16 May 2019 / #Arvon50
In March 2014 I spent five days at the beautiful Arvon Lumb Bank site and it was (unusually) basked in sunshine for my entire stay. I was there to tutor seventeen students from a West Yorkshire grammar school, aged between eleven and fifteen years old. My co-tutor Anthony McGowan and I were the first to arrive. We were given tea, cake and a guided tour. I soaked it all up – the house, the views, the air, the stillness.
Then it was time to meet our young writers. Anthony and I walked to the main house, he opened the front door and that was when I heard it – the noise of seventeen young people, all talking excitedly at once. It was quite a rush, to be greeted by their boom of chatter as we slowly appeared from behind the door to say hello. There’s something very special about the Lumb Bank house. You feel instantly at ease inside it. The sitting room became a convivial hub, a place I would find the young writers after lunch, curled up on a sofa, not with phones in their hands, but notebooks. I was soon struck by how gracious and generous these young people were. They listened attentively to me during workshops, to Anthony, to their teachers and each other. They supported each other’s ideas and didn’t split into factions, despite spanning several year groups. They talked, played and worked happily together.
There was something too, about watching teenage girls and how they behave. No Mean Girls here. I’m trying to think of the right word: reassuring, pleasing, or maybe just nice, to see these girls curled up in their ‘onsies’, plaiting each other’s hair. There was a ceaseless buzz of talking – so urgent and vibrant. Spending time with a bunch of teenage girls became an affirming experience. I was reminded how tactile my stepdaughter was with her two best friends growing up: the linking of arms, the holding of hands. I did it too at that age, but such behaviour is lost in adulthood. For the first time ever, I felt a slight grief for my teenage years.
On the final day of the course at Lumb Bank, I sat in the ‘barn’ beside fellow tutor Anthony, reading through the sixty-five page anthology the students had put together – a compilation of the work they had written that week. The sole boy on the trip, Martin (not remotely fazed at being so outnumbered) was doing a fine job as editor, administering final touches to the anthology. A couple of girls were practicing ballet steps, laughing, pretending they didn’t enjoy a small audience. Some were singing to each other. Then, a girl called Cailtin sat at the piano and started to play, quite beautifully. I looked at the girls around me and thought about my three-year-old daughter at home. I realised how selfishly I’d been thinking about her forthcoming teenage years. I’d only really been considering how they would affect me – her hormones, her emotions – at a time when I’d be in my fifties. When Caitlin finished playing the piano in the barn, I asked her to scribble down the title of the piece, as it will always remind me of that week. She wrote I Giorni by Ludvico Einaudi. Once home I discovered the title of the piece translates as The Days. Post-Lumb Bank, I began to see my daughter’s teenage future very differently: she will discover friendship. Now I think, lucky her. What days indeed, she has to come.
Arvon turned 50 in 2018 and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection is published in our anniversary book and featured on our blog. This contribution is by Rebecca Goss.
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