One of my great pleasures, and a way I can while away many a long hour, is browsing other people’s blogs. There are many I enjoy reading, even if I don’t often comment on them. Some are people who live in France, others have commented on my blog, others are from people living a very different lifestyle to mine, some are people walking their Christian pilgrimage, others are of different or no faith. Some I visit regularly, others I only pop into occasionally.
One blog I enjoy from time to time is Multicoloured Madnesswritten by a Christian mum, who homeschools her children, and has a husband with MS. I’m not sure where in the UK they live, but I enjoy reading what the family gets up to. The tag-line is “Faith, Family, Food, Fun” – which just about sums up the content, recounting the gentle rhythms of life in this family.
In one post recently, San writes about some of the things her daughter has been doing as part of her homeschooling project on Ancient Egypt. One of these was making an Egyptian death mask.
This reminded me of when I was teaching Year 5s and we too were studying the Ancient Egyptians. We too made death masks. Nowadays, it’s possible to buy plastic or polystyrene white masks at a reasonable price, which can be painted quite easily, but my colleague and I were working on a limited budget, some 20 years ago. We could have gone with moulding papier maché, but that takes forever to dry, and it often seemed to go mouldy. So we decided to use plaster of paris infused bandages, which dried relatively quickly.
Having received permission from parents, we set to work over a period of a few weeks’ art lessons. We explained to the children that their faces would be greased with vaseline, to stop the mask from sticking, and then the teacher would layer the bandages over their face; of course, tempted though we might have been, we would not block up the nostrils, so they would be able to breathe. They would have to sit very still for ten minutes, while the plaster set, and then the mask would be removed. Then they could design the head-dress, the collar, and the “beard” which would then be placed around their own, individual death mask, which had been spray painted gold. All very exciting.
This school in Essex has obviously had the same idea
“Now, don’t worry,” we said to the children. “You’ll be able to breathe at all times. You’re in no danger. But you must sit very still for about 10 minutes, and you mustn’t try to talk, because that will crack the plaster of Paris. However, if it is really, truly too scary for you, and you are starting to panic, then wave your arms in the air and we’ll remove the mask immediately.”
Everyone agreed that this signal was only in an emergency, and the messy job of plastering over faces commenced. It was a bit like a production line: one child smeared vaseline over another child’s face, I layered the bandages over the face, they child waited for 10/15 minutes, my colleague removed the mask, and meanwhile the other children worked on their collars/head dresses, cutting out and sticking shiny paper for jewels and so forth. Everything was going well, with no incidents, until suddenly we heard frantic squeaking and a boy – who we shall name Gary (because that was his name) – started waving his arms manically. PANIC STATIONS!
I rushed over to him, and ripped the barely set mask from his face, ruining all the careful smoothing of bandages.
“Gosh,” he said, with a big grin, “I was getting a bit hot in there. It’s OK now though.”
I looked at the ruined mess of bandages and plaster, and refrained from screaming. Just. Tempting though it was to hand him the mess and say “That’s your mask” I think we did (finally) allow him to have another go, but we made him wait till the end, and told him that we would ignore any hand waving!!
Ah, happy days….
As a side note, Gary was the same child who, on a visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, came rushing over to me.
“Miss! Miss!” he yelled, “The llama just spat at me!”
I paused, not quite knowing what to say. But Gary continued: “It’s okay though. I just spat back!”