111: Uphill all the way

Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition and went on one of Paul Talling’s guided walks through London, specifically the route of the River Fleet from Blackfriars to St Pancras Old Church. I’ve been a fan of his photos since the very first Derelict London days, when I stumbled across them while researching something completely different, and in 2012 he kindly allowed me to use some of his pre-regeneration photos of the Olympic Park to support a school session I was running at the Museum of London Docklands. When my friend messaged me the other day to say she had a spare ticket for the Fleet walk and would I like to come, there was only one possible answer. As one of my longest-standing friends (37 years!), ex-flatmate in our mis-spent London years and graduate of the Durham Arms school of Sunday drinking, the chance for a catch-up post-lockdown was unmissable too. (Kerst – you know that I’d have said yes even without the walk!)

I never planned to stay in London for more than a few years and certainly never expected to fall in love with it and all its history, but there we are. I have actually done the Fleet walk before, self-guided and in the other direction as part of a partnership with the Hampstead Heath education team: we used Paul Talling’s book and this one to guide us and completed the walk over two days. The first section, from the source just below Kenwood on Hampstead Heath through to St Pancras, was on a gloriously sunny day in early summer. The second part, a few weeks later, was in such torrential rain (in June!) that at the end of the walk we actually had to go to H&M and buy new clothes as everything we were wearing was soaked through. Still, the downpour at least meant that we could see as well as hear the Fleet through the drain on Ray Street in Clerkenwell. Yesterday was hot and sunny and perfect for a lazy ramble through the streets of London.

Blackfriars station, where we had arranged to meet, is on both sides of the river as well as across the middle, and it’s the only one of the big mainline termini I have never caught a train from. Eventually we worked out that if we both went on Blackfriars Bridge we’d be bound to cross paths, so having managed that we headed for coffee and a catch-up before the walk. The start point for the walk was the very beautiful Blackfriar pub, which has been recently restored and the frontage positively glowed in the sunshine.

I won’t go into too much detail about the content of the walk, except to say that Talling’s background as a gig promoter as well as his knowledge of London and its past meant we were treated to a whole lot of side anecdotes about various bands, pubs and local areas. The route took in what’s left of the Bridewell prison, a horde of Millwall fans with a lot of police keeping an eye on them, Smithfield Market (eventually to be the site of the new Museum of London) and Mount Pleasant where the Mail Rail originally started before finishing at St Pancras Old Church and the Hardy Tree. It was only about three miles but took four hours, and we felt we had earned the Nando’s lunch afterwards! We used to go to Nando’s back when we lived in Bethnal Green in the late 90s, so it felt like a good way to end our day. Sunny Saturdays in London always bring out the ill-advised fashion choices – the chap in the turquoise satin tracksuit carrying the bottle of Hooch really was a blast from the past. Here, mate, the 90s called and they want their outfit back!

Here are some of the photos Kersti and I took over the day. We’ll definitely be doing more of these, and perhaps some self-guided ones as well through our old haunts!

Other highlights of the week:

  • New haircut (short!)
  • Finally coming to the end of the D&D campaign with an epic battle
  • Meeting up with the fab Really Big Pants Theatre Company again
  • Hearing Miss Jacqui speak at a networking event at Rich Mix
  • Finishing the dragon scale shawl I have been working on
  • Lovely swim this morning with the swans

So that’s that! Same time next week, gang!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Old Success – Martha Grimes

Win – Harlan Coben

All the Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson

110: so what does a typical week look like?

This week our new learning facilitator joined the team, after a gap of five months since we broke the last one left us to go freelance. It’s a funny time to be recruiting for a museum team, as we don’t have a physical museum and we’re all working in interdisciplinary mode to support the different projects. This new one – we shall call her E – was a printmaker and an art teacher before she joined the gang this week.

A big museum welcome to our new starter

One of the questions several of the candidates asked us when we were interviewing for the role was ‘what does a typical week look like?’. Once we’d done the sage ‘oh yes, what a great question’ bit, followed by the slightly hysterical laughter bit, we were quite honestly able to tell them that at the moment there is no such thing. When we are back in the museum next year (from my lips to God’s ears, as the saying goes) things might settle down as we can set up a programme, but right now we’re all about R&D, testing new sessions, keeping ourselves on the radar and supporting each other’s programmes (formal, informal and creative). Formal, for me, means Early Years in formal settings right the way through to teachers – both serving and trainee – and post-grad students. Informal is families, early years informal settings, and pretty much everyone else. Creative is pop-ups, festivals, salons and everything else.

This week, for example, was only four days thanks to the Easter bank holiday but I like to think we packed enough in for five. E joined us on Tuesday morning and we introduced her around the museum, dragged her off for lunch in the staff canteen, made her sit in on Teams meetings about projects she knew nothing about (to be fair, they are in the development stage!) and abandoned her to the tender mercies of the IT team. Wednesday started at South Kensington and then ended in East London with a DT teacher training session for my favourite teaching alliance, including the bit where I didn’t have enough resources and challenged one team to find their own in the classroom (amazing result) – the outcome was a brilliant parrot house from the Think Small session, created from lunch bags and things they found around the room.

Students using their initiative

Thursday was a stay and play session for early years children with speech and language delays in Whitechapel, where we were testing a sensory play kit designed by Play Build Play, followed by more time at the museum. Friday was back at South Ken, where we had meetings, lunch in the garden and then spent a couple of hours prepping for a filming project, making fans and colour samples.

Cutting and sticking – yes, this is my job

Another week might have seen us out with the blue blocks at a pop-up, a play street or a school playground; running an afterschool club; delivering sessions in a classroom or hall; working at a youth centre with a designer; filming with various creatives; or any number of other things. Some weeks have a lot of meetings in, these days mainly on Teams or Zoom so we do get excited when we meet actual people. Sometimes we go and have brainstorm sessions at another museum, or go and see other galleries. Some weeks we get a day at a desk! I love the days when I’m out working with people of all sorts of ages, interacting, building, playing and making up stories and mad ideas. Equally I love being with the team, bouncing ideas around and problem solving, being creative and thinking about the potential for the new spaces we’ll be working in. I love researching and creating sessions, using museum objects to inspire. I consider a teacher training session to be a failure if at least one of the trainees doesn’t ask me how to get into museum learning, and this week it was a whole table of them.

But a typical week? There’s no such thing. Thank heavens.

See you after the next one!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Piece of my Heart/Friend of the Devil – Peter Robinson

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Amongst Our Weapons – Ben Aaronovitch

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Tales (Audible)

109: wake me up for tea

You find me at the end of a week off, in which I have done very little that was useful but a lot that was good for my soul: afternoon naps, long walks with friends, family and dogs, relaxed coffees, crafting, reading and a bit of cooking. My beloved claims that there is no such thing as a day off, but that is because he takes Monty Don’s ‘Jobs for the weekend’ section to heart as well as all the other things that a garden requires. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that if you take a day off the jobs (and the garden) will still be there afterwards and the weeds probably won’t have taken over the world. Unless it’s sticky grass or wild garlic, in which case all bets are off.

On Sunday, post-blog, I met up with a friend in the wilds of Hackney to see Damien Jurado playing at EArtH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), a gig which had been postponed at least once and possibly twice thanks to the pandemic but which was well worth the wait. Jurado plays small, interesting venues – we have seen him previously St John on Bethnal Green church, at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and this time the venue was a reclaimed Art Deco cinema auditorium reached via a most unprepossessing doorway on Stoke Newington High Street. After a pint at the Brewdog bar a couple of doors along and up a few flights of stairs you arrive in the auditorium, which was locked up after the last film showed there in 1984 (Scarface, apparently) and left derelict while the rest of the building went through the usual ex-cinema permutations of snooker hall and community venue – not Bingo, for a change.

It’s a lovely space, still in need of a lot of restoration but the original Art Deco features remain and with simple bench seating and a wide stage the acoustics were wonderful. Add in an atmospheric setlist and good audience engagement and the result was a great evening. We particularly liked the young man at the end who begged for his favourite song, with plaintive pleases, and got his way – I liked the proper last song, too, with snatches of the Grateful Dead’s Morning Dew scattered through.

Damien Jurado (r) and Josh Gordon

On Wednesday my beloved and I dragged the Things out for a family walk. Thing 1 sulked all the way up the hill but was won over by the tiny calves in the field and the friendly pig – I think we all were, to be fair. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this week, and on Friday the garden was full of one of the Timeshare Teenagers and friends, painting henna tattoos on each other and recovering from what seemed to have been a pretty heavy night out. Other walks have been in the early morning, finishing with coffee and croissants at M’s house in the garden while fending off the muddy paws of Dobby and Kreacher, who assume all laps are for sitting. These are two rescue dogs, who are now so used to the sight of me that they have given up barking when I walk in to the house for D&D sessions. M and I also had a mooch around North Weald Market yesterday, where we marvelled at the sheer quantity of polyester neon on display, pondered the possibility of all the blingy pictures refracting sunlight and starting fires, and were bemused at the current fashion for wearing fluffy mule sliders out in public with socks.

Family walk – the return leg

I’ve also been messing around with making some very geeky earrings from D20s and meeples, am up to date on the Temperature Galaxy and ‘Travel by Tardis’ is halfway done. There’s half a simnel cake left (it was a most welcome apres-swim treat this morning!) and Thing 2 and I tried our hand at making macarons the other day as well. I did do some gardening, weeding the wild garlic out of my little patch and planting a couple of saxifraga and a Bleeding Heart. I can see the shoots of this year’s physalis coming up, hollyhocks are poking through, and I don’t seem to have killed the hydrangea so with any luck I’ll have a nice show this summer.

On Tuesday I am back to work, so I am off to top up my nap. I blame my father. I must also do my Easter bunny impression and distribute some eggs, as the natives are getting restless.

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

In a Dry Season/Cold is the Grave/Aftermath/The Summer That Never Was/Playing With Fire/Strange Affair – Peter Robinson

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

108: a couple of anniversaries

This week I celebrated not only the 4th anniversary since our stroppiest cat and this week’s cover star, Lulu, came to live with us, but also my 20th anniversary of working in museums – a long time, I agree, but a decision I have never regretted since making the leap out of the classroom way back in 2002.

One question I get asked a lot, usually by teacher training students who are already looking ahead in terms of their careers, is ‘how did you end up in museums?’ ‘By accident’ is my usual answer. Back in the heady days of properly funded Education Business Partnerships, when teachers not only got to go and do CPD but had supply cover paid for by the EBP as well, I went on a couple of training days – one at the Golden Hinde, where we got dressed up in Tudor sailor gear and spent the day doing the sort of thing children got to do on a school trip, and one at the National Army Museum where we experienced object handling and various other aspects of museum learning. I don’t think I had realised that working as an educator in museums was an actual career choice until the then head of education there, Andy Robertshaw, said that they were recruiting and on the off-chance I applied. I had just started an MA in Museums and Galleries in Education at what was then the Institute of Education (now gathered under the wider UCL umbrella) but not with any intention of moving out of teaching, more as a way to be a better humanities co-ordinator. I moved house a month later, and hadn’t heard anything, and a few months after that in February half term I had an irate phone call from the HR team there asking if I’d be attending the interview the following day. Somewhat bewildered and battered from OFSTED the week before and – quite honestly – out of my head on Benylin Day and Night tablets from the inevitable half term germs, I went for the interview. To this day I remember very little other than ranting about the marginalisation of history in the curriculum but something must have worked as they gave me the job.

I loved it. I got to teach the subject I loved but without parents evenings, PE or music lessons in the week, and on weekends and in the holidays we did family events, live interpretation, talks and conferences – in that team, we all did everything. Interminably, at times: if someone gave me the kit and the powerpoint I suspect I could still do the Florence Nightingale session, fondly known as the Mary and Flo Show, or the Civil War. I moved to Museum of London Docklands three years later, where I got to learn a lot about London (one of my other great loves) and create a lot of sessions, and then to the V&A Museum of Childhood in 2017 (now the Young V&A, of course) where I am helping create a new museum.

There have been tricky moments, I’m not denying that: the repeated restructures of the last few years and seeing the impact of these on colleagues has been really hard. Every so often I throw my toys out of the museum pram and declare that I can’t possibly work for them any more and last year that tantrum lasted about six months instead of a couple of weeks, but then I remembered that I actually do love my job and want to see the project through.

I still tell those teacher training students and serving teachers who ask me that it’s the best job ever, and happily attend careers sessions and work weeks to talk about what not only I do but all the other people who make a museum work: kids assume that the only staff are the ones they see, like the security, shop and front of house teams, and are amazed when they hear about the back of house team who make sure everything runs smoothly. Mine’s the best job, though.

As if by magic, the Shopkeeper appeared

This week the great shopkeeper in the sky appeared to take beloved author David McKee off back to reality. Those of us of a certain era will remember the bowler-hatted and suited Mr Benn and his visits to the fancy dress shop where he was cast into a series of costumed adventures before heading back to his peaceful existence on Festive Road. King Rollo was also his creation, and younger children will know Elmer the Elephant, the mischievous patchwork pachyderm.

My favourite, and one which I have read literally hundreds of times to both my own kids at bedtimes and to classes of children at storytime, is Not Now, Bernard, the story of a boy who finds a monster in the garden. He tries to tell his mum and dad about the monster but they’re too busy to listen. Poor Bernard gets eaten by the monster, who proceeds to go into the house and create chaos, but the parents don’t even notice their son has been eaten. The bemused monster finds himself tucked up with milk and a teddy bear.

This was a wonderful book to read aloud: the children recognised the distracted parents and gleefully acted out the repetitive ‘Not NOW, Bernard’ lines as we read through. I can still hear Thing 2’s baby croak as she joined in. Thank you, David McKee.

See you next week,

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Dry Bones That Dream/Innocent Graves/Wednesday’s Child/Dead Right – Peter Robinson

On the Bright Side – Hendrik Groen

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

106: coming to you from sunny NI

This week’s blog is coming to you from a sunny Northern Ireland, where I’m on godmother duty for my adorable nephew’s first communion. And I’m feeling pretty sunny, too: it’s the first time I’ve seen my youngest sister and her family since 2018 thanks to Covid cancelling both our 2020 holiday and our trip over for the niece’s confirmation.

Clutching our shiny new passports, London sister and I met at Heathrow on Friday, planning to do the bag drop, get a nice lunch and relax… what actually happened was a queue for over an hour for the automated bag drop, a mad dash to grab a meal deal to eat on the plane and then we sat near the gate for another hour plus as the flight was delayed and delayed. Making faces at small children and chatting to elderly gents is only entertaining for so long. We finally took off just as we should have been landing at Belfast City, but we did get free crisps on the flight. Just as well as the flight attendant was about to get bitten, I was so hungry by then.

It’s so good to see my little sisters: we sat and chattered all evening, covering everything under the sun, decorating the house as a surprise for my nephew’s big day and blowing up balloons.

Balloons!

She promised me a field full of little lambs and sure enough they are skipping about and making me wonder if I can stash one in my suitcase to come back with. I have begun to make friends with them in preparation, lurking nonchalantly on our side of the hedge and smiling in a non-scary sort of way.

My nephew and niece have thrashed me at Harry Potter trivial pursuits, we’ve cried with laughter at S bouncing T off the bouncy castle (a first communion tradition!) and I did get a bit tearful watching my godson make his first communion.

Three sisters

First Communions are a huge event over here, with all the little boys in grown up suits and the girls in bridesmaid type dresses. They all got to do a reading or another part of the ceremony, and the church was full of proud families as well as many watching via the live feed. There’s a scrum afterwards to take photos on the altar, and the kids make a fortune from relatives.

I was slightly less fond when the combination of too many sausages and a bouncy castle had the inevitable messy result, but it’s been such a lovely day. He and I also had a long and philosophical discussion about confession and what happens if you’ve been really good all week and haven’t got anything to confess: do you make it up and then confess to lying the next week? He tells me he’s probably in credit as he only confessed to throwing a ball at his sister once but he’s actually done it a lot which should keep the priest busy for a few months to come. He’s a very curious child, so the priest will most likely have a lot of questions to answer, starting with ‘why does the Body of Christ taste like cardboard?’ and working up from there.

Hopefully we’ll manage a holiday together this summer so we can all spend more time together – I had the advantage of growing up near all my cousins, but these two and the Things don’t have that luxury.

This morning the new communicant has nagged his dad into taking him to mass again, so we are enjoying the peace and contemplating leftover cake for breakfast. Now excuse me, I’m off to make the most of being with my sisters before flying back later.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Henrik Groen – Henrik Groen

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 3 (Audible)

The Hanging Valley/Past Reason Hated/Careless Love – Peter Robinson