who already has an ataxic tremor, it took a bit longer. He shook even more, with fear, the first time that he saw Knautschi. Now it is an altogether different story, he would love to have him by his side all day long. He strokes him and calls to him and practises his speech with him.

We need to hang up Knautschi as high as possible to prevent tiny fingers from tangling his strings!

Wakey-wakey, rise and shine, the morning’s fine

Each morning as we open the windows and let in the fresh, sometimes very fresh, air we call cock-a-doodle-do in the hope of waking Knautschi from his slumbers in his cosy bed on the wall bars.. He is difficult to wake, he sleeps very deeply.

Some days he is sleeping so soundly that, as we prepare to dive from our stools on to the carpet, all kitted out in our diving gear, we have to turn our snorkel into a siren and wake him with this.

Knautschi is a very sound sleeper. The children need lots of puff to get him out of his bed and into action but they are delighted because once awake Knautschi is immediately ready for play. He needs no time for eye-rubbing or for a cup tea. He hops down from his perch and is off on his rounds making everyone laugh.

He shows the children what he has been practising when they were away and then has a go at all the new movements that the children are trying to do. Sometimes he gets in a real tangle, which is when we get calls of “Knautschi come here. I will show you how to do it much better than that”.

The task that he has been best at was putting his hand in the small of his back so that he could pull up his trousers, if he had any! He taught all the children how to do it really quickly, faster than any conductor could!

Caterpillars, moths and beautiful butterflies

In the first days that Knautschi was with us we talked about how long he would remain a caterpillar and what and how much he would have to eat to grow enough to turn eventually into a butterfly or maybe even a moth.

The children were convinced that he would be a beautiful butterfly and not a moth but they were more interested in him remaining Knautschi the caterpillar, whose legs got in a tangle and sometimes even got stuck between the slats of the stools and plinths. Of course this required the emergency services to come out to his rescue.

Little hands made light work of the rescue operations and we could soon get on with our daily work, with Knautschi back safely on his mat, or back nibbling away at the children’s break-time snack. While he nibbled they discussed what was his favourite food, which was always a toss-up between luncheon-meat-with-cheese sandwich or sliced apple. They never wanted to collect leaves for him from the garden, they thought that their own food was the best for his development.


The metamorphosis of Knautschi wasn’t very obvious it was actually very sudden. Not at all like it would be in real life, as we would have had him out of action as a pupa or chrysalis for a day or two, too long without our Knautschi!
In this non-feeding stage of his development Knautschi would be undergoing a complete metamorphosis, resulting in a total reorganisation to form his adult butterfly body. As we needed Knautschi this amazing process needed to happen fast!

We couldn’t spare him, we needed him in our work, so we compacted Knautschi’s metamorphosis into just one night, while wrapped in a “leaf” in his wall-bar bed.

We didn’t talk to the children the day before about what may happen overnight. We had discussed caterpillars and butterflies with them during the weeks before and now it was to be a surprise.

And a surprise it was

The faces were a delight when on the last day of our block Knautschi no longer clattered along on his flat clumpy feet. He flew gracefully through the air, landing on heads and hands and smelling the flowers on the wall, and meeting other butterflies friends there.

It was magic

Not the metamorphosis. That wasn’t magic, that was hard work, as it is with the children too. It was, however, magic to see the children’s faces as Knautschi flew in for breakfast. They were fascinated. They called to him and introduced themselves to him. They held out two upturned hands for him to use as a landing place, at the same time making suggestions how he could practise flying and landing. They told him where he should fly to and what he could see in our room. Poor Knautschi ended up flying round in circles!

I can’t help thinking about and comparing Knautschi’s metamorphosis, his transformation overnight, with the changes that we have seen in the children during the past few weeks. They have really come on in leaps and bounds, and Knautschi has played a huge role in making their own ongoing metamorphosis a lot of fun.

They asked whether caterpillar-Knautschi will ever come back. A part of them was sad that he was gone, despite now having the beautiful butterfly fluttering over their heads. We assured them that the butterfly will lay eggs and we will perhaps meet the baby-Knautschis again in the next block

I had better get creating!

I wonder how much sadness there is for these children as their bodies transform and they learn to be more and more independent. Are they sad that they don’t need so much attention as before? Are they worried about being left alone?
Are the tears when asked today to do something that they learnt yesterday, tears of sadness because they now perform that task alone?

The happiness and joy of now being able to do something themselves always quickly returns when they are given the reassurance that we are there to help with the next, more difficult task to be learnt.

But this sadness is something that I have experienced often, sometimes children have even verbalised it. All these changes, the developments towards independence, also take something away. We must be sure to replace it with a different kind of care and attention.

Knautschi the caterpillar is gone forever

Just as we put on our thinking hats to plan each step onwards and upwards for the children, I now have to put on mine to begin creating the next generation of little Knautschis. Knautschi in the form the children knew him for a relatively long time is gone forever: the new form, the butterfly will remain. It will be this butterfly’s eggs that will become new Knautschis , and in turn will begin their own transformations along side the children’s next time we meet.

Butterfly was bought at Dinosaur Provisional Park -

References to Metamorphosis and Conductive Education-
“And how can anyone argue with results? Before our eyes, children with cerebral palsy underwent an incredible metamorphosis from total immobility to walking with canes. We were told how it works. We were told why it works.”
“Like the butterfly, the logo is the representation of metamorphosis.”

Susie Mallett