Over two days, August 14th and August 15th I did four storytelling workshops at four libraries in and around Doncaster – Tickhill, Cantley, Askern and Bentley. The four workshops were the same – the piece for young children and their families called ‘Tales of the Far North’ that I had trialled in Rotherham the on 13th August.
I enjoyed the shows. The children got involved and enjoyed it and I was pleased with their engagement. At several points in the workshop I stop the story telling and I ask the children to guess what might be about to happen and I always say, ‘There’s no wrong answer. Just imagine’ and they come up with some brilliant ideas. One story I tell is called ‘The Poor Hunter’. It’s about a man who is a poor hunter, meets a polar bear and helps him and then returns to his community a changed man. When he returns to his community I say that the people in his village looked at him as if he is a ghost and I ask the children why. They have wonderful ideas and the one I liked most was that he had turned into a polar bear. (In fact, the reason is that he had been gone a month). You can read the story here http://www.astronomy.pomona.edu/archeo/alaska/eskimotale.html
At the end of each session I asked the children if they’d like to write a sentence about the workshop. They could say what they liked, what they learned or a question that they had. Here are some of them:
“Why is the arctic melting?” Ben, Tickhill Library
“I like the caribou story.” Joshua, Askern Library.
“I enjoyed the stories and answering the questions.” Chloe and Evie, Tickhill Library
“Polar bears like to hunt seals on the ice.” Abigail, age 6, Cantley Library.
“I liked the narwhal bit because the grandma turned into a narwhal.” Askern Library.
“We need to walk to school.” Katie, Age 5, Tickhill.
I enjoyed meeting the members of the reading and literacy team in Doncaster who had invited me to perform in their libraries. We had a good discussion about storytelling and its role as a ‘way in’ for many children, a way for them to engage with literature before opening a book.
Of course, the two days were full of experiences apart from the storytelling. On the night of the 14th I’d found a campsite. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take bookings over the phone of less than £10 and the cost of my stay would be less than £10. (‘Not sure if they thought that through,’ the woman said on the phone). Never mind, I thought, I could turn up and pay. I called at about 3pm just to check that everything was alright for the evening. ‘We close at 4.30pm,’ said the woman. I wouldn’t be able to get there till about 6pm. It was OK. There were lots of spaces and I would be able to stay there and pay in the morning. The woman on the phone reeled off all the empty numbered camp places. Was I meant to remember these numbers?
When I arrived, everything seemed to be alright and I set up in an empty space. ‘Just a minute,’ I thought, ‘This has electricity supply. Will I get charged if I use that space even if I don’t use electricity?’ I saw a nearby empty space that didn’t have an electricity supply. Everything was fine. I had something to eat, a much-needed shower and got ready for bed.
I’d just returned to my tent and was about to undress when I heard a voice outside the tent.
“Have you got your stub saying that you’ve booked for this plot?”
“Um, no, I haven’t. I arrived late but the woman at the desk said that it would be OK to pay in the morning. She reeled off a load of numbers but I- is this your space? I can move if-”
“Well, can I see some other ID then?’
By this time I was out of the tent. “Yea, sure.” I showed her my bank card.
“I hope you understand. We’re single women and kids. I mean, you could be an axe murderer for all we know.”
“But surely, you’re at as much risk from an axe murderer who isn’t next to you, who is on the other side of the site,”
“Yes, well, that’s not the point. Anyway, that’s fine. Thanks very much. Goodnight.”
I lay in bed thinking about this. I never did understand whether I’d taken their space. They were a group of adult friends and their children so they’d moved close to each other but maybe one had booked the pitch I was on and my arrival had alarmed them. The next morning I got ready and paid the staff when they arrived. But the women and their kids had long gone. They’d packed and gone by 8.30am. When I offered the money and the lady thanked me for being honest and not disappearing early I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. They- no, they wouldn’t have done that would they?”
Doncaster, like Barnsley has a rich mining heritage. Everywhere there are relics and memorials to closed mines. On my way to the Tickhill gig I’d passed the site of the Yorkshire Main colliery and Askern and Bentley were both collieries closed after the Miner’s Strike. But here were working mines too. I passed Rossington and Hatfield on my travels and on the way to Askern realised just how close I was to ‘Megawatt valley’. There, in the distance were Drax and Eggborough coal-fired power stations doing what they do best.
All through this trip I experienced interesting coincidences. On my first night one of the staff at Birstall library said it was uncanny that I was doing a piece that related to the composition of the atmosphere just a few metres away from a statue of Joseph Priestley, the scientist who discovered oxygen. http://www.francisfrith.com/birstall,west-yorkshire/photos/the-joseph-priestley-memorial-c1950_b337011/#utmcsr=google.co.uk&utmcmd=referral&utmccn=google.co.uk The thing is, though, once you’re considering energy or the climate, it’s everywhere! So there I was cycling between Askern and Bentley and suddenly there I was at Toll Bar, the site of terrible floods, alongside Sheffield, Barnsley and Hull in 2007. http://www.bbc.co.uk/southyorkshire/content/articles/2007/07/24/flooding_toll_bar_post_office_feature.shtml
I popped in and there was John Jackson, famous from those days. He told me about what had happened, how the flooding was made worse by a reservoir in Rotherham that had to be relieved so it didn’t break its banks and about the more recent improvements to the Ea Beck defences. Now, I’m always keen to be on the side of science and I had read about a report by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology saying that the 2007 floods were not caused by climate change.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7287988.stm. I said something along these lines to John but he was clear. “The weather is changing.”
After Bentley, as I approached the centre of Doncaster there was Ed Milliband’s constituency office. Ed Milliband, who was Minister for Energy and Climate Change in the last government and who was widely respected by campaigners for ‘getting’ climate change. He says he considered resigning from the government over the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport and of course, he could be the next Prime Minister, the one who signs key treaties at the Paris Conference of 2015.
Now, I should have been cycling twenty or so miles down the road to West Burton Power station, site of the longest occupation of a power station in November 2012 by the ‘No Dash for Gas’ group http://www.nodashforgas.org.uk/ and now the site of a protest camp, ‘Reclaim the Power’. But ten days earlier a decision had been made to re-locate to Balcombe to support the protests against drilling and (potentially) fracking there. Bit too far to cycle. So I got on the train and after staying the night in London with a friend was in Balcombe the next day.