Tuesday, December 17

Peer Pressure and The Psychology of Going to War

When I was young, I heard tales (and songs, like the one above) of the Great War from old people who had been  young when they went out to the battlefields.   The songs were resolutely cheerful, and curiously, the people I met, at least, had memories of the war that were almost entirely positive. They recalled being excited to be away from home, away from parents telling them what to do, glad they were doing a useful job instead of being stuck labouring on a farm or drudging in someone's house. They liked the cameraderie, the feeling of being caught up in something big, they travelled to new places, they met the opposite sex.  None of them mentioned the sufferings and horrors which they must have seen.  One old man even told me it had been the best time of his life.

I think now that they, like most teenagers, were just insulated from it by the self absorption and energy of youth, but it shows the value of first hand testimony when looking at the past from today's perspective. .

We have not tried to convey to the children how horrible war is, partly because some of them are refugees from countries at war, and know first hand, and partly because it is wrong to inflict horrors unnecessarily on children.  But we did discuss how the people actually involved in going to war might have felt, and what reasons they would have heard both for and against. .

We had an interesting moment when Vanessa asked those who disapproved of going to war to stand aside.  Nearly half the class did so and formed a group of "conscientious objectors."    Within seconds, those who had chosen to "go for soldiers"  had started to jeer and call "coward!"  We stopped them, of course, but it was enough to persuade half the group of "conscientious objectors" that they should change sides and be with the soldiers after all.

It taught them something about peer pressure.   And at the end, a few diehards decided to be conscientious objectors, despite everything. .

Friday, December 13

Colourful Russell

We now have a new illustrator, Russell M. Olson, since Frank unfortunately had to pull out - we will miss him. (see here).   But we love Russell too. Here is a picture of him, by the sea.

...and he's coming up with some really interesting illustration suggestion.   Above are some sketches of colour ideas for the fleas. (Of course they might change later. ) The idea of having four arms is quite enchanting.

Thursday, December 12

A Couple of Out-Takes

I wish we'd been able to use all the wonderful writing that the children produced.  Without the need to keep to strict historical accuracy, they created a surreal but endearing view of 1915 life from their 21st century viewpoint.  We had to omit so much of this material just to keep the narrative going, but it seems a pity not to use them, so here are some of them on the blog instead. 

I couldn't use Ryan's thoughts about the promoter because MABEL is the promoter of the flea circus, and so there is no room for the sinister sounding Mr. Lionel McRowan....

"Lionel McRowan was a stiff guy. He was black, with a bad attitude. He wore messy clothes. He put the posters up and asked if anyone would like to audition to be a circus animal. He got security guards. And he got audiences. They had to pay ten pounds per person."

This is how I imagine Lionel McRowan. Nasty!  

Another bit we couldn't use was how Calie got Mabel to the coast, to get the boat to France.

"When Mabel left her house she didn't have any money so she couldn't get a taxi or anything that you had to pay for. Luckily for her, her fleas could talk so she told her fleas to talk to a horse and got a horse to take her to the coast."

And so one did.  Just as well that there is sometimes a stray horse wandering around the road with nothing much to do 

Wednesday, December 11

Historical Accuracy Bites the Dust

We have finally completed the text, which is all in the Boutcher children's own words (with a few linking bits from me).

We had to decide whether to make sure the material was all historically accurate, and in the end we decided not to.   We didn't actually suggest that they had steampunk soldiers like the ones above, but there was so much that the children had to learn, and no chance of them becoming historians in the time available, so we had to let a certain amount of accuracy go.

Of course we did our best to explain how different life was then....

"So I'll put that Mabel emailed her friends - "
"But they didn't have email or any sort of internet."
"All right, she skyped her friends."
"They didn't have skype."
"All right, then, she got out her phone and - "
"Hardly anyone had phones"
(Baffled silence)

And the children did very well indeed to understand how in Mabel's day there were no modern communications. They were interested to learn that horses were widely used, that trains were powered by steam - not to mention getting their heads around the idea of a flea circus and an ambulance train.   But it was clear that their story would be much better if they could be themselves.  Which meant letting a certain amount of reality escape out of the window!

Sunday, December 8

Angels of Mercy

In the First World War, nurses like Mabel (and my grandma) were sometimes called Angels of Mercy.  I spotted these (with real wings - well, almost real) at World Travel Market in London a few weeks ago. They, and the WW1 officers behind, were promoting battlefield tours in Belgium.  I have no doubt that the soldiers who were injured or killed there would have been only too glad to go on a Battlefield Tour with a nice cosy hotel every night -  rather than experience the real thing. 

One thing that is nice, though, is the way these nurses are laughing and having a good time.  Grandma got a lot out of being a nurse, and looked back with satisfaction on her time on the ambulance train.