February half term gave us an excuse to have a lot of beardy fun and on two of the days put on interactive workshops for our younger guests.
Vanessa Woolf, of London Dreamtime, came along to entertain us with the story of Darwin’s beard. Armed with a ukulele and a treasure chest of props, Vanessa brought Darwin’s story, and beard, to life.
Vanessa told us that, as well as being about a very glorious beard, this story was about change, and how people didn’t like it very much.
To begin with though, Vanessa told us about beards and how, as a younger man Darwin had always kept a very clean-shaven face. The kids were encouraged to practice shaving theirs with their finger and then were given small blobs of (child-friendly) shaving foam to “poke”, “sniff” and “splat” while Vanessa sang a small ditty that went: “shav-ing cream, shav-ing cream… shave every day and you’ll always look clean!”
Vanessa told us how Darwin had originally gone to medical school but, hating the sight of blood, had dropped out and decided to go to Cambridge to study plants, animals and rocks instead. He had a fascination with nature so was much happier there. He even loved barnacles, he had books and books and books about barnacles – ‘the most boring shellfish you can imagine’. He then got an offer to go on Captain FitzRoy’s boat ‘the Beagle’ to explore the flora and fauna of the world. Even though this was a fantastically exciting proposition, he had to think long and hard about whether to go: it was a long long journey – it would mean five years away, not to mention the sea-sickness: ‘imagine throwing up for FIVE years!’
But luckily for us he did go. And Vanessa re-created his adventure aboard the Beagle and the rough waters of the big blue wobbly sea.
On his return, Darwin started thinking an awful lot – about all of the birds and animals he had seen, and all of the plants too, and gradually a big new amazing idea came to him – one that would change the whole world. At first he excitedly thought he must tell everyone but then he stopped in his tracks because: ‘PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE’.
Then he got ill, and the more he kept his secret to himself, the more ill he got and he started being sick all of the time. The doctors didn’t know what to do. It got so bad that he sought alternative therapy and went to Dr Gulley’s hospital in Malvern to take the waters. Florence Nightingale was a frequent guest there too. The remedies included being drenched in cold and hot water and being wrapped in cold, wet towels. Vanessa tried this out on the kids and asked them if they felt better… it was a fairly conclusive ‘no!’
Eventually, he told his secret and then everybody got very angry and he got ill all over again. All of a sudden, he couldn’t shave anymore either – he had developed eczema on his face and his doctors told him that shaving would make him bleed.
So he grew a fantastic beard and he looked incredibly wise and important and people started listening to his idea and then they thought it was a good one. They liked him so much they named a day after him and they put him on money and years later the Natural History Museum even put on a whole exhibition about him and included real bits of his beard hair that they had gathered from his desk because it was such an important part of his story.
The following day we were using a different medium for storytelling, paper engineer, John O’Leary joined us to give a masterclass in making pop-up books.
The kids had lots of fun with the brightly-coloured card, scissors and glue making their very own animated tale of facial hair. John showed us first how to create a fold out giant beard, complete with Twits-style leftover food, and then another page with a big flappy moustache. He showed us how to add in extra pages so we could add to it once home and it really felt like we had learnt a new skill.
The workshop prompted an interesting hairy tale… One of the kids said “my Daddy used to have a huge beard down to here [pointing to chest]” to which her mother replied “yes, he worked for the National Trust and he was building a large bonfire and it caught so he couldn’t have a beard after that!”