Painting took place for about two days a week (plus masses of your own time of course.) Then there was a designated design day when we worked in an education block which was like a mini natural history museum. Stowed away in cupboards and drawers were feathers, shells, bones, small skeletons, pinned insects and butterflies, birds eggs all visually beautiful. There were plants of all kinds. Outside there was a kind of small zoo with terrapins, Chinese pheasants, hens and cockerels, spiders, rabbits, guinea pigs and a snake pit. During the first term we were each given a plant to look after and in the second term an animal. I looked after silk worms and later a baby crocodile! You did read that right a crocodile. Bristol Zoo needed the baby crocs. to be nursed till they were big enough to go back to the zoo. I kept mine in a small tank in my room, it was rather sweet with super big staring yellow eyes with a black line across the middle. The tank had water of course. with a piece of cork floating on the top. The little croc. sat motionless for most of the time. I had to feed it little scraps of meat. When all the babies got bigger and snappier they had to go back. We were encouraged to study and draw all these natural treasures because later we would be working with the children encouraging them to observe carefully and draw and paint. My first serious boy friend was Eric Degg, we were an item for nearly two years. He was given a snake to look after. I have a lifelong irrational fear of snakes. We were warned by Geoffrey (we called all tutors by their Christian names, which was a quite a big shock at first) not on any account to show fear in front of a child. He was showing a snake to some children, then, as he moved to another one, he handed the first one to me. I was terrified but somehow I kept a rictus grin. Horror of horrors it turned its head and slithered up the inside of my sleeve, it’s head coming out of my neckline. To say that the dreadful experience has stayed in my memory is an understatement. The silk worms weren’t that easy either, I kept those in my room too (not at the same time as the croc. I hasten to add.) They were rather ugly, round faced and fat, I fed them with mulberry leaves and you could hear them eating all the time..munch,munch,munch, all through the night Once the cocoons appeared you had to be quick to put them in separate little paper bags, It was like a production line we had no bags, it wasn’t long after the war, we had to make own. I had about fifty worms!
In the third term we were each allocated one or two children from the local primary school. We worked with them using these natural resources. Each of us kept a notebook in which we wrote detailed observations about the children. Now (when I think back) I don’t know how they got away with it…No Piaget, no reading up of theories just plain empirical first hand observation and we learnt so much. This close observation of children lasted throughout the whole of the time we were learning to teach both individuals and whole classes. The note books were so valuable (illustrated of course) and full of useful personal insights, they were little works of art in their own right.
Footnote. Eric was one year ahead of me…when he left I still had a year to do. We got engaged. He went off with his rucksack to hitchhike around Europe. I suppose it was a good test of our relationship and I’m afraid I did the dirty…I met Robin. I still feel quite bad about it but it was probably a good thing (except that Robin and I divorced after twelve years.) Hey ho, that’s life for you!