Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Bear Truth

Here's a picture of the lady herself, Ursula the bear.

I found her a few years ago, sat inside the doorway of a charity shop in Coleford, which is one of the Forest of Dean market towns.

She has been a valuable colleague during many of the drama and writing workshops that I do in primary schools. Mainly through her active listening skills - the 'active' not a mean feat considering her biological status - when a child has needed an ear to which to tell a story or a poem and all the live grown-ups are busy with other children. Well done that bear!

Even though, when I first adopted Ursula, neighbours warned me about taking her into Forest schools (I'm sure they were joking) because of the following Forest of Dean myth ...

In 1889 four Frenchmen came to the Forest with two Russian bears which they exhibited in the forest town of Cinderford. The troupe headed for the nearby village of Ruardean - either because they were already intending to, or because they were being chased. A popular myth at the time was that foreign bear-keepers fed the bears on the flesh of children, and a rumour had spread throughout Cinderford that the Russian bears had killed a child and seriously attacked a woman. The residents gave challenged the Frenchmen, chased after them and their bears, caught up with them, viciously attacked the Frenchmen and killed the innocent bears. Some of the Ruardean residents took pity on the Frenchmen and rescued them from the attack.

The attackers were caught and charged with their crime, but during the legal process they were wrongly referred to as being residents of Ruardean, not Cinderford. The mistake created longlasting scorn and lingering 'tribal' animosity.

Two interesting links here ...

For a description of the attackers' sentences, see Notes from the Offences Book of Drybrook Police Station 3 May 1889, in the Forest of Dean Family History Forum,
And for a BBC article about the remains of the bears being discovered in a vegetable patch, see

All I can say is that Ursula is the best two quid I've ever spent.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ursula in Gloucester City

I've been working in a primary school in Gloucester today, leading a comic strip and performance devising workshop with a group of 5 - 8 year olds. The school is having a 'Celebrate Gloucester City' week, and I'm there for three days as part of a creative programme offering lots of creative activities to lots of different groups of pupils.

What fun!

So stimulating to work with four small children who were bursting, just bursting, with ideas for a performance story. I love devising by improvisation, it's like letting your imagination into an adventure playground.

The children came up with 'Ursula's Scary Visit To Gloucester', a delicious ghostly story that took in the cathedral (of course), the railway station (not sure why Ursula was going to Scotland for three days but at least she came back because she was missing Gloucester), and the little cafe stall in the indoor market that apparently does great hot chocolate and marshmallows (who knew!).

Ursula is my bear by the way.

More on Ursula tomorrow.

For now, just well done to this morning's group who devised, rehearsed, dress-rehearsed and performed the play - to an audience of some other pupils and Ursula her furry self - in a morning.

I'm working with a different group tomorrow morning, same theme, same workshop, but there'll be massively different results. I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Emerging From The Mist

From my garden.

Just like the mist is clearing over the valley,
I'm gaining a better view of
my writerly aspirations.

I've opened a new page in this journal, My Writing, where I'm posting pieces of my work. I hope you pop in to take a look at the page, and I hope you like what's there.