My visitors today

Monday 28 February 2011

Well, well, well!

The upbringing, just as it should, goes on and on and on!

This afternoon I was out on a wonderful excursion in the almost spring-has-sprung sunshine. We cannot quite believe that spring is springing because on Sunday morning those of us up early enough woke again to find a thin layer of snow covering our world.

But today there was warmth in the sun, the gloves remained in my bag but a scarf was still needed as a barrier against the sharp, piercing wind, especially out in the flat landscape south of the city.

I was out on a mission with my stroke client

I wrote about the first part of this mission in the closing pages of my book: Let me tell you a story, Book One.

My stroke client was searching for a means of transport that would save her, now retired, husband from pushing her in a wheelchair. She was not sure if she wanted one of those scooters that are becoming very popular but are very bulky, or an electric wheelchair.

I made the arrangements in the autumn with our local wheelchair, rolator, shoes and splints supplier, for myself, my client and her husband to visit the workshop to try out a few models.

My client was quick to decide on a used electric wheelchair that was more compact than the scooters but still had a powerful battery. It was also a lot cheaper than the others and well within her budget.

It was comfortable and she found it easy to manoeuvre. I was actually incredibly impressed on that first visit to see how my client sat in a motorized chair for the first time ever and was completely at ease driving around in it both inside and out.

Today we went to collect it. I told my client that she could have completed the whole thing without me being there, but I also told her that I was very happy to be involved in this important step in her quest for greater independence and in fact I would not have missed it for the world.

With spring in the air today I think my client probably took her new wheelchair out in the village where she lives for an inaugural trip around the block while her husband sorted out a home for it in the garage!

To continue the upbringing story

On my return home I received two telephone calls. One of them was from the client who I worked with last month up north. The young man who I wrote a posting about on my offspring blog only yesterday:

He called to tell me that he had just come home from the physiotherapist on public transport on his own and that the work that he was doing in the family business in the evenings, packing shelves and generally tidying up was having a good influence on the energy he has every day at work. He is getting fitter and he can concentrate better already.

The other call came from our conductor friend. I actually missed that one but luckily she filled the answer machine with all her very positive news. “Our” client had been in touch and he will be visiting her, by public transport when she returns from her holiday. Things seem to be moving forwards there too.

In all the excitement I forgot to ask how the snorkeling is coming along and if the holiday is on the cards yet. I expect I will receive a phone call soon enough when my client feels that he has got that far!

It is lovely for me to have a conductor friend on call, not quite on site but nearer than I am. It is also wonderful to be the conductor on the end of the phone. Listening as carefully as I can to catch every word of the athetoid language and be a motivator from afar.

There is so much to do in a conductive upbringing and so many different ways in which it can be done.


"I can see the sea"

Here is something to watch and think about.

My sister gave this film to me when I was recently at her home. I eventually watched it a couple of days ago and then immediately afterwards I read the very moving posting on Norman Perrin’s blog, with more comments on his Facebook page too:

Something has to be done, not only in UK but here in Germany too. I expect in many other countries in the world. We not only need to think about what the provision in the future should be for our children with a motor disorder but also for adults. Children do not stay children for long. They are adults for much longer.


"I can see the sea" - the first one to shout this out in the car as we travelled to the coast on what seemed like every weekend of my childhood got lots of praise for being so observant. Sis and I knew where all the gaps between all the trees and tiny hillocks were like we knew the backs of our hands so it was always a photo-finish!

If you look carefully you can just about distinguish cloud from sea.

Conductive snorkeling

English Oak, North Norfolk, February 2011

Conductive upbringing

You can read all about the snorkeling and more on my other blog:

Sunday 27 February 2011

Frigyes Karinthy and Micimackó (Winnie the Pooh)

English Oak, North Norfolk, February 2011

Recently on Andrew Sutton’s FaceBook pages there has been a discussion about how meaning can change in translation and the author of one of my favourite books was mentioned, Frigyes Karinthy.

The book A Journey Round My Skull was published in Hungary in 1938. In 1936, Karinthy had undergone brain surgery with only a local anaesthetic. This book describes that experience and the time leading up to it.

I have read the book a couple of times and a few years back while reading on line about its author and learning more about his life and other works, I discovered what has turned out to be one of my favourite blogs, also called A Journey Round my Skull.

The book is on my shelf beside Robert McCrum’s account of his rehabilitation after a stroke.

I do not know how much has been lost in translating this work by Frigyes Karinthy, but it is certainly well worth reading in English.

Winnie the Pooh and Tiger too!

Karinthy was the Hungarian translator of A. A. Milne’s books.


My first posting on this book and others

Andrew Sutton on FaceBook

The book-,9171,761865,00.html

The author

The blog

A copy of the “whimsical guidebook of Budapest” mentioned here, by Torok and Felvideki accompanied me through the streets of Budapest when I lived there. This book had a tendency to fall apart at the seams and pages would go missing, so I purchased several copies over the years. It was for a long time the best guidebook to Budapest.

I love the second of the Hungarian covers featured here -

And I like this cover too -


Saturday 26 February 2011

Catching Petö mackerels

"Fishing for fun!"

I have been wanting to capture this game on film ever since I read about the submarine called USS Peto, named after a fish. The peto is a mackerel-like fish that you can read about here on Andrew Sutton's blog:

The littlies had so much fun when the fish snaped at their bait and they rejoiced in the fact that they remained seated throughout. The noise when the fish snaps sometimes gives the children quite a fright and they do well not to jerk too much and by doing so fall off their stools!

Just another instance in which the children are so intent on what they are doing that they do not realise that they have learnt to sit on a chair while waving their arms around. It is lovely to watch them, especially when the fish takes the bait. Then they tug on the line so instantly, just like one would in reality. Sometimes the fish and rod fly onto the "shore", like in a real fishermans story. The result: more giggles.

The "giggle programme"

When I was first working in Germany we had a teenage group who came after school to us. Directly after lunch we separated the boys and the girls so that they had the privacy to learn dressing and washing skills and to talk about their fears and problems and to look for solutions.

These children attended the same school but were of different ages and so in different classes, This meant that they had not seen each other all day. So they enjoyed a girly chat about the.latest fashions and the latest boyfriends. They also enjoyed a good giggle. I made time in our plan for five minutes of giggles and incontrollable laughter! Sometimes I even left them to it, to discuss boys and other things that are not for the ears of a conductor.

I think it may be time for a "giggle programme" to be slotted into the afternoon tea-time group too, but this time I want to take part. It was so lovely laughing with them last week until the tears rolled down my cheeks.

Given a license to write

"Stop giggling ladies and listen to what's to be done!"

Making time for story telling

Little Princess arrived early, while I was still in the bathroom.

When I appeared she was still wearing her winter jacket, waiting for me.

Sometimes things have to be said that are too important to wait until mundane things like removing outer garments are done. Undressing takes a lot of time and sometimes that time spoils the excitement of a story that has to be told.

So I sat down beside Little Princess and listened.

The story was about something that I had never heard about so it was quite difficult to understand. Luckily Littlie had brought her classroom assistant with her as it was Thursday, the day for exchanging information and learning about how to introduce new activities and solutions in the classroom and in the conductive group that will benefit us all.

I had someone there to help me to understand the difficult words that Littlie was using in her story. Words like driving licence and fountain pen.

I got there in the end, eventually I understood, much to Little Princess's delight.

This is what she told me...

“Today I got my fountain-pen licence! I had hoped to get it yesterday but it was not until today that I managed to write my first-ever dictation without any mistakes.”

The fountain-pen licence

I know Little Princess’s teacher. She is wonderful with the children, especially in relationship to Littlie and her integration into the class. This story is about one of the teacher’s brilliant inventions, a means of motivating the children to do well, to take care in their work and be proud of all that they achieve. Each child gets an actual "licence" on reaching the goal of no mistakes with a pencil.

When the children are able to write a dictation with a pencil without any mistakes to be rubbed out, then they receive the permission, and a certificate that allows them to use their fountain pen. Do not forget that the children in this class are seven or eight years old.

All the children in the class find it such a privilege to be able to use a pen at last, and so grown up too when that pen in question is a fountain pen. It is doubly special when the child has athetoid cerebral palsy.

We practise and practise in the group so that Littlie can control the movement in her arms and her hands, so she can move something without putting too much pressure on the object to fix her movements. She is learning how to rest or fix a different part of her body, trunk, shoulder, elbow or wrist, depending on what task she is doing, so that she can freely move the toy or implement in her grasp.

Little Princess still presses a little bit too hard on the paper when writing and drawing, so she will not start immediately using a proper nib. Instead she will save her fountain pen just a little bit longer and use a gel pen that glides over the paper more easily. The stationary shops in Germany are full of pens of different kinds, suitable for solving many of the problems that children have when they learn to write. Apart from the obvious, left- and right-handed nibs, there are different shapes to grasp and different thicknesses of pen and nib to choose from.

Littlie will use her fountain pen only when the danger of spoiling the nib is less. One of the things that we can do to practice is watercolour painting on a small paper and with a fine, good-quality brush. She will continue to learn how to use just the tip of the brush, and not scrub the paper with it and ruin the bristles. One mention of painting and Littlie just about flies to the table, so there is lots of motivation there too.

Whether she writes from now on with a pencil, a gel pen or a fountain pen is not important to Littlie at the moment. What is important is that she wrote a dictation with no mistakes, that she has the choice to use a pen or a pencil and that, just like the rest of the class, she has her fountain pen licence to hang up on the wall at home.

Her motivation to do well is to be up to date with her peers.

Having told the story and received my congratulations Little Princess was ready to take off her coat, walk to the table and prepare to eat her lunch.

Lunch, now that is another story

Since I have been away this after-school group seems to have turned into a tea-drinking club.

The tea is brewed at lunchtime by our Man Friday and all the children and the adults drink a cup after lunch and another at about four o'clock. This week one of the Grandmas has been appearing at tea-time with a bag full of carnival-time doughnuts!

Between eating and drinking and story-telling we do manage a bit of the conductive upbringing, including on one afternoon last week some changing of roles. I ended up on the floor with the classroom assistant and the littlies gave us our instructions.They demonstrated new activities, corrected our odd positions and giggled an awful lot. At one point I could not carry on as I was laughing so much that the tears rolled down my cheeks.

This change of roles made me realise why the littlies enjoy coming to do "Petö" so much; we biggies quite enjoy it too! It also made me realise how difficult some of the games we play are.

(See the photographs at the top of this page.)

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Christchurch, thinking of you

Just leaving Christchurch, August 2005

I have been wondering all day since I heard about the earthquake, what has been happening to the families, conductors, and everyone else in Conductive Education in Christchurch, and to the friends of friends who I met there in 2005.

Please let us all know how you are when you can.

Aquinas in Hong Kong

Welcome dinner, Hong Kong, 2010

"Graduates of the Aquinas POHI Program attend Conference in Hong Kong"

There is not much here about Hong Kong but it is one of the few sites that have posted anything on the visit to the Congress last December.

Please leave a comment here if you have seen reports on the Congress on other websites written by delegates.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Black and white

Black and white swans at Whitlingham Broad, Norwich

Sometimes I read things over and over again on the sites that I am linked to by Google Alerts. This happens with all that stuff about the brain that we have been reading about and discussing recently on various blog postings, and it also happens with other statements about the state of the world of conductive pedagogy and upbringing.

Facts and figures

A statement that I have read several times recently has turned up again today:

It says that there are thirty-six "conductive schools" in America and twenty-two "in the rest of the world".

Figures and facts

What does this actually mean? Are there really thirty-two conductive centres in America that are schools? Or does this number include centres that offer conductive courses or visits to homes outside children's schooling?

There are well over twenty-two centres in Germany, some offering more, some offering less. There are very few schools as such, if any. There are conductors working alongside teachers in schools, there are after-school-care provisions, like our own in Nürnberg, paid for by the local council, that are conductive, but I struggle to think of one actual school.

I know of a few in England so perhaps there are only twenty-two schools in the rest of the world.

Are really there thirty-two schools in America? It would be interesting to know what a school is as described in this article. Is it a conductive centre that is officially providing the legal schooling requirements for a child of school age, or does it mean that a centre is providing extra-curricular conductive courses? Or what?

I am sure there are many conductors over the water in the Americas who could clarify this.

Good luck to you whether in schools or conductive centres, with promoting the cause during the North American CE Awareness Day, on 24th February, and of course at all other times. But do please make sure that you get right what you say.

Names again

"Orderly bathroom at a SAHK hostel, Hong Kong"

I was travelling in Australia in 1987/88, at a time when people, centres and organisations throughout the world working with children and adults with disability were taking great care in their choice of words to describe their work .

During my stay in Australia I visited centres for people with disabilities in Sydney and in towns furthur north along the coast. I was somewhat surprised to discover that use of the word "spastic" in their names was still considered acceptable. Elsewhere in the world "cerebral palsy" was the term being used to describe the condition.

When I was in Hong Kong in Decmber, travelling northwards in a bus to visit a SAHK workshop and hostel for adults with disabilities, I heard the story of the Spastic Centre in Sydney, Australia and how it had been only recently re-named, as mentioned in the Google Alert below.
A conductor, who had been one of those who showed me the ropes in the first group that I worked in as a student at the Petö Institute, and who now works at a centre in Australia, talked to me about this change of name, and talked also about the difficulties faced while doing it.

In Hong Kong SAHK has managed it by using only its initials as its new name and logo.

It can be very difficult for charities already well known in their local communities to continue raising sufficient funds if they need to change their name. A good advertising campaign needs putting in place for people to make the link.

That goes for more than charities.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Oh yes you can!

Egyptian geese in Norwich, 14th February 2011

This morning I received a copy of an email that has been moving between my colleagues in Germany, sharing with me the link to a very interesting film that can now be seen on the link at the bottom of this page.

I first viewed this film on video in 1997 when I was working in Calgary. It has been an inspiration to me and to many clients, parents and carers with whom I have worked ever since. It has also enthralled about a hundred people who listened to the first public presentation that I made about conductive lifestyles for adults, in 2000 soon after I had started working with groups of adults in Nürnberg.

Inspiration, for young and for old

I first showed this film to my young client who lives in Northern Germany when he was about thirteen years old. He was so impressed with the success achieved by the man featured in the film that he has regularly asked me over the past seven years to show him the film again.

This client of mine always finds the comments made by the therapists featured in the film in a way amusing but also provocative. Even when he was very young he was determined to prove them wrong, even though he did not know them personally. He is still working hard on proving them, and some of his own teachers and his own therapist, that it is never too late to learn, especially when living a conductive lifestyle.

Thank you, Lars, so much

I have mentioned Lars Mullback on my blog before and I have thanked him for providing this motivation and inspiration to me and so many of my clients and their families. I thank him again now for making the film available on the Internet so it can reach a far wider audience and inspire many more people.

Thank you.

Friday 18 February 2011

Conductive upbringing

Whitlingham Woods and Broad
14th February 2011

For some conductors this is perhaps an ideal way of working conductively. I hope to discover more:

Maybe I will make a visit at some time in the future.

Whenever I make that visit I shall certainly be reporting it here.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Going to the pictures

The garden that I love so much

The King’s Speech

I went to the cinema this evening, with my sister, a treat and something that I rarely get the chance to do.

I do not go very often, especally since cinemas became so small. The flickering of the lights at such close quarters as scenes change often causes me migraine.

Tonight I decided to risk it.

We were early enough to get a seat far enough back so that we could see the whole of the screen without moving our heads back and forth and up and down.

I had been totally oblivious to the hype that has been filling the papers about the film that we chose to see, The King’s Speech. My Dad says that he has been reading about it for ages, my sister said that she knew that I would enjoy it.

My own work

How right she was. I would say it was all about upbringing. It reminded me of so many instances in my own work, of singing with the stroke clients, breathing and learning to shout with athetoid clients, of encouraging people with disabilities to find their own voices.

I am hoping to see it again some time, after which I will be able to write a real review. For now all I can say is that Makarenko and co. were not far from my thoughts as I watched the present Queen’s father conquering his fears to overcome a disabling stammer.


The Kings Speech -

I took a trip in a flying ship

Yes, I am in England again

Several days ago I took a very bumpy ride over the Channel after my work in Northern Germany came to an end.

Flying out of one of Germany’s smaller airports my flying ship was a small, propeller-driven plane. I must admit that for the first time ever I was very pleased to feel the wheels touch down on England’s pleasant land. I had chosen a very stormy day for my journey.

What a surprise I had when I got my first glimpse of my homeland through the clouds and saw that England’s green and pleasant land really was green! Spring had sprung while I was up there in the beautiful, white, sunlit, fluffy clouds.

I had flown in to spring time, having left behind me paths covered in sheets of ice, snow-covered hills, trees covered in frost and rime, and temperatures of minus 13C. I arrived to find rays of warm sunshine and the first signs of an English spring.

The English landscape

When I am up in a plane over England and it breaks through the clouds I know immediately where I am. I could recognize an English landscape beneath me even if I had been blind-folded and spun around and flown round the world twice. I always know when those fields below me belong to my home.

They are so different to aerial landscapes of any other country that I have ever flown over. I think it is the shape of the fields and the miles of hedgerows that give the game away. But it could also be the red-brick country houses and farms, or the double -ronted mansions in their landscaped estates. It could also be that cattle, sheep and pigs are grazing in the fields, or it could be that special colour green.

On the other hand it could be that something is ringing in my soul to tell me that I am home, that the eagle has landed.

I travelled to my family home from the airport by road and noticed how green some of the still bare branches were looking, and how daffodils where just waiting for a few hours of warmth from the sun to break through that papery wrapping.

On the land

Having left Germany in deepest winter it was very strange to go out into the walled garden of our family home the moment that I arrived, to say hello to my Mum, and to discover spring. With a carpet of early crocuses across the lawns and up the pathways, with clumps of snow drops and aconites dotted amongst them, catkins hanging from the hazelnut trees and furry, silver pussy-willows on the willow trees, spring certainly had shown itself here in Norfolk while I had still been wearing snow-boots only hours beforehand.

I have been working in the garden on and off since I arrived and have been discovering other signs of spring. A frog joined me as I weeded the flower beds where the green shoots of bulbs are beginning to show through the rich brown earth. I disturbed a sleeping bumble bee from its hibernation in the ground, and watched it buzz into life. The forget-me-not plants have red and black sleepy ladybirds in between their furry leaves, and the darker, pointed, glossy bluebell leaves have already shot up six inches over the short time that I have been here.

When the sun shines it warms my back as I bend over to pull out weeds, but there have also been days when the bitterly cold easterly winds have cut me in half and chased me back indoors.
But spring is here without a doubt, even the birds are beginning to sing. Yesterday I spotted a gold crest, Britain’s smallest bird, hopping around the fishpond, eating grubs. There has not been one of those in our garden for about ten years.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

There is one person who you really must meet

Meeting a green man in an ancient woodland.
A wood full of lime kilns and ice houses, with a green me.
The green man was discovered by my sister at Whitlingham Broad, Norwich, 14th February 2011

This sentence that provides the title of this posting was spoken to me on my arrival in Hong Kong, on the Saturday evening before the pre-Congress workshops began.

At the time I had no idea why I should meet the person mentioned but, by the time that pre-Congress workshops the Congress and the post-Congress visits were all over I most certainly did know, and I was very happy to have had the pleasure of meeting her.

Off to a workshop

On the Sunday before the World Congress started I took myself out of the hotel door, armed with a map to guide me through the streets and the underground rail network to reach Kowleen, to take part in a pre-Congress workshop, in Cantonesse, about using art with children with disability.

In an email that I had received from the secretary of the Congress several months before, soon after I registered for this workshop, I had been asked whether I had made a mistake by registering for a workshop that was to be held in Chinese. I had not made a mistake and as it turned out I had rightly believed that I would manage all right, as a workshop about art would be mainly visual.

Armed with a map

Back to the story of the scary journey that took me on to the busy streets of Hong Kong and its to the underground railway. Even on a Sunday the place was swarming. I actually noticed no difference in the amount of traffic and people on the streets on different days of the week, or even at different times of the day. For me it was always busy, like speeded-up film image of street scenes, people scurrying like ants everywhere.

I do not like walking around with a map in a foreign place, as I think that it makes me look very vulnerable, I was soon to learn that I had apparently been giving out very different vibes, even with a map.

On the underground I made the change to a different line and settled down to count the stops before I had to get out of the amazingly long, bendy caterpillar of a train.

Meeting Sister Joan

Just before the doors shut a small lady dressed in black hopped spritely onto the train, with that style of movement that only elderly people who appear to be younger than their age have.

She stood beside me, looked me up and down and, in a wonderful Irish brogue asked tentatively whether I was in Hong Kong for a conference. I do not even think that I answered in the affirmative. I think I just said:

"You must be Sister Joan!"

Unbelievably, she answered with a question:

"Are you Susie Mallett?"

We continued on your journey together, deep in conversation. Already I was discovering why it had been suggested that I should meet this lovely lady.

Sister Joan and I travelled together to the workshop that was held at the Marion Fang Kindergarten, a place that Sister Joan holds dear to her heart. She wanted to show her face as a sign of support for her "young girls", as she called them.

By the time we arrived we had got to know each other enough for Sister Joan to tell me how she had been observing me in the underground station and had been impressed by this tourist who gave the impression that she knew where she was going. Well, I suppose I did know where I was going as I had a map in my hand and with a map one cannot go far wrong. But it was nice to know that I had shown an air of confidence and had not appeared to be the vulnerable tourist that I felt I was.

Being introduced

In the evening of the same day there was a big feast to celebrate the opening of the Congress. Just after I arrived directly from the workshop, still with paint under the fingernails, Sister Joan was grabbed in one hand and I was grabbed in the other of the mutual aquaintance who wanted to introduce us. What a surprise it was for him when Sister Joan and I then greeted each other as old friends before telling the story of our first meeting.

I talked to Sister Joan on several occasions during the Congress and was delighted to have been able to arrange a more informal meeting with her during my extended stay in Hong Kong. Over tea and coffee she described the work of SAHK, both in Hong Kong and in Mainland China.

Sister Joan makes regular visits to the orphanages in China where SAHK is assisting in developing conductive upbringing for thousands of disabled orphans.

Read all about it

Sister Joan reports on the 7th World Congress for Conductive Education here on her Order's website:

Monday 14 February 2011

Prepare for a positive and happy adolescence and adulthood

English Oak
Whitlingham Broad, Norwich, by Susie Mallett
I worked for many years with a family who are all very capable sportsmen and women. The three siblings of my client were involved in training for gymnastics, cycling, football and swimming, several times a week. All family members regularly jogged, walked, skied and cycled in the surrounding hills and mountains. All of them were practising musical instruments every evening after school.

Growing up in this active family environment was perfect for my client, it gave her motivation and taught her from a very early age about achieving goals through movement, exercise and practice. She is now a twenty-one year psycholöogy student, living away from home in her own accomodation.

I have read several times recently on conductive blogs about the importance for all children of movement, exercise and practice for attaining skills, and not only in sport.

In the link that I posted yesterday a parent compared the activity of a disabled child working in a conductive group to soccer training for a non-disabled child:

Today I came across another article that links up well to the one above, featuring one of the Ausralian mums I met in the Hay Hay restaurant in Hong Kong. Her association is receiving donations from the author of a book:

"This book promises to be a fun and active guide to anyone who wants to help and assist their children or students age 6-11 and prepare them for a positive and happy adolescence and adulthood."

Sounds quite conducive to conduction to me!

More bare necessities, more photographs

More of the diorama

Sunday 13 February 2011

The bare necessities of life

Not Rod's layout, but it's a very nice one that I saw at the weekend

The necessities are not always bare

For me

I have been living out of a suitcase again. I have just spent another ten days living with just the bare necessities. I had a bit more than just a toothbrush and a change of clothes as nowadays there are the phone, the netbook, the net book-friend, and the necessary cables, adapters, chargers and extras that accompany me everywhere I go, and add a couple of kilos to the weight of my baggage. Of course as always amongst my bare essentials were also the paint box, the notebooks (some filled with notes for my writing, others empty waiting to be filled), pencils, paintbrushes, and the pile of papers and magazines that I tend to accumulate when travelling on tram, train, boat or plane. I do not have a car; this restricts what I carry with me.

Working as a peripatetic conductor for the past eighteen years I have had lots of practice at living out of a suitcase and at packing the bare necessities. I have learnt to judge what to take and what to leave behind. I have learnt which extras to put in to make life away from home, at work and play, easier and which to leave at home. The most useful item that I have ever decided to take with me to a place of work was quite a large dinosaur puppet that I made to use with a group of boys in Norway. Stinky Stig took up a huge chunk of suitcase space on that trip. even when I stuffed him with some of my other bare essentials. It was worth giving up space that could have housed an extra pullover, because Stinky Stig gave us a month of joy and motivation.

On this my latest trip my saving grace for motivation at work were CDs featuring those old rockers Tina Turner and Rod Stewart – all new music to rock to as we worked. Bending, stretching, painting or cooking to Simply the Best and Maggie May makes life for a twenty- year-old Petö old-timer a lot more fun, and for me too.

While I am away from home I am restricted to having just a few of my own personal belongings around me. As I pack I have to decide whether I will want to spend spare moments in the following weeks drawing, painting, walking, swimming or reading.

For my work

Although I only have the bare essentials for my personal needs' what about in my work? Do I have only bare necessities there too?

When I work with clients in their homes I do not have all the usual “Petö” tools available to me that I have when working in a team at a centre. I do not have a bottomless Mary Poppins bag from which I can produce plinths, benches, balls, rings and wall bars.

But I have a lot of other things instead that I do not have in centre based situations.

I certainly would not say that I am working with the bare necessities. In fact I believe that I am working with the absolute essentials when I am in a client’s home, definitely not less than I need but really much more than I usually have.

Necessities of life

All around me and my client when we work in the home is all that we need to learn how to successfully live a conductive life. There are the parents, the siblings and grandparents. The aunties and uncles and cousins are often down the road too. There is the village with its residents or the town and its community and all the associated activities. There are the school, the riding stables, the swimming club, the hills to walk in, the bike, the go-cart, and many more people, places and objects with an influential role in the client’s life.

As for my own bare necessities as I travel, I know what I need to keep me happy in the few spare hours that I have. I have my walking boots, this time exchanged for snow boots, so I can traipse over hill and dale with or without my clients. I have my paint-box, my camera and of course a few notebooks. I always carry too many pencils and brushes for my needs but an artist can never have too many of either and I never know beforehand which ones I will need.

My net book and my net book-friend have also recently become my constant companions although when I started the business of being a travelling conductor eighteen years ago I did not even have a mobile phone.

A good read

I rarely pack a book these days as I always have too much to read and write without one, including the English language newspaper that I always pick up as a treat at railway stations or airports.

At the very last minute before I set out on a journey I go from room to room in my home gathering up any unread papers. The Guardian Weekly from the kitchen table, the Fairy Magazine from the bathroom, the Best of British from my bed and often a railway magazine from the sofa.

Hot Rod

If I am really lucky a friend in England will ask me a week or so before I am off for the address of where I shall be staying. If this happens then I can anticipate that on arrival I will be greeted with a treat for a reader like me. Sometimes the treat is in some way work-related and sometimes it is not.

This time I am glad to say that it was not.

When I arrived at my latest place of employment there was a big envelop awaiting me. I opened it and had pulled the glossy contents only a few inches out when a smile reached from one of my ears to the other!

After Tina Turner my favourite old rocker is Rod Stewart. There he was on the front cover of my new glossy December issue of the American publication Model Railroader. Underneath Rod’s youthful-looking portrait I read “Exclusive: Rod Stewart – see what’s new on the rock'n' roller's HO layout”.

That was a surprise - I had not known that Rod was as loopy as I am when it comes to trains. Perhaps not quite as loopy as me as he builds in HO scale, while I fiddle away in N, but loopy all the same.

When Rod travels his bare necessities include his modeling gear and the hotels set him up with a table and bright lighting. He spends his free hours building skyscrapers, bridges, shops and factories, for what can only be described as his huge layout.

Rod Stewart’s Three Rivers City layout looks absolutely amazing. It has dimensions that I can only dream of, 23 feet by 124 feet. A landscape full of life, with factories, cranes, bridges shops and houses, junk yards, docks, and people scurrying about their business. The layout looks lived in. There are wonderful advertising slogans painted on the sides of red-brick buildings, there are oil barrels turned into incinerators behind derelict breakers' yards, there are old tyres scattered here and there, and wooden pallets in back alleyways. There are crooked back staircases that one can imagine once made excellent escape routes for gangsters, now with the washing hanging out at the top. There are ivy-covered back walls, abandoned sack barrows and disused telegraph poles. The streets are busy with delivery trucks, limousines and wonderful American trucks.

It is a downtown Manhattan of a bygone, postwar era. The attention to detail in both the landscaping and the buildings is just wonderful to look at, from a half-shut and broken blind in an office block window to a painted shadow cast by a supposed late-afternoon sun.

This amazing layout was started by Rod in 1994. He builds the railroads and does all the wiring when he is at home and the models he makes while on tour. His modeler's toolbox goes everywhere with him.

I have tried this just once, carefully packing my finished N-scale terraced house with cotton wool in a sturdy box and crossing my fingers that it would arrive back at my flat, still in one piece. I do not have the crew that Rod has to carry the workbox safely to a truck for transport to the next gig!

I decided that the worry of waiting to see whether my carefully rolled chimneys are still intact after bouncing around in my suitcase for several hours is not worth it so, after my one and only attempt at modeling “on tour”, I decided to stick to painting.

Having now read this brilliant article about Rod about three times over while living out of a suitcase for the past fourteen days, I may just be tempted to give it just one more go. How I would love to build such an impressive layout as his while away from home with just the bare necessities and I certainly do have the time.


Good observation, says Rod, is essential for a modeler. Essential too for conductors. Rod has observed life in downtown cities for years from hotel windows. And you can tell.

It is obvious from the angle of the broken blind on the tenth floor, from the warm glow of the colours of the brickwork, from the angle of the shadow cast by strategically placed lighting, from the writing on the walls and from the make-do fencing around the scrap yard.

It was interesting to read about Rod Stewart’s concern about how his fans might react to his hobby when it was made public when the first such article appeared in the Model Railroader in December 2007. As it turned out fans really enjoy sharing his interest, some even search for out-of-production kits for him, that eventually find a home in the Three Rivers City layout. Other fans have been known to throw HO railcars onto the stage, embossed with Rod’s name.

I have never had anything in N-scale thrown at me while I work but I have been given gifts for my own modest layout, that has yet to find a proper home.

Something I think I will get into the habit of doing what I have just read that Rod does, writing the dates when the model was started and completed inside the structure somewhere, then adding to this a few words about what was going on in the world at the time. Rod says that he often writes the latest score at Celtic Football Club. I do not think that I will be recording Norwich City’s results in my buildings but maybe in the confined space inside an N-scale model I will write a comment on the weather or the state of affairs in the conductive world!

Many thanks for the post that added that little bit extra to the bare necessities during my latest travels, and for giving me the joy of discovering that my rock ‘n’ roll favourite (after Tina T.), is just as loopy as I am!


Jungle Book's The Bare Necessities of Life-