Sunday, 30 August 2009

What happened to the summer?

"Altweibersommer"

"Gorleston, Summer of '65"
I don’t know the summer break syndrome

Long summer holidays are of course something that I loved as a child.

The endless days of waking with light and sunshine streaming through the windows, knowing that my day would be filled with joy.

I knew that I would be running through the sand with the dog, catching shrimps in the shallows while my Dad caught dabs, and hunting the beach for holes with stones around them. I knew that I would be sitting on the veranda in the cool evenings, eating the catch of the day, which mum always cooked. Telling stories and day-dreaming about the smugglers on the beach, the fishermen out in their boats and hidden treasures in the sand, then sleeping the sleep of heat and exhaustion, my skin tight with salt, sea and sand, knowing that in the morning I would not be getting on my bike and heading for school.

These holiday "breaks" changed when I was a student, strawberry-picking, factory-work, community art projects, and lots of happy times helping Mum in the garden.

The hot summer sunshine didn’t seem to shine endlessly in through the window any more, but it has done again this year even though I have had no holiday. There have been days when I have felt that same old summer feeling, for the first time in a long, long time.

I am self-employed, so I don’t have summer breaks

I usually work more in the summer than in any other months of the year, as this is the time that many of my clients are searching for a conductor.

I am so glad to have been able to pass on some of this work this year to “German conductor No.3” instead of having to say No.

Thank you for helping me out!

Does Cyberspace know the summer-break syndrome?

I wrongly anticipated that the so-called “summer break” that many in the world of education know, would have a quieting effect on the blogosphere. The exact opposite has happened.

There are new "CE blogs" appearing right, left and centre, one CE-blogger even opened up a special summer-holiday blog, and my own blog has been receiving comments at a greater pace than ever before. I have made contacts with many new “friends”, and some visits are even lined up. The world did not go away this summer, as was anticipated.

I am glad about this, as I didn’t feel so alone in my work, and enjoyed the activity on my blog.

Autumn colour

I must admit that I am looking forward to getting an Autumn break, perhaps. I shall not guarantee the same pace of posting on the blog if that happens! I need a holiday and I hope that I will have time to take one, so that later this year I can catch the St Martin’s Summer, the Indian Summer or, best of all the names for this, the Altweibersommer.

I love the subtle changes in colour in the autumn but most of all I love those misty, moisty mornings when the spiders, having jumped across the path on their gossamer threads, leave sticky silks that wrap tightly around my body, giving me the feeling that I am being transported off to the land of elves and fairies.

Many years ago now I was delighted to discover that it is these strong, floating spiders' threads that I so love, that give the name in the German language to this gorgeous time of the year.

As you can imagine I can relate to this definition in German much more readily than to a name that probably describes the time of the year that wars with the American Indians took place!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

It is much too good to use as firewood!

Paint-a-long-a Bob Ross

End products from the team


SB's first paintings on canvas, 2006

Following the wonderful comment on the posting where I asked about what conductors need to know, I thought that I would open up a new posting for you to send in suggestions for the most resourceful uses of a plinth, that piece of furniture that is the bain of a conductor's life and back!

Right at the bottom of this posting is a video to illustrate my favourite use of all, and at the top are photos depicting more of the same.

The video is not of one of my adults' groups, it is a staff meeting!

We are all painting along to a video of TV artist Bob Ross talking his viewers step-by-step through this painting.

Come on, you conductors out there in Norway. Lill surely you have a picture somewhere of our lovely boys sliding down the road on an up-turned plinth!

I wish that I had thought to do this with you while I was there. We could have had them all on one instead of pulling three one-man sledges at a time!

And what about the pictures of a plinth floating down the river, Tom Sawyer-style, tractor-tyre inner tubes strapped on for bouyancy! Who has those photographs?

Sorry no prizes given for the best, just a smile or two in the offering.

Notes

Bob Ross -

"How to use a plinth"

Just one question, Ági: "Do we know each other?"

"Today's afters for at least ten!", Schwäbische Hall, August 2009

While sitting on the ICE train last night, unusually just longing for the journey to end so that I could be at home in my flat, I was pondering and planning my next blog posting, in between dozing and reading a wonderful book.

I decided that a comment written on 27th August on my posting " Today's starter for ten" was much too good to be buried in the depths of my blog and be lost there. It needed to be up here on the front page to be shared with as many people as possible.

This comment came about because in the last paragraph of my above-mentioned posting. I invited anyone with an idea to chip in.

What do we need to know?

I had asked:

How about hearing other conductor-client suggestions for the "What a conductor needs to know" list!

The only person who has sent in a list of their own is Ági. Her remarks really do replicate the list that I had formed with my client this week and I really do feel the need to share them with a wider audience.

So here on my blog with a big thank you is Ági's comment, followed by my answer.

Thank you

Ági wrote:

Susie, hi

What an interesting topic. I wish I had my 'green book' with me to look up what it says.

All I can remember that when I pulled 'the conductor' topic during CE verbal exam with Mrs Beck, it felt like describing a superhuman..:-)

What I have learnt, that I need to know is how to be open, intuitive and accepting toward others and myself.

To see and act according to my values, rather than learnt knowledge only.

I have learnt that

-there is no rule, only a guideline

-there is no bad idea, only a bad attitude

-there is no conductive equipment, only lack of resourcefulness

-there is no laziness, only lack of motivation

-there is no useless attempt, only a missed opportunity

-there is no right or wrong, only learning experience

Does anybody feel the same way?

My reply:

Thanks for this, Ági

Your wonderful list is almost a copy of the list that I have but which circumstances this week have prevented me from posting.

Thanks for doing it for me.

I totally agree with each and every point you make, but especially this one: "there is no conductive equipment, only lack of resourcefulness".

I will publish a posting, hopefully tonight, with which I will illustrate this.

One of the qualities that a 19-year-old client suggested yesterday was bravery! I thought that this was very observant of him.

The important qualities of my day so far are communication skills, inner strength, a healthy soul, spontaneity and very quick thinking.

Just one question Ági: "Do we know each other?"

Susie

Notes

http://www.susie-mallett.org/2009/08/todays-starter-for-ten.html

Friday, 28 August 2009

Variety, the spice of life

"Let the sunshine in", August 27th 2009, by Susie Mallett

What to say?

As a student-conductor I learned gradually how to prepare a daily routine for a group of twenty-five children or adults. Obviously, this was not the first time I had made such "lesson plans" as I had been working as a teacher before I went to the Petö Institute.

I had also had experience of writing work-plans for myself f preparing of four-course meals, when learning cookery and nutrition at school. Every detail that I wrote would always be double-checked by the examiner before the exam took place, and on the day too to see whether it actually worked. Everything down to the time taken to peel a potato and washing up between preparing different courses was checked to see whether the whole thing really did end up as the intended meal and tidy work place.

Despite these experiences it was still a difficult learning process at the PAI. especially as in the first weeks when I could not understand a word that was being said in the group. I had yet to learn the language!

Perhaps this was to my advantage, and the more I consider it the more I am certain that it was.

I realised that I could work with a child without using of words. I worked in the same way in my first months in Germany when I had little idea of the German language. I did however by then have wider knowledge of Conductive Pedagogy, which helped to some extent!

As a student-conductor I was not devising programmes for twenty-five from day one but in the first weeks in my first group I was working alone for an hour each day with four English children in the spina bifida group: making up games and activities appropriate for their stage of development. Yes, I suppose that I was thrown in at the deep end because I could speak English! At that time very few Hungarians could. This was before the explosion of language schools opening in Budapest, and Russian was still the foreign language “learnt” by pupils at school (and at the Petö Institute).

Very grateful I was too for what I learned in this haven


It was an hour of freedom from trying quite impossibly to make head or tail of what was going on around me. I was allowed to work in English. No one ever said to me what I should say, I knew only that I had to find the right words so that the children would understand what they could do and what they could learn.

Gradually the size of the groups that I prepared activities for grew, and also included Hungarian children or adults and the Hungarian language. Eventually I was working with whole groups. But it was in those early days in the spina bifida group, with the four small English-speaking children, that I realised that it was not important what I said but how it was understood.

The children needed to understand what they were doing and what they could achieve by doing so. The words that we used to describe this did not need to be the same each day, just as the games were not the same each day, but they had to be words appropriate to the situation.

Just as all the games and activities that a client takes part in during a session change, so too does the language used, the tempo, the rhythm and all the other means of facilitation.

Least said

When a client cannot yet sit straight then there is no need for me to speak this instruction. First the stages needed to achieve this position need to be learnt, and perhaps also spoken.

If a client has learnt to bend and stretch a leg in a controlled way, then there is no need for us to speak or count while doing it.

The aim of our work is for clients to solve situations spontaneously in their everyday life. It is not our aim to teach people to walk down the street counting from one to five. It is our aim to teach them to do it through whatever means they need to be independent, all the time lessening the need for external facilitation to which the spoken word and counting belong. Our aim is the internalisation of the action, meaning that the motivation and the activity comes from clients themselves.

We change the methods of facilitation used in the “life” in the group continuously, until it is no longer necessary to speak at all about the movements and it is enough to say "Please take your place on a chair" for the position to be reached spontaneously.

The time that this process takes of course varies from client to client which is why we as conductors learn to differentiate in all we do. It is also why it is necessary to have two or more conductors in a larger group, allowing for groups to be divided for certain times in the day for some of the activities.

In the stroke group I may have people who can say only a few words or only a few letters. These words will perhaps be used in a rhythm, which assists in relaxing muscles enough to carry out a movement. Another client in the same group, however, may only be able to say something out loud when working with the side of the body not affected by the stroke, and when using the affected side will try to achieve the same result only by thinking .

This will all be accommodated in the activities of the group.

Always changeable

There are no words or counting rhythms or thought processes appropriate for each and every client in a group, for each and every day, or for each and every part of every day.

I cannot ask a colleague working with a kindergarten group what she says in a particular situation or for a particular movement, if I am working with a group of teenage boys and looking for advice as to what to say there. In the same way I cannot speak to seventy-year-olds in a Parkinson’s groups in the same way as I do to three-year-olds.

And who forecasts the changes?


How do we know when changes are needed and what changes are needed?

We have our well-trained observation skills for exactly this purpose, to see what is needed when. To train these skills is why as students we were encouraged to sit down and watch when the groups got too full of conductors.

How I wish that I had time to sit and watch my groups working and playing these days.

I love to sit and watch, I learn so much and enjoy so much to see how children especially put to use in their play what they have learnt, as it were "automatically". I just cannot understand how some conductors think that because children are enjoying five minutes playing together it is an excuse to leave the room. A time to make some phone calls or do some paper work!
This is such valuable time to learn about the clients, time when new activities can be thought out. It is time that clients often do things spontaneously under their own steam for the first time . It would be such a shame to miss this.

Often though, the process of change comes about "spontaneously": the answers present themselves during the work.

Good observation skills can help the process along.

Conductive Pedagogy is not about plinths, and words, and counting

It is about aims and solutions, it is about observing what people needs in order to learn, physically, socially or psychologically.

It is about finding as many creative ways as possible to teach and to practise what is learnt.

Conductive Pedagogy is a means to use to teach our clients how they can organise their lives.

The path that we take to reach these aims must be as varied as possible, so that it is a representation of real life, which means variety in the language used as well as in the activities.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

More bits-in-between for two conductors


"Paderborn"

" Railway buildings"

" The Cathedral"

"My breakfast"
At the weekend I found myself just half-an-hour away from the city where my lovely friend and colleague lives with her family. Just a fifty-minute bus-trip away and ninety-minutes by train.
My lovely friend happens to find herself in hospital so I just had to go to visit her. It was time anyway for some conductor’s bits-in-between and here were two of us who could do with a fix of conductors' fun!

Although I was a bit out in the sticks, with public transport not running very frequently, I had a choice of train or bus. The train would have been first choice as I love the movement of the train and the smell of the engine, and the atmosphere and architecture of the railway stations. But this time I choose the bus, even though their throbbing engines and awful smell often make me sick, not really my idea of a jolly journey but the railway station is a bit awkward to reach without a car.

With the bus journey only fifty minutes no harm was done to my health when travelling in either direction.
Paderborn

I have been to the town of Paderborn several times but never alone and had therefore never got to grips with the layout of the place.

There was always a Fest of some kind taking place meaning streets full of stalls and people instead of cars.

On this visit I was alone so I could really get to know it. I love the white and grey buildings that predominate in this part of North Germany. A lot of slate is used, not only for the roof of the buildings but also to decorate the walls. This makes a change from the flat, plastered walls of the houses down South where I live.

I window-shopped, breakfasted at the cathedral café and watched the activity on the bustling market-place over coffee, before making my way up the lime-tree avenue to an afternoon of delightful entertainment with my friend and her family at the hospital.

Thank you so much for saving up all that energy, so we could put the conductive world to rights, play with your son, laugh a lot and relax.

PS

In the lift at the hospital there was a wonderful poster advertising the Klinik-clowns who apparently visit every Wednesday morning.

What does a conductor need to know?





"Petö workshop" August 2009

This was the question set for me a couple of days ago by one of my young clients:

We have not had much of a chance to discuss it since then, although he has made a few more practical suggestions such as knowing how to stop young children cry and being very brave.

Today I found a lovely long list on the comments of this recent posting from a conductor called just "Ági".

Thanks Ági.

There is one item that was particularly appropriate fitting well to my work today and is about a topic that I think strongly about.
Àgi writes:”there is no conductive equipment, only lack of resourcefulness“

I mentioned in an earlier posting that in November I shill be at a conference in Nürnberg and that I shill make a point of listening to a presentation there all about the wonder of a plinth! It will not, may I add, be presented by a conductor.

Furniture with a difference

I called in a bit of parental assistance today. Life was proving just a bit difficult so Dad and I decided it was time for teamwork. Dad has a garage full of wonderful “furniture” resources.

I am unsure of all the English names for the things that Dad prepared for us, but the names are not important, we worked hard, we got really dirty and we very nearly had fun.

The platform that lifts the cars up for an inspection underneath makes a brilliant table, as it can be set at any height at the press of a button. Dad loaded this with huge nuts and bolts and levers, and "nameless" heavy metal bits and pieces that fit inside each other. We sculpted with them to our heart's content for what seemed like hours.

Dad had also prepared a heavy metal ladder on the floor for us. It had just enough space between the rungs for size-45 feet to walk sideways in it. Dad had tipped all sorts of metal objects on the floor and gave us a bowl with a magnet on the bottom to collect everything in.

The bowl was lifted and “stuck”on the next rung of the ladder with each step, then by crouching down all Dad’s nuts and bolts were collected. Thus the next half an hour also disappeared, as if by magic.

What was in store for us next?

Hanging from the ceiling of the workshop there is a contraption with a flexible hose and a trigger which shoots out air under pressure. Dad had given us a board and three cans of car paint to be creative with. He also gave us permission to be as messy as we liked! It is wonderful to watch how the paint moves through the air if you hit it with the air-gun as it drops out of the jar, or to observe how as a skin starts to form it makes all sorts of interesting waves and ripples and mixing of colours.

We printed off our art works on to paper and hung them up to dry, just like in a proper studio!

Now that really was nearly fun!

Tomorrow we are going to put the paint board on a turntable that has a foot control for the motor. I think this has something to do with removing tyres from their rims.

My client can have a paint brush in one hand, hold tight with the other and power the motor with his foot himself. Almost like driving a car, I imagine! We will learn standing on one foot, holding a paint brush and a handhold, and also how to be creative. All at the same time.
Now that will make an interesting Petö "art-in-action" photo!

We hope that Dad’s and my enthusiasm for our new Petö workshop is rubbing off.

The best bit of all for me was donning my overalls and getting really dirty, as I usually wear white for work even when I am painting!

Note

Plinth presentation -

Monday, 24 August 2009

Today's starter for ten


"Breakfast in Paris" June 2006, by Susie Mallett

A question at breakfast

I don't know about any of you but I am not used to deep and enquiring questions so soon after leaping out of bed. The questions only start really flowing into my thoughts when I am on the bike, cycling as fast as I can to work.

But when they do turn up, like they did today, it is wonderful.

Today before even a good morning I was greeted by my client with "I have a question: What do conductors need to know?"

This was followed shortly after with "No, I mean: what must they know?"

I was lost for words, again

What should I say? Should I list all the subjects that I had touched on in my training? Or rather should I list all the training I had done before I became a conductor. Or perhaps mention all the books that I have read and all people who I have spoken too. Does being a teacher help, or in the case of some conductors, does being a Mum or a Dad help?

Are any of these essential to being a conductor? Whatever they are, they are far too abstract to be a good answer for the person setting the question this morning.

I suggested that we should start a list of things that we think are essential qualities.

My client began his list with "A conductor must know how to be funny but also able to be strict". His quality number two was "A conductor must be able to paint"!

I started my list with "Conductors need to know how to be flexible and know patience, love and inspiration". (These I certainly needed today, in buckets).

We got a bit distracted for the rest of the day while I was dishing out the buckets-full of conductor essentials, from both my own list and my client's, but the paper and pencil will be on the table again tomorrow at breakfast, to be continued.

I will publish it later here.

What do we need to know?

How about hearing other conductor-client suggestions for the "what a conductor needs to know" list!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Lean, stern, Spartan resources

Dr H and HRH, Petö Institute, 1992

Andrew Sutton has left a comment and a question on the posting immediately below this one. I attempted to answer the comment in the comments spot but I failed in my attempt. I probably failed because it is very late and I should be in bed, and because my comment got very long.

I have posted my response to his comment here instead. The much shorter answer to his question is on the same "Quality" posting below.

Andrew, in response to your comment:

The "lean, stern, Spartan principle" that you mention is all part and parcel of the planning for any specific group. The level of sparseness of resources changes, just as everything else in the group, is endlessly changing. We know who can do what, and when and who needs assistance, "how and when".

The resources, the number of conductors in the group is, or if it isn't it certainly should be, planned.

The "how and when" are planned, just like the placing of chairs, the preparing of games, the setting of table etc. are planned.

This management of resources was part of my training and was still evident to me at the Petö Institute on recent visits. There at least it is still a practiced pedagogic tool even if, as you suggest, it is not necessarily preached.

In my student days, on many occasions a group would suddenly become full to overflowing with students. Perhaps lectures were cancelled or there was a change-over of shifts. Whatever the reason always without fail, a fast re-shuffle took place.

For example, a fourth-year student released a conductor to go to catch up on paper work in the office, a third-year student moved in to replace the fourth-year student's position, and the rest of the students divided themselves into two groups. The members of one group grabbed themselves a plinth, a chair or a wall bar and participated, the others pulled up chairs to observe.

This was a brilliant way to learn.

Having a conductor moving my limbs was an invaluable part of my learning. I felt the exact point of pressure and the amount applied.

Periods set aside for observing from afar without having to facilitate are still some of the most profitable, the most exciting and most interesting times in my work.

It really is impossible to work with too many people in a group, especially when leading the group. The clients find it confusing and for the leading conductor it is virtually impossible to observe what a client can do, or not do, when there is always someone giving hands-on help.

It is essential that for every group a conductor knows when to ask assisting conductors to sit down, to take a step away, or to leave the room completely to return later.

It is so important to feel confident enough to do this when working with assistants and other non-conductors, who may not have same the feel for when to step forwards and when not to that fellow conductors should have.

That is also why it is important to plan it in advance. It does not then come as a shock when asked to leave.

Of course the principle of never having quite enough resources should be planned and built in. but that doesn't mean that the resources should not be there waiting in the wings.

A daily routine in a group is a well-scripted performance, right down to the last second of every hour. This means that we know when we cue the next conductor on to the “stage”. It also means that we are prepared for every eventuality, and have the opportunity to be creative and spontaneous and call our extra hands in when possible.
Many a time I have got on to a plinth and worked along-side the teenagers, who love it. Or gone into the next room to prepare for craft sessions. Always at the ready, poised for action at the pre-planned point, also of course spontaneously.
And now...

On several occasions I have been called in when the air-ambulance helicopter has landed in the adjacent field and we need all hands on deck to walk to the windows to watch the adventure.

Sometimes I spend a few spare minutes looking at sites in the Internet featuring "CE" films or photos. I often wonder what is actually going on. I ask myself whether it is really showing Conductive Education whenever I see that there is an adult beside each child, hanging on to some part of that child's body.

This is certainly not what "The Doctor " (Mária Hári) was ordering with her lean, stern, Spartan principle.




Saturday, 22 August 2009

Quality should always come first



In these days of cut-backs everywhere, conductive services are no exception. The centre where I often work in Germany once had eight full-time conductors. We are now down to one full-time and two extras. One extra is a mum conductor with ten hours' work a week and the other extra is me. I do as many hours as I have time for and sometimes more, however I wish to organise it.

In the Kindergarten and the Tagesstätte (after-school) groups I work with these two colleagues, but now unfortunately I have to run my adults groups' and the school group alone.

The quality of the work must stay the same, otherwise I would eventually loose my clients. The quality of the work can do nothing else but stay the same, because I am still the one doing the work.

The quality of my work is the last thing that I shall change. There are many other things that could change, all for the better, but not the quality. To reduce the quality of what I do would be detrimental for me on a personal level, as well as for my business.

I would never be able go home at night with the wonderful feeling that I have the most delightful and fulfilling job in the world, if the quality were not what I am used to giving. My clients would be dissatisfied with second best from me and I would soon be out of business.

So what can change so that I can do some of the work on my own.

The biggest change I have seen, one that took place without any persuasion from me, is that all my clients have actually progressed during these early stages of the “cutbacks”, incredibly fast. They have all realised, children and adults alike, that they can do a lot more than they thought they could. When there is no one there to assistthem for a second or two longer than before, then they often get the urge to give it a go themselves.

The men in the stroke group have taken to moving the plinths and chairs around for me, especially at the end of a long block. This is the work that the "CV" ( national service young man) always did in the past. We don’t have one at the moment.

My clients are so determined to show me that we can work through this together. They have known me for many years and want to continue attending the groups. They attempt many things that they would not have dared do before. I suppose that, as well as inspired to be independent in their own lives , they are also motivated by a wish to please and to help me.

In the children’s groups I have seen how a child can be so eager to get to the cooking table or to a specific game that he has literally got up and because no one was beside him at that moment has gone off under his own steam.

I have changed

I move a lot faster, my reactions have speeded up, I have a hundred and one more ideas in my head to be spontaneous, and I have stopped being over attentive to my clients, giving them a lot more space, which they seem to enjoy.

There are many things that I can consciously change, sometime it is as simple as the layout of the room, swapping two parts of the programme, or giving the group “jobs” as part of their individual programme. A great deal of the tidying up in the group can be incorporated into daily routine, as it is in the Waldorf Kindergartens. I always did this to a certain degree but now it is a permanent feature at several points of our day.

As yet there have been few changes and most of those that I have made are more in my way of thinking than in reducing anything. Not only does the quality remain but at the moment also the quantity.

When it comes to the crunch

The Credit Crunch hasn’t beaten us yet. And as Andrew’s Sutton recent blog pointed out the credit crunch can have a positive influence on our work. Sorting out of the chaff from the wheat, not in the sense that people leave but in the sense that perhaps you have to change your ways, think about what you do more critically.

As yet the only influences that I have seen in the situations I find myself in have been positive ones. The atmosphere is what I imagine it to be in a big crisis, at time of war, of flood, or famine, a real supportive atmosphere.

In our work it should never be a case of “never mind the quality feel the width”. What we offer and give our clients, in these days of cyberspace, could possibly be on show to the whole world. We should be presenting conductive pedagogy only at its best, in whatever form we can at the time.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Petö Methode - das Wunder für Spastisch Gelähmte

"The shepherd's delight" by Susie Mallett, 2008

I planned the day so that lunch would be early and I could settle in front of the television in time for the "Midday" magazine at 13.00.

I asked one of the youngsters to sort out the technical stuff for me, like switching on a television and finding the right channel, and we settled down to our fish dinner.

It is Friday.

I made it in time

The presenter said early on in the show that they would be discussing this that and the other, the "other" being a report about a “therapy for people who had problems with their muscles”. At this point I was less optimistic then I had been earlier.

At 13.20 a storm that seemed to be brewing up caused the television to show nothing but snow. We quickly fiddled with knobs but in the end had to move to another TV, in the hope that the report had not been shown in the minutes that we took to reorganise.

Another twenty minutes then came the cue

This is roughly what they said in the introduction -


People who have a spastische Lähmung (spastic disability) were often tied to a wheelchair but then a Hungarian doctor came along, Dr Petö, and they stood up and walked. A miracle was taking place.


Yes this is how the introduction went, well, something along these lines. You can check it out on the link below, unfortunately I still can’t get the sound to work so I can not translate word for word.

The insurance just won't pay

The film went on to show Mario Schumacher and his mother in their home. Mario was showing us how far he had learnt to walk and his mother was explaining how the Petö-Methode had helped them gain some independence in their lives.

The aim behind making this programme was to bring to national attention the problem that the health insurance companies do not pay the cost of Conductive Education.

This family has debts of thousands of euros, the price paid privately for Mario’s increased independence, because the health insurance companies refuse to pay for it, because it isn’t in their “Book of approved provision”.

These companies are still looking for the written proof that it works. They do not believe their eyes, or the words of the people who experience it personally. The word Studium appeared again, as is usual in such reports.

The health insurance company in question (DAK) did not want to talk about individual cases, which suggests that perhaps the Schumachers are not the only family putting on the pressure.

It was a surprise when I saw this family. I had actually known that this film was being made. I had been invited a few months ago to help with its production. The charity that I work with in Nürnberg had offered help too, by covering my costs, both travel and time, and by providing any information needed for the programme. I hadn't heard any more, though, until today.

The report moved from the Schumachers very briefly to Würzburg, with some shots of children “walking” in a kindergarten session, and Wolfgang with a very short spot.

On the whole it didn’t say an awful lot about the "miracle" Petö Methode, certainly not enough to cause damage. The film had been made primarily to bring into the spotlight the position of many families in Germany, highlighting their struggle with health insurance companies. The families want financial support to pay for the method the they choose for their children with cerebral palsy.

The “Petö-Methode

This could turn out to be a change for the better.

A change to a title that is far better than Konduktive Förderung, something that has been around since CE came to Germany.

Using this name could perhaps stop the immediate bundling of anything "conductive" into a specific drawer. The initial mention of the Petö-Methode would make no association to either education or health (though of course it would be best if pedagogy and upbringing were the words that we used here in Germany and that the whole thing was in the hands of the Education Department).

But for Frau Schumacher and the others who are fighting the health insurance companies for payment of Conductive Education perhaps the name Petö Methode might prove to be to their advantage.

Notes

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The hottest day of the year

"A picture for my Mum", August 20th 2009

Still waiting patiently for the world at one

The world is still at one

If anyone has tried to link with the German TV programme I mentioned yesterday they, like me, would have been disappointed.
I have just received the around-Germany email from Wolfgang Vogt which informs us all that the Bavarian Television Company gave out the wrong information and the item on Würzburg's Summer-camp and Conductive Education will be aired on ARD tomorrow (Friday 21st August, 2009) on the same midday news show (13.00 in Germany).

I am glad about that as work prevented me from watching it today although I realised later when I checked the internet site that I hadn't missed anything.

I hope my work will go according to plan tomorrow and I will get to see the programme live.

If all goes well I will be blogging my reations to the promised news item here tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Back on the map in Bavaria?

" 13.00 hours"

The world at one

It is with thanks to old friend and colleague Wolfgang Vogt and to Fortschritt Würzburg e.V., of which Wolfgang is the Chairman, that all interested parties here in Germany are working out how to get close to a TV tomorrow lunchtime.

Wolfgang will be heard talking on a report filmed today in Würzburg. at the summer-camp that is taking place at the after-school conductive centre (Tägesstätte). The report is to be screened on ARD's lunchtime magazine between 13.00 and 14.00 on Thursday August 20th.

I have been bombarded with emails from right, left and centre this evening, telling me about it, and I have just booked a front-row seat. I and many others are looking forward to it. I am curious about what I shall be watching and what I shall hear. I hope above all that this report can help to put conductive pedagogy, Konduktive Förderung or Conductive Upbringing back on to the public map in my part of the world.

I hope also that it will be a good re-introduction, a rewakening to conductive pedagogy that will catch people's attention and perhaps entice a few of them to sign up for the Conductive Conference in Nürnberg this Autumn.

I sent the email that I received this evening on to anyone on my email list who I thought might be interested. I see that over on the "other channel" Andrew Sutton and Conductive World pipped me to the post!

I was actually on the phone when I should have been posting my own. I was helping a mother who had phoned out of the blue, to try to solve a conductive problem. This family had set out along the conductive path many years ago in Hamburg, with Wolfgang Vogt!

This evening it has again proved to be a very small conductive world. Let us see how this world will be presented tomorrow by Wolfgang, a man with a conductive soul, and by ARD. Maybe our world will be expanding at last.

If technology lives up to expectations, you should be able to click on the link below to see and hear the programme live. There is a list of programmes on the left of the screen and a video screen on the right.

So, everyone, see you from all over the world, at one.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

An inspiring Rose



"A rose"

Likeabatoutofhell

I have introduced my client, whom I call Laddo, to James Rose’s blog and parachute jump. Tomorrow I am going to help him introduce himself to James in person, on the blog.

My client and James look so alike, and they hold their limbs in similar positions, as far as I can see from the “flying” photos. It is so interesting to think that I may be able to bring these two young men together to share a few of each others dreams.

Laddo was inspired by hearing about James. He repeated over and over Ich bin buff, meaning I am speechless.

A possible dream

I hear from my client that he wants to do something special too. He has a dream that I knew nothing about. This is, he tells me, to sing on a huge stage, just because he loves to sing.

Well, I had realised that we are both quite good rockers as we sing-a-long to the oldies, Tina, Rod, Tom and David, but I had never heard a whisper about his aspirations to stand up there on stage too. Not alongside them, he quickly adds, but on his own.

I asked him whether he has a particular song in mind. He hasn’t, so I suggested that it could be time to get practising, as one can never know just as James didn’t, when an opportunity might eventually crop up.

Laddo listened enthralled when I told him that James had fought for years to get all the paperwork signed that finally allowed him to do his tandem jump. He said “Just like me, he didn’t ever give up”. He is right. Laddo also never gives up and this is paying off its rewards at the moment especially well.

Some times when I read the quotes from my client I am not quite sure whether I actually communicate the enormity of the words that he utters. His speech is very hard to understand and several years earlier he would often say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter” if someone didn’t understand. I and the family insist that it does matter, and help him to find alternative words, until we catch the thread of the conversation again.

This has resulted in his expressing himself more and more, and we are often astonished to learn of the number of words that he not only knows but also knows how to use correctly. His world is opening up its borders, he is learning how to fly and also to sing!

Thanks to James for inspiring my client.
I am sure Laddo will not be the last of my clients to be inspired by the “Likeabatoutofhell” blogger.

Notes

James Rose - Likeabatoutofhell -

Playing "Memory"


"Miss Flower Lips and Co"

Yes, as he so proudly says himself, my client has learnt a lot in just two days, but something we still haven't solved is the playing-memory problem. But we are working on it.

For years we have played memory, we have about ten different sets that we have created for ourselves, together with his siblings. They include sets that depict flags, people with different professions, food, seasons, festivals and faces. My client always looses at this game but never complains, although today he commented on it for the first time and wondered why it was.

I have often wondered why this is the case and have never found the answer. Now we are working on it together, we have been talking about all the tricks that there are for doing well at memory.
We are trying to discover which of these he has to learn to fair better. To assist us I have a lovely new Memory, not home-made this time but bought at the Neues Museum in Nürnberg, with lots of interesting arty faces.
To make the game more interesting and to allow the children and adults time to look at the pictures and remember them, we give all these arty faces a name, and sometimes even a personality. Today we had some crazy names, including Mr Nut, Miss Sleepy Head, Senora Martini, Grandpa Berni, the Crazy Professor and his brother, Madam French and Miss Flower Lips.

We hope that we will find our solutions by having fun with this game over the next few days.

Its all in the conductive can


"A beautiful resting place, on top of the world"

Not spilling a drop

Today we discovered how my client could fill a watering can at the well in the graveyard. He learnt how to fill it just to the point where he was still able to carry it the two-hundred yards to his Grandmother’s grave without spilling a drop. Despite its being only water, he was determined to avoid any spillage.

He realised that he could alter his grip on the can quite easily. He found exactly the right place where he should hold it so that the water didn’t slop around while he walked, and then later how to slip his hand further back and let the weight of the water help him tip it so that the water hit the right spot.

Not at all bad for an athetoid!

While he was moving an outstretched arm to the side away from his body, to water plants a little further away from him, it was a delight to see and to hear that he realised he was using movements that we had been practising and discussing the importance of an hour earlier in our work room.

It really is such a joy to work together in this way. I love to watch his face when he achieves new things and receive his thanks in so many ways.

Saying lovely things

This evening, while we where walking in the evening sunshine, we stopped occasionally to throw a toy polystyrene bird into the wind. We had a lovely half-hour playing with the bird, a swallow, and afterwards watching the rals ones of which there are many living with their babies under the eaves of this house.
My client could hold the toy just lightly enough and for just long enough to throw it into the wind, then turn quickly enough without triping to see it finish its final looping. He asked whether I had more, as he wanted to throw it so high that "Oma" (Grandma) would get it.
Sometimes he says lovely things.
How stupid could I be, I might have known that this bird would be a success. I had only bought the one. At only 58 euro cents a piece I could have bought the whole box!

Learning lots

While we were "playing" birds my client told me “I have learnt lots today”. I asked him what specifically.

He couldn’t think of lots, he said, but there were a few important things. There was watering Grandma’s flowers and then there was opening his bottle of mineral water alone and spraying his legs with bubbles. Then there was being at last able to enjoy the thrill of throwing a toy bird into the sky for the first time himself.

I would consider that a lot for one day. He loved to see that bird looping above his head and delighted at turning round quickly without tripping over to catch a sight the smooth landing. Most of all he delighted in the realisation that it was for this he had been working so hard for all these years.
Actually, for most of his life.


"Calling conductor Kasey"

"A natural watercolour painting" 17th August 2009

This was the title of a blog posting back in January 2009 when I was trying to trace Kasey and discover who the unknown dot on my map belonged to and who was the occasional writer-of-comments on my blog.

She responded immediately and it now feels like Kasey Gray has been around in the blogosphere forever.

She continues to post comments, I have tried to search for the lost Petö Proverb for her via my blog, but it is still awol. I have even posted something for her on my blog.

Now I am thrilled at last to be able to get to know her even better by reading her own newly created blog.

Welcome to the crazy and small world of conductive blogging Kasey, it is lovely to have you here. I look forward to your postings very much and to finding out about Conductive Upbringing in America.

PS

Happy holidays!

Notes

Kasey Gray, American conductor - http://american-conductor.blogspot.com/

Susie Mallett January 3rd 2009 - Calling conductor Kasey -
http://www.susie-mallett.org/2009/01/eifels-nyugati-pu-budapest-by-susie.html

A lovely start to the day



"A child in Budapest", by SB, August 2009

"Tree in August", by SB, August 2009

Site planned for tomorrow's "en plein-air"

“I want to write a book about my life”

These were the first words that greeted me as I arrived for work today, spoken by my nineteen-year-old client.

“Well, I replied, you have picked the right conductor here. I want to write a book too but we will start on yours straight away. How about illustrating it too?”

Straight away we set the rules for ourselves. We would spend our long walks discussing the “plot” and he would spend his free afternoons writing it on the computer. Our evening sessions would be spent illustrating the passages that he had written that day. He expects to have the whole thing finished in two weeks!
We shall see. Some of the advertisements for creative writing in the Internet say that this can be done.

Next, while walking five kilometres in the sunshine with our pedometers fixed to our hips:

“Susie, I would like to thank you”.

“For what?” I asked.

“For everything.”

Laddo, as I call him, had already thanked me that morning for attending a family funeral a few months earlier, and had also thanked me for helping him answer a few of the questions that he had stored up for me.

At break time I told that him he is the only client I have who thanks me so spontaneously, so often and so specifically. He has done so from a very early age. On the other hand, he can also be quite critical, and over the years has asked me many times, ”Why didn’t you explain that to me before now?”. My answer always was and still is that I didn’t know it before now, otherwise I would have shared my knowledge.

It is strange how people start talking to me and Laddo on our hikes in the countryside. Today a neighbour was crossing the road with her grandchild and said called Hello to us. I had never seen her before but she knew who I was as, after twelve years, does the whole village.

She told us with a wide, friendly smile “I have been watching this miracle from afar since your first visit”. I smiled too but explained that this is no miracle but the product of very hard work. Not my hard work but the hard slog put in by Laddo and his family. She smiled and said “Perhaps, but you have worked hard too”.

There is a huge difference though. I get paid for my hard work and as a bonus I also get the gift of seeing Laddo start to write his book. Laddo only gets a bonus and it sometimes takes years for it to get paid out. Today he is lapping up his rewards, he feels good about himself.

Often when we are out and about in the village my client doesn’t like to stop to chat with others. He knows the villagers better than I do. He knows better than anybody how they speak to him, whether they "nerv" him, as he puts it in German.

Many do nerv him and I understand why. They are the people who have never stopped treating him like a baby even though he may now tower head and shoulders above them. These are the people he ignores, but the lady with the miracle, and another we met later on who joins him at water aerobics, are people who don't nerve him and they get the pleasure of his company, the others don't he just keeps marching by.

The sunny day went on

Later came a difficult question:

“Why does it take me so much longer, years longer even, before I can do the things my siblings can do?”

This wasn’t a question specifically about dressing, eating, drinking, or walking, it was about living. About travelling by public transport, going to discos, even going for a walk alone. All the things he is now beginning to attempt unaccompanied for the first time, things like visiting his grandmother's grave alone, which is so important to him.

I had to go back to basics to answer this one. Luckily I know the basics and the roots of all four children involved and could use concrete examples in my explanations to help my client to understand.

My client was satisfied with what I said. He understood that he needed time for everything that he does and to soak up experiences. He needed time to learn to keep his balance when a car came by, time to work out how best to get his money out of his pocket to buy a ticket, he needed time to learn everything that for his siblings came just about automatically. He must learn, one slow step after the other what they often learnt in leaps and bounds. But he was getting there and we still have lots of time.

I explained that having to learn all these steps consciously takes a lot of time, which all added together has put him several years behind his twin brother and his sisters when he considers what they now do in their lives. The older they get, though, the quicker he is catching up because they are now old enough to take him with them on some of their adventures. He doesn’t need to be accompanied by Mum and Dad any more which always makes for a completely different experience. This is certainly showing in my client's development, which has stepped up a pace or two this year.

After all this there came another spontaneous Thank-you!

No more tears

I do not have tears in my eyes anymore when he thanks me. It is not that I am getting used to him saying it, I shall never do that, it always comes at a so-unlikely moment and surprises me each time.

I believe that my tears have gone because I am beginning to accept that perhaps I do have an influence on the changes in my clients’ lives. The client I am working with at the moment has helped me get to this stage by being so specific about the things that mean so much to him and that he learns through our experiences.

I do still have moist eyes however when I read over his shoulder what he writes in his “book”. Or when he asks his Dad whether he should write about the bad bits, about when the Grandmas died, or about the aggression that he felt when he was fifteen. It is when Dad replies that of course, because that is what makes him who he is, and that he mustn’t forget to include crashing the Audi into the brick wall, that my eyes mist over again!

Yes, as a young lad of twelve, he did crash a car into a wall and Dad was not laughing about it then. Laddo still insists that he only changed the gear and that someone had left the hand brake off. I actually believe him as I do not think he was strong enough then to move the lever.

But he is certainly strong enough now!

Today was the very first time since we started playing our game of sitting up as many times as our age, that my client was faster than I was. We started with this years ago, with his ten and my forty-three, and I would always be sitting ready, waiting and offering encouragement for the last two or three of his “sit-ups”. Until today.

Today he beat me and not by only one or two I had only just hit forty and he was done. It was one of the best moments in the years of my work with him, seeing his bronzed and muscled body moving more and more as he wants it too.

He thought that I should be sad because he beat me but he understood why I was delighted. He didn’t thank me this time just smiled broadly.

It will be in the bag before he starts work

I thought that my client was wishfull-thinking by wanting to start and finish his book project in two weeks. I think that I now know why he has this goal in his sights. It is probably because he is motivated when we work together when he always has someone around, to ask for assistance. It looks like he just might make it. Volume 1 of the autobiography could be in the bag in fourteen days time, if he keeps this rate up. All wrapped up and out of the way before the much looked- forward-to first day at work, on September the first.

At lunch time he did a bit of research, asking Mum and Dad what his childhood had been like for them. They told him that he was always jolly and fun to be with but sometimes it was difficult when they wanted him to do therapies that he didn’t want to do.

By the time that we met this evening he was able to tell me that he had completed writing about the first stage of his life, and that he remembers, going to the Petö Institute in Budapest for an assessment when he was five years old.

He had come to me with the idea to paint a Hungarian flag, the colours all planned, which he soon completed. Then he superimposed a child’s face on it, as can be seen above. It is to be the cover picture, he tells me. His list of acknowledgments is also complete, including he says all his immediate family, and aunties and uncles and cousins and neighbours who all help him achieve everything that he does.

I love it because he never mentions me in any of this. I am the invisible tool and that’s just how it should be. He stores up his plans and ideas and questions till he is with me and we set about finding out together how they can all work out and come to fulfilment. We part company for a while and I leave him to get on with doing whatever it is that we sorted. Till the next time and the next plans.

For the last part of our “work” today we took our paints out to the garden and did a bit of a Vincent van Gogh or a David Hockney, by painting en plein-air. My client's first time painting outside, and he loved it. If the gorgeous weather remains we shall be out in the fields by the middle of the week painting wind-turbines, cows, bales of hay, church spires and rolling hills and at the same time planning the next chapter of the book.


It smells like something’s burning

"The train still standing at platform 2"



What journeys

I am a seasoned train-traveller, for two reasons. My Dad was a train driver, so I got free passes all the time I was a student, which was often. I don’t have a car. I suppose a third reason could be that I simply love trains.

I hunt them out wherever I am, and ride them whenever possible

Long before I arrived in Australia, where I travelled mostly by Greyhound coach, I had already planned the trip from Sydney to Scotland Island on the double-decker train. Sometime in the eighties I had seen Spike Milligan on television taking this same journey to visit his mother, and I was determined that I should have the same adventure. I did it and to my joy discovered that the brother of family friends lived at the end of the line so I got a meal, a shower and a roof over my head too.

At that time, in 1986, double-deckers, that are now two-a-penny in Germany, were a novelty even for this seasoned traveller. I had figured out from watching the Spike Milligan film on TV that it would probably be the only way to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge and get a good view of the harbour and its boats, I was right.

Trains pop up in my life wherever I seem to land. I took a trip to meet an old school friend in Auckland in the north of the North Island of New Zealand, who then sent me rather like a parcel on to another friend in Wellington, down in the south She had booked me as a surprise on the twelve-hour journey on the tourist train. That was one of my train-journey highlights for sure. I filled a couple of sketch books on that trip.

I travel regularly with ICE trains and Bummelzugs on the Deutsche Bahn, I spent a summer as a student in Hungary travelling to all corners of the country by train, visiting conductive centres, and when I visit the UK I use whatever trains Britain’s now numerous companies are providing these days. I missed travelling the trains in Mexico and USA, where I used local bus services instead.

I have travelled on a sleeper to Prague and in Switzerland, and on numerous tourist trains in different countries with various old loco stock pulling them.

I have yet to travel on the Orient Express, the Glazier Express or the Trans-Siberian railway, but there is still time to do so one day!

German efficiency

This weekend I was travelling ICE, Inter-City Express, my favourite train of all on the German railways. In my opinion the Deutsche Bahn is run at just about the ultimate level of efficiency.

Today it all went wrong but I still arrived at my destination only one hour later than I expected to, and in one piece.

The excitement happened long before the train had even set off. I was already settled comfortably with my notebook and pencil, fortunatelyfound myself a seat without a reserved sign above it. I had wondered as I stepped up, minding the gap, on to the train what the awful smell could be. It was a lot stronger and more potent than the usual smell of hot-summer-day train.

It was not until ten minutes later that the doors were all opened. Police, fireman and the rescue services swarmed on to the platform, the firemen dragging their gear behind them just like Little Bo-Peep’s sheep and their tails.

From the number of official-looking people with walkie-talkies milling about on the platform, it looked as if something serious was amiss.

And it was, the train was on fire, up the front near the engine. Eventually, after the fire had been put out, we were evacuated and sent to the other end of the platform to avoid the fumes. Unfortunately photography had to be done from a distance.

I was impressed by the efficiency. With not a word said the platform was kept clear of passengers until the emergency services had reached the problem with their hoses.

Half an hour after our planned departure, those passengers travelling for just one stop were asked to leave the train and join the one on the adjacent platform. The rest of us were asked to leave shortly after and I joined the next scheduled train in the same direction also on the neighbouring platform. An extra train had also been laid on by this time to take the overflow of passengers.

I was becoming more and more impressed.

Again I found myself a seat and enjoyed at last a good long read. But only when the elderly lady sitting opposite stopped talking about the chaos. She was convinced that she was now in the wrong train,. She wasn’t but she wouldn’t believe me, got up and left

The one hour's delay meant that I and many others missed all the connecting trains, but there were enough staff strategically placed around the platforms asking worried-looking travellers whether they could be of any help. In this way, after two more unexpected changes with my next train always waiting ready on the opposite platform, I found myself at my destination, just one hour later than expected.

Traditional English delays

That is the very first time I have been delayed by fire. I have experienced delay because of leaves on the tracks and stoppages due to 'the wrong kind of snow'. I have been delayed and eventually stopped in my tracks, just an hour from home and very late at night, by trees falling on the line in a storm.

When travelling by railcar across the marshes in Norfolk to art school I often experienced flooding over the lines, or the driver stopping to pick up pheasants hit by the previous train. On rare occasions, on very hot days, delays were caused when the bridge stuck. It was probably the summer of '75 when there was a heat-wave at Great Yarmouth, along with a plague of bishy-barney-bees (ladybirds)!
There were regularly stray cows on the line and also many delays when the driver and ticket-collector would both jump off and right the sheep who were stuck lying on their backs in the meadows.

I have been delayed by some poor soul’s attempt at jumping in front of the train, by someone having a heart attack on the train, and also by waiting for the police to come to remove someone from the train who refused to pay for a ticket, but I have never been delayed by a fire before.

And I have never before been so impressed with the efficient way such an emergency and its knock-on effects were dealt with.

Well done Deutsche Bahn!

PS

Sheep have legs that nature stuck on in the wrong place. They are attached on all four corners of their bodies, making it virtually impossible for them to turn over on their own if they ever find themselves flat on their backs. In my part of the world, where the meadows run beside the railway eack, it was always faster to stop the train to rescue the sheep than to call the railyard who would then call the farmer who, having no mobile phone in those days, could take hours to react to the emergency.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Bewitched in Fairyland

Schwäbish Hall, 12th August

"Path in England", by Susie Mallett, 2005

" Path in northern Germany", by Susie Mallett, 2008

Mid November Tunnel, 2006, by David Hockney

Big trees nearer Warter, by Davis Hockney
Bigger trees nearer Warter, Winter 2008 by David Hockney

Schwäbisch Hall, August 2009, by Susie Mallett

Sulferturm

Street in Schwäbisch Hall
Town Hall and Market Place

The steps of St. Michael's church, with artists

Breakfast

Kunsthalle

The old Löwen Brewery buildings

Looking out

"Afternoon tea with David "

David painting


The Bummelzug

The run-dow station at Schwäbisch Hall

"My holiday" Wednesday 12th August


A day off

A day off, from what? Perhaps from trying my hardest not to be distracted from my work by every other lovely detail of life.

Today I have taken a day out to do just that, to be distracted.
I can look at, and think about, and be enthralled, by whatever I like, for as long as I like.

The whole day is for me

During the week I went to the railway station and bought myself a ticket for the Regionalbahn to Schwäbisch Hall. This town lies westwards from Nürnberg in the direction of Stuttgart, about ninety minutes by Bummelzug, a train that stops anywhere and everywhere,. I had never been there before, and I only recently even heard the name.

The train went from the state of Bavaria to Baden Württemberg, passing on the way through Stein, a part of Nürnberg where the Faber-Castell pencils are made, Roßtal, Wicklesgreuth, Dombuhl, Ansbach, Crailsheim, Ekertshausen, Ilshofen to Schwäbish Hessental, where I changed trains for a five-minute hop to Schwäbisch Hall.

It was at this last stop that I stepped into Fairyland. Not immediately though, as the railway station had that feeling of neglect which one sees and feels in many small towns in Germany.
Weeds growing up between the disused tracks and cracks in the platform, derelict buildings and no ticket office any more, just a machine and an information post with a loudspeaker.

On leaving the train I had to take a walk of a couple of hundred yards, following the sign at the end of the platform that pointed in the direction of the town centre. I turned a corner at the end of a high hedge and there, through the windows of a modern glass tower construction containing a lift and a stairwell, I got my first glimpse across the very deep limestone valley of the medieval town.

I could not believe my eyes. I had not been expecting such beauty. The red-tiled roof tops on the many-windowed crooked houses were framed by a backdrop of lush, green woodlands. Absolutely gorgeous.

It had taken me twenty years living in Germany to cross the border from Bavaria into Baden-Württenberg, and discover this idyll, this magical town.

Not only a place of beauty, but a centre for the arts too, with its arts festival, a summer arts academy, many museums and wonderful art galleries showing both modern art and that of the old masters. I wonder how I missed this town for so long.

Breathless

Until today there were probably only three places that I have visited on my journeys around the world that have literally taken my breath away. Places that on first sight have caused me to open my eyes wide in astonishment and left me for just a moment speechless, just as I was today.

These three delightful spots are Walberswick in Suffolk (I visit it often and it always has the same effect), Visby in Sweden, and the Széchenyi Bridge at night in Budapest (this I also see often and it never looses its ability to amaze me). Now, added to this short lis,t is Schwäbisch Hall. It really was a breathtaking first glimpse, and there were many more such during the day.

A thank you

Who do I have to thank for this new discovery? None other than Gillian Maguire.

I have taken this magical mystery tour all because several months ago Gill read somewhere or other, during her Internet searches perhaps, that David Hockney, by far my favourite living British artist, was exhibiting here in Schwäbisch Hall at the Würth Kunsthalle.

"Nur natur” ("Only Nature"), is the first full exhibition of Hockney’s most recent works. These are landscapes, huge landscapes, painted en plein-air just like the impressionists did. Also exhibited are his numerous mouth-watering leather-bound watercolour sketchbooks, and charcoal and pencil sketches on paper, all the planning stages for the big oil paintings.

Breakfast time with the artists

As I write this first instalment of my first impression in Fairyland I am sitting on the high, steep steps in front of St. Michael’s church (built in 1150), looking out over the Market Place. It is swarming with people, like bees round a honey-pot, purchasing fresh products with amazing colours and smells. There are fruits and veggies, breads and cheeses, honeys, wines and fish, and of course sausages. I am lucky I have picked Market Day for my visit, as it gives a certain ambience to the square that I am sure would feel quite different when it is empty. It also makes choosing breakfast far more exciting than having it brought to me in a café!

I am perched on the steps amongst a group from the “Wednesday-morning art group”. Their teachers are not doing a very good job at inspiring them to see what they are looking at. Not really succeeding in helping them to decide which bits of what they see would capture the atmosphere and the soul of the place, and how this all could be put down on paper.

It is hard for me to listen, I want to inspire them with my own enthusiasm and my enthrallment in this amazing medieval town. Motivate them to paint the life going on down there, instead of splodging muddy colours about on very expensive paper.

Oh well, they seem to be happy and content enough, all except the one who packed up and went home saying just how unmotivated she was.
I am happy and contented too.

I have the day off, so I will keep quiet and enjoy the view, enjoy having forgotten to put my own paints in my bag, enjoy making my memories without paint.

As they paint I sit on the stone steps with my breakfast of fresh raspberries and a Breze, bought at the market below. I look down on the shoppers and the beautiful buildings. I peer through the tiny stepped passages between them, leading to the secret magical courtyards and gardens that I walked through on my way up here.

I paint the picture of the buildings, the streets and the raspberries in my head, with a reminder of the raspberries' many different colours staining my fingers and white shirt. I remember the different tastes of the darkest ones and the lightest ones, and I leave the mouldy ones in their punnet.

Was that all the art for today, as I had left my paint-box and brushes at home?
Now I don’t think so. I will paint every imagine clearly in my head as I wander through the town all to be recalled later as I write or relate my adventures to friends. ,

Now it is time for a walk through the streets, soaking up more of the magical atmosphere, time to meander my way like the river does below, in the direction of the art gallery and find the real art of the day.

A bit about the place from my guide book

Right at the end of the day, in my last minutes at the art gallery, I found a book about Schwäbisch Hall and its surrounding area. I am so glad that I did not have this to browse through earlier. I think that it would have spoilt the lovely surprise.

Only a couple of the streets, or rather alleyways, have their original medieval buildings, fires and wars having taken their toll. It has all been beautifully rebuilt, with extras, like the huge steep steps that I have been sitting on, built in 1507, added over the years. The most recent modern additions in the town are often glass structures combined with limestone, which reflect the old stone building materials and allow for breath-taking vistas across the deep-cut valley floor where the Kocher River meanders its way through parkland and gardens before eventually joining the Neckar.

The name Hall probably comes from the word which means “drying by heating”. This could refer to the method used to produce salt from the salty ground water of the area. The Celts were distilling salt here as early as the 5th century.

One of the towers and bridges, Sulferturm and Sulfersteg are positioned at the ford that was the crossing point on the river used to take the salt to market in the larger cities.

Close to this point on the flood plains beside the river is a mini Shakespearian Globe Theatre, built in 2000 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arts festival. I couldn’t believe my eyes when first I saw it, I thought I was in London (although actually it actually looks more in place here than squashed between the buildings on the banks of the Thames.

In the twelfth century the Heller was minted here. These silver coins were produced in huge quantities and were the first currency to be accepted throughout all the states of Germany, perhaps the forerunner of the Euro! The salt and the minting of money saw the rise of the town, but in the 1800s many people left the region, often emigrating to America when the town could not keep abreast with the industrial revolution. It just didn’t take off here because of lack of road and rail communications.
The rail link is still a bit dodgy, with connections to Nürnberg running only every two hours. Quite unusual in Germany with its Deutsche Bahn!

Enough of the guide-book history of this gorgeous place and back into its winding alley-ways, past cafes and museums and back across the river on the only bridge in the centre that takes motorised traffic. In the middle of this bridge, built into the wall is a 'cabinet'. Inside the cabinet were marionettes. An elderly couple singing children’s songs, but with a difference. Alternative, quite risque lyrics replaced the normal ones and the children in front of me, watching and listening intently with their Mums, were in fits of laughter as Alle Meine Ente didn’t quite sound like they were used to!

On the other side of the bridge I was very tempted to explore the wine-and-literature shop but I kept my best foot forward in the direction of the Kunsthalle (art gallery) and David H, as time was getting on.

The Kunsthalle is not far from the railway station, about a five-minute walk, so I had nearly three hours before the train that I had planned to catch left. I decided not to go for the last one just in case I missed it or it was delayed.

I could smell it before I saw it

I meandered a bit more up and down the valley side keeping the big chimney of the old Löwen brewery that is part of the art gallery in my sight. I also began to follow my nose.

I was suddenly taken back to 1975 and my first days at art school. The time when that heady, sickly smell of oils paints mixed with linseed oil took some getting used to. I could smell paint, real paints.

Between two rickety buildings was the narrowest passage way ever, and sitting at a table under an umbrella were two elderly ladies and their teacher mixing paints from powders and oils. Beyond them were severel more energetic summer academy artists, hammering away at huge lumps of stone. They were creating an array of abstract designs and realistic busts.

I had arrived, but I still put off the moment. I walked around the courtyard taking photographs of the chimney and the old red brick brewery that reminded me of the buildings on my model railway layout. I photographed the British and English flags flapping in the breeze, I looked out through the glass panels across the valley to the church where I had been sitting earlier.

Finally I went in

I left my bag in the locker then collected my tape recording in English, along with a plan of the gallery, but still I didn’t make a start. I wandered around the small shop, watched the people passing through and got a feel of the place. I knew that as always I was going to be absolutely thrilled by David Hockney's paintings. I had seen enough in newspapers and on the web-pages to know I could expect something spectacular. I was savouring the moment.

And the moment came as I left the wonderland of the medievil town of Schwäbisch Hall and stepped into the wonderland of Hockney’s trees and landscapes.

I was not enthralled this time. I was betwiched. I was smiling from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat and the cat-that-got-the-cream both rolled into one!

I walked round and round, back and forth from room to room, as if in a dream. Transported back to the green and pleasant land that I still call home by the paintings of an artist who has been my hero since before I started art school. Managing at one point to pull myself away from the paintings, I sat down to listen to Hockney’s soothing voice talking about this enormous project that took him years. He had spent many hours just sitting, watching the Yorkshire hills and dales, and many more hours painting them.

In a film he described making the biggest painting of them all, to fill the whole of a wall at the Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition. He said that he chose precisely this size so that no other painting could be squashed on the wall beside his. It is a common cause for complaint at the Academy summer show that the paintings are jammed in like sardines in a tin.

When the show was over, after the summer of 2007, Hockney installed reproductions of this painting, one of which was on show here in the Kunsthalle, on to the other walls too and posed some amazing photos of the images and stategicly placed viewers. I imagine that one felt like being in the middle of a temple of trees.

I sat writing some notes for this blog as I watched David Hockney on film, thinking that the artists by the church would have been more inspired by hearing these few words by Hockney talking about the changing landscape about the speed at which he had to work to capture the colours and the form, and his joy of working outside even on cold winter days.

Drawn into another world

I wrote in my note book:

I am reluctant to move.
I am drawn into the pictures as if I was actually there. I can see the colours and smell the leaves, feel the heat of the sun and the chill of the winter breeze.
I too have spent time painting a group of trees and fields over and over again, at all times of the year. I had a favourite place near the art school in Surrey. I knew the beech trees there in every season I knew each change in the shadows on the fields beside them, and the meandering pathway between the hedgerows. I too learnt to paint quickly and to just sit and watch, en plein-air. I loved it just as I was loving walking through these paintings now.

I am reluctant to leave. I am hypnotised not only by the paintings but by his voice, still speaking with such enthusiasm about his work, after so many years. As I watch and look and listen I realise why I have loved his painting from the very start, from the moment that I saw the first paintings of “Celia” and "Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy". Despite the flatness of the paint Hockneys paintings live. Whatever the subject, a dog asleep, his mother, the Grand Canyon, a swimming pool or a vase of flowers, they all live. Light flashes over his canvases and they come to life. He dares to use the colours that he sees, not just use the colours that he is expected to see. He daubs paint on the canvas in much the same way that Vincent van Gogh did in his later years. Hockney's brushstrokes are not so thick and the paint not quite so googey, but nevertheless they catch the light and the life of the moment so well.

I walked through this modern, white-walled gallery feeling like I was being drawn back into each painting as I passed it. I really was bewitched I couldn’t draw myself away. I was drawn again and again into paths between hundred-year-old beech trees. I was invited to walk once more along pathways lined with hawthorn hedging, with the may blossom in full bloom. I could smell its sweetness wafting through the hot summer air.

I imagined that my trip on the Regionalbahn had not taken me to Baden Württenberg but back to England’s green pastures. I had made that trip to Yorkshire in just ninety minutes, followed by a two-hour guided tour around its country lanes.

But pull myself away I did!

I had to leave the paintings behind. I needed time to choose some postcards, contemplate buying the catalogue (it turned out to be irresistable) and of course have coffee and cake in the café where the tables and the walls were also decorated with Hockney prints.

As I sat writing a postcard to my Dad, who would well remember the first expensive book that I bought as a seventeen-year old Hockney fan, I was tempted to risk taking the last train and to go around the gallery just one more time. I decided that it is better to return on another day. I was getting tired. My eyes had feasted enough, it was time to get on the train and trundle home.

The train was on time, as most German trains tend to be. As I travelled home, the church spires, the white sails of wind turbines, the fields full of storks, delighted me in my sleepiness. I was eventually sleeping so soundly that I didn’t even notice when the French punks who had been sleeping in the luggage racks left the train.

All that magic and soul food had worn me out. As the Bavarian actor/writer Karl Valentin said, "Art is beautiful but it is a lot of work". It is hard work to produce art oneself and it is also hard work to look at art produced by someone else, both in a gallery and on the streets of a beautiful town.

I hope that I will be back before the exhibition ends on 27th September, for another inspiring holiday.

Notes

Schwäbisch Hall -
http://goeurope.about.com/library/phot/bl_schwabisch_hall_10.htm
http://www.safaribears.de/content.php?page=SlideshowSchwabischHall&image=26
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schw%C3%A4bisch_Hall

David Hockney
http://www.hockneypictures.com/home.php
http://www.hockneypictures.com/exhibitions/DH-wurth09/wurth09.php

Hungary, Budapest, Szechényi Bridge -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sz%C3%A9chenyi_Chain_Bridge

Sweden, Visby -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visby

England, Suffolk,Walberswick -
http://www.walberswick.ws/photos/index.php

Karl Valentin – Bavarian comedian, „Kunst ist schön macht aber viel Arbeit“
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Valentin
http://parapluie.de/archiv/worte/valentin/