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.)

Thinking Out Loud

Working from Home

With Coronavirus forcing lots of us into a self-isolation, social distancing hibernation, many of us will be working from home for the first time. Not me. I’ve worked from home for the last five years.

Instagram would have you think I sit on my bed in tasteful loungewear with a slim expensive laptop, photogenic dog and a classy mug of posh coffee. Not so. That, my friend, will give you backache. And hairy, stained sheets plus fancy strong coffees give me tummy cramps and aggravate my piles.

I get dressed every day. I walk my youngest to school, get home and open up the big laptop at the dining room table because I’m so messy I’ve filled up my lovely bureau. Then I work. With my two scruffy dogs snoozing at my feet but barking when the post comes. I put on the kettle at 10:25 so I can drink my tea while listening to Pop Master and cursing any fool who dares to phone at half past ten. Who does that?!

Then I do some more work, eat my lunch at my desk (because it’s the dining table) and then get back to work. Sometimes I go out for meetings, take the dogs around the block but you get the picture. I drink too much tea and there’s a fair bit of daydreaming but I don’t switch the telly on, I don’t go on long lunches and I always wear proper clothes.

How I’m going to carry on as usual with the kids home next week is another thing. I’ve been seeing loads of home schooling resources and top tips, both primary and high school have given links and all that for home learning in the coming weeks. Which all sounds very jolly but not so fun while I’m trying to work.

So, my top tips for working from home:

  • Get dressed, be comfortable but get out of your damn pyjamas and have a shower
  • Pace the tea drinking
  • Pause for Pop Master
  • Skype or phone your colleagues instead of an email once in a while
  • Get a bit of fresh air for a break, walk, take your lunch into the garden, do some parkour (not really, just checking you were paying attention)
  • Don’t have your kids home with you.

Ok, we have to suck it up on the last one. I understand why we’ve come to this. It’s surreal, it’s scary and being stuck in the house getting cabin fever is something we can take on the chin if it helps stop vulnerable people getting ill.

Four bright daffodils of varying sizes bob amongst their leaves and stalls in a planter.
Thinking Out Loud

Belated Happy St David’s Day

A belated Happy St David’s Day for 1st March. With it falling on a weekend I know a lot of schools were doing Eisteddfodau on Friday, Monday or, like my son’s (and a fair few others I’ve spoken to through work), they’re doing a whole Welsh week, Welsh fortnight or an entire enquiry topic on Wales or what it is to be Welsh.

In a time when it feels very hard to be proud to be British with the far right hijacking the union flag and with a dangerous buffoon in charge, it’s comforting to be able to celebrate my national identity and Welshness through food, crafts, song, poetry and flowers.

The local response to the recent floods in Wales has shown that sense of community, of looking out for each other and getting on with it while Westminster fights and fannies around ignoring the issue.

Wales often feels like the underdog and we’re not very good at shouting about what we’re doing well or doing first. We were the first country in the UK to introduce the charge of single-use carrier bags (2011), an opt-out organ donation system (2015) and an Older People’s Commissioner (2006).

I was at a conference a couple of years ago and a speaker ran a session about well-being without any reference to the Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) then it clicked – I was in Liverpool and the act is a Wales thing. The seven well-being goals are inspiring a bill that’s going to the UK government. Well-being is at the heart of the new Curriculum for Wales. Again, at conferences in England I’ve listened to other delegates moan about the Gove style archaic approach to education, the narrowing of curriculum, I was confused as it didn’t match up with the changes I know are happening in my child’s primary. Then I’d remember, ah of course, we have a different approach.

I’m proud to Welsh, I’m using the language more, I love living here. I’m not proud to be British. In addition to usual traditions of gorging myself on welsh cakes, decorating the house with daffodils and making yet another papier mache dragon, I’m going to quietly go about being community minded and doing good things, but maybe, just maybe for once, shouting from the hills about it.

A close up of three items hanging in a wardrobe. It's unclear what the items are but two seem to be satiny, one with a Japanese inspired floral pint and the other more of an abstract bird print. The iten in the middle is a sequinned dress with long fringing.
Thinking Out Loud

Fast Fashion Slow Blogging

Back in September I took the 30 day pledge and didn’t buy any new clothes for myself through the whole of the month. Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign was about addressing fast fashion, reusing, rewearing and recycling rather than sending piles of clothes to landfill. I didn’t actually end up buy any clothes at all, second hand or not, and my main challenge with my own wardrobe is much loved stuff just not fitting anymore.

Why am I only blogging about this now? Two months late is a bit much even by my usual delayed standards. I did an Instagram post about it at the time but was reminded of it by the fabulous exhibition at National Museum Wales in Cardiff that’s been curated by their Youth Forum to run alongside Dippy on Tour, the UK’s most famous diplodocus skeleton cast. It’s in the temporary exhibitions space next to the gift shop until Dippy leaves at the en of January so you’ve got plenty of time to go and have a look. Not only have they curated a collection of items belonging to museum staff but they’ve also created some amazing creatures and scenes out of recycled clothes and bags with a focus on the impact of fast fashion on our precious planet. The dinosaurs didn’t see the end coming but we can do something about our own destruction of Earth. My boys loved the umbrella pterodactyl and I was blown away by the colour, quality and creativity. A big shout out to the lovely volunteer who showed some cool bones and fossils to us.

A display at the museum of a meteor model blasting into shop sale signs reading "Going Going Gone!"
One of the displays at the museum of the impact of fast fashion on our planet.

So back to the whole fast fashion thing. I have been guilty of stocking up in Primark, buying new for a treat but I’m also a big fan of buying second hand gear on eBay, there are some astonishing bargains to be found. I’ve bought from Oxfam’s online shop too (yes, that’s a thing). I’m a hoarder and I’ll rewear my old favourites on repeat. Some going out gear has been downgraded to day wear or work wear. If anything, I need to Konmari the heck out of my clothes. Yes, I still have cocktail dresses from uni (all found in the sales). When do they become vintage?!

Oxfam has shedloads of stats on the environmental impact of fast fashion, the exhibition at the museum is full of little nuggets of knowledge about it all too. I’ve cringed in the past reading some Instagram blurbs from fashion or mum blog influencers who spend obscene amounts of money on clothes under the guise of quality over quantity. I can’t afford to shop beyond the high street and even that’s a bit of a push for things like jeans and bras. What I’ve tried to do is think about versatility and timelessness, whether it sparks joy and fits me properly rather than because it’s the latest thing. I’ve never been into the throwaway bit of throwaway fashion because I can’t bear to part with clothes that I’m sentimental about.

Maybe it’s part of getting older but I don’t care if I’m not dressed like everyone else and I’ll keep on wearing it until it gets holes (and even then, if I really love it I’ll still wear it, who am I trying to kid?).

There were some pretty judgey comments on posts about the 30 day campaign, from people who couldn’t believe it was a struggle to avoid buying new for a month. I can’t afford to buy new every week but if I’m going out out there’s every chance tat I’ll have a trawl through ASOS. I have bought a ew dress this month but it’s not a one off outfit, I know I can use it for weddings or christenings as well as drinks out or a posh meal. I didn’t buy new shoes or bag to go with it, I know it’ll go with what I already have.

Four items of clothes hang. From letf to right: a pair of blue ripped jeans, a chambray long sleeved shirt, a rainbow woollen jumper and aspotty shirt dress.
One of my old Primark hauls. In my defence, these were bought in the summer of 2018 ,
they’re still regulars in my wardrobe and all are still in good condition.

 

Thinking Out Loud

A Rambling Moan about Virtue Signalling at Christmas

Those facebook posts saying “haven’t sent any cards this year as I’ve donated to charity instead so I’ll say Merry Christmas here” kind of miss the point of a Christmas card.

I don’t send as many as I used to but I think that’s to do with laziness and an ever shrinking social circle and my utter ineptitude at keeping track of addresses.

The idea that it’s an either or, a binary choice of cards versus charity is what gets my goat. I buy charity cards so a donation goes towards those organisations, I’ve used Scout Post so the local scouting groups get a little boost to their fundraising. Today I’ve received a card from a friend who’s included a reminder of her fundraising for a marathon, along with her very new address.

Typing a generic Christmas flavoured message for a social media post via your smart phone while killing time on the toilet or mid commute doesn’t bring the same moment of glee that opening a brightly coloured, handwritten envelope does.

There’s a loneliness epidemic and for some people at Christmas, a little reminder that you’ve thought of them goes a long way. Especially for people who aren’t connected online.

The public statement of “I’m not doing *insert Christmas tradition* because I’m donating to charity instead or having an ethical Christmas or teaching my children about what’s important in life” can read as “I’m better than you”, “my heart is bigger than yours”, “you are an unethical shit”. Giving a gift to your partner or buying a present for your child shouldn’t make you feel bad.

We’ve never spent gazillions of pounds on Christmas because we don’t have lots of money. More often than not my husband and I give each other tickets or vouchers for gigs, shows and local restaurants. Our kids have had presents bought second hand from eBay or gumtree. I’ve made Christmas presents like handmade quilts, dressing up costumes, photo albums, paintings, chutney etc. We don’t splurge. I’m not a fan of consumerism for consumerism’s sake, we don’t need more stuff.

But isn’t it lovely when Christmas is about generosity? I get my kids involved in ideas for what their dad would like so they can wrap and give him something and learn about the joy of giving not just receiving. I’m not talking fancy things, it’s stuff like his favourite chocolate bar. Generosity isn’t just presents and cards but time and energy. Trips to our local theatre, long dog walks around Christmas trails, carols at church, Christmas crafting with kids, inviting family and friends over, all those get togethers.

Perhaps I don’t quite get the idea of not giving or receiving as an ethical choice because we already don’t spend as much as a lot of people. Instagram has been a tad galling at times, people buying Christmas Eve box pyjamas that cost more than the main gift my youngest will be getting. “stocking fillers” that cost the same as the tickets I’ve bought for someone else.

When Father Christmas asked our boys what they’d like for Christmas (their sister opted out of meeting him this year, sad times), one said Lego and the other said a puppet. They know it’s not about presents, some of their favourite parts of the day are seeing their cousins and playing charades.

It also makes me wonder how much other people spend on cards. I’ve spent under a tenner. Should I stop this tradition to give £10 to a charity? Would it be the same if I saved £10 by not buying that bottle of wine or those books and gave that money to charity? I know there are extortionate stamps to buy too but I’ve sent half with my dad to get disseminated around family by hand in another part of the country.

It’s a tad disingenuous to be promoting an ethical stance of asking for charity donations in lieu of presents when you promote products for other people to buy. Standing behind the less is more hashtag when everything you already have is beautiful and perfect and lovely. I’d quite like a perfume for Christmas because that’s the one bottle I use through the whole year. Last year I wanted a mirror because we’d had the same one in the living room that had belonged to the previous owners about a decade before. It hasn’t gone to landfill or even a charity shop, the old mirror just moved rooms. When you also talk of having Christmas abroad in another culture away from all the stuff at the end of a year of fancy holidays and posh homewares, it jars with people who are in a financially less privileged position.      

I can air this knowing that the Instagrammers who inspired the previous paragraph won’t read it because they treat Instagram and blogging as their daily paper, they curate it to ensure that they only have what they perceive to be high quality content. This translates as only reading what’s written by their friends. They can’t believe their luck that they’ve got book deals and gazillions of followers but they don’t support or engage with the lowly regional oiks and upstarts, they don’t help nurture the blogging ecology.

I’m not advocating for these people to splurge even more of whatever money they’ve got on pointless, vacuous presents. I just wish they’d stop making me do little sicks in my mouth when they say they’re not buying their partner a gift for ethical reasons and they’ve asked for charity donations from other family. Of course you don’t need or want presents, you’ve already got everything. Your life is already perfect and you get “gifted” shit all year round so why should Christmas be especially gifty?   

If you’re giving presents and sending cards, that’s fine, you do you. If you’re not then great, you can do you too. Just bear in mind that whichever side of the fence you fall, the moment you start preaching or showing off about it on social media is the moment you alienate someone.