Wednesday 12 July 2017

If you go down to the park...

Pride picnic cake from Little Chekky Cakes

Stone and Water’s Gordon MacLellan recently spoke to The Buxton Advertiser about the group’s Fringe events including a Pride picnic and a children’s workshop. This is the full transcript of the interview, which was edited down for the paper's Festival and Fringe supplement. 

What is your role in Stone and Water and can you tell me more about what it does and the philosophy behind it? 

Stone and Water sets out to find ways of “celebrating the people, landscape and creativity of the Peaks”. Over the last 12 years we’ve led all sorts of projects from exploring the ancient worlds that gave us the Peak District limestone to having a whole series of picnics revolving around helping people get to know our local wild flowers, trees and insects. I am one of the founder-members of the group and do most of the fund-raising and project management

2. Tell me more about Tiny! and the thinking behind that. What's in store for families at the Fringe this year with Beasts, Birds and Butterflies? 

We’ve been doing “Tiny!” days as Stone and Water events for 6 or 7 years now. The idea behind it is that you make nothing larger than your hand and every year we have a different theme. There was a Tiny! Lantern Parade, Tiny! Pirates, Tiny! Dragons, Tiny! Princesses, dragons and monsters, more Tiny! Pirates. These sessions are free and open to anyone who wants to drop-by and join in. We set up on the grass near the children’s playground and usually are visited by 70 or 80 people during a day, mostly families. This year we’ll be making lots of little animals as finger puppets. We’re sort of planning garden wildlife: bumblebees, butterflies, ladybirds, mice and so on but we’ll help people in whatever direction they want to go so I am rather expecting there will be some Tiny! lions, wolves and dolphins, too!

3. Tell me more about the Pride Picnic and what people should expect? Can anyone come regardless of gender/sexual orientation? 

The Pride Picnic is part of our “celebrating people and creativity” theme. We would like to offer a picnic blanket where people can be themselves and where the diversity and richness of our High Peak people can be celebrated. The core of volunteers involved are of various genders and orientations and we’ll offer some queer poetry during the picnic and maybe some “instant slap” dramatic makeup. We are hoping for rainbow cakes as well and possibly rainbow sandwiches. The heart of this is a safe but public place and we will welcome anyone who comes with a warm heart and a cheerful smile, regardless of gender, age or sexual orientation - and who leaves sexism, hetero-sexism, racism and other unpleasantnesses behind!

4. Do you see it as a political gesture or just a bit of fun or both? 

The Pride Picnic is a bit of fun but it is also a political statement that says “we are all part of the people of the Peaks” and this is a small gesture on our part towards recognising some of that diversity and the creative richness it brings to the Peak.

5. Do you think these are good times for LGBT+ community or the opposite? 

Speaking personally (not as a S&W rep), I feel that in some ways these are good times for LGBT+ people: we are more public and more recognised and accepted than (perhaps) ever before. But almost because of that apparent acceptance, the wider public are less aware of the prejudice that LGBT+ people still experience. People are still thrown out of their homes, or “queer-bashed”, or heckled and harassed in the street.

6. Could you give me a potted biography of yourself - how did you become a storyteller and is that how you would define yourself? How long have you lived in Buxton and where are you from originally? 

I’ve been working as a full-time self-employed artist and storyteller since 1995. As “Creeping Toad” (my freelance identity), most of my work revolves around environmental themes and my work finds ways of celebrating the relationships between people, places and wildlife. I trained as a zoologist and a teacher and worked in environmental and formal (secondary) education for about 8 years before going freelance. I grew up in Cumbernauld, one of the Scottish new towns just outside Glasgow. Before arriving in Buxton, I also lived in Durham, Manchester and spent my first 3 years of teaching in Malawi in Africa. I’ve lived in Buxton for 16 years now and love this meeting place of a town: a crossroads where the wildness of the hills and dales intersects with the easy access to Manchester and a wider urban world.

7. What are you up to right now?  

Just now? I am up in the north of Scotland on a Creeping Toad projects: I have 4 weeks of storytelling in schools around the Highland Region and then a week on Orkney. Stone and Water is just a small part of my work and our projects are focussed on the Peaks.

8. How long have you been performing at the Fringe and what does the Fringe mean to you? 

I have been doing various things in the Fringe for maybe 14 years. There are the Tiny! sessions, and there have been storytelling for High Peak Community Arts and on the Grinlow Art and Storytelling Trail. I also coordinated the Grinlow Poetry Trail a couple of years ago. I like the Fringe: I like the sense of creativity that fills the town and the audiences that will come and cheerfully watch, join in or simply laugh. Events like the Trails have been great opportunities for local artists to collaborate, making new connections and friendships beyond the moment of our event.

9. How did you get to be called Toad?

I have been a Toad person since I could walk. Toads are my totem animals. The patient watchful consideration of a toad is a great skill to cultivate. And I just like them and have been called Toad for years. When i first set up my self-employed business 30 years ago “toad” had to be in the title and “Creeping Toad” just seemed to work. Now, I am even a Trustee for the delightful charity Froglife who are dedicated to the conservation of British reptiles and amphibians and research into their lives and education about how wonderful they are! At home, my house tends to become a refuge for exotic amphibians with nowhere else to go: fire-bellied toads, dwarf African frogs and axolotls at the moment!

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