Postcards and conversations


For our fourth session on the theme of ‘Exchange’ we talked about going on holiday, and sending home postcards. We talked about the purpose of postcards, how although there’s only room for a brief sentence or two, it gives an impression of the place we’re visiting, and lets the people at home know we’re thinking of them.

We also talked about paying extra attention when we are abroad, because so much is new to us. To practise paying attention, I distributed some postcards for them to study in pairs, and to describe to the group in detail. Without looking at the back, they had to guess where the postcard came from. A number of these postcards depicted paintings, portraits, or sculptures, and as a link to yesterday’s session, I asked them to invent a name for their character, and to give them a backstory based on the background and their clothing. Some people rose to the challenge; but not all!

Scraps of the conversation overheard:

I’d chance France, or Scotland. A greyhound, some people sitting round.

A bit of a party going on.

Two women, a child they’re minding, a waiter with a dish of fruit.

That’s a pie, like a mince pie, a chalice, two plates, a half-peeled orange,

the wine half-drunk. The place looks Spanish.

Is it a queen or a princess?

She looks very romantic. She has all these nice things on. They should go together.

You know who he reminds me of – the two brothers who play in Gallaghers. He reminds me of one of them. Would he be in a film?

He looks like a monk, way out in the lonely places, under rocks in Gougane Barra. They’re in Leap too.

Would that be Pompeii? The pillars remind me of Barcelona.

His name is George. He’s in his fifties. He’s a writer. He’s wearing a cloak and meditating.

There’s a bed in a room. The table she ate off. She has the cross up there and the Lady, and holy water. The little stool, everything very plain. No fuss at all. The curtain to pull down around the bed when she wants to sleep.

There was a story about nuns – they were trying to get them out but they were doing nothing only praying and things like that.

They are two young sisters from England. Sarah and Lauren, aged eight and six.

This is after a shipwreck. There are two in a boat, the waves going over them. It’s very rough, very scary. I’ll be dreaming about it tonight.

I’ll call him Leo. He’s an Italian painter and sculptor. He’s very serious-minded. He’s a young fella, hardly twenty at all. He’s from a foreign place.

Something to do with justice, because there are the scales. He’s blindfolded, and wearing a helmet. The other figures are at his feet, and the lot of them are standing on a plinth.

A man in his thirties. Bernard is his name. I don’t want to insult him, but I’d say he’d be a bit of a hard case.

Jack and Mary are coming in from the bog in Connemara, with the turf. They’ll get some pocket money for their troubles.

Victoria is sixteen. She’s like the ones uptown with the long dresses, their hair up. Like a young duchess. She’ll be coming out soon.

He looks like my son, but not the eyes – he has piercing eyes. Some kind of foreign painting. He looks very romantic. I’m going back to the olden days.

I miss them. You could go on forever.


For the second part of the session, the participants re-enacted the experience of meeting a stranger while abroad.

I asked them to converse with the person next to them, and to exchange five facts about themselves that their partner didn’t already know; for example, a fear of heights, or the fact that they have a mole on their left shoulder. Or their favourite food. Or the time they got drenched in the rain. Or any unusual thing that happened to them.

Although many of the participants have known each other all their lives, each one of them discovered something new about their companion, for example, their favourite colour is lilac, or they have a great desire to visit Amsterdam, or they used to be the Vice President of the Countrywomen’s Association. It stimulated a lot of animated conversation, and I felt my job for the day was done!


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