Thursday, 26 November 2015

Our first and CLAS's 21st Festival of Calligraphy

Festival 2015 in the Malvern Hills

Day one - Friday

I left home at 6.35 drove in the pouring rain to Elim in time for breakfast where I met Andi and Mary who arrived just a few minutes earlier at about 8 o clock.
Unloaded the cars in more rain and dumped the office things in the room off the dining room which we have decided to use an office in time for a meeting with Karen and Leanne from the centre.

Signs had to be posted so we rushed around from door to door generally finding the sign needed was not the one in the hand. Where was the blue tack! Fortunately the centre could help us out here - tiny pieces for each label. Was I using the most up to date list! We could not believe how many last minute changes there were.

People started to arrive! Travellers from Sweden...must hurry to get the folders out and into the garden room. Registration officially started at 3pm but mistake number one was diplomatically pointed out to me by Mary (who is an old hand of course at organising the festival) - I had accidentally cut and pasted to everyone, the line meant for tutors, that 'we were there all day and they were welcome to arrive early to sort out their rooms'!! An accident on the M4 meant long delays for some and all had trekked through bad weather and were tired when they arrived.

Some key people were still missing...where were Scribblers? The staff at their office were not allowed to divulge such information! Stuck in traffic!

A quick meeting with tutors at 5.30 - they are the reason after all that we are all here but one is missing....

Then time for wine and a chance for delegates, but not Andi and myself, to relax.

Last in to supper and all that is left is fish and chips! But I had that for lunch! The last stuffed peppers were supplied. Now time to welcome everyone to Elim and festival 2015, our first! I introduced the tutors Gemma, Edward, Rachel and Sally-Mae - does anyone know anything about letter carving in stone?

Right on cue in walked Lida and her assistant Russell - thank goodness!

I breathe a sigh of relief and then someone gets up quickly and their leg gives way. Right next to me he falls to the floor and I realise I am the resident first aider! Help! I know one of our delegates is a doctor but we also have two nurses too. Unfortunately we learn later that Andrew has broken his hip before even putting pen to paper and he goes off to A&E in Worcester by ambulance late in the evening as his condition worsens.

Time to get the wine out sorting out change, red, white, rose or spritzer. Not much in the way of soft drinks sold on the first night but we hold back and need to keep our heads clear.

Off to learn about the presentation tools in the theatre - quickly decide who is doing the intro and the vote of thanks...after an excellent talk by Rachel  - first aid to the fore again as someone has a fly in their eye and is very upset about it.

Quick update with Andi at midnight as the paramedics arrive to take Andrew off to hospital In Worcester.  We thank Frank for standing in the road waiting to direct them quickly to the second floor of de Walden.

Time to sleep but my mind is whirring. So far so good...

Saturday and classes start promptly 

- I am lucky, I can go and write copperplate all day with Rachel. I get back to the main building at lunchtime and Andi has transformed the place. We have set up a little office off the dining room and are using the raised area at the back of the dining room for our exhibition boards and envelope display. There is a box for presents for the last night and we leave out the means for people to display their own work. This year we are resolved to get people to help us with the bar, displaying work, collecting raffle money and changing the water in the buckets in the classrooms. We find everyone is willing to do their bit.

Jen arrives back at Elim after spending all night in the hospital with Andrew and having no sleep and somehow manages to join her class with Sally-Mae.

The suppliers are still on site until lunchtime and are very happy with business. When they leave they ask to come back next year when we are in Leeds. 

The rest of the day runs smoothly and we get into the flow.

Someone needs to move rooms and there are no cleaners to prepare the room. Andi gets it sorted and one delegate is happy again.

Gemma does her talk about calligraphy in Australia and afterwards Sally-Mae practises her karaoke skills with the microphone ready for Sunday!


Everyone is getting into the swing of things now. We sort out expectations and teething problems. It isn't always easy to accommodate people whose expectations of a class are different from the actual thing but we do our best to address all the issues. Some things we can't change - there are no more bedside lights anywhere but we do bring down a couple from directors and tutors rooms for after the evening talk in the garden room. Wine sales are steady and people are pleased with the quality of the wine. The subdued lightning is a definite improvement and we have help with the sales. The Idea of labelling bottles so people can buy a whole bottle and drink it over a couple of sessions works well.

At dinner we remind everyone about the arrangements for the trip to see the chained library, Mappa Mundi and Magna Carta at Hereford cathedral. There is total chaos as we sell tickets and check those who haven't appeared but find they have changed their minds. Finally the drivers and car spaces seem to match up. 

We lay down the law and everyone is told they must not move their things to their new workshops until after supper on Monday so people can work on during the free afternoon and evening so there will be no unseemly grab for places straight after the end of morning session. 


The last half day of the first session followed by a free afternoon and evening. We say goodbye to a few people and newcomers arrive and are shown round. Several people say they are pleased at the chance to work on undisturbed and most studios are occupied by a few people.

I try to do two final versions of my piece. The very first stroke of the second attempt goes right off line!

The Hereford people leave and Elim is very quiet. They are delighted with their tours when they return. 

Later that evening the tutors and I slip off to an Indian restaurant in Ledbury and hatch a plan for a show and tell at the end of the week rather than working to the very end and all dashing off or having to go round all the different classrooms. The dining room is identified as the best place so everyone can easily get round but we will have to get approval from the kitchen.

When we get back we join the newcomers in the bar area. There is a really friendly atmosphere in the garden room and it turns out to be our best day sales wise. The bar is being very efficiently run when we arrive.


and I am the person on duty. Andi is a hard act to follow  and I feel more nervous than I have done since the start of the festival.

I make myself useful helping a beginner rule up eight pages of lines and margins for Edward's class. But most of the work is done and there are just final details for the gala dinner to sort out....what did Andi say I needed to do...? I remember I have to check that there are enough gifts for everyone, that the raffle is all ready and displayed for people to see before a final chance to buy tickets. I organise volunteers to fold the stubs after lunch tomorrow 

Reports come in of rooms left unlocked and even open after being cleaned on changeover day. Fortunately nothing appears to have been lost and the centre apologise.

Another talk to get get set up after supper and we need to find batteries for the microphone. A quick call to Dani helps with that, but Gemma and I have worked out by now what most of the sliders control on the mixing desk. Our biggest problem is that I had forgotten I had arranged for Janet to do the vote of thanks for Edward and I ask Jenny too! They both stand up but Janet quickly sits down again and few other than me notice but I am mortified. Still it could have been worse and Janet is very understanding but I know how something like that can make you very nervous and spoil your own enjoyment of a talk because you are thinking about what you have to say at the end!


The day of the final dinner! How quickly it has gone but we still have a day and a half of workshops left. I have a meeting with Karen (Centre Manager) and Tim (head chef) and sort out coffee arrangements for the last morning and the show and tell, and final details for the dinner. We agree a slightly later start, without having to keep the staff too late but enough time for everyone to get their glad rags on and have a little drink before. We include a bottle of red and white on each table and give everyone a copy of their menu choices to display on the table in front of them because we know lots will have forgotten what they had decided!

We announce a quick welcome to the evening and get on with the food. While coffees and chocolates (special gluten free ones for the special diets arranged by Andi) are served we did the raffle. No wrapping this year and no choosing but we still made over £400 which went towards the cost of wine for the dinner. I introduce Marion who had arrived on Monday and she says a few words. Then it is time to thank the tutors who after all are the main draw; the kitchen; who had really stepped up to the mark, the centre staff and the delegates - we couldn't manage without them!! 

The Drawing game goes really well - The tutors are getting very competitive and 
Edward jumps up without having the exact wording ready - he is sent back....half the teams are running to the back of the room to Andi and the rest are coming to me. It soon becomes apparent that the list (based on how long I could keep a class of eleven year olds happily occupied at the end of term) is much too long. We have a quick conflab and decide to shorten the list by nearly half. All the words and phrases relate to lettering or Malvern such as 'a really sharp pencil' or 'the view from here'. The teams must draw but no talking or acting! There is a lot of running involved too! One of Andi's teams wins but we keep going until we have second and third places too. We can see that some people are already getting tired and those that aren't can join us for a drink in the garden room. 

Thursday morning

The last day already. I chase around reminding people to give in their keys and tidy up and pack away as much as possible. I take the CLAS signs down - if they don't know their way now they never will! I overhear plenary sessions in different classrooms.

Coffee is provided from 11 in the dining room only, in return for being allowed to use the dining room for our first show and tell - but everyone is concentrating on finishing their work and don't begin to drift in until about 11.30. 

Show and tell has been cut down from the originally proposed hour to half an hour so we are not taking people away from their classes too soon. (There was near mutiny from one class but I was determined to try it). As everyone put one or two pieces of work on the tables according to the class they were in for both sessions they walked round looking and talking and taking photographs. It was really good to have this half hour - and it was just about the right length of time - to appreciate the achievements of the week. No one thought it had been a waste of time. There was no need for speeches or votes of thanks that had all been done the night before but it felt like a full stop to the work of the week. 

All that remained was lunch and goodbyes and the final checking of rooms and counting of boards and stuffing of cars and then off home to count the money take back spare wine and sort out the accounts.

On getting home we have both been overwhelmed at the number of messages of thanks and appreciation which make all the behind the scenes work worthwhile.

And then to start looking at bookings for next year! And find a venue for the year after…


  1. Thank you Helen it was a special week that I will never forget! Best Judith x

  2. Thanks Judith! Hope you come again before we stop doing them!

  3. Thanks for the great excourse into the festival schedule! I enjoyed it so much! You've done a great job, Judith.
    Good luck and be strong any time.
    Marge from