This week we were finally able to share the opening date for Young V&A – it’s been a long time coming, and there’s still lots to do before we open the doors, but as of 1 July we will be back! Back!! BACK!!! as Smash Hits magazine used to say (a long time ago, obviously). All the things I’ve rambled on about on here – blue blocks, shoes, creativity etc – will all start to make sense.
It’s all very exciting but also quite daunting: I know that the sessions we have planned for the new school programme are interesting, and I know that the galleries are dynamic and interesting and aimed carefully at the different age groups (but still with content for everybody), but WHAT IF NO ONE COMES? We all know that schools are suffering at the moment from teacher strikes (which I fully support), from delivering a pay rise and associated pension/NI contributions unfunded by a spiteful government, from lack of supply teachers, LSAs and other post-pandemic staffing issues. School trips – however much they benefit the students and support the curriculum – are staff-heavy, planning-heavy, resource-heavy. Gone are the days of primary schools with ‘enrichment co-ordinators’ who would take the trip planning load off the teachers.
This is without even considering the ethics of asking parents to fork out cash – for travel, for a facilitated session, for theatre tickets, for entry to charging sites, for exhibition tickets even at a discounted rate – during a cost-of-living crisis. We are free to enter but have to charge for sessions: during closure we’ve been able to offer our sessions free, and this has helped us engage thousands of children across Tower Hamlets, but once we reopen that has to change. My children haven’t gone on theatre trips at secondary school as the cost of that trip is equal to a month’s bus fare for them or two weeks’ school dinners. I hate saying no, but the reality is that for many people culture comes second to food. I had a conversation with a North London secondary school teacher last term who was going back to her headteacher to tell them that she couldn’t justify running food technology (Home Economics, for those of us that remember Smash Hits) this year if it meant asking families to provide the ingredients.
Historically, too, the majority of school trips have been linked to history, geography or English – museums and theatres, heritage sites etc. Design Technology, unless at GCSE isn’t high on the priority list and this is particularly the case for Key Stage 3. I think of this as the Cinderella Key Stage: past SATs and before GCSEs, and no one knows quite what to do with them, when really this should be the point where schools are working hard to spark their interest in creative subjects before they have to make their GCSE options. I do feel that unless their school (not just individual DT teachers, who are without exception wonderful, passionate people) recognises the benefits of DT and other creative subjects in developing the skills children need to make it in the world today (problem-solving, collaboration, communication and so on) they are being short-changed. However, unless there’s a sea change in the government, causing them to create a culture of learning where students are helped to learn skills they need in 21st century life rather than to pass exams, I can’t see this happening. I’m very lucky to have been piloting my KS3 sessions in just such a school but research into the way DT, art and so on are delivered across my key boroughs means they are in a minority.
In previous roles my way around this was to develop cross-curricular sessions: history and maths, history and science, history and pretty much anything we could cram in, especially for primary schools where cross-curricularity is a selling point. This doesn’t work for secondary schools except in ‘enrichment weeks’ and I haven’t seen one of those for a while. School budgets seem to be focused on buying in enrichment or PSHE activities, like the ‘drugs bus‘ which Thing 2 will be visiting this week and which caused much bemusement/hilarity in the office this week. ‘Maddie’s Crack Shack’, after all, sounds more like a CBeebies series than a hard-hitting educational opportunity.
TL;DR: Please, schools, give KS3 a chance. And come and visit me.
Another week which has zoomed (or at least MS Teamsed) by in a whirl of meetings and emails. The high point of the week was a day at the Wellcome Collection, host for the Endangered Materials Knowledge Programme’s two-day workshop on the role of Mending and Making in museums. I attended day one in person, and dropped in to the morning of day two online. EKMP is a programme set up to research and capture the skills, technology, knowledge and values being lost as processes become more and more industrialised. It explores how these skills are being passed on, and connects source communities with museum objects. One of the speakers spoke about the annexing of the ‘make do and mend’ ethos from WW2: it’s not all about making do, it’s about making new, learning new skills and mending to extend or repurpose. Just the addition of commas changes the sense of the phrase (much like the ‘let’s eat, grandma/let’s eat grandma’ example).
In museums (in my head, anyway, I am sure conservators will tell me I am wrong), I have always assumed that damage is part of the story of an object: the evidence of being buried as grave goods, the reason something was thrown away, the story of on object surviving centuries underground. You know, the stuff that ends up on archaeological display in the British Museum – helmets with bloody great blunt instrument damage, for example.
As we know from Instagram and so on, ‘visible’ mending – sashiko, boro, kintsugi, darning, etc – is enjoying a moment in the limelight as a reaction to the rise of fast fashion and consumer culture. In my explorations of the handling collection before we sent it off to other museums, invisible mending was more apparent: the ricrac braid covering the tell-tale line where a dress had been taken up or down, miniscule stitching on tears or holes in baby clothing. The attendees of the conference – fabulous people like Kate Sekules and Bridget Harvey, and Celia Pym who was lurking online – wore clothes with gorgeous rainbow darns and embroidery highlighting and reinforcing holes. Catherine Reinhart was darning socks and Catherine Howard brought vintage textiles and encouraged people to tear and mend squares in any way they liked, to add to a collective project. There were lots of links made between making, mending and mental health and wellbeing – both collective and individual. I was secretly thrilled when several people commented on the dress I was wearing (one of my repurposed duvet covers) and my quilted jacket (ditto). Talks on yurts in Kyrgyzstan and fishing nets, on how saris are repurposed, explored how fabrics are remade to support new pieces when they are too far gone to repair.
Of course, it wasn’t only textiles, though this was what had attracted me in the first place. There was a talk on why miniature artists make using repurposed household objects, patchwork and bricolage in southern Africa, and from someone who used an old French horn to give his lawnmower a new lease of life. All of these were basically a justification for never getting rid of things which may come in useful (my Beloved would agree with this: he was thrilled when making our deck to use a piece of oak which had been in the garage for 30 years, in case it was handy).
I was particularly interested in a talk on damage and repair in Iron Age shields, which challenged the theory that things like the Battersea Shield and other objects previously thought to have been made purely for ritual purposes or flashy display had actually been used in battle until they were no longer repairable. X-rays and scientific testing showed craftsman-level repairs of small damage presumably caused in day-to-day use, perhaps training – and when damage was inflicted in battle the repairs were deliberately obvious, maybe to say ‘OK, I survived this – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Only when the shield or helmet’s owner was dealt a death blow were the objects consigned to grave or the liminal spaces of the rivers and lakes.
There was, of course, lots of interest in the museum reopening and the work I have been doing with Spotlight and Scott Ramsay Kyle on sustainable fashion and mending. I also caught up with Scott this week, over coffee and a tour of his department at Central St Martins. I’d have loved to have had a go on the looms and spinning wheels, as well as spent time talking to the students. They had a swap shop going on, where students could bring materials left over from projects and swap for something they needed. UCL have a Repair Cafe, part of a worldwide movement, which helps people mend and repurpose.
Later today I’ll be catching up with an online session from the Textiles Skills Centre – find their YouTube channel here – from their Tea ‘n Chat series. After I have defrosted a bit from my ice swim this morning…
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
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,
What I’ve been reading:
Dry Bones That Dream/Innocent Graves/Wednesday’s Child/Dead Right – Peter Robinson
Well, this has been a pretty miserable month so far for those of us working in the museum sector. Last week the V&A announced redundancies as part of the ‘recovery programme’, and this week the Museum of London followed suit. They aren’t the first by any means, and they won’t be the last: the Museums Association have a redundancy tracker on their site which this morning stands at just under 3,000 across the UK. Thank heavens for the unions – if you aren’t in one, join now.
These initial phases overwhelmingly affect the front of house, retail and visitor experience teams: the most diverse, the lowest paid, the ones who were on the front line longest at the start of lockdown, and the ones who were first to come back when we reopened.
You know, the ones who greet you on arrival, help you around the museum, take your payment in the shop. The ones who interact with you and share their vast knowledge: not just about exhibits and displays, but where the best places are for lunch with your fractious kids, what there is for you to do, and what else you might like to see.
And they are so versatile and talented: they research objects for ‘objects in focus’ talks, based on their own passions and interests. They develop and lead family and public tours. They tell stories. They run activities. They manage school groups in their hundreds, juggling the ones who are late for their sessions with the ones who came too early, and they mop up the ones who’ve been stuck in traffic. Spare pants for a damp child? Somewhere to empty the sick bucket? No problem.
They are also the ones in the line of fire when the building is evacuated, when there’s a first aid emergency, when the object they came specifically to see is no longer on display, when the café is too expensive, when the toilets aren’t working, when the school groups are too noisy, when there’s too many children in the museum. They smooth ruffled feathers with a smile on their face (even if they then come to the learning office for hugs and emergency biscuits).
Outside their museum jobs they are artists, illustrators, poets, designers of all types, PhD students, writers, jewellery makers, textile artists. Those beautiful props and puppets that support the stories you bring your kids to? Chances are they made those.
Some are hoping that the VE role is the first step onto the museum learning ladder, and some of my favourite colleagues over the years have started here. They are the ones who have the greatest understanding of the visitors for whom they are programming content, and who are the most outward facing.
We understand that these are strange and difficult times and the choice is to shed staff or potentially face the closure of museums across the country, possibly permanently. This week the Culture Recovery Fund announced lifeline grants awarded to smaller organisations – up to a million pounds – which will make a huge difference to their survival. I was really pleased that the Epping Ongar Railway, in my village, is one of the recipients.
It seems particularly insensitive, therefore, for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to announce this week that MPs would be receiving a £3,360 pay rise next year ‘in line with growth in public sector pay’. It will be interesting to see if other public sector workers – nurses, police, fireman, culture and heritage workers, street cleaners etc – are awarded rises at the same scale. I don’t think I’ll put money on it.
Seeking comfort in the familiar
Its been suggested that people with anxiety disorders or depression seek comfort in rewatching familiar films or TV series. You know what’s going to happen and you don’t need to process any new information: which, this year, when we have had so much to take in, has been particularly important. My version of this is re-reading books, and probably explains why I can only listen on Audible to books I have already read!
So this week I have been thinking about books from my childhood that I still go back to now.
I’m going to start with the wonderful Dido Twite books by Joan Aiken. Officially this series starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but I was introduced to them with Black Hearts in Battersea. These have elements of steampunk, mystery, adventure, the Arthurian legend and more. I was really pleased to discover a few years ago that there were some later books in the series that I hadn’t read. Joan Aiken also wrote magical short stories – I loved the collection A Necklace of Raindrops, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski.
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There’s eight of these in the original canon, and some that were published posthumously which were based on her diaries. Highly romanticised ‘autobiography’, these books follow Laura and her family from the little house in the Big Woods (Wisconsin) to the wilds of Dakota, through to her marriage to Almanzo Wilder and their move to Missouri. I introduced Thing 1 to these books when she was in primary school, and she loved them too.
The Railway Children by E.Nesbit. First serialised in 1905, this story dealt with some quite adult themes for the period – the imprisonment of the children’s father for spying, Russian dissidents – and I cry every single time I read it. Don’t even get me started on the film – I love both versions. The Psammead books are great too (Five Children and It, for example), as is The Book of Dragons.
The Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. Starting with Anne of Green Gables and finishing with Rilla of Ingleside when our disaster-prone, red-headed heroine is all grown up and sensible, I love them all. So do my youngest sister and my niece, and I have started reading them to Thing 2 when she feels the need for a bedtime story.
The Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Thing 2 is named after the author. Moomins are small, hippo-like creatures who inhabit Moominvalley. The Moominhouse is always open to wanderers and people in need – mischievous Little My, who gets left behind by the Mymble who just has too many children; Thingummy and Bob, who find the Hobgoblin’s treasure; free-spirited Snufkin; the Hemulen; the Snork and the Snorkmaiden. Moominmamma’s heart and handbag are big enough for everyone.
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. Arthurian legend brought into 1960s/70s England and Wales. Magic and legend. Good versus evil. Don’t watch the film, not even Christopher Eccleston could save it.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I do love the way magic appears in the real world – whether that’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, or the urban fantasy that I love now, I like the idea that there’s more to the world than we can see. I recommend The Owl Service by the same author, too.
The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea. Pidge accidentally releases an evil serpent from a book, and he and his sister end up involved in a battle between good and evil. There’s lots of help from Celtic mythological characters, it’s funny and touching and I really, really wish the author hadn’t died before finishing the sequel.
The Sword in the Stone by T.H.White. More Arthurian legend. This is the first part of The Once and Future King set, and it’s the one most people are familiar with from the wonderful Disney adaptation. The story of The Wart, an orphan looked after by Sir Ector and bullied by his foster brother Kay, this is the early days of King Arthur, before he pulls the sword from the stone. The rest of the books are pretty wonderful too.
Honourable mentions go to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books, the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, the Green Knowe stories by Lucy M. Boston, Stig of the Dump by Clive King (and more – oh, so many more!)
There, that’s made me feel much more cheerful!
I finished the crochet cardigan this week, and I LOVE it. It’s so cosy and warm, and the alpaca in the yarn makes it very soft. It’s oversized so I can fit layers underneath, and I can see this getting a whole lot of wear this winter. Thing 1 kindly modelled it for me, even though she protested as it wasn’t Goth enough.
The (Corona)Virus Shawl is also complete, using three balls of Drops Fabel – it’s not huge, so will be more of a scarf. What am I going to do in queues now?
I have started a stashbuster blanket for my new portable project – tiny (three round) granny squares in DK, using up leftover yarn from a couple of other blankets. I’m going for a patchwork effect this time, with lots of bright colours. My Coast blanket has another couple of rows – it just needs to be a foot or so longer, I think. The trouble with making giant blankets is that you get so toasty that you need a nap…
As you can see from the link, the Coast blanket is by Lucy at Attic 24 who designs the most gorgeous colourways and blanket patterns. It’s a shame to keep them in the house, really, so I am tempted to make one of her bags to carry around.
Thing 2 has been going out for walks this week with some of her friends and their dog – she’s growing up and is enjoying being a bit more independent. Yesterday they were out with other friends so she went for a walk with me instead. Her only stipulation was that it had to be a muddy walk, so we duly donned wellies and headed off in search of puddles.
We ended up by the rope swing after tramping through the fields, and after a bit of play we wandered back through the woods. Thing 2 spotted some hearts in the trees while I was looking at textures, and then we started seeing lots of tiny things – tree fungi, mushrooms and moss that we enjoyed taking close-up photos of.
It was lovely to have some time with her. We crunched through leaves, looked under fallen branches and she even wanted to hold my hand occasionally….
This morning the intrepid Perimenopausal Posse headed off to Redricks for our second week of winter swimming – 11.8 degrees in the water, and sunny. Colder but less rainy than last week which really made a difference! Apparently we should be practising with cold showers in between swims….ha!
So that was week 29. I wonder what week 30 has in store?
What I’ve been reading
A Song for the Dark Times (Rebus) – Ian Rankin
The Postscript Murders (D.S. Harbinder Kaur) – Elly Griffiths
The Accusers/Scandal Takes a Holiday (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
I have mentioned before that I’m a bit of a reader and have been since an early age. I suspect, given that my parents are also big readers, that it was partially self-defence and then it became a habit. Both parents read to us and created their own stories – Galumphus the Dragon was my dad’s character, and Jeremy John stories came from my mum. I continued to listen in when my much younger sister was being read to, and for me one of the joys of teaching was story time at the end of the day; whether that was a picture book or, further up the school, a chapter book.
One of the last sessions I created at the Museum of London Docklands was a sensory, interactive story called ‘The Cinnamon Birds’, as an introduction to the idea of international trade for Key Stage 1 and family groups. I loved telling it – from gathering my audience Pied Piper-style, moving through the museum with a beautiful dragon puppet on my shoulder, to casting a story spell with tales of cunning merchants and wafts of magical scents and treasures from a pirate chest.
At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we had a hardcore of parents and children who would come every day for the Animal Magic session at 2pm, led by the Activity Assistants who used puppets, music, projection and more to bring both classic stories and their own work to life. It didn’t matter how often the families heard We’re going on a bear hunt! – this time was part of their daily routine. (Lia, one of the former AAs, has now set up her own business with her mum creating sustainable story sacks, with all the contents and materials sourced from charity shops and community markets. I love this idea – check them out, they are Oranges and Lemons and their product is wonderful).
I still love listening to stories – when I’m commuting I can be found on the Central Line listening to audio books and crocheting my way to work. I refuse to confess to the number of times I have missed my stop as I was distracted by an exciting bit…
When my Horde were small I took the opportunity to gather the books that I had loved as a child, as well as discovering new stories. So here are some of our favourite picture books*….
Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Another classic from the 1960s, and I love it. A wild rumpus always sounds like fun.
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell . My bunch all loved lifting the flaps and shouting along with the words, making animal noises. I bought this one at Stansted Airport on the way to France with Thing 1, and her Grandpere spent a lot of time reading it to her on that holiday.
No Matter What – Debi Gliori – big thinking for little people.We still love them even when they’re naughty!
My Big Shouting Day – Rebecca Patterson. Another one of Thing 2’s favourites. I think she identified with the main character (so did I).
Dinosaur Roar! – Henrietta and Paul Stickland. We got this one free from Bookstart and Thing 3 LOVED it.
Tiddler – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. All this pair’s books are wonderful, but this one was their favourite.
Funnybones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Thing 3 thought this was hilarious. They also loved Each Peach Pear Plum and hunting for the fairytale characters in the illustrations.
Tell Me A Dragon – Jackie Morris. I fell in love with her glorious, magical illustrations through another Bookstart book – Can you see a Little Bear? – which she illustrated for James Mayhew, and when Tell Me A Dragon came out with a dedication to Terry Pratchett, I bought it for myself. Of course I read it to the children too. Her work with Robert Macfarlane in The Lost Words is exquisite and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in 2018.
The Dancing Tiger – Malachy Doyle. Thing 2’s nickname is ‘Tiger’ so we read a lot of books about tigers! This is one of my favourites. We don’t stop dancing when we get old!
The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber.We discovered this one via a CBeebies bedtime story, read by Shobna Gulati, and bought our own copy. Thing 1 loved the Storm Cat.
I Really Want to Eat a Child – Sylviane Donnio. Another of Thing 2’s favourites! She has always been the most anarchic, subversive child and this story really appealed to her.
Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers. All of us loved this one – there’s a beautiful TV adaptation too.
Penguin – Polly Dunbar. This one was a library story time discovery when Thing 1 was small. Inevitably she would have fallen asleep in the buggy on the walk to the library but I always stayed for the story!
Thing 2 still occasionally asks for a story – we read The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye earlier this year, and we’ve started Anne of Green Gables. Thing 3 likes to listen in… he is the biggest reader of them all at the moment.
Even once children have learned to read themselves, there is magic in hearing a story well told. Reluctant readers may find their way in to reading this way, and I always told worried parents that as long as their children were reading, it didn’t matter what it was. Reading schemes, while worthy and phonically sound, are often boring. Find what they want to read and let their imaginations fly!
What are your favourites?
(*not affiliate links, just Amazon. Other book sellers are available!)
Morgan jeans finished at last…
….and they are my new favourite thing. I bought the pattern after making Closet Core’s Ginger skinny jeans, which I wrote about in Week Fourteen. The fly hadn’t gone well, but I liked the process of making the jeans and thought I’d try something in a style I wouldn’t usually wear. I bought some bargain midweight rigid denim from The Textile Centre – the first package disappeared in the post but they were really helpful in replacing it. I buy from them quite often, as they are very reasonably priced and the fabrics are always great quality.
The pattern instructions were very clear – the indie designers are far better than the Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, McCalls) pattern companies at providing step by step instructions, and usually have good photographs of the process.
Well, these were a dream make, even when I put one of the pocket linings on backwards and had to frog it. I was trying to take special care with the pockets as I’d got them the wrong way last time. I even re-cut one of the pocket linings as I was using a directional print and didn’t want it upside down, even though under normal circumstances no one will be looking at the inside of my jeans! The maneki neko fabric was from Ali Express, and it’s a good 100% cotton quilting weight. Expect to see more of it in a future quilt!
In terms of sizing, I took out 5mm from the straight leg seam allowance, but I don’t think I needed to so I’ll leave it in next time. I also took out some length in the leg – 5cm, this time – and I think this was about right. I like the cropped length with my trusty Birkenstocks.
I was very careful with the fly, after last time, and this time I got it right. I also went the whole hog and added rivets, belt loops and made my own ‘brand’ patch using a woven label from The Pink Coat Club. Both the jeans buttons and the rivets came from EBay.
Overall I am pretty pleased with them, though a sewing friend suggested I made the pockets a bit smaller and placed them a bit higher to be more flattering, which I will do next time. I have some black cord that will work well with this pattern, so there *will* be a next time! I wore them on Tuesday, when I ventured onto a train to take one of my stepdaughters to an appointment, and they were so easy to wear, even as the temperature rose.
I remembered my mask, too – home made, of course.
I’m still working on my attic windows quilt, and will hopefully finish the top this week. I am going to attempt sashing between blocks, so let’s see how that goes! Here’s the different blocks laid out on the fabric I have chosen for the sashing. I’ve tried to be quite accurate with my sizing – I trimmed the single window squares to the same size and squared off the edges before putting them into the larger blocks, and the larger blocks have been squared to 11 3/4″. I’m not entirely sure how big this is going to end up! I have a double duvet cover (well, the reverse of one -the front is going to be a circle skirt) for backing, so hopefully that’ll be large enough!
As an aside – I have a Quilting board on Pinterest, and I opened up the site in a new tab to remind me to have a look at it when I’d finished writing this. An hour later, I realised I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and rather than looking at the pins on the board, I’d got about 30 tabs open, had pinned a whole new set of ideas and still hadn’t finished this post!
Adventures in the great outdoors
I haven’t done quite as much swimming this week as one of my buddies was working up in London, but we have managed a couple of early morning plunges and a late afternoon dip, which was most welcome when the temperatures were in the high 20s. We swam just as the sun was starting to go down, surrounded by damselflies and ducks, and it was quite blissful. We did about a lap and a half, so just over a kilometre.
Early morning walks have been good too – we are more than 70% of the way towards the August 30k challenge I mentioned last week. One morning we went round the fields via the flood meadow (see this week’s cover photo) which is filled with wild flowers, and on another via the farm where we finally coaxed the little black barn cat close enough to pet. There’s a lot of black cats on the farms round here! His marmalade friend joined in with the fuss too. Next time we walk we are going to take boxes and pick blackberries, as the hedges are groaning with them.
How does your garden grow?
Closer to home, the garden is looking beautiful – one of the sunflowers is now nine feet tall, and hasn’t flowered yet! The sunset-coloured one below is probably about seven feet tall (you can see the stalk of the big one behind it), and the bees love them. The squirrels will also love the seeds when the flowers are finished.
We also made a trip to the garden centre for compost and came home with more sad plants – these two Black Eyed Susans outside my shed, these flame-like celosia that look like Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, and some heliotropes and calla lilies.
Bailey and Teddy are making the most of their catio, as you can see – they love being able to come outside and watch the birds close up. The catio is made of a dog cage, bits of fireguard and a lot of cable ties. We keep adding bits on to try and stop Lulu escaping, as she’s a bit of a Houdini!
Hey, what happened with that job interview?
We heard mid-week that we hadn’t been successful but the consensus view is that we don’t mind! We enjoyed the process and we can continue to work together on the project at our own museum with a new understanding of each other’s skills and experiences, and how well we work as a team. Hopefully we also started people thinking differently about how job shares can work, and got them thinking about what innovation might look like in a multi-site organisation!
You can find out more about the V&A East project here and about the Museum of Childhood transformation here.
And that’s it from me for the week – I have a kitchen full of kids causing chaos, more in the tent in the garden, and I probably ought to supervise!
Same time next week for week 21 then!
What I’ve been reading
American Demon – Kim Harrison (the new Hollows novel! Yay!)
The Pearl King (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter
Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
Yesterday a museum colleague and friend of mine asked on Facebook:
“What to think when people I know have not supported the movement of black lives matter. Maybe they don’t want the backlash from friends maybe they disagree. I dunno! Maybe those people could respond as to Why?”
It’s a good question, and my first response was ‘Maybe they are afraid of getting it wrong’, and after a bit more thinking “I think we’re going to get things wrong, but to recognise that is a starting point to work from: ok, I am wrong, but I’m open to being put right.” So, I may get the next few paragraphs wrong, but I hope they are a start.
From 2005 to 2017 I ran the schools programme at the Museum of London Docklands: I was there when the London Sugar and Slavery gallery was opened, and a couple of weeks ago I was really pleased to see the statue of Robert Milligan removed from the quayside outside. It’s worth noting that the statue doesn’t belong to the museum (no one is quite sure who it does belong to, but possibly British Waterways who are the landowners) but we drew attention to him as part of visits to the museum, particularly for secondary school groups, as he led the consortium that built the West India Docks. Those docks – and the museum building, No 1 Warehouse, which was originally one of nine warehouses stretching the better part of a mile – were built on the profits from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to house the valuable products of that trade, and to ensure that the supply of those products into London was entirely controlled by a small minority of men who saw the way that public feeling was leaning and built a giant walled lock-up, which opened in 1802, to ensure their own pockets were lined long after the trade (if not slavery itself) was banned in 1807. Like a reformed smoker, the British then took it upon themselves to enforce the ban across the world, despite being the nation who industrialised the Transatlantic Slave Trade. London was the fourth largest slave trading port in the world – not one where enslaved Africans were bought and sold, but one from where ships departed on the first leg of the triangle and returned to after the third, supplying the capital with sugar, rum, indigo, and more.
It’s right that we should remember this horrific period in world history – to ensure that, like the Holocaust, it never happens again, but it needs to be taught in context – bear with me before you fly off the wall here. I’m coming at this from my position as a museum educator (and perpetual learner), as a migration educator, and as an adoptive Londoner.
Every September, my phone lines would light up with teachers from all over London and Essex (including from schools and boroughs with high levels of African and Caribbean pupils – Hackney, for example) who started their conversations with the same words: “It’s Black History Month in October, what have you got on slavery?” Because – obviously – Black History begins with John Hawkins in 1562 and ends in 1833 with the abolition of slavery in parts of the British Empire through the good works of William Wilberforce and co. These teachers would tell me that they were playing field songs and spirituals in assemblies and over the tannoy, how they’d reenacted a slave market and so on, or that they were looking at the abolition through the works of Clarkson, Wilberforce and friends. Right there, right there, you can see why Black children are disillusioned – when the only part of your history you’re taught is of violence and subjugation, and that your freedom came only through the work of white people, what else do you expect? And these requests were coming from teachers of Year 2 (6 and 7 year olds) upwards. The indoctrination started early, so we focused on stories of escape from enslavement (Ellen Craft) for KS2. There were no positive role models offered by these school schemes of work, no celebration of Black culture – only the history of enslavement.
So, we became part of the Understanding Slavery Initiative, with a number of other institutions around the UK, to explore how the Transatlantic Slave Trade could be taught with sensitivity and as part of a much wider history – from the pre-TAST Africa to the legacy of the trade. Sadly, this project was an early victim of the 2008 recession and lost funding, but you can find the website and resources here. With this is mind, we built a day aimed at Year 9 which had three parts – a drama which set the whole day in context by exploring the life of a grandfather who had migrated to London in the 1950s through his interactions with his teenage grandson; a sensitively-delivered handling session using replica objects (from beautiful Benin bronze plaques to sugarcane and manacles); and a responsive creative writing session using poems by the wonderful Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison as a starting point who was kind enough to give us permission to use her work. These are poems of resistance, of how African culture survived the Atlantic crossing (never the middle passage – that’s a white perspective) and sustained people through horrific experiences. The day was informed by work with the wonderful Jean Campbell, who gave us perspective. Students would also have time in the London Sugar and Slavery gallery, with resources designed to make them think and talk to each other rather than read labels and parrot information.
I developed a shorter session, called Slavery: London and beyond, which looked at London’s role in the trade and the legacy of that trade – including the Maroons, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the role enslaved Africans played in gaining their own freedom, as well as Windrush and how all these things related to children’s own lives in London today. And we offered these sessions all year – and they booked. And the next year people would phone to book again and say ‘Well, we want to come back but could you not mention rape/brutality/death please? It upset the children’. I can’t imagine that these same teachers phone the IWM for a Holocaust education session and ask them not to mention gas chambers. We’d make a note, and we’d carry on as normal. None of my amazing freelance educators were prepared to whitewash history to make it acceptable.
Things became worse after the publication of the 2014 history curriculum and its narrow framework. Although the examples given in italics were ‘non-statutory’, we knew that many teachers would take these as ‘official’ guidelines. Mary Seacole, admirable and determined as she was, is not the only Black person to have an impact on British history. She was also mixed-race, and her experience as a Black person in London was by no means typical.
I became involved with the London Curriculum project and put forward the idea of a unit on migration called World City – an expanded version of the London Home from Home session I developed for schools, exploring how London came to be the superdiverse city it is today through 2000 years of migration. As a result of this, I ended up working with the History Lessons steering group for the Runnymede Trust exploration into how migration was being taught, alongside such experts as David Olusoga. The Runnymede Trust are a wonderful race equality resource, by the way, with some excellent teaching materials.
I also had conversations with Tony T and Rebecca Goldstone of Sweet Patootee, who are doing brilliant work in uncovering and sharing stories of Black history. All these activities and the people I have met have fed into my thinking about Black Lives. They matter – oh, so much – and I believe passionately that if their stories were built into education (across the world, but starting here in the UK), as part of world history and citizenship then we would be moving towards more understanding in the generations coming up behind us. I want to see Black History Month abolished: it’s tokenism at its very worst. I want to see the legacy of the diaspora spread across the curriculum: rock and roll, blues, ska, fashion, food, art. I want ALL kids to see that Black history is our history too.
I am prepared to be told I am wrong: I want to open conversations, to understand people’s experiences. I want this to be more than a hashtag somewhere on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. I’m going to share this with my friend who started the conversation yesterday now: I hope she knows how much I do support the movement, even from a position where I can never truly understand. I am prepared to try, though.
And now for something completely different…
I finished the puffin dress, and I’m quite pleased with it – it’s been a while since I have made anything quite this smart, and several years since I have felt the need to fully line anything, so this was a good project for brushing up my skills. Regulars will recall that I made the bodice last week, using the burrito method to enclose most of the seams so this week was all about the skirt.
I started with the skirt lining, and I knew that I didn’t want to add too much bulk to the waistline by gathering it, but equally I didn’t want to lose fullness through the rest of the skirt so I pleated it. I bought these pens a couple of weeks ago and they have been worth every penny – I was able to mark pleats quickly, do some quick working out on the fabric and then the markings just disappeared when I ironed them. There was a LOT of pleating to be done – 20 inches on the skirt front alone had to be taken out, and then the pleats had to be stitched down to keep them flat. I also shortened the lining by 3 inches so it wouldn’t show. The lining is plain cream polycotton fabric.
I used the pocket template from the Sew Over It Tulip skirt to add inseam pockets to the skirt outer, gathered it and finally tacked the lining to the outer before stitching it to the bodice and overlocking the seams together. I found a cotton zip in a mixed lot I’d bought a few weeks ago from EBay which was the exact colour of the stripes (a happy coincidence as I didn’t have a white one!) and although it’s not as invisible as I’d like it to be I like the finished look. Finally, I sewed the centre back seams on the skirt and lining separately, and used a pink bias binding to finish the hem. You can see Lucy my dressmaking dummy modelling the finished dress below. She’s also wearing a fluffy petticoat as that’s how I’ll be wearing the dress – my beloved was at work so I didn’t get to model the dress myself for photos!
Flushed with my success from binding the skirt, I finally finished my red quilt from earlier in lockdown – a wider purple shop-bought binding this time. Perhaps making my own needs to be my next challenge. I have the equipment so there’s no excuse except laziness.
Thing 2 has been busy this week too – she decided she’d like to make some drawstring pouches from the leftovers from her shaggy pants. She made the template herself and I helped her with the buttonholes for the ribbon. I really like them and might make some for myself! She’s also worked really hard on a painting to give to her dad for Father’s Day, focusing for hours on getting it perfect.
I felt productive on Thursday and made cinnamon buns (a success) and Anzac biscuits (er, not a success). Last time I made the recipe they fell apart into crumbs, this time they formed an amorphous lump which the family just hacked chunks off. Ah well.
That’s pretty much it from me – I’ve been doing a lot of cross stitching in the afternoons and finished the fourth panel of the Seraut pattern; I tried week 4 day 1 of the C25k and promptly injured my other ankle, and have had a lot of siestas! Thing 1 has been having a bit of a wobble – she was diagnosed with anxiety in primary school and occasionally it flares up. I have been so proud of her through this period, but this week she has really missed her friends. Last night she had a virtual sleepover with some of her cronies, using the HouseParty app, and she seems a bit better this morning.
I’ll leave you with some pics of the garden and some fluffy pollinators in action! See you at the end of week 14…
What I’ve been reading:
V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky
Venus in Copper/The Iron Hand of Mars (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)