Faith Puleston

Herdecke, Germany

Please call in at one of my blogs, e.g. / I’ve been ill recently, but I’m gradually updating...

Those were the days, my friend....

Like all great tunes, the one my title words were set to lingers on. I’m really a classical musician, but I no longer know what that is or what being one actually means. I used to know. Since leaving the theatre for the “real” world, much of the relationship to classical music has gone. That may not be a bad thing. Being in a box is quite boring, really. Depending on my mood I go from Beethoven to Bartok to Schostakowitsch, from Mendelssohn to Ravel, from Rock to Pop, from Jazz to Silence.

I think the older we get, the harder it gets to define ourselves. We stick labels on others, but what is on our label? What is on my label? I remember my school report stating that “she tries hard” after a winter term of ankle and knuckle bashing on the hockey field. I was too timid, too scared of bashing my hands and not being able to practise my beloved piano. Last August I smashed my wrist and have gone though a pretty tortuous time regaining most – but not all – of the use of my left hand. Strangely, I am philosophical about it. In the half a century or so between the hockey and now, I must have learnt something.

Another week has slipped beyond reach. Every moment we live is already past time. When I teach English, I try to explain the complexities of the English verb system to my students. They are invariably German and not at all happy about the rules. They have a hard time understanding them and an even harder one using them! In part it has to do with the nominal nature of the German language, which – in normal everyday situations – gets by on exactly two verb forms, with a third thrown in for good measure but frequently incorrectly used. The continuous form, our constant consort, does not exist in German and is replaced by other less efficient mechanisms. And yet, most Germans put a disparaging label on the English language. It is considered “easy”. You don’t have to learn it. It’s there waiting to be picked up somehow. Unfortunately, English has a universality which is gradually reducing its usage to the lowest common denominator. On the internet, linguistic exchange is sometimes all but unrecognizable as English and there is genuine anxiety among language experts that the bad English will eventually outsmart the good. I hope they are wrong.
Things aren’t improved by the German education system. Junior school kids now have to learn English. The teachers go for a short training period and are let loose on the “victims”. The results are bad, bad, bad. I was told by one grammar school teacher that these children had only been exposed to kiddies’ songs (Old MacDonald….) and guidebook phrases (Where is the station?), but no basic grammar. Later, after only 5 years of grammar (often without any attempt at joined-up learning), the students (now 16-17 years of age) have finished with all that stuff and analyse difficult books and poetry instead. They believe they have learnt all they need to know. Thinking about it makes me want to scream……

Let me tell you about the first watercolour workshop I went on. It was in Derbyshire, given by an artist who could paint truly delightful – if dinky – little landscapes, often as miniatures. There were ten of us. If I had thought I was a beginner, well, I had to think again. The majority in that small room, sitting round a table with obligatory 11″×14″ Bockingford pads propped up on homemade table easels, had never had a paintbursh in their hand. Contrary to the description of the course, most of the time was spent doing the most elementary things to cater for the angels rushing in, and – disappointingly – the artist pinned his paper to an easel and painted dry on dry. His own palette was in a disgusting state. I remember that. I know oil paints can get out of hand, but how are you supposed to paint transparent when your watercolours are all sludged in together? When I asked when the promised wet-on-wet would be taught (and that was what I had come for), I was told to come again next time. Needless to say, I didn’t go there again. I did learn one useful thing, though. When painting a tree, always leave unpainted spaces so that the little birds can breathe……

The next few workshops were here in Germany, and the artist was actually very inventive, had lived in France for years, painted bright, merry abstracts in acrylics and was a jolly old soul into the bargain. Unfortunately he was working through the adult education centre, and on my third one-day workout a year later I discovered that half the places were taken by mentally challenged people, some of whom were really good at painting, whilst others were merely disruptive. From being in a sheltered environment with enough carers to make sure they were OK, they were in a huge studio full of cans of paint, glue, knives, scissors etc. It was a really scary day.

Next week I’ll tell you about two more crackpot workshops. I need to get them out of my system, too……

Why not tell me about your experiences? I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers Faith

PS I think I found all the typing errors!

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