Gary Studley is currently poet-in-residence at Canterbury Roman Museum.
G’day people, and welcome to Blog Three. Having uttered that cheery Aussie-ism I am instantaneously reminded of some A Level Art students I taught recently telling me how they rejected a rival teacher out of hand because he addressed them with “Hi Guys.” Oops. I can only say, forgive me, I am in a good mood!
Another good session today, starting with a very positive chat with front-of-house, Julia. Some people think Britain has awful customer service. That’s been a part of many a comedian’s act in the last fifty years and beyond. However, I don’t find this. I’ve been living in or visiting this part of Kent for too long to admit. Somewhere in my noggin is a blurry memory of being at primary school and coming to Canterbury on one of those coaches with coarse, multi-coloured seats that seemed to take the skin off your thighs every time you hit a pot-hole. I remember going around the cathedral in a sopping wet, Pac-a-mac so long that it left snail-trails across the crypt flags. I think it was one my dad got from work because I remember the elasticated cuffs were so tight from being folded over and over that when we were in the gift shop the man serving kept looking at me as though I was shop-lifting every time I tried to rub some circulation back into my arms. Oddly, he didn’t tell my teacher or clip me round the ear, but my wrists did have the texture of the Spam you got from those ridged cans. If my memory serves me right, I brought home an obligatory giant pencil which I used to swordfight with until someone got stabbed. I also remember that although Alan Bumstead had eaten his sandwiches the minute we hit the Rye Road that morning, when we pulled back into school later the coach still stank of his egg-mayonnaise sick and the Dettol used to clean it. Ah, those were the days!
Today, the school-children were French. Being cool, it was hard to tell how old the kids were by dress alone, but by height I’d estimate 11 or 12. According to Julia this particular school visits three times a year with different groups and take their Roman history very seriously. At first I became a bit of an exhibit, myself. I don’t mind writing in public, but in this case they were gathered around me in a clump of about a dozen, excitedly trying to see whether I was drawing or what I was writing. And as discussed in Blog Two, I don’t speak French, so I couldn’t tell them! Luckily their teachers both spoke English and after shooing the group away to the educational area, addressed nearly all their comments in my mother tongue so at least I could eavesdrop.
Part of what I’m interested in on this residency is how the staff and public react to the museum and its artefacts, and today served that immensely. The pupils were sitting on stools facing the display boards, methodically working their way through the educational material provided. The male teacher was very focussed, preventing all the children from turning round by a) very firm commands; b) promises of ice-cream for the highest scorers in the quiz. The female teacher however, was struggling to stay professional and beaming widely, as behind the pupils two twenty-something Brits put down their crash-helmets; dressed up in the Roman tunics; tried on undersized sandals and then staged a silent-scream sword fight with the gladius provided. At the end of their mime-battle, one stood triumphant with his foot on the other’s chest and gave the French teacher his iphone to capture the moment. And oblivious, the pupils soldiered on.
Hey, Jean, Paul, Rico,
when you’re done with the quiz
knot your galea tight,
strap down your manica,
and beg Mars’ protection tonight –
‘cos we’re heading off to war!
Gary is a writer and visual artist with long-term connections to Canterbury. Having a keen interest in the city’s present and historic past, he is looking forward to investigating the museum and as a vivid commentator on place and people, plans to use the museum’s atmosphere, artefacts and human interactions as inspiration for his writing and artwork.
Gary will be at Canterbury Roman Museum on selected dates between Friday 01 May and Monday 31 August 2015
Dates include 17 July 12–4pm and 7 August 12–4pm