I’m back in Malaysia to represent as creatives as we deliver a week of workshops for the Learning Adventure Resource Network – and I’m having a brilliant time. You can read about my first two days here – but as for the next stage of my adventure …
Day 3: The Stuarts, The Somme – and Silver Medals
There are about a million switches in my hotel room, and I’m still far from sure which ones operate which lights. Fretting over how to turn off the wardrobe’s interior illumination (!!) kept me up for what felt like half the night – but can’t have been anything like that, judging by how awake I felt in the morning.
Day 3 focused on history – but history the as creatives way, with nary a textbook in sight and an emphasis instead on experiential learning through drama. The schools our students come from study a British curriculum – which means British history. Wanting, though, to pick moments in time which also had worldwide impacts, we’d settled on two, two hundred and fifty years apart. The devastation caused by the Great Fire of London (1666) influenced urban planning in cities all around the globe – including, of course, Kuala Lumpur. And as part of World War I, the Battle of the Somme (1916) made its effects felt right across the planet.
The morning started with our specially made news broadcast imagining how BBC Worldwide would have reported the events of September 1666. The children have enjoyed hearing me talk about he rest of the as creatives team, so they were delighted to discover that it had been narrated by our own Jo Stokes (who can give Fiona Bruce more than a run for her money). Then, after a drama exercise exploring and exposing the Science of Fire, students worked in small groups to reenact a key event of the Great Fire: its beginnings in Thomas Farriner’s Puddng Lane bakery – and the Farriner family’s flight across the rooftops. Next came a meeting with the baker himself (played by yours truly) – and an opportunity to question him. And try though I might to defend myself, they were very quick to condemn me – and find me cruelly complicit in the death of my maid! Their final challenge was to create Moving Postcards from the Future, in which they sent Christopher Wren advice on how to build the new London. And, like King Charles II himself, they were determined that the city should never again build houses of wood!
Lunchtime saw me reunited with an old friend from my previous visit to Malaysia – but in a different guise. Last time, I found out how delicious loman fruit are when they’re raw. Now I know they’re just as tasty for being stewed in a light syrup with Chinese herbs …
The afternoon began with the children being put through their paces as new recruits to Kitchener’s army, as we went outside to learn and practice the basic elements of drill. After putting their marching skills to the test through a chorus of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, they then used national flags to explore the complicated causes of the conflict, in an approach borrowed from our acclaimed interactive presentation for schools, Living with the War. A series of structured improvisations followed, with groups exploring real situations faced by real soldiers – from missing mess tins to mutiny, and from feigned illnesses to fleeing the trenches. And, as always, it was gratifying to see how the experiential approaches we’d taken enabled the students to arrive at outcomes identical to the ones experienced in the war. After an investigation into the role of women in the war (and a rendition of Keep the Home Fires Burning), we finished the day with a dramatic representation of Margaret Postgate Cole’s The Veteran. Not only was the writer the aunt of the great Oliver Postgate, but The Veteran is a tragically evocative reminder of the horrors of war. Read it. But when you do, cover the last line up – and try to guess what it is. Like the children here, you’ll probably be surprised by what you read.
Anyway, a final footnote for the day. Before coming out to my Outdoor Office to write this, I caught the final of the women’s synchronised diving from Rio. And while Team GB just missed the medals, Malaysia went home with silver. And that’s good enough for me!