My visitors today

Sunday 28 February 2010

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

"Vocalising", February 2010

Let‘s begin with the blue

The sun popped its head out from behind a cloud this week. We have had a couple of days when we could believe spring is springing, with the sky a beautiful cobalt blue. The world looked different, it was different. There were smiles on people's faces, a few cycles on the bike path, flattened brown/green grass on the verges, and the waist-high piles of snow are disappearing.

We have had three months with not only masses of snow but no sun. To have blue above our heads now, twice in a week, has made a big difference to most of the souls in Nürnberg. I travelled to work in sunshine and I came home in sunshine, that really does make a difference.

Something old

The stroke group has been coming to me for the past three weeks. Now that is a really old group, it is the second oldest one that I have after the group for workers. The clients themselves are not, however very old, relatively young in fact compared to other times in the ten-year history of this group.

The clients are not old. Some have also only been there for a short time so they are new clients, but the group is old.

What does that mean for us?

It means that the group is well established and has a well-oiled routine, a routine that can change at the drop of a hat just because it is so old and well-oiled.

It means that I know what I am doing. I know where to find everything that I need, and the clients learn where everything is too. It means that I know the clients and they know me.

I think, though, that the most important thing is that the clients feel that the group is old. Being in the group gives them a feeling of security and again this prepares us for the new.

We have lots of changes

We welcome many visitors and our door is always open. We do many things at a moment's notice but the group has a underlying routine and this security allows us to be adventurous.

This old group is planning a new adventure for the next block. One of our members has had his driving licence restored.He is just waiting for his car to be altered and the world will his oyster once again.

The car has to have a knob fitted on to the steering wheel and possibly a brake and gas lever fitted on to the right -hand side of the steering column. When these alterations have been checked by the MOT people we all are off!

This client will not need to rely on a driver to get him to the group any more an,d to celebrate his freedom, he has promised to drive us to the cafe in the village for coffee and cake. The treat will be on me. That will be our first-ever trip out together, as we have never had the transport before. We have never had a client get his driving licence restored either.

The adventures are 'the new made possible because of the old.

Something borrowed

Staying with the stroke group...

The client with the car walks with a tall, fully extended "Nordic walking" stick. These sticks are telescopic and some can be extended to reach a length of about 175 cms.

This man has always used this stick, never a shorter one, when he walks in the street. It gives him a bit of added security when he moves between the bustling crowds. It good to watch him walking, very upright, looking a bit like a shepherd or a bishop watching over his flock.

Using such a tall stick means that the head is lifted and the back is straighter, with very little bending at the waist, both necessary for a good field of vision when a shepherd observes where his flock is wandering or when my client is negotiating his way across a busy street.

Last week the rest of the group got very interested in this stick. I have always recommended these taller sticks to them but no one else has taken them up. Until this last week, that is.

At some stage during the individual walking programme they all asked whether they could try out that stick.

Gradually we had one delighted shepherd after the other, all with heads held high, backs as straight as soldier’s, all of them looking like very different people. An energy entered their whole countenance, a spring was in their steps.

By the following session we had one group member who had borrowed a Nordic walking stick from his dad and one who had borrowed the sticks from her husband. A third was going to use his wife’s and the fourth was going out at the weekend with his wife actually to buy one!

I wait with anticipation for the next time we meet, to hear about the results of using these borrowed sticks.

On to the new

I have already talked about a lot of new things, either experiences that we have had in the group or plans that we have in the making. Now it is on to something that is new for me.

I often accompany my clients on trips to doctors, to their therapists, or to the boot-makers. I sometimes accompany parents on visits to schools for parents' evenings, and I sometimes visit classes alone. These visits are either out of my own interest or after requests from parents, sometimes (but more rarely) on request from the other professional. This week I did something that in my almost twenty-one years working in Conductive Education I have never done before. I attended a speech therapy session with one of my young children.

At the same time that I discovered Conductive Education in 1987, I was working in special education in England. I worked very closely with a speech therapist. She was an inspiration to me and I still think about her often. I am grateful for the knowledge that she passed on to me when we were working together in my classroom at lunchtimes, teaching children, and a heap of assistants, therapists, grandmas and other helpers, how to enjoy their mealtimes. Since that I have had no contact with speech therapists, except for this lady in the UK. I still write emails to her asking her for advice.

Here in Germany most of my clients with speech difficulties have a speech therapist, though many stroke clients, despite their on-going need, do not get this provided by the health service for longer than about three years. This is one of the main reasons that they seek out conductive groups. Their therapy "allowance" gets slowly reduced as the years pass by, so they go on the search for something else.

The opportunity has not really arisen before for me to go to a speech therapy session. Often these take place in school, near home or at home. They are also only about twenty minutes long making a long journey to attend unfeasible. I have a child in my afternoon group who has speech therapy in blocks, this is quite unusual.

A week of afternoon “Petö” is replaced by a week of sessions with her speech therapist.

I always notice huge improvements in this child’s ability and her will to communicate each time that an intensive “speech” block has taken place. So intrigued to find out what she did I made an appointment to go with her. When I was there at the session this week the therapist told me that she also sees huge improvements after a couple of weeks of Petö sessions. That is always good to hear.

I have never known someone attending a block of speech therapy. I think that this is the ideal way for this child, especially in the winter months when there is a lot of illness about. No sessions get cancelled. If someone is ill the whole block gets postponed. There is an intensity in the work that cannot be achieved in twenty minutes a week and this means that Conductive Education sessions can be more intensive too.

Unfortunately last Monday no one had remembered to inform the therapist that I was coming too, but after her initial shock it was fine and Opa and I were put to work. Opa always attends so he knows what to practise later.

You know, one hears such dreadful stories about conductors and Conductive Education, and its relationships with therapists. I have never experienced this. I have never had a bad experience. Of course I have met therapists who are not convinced, but these therapists don’t invite me to watch them at work or ask to watch my groups. I have always had good experiences and this one with the speech therapist came very near to the top of the list.

What did I learn? Was there anything new?

For me the most important thing was the assurance that I received while observing that, as a conductor I am doing all right, just the same as when I was reading Makarenko last week. It was the same kind of feeling. I was once again reminded that I really did learn how to do it in my training, I really have learnt more through the years of practice and I did learn an awful lot from my speech therapist friend in 1987.

I observed this week with the speech therapist: the importance that she puts on getting legs, hips, chest and jaw in alignment to enable speech to flow more easily, just as I do it.

I learnt how she gives a bit of help to the back of the head, on the cheeks, under the chin and on the jaw, to reach an optimal position to produce the wanted sound, just as I do it.

I observed how with this child a favoured position for working is in a knee-stand, just, as it is for me. I learnt how I can give a bit of stability to this position with a thick roll placed between bottom and feet.

I learnt the process of how to encourage the sound sch, one of the most difficult letters in the German language for any child to pronounce, I was told.

We learnt to blow without saying 'pooh'. Winnie the Pooh was banned from the room and soon feathers were flying all over the place, without a sound.

I had time for a few words with the therapist alone and I explained how I do things and asked for a few tips. I also told her that we have so little time to deal with everything in the sessions and that, as before in 1987, a lot of my work to encourage the tongue and lip movements needed for speech are worked on while we eat. Swallowing, the therapist said, that will be what they work on in the next intensive block.

It isn’t only after such an intensive block that I see and hear huge developments in the speech of this child. It happens also after a holiday. After days spent with her family when there is time to sit and chat.

I came away from this new experience feeling pleased to have the new contact, happy to know a speech therapist around the corner, happy to have a place to go to to ask for advice.

Most of all I was again happy with the re-assurance that I am doing all right.

Has anyone else got one of these?

Budapest, 31st May 1992

Keeping busy, both then and now

When the computer doesn't work there are always other things to do: activities like sorting through portfolios, on the look out for pictures for postings!

I found this certificate amongst the paintings that I did in Budapest, which have not seen the light of day since I did them. I did quite a lot of early-morning painting in 1992/3 as a bit of light relief from work at the Institute. I also did a lot of cycling.

I received the certificate above from the Elsö Magyar Mountain-bike Egyesület, The First Hungarian Mountain-bike Club, for completing one of the last mountain-bike races that I took part in in the Buda Hills.

At this time there were four women competing, three professional road racers and me, and about fifty men! Not all the men completed the course but all four women did. I was a lap behind the profis but that made no difference I was happy that I made it to the end. It was always pretty tough, especially in the winter, but it was lots of fun.

I have a photo somewhere!

A friend and I spent many weekends with a group of rock-climber cum mountain-bike enthusiasts cycling in the forests in the Buda Hills. When there was a race organised we cycled there and, invigorated from the ride, we competed in the race and then cycled home again.
All quite exhausting after a week in the Petö Institute, but relaxing at the same time. And I always got my reward! I also made a lot of friends.

I always got a small prize to go with my certificate. I always came fourth, as there were always only four women! There were not many mountain-bikes in Budapest at the time and even fewer women riding them.

I was always happy to just reach the end of the always gruelling courses, I didn't need a prize, but it is really nice now to find the proof that I made it. It was quite an achievement for me, as even then I wasn't very young and I was competing with the professionals!

Ready for spring

I still have that bike that I bought in the first Hungarian Mountain-bike shop. I have not used it since I bought my flashy-but-no-longer-new one, but it is packed with too many memories to be disposed of. It is cosy in the cellar ready for visitors to use!

My no-longer new flashy bike is still cosy in the cellar too but, with the disappearance this weekend of the last heaps of snow, and with the temperatures at least ten degrees higher than they have been, I will fetch it out tommorrow, along with my cycle gear.

I haven't been on my bike since Christmas Day when the snow started falling. It is time to get my legs turning again and the cobwebs blown out of my brain.

I will miss the reading and the blog-writing on the tram but I will enjoy communing with nature again. I will also enjoy having sixty Euros a month extra in my bank account.That is the price of my monthly travel card, and my prize for cycling again!

Pictures for the last posting

Volumes one, two, and three, and a portrait of the author

Computers are not really my thing!

I could not get the pictures up for my blog over the past few days as a bug came along and had fun in my computer. Then for two days I could hardly do anything in my computer at all, except pray.

Luckily I have a clever "stepson" who sorted it all out from miles away. I just sit and watch it happening under my eyes, like magic.

Now at last I have got the photos up for the reading blog. There they are above, the lovely Soviet books and a picture of their author.

Just as a thank you to the man who saved the day, here is the link to his Diplom Film that features my painted dress and now my English subtitles.

Saturday 27 February 2010

More than reading, living.

What a busy week. Work, concerts, theatre, you name it I have done it, and I have also been reading books.

I don’t have the feeling that I was reading these books, though. I feel like I was right inside the books, that I was living a different life. A life that I would love to be part of now. It is a life similar to what I was working in, over twenty-five years ago.

It is difficult to describe

When it comes to reading I am a late starter, an opsimath, like Alan Bennett’s Queen in An Uncommon Reader. I didn’t read an awful lot until I was eighteen years old, when A-level English was over and I did not have to read any more.

Our house was full of books, but I didn’t read more than two or three of them, the same two over and over again: The Folk of the Far-away Tree and Shadow the Sheepdog, both Enid Bylton classics. My sister read books to me, my Mum read books to me, I read the Beano, usually while sitting up a tree!

Then I left home and then I got a new pair of glasses. Only then did I start consuming books like someone who hadn’t eaten for months.

I read books on anything and everything. In my first year as an art student my twenty-five-pounds-a-term student grant was spent on paper, paints and books: oh yes, plus a flying jacket to keep me warm while outside drawing.

I collected books on trees, books on painters, classic novels, books on art therapy, lots of poetry books and many more.

Now I am collecting books on and around Conductive Education!

I am slowing getting through the reading that I missed when I was at the PAI training to be a conductor.

Now I receive copies of papers from some of the NICE conductors, things that they had given them in their training, and recommended reading from several sources.

This week I have finished reading all three volumes of The Road to Life (An Epic of Education) by A.S.Makarenko, in a lovely 1951 Soviet English translation. I read the first volume over a year ago and I have just tracked down the second two through Abe Books. They were actually sent to me from a disused church in my home town, Norwich. All three volumes are in quite good condition and smell delicious, good enough to eat!

I was hooked after the first volume and I had been imptient to read on, to discover more about Makarenko's work and life so, as I spied the small parcel on the stairs one morning earlier this month, I unpacked it with glee.

I have been reading Makarenko to and from work all week, in my lunch hours, and even on the tram to the theatre. I would have read in the interval of Joan Baez if there had been one. Now I am hooked on his writings and I feel myself a Makarenkoist through and though

Tears, not sad ones

A. S. Mararenko makes me cry.

I cried often while reading these three volumes. Not because of the desperate state of affairs that he describes, bcause he makes even the accounts of all the work to be done full of optimism and somehow a wonderful thing. The need to move onwards, developing and creating, going through new hardships, all this doesn’t make me cry either.

He makes me cry mostly because I realise as I read further, that I have been right all the time. Right to enthuse over every tiny thing that a child says, or does, or sees, or is excited about. It is what my Mum did and what my Dad did and still does with me. My life changed when I left that environment at eighteen, I missed it very much, but I took this skill with me. I incororated my parents' ability to enjoy and enthuse over the little things in life, to be thrilled by every change in development, and to encourage further interest and adventure. The ability to take time. I believe too that I share their ability in transferring this enthusiasm to others.

Time doesn't tick by, it stands still

I realised while reading A. S. M. that I have been right all these years to delight in all that children and adults do. I discovered that I am right not to have been deterred when someone asked me to hurry up when I listened to the detailed explanation given to me by children or by adult clients of something that they had experienced. Where else will someone find the time to listen and try to understand, if not in my group?

I realise that I am right to value how, in my work as a conductor, time itselfseems to stand still. Time allows me to enthuse, to be delighted and thrilled by the small things in life, time allows me to notice these things. Just as it did when I was a child, poking under leaves looking at frogs with my Dad. (Oh no, I forgot that happened last Easter!)

In Road to Life A. S. M talks about making healthy human beings, creating healthy souls and bodies. That is what I always wanted to be involved in. I suppose that is what I have always been involved in.

Please sir, I want some more

I have finished the books now and I want more of the same. Maybe I will go on to the Lectures for Parents, maybe I will watch the 1953 Soviet film The Road to Life.

I felt that it was so important for me to write about, to enthuse about and to share my excitement about what I have been reading, but I really don’t know at this stage what more to say.

Doubtless I will return to A. S. M., but this is all for now.


Beano -

A.S.Makarenko -

Road to Life (An Epic of Education) volumes I, II, II., Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1951.

Alan Bennett -

The Uncommon reader, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 13:978-0-374, ISBN 10: 374-28096-7

Please Sir, I want some more -

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Joan Baez

A womanly woman

She is over there on the right-hand column of my blog. She takes her rightful place amongst the woman I admire, among those womanly women who for some reason or another have caught my attention.

Tonight she is not only over there on the side of my blog, she has been here in Nürnberg. Yes, another one of my list of those who have visited Nürnberg. With me once again in the audience.

She was here thrilling the crowds with her strong yet at the same time fragile voice. She can still do those funny twiddly bits with her voice that never fail to send shivers down my spine and turn my toes up.

She was on-stage non-stop for almost two hours. It seemed a bit of a struggle towards the end but then she pulled it together with a sing-a-long number and then went bravely on to sing again without accompaniment.

She sang my favourite of all favourites. The song that tells the story of the man who couldn’t use his alibi to avoid being accused of a murder, as “he was lying in the arms of his best friend's wife”. The best friend's wife walks the streets in the dead of night in a long black veil.

She does those wonderful things with her voice in this song which is why I like it as well as the text.

And as always she sang about dreaming that she met Joe Hill, the man who says that he didn’t die. This is true, as for many he didn’t.

I am writing these notes as I wait for the tram, surrounded now, just as in the Meistersingerhalle, by aging hippies. Although it seems that hippies never age, they don’t grow old. Their hair, like Joan’s, just goes grey. We behave and dress just the same as we did at Woodstock, or how we would have done if we had been there.

The lady behind me in the tram queue has just said that it is like a gathering for old-age pensioners, I turned and smiled and said "I am not that old yet, even though the hair is as grey as Joan’s!"

Forever young

Joan sang about growing old. She hoped in her song that our hands would always be busy. I thought of my Mum at this point and how she always told me that deep inside she never felt any different to when she was twenty years old. She didn’t sound any different either, and her hands were always busy too.

Joan Baez doesn’t look old but she does appear a little frail. She stands and walks tall, her posture as upright as it always was. But she now appears a little stiff, a little brittle, fragile, although her fingers still glided effortlessly over the strings of her guitar and she stood while she sang for the whole evening.

The first time that I saw her at the Meistersingerhalle, twelve years ago now, she asked for a stool at half-time and kicked her shoes off!

She may have looked a bit brittle but not so her voice. She can still belt them out to the back of the hall, hitting the high notes just as well as the really low ones. She is a very clever musician and she has a clever band of musicians around her. I think that between them they have arranged and re-arranged songs to suit the voice of the sixty-seven-year-old Joan Baez, rather than the thirty-five year old Joan Baez.

It was amazing to hear the strength in her voice increase when she sang in Spanish. There really was a difference.

Of course when she sang Sag mir wo die Blumen sind she had several hundred people joining in and she was able to stop singing herself in places when we were giving it all we could. I would actually like to say a big thank you here to my singing stroke-client, who taught me 'Where have all the flowers gone?' in German just so that I was able to join in this evening.

Fifty years in the business

She promised to give us a bit of everything from then till now. Which she did. I don’t claim to have been there from the beginning but I was quite young when I jumped on the hippy bandwagon. It was quite early on in my arty life that I got to know of the Bob Dylan brigade.

I wondered as I listened this evening whether the German audience knew what she was singing about. For most of the evening her mask-like face mirrored the tone of the majority of the songs, only breaking into a smile to receive the standing ovation,.

It was quite a sombre set.

When Joan spoke at the beginning of the concert about her fifty years in the business I pondered on my own life. I thought about my own daily performances after thirty years in the business and wondered whether my own voice will hold out after a three-hour programme like it did in today’s stroke group, in fifteen years time when I too shall be sixty-seven!

I will keep Joan Baez as my hero, as my guide, and will prepare soothing teas and cough mixtures to take on to my stage with me, as she did tonight. I will imitate her upright posture and try to find a strength like hers.

I realised while watching and listening why she is on my list of heroes, over there to the right, in the womanly-women column. She looked lovely, just a bit older, she was elegantly dressed in black and she is tough. She is still fighting, hoping through the words of her songs and her concerts, to make a difference in the world. That is why she is up there high on my list, with the likes of Tina Turner, Katherine Hepburn, Miss Marples and Mária Hári.


I went to this concert tonight alone. I chose to go alone. It was the first time that I have done this and it was brilliant.

There was something special about being there alone, I felt like Joan Baez was singing especially for me. I had my binoculars with me, which sort of blocks everyone else out, and I wallowed in being sung to for two whole hours.

I enjoyed myself at that concert tonight more than any other one I have ever been too, except of course Tina Turner's!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

High, apple-pie hopes

"High Jinks", Christmas 1960 (That's me at the front on the left and big Sis at the other end of the table)


As CE Awareness Day approaches in North America, Thursday 25th February, there are Google- Alerts coming my way passing on news about this, and blog postings from Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton passing some of this on to the rest of the conductive world.

Perhaps it is a good sign for the future that “American Conductor” Kasey is advertising this week for a conductor-colleague at last for her up-until-now one-man band in Ohio.

Well done Kasey!


I just got in from work and there was another CE Awareness Day alert for me to peruse with my cup of tea.

I didn’t get very far with reading this before I got diverted, I started humming a song in my head, an old favourite of mine from my childhood. My Dad would have had us all singing along to an old 45-rpm that we had.

This evening in the end I started singing out loud and I was so surprised that, at least forty years after last singing this song, I still know all the words!

What made me start singing?

This did. There in this Awareness Day news Brent Page, the Conductive Education Manager for March of Dimes Canada, was saying:

"It is our hope to expand CE to anyone in Toronto - and moreover, North America, who might be able to reap the benefits from it."

And what was it that I immediately began to hum and sing?

"High hopes, he’s got high hopes, he’s got high, apple-pie, in-the-sky hopes”

And I thought that he is going to need a hell of a lot of conductors to be able to achieve all of that. But you never know, maybe he will do it.

Anything is possible

I hope that he is successful. That ant and that ram with their dams, rubber-tree plants and their high hopes, both knew a thing or two about hard work and they also believed that anything is possible! That’s what conductive upbringing is all about isn’t, high hopes? Lifting that chin up from the ground and moving mountains, believing that anything is possible? That is just what my stroke group was talking about today, walking tall and hoping high, finding the way to make everything possible. Best wishes over the waters for a successful CE Thursday



Sing-along-a Frank Sinatra and friends -


Just as I was posting this, in came another alert from Canada -

Monday 22 February 2010

A family of four and one stroke

"Ariel view", by Susie Mallett, 2010

An exception to the rule

Last Wednesday evening I was just about to settle down to do some more of my ongoing work when the phone rang.

As an exception to my rule, I had given my home number to one of my adult clients with whom I was planning to do some early-morning speech sessions before the rest of the group arrived.

This man, the newest member of the stroke group, has in the last few months unfortunately developed epilepsy. He hasn’t been feeling well since he started taking medicine for this and, as an added problem, the balance has not yet been found. This has meant that he has had to cancel some of our sessions. His wife phoned me on Wednesday to cancel another one as he still feels quite poorly.

As this man cannot speak spontaneously it is difficult to know how the medicine is affecting him. But we can see that he is wobbly on his feet and very sleepy. He confirms that he cannot concentrate very well and feels very insecure when moving around on his own. He is anxious about leaving the house. He is worried that his wife will be driving him and that he may have a seizure on the way.

His wife had just phoned to say that they were sorry that they wouldn’t be able to make it again in the morning. She said that she wanted me to know so that I do not leave home specially early to meet them. She went on to tell me a lot more than just this. How glad I was that she had my phone number, and not because I could leave for work in the morning thirty minutes later.

A conductive family

This family is one of the best adult conductive-upbringing families that I have ever met. The wife is amazing, I would welcome her any day to work with me in my group. In fact. she is now actually present in the stroke group most of the time. She drives her husband the sixty minutes on the motorway to us and then watches or joins in when the weather is too cold and dreary to take a walk outside.

This winter the sessions have been quite lively with partners and carers joining in, not wanting to be outside in the freezing cold and snow. However inviting the countryside looks, they have found our company more inviting than a tramp through deep snow!

Over the past week I have had a lot of feedback from these people. I hear that the partners, carers, wives, sons and daughters have not only been observing their own family member but also the rest of the group, and they report back on their progress too. It is very motivating for us all to hear this.

The wife I had on the phone did just the same. She began to tell me about everything that she had observed in our group, both when I work directly with her husband and also with the other clients. She told me how she tries to adapt all that she learns, to use it in their life at home.

Copy me. Look, this is how you do it!

She told me so many things, like how she saw that her husband was standing without shoes on in the group and could hardly believe it when he lifted first one foot from the ground and then the other. When they were at home the same day she suggested that because her husband could do this unaided he could perhaps take his trousers off standing up rather than sitting down, which would be so much easier for him. He now does this always.

She told me how she observed that her husband, even though it is still less than a year since the stroke, walks better than most of the people she sees at the clinic when they go for appointments with their doctor.

She says that it is because I told them at the beginning, about six months ago now, that he must try to prevent the rotating movement from his hip as he walks. I told them that, as he can bend and stretch both hip and knee, he must learn to use this movement again when walking as soon as possible, and must be continuously reminded to do so.

He has done so. He has learnt it and now he walks without a stick indoors, and sometimes outdoors too.

This observant wife told me how she tells her husband that she will be his eyes, looking on the floor for him and will tell him if there is anything in his path. She tells him that, while she does this, he must concentrate on walking upright and looking further ahead than his feet, thereby stretching his body with every step he makes.

He does it very well. When we work in the group I always ask him to look at his wife as we walk. He is very proud to be able to do so.

She told me too that sometimes he comes into the kitchen and asks her to bring a glass of juice into the other room for him. She says to him “You can do it yourself, look this is how”. She shows him how, she knows how, having observed him carry his walking stick in his hand in the group, then she walks beside him as he does it until he feels confident enough to do it alone.

She tells me that she never tells him simply that he can do it himself. She always shows him how. She says that she has read so much about stroke and aphasia and she realises that she can never be really sure whether he remembers how to do it himself.

What a wonderful lady, wife and mum she is.

Not surprisingly the information that she has gathered over the past six months, apart from what she has learnt in our group, comes from the sort of books that I always recommend. Books written by fellow suffers, or by carers and partners of stroke victims. It is from these books that we learn most.

Not only learning but teaching too

Not only is she there living conductively with her husband, this wonderful lady is educating not only her two sons but also their extended family and friends.

They have always entertained lots of friends at home and the moment that a word is said about guests being too much work for her these days this lady jumps up and says:

“Oh no, you must not stop coming, my husband has got to learn to speak again. How will he do that with no one to talk to? And me, what about me? I need someone to talk to, too."

Of course huge crowds can be exhausting for stroke victims, especially those suffering from aphasia, but small groups of dear friends can provide the key to opening up new means of communication.

We went on to discuss that the reason for planned these early morning speech sessions for her husband had been because we were not only uncertain where the key is, but also where the lock is that is preventing us getting in, and of course preventing her husband getting his voice out.

I need a lot more time with this man alone to be able to determine the best methods to use to prevent frustration and to encourage communication. His wife is doing all that she can, using all that she has learnt and is also searching for this lock and its key.

The members of our group are also doing their bit. They are determined, as they always are with new members, to get him talking again. I encourage a form of questioning that requires simple answers and I realise how difficult this is for even some of the more fluent speakers. The wife observes and teaches this to her sons.

We have two more early morning speech sessions planned for this week. I hope that we can make a good start then in our hunt for a way through.

This conductive wife explains to me how disappointing it is when family members say: “But he isn’t making any progress”. This lady is tough though, undeterred, and she immediately begins to list for her visitors all the small and almost invisible steps that he has made. Things that happen when they are not there, like cleaning teeth standing up, carrying a drink to his place, walking with his head held high, spending thirty minutes at a go, and not ten as before, in the office sorting out their papers.

She tells me about how their two teenage boys long to have chats with their dad again. About how she has to comfort them and teach them what she has learnt in our group, so that they too learn how to encourage their Dad to speak.

She told me on the phone about her ambitions as a young woman. She wanted to be a physiotherapist. I told her she that is already a better conductor than many. She understood what our group is aiming for from the first moment she joined us, and introduces everything step by step into her family's lives.

She doesn’t tell her husband to blow his nose, or to carry the glass or to comb his hair. She says: “Do it like this, watch, you can do this, copy me”. She tells me that he does it, he copies her.

She deserves a medal!

Taking a break

She also told me that she has learnt to sit down on the sofa beside her husband, leave the washing or the cleaning till tomorrow, and just sit there beside him and read a book. She told me how much she appreciates it when in the group I ask the partners how they are. I inquire how their aches and pains are, how often they do something for themselves, suggest massages and relaxing times with friends, and I remind them that they are still themselves, still a wife and a mother, or a husband, a father or a worker.

She tells me that she has had to learn this and that it helps her to remember to think about herself when I ask her each time we meet how she is.

It is knowing people like this wonderful lady, this amazingly loving wife and mother, this intelligent gatherer of information and transformer of all that she learns into something useful for their daily life, that makes me cry with joy that I do the job I do.

Real lives

It is conversations like this one last Wednesday that make me so angry with myself because sometimes I let the world get too much for me, even when, in comparison to the life described above, my life is so easy and so enjoyable.

When I put the phone down I made a note for myself to suggest to this lovely, articulate lady that she keeps a diary. I will suggest that she records what is happening in their life, if possible going back to the early days.

I am sure that reading what she has to say about "life as a family after a stroke" would be a great help to her and her family, and also provide much motivation and information to other families in a similar situation.


We will be swapping lists of biographies and autobiographies in the group this week, I will list any new ones here later.

Time for some more bits-in-between for conductors

"Opel Rekord"


"HO-Gauge "

"Expensive dreams!"

Jolly times ahead

After weeks of long hours at work and cosy evenings at home out of the snow, it seems like there are going to be more jollies than work in the week ahead.

I haven’t been to the theatre for months and concerts have also been few and far between, but now I have a never-ending round of bits-in-between for conductors. I hope that I find the time to go to work.


The merry-go-round of jolly times all started on Thursday when I visited my “stepson” to watch the film that he has made for his recently completed degree in media design. I had been invited to watch this on his “big screen” and beamer, instead of viewing it over the internet, for two reasons.

One is that I had designed and painted one of the dresses worn by the female lead and have my name in the credits, see posting:

The second is that he needed my help translating the script into English.

The film can be seen still only in its original German at:

We had fun, we drank tea, we chatted about life and we completed the work. We even had time before my last train home to watch the films that we had made together sixteen years ago with my very first video camera. We laughed a lot at them and were impressed by our creativity, though not by the technique!

Broderich and his black holes

On Friday I attended the (world) premier of Broderich komponiert schwarze Löcher ("Broderich composes black holes"), by Alfred Süß. This short play was performed by the senior theatre group at the city playhouse.

Since the death in 2008 of my best friend, Opa of young man mentioned above, and one of the founding members of this group, I always receive an invitation to the premier of their new work. I am very honoured and I always find time to go. This season’s offering is extra special as it was a “world premier”!

It was a brilliant performance and I helped to celebrate the success after the show at a local restaurant with the players, the playwright and all their fans.

Train spotting

I have been carrying a newspaper article about in my bag for about a month now. The article describes a model railway exhibition in Schwabach, a town about twenty minutes away that is easily reachable by S-Bahn.

This was to be the last final weekend of the show and I was determined not to miss what had attracted my attention in the first place: an HO-gauge model railway packed into the boot of an Opel Rekord car.

It took me a while to get going on Saturday after my late night at the premier but I made it to Schwabach by mid-afternoon. After a twenty-minute walk in glorious sunshine, with two strangers who were making the same journey, I arrived at the Stadtmuseum. I had a couple of hours before closing time to enjoy not only the exhibition but an even better permanent display. There is at the museum a huge collection of the toys produced by the manufacturers Fleischmann and Doll from the late 1800s until the present day.

Fleischmann and Doll, both Nürnberg firms, were among many tin-plate manufactures producing toys in Nürnberg in the first half of the 1900s. During the war years they turned to the production of bullet magazines and utility utensils.

Fleischmann I believe still has a factory in Heilbronn, but its Nürnberg headquarters, in the neighbouring street to mine, has been closed now for two years.

I not only delighted in the toys on display I also loved the watercolour pictures on the boxes, brilliant images depicting the speed of engines and the atmosphere produced by their steam and smoke. I wished I had been the artist!

I enjoyed the train in a car-boot very much but my favourite layouts of them all were those of the N-gauge series. It isn’t only these mini-trains that I love but also the tiny landscapes, people, cars and houses that go with them. The detail on the larger layouts is not exact enough for it to look as realistic as it does on the smaller scale.

The sun was still just about showing its face as I made my way back to catch the train home, while having a quick look at the beautiful town centre en route.

What a treat I had in store when I discovered that the next train to leave for Nürnberg was a double-decker Regionalbahn train. This is my favourite ride of all, even better than in an ICE train.

More jollies to come

The week to follow is packed with work and jollies.

On Monday I am wearing a new CE hat as I accompany one of the children to speech therapy.

On Tuesday I have a full normal day at work followed by an evening with Joan Baez in the Meistersingerhalle. I am looking forward to that, it will be a “first” for me. I have seen JB before, twice, but this time I am going on my own.

Wednesday and Thursday are normal work days but on Thursday evening there will be time for another jolly. A fortieth-birthday treat, again at the Meistersingerhalle, for one of the Tuesday-evening worker’s group. We are going together to a concert given by the Ten Tenors from Australia.

Saturday night will see the final jolly of this bunch, another amateur theatre production. This time I will see Mensch Ärger dich nicht. This is the German name for the game Ludo, meaning "Man don’t get irritated".

Two friends of mine will be performing in what I believe is a thriller, and many of their fans, family and friends will be sitting in the audience to applaud their hard work. I expect that we will all be partying afterwards once again.

I will take both camera and sketch-book to all events, so watch this spot!

Friday 19 February 2010

Just a little bit spleenful and very scandalous

Spleenwort, Asplenium bulbiferum,
by Susie Mallett, New Zealand 2006

I am not the only one venting my spleen today.

I think that I am also not the only one who misread the “Speleen test” as the spleen test (see the notes at the bottom of Andrew Sutton's posting on the same subject).

I read James Forliti’s posting of the day after I finished work this morning.

I was planning to write a comment in my head, or in my note book on the tram home. Unfortunately I had my latest reading book in my pocket and got so engrossed that I forgot to think about the comment, and I nearly missed the tram stop too. Probably just as well that I read and didn’t ponder on the posting as I would have arrived home bald, having torn my hair out.

When I read about the day that James’ son Blue had at school how I wished that there was not thousands of miles and a vast ocean between Nürnberg and BC.

Yes I did at first glance read spleen in the title of this posting and it wasn’t until I read about the spelling test that I realised my error. But I had already by this point started venting mine and was determined to find out what else the dictionary had to say about spleenish behaviour.

Because I was sure it was exactly the word needed in this instance.

The spleen used to be considered as the organ in the body that is the seat of emotion. If people are spleenful they are irritable.

I bet that day at school made Blue pretty irritable, it certainly quite rightly got his dad’s back up. Lets hope that both have still got hair.


James Forliti and Blue -

Andrew Sutton -

Thursday 18 February 2010


" A picture of love, hope and sunshine ", by Lill and Liza, aged 4 and 5

....and wrongs

A subject much discussed in most countries of the world has been that of the clients' rights if photographed and filmed, especially children's rights, and the need for their informed consent.

The other evening I was Google-alerted to a short video that had just gone up on the Internet, a conductor and a young adult, or a teenager maybe, working together. I recognised the conductor at once and emailed her to say " Well done. What lovely clips of you on YouTube. And what an amazing room you have to work in too." She wrote back, saying "That's really funny that you saw me on YouTube, because I didn't tape anything. How very bizarre.... Thanks anyways!"

It seems that this video was probably made and posted on the net without her permission, pPerhaps posted by a carer or parent who was present in the session or by the client herself. The conductor didn't even know!

No harm done here, and no bad feelings, but it set me asking, like I have done so many times over the years, "Don't we conductors have any rights. Can't our feelings be taken into consideration?"

I have worked in a lot of centres around the world, and with families and there have been a lot of photographs and films taken as I work. Not one person ever asked my permission to use them publicly, although subsequently I too have been surprised once or twice while surfing the Net to come across myself on the websites of centres .

I have written about the use of photographss in CE documentation before. Not only is it important to have the permission of the client, it is also important to ask the conductor concerned whether the photograph or video in question is a true representation of what the article or website is describing., and then request formal permission for its use.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

The wonderful things about visits

"A room with a view, an office with some sun"

Influenced by the weather

I was feeling a bit under-the-weather this morning. Added to that I was, I admit, just a little disappointed by the fact that the client who should come at nine o’clock for his individual speech programme was also under-the-weather and wouldn’t be coming. We had planned to start a speech programme but due to the weather, either being under it or snowed in by it, the first three of our six planned early-morning sessions have had to be cancelled.

I am convinced that, with lots of encouragement and hard work, both together in the group and with the extra individual sessions, we can greatly improve the communication abilities of this client. But we are hitting a wall called winter. Along with winter come a selection of “free gifts”: coughs and colds and travel problems.

We hope for better weather and a clean bill of health on Thursday.

I trudged through the greying snow and along icy pathways to work. I must admit I would have enjoyed another cosy hour in bed but I tried to breath in lots of fresh air and get myself in the mood to put on some of my different hats for the day.

We were expecting visitors to the stroke group

Visitors, now this is something very interesting to experience in my stroke group these days.

Several years ago, when the average age of the group was ten to fifteen years older than it is now, whenever possible I had to start preparing the group for a visit several weeks beforehand. They were very nervous when strangers were about and the spasticity in their limbs increased manyfold. This has changed with the changes in the group. The group has got younger and the reactions to guests has changed too. They now love having visitors.

This in turn makes it all a lot more relaxed for me, and I love having visitors too. Almost as much as I love having students or young conductors to teach.

I have often thought about what it is about the visitors that makes the group so different. I think that I hit this on the head today. The group like the visitors being there as they love to hear again and again from me why we do certain things, how we rediscover tricks to make movements easier and learn all about conductive living and upbringing.

They don’t ask me much when we are alone, I try to explain as much as I can as we work but a visitor in the group makes a difference as a visitor has to be told it all from scratch. This is what they like, especially those with aphasia who perhaps forget quite quickly what they have been told, but also those who just need the reinforcement and reminders of why they are doing what they are doing.

And added to this is their eagerness to show visitors how well they are progressing. The strangers in the room no longer have the effect on this group of increasing the clients' muscle tone. Now the visitors are motivation and an opportunity for learning relearning and questioning.

I suspect that how I behave also has an influence too and that, as I too have learnt to love visitors, our whole environment has become much more relaxed, so that we move like the well oiled team we also are even when there are strangers in the camp!

It seems that now we all enjoy putting on show! Sometimes it is an impro-show, especially if we have a guest trying out the work on a plinth with us. This will mean that I have to move around from one to the other a bit more than normal, that less individual assistance will be on hand and that I will be explaining a bit more than usual, but it always works extremely well.

Back to today

An occupational therapist who has been to see us before was bringing one of her stroke clients with her this time. This therapist is very keen to get her clients working in my groups and even more keen for me to work with her.

We are trying to organise a group in the town where she works, an hour away from us by road or rail. In this town there is a small group of enthusiastic people, including a social worker, a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist, plus several parents and children and many potential adult clients. There is even a doctor, a neurologist, in the group. This group is rallying together to get Conductive Education out there in the sticks.

I am really keen on developing this work even though there seems to be very little time for it at the moment. I have afternoon groups to attend in Nürnberg, which means that timing would be impossible without the beam-me-up-Scotty machine that I long to have on cold, dark nights when I work very late!

Cheery faces in the grey morning light

Droopy mehad arrived at work this morning where I was immediately cheered by the children who met me at the door. The children from Kindergarten were all dressed in their odd costumes. There was a nurse and a clown and some unrecognisable creatures, and just as I was squeezing past to get to my room Fireman Sam arrived complete with hose.

It is Carnival Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras! That day of the year when we herald the coming of spring, beat off the winter spirits, and for some it is the day that precedes the beginning of a six-week long fast.

Today is a day to be crazy and have fun, to dress up in funny clothes and paint noses red. And for us Brits it is a day for running around with and then later eating our pancakes.

But I still wasn’t in the mood for quite that much fun.

It is funny how things change so quickly

Once I was in the group room I made a quick change of clothes, shoved a few plinths here and there, placed everything that I would need strategically beside, on or under plinths, had a cup of tea and a bite to eat, and the hats got changed.

My droopy and grey start to the day had now completely vanished into thin air. I was now in stroke-group mode, carnival mode and visitor mode, and having fun.

This is my absolute favourite group of all and they know it. They can just about get away with anything, although today I was just a little stricter than usual as I had a new potential client to concentrate on.

About half way through the session I realised that it was flowing better than it had done in a long time. The group were moving so well, talking and even being very witty. We really could have gone on the stage with our performance today.

At 13.45 my last clients and visitors from the stroke group went out of the door and I stood there and thought about the last few hours, about the changes that had taken place and the changes that may still take place because of the visitors. Maybe a new group member, possible new work elsewhere, the old clients newly motivated to develop further, etc. etc.

That session had been one of the best sessions that we have had for a long time, possibly since the blind man came to visit us with his dog.

Actually during the session, as I had been working the group, moving deftly from one plinth to the other, from a left leg to a right leg then back to a right hand, my thoughts dwelt for a second or two on my teachers at the Petö Institute. A fleeting image came to my mind that they were watching me and I realized what they had taught me. To be ready to change just anything at all and to accept just any changes as they happen. I also though that they would have been proud of themselves and their wonderful teaching if they could see my group working together this morning.

And what do you know, the seasons changed too

At 2.30pm the sun came out. This was too good to miss. I had no littlies, as they were all on skiing holidays but I had office work to do, so I set myself up a make-do office so that I could soak up some of the sun's warmth as I write.


I wrote this posting on Shrove Tuesday, it is now Ash Wednesday. It seems as if the weather knew that the winter got chased away yesterday, since this morning the sun came out as it got light and went down again as it got dark. That is the first time that the sun has honoured us with its presence for a whole day since before Christmas and I can tell you that it made the world of difference. There were many instant changes. The sky was blue and so was the snow! The light changed, it reflected of the windows opposite into my flat, it seemed like we were living on a different planet.

It is still minus-something but the rays of the sun had enough strength in them to make it very dangerous once more to be walking on the sunny side of the streets. Icicles are once more crashing down from four of five storeys above.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Shrove Tuesday

" Shrove Tuesday"

Yes, of course, what did you think?

Today we made pancakes!

We counted eight spoonfuls of flour into a bowl, then someone cracked in the egg, another poured in the milk, and another held the mixer and mixed until the batter was smooth and arms ached.

We put cups full of batter into a sizzling pan and enjoyed the gorgeous individual patterns that appeared.

The pancakes were turned, not tossed!

We mixed icing sugar with cocoa powder, that in turn was spread on the hot pancakes.

Finally we ate them.

Still remaining traditionally very British, I ate mine just with lemon.

The Germans eat doughnuts on Shrove Tuesday, and on just about every other day in the month before, but in my evening Workers Group there is a slight English influence and we usually make and eat pancakes.


The cleaner followed her nose and came in to join us.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Reading pictures

"Torn lino"

"The potting shed"

"Old lady sewing"

It has been a busy week. I am trying yet again not to “mislay” pages in my notebook. Here are some more mixed-up ponderings.

Thursday, 9.15, snowing heavily

I am waiting for my stroke group to arrive. One of the five members phoned at eight to say that he woud not be going to risk the fifty-kilometre drive. I have had no word from the others so I assume they are on their way.

Only one of them lives locally, the others travel for up to an hour to get here, so in this weather it is amazing that they are making the effort to get here.

I gave myself an extra thirty minutes for my journey this morning in order to get here on time.d I assume that my clients will all need to do the same, especially those stuck in the jams on the motorway.

It is ten minutes before group begins and I am still alone.

Looking back to Tuesday's session

On Tuesday the same group that I am waiting for now were here. After they had left I wrote some notes on our session, wondering as always how I could put them into a posting.

At the very end of Tuesday’s session we had decided instead of doing our usual singing, that we would do what we call “reading pictures”.

We will probably do that again today.

I know my clients will turn up eventually as no more have phoned in to say that they have decided to stay at home. I have already prepared our speech and “reading” materials.

All the members of the group are at different stages when it comes to actual reading. Some stroke clients say it was a real life-saver to have discovered that, after suffering a stroke, they could still read fluently. Others have had to learn from scratch, with the alphabet, using flash cards and whatever fun things we come up with to get them recognising and pronouncing words and starting to communicate again.

It is very frustrating for these clients, as they feel very shut off from the world.

One of the methods I like to use is reading pictures. It is good for everyone what ever their abilities.

All my friends know that I collect old calendars for my work, so in January they come pouring in!

The cardboard at the back gets a coat of white emulsion and is used for painting and I use the pictures and photographs mainly in my stroke groups, for a variety of activities.

Mostly we use them for encouraging conversation, making up stories, developing our imaginations and practising the skill of asking each other questions. I use them for learning to recognise and describe colour, form and objects, and for describing and differentiating between seasons and climates, and countries and cities.

There are endless uses. We can cut them up into puzzles with anything from two to one hundred pieces. We can make a story board with several pictures. We can talk about lifestyle, countries, fashion and festivals, depending on what kind of calendars I have been given to spur us on in conversation.

You name it we do it!

Depending on what stage the client is at in a particular moment we choose the tasks.

In the group on Tuesday was a Russian man. Not only has he learnt to be a lot more imaginative while “picture reading” but his German has also improved through describing pictures.

Two years ago he politely refused to take part verbally, but he joined in by listening and he learnt. The others in the group, with my encouragement, asked him questions to which he could answer Yes or No. Now he still needs a few prompts from the others but can answer in complete sentences and is less embarrassed doing so.

There is a relatively new man in the group. He still does not use spontaneous speech and often needs the first letter or sound of a word before he can say something. He describes from his picture colours and forms, and answers the groups questions just in the same way that the Russian man began.

Then there is the lady who has progressed and progressed over the years, from not being able to speak more than one-word answers, not being able to visualise and imagine but always being able to read books. I can see the delight and pride in her face now as she describes in detail what she imagines about the world in the picture in front of her. She no longer just describes just what she sees on the paper, now she describes scenes and tells us stories related to the picture. These are recollections from her life or from books that she has read, or from films that she has seen. One day she will be describing unknown experiences.

Two left-siders

Then there are the two “left siders" in the group.

One of these men uses his hands a great deal to embellish his flamboyant style of speaking. If he remembers, he sits on his right hand so that his left arm springs into action, supplementing his words with huge arm movements. If he forgets to sit on his right hand, then it does all the talking and his left hand remains speechless!

When his turn comes, we are treated to the most amazing picture stories. He is very amusing and I have observed how certain members of the group have recovered their sense of humour through listening to this man. They relearn how to understand a joke. I have in turn learnt to understand yet another accent and also, very rarely, get the jokes too. When I don’t catch on, one of the group will have the “job” of explaining it to me!

The other “left sider” mumbles a lot in his spontaneous speech. He says thathe does this as he does not like the sound of his own voice when he speaks louder and clearer.

When asked what is going on in or beyond his picture, this client has always begun with the sentence, “ Keine Ahnung”, no idea. I have always told the group members that there can be no mistakes in “picture reading”. Apart from the artist, who is not present, they are the only ones who know at this point what is going on in the picture. It is their story. It takes a long time sometimes for this to sink in.

The "Keine Ahnung“ man still begins with this sentence, but now he quickly follows it, in a voice now as clear as a bell, with an amazing story. He is so eager for his audience to enjoy his wonderful stories that he now speaks really clearly and even lifts his head. I never ask him to take the first turn, he always needs some time to create his imaginary world behind the scenes of his picture,and to feel confident enough to present it to us. If he has to go first he starts mumbling and he looses his audience. When he is last he steals the show and all go home very jolly.

On Tuesday we had pictures of windows. I had chosen the pictures with clients in mind, some of them showing more detail to use as starting points than did others. Among others we then heard a story about an old lady sitting in a farmhouse kitchen, sewing, surrounded by all the oddments collected during her long life, and feeling alone. Then there was the toilet window, with the blind drawn. Inside was a pink walled room with only the washbasin and tatty linoleum on the floor to be seen.

To finish off we heard about the neighbour’s potting shed. The man had knocked on his neighbours front door in order to borrow tools to prune the roses around his own door. The wife sent him round the back to find her husband in the potting shed. On looking through the window he saw the neighbour trying hard to remove the blades from a push-along lawnmower so they could be sharpened. He knocked on the window and was let in and he gave the neighbour a hand.
Not bad from someone who a few years ago had no idea what to say.


I wrote this on Thursday but the action had taken place on Tuesday. It is no longer surprising for me that a day later I also read about reading on Jennifer Theyer‘s blog, and this was then picked up on Andrew Sutton’s blog too.

That’s how the world goes round.


Jennifer Theyer-
Theyer, J. (2010) Knowledge quest, Roa Jo's Journey, 9 February

Andrew Sutton-