68: Rage against….pretty much everything

Hot flushes, night sweats, the need to carry tweezers with you at all times, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration….just some of the symptoms of perimenopause that people tell you about. Apparently there are 34, but I’m trying not to treat this as some kind of hormonal bingo – I mean, what the hell do you shout when you’ve ticked them all off? And do you even get a prize?

One of the symptoms they don’t tell you about is the rage. The all-consuming, completely random rage. We are not talking a ladylike ‘tsk tsk’ here, this is fury incandescent enough to power whole countries.This week, for example, some of the things I have been furious at include:

  • people who stop in the middle of the pavement
  • old ladies walking up steps
  • sellotape
  • cat litter bags that don’t open properly
  • Oyster card readers
  • bra underwires
  • people who wake me up in the middle of the night
  • cinnamon jelly beans.

And that’s the little things. That doesn’t even cover the big stuff, like 40,000 screaming people at Wembley not wearing masks (had they all been double vaccinated? Were they all tested before entering the ground? Did they have to show their vaccine passports?) Or pretty much everything the bloviating buffoons in charge of the country say, particularly on the subjects of education or post-Covid recovery. Aggressive England fans shouting that football is coming home as if some silverware is going to solve England’s problems. (I will be supporting Gareth Southgate tonight, for those of you in any doubt: I think he’s a really nice bloke, who is down to earth, honest, well-dressed, intelligent, and if the team win people might just shut up about a penalty he missed 25 years ago, the poor sod. I couldn’t care less about England winning, but I would like Southgate to win.)

They call it ‘the change’, which sounds quite gentle, but this isn’t like WonderWoman spinning around and reappearing in sparkly pants. This is more like American Werewolf in London at full moon, complete with snarling and a really bad hair day. There are definitely moments when I’d be happy to bite people, and there are definitely moments when people need to realise that these bared teeth are not a smile and that backing away slowly is their best hope.

Back in the saddle

This week my colleagues and I have been back in a school, launching our Summer of Play programme in a Bethnal Green primary school. We saw nine classes over three days, and had enormous fun – I was only there for two days, as on day three I got as far as Whitechapel and then had to turn round and come back as Thing 3’s class had to go into self-isolation.

We had two activities running simultaneously: Fran, our creative facilitator, was working on barefoot coding and I was working on design challenges using the Imagination Playground kit above. With Key Stage One we were doing timed challenges and with Key Stage Two we were designing ways to cross a river: you can see me above in a boat built by a Year Six class. What we needed that day was probably an ark, as we were delivering sessions in between rain storms!

There were some surprises across the days: Year One worked brilliantly as a team, building together and sharing really well. Years Five and Six worked well when the teams were split boys against girls, but not so well when they were mixed. Some children worked really democratically, others not so much. Some teachers pitched in and got involved, others found it hard to let go and had to be gently persuaded to let us get on with it…but it was so good to be back doing what we do best, which is engaging with learners and talking to people.

The next lot of schools isn’t till September, but over the summer we’ll be out and about at festivals and play schemes with the kit, and I can’t wait.

Crafty!

On Friday I attended the launch event for Craft School – Yinka’s Challenge which is a nationwide challenge from the Crafts Council to get children and teachers engaged with craft thinking and making along three themes: play, storytelling and empowerment. I love these Crafts Council CPD sessions, as they are often designed as make-alongs. I had a free ticket, but people who paid £10 got sent a ‘material play pack’ including clay, so they could join in. The brilliant Rebecca Goozee, education manager, is very keen on embodied learning and plans sessions with great makers so you can learn along with them. I always find it easier to focus if my hands are busy, as regular readers will know, so these sessions are great for me. I fixed my pile of escaping bra wires and did some cross stitch as the sessions went on.

The final session, with a ceramicist, took the form of an informal conversation between the maker and Rebecca while they made pinch pots, rather than a tutorial (as the first two sessions had been) and it was wonderful – just listening to them talk about how working with the clay made them feel, and about their own experiences in the world of making, was incredibly soothing. If I was the Crafts Council I’d be thinking seriously about a podcast series in this format!

There was also a conversation between Yinka Ilori and his secondary school art teacher and mentor, who was clearly one of those teachers who stay with you for a lifetime. A lot of conversations that day – as the majority of the attendees were craft, art and design teachers – hinged on those teachers who supported us to become what we wanted to be and who gave us the space and the confidence to discover our passions and talents. And on those teachers who didn’t….

The three themes of the challenge sit well alongside my own museum’s new mission, so I hope we’ll be able to work with the Crafts Council in a more formal way moving forwards!

I can’t share the cross stitch I was working on, as it’s a gift, but here’s the Temperature Tree update for June and early July. As you can see, June wasn’t terribly warm either – a low of 13 and one day when we hit 27 ( a pale yellow at the very top). July’s not shaping up too well either.

So that was week 68 – we’re more than halfway through 2021 according to the tree, and coasting towards the end of term in ten days or so. Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Guards Guards, Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett (these are the first five of the City Watch series: you can see a reading order here)

Week forty six: can you lick the end of your nose?

While scrolling through my Facebook memories this morning a post popped up from 2015 which just said ‘Terrible urge to learn to crochet’. I remember waking up that day and my fingers were actually twitching with the need to learn something new, to create something tangible and practical. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t making other things – I was dressmaking by then, and cross stitch was always in the background, but I am the very definition of a life-long learner. Combine this with creativity and curiosity and what you get is – well – me.

Luckily, I had yarn from my knitting phase and crochet hooks from the last time I’d tried to learn from my beloved’s mother, so with the help of YouTube and my crafty library I was able to get on with it. Over the next few days Facebook will show me my early progress: wonky granny squares, double crochet which gains and loses stitches at the end of every row, and – finally – a recognisable square. Friends were free with helpful advice – the craft community usually is, probably as we love to see other people getting joy from the same things we do – and I quickly became hooked (if you’ll pardon the pun). Generally I have crochet with me at all times: emergency yarn under my desk at work, a sock or an amigurumi in progress on the commute, and a large home project like a blanket. It’s very calming to be able to sit, to make repetitive actions, and the tactile nature of yarn makes it a sensory process too. If you’re happy using basic yarns it can be a relatively cheap hobby, too, but it never stops there.

I have an urge now to learn something new. I want to learn to draw. Once (in 1985) I got a B- from Mrs Allan the art teacher for my observational pencil drawing of my mum’s avocado plant, but that has always remained the pinnacle of my artistic achievement.

I don’t want to draw portraits, though I wouldn’t mind being able to draw a recognisable cat. I want to draw flowers and trees, houses and streets, and to be able to feel confident enough to do this whenever and wherever I want. I love seeing urban sketching on Instagram by people like the Shoreditch Sketcher and MaltzCreative, and two of my cousins are producing gorgeous work (Colour Confusions and ElliesPad – check them out!). I love Michael Powell‘s quirky paintings. I want to be able to see an interesting doorway or a window, and to be able to whip out a sketchbook and render it on the page.

So that’s my next mission: learn to draw. I have books (so many books!) and I signed up to Craftsy a while ago when they had an offer. There’s a number of ‘learn to’ videos on there, and it’s ridiculous to say I don’t have the patience – what I need to develop is the discipline to practise.

Play for mental health

Making and creating are play activities for me. I have attended a couple of really interesting webinars over Zoom this week about the importance of play for children’s mental health, particularly during the current pandemic, and the challenges of ensuring that children have access to play opportunities at a time when government focus is on ‘lost’ learning.

There is a lack of understanding in the current ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum that play is learning: it helps people (not just children!) to build relationships, to solve problems, to take risks, to have autonomy over their actions, to self-regulate their emotions, to make decisions, to make sense of the world around them. It doesn’t have to be structured play or play with a specific, adult-generated learning outcome. Playing with children enables us as adults to recall our playful selves, to find moments of joy in watching children make discoveries, to remember our own childhood. Sometimes its really hard to do this when you’re an adult.

One of the presenters, Sheba Gittens (an activist/artivist in Pittsburgh) talked about the need to forget that anyone might be watching you and give in to moments of joy – face pulling, laughing for the sheer joy of it, moving your body. She suggested that perhaps children’s ability to do all these things without self-consciousness is actually our default state of being, and we become so weighted down with other people’s expectations of ‘proper’ behaviour that we lose those abilities. I’ve certainly never been encouraged to try and lick the end of my own nose in a meeting before, or to pull a lot of funny faces. I’m usually trying to stop myself rolling my eyes…

When I teach a session called ‘The Importance of Play’ to GCSE/A-level and undergrads I ask them to define play, to tell me when children stop ‘playing’ and what activities they do themselves that they think are playful. It’s quite disheartening (for me and their teachers!) to hear the narrow definitions they have for play, and that they think children stop playing when they start school and ‘start learning’. Once I can get them to think of play as an activity that they do because they enjoy it, they open their thinking a bit more: I have found, also, that by starting the session with a play activity they are far more inclined to come out of the shadow of their hoodies and share their ideas. The best sessions are the ones where people talk to you, and ask questions, and think – the number of teachers who have apologised for their students interacting with me amazes me. I’d much rather they talked to me than looked at me in silence.

Reach for the stars

The lovely people at CPRE invited me to create a craft activity to support their annual star count, which this year takes place between 6 and 14 February (that’s now!). The focus of the count is the number of stars that can be seen within the constellation of Orion, which reminded me of the chapter in one of my favourite children’s books where a baby barn owl meets an astronomer. Here‘s what I came up with – why not have a go at the Star Count and making your own Orion? For those of you doing home learning, it supports fine motor skills (threading and sewing), science (light pollution), art, and English.

That’s it from me this week – I have a giant blanket hoodie to make and some mending to do, so I probably ought to get on with it. See you at the end of week 47.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Ring the Hill – Tom Cox

Close Encounters of the Purred Kind – Tom Cox

The Night Hawks (Ruth Galloway) – Elly Griffiths

Spoils of the Dead (Liam Campbell) – Dana Stabenow

Tate: Sketch Club Urban Drawing – Phil Dean