New discovery – the shoe box

Well, you live and learn.

On Tuesday, I visited Farnborough Hill in Hampshire. Not just any old school visit – not that they ever are just any old school visit, mind you. This was the school where my mother was head girl, fifty-one years ago (Hi, Mummy, if you’re reading this) and where one of my goddaughters is in year 10.

They suggested that I give four workshops and a talk. I suggested that if I gave four workshops and a talk, I would be muttering unintelligible drivel by the end of the day, as four workshops is a lot of workshops. However, they bravely decided to risk it and I agreed to give it a try.

Here we are at the beginning of the day, when I’d like to think I was sounding quite coherent. We are drinking hot chocolate and talking about books. YES!

Do I look as if my mother is watching me from just out of shot? She was. She came to visit with me. It was very lovely, but you can so tell she’s an ex-headgirl. Here I am pretending that I’ve forgotten that my ex-headgirl mother is RIGHT OVER THERE LISTENING TO EVERY WORD I SAY.

Anyway. After the hot chocolate my mother nipped off to London to do lots of fun stuff, and I got down to the workshops, which involved creating mood boards for various of our favourite characters, requiring lots of paper, scissors, old copies of magazines and Pritt. Also fun. Very fun actually. I can only hope the Year 7s and 8s enjoyed it half as much as I did.

But here’s the thing. I’d asked them to do some preparation before I came – thinking of which character they’d like to illustrate and pulling together some images that might represent their complicated, multi-layered personalities. I’d assumed they’d all bring magazine cuttings and postcards, but they didn’t. Lots of girls arrived with beautifully illustrated shoe boxes, or boxes of other sorts, and inside the boxes were objects they’d gathered from home to represent their chosen character. Bracelets and trinkets, spectacles and handcuffs, feathers and leaves …

My favourites were a padlock and some tea bags. Character? Dolores Umbridge. The tea bags were for her cups of tea and the padlock was for the Quidditch brooms. There were also printed out copies of some of her decrees. Quite wonderful.

As Carrie Bradshaw would say, it got me thinking. My mood board is a nightmare to cart around with me. It’s about a metre wide and nearly as deep. As soon as I try and move it, thinks start to fall off. And I can only attach things to it that are flat. A mood box, which is effectively what the girls had invented, is so much more practical: small and portable; just as good at containing useful, inspirational stuff; and it can hold objects as well as pictures.

I’m not sure how coherent I was by the end, but I was certainly inspired by the girls. That’s the thing about school visits: you go in to try and educate them (actually I don’t – I go in to try and remind them that reading and writing can be SO MUCH FUN) and they end up educating you.

Boxes. Who knew?


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