In my parents kitchen table there are two drawers. One of these is rarely opened. It contains the placemats we traditionally used on Christmas day.

As a child I loved these placemats. They had various paintings of animals and people on them- just my kind of thing! However I did notice that for Christmas guests they had a very mixed reception. Some guests even refused their placemat and didn’t want their plate to sit on it at all. How rude!

The placemats had paintings of fox hunting on them.

I have never been foxhunting. I think my mum went foxhunting once. My family love old, unusual and beautiful things. Also my dad loves to shock people.

Christmas was a very difficult time for my dad growing up, because his mother was often suicidal. He could be a little withdrawn at Christmas because of this past trauma, but would happily discuss placemats, with any shocked guests. His therapy, I guess!

Anyway, I remember debating at school about animal cruelty. I would be the girl who said ‘Hang on, isn’t foxhunting *VERY* traditional?’. It was an unpopular opinion. Truth is, I would lose myself in the paintings on the Christmas placemats. Every Christmas I would look forward to which scene I would get. When I was given my Christmas food, I was a little bit disappointed that my nice placemat scene was covered up. I couldn’t understand the upset guests who rejected their placemat’s scene. If you aren’t having it, I will!

I love animals, and I knew the sport was cruel on the fox. But I also knew that nature is cruel and animals tear each other apart as a matter of course. Mostly I was swayed by the beauty I saw in foxhunting. I loved the uniforms, and the whole dramatic look of it. It seemed like a way of being closer to nature, rather than an aggressive move towards it. I think a lot of foxhunters feel like that, and they are not otherwise cruel to animals. Foxhunting is an exception they make.

In recent years, my family has stopped using the placemats. However we also have a plate with foxhunting on it. Oddly it often gets stuck at the top of the pile of plates. This suggests that people prefer not to eat off of it, but no one will admit it.

Recently I have been learning about clean boot hunting. This is foxhunting where the hounds follow the scent of a human runner. No foxes are harmed. I still see foxhunting as beautiful and traditional as well as cruel. Clean boot hunting seems to be the perfect solution.

The idea of a clean boot hunt, is attractive for debaters, but it’s another thing to get hunters out there doing it. People need to be shown that it is a viable proposition in the modern world. I have a lot of respect for the people who are really making it happen. People take time to adjust to change. The clean boot hunters are met with opposition from both sides, but hopefully this will decrease as people get used to it, and understand it is different and that’s okay.

Here are the placemats –



History Teacher

My secondary school history teacher won Teacher of the South one year.

You might expect such bureaucracy to fall outside of the radar of the playground but you would be very wrong! We were all genuinely excited for her. I was also moved by how sweetly she responded to all this sudden attention and praise.

Her talent had been recognised officially by the mysterious powers of The Guardian. It was definitely something to celebrate! It felt well deserved too because we really were learning a lot, and it really was a lot of fun.

Every lesson she had invented new ways to make information memorable to us. If we were on Native American Indians, and had to remember the importance of red and yellow ochre paint, she helped us. She turned it into a song, with the lyrics ‘Red-ding Yellow Ochre’. Yellow Ochre was now the name of our beloved pony! Pronouncing ‘riding’ as ‘red-ding’ was some silly fun, but cleverly made sure we didn’t forget the red ochre too. She put her heart and soul into helping us learn and do well, and wasn’t afraid of making a fool of herself in the process.


I think for that reason, her classroom felt like a place where we were free to be silly too. Although my classmates were the same people I saw in other lessons, I didn’t feel intimidated by them there.

When we entered her classroom, we were taken on a journey. I think no one wanted to bring average classroom idiocy into it, because there was always an unspoken deep respect and need for the escapism she offered us, and invited us to be a part of. No one wanted to break that spell, and I wonder if it would have even been possible to!

It’s weird to think that I almost missed out on having her as my GCSE teacher at all.

It was parent’s evening. I was sat with her and my parents. She asked what I was going to chose. I solemnly said ‘I think I might chose geography.’ She looked heartbroken. My parents were surprised by her reaction, and reassured me ‘Oh geography, that’s nice. Mum took geography…’ Mrs Tingley took a long pause, straightened herself again, then looked deep into my eyes and said ‘It’s totally up to you what you chose, Rowan, but, PLEASE, PLEASE, *PLEASE* take history. *PLEASE* take history.’ To know I was so wanted in her classroom, was easily enough to sway me! I was flattered and felt that I was important to her. It also made a deep impression on me, that she would behave so unprofessionally just to keep me in her classroom!

I agreed to continue with History then and there, and enjoyed two fantastic years of her lessons. She taught us about the Native Americans, the holocaust and the history of medicine. Her lessons were definitely the best thing about school.




Je Suis Charlie

I read about what happened in Paris to the cartoonists.
I care a lot about comedy, satire, illustration, freedom of speech. I like the message of solidarity that the Je Suis Charlie is sending out.
The worst thing would for people to get scared and try to tame their art.
It surprises me that there are people in this country who don’t believe in freedom of speech, and who still have a ‘Well, they asked for it’ attitude.
Culture isn’t a given – it is a thing that is created, and maintained because people believe in it. Otherwise our culture will be like the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth- no roads were built leading to it, and it was neglect to the point that the mob wanted to tear it ALL down rather than repair it.
So I think this is a time for people to think about what culture they want to live in, and how much they care about it.
It’s the job of artists to help people to re-imagine buildings and cultures. Even neglected buildings can be rescued and reimagined. I think similarly – people who live in our culture, and who don’t care about freedom of speech – can be helped to re-imagine it. Some new lighting, some planting, a glass lift to the top floor. Plus people will appreciate the building more if they see how hostile anywhere else is!
We need our creative culture, so we have to make it a brick house. People were shot, and it is awful. The important thing is to keep the building secure. Art is our power, and they know it too or they wouldn’t be attacking it.
The men with guns probably don’t know what satire is. It would be really difficult to explain to them, because the cultural differences are so vast. It’s a problem. People are really angry because of the war, and I guess that has motivated the reaction.

Joan of Arc’s Understanding


And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.

When I was little and listening to this song, this was the only bit I didn’t like. I enjoyed the drama of her death, but I did not like her clear understanding that she was wood! I think I was at the age when I had just started to identify myself as a girl. I just hated the idea that she suddenly thought she was wood instead. It seemed like such a stupid thing to say. Yes, I could understand that he was fire, but it seemed to be a great, wild leap of logic to mean that made her wood.

I clearly understood she was a girl, and if I had met Joan of Arc at this time I would have told her ‘No, you are not wood. You are a girl, like me!’

I still feel a bit like that. It does seem slightly uncharacteristic that she would say she is wood – or just something to be consumed by Fire. But I think it is about her bravery in facing the very difficult reality of what is coming next. Rather than pretend she is not destined for the flames – she accepts it. I think this could be said to represent man facing his mortality head on.

At the beginning of the song she was in a state of unknowing – as suggested by her dull armour. Now she has met Fire, she enters a state of knowing – ‘clearly understood’. In order to keep the multiple meanings of Fire open, Cohen suggests that what she understands is simply – that she will meet the Fire, and whatever Fire may be, it will be able to burn her very well.

We are forced to combine the imagery of the effect of fire on wood, and it’s effect on our heroine. This is a powerful way to tell the listener what will happen, because it means we use our own experience of what burning looks like – and apply it to a scene we can only imagine.



Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan of Arc’ – Joan’s Reply to Fire

‘Well then fire, make your body cold

I’m going to give you mine to hold,

Saying this she climbed inside

To be his one, to be his only bride.’

Leonard Cohen utilises imprecise and abstract statements rather than particular and specific ones. This is true of the character of Fire in ‘Joan of Arc, because it or he could be said to represent many ideas –

– Death/Mortality

– All consuming sexual or spiritual love

– The ghost of Nico’s rapist who was sentenced to death

– Cohen himself, and his attraction to Nico

– Temptation

– Pain and suffering

– Fear

– Something else

Whatever the Fire is, Joan of Arc talks directly to it and tells it what to do! I think this is about preparing the mind for any struggle. We have to get into the mindset where what we hope to achieve seems really possible. As she was heading for the flames, Joan of Arc acts as if she still has control, and it is this which makes her so eternally brave.

Rather than be dragged towards the flames, Joan of Arc decides to give herself to them. It is about staying brave even when things seem as bad as they can be. If she has to enter the flames, then she will stay in control, by acting as though it was always her decision to do so. This stops the experience being so humiliating and therefore reduces her pain.

Fire concludes with ‘Myself I long for love and light, but must it come so cruel and oh so bright?’

There is a healing quality in this. Fire is a powerful element, but even he is in awe of the uncompromising and determined woman he has wedded. In the song Cohen is careful not to say that Fire actually kills her. He adapts it to ‘He took the dust of Joan of Arc.’ 

Dust shining in light, is one of the smallest things we can see – without the help of a microscope. So by saying that Fire took the dust of her, it draws attention to the physical but reduces its significance. Only her dust was taken.

Through the song we learn about her heroic nature, and it doesn’t seem that Fire’s action is able to alter her nature at all. The story is very dramatic, and Cohen tells us that it is Fire who was altered because of the meeting! He had longed for her, but he didn’t get what he was expecting – the experience was ‘cruel’ and ‘bright’. He reflects on this, and wonders if there could have been another way. Joan of Arc is immortalised into legend as a woman who stood up for what she believed in and never relented. Fire continues to be an element that relies on fuel to survive. Joan of Arc’s heart was a self sufficient fire all of it’s own, and the physical flames of human suffering were powerless to reduce her mythical spirit.