shot from above, a child's hand hols a colouring pen above a sheet that spells out STAY SAFE. Other colouring pens are scattered across the table and in the top left of the image, the corner of a picture book pokes into shot.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Home Learning: the reboot

My social media is full of references to being “back in lockdown”. The only difference this week to the last few weeks is that now we’re back to home learning. We’ve been at Alert Level Four (yes, in Wales we are not in tiers but alert levels, which is disappointing for a pun lover like me “we’re all in tears/tiers”) since before Christmas so I’ve only been to the supermarket, daily dog walks around the same local park and to drop things to family and friends. We haven’t been on walks with other people because we’re not allowed.

I’m not shocked at being trapped at home again because it doesn’t feel like anything has wildly changed for us.

Home learning is a kicker, but I think we’ve got it nailed this time (she says with a warily smug tone). It’s early days but on our fourth day in I feel a lot calmer and more in control than last March. My kids are used to the platforms and the tech they need to get their tasks done and to communicate with their teachers. There’s a vague routine rather than any timetable or sticker charts. It’s a bit like in Lord of the Flies when they start using the conch shell, a little bit of order in the pandemonium. (Here’s hoping things don’t spiral in the same way). We’re breaking for lunch together and they can finish at 3pm to watch telly or play.

In the first few hours I’d sat in my home office flanked by a primary and secondary aged child being bombarded with a constant stream of seemingly random questions:

How do you spell apocalypse? What’s a parody? How do I work out 1 5/13 + 2 5/13? How many rebellions did Henry VIII have? Which animals could eat me?

I’m trying to have a tad more structure this time around so things can feel a bit more normal and less chaotic. The younger one finished all his teacher assigned activities by lunch time, so I sent him off to read his book in bed. After that he did some Zombie proofing (DIY to you and me) with his Dad who works shifts so happened to be home. The older one is sullenly spiralling (both literally on his office chair and mentally) as the perfectionist in him stresses out over an unsatisfactory (to him) attempt at his art lesson. At least I know what he’s winding himself up (and down) about this time.

We are the lucky ones. We have enough devices for them to use a laptop each (thank you Grandpa for donating your old one), we have WiFi (which as anyone who’s had dodgy Zooms or Teams with me knows isn’t great but it’ll do) and I’m fairly confident with helping them when they get stuck. I’ve only had to brush up on a few maths bits I had wiped from memory.

For all the middle-class mum memes of pouring Baileys onto Bran Flakes, we know there are plenty of families really struggling.

It’s all pants compared to what we were able to do this time last year but 2020 has ground down my expectations. Last January I saw in NYW at a bar in Bristol, went ice skating, to the museum, the beach, Wagamamas, saw Six at Wales Millennium Centre, had a rooftop brunch in London and a work trip to see some awesome work like Death of England at the National Theatre. Maybe January 2020 over achieved but it blows my tiny little frazzled mind to compare that month to this month. We’re only just a week in but there’s no way I’ll be getting my kicks anywhere other than treating myself in Morrisons. By “treat” I’m thinking posh yoghurt instead of an own brand version. Oh the thrills.

Whether you’re balls deep in lockdown after a bit of festive freedom or, like us, there’s not been a huge change in your day to day liberties, be kind to yourself and to others. Remember school staff are human too and they could’ve done without panicking parents poking them with questions on their weekend when they had no idea what decisions would be made either. It’s hard to be a school leader when everyone finds out the same information at the same time and wrong dates get shared through WhatsApp groups and mis-spelt Facebook posts (ginpig I’m looking at you). If you’re struggling, tell the school, tell your employer, ask for help. And for the love of cheese, wash your hands, stay at home and wear a mask when and where you can.

a man in a long summer dress and floppy hat pushes an empty supermarket trolley with a wall of plain cardboard boxes in the background and fluorescent lighting overhead.
Thinking Out Loud

Non-essential Firebreak Fuss

I wish that the level of outrage expressed over the limits on the sale of non-essential items in supermarkets was expressed over some other issues. The ableism that’s grown in 2020 springs to mind.

There’s pure misinformation circulating on twitter about period products and baby milk being banned by Welsh Government. Actual fake news. There were concerns about being unable to buy pyjamas in case of a hospital emergency but shops are given discretion so if there’s a genuine need then you can buy. It’s all to prevent browsing and not to be unfair for independent shops selling non-essentials.

The repeat argument I saw on my socials was books versus booze. What’s essential to some is non-essential to someone else. Food and drink all fall under the essential list. What about a spiralizer versus a stew pack or a DVD versus dog food? It’s not helpful to pick on a single item and compare it to another.

Of course, the isolation of lockdowns and quarantines and bubbles has had an impact on the mental health of many of us. Reading is an escape, it’s something that’s helped me this year. We had warning, time to stock up on paperbacks from Mozzas. Maybe some people will line the pockets of Jeff Bezos with their literary spending sprees. If you’re gagging for a book, look up your local indie book shop (hello Griffin Books in Penarth) or download a book for free from the library. You don’t even need an e-reader or tablet for that, I’ve just got an app on my phone. Or re-read something you already or message me and I’ll drop one off to you.

That said, I get that the whole debate circling about books brought out a whole load of middle class assumptions and unchecked privilege. We had Monday to Friday to get prepared and stock up. Cool. Unless maybe you only get paid once a week. Or you’re living hand to mouth and this particular week wasn’t one when you could afford to do a big shop.

Buy your kids clothes online. Fine, for some, but your cheapie kids gear isn’t sold online, Primark doesn’t have an internet shop. And all of this assumes that people have access to the internet, to WiFi, to smart phones or other devices, or even that they have a bank account at all. Some people aren’t part of this cashless society for all sorts of reasons.

That dicksplash in his grundies and that maskless thug ripping plastic sheeting off clothes in Welsh supermarkets don’t get a shit about the bigger picture. They’re just selfish attention seekers. We’re all frustrated darling but we’re not throwing toddler tantrums in the aisles.

“Only selling essential items during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops. It should not stop you accessing items that you need.” – @WelshGovernment

Supermarket staff from a range of stores in Barry have said that if you ask for an unavailable item and you have a reason, they will get it for you. The barriers are to stop people browsing.

Look, we’re 3 days in with another two weeks to go. If you’re struggling to get hold of something that you need desperately, let me know or find your local mutual aid group on Facebook.

Thinking Out Loud

AWOL During a Crisis

No, I’m not talking about Boris (although his lack of presence is outrageous), I’m talking about me. I’ve been AWOL from this blog and the linked socials for a good few months. But why with all that spare time lockdown gave us? Spare time?! Pfft. What’s that?! Jog on. Working from home, supporting the kids with home learning, volunteering, tackling the snowballing admin and applications for a charity I’m involved with that was helping feed families during the crisis and all the Zoom quizzes hasn’t helped me to learn a new skill or pick up a hobby.

I lie, I’m now much better with iMovie after filming every task and challenge for school, Scouts, sports and morale boosting lip sync montages.

It’s not just the time, it’s been a lack of headspace, being in a bit of a distracted fug. I’m aware of how wanky that sounds but I mean, usually I’m a voracious reader but for the first month or so I struggled to get into the books I had on the go. I’m back in the swing of it now but that surprised me.

Pre-Covid, this blog had morphed into a places-to-go and things-to-do kind of thing and all of a sudden we weren’t allowed to go places, they were closed, even the park on our doorstep was shut.

There have been loads of online activities, projects and opportunities but along with home learning from school, it was all a tad overwhelming.

School have been brilliant. The primary has anyway, not so much the high school but that’s a whole other post. The activities for my youngest have taken well-being into account and were nowhere near as ominous as the volumes of work I’ve seen other kids his age have from their schools. Even so, I felt guilty for not being able to do it all, that damn FOMO coming in again. For being stuck on my laptop all day or hypnotising them with technology so I could have the silence for another Zoom or Teams meeting.

I’ve not been posting on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter about the stuff we have managed to do because it’s really not the whole picture. Also, when I’ve flicked through the relentless baking, gardening, crafting and family challenges that some people have done I’ve just felt like such a shitty failure. Jealous and frustrated. Yes, we’ve had a lot of forced time in the same house but I’m not at their disposal all day, every day. I’m trying to work during the hours that I could and should be helping them.

Of course, I’ve juggled things and we’ve done the Scout challenges, tasks from school, we’ve had the barbecues and been on walks but at times it has all just been a bit bloody much.

I’m not totally woe is me, call me a waaaaambulance. I am grateful that I live with other humans, that my kids are older, that we’re all healthy. That’s another reason that I’ve felt redundant as a blogger. My story, our experience is so insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

I was furloughed from one job a few weeks ago so in theory it should’ve been better. Somehow though, other big meetings from my other job have fallen on those days and, given the way things are in my industry at the moment I’ve Zoomed along. I’ve also volunteered with food parcels on those furloughed days because that’s what we do isn’t it, come together as a community to make things less shitty where we can. Perspective wise, I know I shouldn’t be moaning at all.

I know, I know, I know, I’ve also seen those insta quotes and twee tweets braying “it’s OK to be unproductive through a global crisis” and self-care this and that but I’m just a girl who can’t say no. Except when something’s got to give and in this case, it was the blog and all the gubbings that go along with it.

I was reluctant to join the voices pounding socials with yet another fun thing to try with your kids when there’s just no bloody extra time for it. Although, with the summer holidays on the horizon, without messages from school, would you be up for some ideas or recommendations for online shows or things to do at home? Or have you just had a bloody gut’s full of all that wholesome faff?

Thinking Out Loud

Troubling Bubbling

Has life gone completely back to the pre-Covid normal or did I miss an announcement?

I watch the news, I read, I’ve had to stay up to date on guidelines for work but as I scroll through those photographic square glimpses into other people’s lives on Instagram, I have to wonder if we’re the only ones doing it our way.

I’ve not yet driven further than 5 miles from home, not because we can’t but I’ve had no reason to go anywhere so far. My parents and sisters family live close by and the parks and beaches that we’ve been to since I finally and joyously got my car fixed have been less than 3 miles from home. It was thrilling enough to walk around a park that’s not the one behind our house so I’m in no rush to go yomping further afield.

I’m cool with the longer journeys, no judgement here at all. Do what you’ve got to do. I know we’re lucky to have family living so close unlike some. Living in a town with a range of supermarkets, parks and beaches means the old 5 mile rule wasn’t as hard hitting as in more rural areas.

I’m thinking more of the photos of baby showers and birthdays with large groups of adults huddled together for a photo. Lush, I’d love to see my mates in real life in close proximity. I haven’t yet but next step would be distanced meeting up on separate picnic blankets at a park or on a distanced walk. I’m not outraged I’m just confused.

We’re still only doing a big shop each week. I have no desire to go to town shopping, it’s not something I miss massively. Except for trying on bras before spending a fortune on them. Maybe, as a family we’re just easing out of it more slowly than others. We’ve seen a select few people but it’s nothing like I’m seeing in my social feeds.

Are people not bubbling with just one other household? Are they (are you?) bubbling with lots of other households? Or are they/you just so over the lockdown that as long as they/you’re in someone else’s garden anything goes?

In Wales, I understand that at the moment we’re only able to make an extended household with one other household and it’s got to be the same household until lockdown’s lifted and if you’re meeting another household it has to be outside. Interested to know what other non-shielding families are doing.

With more businesses opening up there’s a general vibe of things all being over and just having to get on with life but that’s jarring with the government guidelines. I could see all my girlfriends if we happened to be in Morrisons at the same time but we couldn’t meet as a group in someone’s living room? I could drive to Bristol to drink in a pub with my mate but I wouldn’t be able to stay over in her house. Are you finding bubbling troubling?

Thinking Out Loud

Does Barry Need a Museum?

First off, I love museums, I do. I grew up going to St Fagans and Cardiff Museum, places like the Big Pit and Caerleon and I take my own kids to museums on holiday, in Cardiff, France, West Wales, London. However, I’m not sure about the financial viability of a museum in Barry. We don’t need a new museum planned by dinosaurs. It’s a tough time for established museums so having a solid model and a viable business plan will be really important. Sustainability and future proofing need to be part of the mix too. It would be a shame if funding for a new museum pulled funding options away from existing volunteer led set ups such as the heritage railway at Barry Island.

I saw mention of the Vale being only one of two councils in Wales without a museum. That’s not necessarily an argument for having one. It smacks a bit of “everyone else has one, why can’t we?”. All mention so far has very much been of a museum for Barry not the Vale as a whole.

Have you been to Carmarthen museum? I’ve been several times over the years, my kids enjoy it and the staff are lovely but it’s a prime example of a council owned building that needs a huge cash injection to stop it rotting away. (The good news is that this year they’ve had £1.27million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and will be closed for the year while works are carried out.) Closer to home and in the Vale, have people considered the pig’s ear that the Vale made out of Dyffryn Gardens before the National Trust got in there? The damage is still there to see. It’s not simply through neglect but through the lack of the expertise and vast sums of money that such projects require.

Both of the examples above are of old buildings and perhaps the idea for a Barry museum is to house it in an existing modern building or build something bespoke. I’ve read in a B&D article that one option is to put a museum in where the current Arts Central gallery is. So just the one room? What’s the relationship with the library? What happens to the gallery? What happens to the Arts Development budget? What happens to visual arts in Barry? Does anyone remember the historical archive that was open to the public and lived on the top floor of the Memo? I certainly don’t and it’s long gone now. Have lessons been learnt from that?

History is important, heritage is important, culture is important. I believe in us learning more about who we are, where we come from and how it can inform our decisions moving forwards. The concept of a Barry Museum isn’t clear enough for me. A museum isn’t just about putting things in a space and wanting people to think it’s interesting.

Will the museum be partnered with another organisation? Will it build on existing research and networks? Are there any links with HE or FE? How can we future proof a museum? Do we need a museum? Who is it for and what’s it about? There needs to be a real definition of purpose and cause. What difference could it make? Is it diverse? Is it telling stories? Is it about people? Is it look at all of the history of Barry ever or is it concentrating on e.g. the industrial revolution? The M Shed in Bristol does an absolutely cracking job of telling the story of Bristol, the good and the bad, but it’s a huge beast of an operation, it’s part of a city of over half a million people, a population 10 times that of Barry and it’s part of Bristol Museums. Even well established museums have had to diversify their offer to increase income with events such as silent discos and sleepovers.

Is a Barry museum trying to do everything but failing to deliver as an experience? How innovative is it? Are there any interactive exhibitions or displays or projects? Will there be a complementary participative programme, paid for by whom and delivered by whom? Who does the marketing? What’s the budget for that? Will there be volunteers? Who recruits and manages them? Where is it? What’s the parking situation? The public transport? How big is it? Where does the capital funding come from? What’s the scale?

Who curates the museum? There have been some really interesting projects and examples of questioning who makes those decisions, who decides what belongs or doesn’t in a museum. My seven year old and I have been loving the recent BBC series Secrets of the Museum showing the archives, curating, restoration and work that goes into planning and bringing objects to life in a meaningful way at the V&A. Again, I know it’s a completely different scale to a potential Vale of Glamorgan or Barry museum but archiving, preservation, context, storytelling don’t seem to have been referenced in anything I’ve read so far.

I don’t have enough information to give a proper response to the tweets and newspaper articles about a Barry museum. There are too many variables. From the B&D article it sounds like there has already been a feasibility study. What were the results and recommendations? Where can I access the information? Has anyone met with directors of other museums? Is there a network of council run museums? What are the challenges or opportunities of a museum being run by a council? I’d imagine there would be the same frustrations that I see in theatres and arts centres that are managed by a local authority which I won’t go into here but there’s a long list.

In the B&D article there was mention of Barry pre Victorian era industrialisation. That is only part of Barry’s story. Then there’s the Butlins and Gavin and Stacey side of things which focus a lot on the Island but don’t quite encapsulate the rest of the town. I worry that the idea of a museum is maybe something in the minds of people who fill Facebook with “they never should’ve got rid of the Lido” posts that doesn’t quite match up to or even exceed contemporary museum curating, management, delivery, innovation, partnerships, networks, potentials and so on.

I’ve waffled, I know. I’ve asked far too many questions. I’m just hugely concerned about the sustainability of a museum for Barry, that lessons haven’t been learnt from the project that turned out to be a damp squib in the top space in the Memo and that it’s apparently pushing out the gallery. I love museums and I really value the work that they do, I have too many questions and reservations at the moment to get fully behind the concept of a Barry Museum.

(I wrote this before the Coronavirus kicked off.)