Rosemary, Aberdeen, Living Voices and Meaningful Activities Networks.


Rosemary’s been coming up a lot for me lately, I’ve been researching it along with some other plants for a piece I’ve been writing which combines herbal folklore, traces of lost Scottish legends, and a bit of history of medicine and health care in the

IMG_1276highlands, which may be going out to New- York for Scotland week http://www.scotland.org/whats-on/scotland-week/ , along with my herbalist friend Claire MacKay who was herbal consultant on Outlander http://www.outlanderherbal.com/ http://www.herbalheritage.co.uk/ and Jenni Steele from Visit Scotland http://www.visitscotland.com/ .

But more on that next week…I’ll give you a taster of the piece and tie it all in once the New York celebration of all things Caledonian is under way!
For now I want to share one of the first reasons that it transpires Rosemary is my plant of the month this month…and may continue to be for the next five: Living Voices   http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/learn/carers .

I’ve blogged about it before http://www.botanicafabula.co.uk/blog/2013/04/01/Living-Voices.aspx I worked with a group in a care home in Ayr for 18months as part of the first pilot scheme, telling stories, sharing songs, reading poems, tying it all together with well chosen objects, family anecdotes and a chance for participants to reminisce and share their stories where they wanted to or on the occasions they were able.

Today I started back on the project again, not with my new groups up in Aberdeen yet…no I start that aspect of the project next week, delivering sessions with two new (to me) groups and hopefully giving the care staff that take part of the project the confidence and the resources to use some of the aspects of my sessions with the residents on a regular basis….legacy work, its called these days….keeping stuff going in the face of the end of funding, making sure folk keep sharing stories, giving older people facing ill health, and mobility issues whose memories can sometimes creep into shadowy cupboards and refuse to be found, an opportunity to share words not entirely dictated by healthcare, dinner choices, card games and religion those apparent stalwarts of later life.

Now Rosemary renowned for its use by Greek scholars and Shakespeare’s Ophelia as a memory enhancer, seems a poignant herb to take with me to sessions where many participants have alzheimers and more than a little useful for me to as I return to work following my maternity leave, still woken every night by the chubby wee baby and therefore prone to forgetting STUFF (don’t ask what, I genuinely don’t know but I’ve definitely forgotten loads….).

photo 1Off I head up to Aberdeen, I love train journeys, I love watching the changing landscape, having lived in so many parts of the country so many places significantly for this project hold memories for me and Aberdeen is where I was born, place of my oldest memories of all.
What’s more here on my Rosemary scented journey I spend 2 hours travelling up the east coast….and it’s been far too long since I saw the sea….and I love the sea, especially the deep icy wild North sea, you can see it’s depth, feel it’s power as you glimpse the way it’s carved the landscape….I feel revitalised, my Ros Marinus my memory of the sea…yes Aberdeen and Living Voices makes sense in an energetic herbal storytelling way for me right now….I have a few hours of train bound travelling, sea dew scented, memory chasing thinking time…writing time…

Today I was off to meet a fantastic group mostly activities co-ordinators from care homes who make up the local ‘Meaningful Activities Network’, and some interesting local librarians who were there to share this amazing resource http://www.silvercityvault.org.uk/ as well as news of the other things they do. I was there with Emma Fargher from the Scottish poetry library http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/ to tell them about the Living Voices project, offer them a taster of what I do …get them sharing a few words of their own and thinking about using stories, poetry and songs with older people in a care home setting.

I started with a bit of a chat about how easy silly family anecdotes are a great story resource, children stuffing ridiculous objects up their nose is always a great opener to start a room chatting I find….(see last week’s blog’s walnut references!)
…and then chatted about turning simple stories into something different, something familiar , personalised, something that resonates, taking a classic like the Enormous Turnip for example and making it your own …Uncle Wullies prize winning veg and the village of Torphin turning up at the allotments to wrench the beast from the soil …for example….people know exactly what you’re doing and love that they get the joke…it’s conspiratorial tale telling, silly, quite simple, but huge fun to do….with practice the embellishments slip off the tongue like swarovski crystals, fake storytelling diamante, sparkly pretty and obtainable!

Then by way of example I told this little number, anything involving lots of family members to take on different roles, gardens and cooking with a wee moral twist has always been well recieved at Living voices sessions in my experience:

Stone soup adaptation of a traditional tale by Amanda Edmiston

There was once a family who had travelled far
They travelled light with only a few wraps of seeds to plant when they reached their journey’s end and a big iron cooking pot that they hoped one day to smell tasty aromas rise from.

photo 2(Today I also took a dolly my mum had made me as a baby and the knitting pattern my Granny had made her costume from…the daughter in my story had her dolly with her and the pattern her mum intended to make more outfits using…I also on the spur of the moment wove in a few facts from my own childhood when my family moved house)When finally they reached their new home they found a garden choked with nettles, ground too rocky to plant and not a thing to eat. But looking across the walls and fences into their neighbor’s gardens they saw ripe crops aplenty so decided to ask around to see if their new community would lend them some food for their pot.
But the people weren’t accustomed to strangers and they were scared their food supplies weren’t copious enough to share, so ask as they might the answer was no.
‘No’ said the man on the right with the garden full of carrots and kohl rabi‘No’ said the woman on the left with row upon row of celery and cabbages‘No’ said the couple at the bottom of the garden with the neat onion sets and the old pig sty‘No’ said the family at the top of the street with the mill full of wheat.
‘No, no , no’ they all said slamming their doors.
The family despaired, what were they to do…then the mother had an idea…a ruse, a ploy with the guarantee of at least a mineral rich broth of nettles at the end of it…
So carrying the pot outside, the family set about gathering up sticks and stones and lighting a fire and setting the pot full of water on top of it, they began to drop stones into the pot.
With each one they thought of another line of a story…as the father put in his he said ‘plants’ and the mother started the story using his word, as she finished her sentence she popped in her stone and said the word ‘garden’ the daughter continued using garden as the key for her sentence round and round they went filling the bubbling pot with stones and weaving a story as they went.
It didn’t take long for the neighbors to start to peeking over the fence to listen and watch and try to hear the story, try to find out what the family were up to, and whats more try to find out what they had bubbling in their pot.
The man on the right was first to admit he wanted to know more….‘Hey, hey, new neighbours that looks interesting what did you find to cook in the end’ he asked.
‘Why’ said the mother, ‘I suddenly remembered my old family recipe for stone soup…its the simplest and the best’
The man gave her a greedy look, he liked to be the first to find new recipes to try out…” Oh let me try some…I’ve never heard of that before” he exclaimed.
The mother looked up and shook her head, “Dear me no’ she answered ‘‘I’d love to offer you a bowl… but I really can’t, you see, much as I’d love to share I’d be doing my old mum a disservice letting you try it without one of its key ingredients as you wouldn’t get to taste it at its very best’
‘Oh I’d really like to taste it’ replied the man, sifting in his pocket for a notebook to start scribbling down ingredients….‘tell me what it is you need, maybe I can help’.
It wasn’t long before he was popping the missing carrot over the fence and waiting to try the promised amazing soup.
The woman on the left was next to appear she prided herself on the very best soup and was intrigued to find out if this magical broth could match her best.
But ‘no no no’ said the mother ‘I’d love to give you a bowlful, maybe we could compare notes, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t taste it at its best, you see I’m missing a stick of celery, so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison’
Quick as a flash the woman vanished and reappeared with a firm green head of celery waving it with a flourish, I can’t resist a competition she announced…give me a shout when its all cooked then we can see who’s soup is best’.
The couple at the bottom of the garden eagerly swapped an onion and a cube of bacon for the offer of a bowl full of the fascinating soup, and the millers inquisitive ever hungry children were soon pleading with their parents to swap a crusty loaf of bread for a taste of the now infamous soup…maybe they thought they would get to hear the story too.
It was no time at all before the soup was simmering and ready, the family sat round the pot got up and literally grasped the nettles, each bringing a handful to the pot, a cliver here a stalk of ground elder there the four handfuls of weeds and nettles were chopped and put in the pot and the soup was ready, the neighbors were duly invited and a lovely meal was enjoyed.P1010212
And when all was shared and the food all eaten, well each and every stone came back out of the pot and a new story was told…and this one so I was told had a very happy ending!

© Amanda Edmiston : Stone Soup is a tale that crops up all over the word in traditional tales and urban myths, I have adapted this to Scotland of recent memory 2013

When the story was done, we played a game…everyone got a couple of stones, some had words written on them, (we had a think about what they’d once been…castle walls perhaps, the texture, the smell, some were fossils, there were even a few shells and pine cones) …a partner and a few minutes to allow the pebbles to suggest something then to collect an idea or two, share a song or an anecdote tell a quick tale and do you know everyone did…one lady ran off to get a fantastic knitted hedgehog and shared a brilliant story about how it had been created, a librarian who I suspect was a writer on the hush hush immediately invented a brilliant tale about a customer who failed to tip a waiter, we had a traditional German song, memories of fathers serenading mum’s with Elvis numbers, ‘Witch broth’ on French beaches, birds and dinosaurs, Sorrel sauce and stories of secret stone collections of limitless romance.
It was beautiful…I had such a lovely afternoon, I has such lovely feedback too…I think everyone else enjoyed it….
I’ll be back next week to two care homes…

But hopefully also, via the Poetry Library to share some taster sessions with the care homes whose activities co-ordinators came today…it was only a couple of hours, but stories are a great way of getting to know people and I’m already looking forward to seeing some of them again, they were dynamic and enthusiastic and I’m really pleased they’re there making peoples later years interesting and about more than making sure the ‘pill cart’ runs on time.
Yep I’m looking forward to Aberdeen and sharing my memories of the sea….

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