133: Do I love you? Indeed I do.

Waaaaay back in the 1980s I fell for an American bloke in scruffy jeans, a white t-shirt and a penchant for bandanas on stage. Duran Duran were discarded in his wake – callow youths in their flouncy shirts and frankly ridiculous trousers! Enabled by a babysitter, I discovered the albums beyond Born in the USA. That check shirted, stubble-chinned, guitar-brandishing New Jersey boy remains my favourite nearly 40 odd years later. I even managed to write a couple of essays about him in uni, and he was probably one of the main reasons I chose to do American Studies in the first place.

You know you’ve made it when Sesame Street get in on the act

I am, of course, talking about the Boss, the one and only Bruce Springsteen. He of the E-Street Band. You know. Born to Run. Dancing in the dark with Courtney Cox. Cars and girls. Impassioned odes to blue collar America. Excellent counting skills.

Like all long-term relationships, it’s had its low points – his album, Western Stars, was definitely one of those. I listened once and then resolved never to speak of it again. Generally it’s been high points, though, and that seems to be what’s coming with his latest single ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ which is the harbinger of a new album of soul covers called Only The Strong Survive and which is a proper joyous romp in the manner of the Seeger Sessions album from 2006. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of it.

Clarence and Bruce. Sigh.

Here are my favourite Bruce albums, mostly in no particular order. With 20 studio albums, seven live albums and a stack of compilations and archival releases there are a lot to choose from.

  1. Darkness on the Edge of Town. I prefer this to The River. It’s wonderfully dark in places, with lots of excellent guitars and the E-Street Band very much on form. Highlights: ‘Candy’s Room’, ‘Racing in the Streets’. Actually, all of it. It’s my favourite.
  2. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. His first album. Completely different to his second, third and fourth albums. Practically jazzy in places. My favourites are ‘For You’ and ‘Lost in the Flood’
  3. Nebraska. Early solo effort. Recorded in his house – clearly a forerunner of the working at home thing. Highlights: ‘Highway Patrolman’, ‘Open All Night’
  4. Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75. The elegiac version of ‘For You’ is glorious, the rest of it is riotous. Especially ‘Rosalita’.
  5. Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. Off the back of the Seeger sessions studio album (also worth a listen) this is someone having the MOST fun on stage with a bunch of his mates. Includes excellently bouncy versions of ‘Atlantic City’ and ‘Open All Night’.
  6. Born to Run. Must be listened to as a whole for the full effect. If you only have time for a couple of tracks, go with ‘Backstreets’, ‘She’s the One’ and ‘Jungleland’.
  7. Apollo Theater 3/9/12 – the first full show for Bruce and the band after losing Clarence Clemons. So good, and a warm up for the Wrecking Ball tour.
  8. The Promise More of a compilation, but basically the sessions and demos for Darkness. Different versions of things, and a great version of ‘Because the Night’.
  9. Born in the USA. Peak 1980s Bruce, and never fails to cheer me up. I want ‘No Surrender’ played at my funeral.
  10. The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle. From the year I was born. ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘Rosalita’ – completely different, completely brilliant.

I love Springsteen’s talent for bringing the characters in his songs to life: Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, Bobby Jean, Crazy Janey and Hazy Davy, partner-in-crimes Terry, Wayne and Eddy, Frankie and Joe Roberts, Jimmy the Saint. No one is perfect, everyone is human and fallible. Springsteen may not really be a blue collar hero but he certainly grew up around them and is a born storyteller.

I’m quite sure my Springsteen-loving friends will have their own top tens, but these are mine – let’s see if the new album can edge its way on.

Things making me happy this week (apart from Bruce):

  1. Cunk on Earth. I can’t decide whether the poor academics know it’s satire or not. Either way, it’s hilarious.
  2. A great day on Thursday focused on careers – New City College in the morning helping with mock interviews and a junior school in the afternoon for ‘Aspirations Week’.
  3. Toast with Marmite and butter. The perfect food for any time of day.
  4. New haircut.
  5. Going to Wales to see my cousins tomorrow! (I am writing this on Friday night. The magic of WordPress).

Also, these finishes…

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Michael Tolliver Lives – Armistead Maupin

Dishonesty is the Second Best Policy – David Mitchell

Woodston – John Lewis-Stempel

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Tales (Audible)

132: last bastions of Englishness?

Last Sunday I had an urge for some proper Sunday night telly – the kind of telly you need when you’re full of roast dinner and want something that won’t tax your brain too much. In the 80s and 90s it would have been Last of the Summer Wine or Heartbeat, something gentle and Northern. Saturday nights had Bergerac or Casualty (aka ‘accidents waiting to happen’) once The Dukes of Hazzard, WonderWoman or The A-Team were out of the way.

In the early noughties I became hooked on Midsomer Murders: an increasingly bonkers range of suspicious deaths committed in picturesque English villages, allegedly based on Slough (of all places) and with varying body-counts-per-episode. My all-time favourite death was the one where a bloke was squished in a printing press, complete with the lettering on his chest. And possibly the one where Tiffany from Eastenders got squashed by a cheese, unless I was imagining that one.

In 2011 one of the producers claimed the show was the ‘last bastion’ of Englishness and that he intended it to stay that way: the murdered and the murderers (and the forces of law and order) were invariably white and usually firmly middle-class. In recent seasons there has been more diversity – in 2021, the production company said that 37% of guest roles in the last three series had been played by people of colour. So, a good thing, right? Definitely more reflective of British society. Right?

Hope no one reads anything into this

But is there such a thing as toxic diversity? The episode I watched on Sunday, The Scarecrow Murders, was an exercise in conscious bias: a trio of murderers, one of whom was Black, one Asian and the other homeless. The trio of victims were… white and middle-class. Another episode was set up to suggest a Black suspect from the start, though it turned out he wasn’t whodunnit in the end. For comfortable Sunday night viewing this did raise a few questions, and I hope someone starts to rectify this as I really do love this series. While I agree that, with its constant round of flower festivals, village fetes, bell-ringers and rose-covered cottages, Midsomer may well be the last bastion of Englishness…. English does not, these days, equal white. And for those of you who care, I prefer Dudgeon to Nettles. So there.

This week, however, the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ – well, Britishness – award must go to the Queen’s funeral with all its pomp and processions. My beloved hurled himself in from the garden at 11.05 as he was ‘missing it’, annexed the remote control and settled in to watch the Queen’s send off. And some send off it was too: we didn’t watch the funeral itself as gazing on people’s obvious grief felt wrong. I carried on watching the proceedings until the coverage moved to Windsor, when it all got a bit silly and they started interviewing Alan Titchmarsh.

Later in the week I found myself at another British institution – the Children’s Society, which was formed by a man outraged by children from his Sunday School begging for food on the streets. The occasion was the launch of The Good Childhood Report 2022, which shows that children’s happiness continues to decline (for a number of reasons, and social media is only one of them) and in the context of the cost of living crisis this will only get worse. They made the point that the UK is the sixth largest economy in the world and we have the highest number of children living in poverty in Europe. Mental health is in decline, and 80% of NHS funding for this is spent at point of crisis rather than in prevention; swingeing cuts to all youth services mean children are slipping through the net.

There was hope, though: a panel of young people from all over the UK spoke eloquently and bravely about their own experiences. They stressed the need to be genuinely heard and seen by the adults around them and consulted about how they can help. My own daughter’s experiences with CAMHS supports this: the automatic recourse to CBT rather than anything actually helpful; the immediate discharge if they’re ‘not engaging with’ a counsellor; the waiting lists and the lack of child centred approach.

We also heard from the amazing Bernadette Eugene-Charlery who is working with police forces in Haringey and Enfield to ensure police dealing with young people are seeing the child as separate from the crime and making what is going to be a frightening and traumatic process as understandable as possible. The police at these stations now let the team know as soon as a young person is in custody with three-hourly reports, and they are provided with a support person who will explain what’s happening and what will happen next, who will listen to them and help them. More to the point, they are also working within the system to identify children and families who are at risk of being exploited – county lines and so on – and work with them to try and prevent them ever getting to the custody stage. I didn’t expect to end up quite as emotional as I did!

What I’ve been reading:

A Promise of Ankles – Alexander McCall Smith

Dishonesty is the Second-best Policy – David Mitchell

Life in Pieces – Dawn O’Porter

Sure of You – Armistead Maupin

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

131: god save us all

This week my guilty watch has been THE QUEUE. Not in real life, obviously, but on the live tracker on YouTube. As I write, the queue is at capacity and the waiting time is approximately 24 hours. Announcers on the stations yesterday were saying THE QUEUE IS FULL and DO NOT TRAVEL TO JOIN THE QUEUE. Around me I could almost see English heads exploding as their patriotic right to queue was removed (OK, I may have lied about the last bit). There are probably people in the queue at this minute, having spent a very chilly night near the river, muttering about Blitz spirit and that sort of thing because that is what English people do under many circumstances (tube delays, rail strikes, Brexit, scone shortages, and so on).

I am trying to work out if I have ever heard of any other occasion when people have volunteered to join a six mile queue – I mean, if it was the M25, they’d be cursing it and there almost certainly wouldn’t be doughnuts involved. Even legendary squeaky-voiced (but aging attractively as long as he doesn’t talk) ex-footballer David Beckham was in THE QUEUE for 13 hours. 13 HOURS. Like he was a NORMAL person or something. I get that this is an historic moment, I really do, and – as the mawkish would have it – “we will never see her like again”, but this is still peak English. A queue with a control room, wristbands, its own YouTube tracker and weather forecast, toilets and street doughnut sellers: the queueiest queue ever. I suspect Charles will not have the same kind of turnout in twenty years or so, when he shuffles off*, although surely he deserves some sort of recognition for longest apprenticeship ever. I wonder, also, whether it was quite so urgent for him to make the tour of the UK when he is so clearly grieving hard for his mother. We have TV and social media, we all know what he looks like and he is not, after all, actually governing the country in anything but name. The period of ‘national mourning’ should surely apply to him too. It’s not as if we’re going to revolt.

Another thing I don’t understand is how a three-minute Jubilee skit with a pretend bear has come to define a 77 year reign – marmalade sandwiches are all very well, but you won’t be saying ‘awww’ when central London is overrun with giant rats hyped up on white bread and sugar. Plus, if I was a bear arriving at Buckingham Palace I’d have been seriously concerned for my skin.

Not a real bear

The thing I don’t understand the most is the way that businesses are behaving. This week is the first time my beloved has got angry about workers’ rights, and I think he may finally see the point of my role as a union rep. Schools are closing for the day. Chains like Aldi, Costa, McDonalds are closing for the day ‘out of respect for her Majesty’. However, there is no legal obligation for companies to pay their staff for a normal bank holiday let alone this extra one – so those people who have their bank holidays folded into their leave allowance (20 days leave plus eight bank holidays is their allowance for the year, which is bad enough) are having one of their precious 20 days compulsorily deducted. As long as the employer gives a minimum of 48 hours notice that they are going to do this, it’s perfectly legal. While I understand that employers are not making profits while they are closed, there are implications to this: for parents who hoard their leave to save money on childcare in the holidays, for example, or people who have used up their allowance for the year. Presumably they will be made to take unpaid leave.

Spare a further thought for those people who work part-time in those closed schools as cleaners, or lunch time supervisors. For those zero hours workers working on events which have been cancelled during this period, or casual workers who don’t get paid if they don’t work. Minimum wage workers, for example, on £9.50 an hour if they’re over 23 – and that’s the minimum living wage, not the ‘real living wage’ which is calculated at £9.90 outside London and £11.05 in. Remember that only the minimum wage is a statutory requirement, too, not the ‘real’ figure. These workers may only be doing a couple of hours a day in these roles, but in those two hours that’s £19 they’ve earned. After NI and possibly tax depending on how many part-time jobs they’re doing, that’s £15 or so to take home. That’s a week of school dinners if you’re just over the threshold for eligibility for free school meals. That’s several days’ food for the family. That’s a couple of days on the electricity and gas key, if you’re also being screwed over by the power companies in that way. Think of the sub-contractors who aren’t earning either, and the self-employed. My standard Asda shop went up by £40 this month, the definition of ‘cap’ seems to be different for the energy companies than it is for the rest of us, interest rates are going mad. Handing out an extra bank holiday in the name of national mourning is all very well, but to take money out of people’s pockets with the other hand is an insult.

What I’ve been reading:

False Values/Amongst Our Weapons/What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

To the Land of Long Lost Friends/The Joy and Light Bus Company – Alexander McCall Smith

*On the subject of Charles, have a word with your advisers about their planning skills. Owain Glyndwr Day was not the wisest choice for your first trip to the principality with your new hat on. Probably not your fault, but still – after 50 odd years in the Prince of Wales role, a bit of historical tact wouldn’t go amiss. Ask Michael Sheen. He’ll tell you.

Cover Image: Sky.com

130: return to Derby

On Thursday morning I found myself at St Pancras station at the ludicrously early time of 7am, ready to catch a train to Derby for the GEM Conference 2022. GEM is the Group for Education in Museums and a key source of useful information, jobs in the sector, and occasionally some very bad Friday afternoon jokes (you know who you are!). My lovely colleague Chinami and I were down to present in the graveyard slot on Friday afternoon, when I fully expected there to be about three people left to talk at. Chinami kindly let me do all the talking myself in the end and acted as my cheerleader.

The theme for this year was how museums can think outwards, and there were some amazing presentations from members. Some member presentations that really stood out for us were the Street Museum project from Durham, the Cornwall Museum Partnership’s Culture Card for young people in care and care leavers, how Welsh museums can engage with schools and the new Curriculum for Wales, and Hull Museum and Ferens Art Gallery’s project around expanding relationships with deprived communities. I was also inspired by the workshop I attended on Friday afternoon on making museums more accessible and inclusive with the Yorkshire Accessible Museums Network. We held a minute’s silence for the Queen on Friday morning, acknowledging her patronage over the decades to museums and the arts in general.

It was good to be back in person at a conference, and to see an ex-colleague, to talk about our own museum and to find out about others. Hopefully we’ll be able to go and visit some over the next few months!

Anyway, for once the train was on time and we made it to the utterly wonderful Museum of Making in Derby Silk Mill without reference to a map, thanks to our visit in March with the rest of our team. It’s a lovely walk along a river, past lots of Victorian buildings and geese and, for some reason, some nice bronze sculptures of turtles. I like Derby more every time I see it: the town centre has some amazing old buildings and an enormous number of historic buildings. And a LOT of places of worship. I mean A LOT – even the restaurant where we ate on Thursday night was formerly a chapel. (The restaurant was Annie’s Burger Shack, by the way, where I had the the New York Yankee Brisket burger and Chinami had the Bacon Blues with extra mushrooms.) I even like the baby goths and emos hanging out along the river, listening to the Smiths.

On Thursday afternoon there was time built in for delegates to go and see a range of places, including the Crown Derby factory. We chose to go to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery where we were given a very light touch tour by their head of visitor experience. Derby Museum is one of those wonderful local museums that’s a bit of everything: a natural history gallery that’s been beautifully co-curated and co-created with local families who selected the exhibits and then helped to build the cases in a re-designed space. There had previously been a smaller room, which was much loved by families, so it made sense to involve them in developing the new one. There is a fox by ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long, which is touchable and at child height, which can be seen in the bandaged tail. There are wooden masks which help you to see in the way an animal does, and the birds are cleverly displayed in a ‘forest’ of wooden trunks. The skeleton of a prehistoric hippo lives in here too, and some wonderfully pickled specimens like an octopus.

We also liked the archaeology gallery and the peek into the atrium above the library. There’s a corridor with a display of busts, which a small child was saying hello to, and a gallery dedicated to local painter Joseph Wright. The museum’s young people’s group had worked on the interpretation in this space, and had created a timeline of his life where they had highlighted his struggles with mental health as well as his successes. I loved the fact that they had called him Joe, and with the number of self-portraits he painted in different costumes he was clearly an early proponent of the selfie!

We had time to pop over to Pickford’s House too – a Georgian house museum about three minutes walk away from the Museum. There are four floors, where you can see recreated rooms and – the reason I wanted to go – the Peacock Revolution exhibition about men’s fashion from 1966-1970. This has some gorgeous clothes and a great soundtrack, and I coveted several of the brocade jackets. There;s a new Toy Theatres room too, taking me back to the first exhibition I worked on at Museum of London Docklands.

The final exhibition we saw was at the Museum of Making itself, called Do It Yourself? which is in partnership with the BBC’s centenary celebrations. Bright, open and cheerful with lots to do for children, it didn’t take long to go round. We liked their charging model, where your ticket is valid for the length of the run and they also have pay-what-you-think days and a monthly free day. Under 16s are free. The rest of the museum is free and well worth a visit.

But how did your presentation go, I know you are all dying to ask. I was talking about the Young Collective project that I have written about previously and I think it went quite well. Well, no one got up and ran away and they laughed in the right places, so I will take that. One nice chap said afterwards that I had the ‘room in the palm of my hand’ which was very sweet – it was only half full at that point, of course. I was very nervous, having never spoken at a conference before, and I will probably hate the recording when they share it, but I enjoyed writing it and there is a lot of interest in the museum in the sector. The next one is at M-Shed in Bristol in October, which will be the Dress and Textile Specialists 2022 Conference. M-Shed is another of my favourite museums, so I am looking forward to going back there too!

We made it back to Derby station in between thunderstorms (just!), the train was on time and I think the children were pleased to see me…

Other things making me happy this week:

  • an inspiring morning at the Make First symposium at the Crafts Council
  • a visit to the library today
  • 2/3 of the children back at school
  • the prospect of a couple of trips to Wales in October
  • a whole lot of Eddie Izzard albums on Spotify

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Mr Mercedes/End of Watch – Stephen King

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

129: Quoth the raven ‘nevermore’

OK, it wasn’t a raven but a crow, and it didn’t actually say anything, but ANYWAY. Yesterday my friend Amanda and I ticked off number five on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries list with a visit to Abney Park in Stoke Newington as she was house sitting in Shoreditch again.

We hopped on a bus from Shoreditch High Street which took us through Hackney and Clapton, and then missed the entrance as it was hidden behind hoardings. We didn’t notice till we’d walked as far as Stamford Hill, when it dawned on us that the 400 yards that Google had said had been going on for a while!

Once we’d made it through the building site to the cemetery it was lovely – cool under the trees and with lots of friendly hounds and their people. Like several of the other cemeteries we have visited much of it is now left wild as a nature reserve, and indeed this was the first such reserve in Hackney – it was planted as an arboretum so there is a huge variety of trees on site, as well as a ‘rosarium’. There’s apparently some interesting mushrooms (not that sort of interesting) and assorted fungi about. I was quite taken by this fallen tree where the mushrooms were fruiting into the hollow trunk.

There are fewer celebrity burials in Abney Park than in Highgate and Brompton etc, but we did find a memorial to Isaac Watts, the hymn writer – apparently there was a spot he particularly liked to hang out in. There was also a very imposing statue of him further in – he’s buried in Bunhill Fields along with John Bunyan (all those nonconformist types!) but Hackney was his stamping ground. Our favourite grave belonged to Sophia Caroline Whittle, ‘Relict of the late ‘Censorious”. We couldn’t find out any more about ‘Censorious’ but I’d love to know!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been working hard cleaning and clearing their sites in Abney Park so there are shining white stones among the Victorian greys. Many of these seemed to date from late 1918, sadly – just a day after the end of the war in one case. There are lots of little tracks off the main paths, allowing you to explore. Like the others we have visited many of the older graves are overgrown and inaccessible, but that allows for the wildlife to thrive. We saw squirrels and heard a lot of parakeets – but no signs of the owls who nest in the trees, who were presumably tucked up for the day.

It’s funny to think that there are trends in funerary décor as with everything else – in one area there will be a row of Grecian urns, and in another a set of identical angels topping the plinths. Perhaps the local memorial stonemasons have sales? There seem to be a lot of Blitz victims, which is to be expected in East London. We saw the non-denominational chapel, which was only used for burial services and not for worship and which is sadly closed after falling into disrepair. Quinn London, who are also the ones doing the base build at my own dear museum, are responsible for the restoration of both the entrance and the chapel so a trip back might be worthwhile when the works are completed.

One thing that does worry me is the number of people who ‘fell asleep’ and ended up in the cemetery – if someone could double check that I haven’t just dropped off before they plant me that would be great.

After a quick refuelling stop in ‘Stokey’ (as I believe the ‘hipper’ natives refer to it) we headed south again – the first bus that came along was the 106, which took us through Hackney and down to Cambridge Heath station where we got off and walked down Hackney Road to Columbia Road. I lived on Hackney Road for several years, and back then it was punctuated by strip clubs and derelict shops. It’s now restored and rebuilt in many places, with bars, coffee shops and the odd boutique (OK, and strip clubs). I was glad to see the City Cafe II still in situ – excellent bubble and squeak on a Sunday morning!

We walked through Columbia Road, stopping at the British Cheese Shop where I definitely didn’t have a Monty Python moment, and rejoined Hackney Road at the Old Street end, where we decided to detour via Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square – I love the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop (supporting a literacy charity). The market is hanging on as a community space – the City looms over it and the gentrification of Shoreditch is slowly sneaking up, but until then you can still buy second hand china, clothes, fruit and veg and hear people greeting friends and ‘aunties’. There’s a wonderful old building that was an early asylum, which took serious Google-fu to find out about, and there’s still lots of evidence of Hoxton’s artisan past.

The door of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

After a quick stop for a cuppa and a biscuit or two we wandered over to the Barbican to buy some supplies (OK, tequila. But we got salad too.), walking via Bunhill Fields so we got two cemeteries in in one day. John Bunyan is tucked up in there, flown over by the ubiquitous parakeets and scampered on by squirrels.

Post-dinner, we were people watching from the roof and observed five Hackney enforcement officers arrive to deal with one graffiti artist – not because of his artwork (which we liked when we went to see it afterwards) but because he was obstructing a parking space with his kit. The area has become famous for the street art – from Stik and others to your basic taggers – and some of the pieces are amazing. Still, heaven forbid you take up a parking space! We went for a late night round-the-block (9.30 is late, surely?) and judging by the drop in people on the streets of Shoreditch we may be witnessing the beginning of the recession – also, people seem to be buying their nitrous oxide in bulk now rather than in the little canisters, looking the aerosol sized cans about the place when we walked the dog this morning!

Tequila sunset

I’m pretty sure it’s nap time now, though – all that walking took it out of me!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 starting secondary school
  • Finishing my talk for the GEM conference this week (phew!)
  • Hanging out with my godson and his girlfriend as well as Amanda
  • Not having Covid any more
  • Several dog walks

See you next week! This week I am off to the Crafts Council for an in person thing, to Derby Silk Mill for the GEM conference – exciting!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

If It Bleeds/The Outsider/Finders Keepers – Stephen King

128: ding! Round 2

This week has been somewhat marred by the return of Covid – once again, I tested negative for four days despite having symptoms. On Monday I tested negative in the morning so went off merrily to work, and then tested positive in the evening. I had to apologise profusely to the various people I had seen over the day: many colleagues, as we were working at the All Points East festival, several D&D playing children as I had sat in on a session in the morning with Jo Levin of Encounter Terrain (feeding into one of the new galleries), their dads, another colleague…and here’s a general apology to the 350 odd people we engaged with over the day too. Eek! Sorry, people.

Jo Levin and a vertical terrain

However, I’m only issuing a very begrudging apology to the lady who came to our area with her grandchildren and spent a good twenty minutes telling me how disgusting it is that we are redeveloping the museum. She has allegedly spoken to HUNDREDS of people who are all outraged. ‘I bet you hear this all the time!’ she said. ‘You must have had so many people complaining, especially as you didn’t bother consulting anyone about it.’ Actually, no, I said – you’re the first.

Well, five years of consultation with local groups (‘well, I didn’t see any of it’), with public events in the museum (‘well, I was always in there and I never saw any’), press coverage (‘not in my local paper’), focus groups and outreach events apparently don’t count because we didn’t ask her and everyone she knows. We have no right to change history, she said, and she’d been going there for SEVENTY YEARS and she worked in EDUCATION and for OFSTED and how DARE we change things? It was a LOCAL museum for LOCAL PEOPLE. The fact that the head of Ofsted is one of our trustees and approves of the changes cut no ice. I, personally, was ruining her life with my new-fangled galleries and callous disregard for EVERYONE’s childhood. Meanwhile, her grandchildren were thoroughly enjoying the blue blocks, which will be a feature of one of those new-fangled galleries. And on she went….and on, and on. And, in fact, on.

Things 1 and 2 enjoying the old museum before we ruined everyone’s childhood.

The fact that we aren’t funded by the local council was not a factor, apparently, and neither was the fact that it’s 16 years since the last rebuild – when quite a lot of the museum (and therefore history) was changed. Conservation was not an issue – she didn’t care that some things can only stay on display for a certain length of time before they start to degrade, people like to see the same things when they visit after twenty or thirty years. She does not care that her grandchildren will be able to engage more with objects, or that it will be more interesting for them, or that there will be exciting new objects and stories. She was keen to inform me, also, that we had been closed SO LONG that the younger grandchild had never even been there, and the older one couldn’t remember it. She did not care that the building work we were doing will make the space more accessible for her and her buggy. A colleague with conservation experience came to my aid, but to no avail. We were RUINING everyone’s lives with our CHANGES to HISTORY. She did not want to hear that all the objects she liked would be more accessible in the new Storehouse space, where they would be in better conditions (ie not in a damp basement or, in the case of the wax dolls, melting in horror-movie fashion in the heat of an uninsulated Victorian greenhouse) and could be seen alongside the rest of the museum’s collections. Eventually we extricated ourselves and she went to supervise her grandchildren, who were having great fun building things. My poor line manager was next in the sights, and the woman had still not run out of steam.

Whatever major project you embark on, especially in a place which was as well-loved and such a feature of an East End childhood as the museum, will have its detractors and people who want things to remain the same – luckily they are in the minority, and most of the people we engage with are excited by the new developments and can’t wait for us to reopen. As a team we are excited about the opportunities to reimagine the space, to enhance our own objects with amazing things from the wider collection, to create a museum which is for young people rather than about them. Luckily, most of the people we meet are coming with us on the ride and are looking forward to next year.

Those of you who know me in real life would be proud of my restraint, especially when I really wanted to paraphrase Frank-N-Furter and say ‘well, I didn’t make it for you’.

Gratuitous Tim Curry picture

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Testing negative for Covid yesterday and being able to go to Jill’s Tiaras and Bowties party
  • A mooch around the charity shops of Bishops Stortford with Miriam and Lesley
  • Meeting a new kitten belonging to a neighbour
  • Dropping a skirt size (hurray for the HRT, I think!)
  • Benylin original cough mixture
  • Thing 1 doing really well in her GCSEs

So there we are! Covid-free once again, and hoping to go and meet another kitty this afternoon.

See you next week! Let’s be careful out there.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Days of Anna Madrigal – Armistead Maupin

Logical Family: a memoir – Armistead Maupin

Grand Union – Zadie Smith

How to Raise an Elephant – Alexander McCall Smith

127: play Wonderwall!

On Thursday my gig buddy Jen and I fought train strikes and tube strikes to go and see one of our favourite bands at Wembley Arena. It’s the first time I have been back there since the Stereophonics with London sister pre-lockdown, when we fought snow and single-use plastics instead. I haven’t seen Jen since she moved to Yorkshire to hang out with birds of the feathery kind for the RSPB, so there was also lots of catching up to do.

We met at Park Royal and walked to Wembley from there, encountering the A40, some dodgy industrial estates and 1930s suburban housing developments – crossing railways on rickety bridges, wandering through new landscaped flats and generally having a good old gossip. By the time we reached Wembley (3.2 miles! It was hot!) we were very ready for a sit down so we had a milkshake and a Coke in the new shopping development before making our way into the Arena.

I like Wembley Arena as a venue – it’s big enough but not stadium-big. Over the years I’ve seen various people there: Springsteen on The Rising tour, Pearl Jam, Alanis Morrisette, Blondie, Meat Loaf, Stereophonics, Tom Jones, as well as Russell Howard on the comedy front. Usually it’s packed, but with the nationwide train strike I’d say it was about two-thirds full (which meant we could sneak a couple of blocks forward).

We arrived just in time to see the first support act, Chris Farren, whose set was very short but great fun – especially the fact that his backdrop was basically a bedsheet and a powerpoint he was controlling himself from a laptop. His final moment was a selfie – ‘look happy so my mom thinks I’m a success!’

Our gigs over the years have been haunted by a drunk (we assume) man who shouts ‘PLAY WONDERWALL!’ at any quiet moment in the show – we joke about him, but he’s been at every TGA show, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and even at a White Buffalo show that Jen wasn’t even at. Halfway through Chris Farren’s set, there he was shouting ‘PLAY WONDERWALL!’ from somewhere near the front. One of these days I’d really like someone (not Oasis) to actually play the damn song and say ‘NOW SHUT THE F*** UP’ at him….

The second support act was The Selecter, who I last saw at Looe Festival and who are – as they should be after more than 40 years – slick and brilliant at what they do. If I’ve got as much energy as Pauline Black at almost 70 I’ll be pretty happy. We loved the security person standing near us who was dancing away during their slot. They finished up with ‘On My Radio’ and ‘Too Much Pressure’ and made way for the headliners. They’re touring at the moment, so if you want a really feel-good night out go and find your nearest show.

The Selecter – not small, just far away

The Gaslight Anthem went on ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2015, so apart from a brief reunion for the tenth anniversary of The ’59 Sound in 2018, they haven’t been touring – singer Brian Fallon has been making and touring some excellent solo albums instead. When they announced that they’d reunited this year there was much excitement. They’re a pretty straightforward, feel-good, post-punk band from New Jersey who gained a lot of fans when Springsteen namechecked them on being asked who his favourite new musicians were back in 2008. One reviewer described them as a cross between the Boss and the Ramones, and you can’t go wrong with that.

Anyway – what a show. For the interested, the setlist is here – highlights for me were Handwritten, Keepsake, The Patient Ferris Wheel and The Backseat though from start to finish there were no low points. Laura-Mary Carter of Blood-Red Shoes joined the band onstage for a couple of songs, bringing a new harmony or two to Halloween and Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts. With no new studio album release since the reunion, there was no new material so everything was a singalong moment, and the atmosphere was amazing – the kind of setlist you really want when a band reunites, or when they’re playing a festival where not everyone is a fan. You know, the good stuff. The band were having great fun on stage as well, playing off each other and generally appearing to be happy to be back together – roll on the new album and the next tour.

The low point of the evening was trying to get back home afterwards – on the day before a tube strike the service is always bad in the evening. Had I not had to get Thing 3 to an event at his new school by 9.30am the following morning I’d have crashed at London sister’s and had a lie-in, but as it was…. a 15 minute wait at Bond Street for a Central Line train, followed by 19 minutes at Leytonstone for an Epping train as they were running a shuttle service, meant it took the best part of two hours to do a journey that should have taken a little over an hour. Still, worth it for a great night out with one of my favourite people. Move back to London, Jen!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • fun with the Tortles at D&D this week
  • making a couple of crochet tops for Things 1 & 2
  • Swimming in the sunshine
  • Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series
  • Blackberry time in the garden

This week I am off from Wednesday for a few days, with a stack of projects lined up.

See you on the flipside

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Swell – Jenny Landreth

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

Leap In – Alexandra Heminsley

Babycakes/Significant Others – Armistead Maupin

126: ambassador, you are spoiling us

Last week we ran out of the Furry Fiends’ usual Iams cat food, and as the Amazon subscription delivery was due in a few days I grabbed some Go-Cat from the local Co-op to tide them over. It received the kind of ecstatic welcome I’d expect from the Things if I turned up with a surprise McDonalds. There was winding round the ankles, head bumps, clean bowls and general excitement. Clearly this is junk food extraordinaire for cats: weird shapes, vegetables, that sort of thing.

Considering they are cats and can’t actually speak, they do a good job of communicating their needs to us. Bailey herds us to where we need to be – food, or water – and Ted is very vocal. Lulu is the teenage sulky cat who flops about the place or stalks off in a huff.

All three of the furry landmines came to us as adult cats: Teddy and Bailey from a new blended family where there was an allergy, and Lulu from a home where they just didn’t have room for a cat any more. Ted was four, Bailey was three and Lulu was one. Ted is a lilac haired British Shorthair, Bailey is a chocolate point British Shorthair and Lulu is a dark tortoiseshell domestic shorthair (your common or garden mog, in other words). Much like the Things, they have their own very well-defined personalities.

Ideally they would all love each other and sleep in adorably Instagrammable furry heaps. In reality, the boys hate the girl so every week we have to swap them between upstairs and downstairs. The boys will walk through any open door, Lulu has to be collected by stealth or physically wrestled: no matter who actually does the swapping it’s my fault and my ankles are at risk for the next few hours. The sight of a bag of kitty litter sends her into hiding as she knows what’s coming. For a cat that regularly falls down stairs when she rolls over on the top step and who has been known to miss when she jumps onto something, she’s pretty bright at times. Ted and Bailey will also walk straight into the cat carrier to go to the vets.

Lulu adores my Beloved and has been known to bring him gifts of unwary shrews that venture onto the catio. Last Christmas it took us half an hour, a wooden spoon and an empty cheese sauce pot to recapture a mouse she’d brought him. At least once she’s handed them over she loses interest, so we don’t have to retrieve them from her. She snuggles up to him on the sofa, can recognise the sound of the van and sit up meerkat-style when she hears him coming in, and she hurls herself at his feet when he approaches. The rest of us get our ankles attacked and our shoulders high-fived when she’s ensconced in her favourite box on the cat tree. The computer chair is her favoured sleep spot, and she’s happy to demand space from Thing 3. She also likes to make her presence known in the night by dotting her cold nose on any exposed limbs, or via a piercing mew close to your ear.

Teddy and Bailey are much more laid back (unless Lulu is within sight). Ted’s turned into a bit of a princess at the grand age of 10, seeking out cushions and comfortable beds. All paper work on the floor is fair game, and all pencils are his playthings. He goes through phases of sleeping on my head in the night, as pillows are his property, which leaves me with a cricked neck. I can occasionally employ a decoy pillow to distract him, however. His favourite trick is to demand attention and then to lie down just out of reach of the person attempting to stroke him. He has a loud miaow, which he deploys when anyone has the temerity to a) lock a door against him, b) be outside in the garden or c) not provide undivided attention on demand.

Both Teddy and Bailey can detect a tin of tuna being opened from three rooms away and can teleport to the kitchen. Pedigree cats are prone to gingivitis, so Bailey had a lot of teeth removed a couple of years ago which has left him with a fang on his bottom jaw. He has a faintly piratical air thanks to this and his bandit mask (like the Dread Pirate Roberts). He likes to stand on his back legs to demand attention, and does a silent miaow at you, especially in the mornings when he knows breakfast is in the offing. He’s partial to the odd Quaver or Wotsit, and also likes scraps of ham. His current favourite spot in the heat wave is under the desk in a dark corner, or on the corner stair next to the outside wall where it’s cool.

These two do collapse in furry heaps together, and I suspect Bailey would be open to a friendlier relationship with Lulu if Ted wasn’t around. We live in a house which has had cats since the 1960s and it felt wrong to be without one!

Other things making me happy…

This week one of my colleagues managed to take a photo of me that I didn’t hate, and Thing 2 also captured one of me in my latest attempt at creating work-appropriate pyjamas. (I haven’t tested them out yet as this week has been heatwave time again.)

  1. The red dress photo was taken at Oxford House, where one of my amazing colleagues organised an event for families on Monday. We had a great day meeting local families, playing with the blue blocks outside in the shade and finding out what makes them creative. They discovered what a curator does, saw some of the new ideas for the museum and designed some picture frames too. A local professional photographer, Rehan Jamil captured portraits of children with props while Will Newton, curator of the Imagine gallery, recorded their stories for the ‘This is Me’ section of the space. Naturally the team got in on the act for some test shots – of course I had my crochet with me in the shape of a new Dragon Scale shawl which is my current tube project. Our colleague on mat leave visited with her gorgeous baby, who is – fortunately – resigned to being cuddled by random museumites – the problem with people going on mat leave, I have found, is that you really want them to come back as you miss them but you also want their mat cover to stay as they are equally lovely.
  2. The work appropriate pyjamas are actually the Zadie jumpsuit by Paper Theory – online reviews were mixed on fit, and the PDF pattern was a nightmare to put together but the result was great. I used another 100% cotton fabric that I’d bought as an end-of-roll bargain last year.
  3. Fab lollies. Fab lollies are great. Although this week my beloved’s response to being asked if he’d like a Fab was ‘what time is it?’. That’s on a par with saying ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’ to the offer of a chocolate. Weird.
  4. Trialling a giant pig in a blanket version of last year’s tree decorations. Chunky yarn!

And now I’m off for a swim! See you next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

More Tales of the City/Further Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

Swell – Jenny Landreth

125: ooh look, a butterfly

This week I am feeling uninspired, which is not like me at all. The Things are off on their school holidays, the weather is nice and – as my role is formal learning – there are no teachers out there to harass so in theory I have lots of time to catch up on the to-do list. In theory. In reality, as always in August, my head is relaxing on a beach with a good book instead of focusing on the GEM conference presentation I ought to be writing. My butterfly brain has been fluttering from item to item on my to-do list, and lots has been started but not much finished. The first 800 words of the presentation are tweaked to perfection though…

Luckily my sewing mojo has come back so I have at least accomplished something this week. Sometimes sorting out the shed throws a fabric to the top of the pile and reminds you that you had a plan for it. I had a lieu day to use up so took advantage of a rare meeting free day to indulge in some midweek stitchery.

The fabric in question is a lovely dark red cotton with daisy-ish flowers all over it. I love the By Hand London ‘Anna’ dress pattern, and have made a couple of versions previously: a maxi length in a yellow floral digital print viscose (lovely feel, horrible to work with) and a knee length version in a black polycotton where I’d experimented with extending the sleeves. You can make it in a range of lengths and there’s a couple of neckline options to choose from.

I wanted this one to be maxi length but with the longer sleeve so I could wear it for work, and I chose the V-neck option for a change. Rather than front darts for shaping, the dress has a couple of vertical pleats on the front, with darts on the back. The waistline sits high and the skirt is panelled so it’s a flattering flared shape rather than the current trend for tiered flounces. I extended the sleeves to just above the elbow into a flared shape to echo the shape of the skirt, and I was really happy with the outcome and wore it to work on Thursday. Apart from the zip insertion bit where I diverged, the instructions are really clear so if you’re looking for a beginner project with a good result I’d recommend this.

I also used a cotton voile to make a red square top using the Seamwork Bo pattern, a black shirt dress using the Seamwork Jo pattern (and another Bo to use up the double gauze!), added a Moomin iron-on to the bag I made last week, and in the evenings I finished the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch and updated the Climbing Goat Designs temperature galaxy.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Absolute Classic Rock not playing Peter Frampton at any point while I’ve been listening
  • My beloved’s birthday
  • Swim and a bacon sandwich this morning in the sunshine
  • Lovely afternoon with board games and friends yesterday
  • Lots of dog walks with Bella-dog, Loki the puppy, Dobby and Kreacher and their lovely owners
  • Paper Girls on Amazon Prime Video

Same time same place next week? This week I have three days out in Tower Hamlets with actual people and the blue blocks, a new cross stitch to do and I’m half way through the current crochet project.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

A Change of Circumstance – Susan Hill

More Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel