Raindrops on Roses

…and whiskers on kittens…

Relax, I am not about to burst into song and I’ve never actually seen the Sound of Music. The songs have a way of creeping into consciousness though.

This post was prompted by an exchange of comments at (John)Poettraveler’s blog (see blogroll), so blame him!

One of my favourite lessons with my students involves my bag of delights, which is a bag of unusual things, unpacked for them onto an exotic pashmina and they are invited to examine them and choose one that inspires them to write. They can write anything they want to, from a description to a poem. I’ve had songs written and stories, and even a dialogue. They usually watch me unpack with some trepidation and with ever widening eyes and the words, “Mary Poppins!” are hissed under breaths. Yet another film I have never seen.

The following is a list of the items commonly or sometimes in my bag. I do vary it for an assortment of reasons; my Tribble had to be retired because I became concerned for her health….There IS such a thing as too much love!

1) two Egyptian gauze scarves, one black, one red, edged in beads, from Cairo, 2) a black velvet cat mask , 3) a duckbilled platypus finger puppet,  4) a Sol Invictus fridge magnet from Bath,  5) a carved wooden Welsh lovespoon, 6) a wooden rattle, 7) small set of panpipes, 8) lemur soft toy, 9) small rainstick, 10) two plastic water squirting goldfish,  11) a clove orange,   12) a Tibetan singing bowl and beater, 13) a gauze bag of resin incense, smelling of frankincense, fennel and lemongrass, 14) a string of agate beggars’ beads from India,  15) brass wire and bead mandala,  16) sandalwood bead necklace carved with elephants,  17) wooden bookmark with a lion on,  18) parrot soft toy from McD’s,  19) Tibetan prayer wheel,  20) clear resin contact juggling ball- this looks like a crystal ball but isn’t,  21) beaded medicine bag, with design of a leaping hare,  22) carved wooden rhino from Kenya,  23) pewter velociraptor,  24) single horn from a highland cow,  25) jingle bells Christmas decoration,  26) polished geode from mineral shop,  27) naturally occuring geode found on beach at The Witterings in Sussex (by my daughter), 28) Rowan Williams (archbish of Canterbury) figure for the Christmas tree,  29) Tibetan tingshags,  30) two sea shell fossils, found on a beach,  31)  Norweigian easter egg(made of cardboard to be filled with chocs),  32) Egyptian glass perfume vial,  33) a box containing 3 scarabs, one a genuine antiquity, one a reproduction one I bought at the British museum when I was 17 for 10p and one bought last year at the same location,  34) Chinese health balls in a velvet covered box,  35) driftwood shaped like the head of a surprised emu,  36) Stiff Nick, two inch high bronze fertility god figure with errrmm…appendage,  37)  Celtic knotwork brooch, obtained by playing swapsies in the ladies’ loo at IKEA Gateshead  about 15 years ago, 38) Chinese holed coins on a ribbon,  39)  lump of raw amber from Southwold,  40) palm stone of Mookaite,  41) rocks from Everest,  42) lump of native copper,  43) bottle of gold,  44) lump of fool’s gold,  45) reproduction Roman penanular brooch,  46) reproduction Viking cloak brooch with a two headed dragon ship design,  47) polished piece of clear quartz,  48) small pewter angel statue,  49) quartz pyramid,  50) Chinese carving of a dragon on a turtle; it’s made of a nut of sorts but don’t remember what. 

I’ve yet to be disappointed in what a class as a whole produces, though a few individuals have struggled to find their imaginations. Some are still writing at lunchtime, and beg to be allowed to hand it in after lunch. That evening I have the delight of reading them all and marking them, and the next day, they get to read theirs out and I give out rewards. Everyone gets a sweet, for trying and there are a few bigger prizes for thise who truly excelled. I’d give more but it is out of my own pocket, and you have to draw a line. First prize is often a scarab, of which I have a small store of reproduction ones, but it depends on the class and on the gender of the winner. Sometimes it’s a pen or something like that, or more often than that, a chocolate bar.

Usually I save this lesson for when I know a class well enough to know they won’t abuse my collection, but it has worked well for every level and every age I teach and the opportunities for discussion and exploration are boundless.

So, that was a few of my favourite things and my favourite lesson! Did any inspire you?


57 thoughts on “Raindrops on Roses

  1. Hi viv – Oh Wow! I feel I am either in Harrods (looking at some of their uniquely exotic merchandise) or at the British Museum (looking at many amazing things from their Hall of Antiquities) as my eyes go down the list of things from your collection. Awesome!

    hmmmm.. now let me see what I want from your goodies here….

    I think my name is on the cat mask… so that goes into my bag.
    I MUST have the two plastic squirting waterfish. They look like fun.
    The Tibetan Prayer Wheel is an essential, I’m lifting that right now.
    The celtic knotwood broach appeals – but although I have the right to wear a kilt with matching shawl I don’t have one either, so that stays with you.
    The Chinese carving of a dragon with a turtle appeals – it will remind me of that day, hundreds of years ago, when I was a merchant mariner, standing in a market in a long street in mainland Kowloon, Hong Kong, looking at jade carvings, and all sorts of other carvings, with wide eyes and pleasure in my heart at the thought of owning any of them.
    I must resist the Norwegian easter egg. Chocolates are not safe around me. I have a tendency to eye any chocolate – the more hand-made the better – go into some sort of a trance and mutter loudly –“you will be assimilated”. It never fails.
    The brass wire and bead mandala will find its way into my bag as I assume my transcendental position.

    Gosh darn! my bag is full and I haven’t even started to pick all the wonders out from your collection.

    Viv, simply looking at the descriptions of all of these things and how you use them with your students, signifies what an amazing and clever and wise person you are.
    If I was one of your young students I would be filled with excitement and happiness and expectation each time I attended your classes. You are a wonderful motivator and I have huge admiration for what you do for your students and for the way you describe how you encourage them.

    Excellently done! 😀

    • *blushes*
      You’re going to have to armwrestle J for the fish, he’s just told me…
      There are a fair few other things that go in at times and are now “resting”. I get bored easily myself and at the very least my kids(well they’re between 11 and 21 generally) get something no one else does. Mind you, I thought I’d be lynched the day I said we were doing poetry…..oh boy! But they survived a smidge of Shakey, a tad of Tennyson, killed themselves laughing at limericks and had a hack at haikus….I admit I didn’t make them try and write a sonnet, based on the fact that while I might manage blank verse in French, I couldn’t produce a more traditional form. One kid did once challenge me, you see, to write a poem in another language to my own….so i did. *smug mode*

      • *blush* not maid for thou art worthy of my proffered praise. I shall, if valour exceeds my natural propensity to make like a tree and leaf, indulge in a bout of arm-less wraselling with the noble J, whose shield seems to bear a snarling pixie avant. Cripes! … I’m beginning to make like a tree.

      • make like a tree? Whence cometh this vain jest?
        *snarling pixie* hilarious…. where was the snarling pixy when I needed to vanquish the goblins (see Seminar in the short story archive) Actually, he was quite willing to come along besuited and cause havoc on my behalf…but karma intervened and the war faded to nothing with a sprinkle of holy water…

      • It cometh from my mouth and not my chest, though in vein it doth sound muffled and like to be as buried in my chest as in my mouth.

        The goblins are best vanquished by the usage of the oath, “By St Hoover – you suck!” shouted in high dudgeon while standing on another type of vacuum cleaner – goblins being somewhat passe and only used in the outer suburbs where deep cleansing is still wholly confined.

      • Bold Sir Henry would have taken one look at the Goblin Queen and turned tail and fled! Some mouthfuls are too big even for the toughest vaccum cleaner !

      • Yes. I can imagine this. Not because Sir Henry lacks courage and valor. A Goblin Queen would suck the life out of any mortal man. Disregarding the camel in Tangiers, I encountered a Goblin Queen – they are widely spread it seems – when I was an esquire dressed as a young mariner.
        It was in a dimly lit yard somewhere in downtown Yokahama but I cannot now remember the outcome. I was always a sucker for saki and sleeping in a curious place – hitting the saki so to say – meant I was suckered in to the encounter. Thank all the mojos ever strung that I was imbibed enough to imagine I could disregard the scintillating siren that was embodied in the argent Goblin Queen.

    • She is right Mr PoetTraveler!!! I am not into arm wrestling but I MUST have the fish simply to protect them against the cat mask you have claimed already!!! I don’t want this to get nasty and hope that we can perhaps settle this over a fair game of either scrabble or monopoly!! I warn you though! I may wear a suit 😉

      • Well said sir J. The vision of wrestling with elbows firmly held by newton’s law, seems arm-ful to this runner and I am glad your sense of wonder over the giggling butterfly quartered on my shield has somehow shifted you from the potential arm-y maneuver. I am unsure about this technology of which you speak and while I am prepared to scrabble around until I find some paper copies of the fish that have caught your imagination – though cod knows why this should so be – I am not prepared to take on this mystical mono-poly of whom you speak. I once had unpleasant experience with a camel in tangiers but he only spoke french. The prospect of confronting a wing-ed thing that is single but may well see me as its future partner-to-be, is a daunting prospect, sir J.

        I may hold your suit while you wrestle with my dilemma 😉

      • I love Camels. They spit. It appeals to the anarchist in me.
        I did beat a male friend at armwrestling once, in a bid to decide whether I was strong enough to drive the Landrover I was about to buy. He was mortified and never forgave me. I bought the Landrover.

  2. Leaving the argument of the fish to one side, I fully agree with PoetTraveler in saying “If I was one of your young students I would be filled with excitement and happiness and expectation each time I attended your classes”.

    If only there were more teachers like you who would encourage and inspire their students to use their imagination and find their talent without the need to tick a box of an uninspiring curriculum.

    I long for the fish………

    • I find it’s sometimes quite hard to get the kids to realise quite what a big exciting and extraordinary world it is out there and how much there is to discover.
      I’ve never been much of a traveller( borderline agoraphobia for much of my life) but I travel with my mind if nothing else. On my Twitter profile I describe myself as an explorer; more the Eliot kind as in “Old men should be explorers” than the Indiana Jones hat, jacket and bullwhip sort. I do have my own machete, if it helps.
      We are too often prisoners of our culture, that means we can travel thousands of miles and never leave our own comfortable sets of preconceptions. The awful stereotype of the American tourist is not exclusive to America, sadly.
      I’m up for trying most things at least once, certainly when it comes to foods and drinks.

      • You are remarkable, extraordinary and I believe you hold your head up high and feel very good about all that you do. J has already voiced my thoughts, coincidental with his, when he says “If only there were more teachers like you who would encourage and inspire their students to use their imagination and find their talent without the need to tick a box of an uninspiring curriculum.”

        As for the fish?….
        They know where the fun is at. They know what it will be like to be my plastic squeeze-s

        My passing note to J must be…
        “goodbye and thanks (dear viv) for all the fish”


    • I endorse all that you have said.
      But the fish will settle down happily with me because they are protected (listed fish) and know when they are onto a good thing – besides all this it’s my turn to have fun.

      • To the pair of you:
        You are both very silly boys(and neither of you is the Messiah, though the predictive text on my phone would have otherwise in Sir jes’s case)
        Thank you both for making me laugh!

      • To my Lady Viv of the Sixty and Six emanations,
        being a silly boy is all part of growing up. I am still
        experimenting with the process. As to Sir J. …
        he and I may well have a tumble in the playground over the fishes, even though he proclaims he will share them without recourse to a kernuckle sandwich, I sense his strong attraction to fish and I dare to say he and I will, in a manner of speaking, thrust our pugilistic bodies at each other until you step in with your strong hands and firm discipline… hmmmm… and produce your very big whistle to blow and end to our ruckus.

        pee-es: I’m glad I/we made you laugh!

      • My dear Sir John, I have been contemplating the whole fish affair and I am true to my word about sharing without the need for a kernuckle sandwich…or any kind of sandwich for that matter. However, I feel it would be wrong to separate the fish and thus suggests that for the next few months you have them during the week and I at weekends and we can then swap…
        Trying to reach out and solve this amicably without mediation or any form of dicipline.

      • The fish are pair bonded for life and since it would then be cruel to part such souls, your suggestion shows compassion and good sense…but….
        THEY’RE MINE.
        hands off, the pair of you!!!

      • Dear Sir J, we must be overt in our correspondence here, but I have sent a covert message to you via a runner who has set out from my thatched semi at Bow Street with the intention of leaving you a message, secreted away on a stall at Billingsgate market. Seek out the tradesman there known as me-eds-dunin, he it is who will give you, at cost price, a bowl of chopped eels dressed in gelatin. Beneath the eels will be a message ciphered as ITALY. I pray thee not to take this literally but to regard it as a cautious way to re-establish a connection, without She Who Must Not Be Named knowing. When this connection is established we may then go on to use a higher level of cipher involving code BOLTOP. For the moment, you must follow the Bow Street runner and then look for me-eds-dunin.

        Addendum: Fish Swap will never make it in to the ratings.

      • I think you have finally lost me Bold Sir John but I fear that you have also lost Sir Jes too.
        We are simple mortals and cannot decipher ciphers of this complexity…
        ps. MY head is truly Dun in now!!!

      • Bog off Weasley; it’s me Ginny. Harry is snogging Pansy Parkinson in the potions cupbaord and I’ve been filming it with my new camera!

      • errrr… ooops, sorry Ginny. I mistook your voice for Harry’s deep falsetto…
        – wait a minute! – Bog Off?
        I thought you and I were scripted to be ..well you know..
        to have a bit of a thing….
        errr.. I mean to be more than just Bog Off mates.

      • I am sensing a certain unwholesomeness about the reference to strong hands and firm discipline….
        And I do actually carry on trips the world’s loudest whistle, which produces an appalling amount of decibels when blown but does at least catch the attention of noisy teens…or mountain rescue, whichever is needed most!

      • Cut to scene and role reversal on set:

        He looks into her eyes, but, in a disciplined manner, watches out for her strong hands as he tells her… “You only have to whistle .. you do know how to whistle don’t you?

        Pianist starts to play romantic medley “Roll Out The Barrel”…

        Scene cuts to both of them walking along the tarmac towards a number 88 bus. He murmurs… “This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship… do you still got dat Oister wotsit for the trip?”

        Scene fades as she hits him a pre-Byzantine sponge rock.

      • sorry only whistlin’ this gal does is fer ‘er dog!
        My grandmother told me “A whistling woman and a crowing hen brings no good to God nor men”. Clearly where I have been going wrong all these years.
        Incidentally gave me the chills reminding me of MR James story, “Whistle and I’ll come for you, my lad!”
        and yes, I do have an Oyster card. Topped up and ready to use. Next time I am doing a London tour, maybes we can all meet up at Covent Garden!

      • “jus’ you wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins, jus’ you wait!”
        Actually My fair Lady is the one and the only musical I would ever watch without being forced at gunpoint. That’s largely because of the sheer quality of the script (GBS, thank you very much), the actors in the classic film and the singability of the tunes, as well as the sheer scope of the themes.
        I am NOT a fan of musicals and have escaped all the tv screened ones from Mary Poppins to the Wizard of Oz and everything in between. I was unable to escape High School Musical (3) because it was being played on a French coach last year; I couldn’t even drown it out with my mp3 player playing Italian baroque music at top volume or even trance dance.
        I have enjoyed some of the older Disney(well, ones made 15 years ago or so) because of the humour in them, and the most recent one I enjoyed was Enchanted because it was so beautifully crafted as a subversion of the genre.
        But really….
        There is a poem somewhere in my archives called a Slice of my life and is about Covent Garden, which is where I often spend my freetime when travelling with students. It’s a sad reflection of my shallower side that many of the shopkeepers now know me by name..

      • I remember a gay, happy, almost hippy version of this musical. It was put on by a troop of guides at Upper Tooting. I say guides, but just prior to the event all of them fell sick with thirst night nerves, having imbibed more than one bottle of Nettles Chest Syrup the day before the actual show.

        There was quite a panic until the district’s scout troop offered to step in. It all went well, according to the local news paper, the Upper Tooting Bugle, who failed to notice that the scout leader playing the female lead actually sang “I could have pranced all night” and “All I want is roomie some where”.

        I am very fond of musicals, and still gaze dreamy eyed – gosh, I am such a romantic! – at Fred Astair and Ginger Bisket as they tap r tea tap through those amazing routines. Had I lived at that time, I would have dyed my hair red and changed my name to Dai Jestive and chanced my foot at the tap r tea tap stuff. I do not regret anything. I am sure I made the right choice about that. Kustard Kreams would have been a very silly name. I would have been self conscious and perhaps would have crumbled too much.

        Instead, I chose to be a scribbelo and now, years later, spend time here with you and Sir Jes. This is a blessing for both of you, but does not compromise my claim on the skwere-t fish.

      • re:
        (1) “There is a poem somewhere in my archives called a Slice of my life and is about Covent Garden, which is where I often spend my freetime when travelling with students.

        (2) It’s a sad reflection of my shallower side that many of the shopkeepers now know me by name..”

        (1) I’d love to see the poem – can you give me the link sometime? and I’ll read and comment. Thanks.

        (2) You could never be shallow – My opinion and admiration of you rises more and more, each time I read your pages 🙂

  3. My dear Sir John, I have wrestled with your dilemma and I can assure you that there’s nothing mystical about the mono-poly ( my left arm and shoulder does feel slightly sore though!!)..as for the camel in tangiers and the wing-ed thing…you are on your own and for that reason I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the best cause of action is to share the fish and the fun…trying to meet in the middle here Sir John… 🙂

    Goodnight and “almost” thanks for all the fish… (we have yet to work out how to get the fish out of Viv’s bag….)

    • J, me dear you had yer chance an’ ye flunked it. ’twas under me desk the ‘ole time you slep’ in me study last weekend!
      I may liberate they fish and replace them in the barathrum (google it) whence i pinched ’em in a hurry for something humourous to add to the bag one morning last year. They proved very popular, unlike poor Stiff Nick who has only once been the subject of creative endeavour, poor wee soul.
      A word to the wise: I am useless beyond measure at Monopoly, excellent at Scrabble and rather an adept at Operation. Oh and I can’t play cards either.

  4. What a collection! And yes, it left me very inspired. It’s so cool that you can be so creative with what you teach. I’m sure you will be remembered throughout out lives. I have only a very few teachers who I, now as an adult, realize how wonderful they were. I knew then, but what I know now of the world, I see even more how they tried to connect and share the beauty of their passions. You are a gem!

    • Well you can see what it inspired in the boys!
      I have a few photos on facebook where former students have tagged me in their final day group photo, which i wish I could share as on the last day I always receive a lot of hugs and thanks, and later, some students say such nice things about the lessons. It’s very gratifying to find out as teenagers are often too conscious of “coolness” to say much out loud!

  5. ohhh… yeh… right… forgot that …gimme a minute to read the script an character list again…

    (One Hour Later)

    righhttttt….yeh…ok…goddit…. your my sis…. I was mixing you up with wossername…. but … I mean what if you weren’t? … I mean what if we woz jus actors like.. an you fancied me or summink?

  6. (Me) Homer, I am getting confused – that’s not a problem. Being confused is a sign of…of….
    errrr… what was the question?

    (Me again) Oh right, now I remember. The question is why are my comments appearing out of sync with your original comments? It can’t be because I didn’t match them up can it?


    Hokay… now where was I?
    Oh right.

    heheheh ..Marge…hehehe… the things you say 😀

    • I think it may be because the comment thread has gotten so very long.
      I am not at work today as I expected to be as…..the coach didn’t have enough seats on it for 2 couriers. This is gonna be a hard week. They keep changing everything.
      So I get a day at home, in the warm and not out in the sleet and wind.

      • I’m sorry its gonna be
        a hard week for you
        but let me help make it
        a fun-week.
        Let’s get the collection
        out again and I’ll help you
        – pleeeze pleeze pleeze –
        change all the labels around,
        jumble ’em up, (yes!)
        ready for the next test
        for your students.

        I’m here to help 😀

      • Go ahead if it makes you happy!
        I’ve now done my lesson plan for tomorrow, packed my suitcase for Thursday and am now thinking of something to eat. I ate my packed lunch as elevenses!

  7. What a marvelous way to inspire students to write!

    I think I’d be attracted to one of the geodes or the quartz. I’m fascinated with stones, not necessarily precious stones though. But many of the remaining objects in the collection would be very intriguing too.

    I wonder if your students start arguing about who to take which item. I very much suspect so.

    • There have been small fights over certain items, such as the “crystal ball”, certainly. Thats the item that is ALWAYS picked by someone; but all have by now had at least one outing except the medicine bag I think.
      I have a fairly extensive collection of crystals and minerals as well as rocks. I am besotted with what Native Americans call the stone people.
      originally it was intended to get them to talk but so far none but the most advanced students have been up to properly discussing or talking about them so I switched to writing. I also have a collection of postcards of a lot of different kinds and some lovely pictures from calenders(pre-Raphaelite paintings, Susan Seddon Boulet paintings etc) to do the same thing in a different way.

  8. I didn’t think that you’d have read Harry Potter!

    But seriously, how do you manage to put all those things into your bag…my preciouss, yess?

    – Gollum (in the scheme of things, that’s the role that remains, and only because we are now into Tolkienss’)

    • Hhehehehe!
      I have read and enjoyed Harry Potter, with all its limits!
      It’s not a big bag, true, but I am good at packing, and bending the spacetime continuum!!

  9. Stiff Nick must really stick out.

    I liked all of the Tibetan objects and items from far away lands. Exotic notions start to fill my head, dreams of flying carpets, a thousand and one nights, Buddha.

    One day, I may read one of your posts that describes the hat I see this person wearing on your website. It makes that person look like a “rebel” of sorts. An historic figure from a romantic novel who is saving the world one post after another . . .

    michael j

    • You mean my little avatar picture?
      It really is me. I am wearing my tricorn hat(much like Cap’n Jack Sparrow) and a bandana at the 50th anniversay celebration of the school I work for. My students had put together a pirate treasure map with prize for the person who bagged the correct co-ordinates. So I dressed up as a pirate for the afternoon, complete with an authentic hat and even a copy of a 17 century linen shirt, big boots and silk trousers(true motley, I guess).
      I’ve had the hat since I was a student and found it abandoned at a friend’s flat. It’s travelled a long way since then and doesn’t get a wearing terribly often…I still have no idea how it came to be in that flat. One of the mysteries of life, I guess.
      Rebel? Me? Hmm…. I plan on starting a revolution, let’s put it like that…

  10. I hit your blog accidently while looking for a clip from the Sound of Music. You should see it. Its a classic, based on a true story….Your students should see it….everyone should see it.

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