Friday, 23 March 2012

To everywhere and beyond: Sue Purkiss

So what have I been up to on the last few Thursday mornings?

Well, let's see.

I've been a little girl with a crush on a handsome German prisoner of war, who made her a tiny bracelet woven from strands of coloured wire - which she was still to treasure nearly seventy years later, even though her father told her she must have nothing to do with the enemy.

I've flown over the ocean on a giant seagull, and come home safely.

I've gone reluctantly to Death Valley in California, put off by the warnings to take at least five litres of water per person in case the car breaks down - only to be blown away by a landscape like nothing I've ever seen before, with a silver lake that turned out to be made of salt and rocks striated with brilliant colours.

I've said goodbye to my fiancee in the bustle of a London station during the war, not knowing that he would be captured and I wouldn't see him again for four years. And I've walked across London Bridge with a stranger, with fires raging behind me and the sky raining soot, unaware that the home I was hurrying towards had been destroyed by a bomb.

I've travelled through time when my mother looked out a dress that I could wear to a sixties party - a dress of cobalt blue, shot through with electric rainbows: a dress that changed the world as I slipped it over my head.

For the first time in a lifetime of riding, I've felt death touch my shoulder as my horse bolted along a precipitous mountain path.

I've been a small girl - a different one - taking refuge in an Anderson shelter as the bombs rained down over Birmingham. Terrified, I've felt my way along slippery garden paths in total darkness, following my grandmother in her best coat with the fox fur collar and the velour hat with its two ostrich feathers, wondering if my grandfather, who refused to give into the Luftwaffe by getting out of his bed, would survive the night.

I've done all these things and more by proxy, as I've sat and listened to the stories the students in my writing class had to tell. Only one of them has even a vague interest in publication; they write for the love of it and find that they have more to say than they ever imagined, and we are all the richer for this wealth of generously shared experience.

As it happens, though, some of their work is going to reach a wider public. One of the group, Jo, is organising an exhibition at Wells Museum, commemorating Harry Patch, 'the last  fighting Tommy', who died  at the age of 111 in Wells (in Somerset) almost three years ago. (I found this lovely tribute to him when I was looking for a picture.) Jo is going to use some of our writing in the exhibition, which will run from 21st April - 3rd June.

That's a bonus. But the real joy is in the creation and the sharing - and it's lovely and humbling to be reminded of that.


Joan Lennon said...

"The real joy is in the creation and the sharing" Absolutely true. Your class sounds fabulous and I think you must be an amazing teacher!

madwippitt said...

So wonderful to be able to slip into other people's heads, times and places when you feel like a change!

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks both - it's not my teaching, I just get them started and off they go. What's fascinating is the variety of pieces of writing they produce from the same stimulus.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

I love the blog post about Harry Patch and agree with Joan that you must be an inspiring teacher!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.