Learning the ropes of mountaineering

By Julia Bevan, 6.2 Houseparent and Teacher of English

Before half term, British recreational mountaineer David Potter visited Bedales to demonstrate climbing gear for both rock and mountain climbing to my Block 4 English elective group, who have been studying Mountains of the Mind by Robert McFarlane, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

Meeting in the Sam Banks Pavilion, students gathered in a circle and listened as David – who first climbed in South America and whose love of the natural world has led him into work within climate change – spoke about the kit laid out in front of them. They were fascinated as they held crampons and ice axes and learnt when they might need to use a snow anchor, held karabiners and watched how to clip themselves correctly to a rope.

After David’s visit, students reflected on the experience.

Zeb Jay said: “David does mountaineering because he likes being outside, having an amazing experience with his mates. He eats tinned and packaged food, like on Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expeditions. He first climbed a mountain after university and it is an amazing life skill, which his family also profits from. Mountaineering is all about risk – if you have a good sense of risk you are guaranteed to be a good mountaineer.”

Orson Farley said: “I learnt that the big reason for mountaineering is getting into the depths and corners of landscapes. You can look at a mountain and maybe even hike up a bit of it, but to really understand it is to mountaineer. I’ve learnt about food and sources of energy. You have to have a high calorie count in order to function.”

Seb Stewart commented: “I learnt that in life great things take time – you can’t just run head first into climbing K2 or Everest, you start small and work your way to greatness with the support of your friends and people you trust. You don’t need to read The Top of the World just to be a successful climber. The kit used by mountaineers is so small and detailed that one may wonder how such a small thing supports such a massive thing – that being your life, and the wellbeing of your family.”

Margot Gwyer: “I learnt that you have to have masses of trust between you and the person you are climbing with. You have to listen to each other and work as a team always.”

Jack Bowdery: “Safety is the main concern in climbing. I learnt how much kit you need to bring and use. Climbing is always a risk.”

Gordon Thistleton-Smith: “I learnt that walking, hiking, climbing and mountaineering are all different levels of the spectrum of being in the environment.” 

Engaging creative writing trip

By Emily Coleman, Block 4

During the Easter break, I was part of a group of students who – along with Head of English David Anson and Lucy McIlwraith – visited The Hurst, playwright John Osborne’s former home in Shropshire, for a creative writing residential course with Arvon.

The trip was an enjoyable experience for us all. We spent the mornings doing writing workshops with the tutors, writers Chris Wakling and Cecilia Knapp. In the workshops we would do free writes, learn about different styles of poetry and try them, as well as working on short stories with Chris. In Cecilia’s workshops, some of the kinds of poems we tried were poems with stanzas that were haikus and golden shovel poems as well as responding to different prompts that she gave us. For our short stories with Chris, we would write parts of it in workshops, such as introductions and dialogue, with Chris giving us advice along the way. Both the tutors were really encouraging and we all felt increasing confidence during the week to share our work.

We had lots of free time in the afternoons that we spent continuing our work from the mornings and having tutorials with each of the tutors, which was a great opportunity to get feedback on what we had been doing. We all took turns cooking the dinner for everyone and getting slightly competitive about our napkin origami between the groups. For our first evening, we played a variety of games together, such as the hat game and wink murder. The next two evenings were readings from the tutors and then a guest reader, Melody Razak, read from her book Moth. On our final evening we gave a reading of work we had produced on the trip, which we were all nervous about, but we ended up having fun.

The trip gave me a chance to develop my writing skills as well as my confidence when sharing my work. It was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere to learn and grow as writers.  

Novelist inspires creative writing enrichment

By Jemima Corcoran, 6.1

Aspiring writers and journalists in Sixth Form and Block 5 were given the opportunity to hear from Teddy James, author and father of Old Bedalian Emilia Barnsdale-Ward, last Friday as part of our Creative Writing course for the Sixth Form Enrichment programme.

With a clear enthusiasm for history, Teddy spoke to us about his new book Relique of the Sunken Day. His first published novel, it centres around the nuclear testing carried out by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the long-term effects this had on those directly involved. Although the historical accuracy of his fiction is fascinating in itself, Teddy has also managed to intertwine a motif of descriptive imagery that takes inspiration from the great English poets – particularly Coleridge – as well as exploring the ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding communism, authority and patriotism.

Overall, our session with Teddy proved incredibly useful and inspiring, as we learnt all about the world of writing, how to find a publisher, and what can provide us with inspiration – which, for Teddy, ranges from the work of other authors (such as Evelyn Waugh) to real-life scenarios and historical events. Most apparent, however, was his strong passion for reading, and his advice to us about the importance of literature, and how our imagination and creativity can develop by passing our time engrossed in books.

A huge thank you to Teddy James for taking the time to answer our questions, offer professional advice and inspire us all, and to Head of English David Anson for arranging this amazing opportunity that will benefit many of us in our future writing endeavours.

Block 3 English students’ creativity and flair

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

The English department office has recently been awash with truly stunning pieces of work from our Block 3 sets: hand-made, hand-sewn, whimsically decorated with string, ribbon and raffia, the poetry anthologies we asked the students to make over Christmas have been a real antidote to the winter greyness!

Some students chose to include their own poetry as well as analysis of poems they had studied over the term; others added paintings and sketches their work. We also had anthologies presented as meticulously detailed multi-media scrapbooks with layers of newsprint or card or recycled books. Each page in some of them showed a different layout, with fold-out sections or pockets in which a bonus poem nestled. One example even had fairy lights!

We’ve had such a variety of beautiful and imaginative work which shows truly exceptional sensitivity and creativity and we hope you enjoy see a few examples in the pictures below.

Block 3 Fireside Night

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

At the turning of the light in autumn we have many ways to celebrate and to remind ourselves that light will return. From softly glowing candles to brightly coloured fireworks, people have always noted the change in the season with festivals that bring us together. At Bedales we have the Block 3 Fireside Night each year, which brings together students and staff around the fire in the beautiful dining room to tell tall tales, recite poetry and sing songs. We do it all from memory and the focus for all of us is entertainment rather than perfection; having a go is far more important than getting all the words right. This year, Block 3 student Elliot Cundy has written his thoughts about the night.

By Elliot Cundy, Block 3

Lit by the warm glow from the fire and the flicker of candles, the dining room began to fill with eager students, settling into a semi-circle around the hearth for the Block 3 Fireside Night. Crackling flames, an absence of electronics, and performances from memory of literature old and new, created an atmosphere akin to that of many centuries ago. Up until 1930, 50% of the global population was illiterate, so performances were learnt orally and spoken with no written assistance. Reciting a poem in front of many people with no prompts can be very hard, meaning that the priority becomes quality and entertainment over perfection.

As well as students performing a variety of poems, from cheerful ballads to dark quatrains, many teachers took part in the proceedings. Lucy McIlwraith opened by singing ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ with its original lyrics and closed the evening singing lyrics from ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ to the same tune to show how almost any poem written in ballad form fits this tune. Another highlight was Will Goldsmith performing ‘Shall I compare thee to a summers day’ by Shakespeare which provided an unexpected turn to the evening but showed us all how it doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the words right!

Near the end of the night, I performed a poem called Barn Owl by Leslie Norris. It describes the life and death of a beautiful bird. Curiously, it ends with a thought, that the death of ‘Snowy’ the owl might carry a deeper meaning. I learned the poem by practising each verse one at a time, out loud and alternating between reading off the page and speaking from memory. In the English lessons leading up to Fireside Night, we were able to practise in front of just the class to get a feeling for what it would be like, which was something that really helped prepare us for the night ahead. When my time to perform arose, I instantly felt the nerves, but they were soothed by the comforting warmth of the fire behind me. Trying not to rush, I worked my way through the poem, dozens of pairs of eyes looking up at me. On reaching the final verse, the relief arrived, and I comfortably finished the poem.The greatest thing about performing is the small moment of silence between finishing and the audience clapping, when you realise that nothing went wrong, and your practice has paid off. Delicious hot chocolate and cookies were the final reward for our work and ended the evening on a high.   

Exploring John Keats’ Winchester

By Eloise Cooper, 6.2

On a sunny Wednesday, the remainder of the 6.2 English students ventured to Winchester, accompanied by David, Julia and Magnus, to explore the area that influenced so much of Keats’s later poetry, and to follow the walk he took along the River Itchen that inspired him to write his ‘Ode to Autumn’, often described by critics as the perfect poem.

We began in the Winchester College Fellows’ Library where Dr Richard Foster, curator of the college’s collection, showed us a first edition of Keats’s 1820 Poems which included the ‘Ode to Autumn’. We also saw a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. The we had a talk by Dr Gary Farnell from the University of Winchester about Keats’s stay in Winchester in 1820.

We then retraced Keats’s route from the Hospital of St Cross to the cathedral close, and then to Colebrook Street, where Magnus’s friend Amelia Ashton hosted us in her garden for a picnic lunch and another talk by Gary, this time focussing on The Eve of St Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and Ode to Autumn.  We ended the afternoon with a sonnet writing competition.

Not only did this allow us a fresh set of eyes on the texts we had been studying for months, but allowed us to build up a greater picture of the surrounding world of Keats’s poetry. Thank you so much to the English department and Magnus for a wonderful day.

The 1820 Poems in which ‘Ode to Autumn’ first appeared
First folio edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works
Walking along the River Itchen

Turning in ‘Othello’

By David Anson, Head of English

The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s play Othello was on Hallowmas Day, November 1, 1604. James I had been king for just over 18 months and he had very recently overseen the Treaty of London which concluded 19 years of conflict between England and Spain. It was a time of great change, a time of unification and much longed for peace.

On Wednesday, Bedales English Literature A Level students were joined on Microsoft Teams by fellow Bohunt English Literature students to take part in a short lecture programme organised by myself and Deana Buchan, Head of English at Bohunt. We were joined remotely by Dr Kath Diamond, a Renaissance specialist who lectures at Goldsmith’s College and Queen Mary and Westfield, and who delivered a fascinating lecture on ‘Turning in Othello’.

Amongst other things, Kath’s lecture recognises the significance of this period of political and cultural change in Jacobean London and the bearing it has upon the action and motifs to be found within a play which presents a ‘spiralling vortex of change’. The play opens in the turmoil and business of a bustling Venice, centre of trade and commerce and the seat of much public debate and discussion about the ongoing war with the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus. It narrows to the defeat of the Turkish army before narrowing again to the private matters of Othello’s marriage to Desdemona and then ends with yet a further narrowing to the marital bed; site of Desdemona and Othello’s tragic end and loaded with much dramatic symbolism. The play is a play of change and a play of turmoil that leaves both its contemporary and 21st century audience somewhat unsettled (though for different reasons) and yearning for the kind of peace and order that a king like James, Shakespeare’s patron, ought to bring at the start of his reign.

The students then explored the way the masculine and the feminine may be considered in the play through shorter presentations led by myself and Deana; a useful foundation for further classroom discussion. At a time when we can’t take our students to the theatre or to lecture programmes, this was a superb opportunity for both 6.1 and 6.2 to revisit their study of Othello and it ushers in the start of more exciting joint projects between Bohunt and Bedales that Deana and I hope to be able to realise in face to face events next year.

Poetic composition with Ernest Hemingway

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

Block 3 have been studying Ernest Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and The Sea in their English composition lessons this term, which has led to all sorts of fishy descriptions and discoveries. Last week they tried a form of poetic composition which involves taking lines from the text and rearranging them to create a poem.

Everyone had called him The Champion
He always thought of the sea as la mar
The strange light the sun made on the water
He loved green turtles and hawksbill with their elegance and speed
He was happy feeling the gentle pulling and then he felt something hard and unbelievably heavy
He held the line against his back and watched its slant in the water
I love and respect you very much.
He is a great fish and i must convince him
They are our brothers and are like flying fish
I hate cramp. It is a treachery of one’s own body.​
‘I’ll kill him though, ‘Now is when I must prove it.’

– Nicky, Block 3

The Human Fish

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
You let the female fish always feed first.
You are good, play jokes and love one another
Take some rest fish
Chew it well and get all the juices

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
But through my treachery,
My big fish,
I will kill you dead before the day is over

It was the saddest thing I ever saw
The female made a wild and panic stricken fight.
Still, through my treachery,
I love you and respect you very much

– Jake, Block 3

La Mar

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming,
The boat moved slowly through the dark water,
 He was sorry for the birds,
The small delicate dark terns,
Always flying and looking and never finding,
The birds have a harder life than we do – he thought,
Why did they make birds so delicate and fine,
When the ocean can be so cruel?
She is kind and very beautiful,
Yet,
She can be so cruel,
It comes so suddenly and such birds that fly,
Dipping and hunting,
Their small sad voices are made to delicately for la mar,
But – he thought,
She gives or withholds favours,
 And if she did wicked things,
It was because she could not help them,

– Shoshana, Block 3

This poetic composition exercise is something that you can do with any text and which produces a very wide variety of outcomes. I thought you might like to have a go yourself, maybe with your family, so here are some instructions:

  1. Choose a novel or short story that you love or know well to work with.
  2. Choose 10-15 phrases or short sentences and write them down. The tricky bit is to not think too much but to trust your instincts and choose lines that ‘speak’ to you. You could also experiment with choosing lines at random.
  3. The quotations you’ve chosen may well have some sort of shared theme. You could use the theme as the title of the poem or you might choose one of the lines to be the title.
  4. Re-arrange the quotes into some sort of order that makes most sense. Try not to think too hard but go with what feels right.
  5. You might need to leave out one or two of your original choices but try to include them all if you can.
  6. You might need to alter the grammar of some of your quotations slightly to help it make sense.
  7. Read it through again and again and make any alterations it needs each time.

I’ve also recorded creative writing sessions which anyone can use which can be found here: Description, Home, Poetry and Speech.

A letter to 6.2 A Level English

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

For the past two years, I have been in the unusual position of teaching a whole cohort of A Level English students. What a privilege this has been; first to get to know you all last year through studying the contemporary Poems of the Decade and an evening with Julia Copus, and then to guide you through some of the pressures of online learning.  

Certainly, my most fulfilling teaching moments last spring involved supporting many of you as you wrote your coursework essays. We worked together, adopting university-style tutorials that were really conducive to the task at hand. In this intimate learning environment, you rigorously dismantled and reassembled your analytical arguments, embedding close textual analysis and context into essays, and become young but impressive scholars of Seamus Heaney, and Arundhati Roy. It is wonderful that I have taught one or two of you since Block 4 and that a number of you are now determined to study English at university: what more could a teacher want?

In the autumn term of this academic year your focus and determination were remarkable. At times as a teacher managing the new COVID secure protocol on site was tough; but it was worth it so that I could introduce you to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf in person and watch you draw comparisons between this novel and her older sister Wuthering Heights. Both novels deal radically with early forms of mental health, a subject on which you often edify me.You demonstrated such maturity and sensitivity in November, embracing hybrid teaching early on so that those of you at home self-isolating could stay part of the class discussion. You make me very proud and are a credit to your parents.

I believe passionately that we learn much from creating peak experiences inside and outside the class room and I had hoped to take you on a weekend trip to Haworth in Yorkshire, to visit the Parsonage where Emily Bronte died and to walk up onto the Moors to Top Withens, a remote, abandoned farm considered to be the inspiration for her only novel. Instead we returned to our homes and computer screens and I have had the challenge of trying to inspire you with the poetry of John Keats. 

A poet of the senses, he is a joy to teach in the winter and early spring in Steep, ideally in the Meditation Hut or the Lupton Hall, where two years ago I launched the first ‘Eve of St Agnes Experience’ with Lucy McIlwraith. 

This year I asked you to work on collaborative creative responses to the poem and I have been amazed at what you have achieved from homes many miles apart. Your original work neatly coincides with the publication of an essay entitled ‘Weavers of Dreams in The Eve of St Agnes and A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ in the English and Media Centre EMAG, co-authored with my partner in Keatsian crime, Lucy. I’ve decided this will be my third and last Keats’ experience, and hope to teach Shakespeare next year. It makes sense to end on such a high.

To all of my 6.2 English students: thank you. “St Agnes moon hath set.” 

Filmmaking, comic strip designing, podcast recording and lecturing – English students embrace online learning

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

As teachers, we’re very aware of the problems associated with screen-time and have been looking for ways to have students present their ideas that don’t involve toiling in the blue light of their laptops. So, over the last few weeks of online learning, Bedales students have had lots of opportunities to present their work in all sorts of ways. Here are a few of the things students have been doing with the English department.

In Block 3, students have been producing their book reviews as short films, some of which you can see here.

The Block 4 English Language students have been studying a variety of 19th century fiction genres and learning about what has made novels so successful. As part of this, many of them have been asked to make comic strips or Gothic films as a way to understand just why isolated castles, terrible weather and mysterious strangers have become such integral parts of Gothic literature. You may remember this is something we did with last year’s Block 4s in the summer term so maybe we have the makings of a yearly film festival at Bedales! See some great examples from Julia’s class here.

6.1 English Literature students are currently studying A Streetcar Named Desire and have been given a choice of performance tasks. We have some students writing re-creative scenes, re-imagining Blanche, Stanley and Stella in different times and places; some aim to learn and perform a key speech of one of the main characters with costume and full dramatic effects; others are working on mini-lectures about themes and ideas in the play such as how music is integral to an audience’s experience of the play in the theatre. 

Block 5 and 6.2 students have been preparing for internal assessments but they have still been able to get away from their screens to produce useful revision materials for each other. Block 5 have produced informative documentaries about something they know well such as climate change or chicken-keeping in order to practise the skills they need for paper 2 of their GCSE English Language exam.

Meanwhile, 6.2 English Literature students have been busiest of all, making lectures about ‘Othello’ either as audio files or filming themselves (in Jago’s case, filming his hands making meticulous notes!) 

The pièce de résistance, though, will doubtless be the now traditional Eve of St Agnes Experience which this year has had to undergo some changes. Unfortunately, we can’t recreate the midnight feast enjoyed by the poem’s characters Madeline and Porphyro in the same way as in previous years, but can still wish ourselves into their world with photos re-creating key scenes and poetry workshops writing verses we think Keats would have included if he could! Look out for more on this from Julia in next week’s Bulletin.