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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mary Anning - The schools version

"Anning's Fossil Depot" has been a great hit in schools.  Children throughout Dorset have loved the story of Mary Anning as told through an interactive monologue with Mary herself (played wonderfully by Jane McKell of AsOne Theatre Co.).  I thought I'd include the story of the visit by the King of Saxony.  He actually did visit once on his way through Lyme Regis and  Mary get the chance to get in a few waspish comments :-

It might interest you to know this shop has been patronised by the learned and nobility from all parts of the kingdom and beyond. Oh, yes, I’ve entertained the King of Saxony in here, folk from France and America.  Men of Science, learned people Oh yes.  They see the sign outside: “Anning’s Fossil Depot”. They pull up with their carriages blocking the street.  “Fetch your master” they say.  “I wish to discuss these antediluvian finds.”  And I say, “There is no master in this house except for me. I am the Anning that runs this establishment.”  And they look at me through their quizzing glasses.  And there is a silence.  A long silence and they say  “But there must be a man.    Is there no Mr. Anning?  Your husband?”  “I have no husband, Sir.”  “Your father?”   “Dead these long years.”  “A brother?” “I do have a brother, Joseph.  He does help me from time to time.  But he is a chair mender.
 “I do have men friends who help me. “ I say “All sorts of friends.  Men.  And women.   And girls.  Quarrymen to help cut the big creature out of the cliffs.  People who visit.  Men and woman that I write to all round the world.  People of the town.  The congregation at the church. Oh I have plenty of friends.  But it is my labour that fills this shop.”
“So you are the famous Mary Anning?” They say full of wonderment.  “I had heard rumours of a woman who knows an uncommon amount about such things.  May I pinch you to ascertain whether you are real or not?”   And I say:  “No Sir you may not.”  They might be rich and grand but they know less about fossils than my little dog Tray used to. Ah poor Tray! I loved little Tray. 
Ah yes.  And I tell them: “I have spent all the long hours and days and weeks it takes to prepare the specimens, picking away the stone grain by grain until the poor creature’s bones are revealed to sight.  Then they are set in cement on boards.  I have to work so carefully.  Piecing them together.  Piece by tiny piece. 

There.  Do you see?  All the work. And then, what happens?  Some gentleman or lady like you comes along and snaps them up like a pleisosaur snapping up a little mollusc and pretends they found it themselves. ” Oh look how clever I am” they say.  “Look I found this fossil myself and I dug it out of the cliffs.” They couldn’t do all those hours wading in the mud, sleet and hail beating down, backbreaking toil with pick and shovel and trowel, hefting the heavy rock back here in therir fancy fine clothes and their fine white hands. But noone remembers who did do all the work.  And why is that?  Because I am from the wrong class and us working folk are looked over as having no greater knowledge or understanding than those gentlefolk’s dogs.   And because I am a woman.....

Sunday, March 04, 2012


 A poem performed as a procession through the Bournemouth Community Arts Centre in honour of those who are trying to retain it for the use of the community.  It was accompanied by the audience jangling assorted instruments including bottles, a Wedgwood dish, A corkscrew and other objects.

Let us rededicate this building to the arts
Let us drive out the shadows of utilitarianism
Of Mediocrity, of settling for second best
Let us protest
That this is a place of striving
And creating
And trying for something just out of reach
Because that is what the arts are.

Let us rededicate this building to
To sculpture
To painting
To poetry
To theatre
To story telling
To writing
To knitting
To singing
To sewing
To dancing
To remembering
To thinking of the future
To living in the now.

Art is movement.
It is the spinning of the potter’s wheel
It is the drawing of the bow across the strings.
It is the dancer pirouetting in the sunset,
It is the painter’s brush
And the mime artist’s hush.
And because it is movement
It is of the moment.
It is ephemeral and gone in an instant
To live on as a memory
And as a moment of change.

Let us rededicate it to children covered in paint
That they may go home gloriously happy
Ignoring their parents’ and carers’ tutting.
To those who have no other voices
That they may sing out loud and be heard
To those who have no other family
That this may be a place where they may sit and spin yarns

Let us remember here
That without arts
We cannot grasp the past
And, by running our finger tips and lips over it,
Understand it and ourselves;
That without arts
We cannot draw the future and try to dance with it
And understand what we and the world could be;
That without arts
We cannot mould the present
And hold it to the light up so that we can say
“That is good”

And when good people
Ask us whether
We would rather have the arts or houses, or the NHS or Social Services
We must answer boldly
“We need both”
Because without arts
There will be no need for the others

Let us rededicate this building to the arts
Let us drive out the shadows of utilitarianism
Of Mediocrity, of settling for second best
Let us protest
That this is a place of striving
And creating
And trying for something just out of reach
Because that is what art is.