Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Invention of Senoi Dream Therapy!

When I did my fieldwork with the Temiars in  the Malaysian rain forest (1973-1974), I was aware of the literature written by Kilton Stewart, including his PhD thesis.  After his brief field-trip, Stewart began to promote an approach to dream control that he maintains he had learnt from the Senoi (the two groups of Senoi are the Semai and the Temiars).  He maintains  that this accounted for their peaceful nature and lack of violence.  These ideas took off in an explosion in the US and have been repeated continuously in almost every book on dreaming and lucid dreaming. right to the present day.  They are even mentioned by Marie von Franz in one of her films.

I lived for over a year with the Temiars with my three children, we were able to converse with them in their own language, and we lived in one of their traditional houses.  We traveled between several other villages on the banks of two main rivers in Kelantan.

And yes, they give great significance to their dreams and are always willing to discuss them, but there is absolutely no evidence that they have a system of dream control and hold 'dream clinics' after breakfast.  However if one of these writers is challenged they will answer, that well the authors are now dead so we cannot ask them or everything was destroyed after WW2 or there must be another group that you did not visit in deep jungle... 

The romanticisation of the Temiars, promoting an idealised life of peace and non-violence, is a very powerful fantasy to let go.

There will be more on this topic in another blog, as there is too much material for such a short piece.  But do check your dream books and see what they promote about the Temiars

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Irresponsible Advertising - pandering to nudge nudge attitudes.

I am getting very weary of complaining about advertisements on TV.  There are some ads that I really like, such as 'You can call me Brian...' on endearing,  likeable and I hope they bring out a little model!

The most recent Marmite ad is really quite pernicious; it mimics a child abuse raid and the accusation is cruelty to a jar of Marmite, as it is taken into care.  As a great life-long lover of Marmite, it leaves me with a dilemma.  This advertisement trivialises the actual circumstance surrounding child abuse, and the opening shots can be mistaken as an actual Social Services intervention.  At the very least it is in extremely bad taste, at worst it is playing into the fantasies of paedophiles .  

The other ad which is really dangerous, is for one of the toilet cleaners - a man calls with a hard hat and overalls to fix something; the woman lets him in the house without asking for his ID.  He fixes whatever it is and then asks to use her loo; thought bubble comes out of her head of whether it is clean enough.  He uses loo and leaves with big seductive smiles all round.

This is just a mirror of how con-men really work!  Turn up in overalls or uniform, get access to your house, use the 'facilities', either rob straight away or make a plan to come back later!

It is very irresponsible advertising and I wonder who is really monitoring these ads and what tests they have to pass? 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Stopping to think.....

The new high speed rail link is now going to cost 80 billion, will take 20 years and will rip up a lot of countryside.  It makes no sense economically, environmentally or ethically.  And there is no guarantee that the costs won't go up again.

Lets think in a whole new way about what might just make people happier, less stressed and healthier.  All the community projects, that in the long ago past brought people together, preserved cultural traditions, contained anti-social behaviour and integrated all ages and abilities have virtually disappeared.  The arts are marginalised, or seen as a luxury, and dismissed as non-essential in schools.

Just one billion (leaving 79 billion for hospitals, community projects, care home overhaul, and schools), would allow us to employ all the actors and artists as community arts workers, or to train them as arts therapists, and encourage new skills for people leaving school with few prospects.  The arts revolution could train all teachers in basic arts and provide space for art studios, drama and dance workshops, comprehensive music resources and performance spaces. 

Foolish dreaming?  Well maybe dreams are worth pondering, and sometimes they might just be realised

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


I have at last moved to where I intended - Stratford-upon-Avon.  I have already lived here twice, for eight years and two years, and before setting off on new journeys.  Perhaps in the olden days I would have been the female equivalent of a journeyman.  But more about nomadic life and touring in another blog.  

Now I am here to stay, in a tiny rented terraced house in the middle of the town.  The theatre and the beautiful river with its old willow trees are six minutes from my doorstep.  The surrounding countryside makes for stimulating walks and nothing much has changed.  Maybe there are some new developments on the outskirts and road systems that do not always make sense, but essentially the core of Stratford is here: its merchants, travellers, inns, markets, river-craft and of course entertainment.

I have learned something about creating environments, and this undersized dwelling and diminutive garden is slowly being changed into a set worthy of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  As the picture shows I am experimenting with drapes, fabrics and garlands.  Please see my Facebook Sue Jennings to see the continuing story of the transformations.  They grow lovelier by the day!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Time to play

Following my recent trip to Malaysia, and an opportunity to go into deep jungle, it was again time for reflection on the Temiar people.  How much they can contribute to our way of thinking about both children and older people.

The Temiars are child-centred, and children are encouraged to develop their spontaneous play, and dancing and singing.  It was noticeable that the further away from outside contact, the greater the playfulness.  Although all the tribal groups in Malaysia, including the Temiars, have cause to be anxious with the encroachment on their land and the destruction of the rain forest, there was variation.  It was possible to observe greater child focus and attachment in the more remote settings, and greater irritability in the accessible communities.

Older Temiars are respected because they have lived longer!  They hold the stories, and traditional crafts that are demonstrated to the younger generation.  Older people are listened to, and the views are heard and shared.

For the Temiars, both the very young and the very old, carry the wisdom for health and healing.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Community Creativity

I am really inspired by the bursts of creativity I am encountering at the moment.  From the Hip Hop class taking place at Gabriela's dance school in Karpenisi, Greece, to the wonderful murals at the Robert Cole Centre for children with special needs in Comanesti, Romania.  The Hip Hop class integrates children of all ages and stages, some with developmental needs, and parents can join in too.  I heard one boy say that he loved Hip Hop because it wasn't sissy like ballet!

The Robert Cole Centre is truly inspirational and caters for children and teenagers with complex and multiple needs.  They encourage all the arts in their educational and therapeutic programmes.  And this recent mural is just one example of their dedicated work, (and play!).

I have just given a talk on Radio Karpenisi about the importance of creativity and the development of the brain, and it's significance even during pregnancy.  If we had more creativity and the arts in schools and communities, there would be less need for Dramatherapists and Play Therapists.  It gives examples of creative approaches to therapy with many  different populations, and institutions.  You can hear the hour long broadcast on your computer from Sue Jennings Facebook page.

Encourage your playful brain and do something creative today!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Healing Romania

When a country calls to you you have to keep going back!  I have been living and working in Romania for 12 years and I cannot stay away.  Partly it is the people (why do they get such a bad press - I don't recognise the headlines in the tabloids), partly it is the amazing landscape.

However I am always impressed how Romania is puling itself out of the morass of the communist times.  The scandal of the orphanages has meant that a lot of repair work has to be done: social workers have more training in attachment work, large institutions have closed down and smaller group homes have been created; the wider world is much more aware and continues to send teams of professionals to do training, develop projects and generally raise awareness of rights and needs of children and adults with disabilities, people in long-stay psychiatric hospitals, and older people, especially those with dementia.

There is still a lot more to be done, and Romanians are very willing to learn!  You can always join me for a volunteers week (or more) together with training.

Rather than condemn Romanians, for the few who run scams (as they do in every counry), think about helping to heal the landscape, and its people who suffered horrendously for so many years.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

What sort of cat?

I do not understand my attraction to cats.  I don't mean that I am attracted to them, not in the least.  But cats are attracted to me.  They seek me out and rub against my legs, and if I am seated will leap or climb or sidle onto my lap and purr, noisily.

They make a perfect circle on my knees and would just stay there, if I had the stamina, for hours on end.  My daughter has four cats, all related, and they live next door.  They are loved and cherished and cuddled and taken up to bed.  So why do they choose to seek me out when I do not even welcome them?

My mother believed I had an aversion to cats because she found one curled up on my face when I was asleep in my cot.  I was less than a year old.  However I am not convinced.  Apparently I was not distressed and did not call out.  Cats have climbed in and on my bed occasionally and half asleep I have welcomed the warmth and the soothing purring, even if I have not sought it out.

In the olden days of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, it was possible to get tickets for amazing productions, by sleeping out all night in the queue, (that will be the subject of another blog as it is a long story!); and the years that I was pregnant there, the theatre cat would come and sleep on my bump!  It was quite extraordinary that she would seek me out even amongst an untidy crowd of people, and find her way on to me.  It felt very comfortable as the cat purred and the baby moved, and everyone was quite relaxed.

Strange creatures, cats

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Thank you to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

The end of my one year Fellowship 'Arts and Older People' came to its close at the end of February 2013.  However I allowed myself a personal followup in April to return to Malaysia.  Fortunately I had been asked to present at a conference for psychiatrists in the Cameron Highlands which allowed me to re-visit one of the Temiar villages.

My Fellowship in some ways was turbulent, especially at the beginning, when various countries gave me invitations which then could not be sustained: dates changed,hospitals were closed.  Whereas I had planned to go to Czech Republic, Germany and Russia, I ended up going to Czech Republic, Romania and Malaysia!

However it all worked out in the end, and I felt greatly enriched by the experience.  I met people and shared experiences that otherwise could never have happened.  I saw the worst and the best of care for older people, especially involving the art (or lack of it).

My lasting impressions in Czech Republic were of the day-to-day acceptance of the arts in everyday life, and the amazing work on dance with people with dementia by Dr Petr Veleta; in Romania the extraordinary energy of older people in their dance and singing groups, and their theatre performances.  It seemed as if the arts had brought into the light such joy for people who had lived through the atrocities of the communist era.  

In Malaysia I witnessed all the extremes from 100 bed wards that were completely institutionalised, to new day care centres with arts, reminiscence and delightful carers who were so keen to develop new ideas.  However the true inspiration was the optimism of the older Temiar people, and their arts and crafts.  More of that anon.

My full report will be on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website shortly.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Deep Jungle!

Just surfacing from a new trip to Malaysia as the final part of my Churchill Fellowship 'Arts and Older People'.  The final part of the trip was to the Temiar tribe who live in the rain forest. When I had visited them before I was focusing on their child rearing, now I wanted to see older people and how they related to the rest of the community.  

Children and teenagers that had been in my previous study, were now parents and grandparents themselves.  They take on the roles of responsibility for transmission of culture to the young.  They made garlands and head-dresses woven from palm and decorated with hibiscus flowers.  The older women showed the younger ones, and me, how the plait and weave in their traditional style.

Older people are still respected for their healing and midwifery skills, and for their opinion in what has become a very political situation.  There are now test cases in the courts for Temiar land rights, as logging companies cut down even more forest, and yet more oil palm is planted by large conglomerates.

The Temiars are a very inclusive people so there isn't a question of rejection because of age, either for the very old or the very young.  How much could be learned by western societies as well as other groups in Malaysia, that there are alternatives!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Its never too young for Shakespeare...

What a wonderful example of the power of Shakespeare to entertain and move us to laughter and tears.. Theatresaurus has just completed an intensive Spring School in Somerset with over 40 children aged from 5 to 13.  (Last week had similar workshops in London and Bath).
They were divided into three groups and worked on A Midsummer Night's Dream, Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet.  Four days of intensive workshops and then a costumed presentation for parents on the last afternoon.

Several of the participants were coming back for their fourth year and it was impressive to see how they had matured in their confidence as well as their performing skills.  All three presentations included singing and dancing, and the staging was fascinating. Who would have thought of using old and tatty umbrellas draped with torn green materials, to represent the forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Drama generally and Shakespeare in particular, provides such an opportunity for children to build their confidence and communication skills, learn self discipline, develop social skills and the capacity to collaborate.

An excellent demonstration of all of this....

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Empress of India!

I have just seen the first preview of 'The Empress' at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.  Written by Tanika Gupta and directed by Emma Rice, it tells the story of Queen Victoria, Empress of India, and her relationship with Abdul Karim, a gift to the Queen on her Silver Jubilee.  The play is set amongst the several threads of the upper class ex pat families, the plight of the Indian Ayahs, who were often abandoned by their employers, the tough life of the regular seam-men with enormous discrimination between the British and the Indian sailors.

The play is packed with incident and colour, and the cultural motives are cleverly woven together through music, dance, costume and events.  For example we are witness to the election of the first Indian Member of Parliament.

The intrigues at the court concerning the Queen's new companion are reminiscent to some degree of the film about 'Mrs Brown'.  Certainly we are seeing  some insights into the Empress and her personality.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play with excellent ensemble work and a high standard of music, singing and dancing.  Do go and see it - it only has a short run.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bringing home the Ashes (part 2)

Since there was no means of delivering my dear mother's ashes to the crematorium, and  most of my siblings seemed unaware of the importance of this transition, I bravely contacted the crematorium again.  Interestingly there seemed to be a shift of power and control.  I was told it would be perfectly all right for me to do the scattering and just to say when I would like to go and complete the process.

There is no time like now!  I booked an appointment for the following day, when my daughter and I would be visiting Stratford-on-Avon to see the latest production of Hamlet.  It felt right and proper, since my mother was a professional dancer, and also the model for the famous Canadian sculpture of Mother Canada, mourning her dead children, at Vimy Ridge in northern France. 

The gardens of the crematorium were just beautiful and peaceful, the bulbs just coming our through the last vestiges of the snow.  We scattered mother's ashes in the same place as my father's, and will plant some aconite bulbs when the ground gets softer.

I have also arranged for one of the crematorium's owl boxes to be situated nearby as my fathers emblem was an owl.  The ritual is now complete.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Bringing Home the Ashes (part one)

People's remains are a strange phenomenon!  What to keep, what to throw and what to take down the charity shop, (more of that later as we discuss my 75% de-clutter project!).

My mother died many years ago and I suggested to my siblings that perhaps her ashes should be scattered in the same place as my father's.  He died in Warwickshire and my mother in Devon.  No-one seemed to think it was an issue, that it did not matter.  So I took possession of them once the Funeral Directors were going to charge shelf-space for the container.  Mother was lodged with me apart from a spell of wandering when they stayed in my brother's freezer room.  Admittedly my sister-in-law almost mistook them for a new consignment of bird feed!  Mother came back to me.

I rang the crematorium about sprinkling the ashes in the same place as my father's, and they said it would be fine; they would need to be in a new container and there would be a fee.  Then they made it very clear that I would have to stand and watch one of their staff do the sprinkling, I was not allowed!  I closed the conversation and could not think of a plan.  Mother's ashes have stayed with me for a subsequent 10 years!

Having just begun to come to terms with my husband's death over a year ago, I decided that I would send the ashes to the crematorium and they could sprinkle them.  I could visit later.  And then?  The Post Office and the Delivery Services no longer will deliver ashes!

What to do now!  Watch this space....

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Masks of Stillness

When I received my summons for speeding recently, it was a summons for a substantial speed over the limit: 81 mph in a 60 mph area!  Did I have any options?  I suppose I could try and do a Huhne, or grin and bear the fine and the points.  I seem to be surrounded by friends and family who have all been speeding recently  - what's going on?  However all of them have opted to go on the safe driving course.  And all of them have said it was worthwhile and they learned something important.

One friend summed it up by saying that he realised he did not need to speed in his car - also he could stop speeding and rushing around in life.  He gave me a wry smile and said 'You know, WRS', 'What?, 'White Rabbit Syndrome - I'm late, I'm late...'

So if I am not rushing everywhere, what shall I be doing in this non-existent time?  I decided not to create a new interest but revive an old one.  It was time to start mask making again - sometimes I make them on my own face, but these masks I moulded on another mask. Each one represents another layer of myself as I went deeper into my stop speeding self!

I leave you to guess  the order of the masks!  And yes I am going on the course!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Masks of madness

Teaching History of Madness, and contemporary practice in psychiatry, never ceases to amaze me about medical  and public ignorance.  Such unwillingness to go beneath the labels and try to understand what is really going on.  Everyone ought to read Thomas Szasz 'The Myth of Mental Illness', and re-think their own bias and prejudice.

But we live in a blame culture so it has to be someone's fault: almost always mothers are accused of causing autism or schizophrenia...  Does any century go by without women being vilified for some major demeanor - Eve seems to have a long, long birthright!

However schizophrenia is blame free: it still is not clear if it is a single 'disorder' or a cluster of different ones.  Yet we still lock up people with the label, deprive them of their rights, deny them their freedom, enforce medication, and to all intents and purposes treat them like criminals.  The very, very few who are potentially violent are seized upon by the media, and authorities are exhorted to lock them all up and throw away the key!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

It's so vast!

Where I live in Wells there are buildings on all sides but I enjoy writing at my desk and seeing people walking, scurrying, chatting...  I am not someone who writes in an isolated attic, quite often I will write in cafe's or in parks.

However when I am in a large open space or have views of mountains across meadows and farms, I can feel my writing expanding in a quite different way.  This glorious sunset moved me beyond words and into wonder...  The wonder is something physical and felt with my whole body.

Only later can it become words and phrases and then stories: stories that are journeys into landscapes and characters.  The vast experienced becomes encapsulated and then manageable, and feeds into the process of creativity.

Sometimes it 'works' and at other times it has to be re-shaped, damped down like drying out clay, and shaped once again.

The story is indeed never ending. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Mask making in Romania

Why do I have to get away from everything and everyone in order to make masks and indulge my messy playfulness!  In Romania with deep snow and minus 22 degrees, I realised it was months since I had made any masks!  Out with plaster of Paris bandage (Modroc), Vaseline and warm water (remembering not to clog up the sink by pouring away left-over water!).  I love the feel of the materials and the pliability of the plaster.

Sometimes I have a theme in my head but this time it was just seeing what emerged as I cut, moulded and shaped.  In a sense the masks made me, rather me making the masks.  Several distinct characters emerged which are still intriguing me.  

The first is a strong mask of the shadow and the light, with blurred cross over in a vertical divide.  Although the shadow is on the left as I was making it, when I wear it it is on my right!  Now there is a paradox!  The second mask is a little girl, pink skinned and yellow hair, and she is screaming.  She feels very disturbing and disturbed. 

The third mask is a clown or fool, who feels very important to me right now.  This mask is obviously calling rather that screaming and has beaded hair!

The three fit one inside the other - little girl covered by shadow-light covered by clown!

One in three and three in one!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sparkle Awards

It has given me such pleasure to help to set up the Sparkle Awards for creative work with elderly people, especially those with dementia.  Candidates are nominated by their peers or managers and may be carers, volunteers or therapists.  Creative Care has made awards in Romania, Czech Republic and UK during 2012.

Sharon Jacksties was the last award made at the end of 2012 for her outstanding work with older people, especially through storytelling.  Sharon has been working with older people for many years, and is also a trainer on the Creative Care training courses in Somerset.  She has just published a very special book 'Somerset Folk Tales (History Press), illustrated by Jem Dick.

But in the wider sphere, are we really looking forward to greater care being given to older people?  To more compassion in care homes?  To a better status and terms of employment for carers?  To an acknowledgement of the crucial role that all the arts have to play in care for older people, especially those with dementia?

Basically how much more 'evidence based practice' do funders want before the arts in health care are affirmed and acknowledged?

Or are we looking at more dispirited workers, more neglected residents, more scandals of cruelty?

Lets keep up the campaign and our energy!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Will Anything Change?

What extremes of news and a feeling of bouncing from the public to the personal and back again.  Still in deep shock from the rape and death of the woman in Delhi - will anything change?  Are we really going to see attitudes shift in the acknowledgement of women;s rights and roles in all societies?

I remember so well when I was researching the material for my one woman show,'My Dear Emily: the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson', (First Lady Doctor in UK), the extraordinary prejudice in the media (cartoons in Punch), and the hostility of many lecturers and fellow male students.  She was told of the 'horrors' of the dissecting room in an effort to dissuade her from continuing her studies.  And accused of taking easier exams because she scored higher than the male medical students.

Professional women owe so much, to so many of the pioneers including Elizabeth Garrett, Emily Davies, 
Sophie Jex-Blake and all the suffragettes.  How much is being taught in schools to both boys and girls, and at what age?  It should be starting in nursery school, but I suspect there are not the books - yet!

As we move into 2013 - can we carry a constant reminder that we need to acknowledge the heroic  women who championed our causes in education, health and politics - within the last 150 years!