The Curious Cats Sessions


Do you need to analyse poems?


Well, learn this sentence:

“All curious cats think mice smell lovely, don’t you think?”


Because, if you do, you will be one step closer to remembering all the stuff your teacher asks you to write about when it comes to a poem.

How come?

It’s a mnemonic.

Oh, OK ..

A ll – A uthor

C urious – C ontext

C ats – C ontent

Th ink – Th eme

M ice – M ood

S mell – S tructure

L ovely – L anguage

Don’t you think? – Reader response


So, when you’re analysing a poem, you can do it by working out the answers to questions like these:

All – Author

Who wrote the poem? When did the poet live? Where? What was his or her childhood like? What did they do apart from write? Did they write other stuff?

Curious – Context

When was the poem written? What was happening in that place at that time? What is the poet’s perspective on these places and events, and the characters involved? What was the general public’s perspective on these things at the time? Have these views changed since the poem was written?

Cats – Content

What is the poem actually about? Does it describe something? Does it tell a story? What places or characters are mentioned? What do we know about them? Is there a literal and also a metaphorical or allegorical meaning to the poem?

Think – Theme

If you can answer the last question in the Cats section, you will already be thinking about the themes that are dealt with in the poem. Does the poem have an overall subject or topic? What is it? Does it have more than one? Does the poem have a message for the reader? What does the poet want the reader to think? What does the poet want the reader to feel?

Mice – Mood

And if you can answer that, you are ready to start thinking about what it actually is that the poet actually does to convey all of the above to the reader.

Is the poem dark or light? What situations, places, characters, phrases or words make it that way? Does it make you laugh, cry, think, cringe? Why? Is this how the poet wanted you to feel?

What other things has the poet done to influence the way the reader feels?

Smell – Structure

Is it long? Does it have stanzas? How many? Are they all the same length? Are the lines all the same length or are they different? Is there a pattern to the stanzas or the lines?

Does it rhyme? is there a particular rhyme scheme? What is it?

Is the poem a sonnet, or a ballad, or even something as weird and obscure as a villanelle (not likely, but ..)? How do you know? Why did the writer choose this type of poem? Was it a popular or common type of poem at the time? Is it popular now?

Has the writer made the poem this way for any particular reason? Does the structure of the poem do anything to enhance the message or the themes of the poem?

Lovely – Language

What emotive words has the poet used? Are they adjectives? Are they adverbs? Does the poet use alliteration, repetition, personification, enjambment or any other fancy poetic devices to help us understand the poem’s message and feel the poem’s feelings?

Don’t you think? – Reader response

Do you like it? Why? Why not? Who would like it? Why? Who definitely wouldn’t like it? Why not? Are particular types of people more likely to like it than others? Did more people like it when it was written than now? Why? Why not? Will people like it in the future? Why? Why not?


Left Luggage

The Left Luggage project is based around a series of walkshop events comprising:

  • poetry reading.
  • local sights and landmarks.
  • walking, talking, discovery and on the luggage

The Left Luggage sessions involve walks in the outdoors, poetry readings and discussion. They focus on understanding, analysis, comparison and appreciation of poetry as well as offering an opportunity to read and hear poetry in the fresh air.

These sessions could be particularly useful for anybody who is working towards GCSE or A Level English Literature qualifications.

Of course, practice in understanding poetry for national qualifications is not the only benefit of the Left Luggage sessions  and we are sure that they will inspire participants to seek out more poetry and maybe even write some too!

italian dog logoIf you are interested in participating in these sessions either as an  attendee or facilitator, or both (!), or if you would like to discuss developing your own sessions as part of the Left Luggage series, just fill in the form below and we will get back to you with details of how to be involved in this part of the work of The Safe House.

Science is proving … highlighted text

(A Vocabulary Extension Session from The Safe House)
Use the highlighted words to build your own vocabulary extension map (VEP?)

Do you have a fear of spiders? Maybe snakes? It could be your ancestors trying to tell you something. Recent studies have provided evidence that memories of fear are one of many things our forebearers pass down to us through our DNA.

A 2013 study from Emory University found that  mice trained to fear a specific odor would pass their emotions on to their offspring and future generations. Scientists applied electric shocks to mice as they exposed them to the smell of cherry blossoms. The mice then bred, and both the children and grandchildren of the affected rodents demonstrated a fear of cherry blossoms the first time they smelled them.

“Our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” Dr. Brian Dias of the Emory University department of psychiatry said to the Daily Telegraph. “Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The study went beyond just observing a fear reaction. Scientists actually looked at the brains of the animals and found physical changes in the areas that process odors, and also found a marker on the odor gene of the mouse DNA.

The experiment worked even when the researchers used artificial insemination in place of allowing the mice to breed naturally. The scientists still aren’t sure how the fear imprint makes it into the sperm — whether the smell itself passes through the blood, or the brain processes the odor and sends its own signal.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously,” Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London said to the BBC. “I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Humans have long sought to understand memory and heredity, nature vs. nurture and how much information parents actually transmit to their children. The nature study is another step toward answering our questions about exactly what, and how much of our forebearers’ experiences get passed down through DNA.

Primordial Fears

There is already a growing body of research about how humans and other animals inherit fear from their ancestors. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 found that primates’ brains are uniquely tuned to recognize snakes, suggesting that we gained an innate fear of the reptiles over the course of our evolutionary development. A 2011 study in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that human infants aren’t necessarily afraid of snakes from birth, but they learn to fear them more quickly than they learn to fear other more innocuous stimuli like flowers and rabbits.

“What we’re suggesting is that we have these biases to detect things like snakes and spiders really quickly, and to associate them with things that are yucky or bad, like a fearful voice,” study co-author Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University said in a press release. The research built on previous work by LoBue and her team that showed that people were able to identify snakes and spiders more quickly than other animals and objects. There’s even evidence that primates actually developed large brains and keen eyesight as a defense measure to avoid falling prey to snakes.

Another study found that unborn crickets whose mothers were stalked by wolf spiders showed more fear of spiders after they were born than control crickets — not to mention a higher survival rate. At this point there’s little doubt that fear gets passed down through the generations — now we’re learning about how.

Rewriting The DNA

Fear isn’t the only thing that gets imprinted in our genes. Recent breakthroughs have made big strides in understanding epigenetics — how our DNA gets changed by environmental factors. A study published in 2013 revealed details about how certain aspects of DNA can be turned on or turned off, and therefore passed on to offspring or not. A report last year found that Crohn’s disease can cause epigenetic changes in people who suffer from it. And scientists were able to edit the DNA of mice to cure them of an inheritable liver disease — with hope that the same process would work in humans.

Other researchers are working on how to encode DNA with specific information. A study led by synthetic biologist Timothy Lu of MIT and published in Science in 2014 found a way to rewrite living DNA in a cell and watch as the altered information was transferred to new cells. The researchers changed cells to make them sense light and react to other stimuli. Next, they hope to use the technology to make a recording of the cell’s environment for study, such as placing the cells in water for a week and then testing them for toxins.

Other scientists have managed to etch the equivalent of a megabyte worth of data onto DNA, and then read it back. Both studies are more geared toward gathering and storing information, but the more we learn about how to change DNA, the possibility looms that we could learn how memories are implanted — and someday even artificially create hereditary memories, if scientific interest and ethics allowed such an outcome.

Beyond The Physical Realm

The idea of memories being written into DNA could provoke speculation about phenomenon like visions of past lives, although it might be a leap to go from a reaction to odor to the recall of specific and discrete memories.

Polish Professor of Pedogogy Andrzej Szyszko-Bohusz has worked since the 1960s to promote a theory of genetic immortality in which parental consciousness is transmitted to children along with DNA and other hereditary information. More recently, University of Virginia (UVA) professor Jim Tucker hypothesizes that consciousness needs no physical binding at all to pass on. Tucker, who studies children who have memories of past lives, claims that quantum physics suggests that our physical world is created by our consciousness. Therefore,

“consciousness doesn’t need the world, let alone a brain, to exist,”

and could simply affix itself to a new brain once it passes out of a dying one.

“I understand the leap it takes to conclude there is something beyond what we can see and touch,” Tucker said to UVA Magazine. “But there is this evidence here that needs to be accounted for, and when we look at these cases carefully, some sort of carry-over of memories often makes the most sense.”

He calls it the science of reincarnation. Whether he is on the right track, or we discover that memories are passed down by DNA all along, or there is some other mechanism we don’t know about yet, is still to be determined.

Text at:

‘Science Is Proving Some Memories Are Passed Down From Our Ancestors’

Click on the image to read the article.

(A Vocabulary Expansion Session from The Safe House)

Click on the image if the title of this article has made you want to find out more.

You could take a closer look at the words in the title first, though …

• Science?
• Proving?
• Memories?
• Passed down?
• Ancestors?

What do they mean?

Do you know them in other languages?

What ‘type ‘ of words are they?

·         Science Noun Oo
·         Proving Present participle
·         Memories Noun (plural)
Oo (!) / Ooo
·         Passed down Phrasal verb
·         Ancestors Noun (plural)

What other words can you create that link to these?

Are there any examples in the text?

Complete this table:

Oo oO Ooo oOo ooO
Science (n)proving (PP)

memories (n/pl)



passed down (Ph v)
Scientist (n)Ancestors (n/pl)



Oooo oOoo ooOo oooO  
    Scientific (adj)    
Ooooo oOooo ooOoo oooOo ooooO
    Scientifically (adv)    

Voices of the Heart

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

23-05-2010 405This session is about reading.

At The Safe House, we have been experimenting a bit with the spoken voice. We think that there is potential for some interesting creative collaboration in this and we would really like to know what you think.


Choose a piece of text, practise reading it aloud, record it, save it and send it to The Safe House.


The stimulus for this session is Derek Mahon’s poem, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’

We posted it recently in Words We Like.

Here it is again:

everything is going to be all right

We have recorded a spoken voice recording of this poem.

Here it is: ‘Everything is going to be alright’ read by Liam Winters.


Liam’s audio recording is just under thirty seconds long. You could choose a longer text, or a shorter one. The text could be of any genre. This is a poem, but you could choose a quotation, even a story if you are up for it. It could be a song. It could be a recipe, a list, a paragraph or a sentence from a book – fiction or non-fiction.
Liam’s recording is soft and gentle. You will decide on the tone you use, the intonation, the emphases, etc. Take a look at the process described below to see what we mean.


factory windowsThink of the things you have read. Is there anything that you carry with you in your head or your heart or which has a special meaning to you? Have you read something recently that made you stop and think?

That is the sort of text we are thinking of for this session.

  • If possible, have a copy of the text on a piece of paper.
  • Read it over several times in your head and out loud. You could ask other people to listen. They might make suggestions as to where you might make changes to your reading. You may want to emphasise certain words for meaning and effect.
  • Note these on your printed copy. This will become your ‘script’.
  • Your reading of the text will call for you to create a mood or changing moods with your voice. What are the moods and emotions that need to be communicated in your text? Consider the ways to create these moods and emotions through your voice.
  • When you have experimented a bit and made your notes to help you with your reading, record a version. At The Safe House, we used a small voice recorder. You could probably use your phone, a computer or any other audio recording device that can create, save and send an MP3 file.
  • Listen to your recording. It could be that when you listen to your recording, it doesn’t sound right. It could be that you get background noise that interferes with the spoken voice. Some background noise could be fine. Other things might not. You will decide.
  • If you need to, record your piece again until you are happy with it. Take your time.
  • Take a break.
  • Come back and listen to it again later.
  • Record again, if you want to.
  • When you are happy with your recording, save it and send it to us at The Safe House.
  • Send your final audio recording as an MP3 file e-mail attachment to:

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegHere at The Safe House, we will listen to your recording and give you feedback on it.

We will also discuss with you how we could develop your recording in order to preserve it and share it at:

Big thanks to Liam Winters and Emma Gibson for being at The Safe House for reading, recording and editing!


Picture 050
everything is going to be all right

The Safe House Online Sessions

 Follow the links for The Safe House Online Sessions.

“Knowledge is Power” (1)

fishIpsa Scientia Potestas est.” Francis Bacon

btec quick fixAt The Safe House, we have learned that people have great skills, tons of knowledge and all sorts of useful and beautiful personal qualities.

We believe, though, that sometimes we need more and better knowledge about all sorts of random stuff to make the most of our skills and our personal qualities.

For example, just think how much time you save every day because you know your mobile phone number off by heart. Just imagine how stressful it would be if you didn’t know the single password you use to unlock all the accounts on your phone, tablet or computer. You do know your own phone number, don’t you? You do remember your password for everything you need, don’t you?

please use other gate

‘Is he being sarcastic?’ ‘Can’t tell.’

Just having these two bits of knowledge (phone number and password) can give you the energy and the confidence to focus on more important stuff. Whatever that might be.

Try this out (If you don’t go to school or college, then you will have to think carefully about how you could answer some of these questions. Remember, though, that there is always a possible answer):

  • Take a used cereal packet and tear it into rectangles. Choose the biggest rectangle and look at the grey side.
  • Get a good quality felt tip pen. Test it by writing the date in the top right hand corner.
  • If the pen’s OK, sit at a table or get something to lean on. If not, get a different pen and then sit at a table or get something to lean on.
  • Answer the questions below briefly. Write clearly.
  • When you have filled up the rectangle of cereal packet, choose another rectangle.
  • Keep going for as long as you can. If necessary, get another cereal packet.*
  • When you have answered as many questions as you can, stop and put your writing somewhere safe.
  • Leave it for a while (minimum about half an hour, maximum 24 hours (?)) before you read it again.
  • Take the pen, sit at a table, or get something to lean on, and read your answers again. Add, change, delete as you like.
  • Give yourself a score out of 40 for how many of the answers you got ‘correct’.** Write this score on the card. Put it somewhere safe.

The Questions Below

  1. arrowWhat’s your name?
  2. What’s your postcode?
  3. What’s the full name of your school or college?
  4. What’s the phone number of your school or college?
  5. What’s the full title of your main course at school or college?
  6. How old are you?
  7. What level is your main course at school or college?
  8. How well are you doing on your main course at school or college?
  9. What is your highest level English Language qualification so far?
  10. What is your highest level Maths qualification so far?
  11. Will you have the chance to change your answers to the last two questions in the near future?
  12. Do you need to?
  13. Why? Why not?
  14. Are you intelligent?
  15. Are you kind?
  16. Do you really know why your teachers complain if you’re late?
  17. What is your ultimate life ambition?
  18. Have you got homework or an assignment to do?
  19. Do you know when the deadline is?
  20. Do you know how long, in hours and minutes, it will take you to get it done?
  21. Can you do it by yourself?
  22. Are you a patient person?
  23. Are you an open-minded person?
  24. Are you a disciplined person?
  25. Are you a calm person?
  26. Are you an organised person?
  27. Are you a creative person?
  28. Are you an inquisitive person?
  29. Are you a motivated person?
  30. Did you answer ‘no’ to any of the last nine questions and wish you could honestly say ‘yes’?
  31. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  32. What hospital were you born in?
  33. Is there life after death?
  34. Is there anything you can do about your answer to question 30?
  35. What does ‘parsing’ mean?
  36. Can you think of any way in which parsing might be a useful thing to do?
  37. Who is your favourite person in the whole world, alive or dead?
  38. Which location in the whole world is most important to you?
  39. What is your favourite word?
  40. If you could add any question to this list, what would it be?

imageAt The Safe House, we believe that the more knowledge we have and the more we know about what we need to know, the better equipped we will be. For anything, really.

We also think that the higher your score for the above session, the better!

Look out for The Illusion Sessions – Knowledge is Power (2). Don’t forget where you put your cereal packets!
Follow The Safe House for your direct link to regularly posted sessions.

 * It is useful to save cereal packets and other pieces of card. It is also useful to have rectangles ready torn up to use whenever you feel like it. You could, of course, use a notebook, a notepad or just some paper instead, but we quite like the idea of collecting cardboard for some reason …

** Q: How will I know if my answer is ‘correct’? A: Only you will know the answer to that!

Session series: The Illusion Learning Sessions, Session no: 01, Session name: Knowledge is Power (1), Reading time: 5 minutes (approximately), Participation time: 2 x 15 minutes (minimum, approximately). What’s the session for? To remind us that the more we learn to know what we need to know, the better things will be. Practical application?  Well, it’s amazing how much difference it makes, for example, if you KNOW when the deadline is! Warning: All timings and instructions are flexible. Be careful what you do!

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