Saturday, 3 April 2010

Guestwick Church - 'Creation' Window

Guestwick Church - 'Creation' Window

I wrote this for another blog of mine, but thought it would 'fit' here too...

It was a beautiful day. After a seemingly perpetual winter, the sun was shining at last and the sky was blue. As I walked towards the church I paused to take notice of the buds straining to burst into life. It was not a tranquil scene though, as a raucous community of grey-hooded Rooks was wheeling around in the sky, cawing to one another incessantly like inky delinquents. Dave and I agreed that we were very lucky to find ourselves approaching Guestwick church on such a day as this.

Every church has its treasures - though, in some instances, you may have to look a while before this is revealed! We had read our Mortlock and Roberts church guide, and, thus, were very curious to discover evidence of the earlier Norman cruciform church which is hinted at by a fossilised gable and other evidence on the exterior of the church. However, fascinating though this is to our antiquarian intellect, it was a new addition that surprised and delighted us.

As you can see in the photographs above, an exquisite new window - intended to celebrate the natural life of local creatures and, in a wider sense, creation - provided a feast for our eyes. Having enquired about this to the Revd. Veronica Wilson, the Rector of the parish, and the Churchwarden, Robin Back, we now know a bit more about it. The 'Creation' window was conceived and constructed by local resident, stained glass expert and glazier, Adam O'Grady. It was installed on the 26th January 2010.

Robin Back described to me thus:
"First and foremost it is a donation to the Church and Community of Guestwick and each pane has relevance either to the church or to village life. The obvious symbols of the Lamb and the cross Keys of St.Peter are at the top and surrounded by other symbols including the sun, the moon and the dove of peace. The other panes represent creatures of God which mostly are local. Bats, birds, hares and rabbits, snakes, newts, frogs and insects, trees, leaves, ferns and plants, fish, squirrels, owls and butterflies... The list is seemingly endless. The whole is a metaphor for creation and its infinite richness and variety, also its beauty which we can see all around us."

Local people are hoping to organise a parish picnic to celebrate the donation of this window in July. This church continues to be a part of the community and develops through the love and inspiration of those who care about it. Adam O'Grady has given us a wonderful gift, and cast new light within his community. Here is a thing of beauty which makes one stop and take notice. It has provided a focus which, both, connects the local community and inspires visitors like us to get in touch - as well as to write these words.

Standing in the light of this window Dave and I ruminated upon the sense of achievement, pride and wonder which must have accompanied the creation of the church and its treasures throughout its life. All these old things were once new, and, in their time, someone would have laid down their tools, and then stood back to admire their work. Thus, a wonderful new window stretched our imagination and we were able to empathise with those largely anonymous people who made this special place and bequeathed it to us, in what was, with hindsight, an utterly beautiful transient blue-skied present moment.

Guestwick is a richer place thanks to Adam's gift....

Saturday, 16 January 2010

A Sense of History in Irestead church

On a cold, wet wintery Saturday in January 2010 I travelled to Irestead church with a couple of other Historical Interpreters. Here is a short tour of this wonderful church given by Paul Greener. In my view, a sensitive and authoritative presentation. Furthermore, what is so impressive, to my mind, is the fact that this was completely spontaneous and unrehearsed.


Saturday, 31 October 2009

Active Listening Skills

Effective listening is central to high quality interpretation. If the Interpreter is to facilitate the special experience which we aspire to, then we have to be open and responsive to the visitors. Listening is a key communication skill. It is not just about what is being said, it's also about being sensitive to the total message. Listen to their body language; show that you are listening (facial expression; verbal responses); provide feedback; don't interrupt; assert your responses sensitively but honestly.

One technique I use is to ask the questioner their name, thereby showing respect and value to them. I then attempt to repeat back their question to the whole group; both, to check that my understanding is correct, and also to include and involve the wider group. Remember, at this stage it isn't necessarily incumbent on the Interpreter to attempt to answer this. It might be more interesting to throw this open to others, and see where this leads. When doing this, it is vital to listen closely, and to, in effect, 'chair' the discussion, to ensure that it is purposeful.

In these dynamic and improvisational moments there is always a tendency for the Interpreter to start clock-watching, or to become pre-occupied with getting back on time and theme. I think that an awareness of this 'thought chatter' is key; you can't really listen if you're preoccupied with what you're going to say next. Remember too that thoughts move about four times as fast as speech, so you do have time to 'think on your feet' whist talking anyway - use this 'lag' to your advantage. It is a crucial part of our skill set to have to make judgements and edit in the moment. Being present in the 'now' is really important too, in order to enable effective listening to take place.

And if, like me, you struggle sometimes with auditory short-term memory, then practice the 'echoing' technique. This involves repeating what the person is saying to you in your head; a means of active listening.

Another important skill is to allow people long enough to have thoughtful responses. Research suggests that this pause for thought can be as long as fifteen seconds. Now, this doesn't feel very comfortable when you first do it, but it does allow people to formulate responses, and gives them space to join in.


* Thanks to Stewart Alexander for prompting this discussion - as ever, his on-going quest for improvement and excellence continues to be an inspiration to me.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Loddon History Society

Today, I gave a talk/presentation to the Loddon History Society, entitled, "Disorderly Lives in Tudor and Stuart Norwich". There was a really good turn-out, and the material was well received and I enjoyed myself very much. Many thanks to the folk of Loddon for giving me such a kindly welcome! The fact is, whatever interpretative glitter one may add to such a presentation (my first Powerpoint by the way!), the quality of the material means that it's a hard gig to muck up.

I must admit, over the last few weeks I have really immersed myself in research for this one. It has been like finding an old friend. I've found myself thinking about the people in the records, and wondering what happened to some of them. Our glimpses of them are so very fleeting. In preparing for this, I've also delved deeper and wider than I had hitherto - especially, by reading and re-reading secondary sources which set things in more of a national - or at least, East Anglian - perspective.

As a result, my understanding of Early Modern Norwich, and its governance has developed considerably. However, in many ways, I now know enough to realise just how very little I do actually know. I've got a lot more work to do - and I'm gonna do it

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

In Memory of Reginald Dack Baker

Pages from the earliest volume, 'Human Abattoirs'.

A few years ago I acquired a remarkable collection of six volumes; the work of a local man, Reginald Dack Baker, who held the belief that the medical establishment was involved in a conspiracy to kill innocent people by means of electronic rays. Although born in Norwich, Baker had emigrated to Australia, and in August 1914 joined the Royal Australian Field Ambulance Service. He went on to serve in, among other fields of conflict, Gallipoli and the Somme. Finally, in 1918 he was pensioned out of the forces, having been diagnosed with neurasthenia ('shell shock'). Having set up a successful grocery business in post-war Brisbane, at some point in the mid 1920s Baker was committed to a mental institution ('Goodna' is one of the establishments where he was incarcerated).

From reading his account of this time it is clear that he underwent electro-shock therapy - a standard treatment for victims of 'shell shock'. At this point in time, I don't know whether or not his preoccupation with malevolent authorities abusing electronic waves predated this terrible - and terrifying - ordeal, but, if not, it must certainly have been a catalyst for what was to become a lifelong obsession.

Anyway, I have just set up a seperate blog where I will try and bring you some of this story. Click on the following link to find out more -> William Reginald Dack Baker

Friday, 12 June 2009


Some spaces are demarcated as being special. For me, a labyrinthe is one such special space, symbolising a journey or pilgrimage. Not a maze with dead ends; rather, a journey with an end point - a very different thing.

This afternoon I took some time for myself and ambled down to Norwich Cathedral cloister, below the blue sky and caress of sun. I stood facing the labyrinthe in the garth, and took time to slow down. I sought out a sanctuary - a symbolic space where I could unclutter my thoughts and distance myself from my petty concerns. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking)...

For me, walking this space is akin to a Tai Chi form: focusing my mind solely on the movement as I move through the 'ritual' of the labyrinthe helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Afterwards, I sat down in the cloister, face bathed in sunlight, and wrote down some of the reflections I'd had prior to 'losing' myself in the nowness of the journey...

Private time in special places can be a very rewarding and creative experience.


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Remember, You Are Part of the Story too...

My strength is my weakness. I am an enthusiast, but with this comes a danger; a danger that I will bombard audiences and batter their senses. There's a danger that I will 'talk over' the special places, when I should be facilitating sensitive responses to these spaces. However, whilst recognising these potential pitfalls, I still see this passion and energy of mine as an asset. Harnessed in the right way, it can be infectious.

Good interpretation requires an honest self-audit. Our uniqueness - unscripted and spontaneous - is a massive part of 'the story'. The other day I was listening to a young man describing the way he used to visit the site of a Roman town, virtually every day. Without any self-consciousness he went on to describe the way that Nature came to accept his presence there. In the sultry summer evenings he would be the only human presence, whilst Little Owls stood like sentinals on the fence posts, swooping occasionally to catch insects on the wing. It was magical.
"This should be part of the story you tell when talking about Roman history," I suggested - and I meant it!

In my own work, it is not unusual for me, in a change of tone, to describe how I found out what it is I'm talking about. For instance, once, when describing the tragic devastation of a community in the 1666 plague, I was able to recount how the handwriting of the Churchwarden recording the deaths , abruptly changed. A few lines further down, their name would appear alongside those ubiquitous letters, 'pla'. I described how I this made me feel; how the stories of dead generations touched me. This is bringing history alive.

My advice is this: dare to be yourself - use who you are. Don't be afraid of personalising the narrative and revealing who you are, and how you feel. In my experience, people respond positively to this human touch.

Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten - Arvo Part

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