Allow me to apologise upfront for the length of this post. Please feel free to bale out at any time.
Dear me, I’ve realised all of a sudden that it’s a week since the day school and I haven’t written anything about it yet. For those who don't know, the A215 course includes two face to face tutorials (day schools) which the whole tutor group is free to attend. Mine took place on Saturday at Napier Uni's Merchiston Campus in Morningside, Edinburgh. Of course, I was late. I hate being late and do my absolute best to avoid it at all costs but I got a bit lost (inevitably), almost ending up at Ikea before I finally got there. Fortunately a classmate was at reception just as I walked up and so we got to make our entrance together. Missed most of the introductions but everybody looked pretty non-weird and friendly. First we brainstormed a cluster on where we get ideas from – during which I failed to say a single thing. Takes me a while to get warmed up, fortunately everybody else came up with great ideas. This led on to a discussion of writing habits and particularly which times of day people write at (just for the record, for the last week I’ve been trying morning writing and I just can’t do it with my cotton-wool-stuffed morning head. Course I’m sitting here at 1.40am, wide awake, perfectly lucid and in just the right frame of mind to write. Sigh. Oh well, it’s in the a.m., maybe that counts...).
At this point, or thereabouts, our tutor produced a basket full of interesting objects (a brief selection: a teddy, a ball of string, cranberry sauce, very pink nail varnish, an onion...). She asked us to pick an object and then close our eyes and take hold of it, feel it, smell it... and then cluster it! I chose a pebble as it reminded me of childhood holidays at the seaside and did my best to let my mind wander.
Once we had all got something down on paper, we were asked to share our thoughts. It’s truly amazing the different things that a roomful of people can come up with when faced with fairly mundane objects. I can’t honestly remember what anyone else came up with but my own (slightly pathetic) thread was pebble>beach>sea>salt>waves>sand>worms. See – so obvious. The only interesting thing is that my memory threw up an image of my sisters and I, down on the beach in the early morning, searching for the worms that had left their trails across the sand.
Next, we were asked to use this cluster as inspiration for a character – and cluster them! (Sense a pattern?) Then we spent a few minutes producing a piece of writing based on these two clusters. My own scribblings follow:
Living with the water not half a mile from his house was Sam’s strangest choice. After the stay in hospital, his friends watched with distress as he packed himself into boxes and left for the coast. He told himself it would bring him pleasure. Perhaps he did take some perverse joy in this self-punishment. I never could persuade him to leave. I think he needed the water, still, even though the days of laps and dives and medals were past. It seemed to be the only thing he needed now, his daily pilgrimage to the water. His friends eventually gave up on him and his pathetic claims that he would get back in a pool again. Even I could not bear to see him so often after a while, his hair spattered grey, face still meticulously clean-shaven – ‘I won’t look like some common beach bum’ he said.
More reading out. Then: another cluster and a letter, written by our newborn characters on the subject of something they are passionate about. For me, there was only one thing that suggested itself:
Mr Sam Merton
Dear Doctor Blake,
I hope you will remember me as the patient whose arm you removed last month. Perhaps not. Perhaps you remove dozens of limbs every week. Perhaps each poor fresh cripple looks the same to you. If so, you are blessed. I wish I could forget, just like you but you have left me with this souvenir, this reminder, this stump.
However, I think this letter will give you cause to search that oh-so-full-up brain of yours. I believe you and that chattering clan you call a staff are guilty of negligence and I will be making a formal complaint to your superiors. Furthermore, I am writing to inform you that I am taking legal advice on how to bring a malpractice case against you.
I suppose you are surprised at this, believing that you gave me the best medical care possible. Doctors, you are all so short-sighted. Who were you to take my arm without permission, without warning? You will say, I suppose, that I would have died without your actions. That you saved my life. My life. My career. My future. My happiness. Oh yes, you saved my life and left it a miserable, hollow thing. It should have been my decision. What can I do now this thing has been done to me? You, doctor, surgeon-god, don’t you have an answer for me? No, I was just a piece of meat and the butcher is done with me now. Well I am not done with him.
More reading out. Lots of black humour. Lots of anger. Lots of intrigue. All good, all very interesting. At this point, unfortunately, I had to duck out for a bathroom break in the middle of the final exercise – a scene depicting the recipient of the letter and their reaction. Damn my bladder – I would’ve liked to finish but at least I got to hear more of everybody else’s creations. I think that was the best part of the day, just the feeling of potential for so many different stories and the fun of writing for its own sake. I really enjoyed myself.
In fact, it would have been a perfect day, were it not for one small problem. On the way home, the (shoddy) map I was following pointed me the wrong way down a back road and on eventually turning back on myself, I got so turned around that I went the wrong way down the bypass! Of course, I had no idea I’d done this and so I trundled down the motorway, getting increasingly panicked as my turnoff didn’t seem to be appearing. Eventually, I dived for Fort Kinnaird, as somewhere I at least recognised, which was fortunate because otherwise I would’ve ended up in Musselburgh and completely lost. Somehow, I made my way through the other end of Edinburgh, past Meadowbank, up to Calton Hill (which was the first point since my wrong turn that I really knew where I was!), along Queen Street and eventually back to the Queensferry Road where I was meant to end up in the first place! Epic, no? Seriously, I have no idea how I managed it and I’m just glad that my ultimate tactic of following signs for the city centre was successful. Bright side, though, I ended up getting to know Edinburgh very well and will never again have any qualms about getting anywhere again!
And the moral of the story is? Go to day school, it’s really fun and productive and your classmates will probably be lovely. But use a decent map to get there.