Thursday, 25 February 2010

For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven (part I)

There’s no irony intended in choosing that title. The whole of yesterday I was at a primary school, spending 35 minutes with each class, from the wee 3 year olds to the 10 year olds. It was a day of entertainment, pleasure, hope and a confirmation that people aren’t monsters from the start – that’s something they obviously learn later. Admittedly, the story that one class produced relied for one of its possible resolutions on an exploding mum (literally exploding, not just with anger), but overall I was absorbed in and delighted by the way they all engaged so willingly in the things we did.

With all but two of the classes (oldest and youngest) I read them one of my Stanley stories then got them to think up a story of their own, either as a whole class or in smaller groups. As I read mine, they listened, laughed and the rapt faces far outnumbered the yawns of those who obviously hadn’t had enough sleep or were bored witless. On each occasion, the transition from the silence as I read my stuff to the enthusiasm as they developed theirs was fast and smooth and the day rushed by, probably teaching me more than it taught them. I could pontificate about the innocence and generosity of children this young, their willingness to cooperate on things, the model they present of how creative social cohesion can be but in some ways that detracts from the experience. It’s the old distinction between sensation and perception. The moment you become aware of the experience you’re having, you become detached from it a little – analysis takes the place of involvement. We were all living totally in the moment and in the creation of their fictions. My mind, sixty-plus years older than theirs was just part of the mix. So I thought I’d just let you know what ephemeral things the day produced.

My first question to the first class was ‘What do we need to start a story?’ The hands shot up, I chose one, a girl, who said ‘Once upon a time’. Incontestable. I then got suggestions about the characters in the story, locations and, by simply asking them questions, which were my only input, each class produced one or several stories. In this and the next blog, I'll give you just 4 of the 13 that they created between them.

The first was the one with the exploding mother. It also had a robot mother and a mother in prison. (Lest you think this was a worrying indication that all might not be well at home, they all came from different individuals and were obviously attempts to negotiate narrative hurdles rather than cries for help.) The problem was that Sam and Sally, who lived near a volcano, were bored with just wandering round its slopes and wanted to try the crater. When they asked if they could go, Mum (amazingly) said ‘OK’ so off they went. Inside they found a button. They pressed it and the lava, smoke and ash started bubbling up, so they pressed it again and it stopped. They rushed home, told Mum about it. She went back with them and the button had vanished.

It was the same every time; if they went on their own, it was there, if Mum came, it wasn’t. The explanation centred around an old man who lived nearby and had remote control things in his house. He’d built a robot replica of their real mum, substituted it for her, imprisoned her in a cage under the lava, etc., etc. In the end, Sam and Sally tricked him, got into his cottage, worked the remote so that it made the robot mum pick up the old man and start walking. She strode off into the distance and is probably still walking with him clutched tight in her metal embrace. This meant Sam and Sally could raise the cage and save their real mum.

And this blog’s long enough, so I’ll save the rest for the next one.


  1. The imagination of a child. We still have it buried deep inside. Perhaps it is captive under the volcano.

  2. Blimey. Wish I'd thought of that. What a fab story. Suppose it would be dastardly to plagiarise eight-year-olds.

  3. Nice idea, Reg. I'm not sure the writers of it would see it that way - they don't have time to analyse or explain, they're too caught up in the story.

    Gillian, all's fair as long as I get my percentage. The other stories in the next blog are just as good.

  4. What an obviously brilliant day you had, Bill. Maybe we should all go and speak to primary school children and let them kick start our own imaginations. Look forward to the next story.

  5. The strange thing is, Rosemary, while we were constructing the stories I had no idea just how good and imaginative they were - their ideas just kept popping effortlessly out. I wish I found it that easy.

  6. What fun! I used to teach in "The Poetry in the Schools Program" here in Wyoming, and was always amazed at elementary school children's imaginations. I'd sometimes start off sessions with a silly poem about an elephant trying to use a telephone and then asked the kids to write a story about another animal and household appliance. Their stories were priceless!

  7. Okay, you have to forgive me. I was thinking an exploding flower. Get it? Mum. They are little geniuses and how interesting that they didn't kill the neighbor just set him permanently out of reach - or maybe left it open for the sequel, the little smart alecks. How fun!

  8. That's exactly the sort of thing I did to get them started Jean. It was just like switching on an ideas factory. In a way it's a shame not to write these stories up to keep them. On the other hand, the fact that they were created for pure pleasure with no ulterior motives is part of their charm.

    I should have thought about calling her 'mom', Marley, just to avoid ambiguity. But your comments give me the chance to warn you in advance of a word which will occur in Part II. The word is 'bum' and it has nothing to do with down and outs.