Valentine’s Day was the first day of 2016 that I remember being sunny and warm. I decided to go for a trek around Elvaston Castle grounds and found an amazing deserted old farm complex that was obviously part of the original house complex. The detail in the buildings was beautiful, and much of the original farm machinery was still in situ. I think it is such a shame how the estate has been under-managed. There was masses of potential there, but much of it’s building now I guess are beyond reasonable repair.

Here are the photos I took:





Feeling sad and a bit old

It struck me the other day, that my youth, the things I did in my teens and twenties have been consigned to history. I feel sad about this – that the popular movements, music and ideals are no longer with us. Time has moved on and I feel very old.

I suppose that I am starting to look forwards now. I am 40 in 6 years. 6 years really isn’t that long at all. I am developing a sense of my own mortality that simply doesn’t happen in in your twenties. Having children has contributed towards this – you begin to worry more about where your security will be coming from. Being able to provide becomes a necessity. You don’t just have the option of packing up and moving on if something, a job, a relationship, doesn’t suit you anymore.

I think what really made me realise this was the demise of dance-clubs. I spent a huge amount of tie working and parting in clubs and it is really sad to see that nearly half of all the licensed venues have closed in the last 10 years. The amount of clubs in Birmingham that I used to go to has dwindled to virtually nothing. The Venue, hosting Wobble and Crunch, The Steering Wheel with S.L.A.G . and my total favourite Sundissential at the Pulse and Nightingales. I used to work round the corner from here in the Angels bar and spent a lot of time across town in Subway City, one of the dirtiest venues in the city which held everything from ultra-camp gay nights to the hardcore techno House of God. I miss the feeling of unity I used to get on my evenings, weekends out. I did often disappear for 48 hours, grab a night’s sleep and go to uni’ on a Monday. God only knows how I managed to get my degree, let along a first.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life now. I love it a lot more in the last 6 months. it has been great becoming a parent, but it has been so fucking hard too. Now I have my diagnosis and am finally getting the right kind of support it has made the world of difference. My horizons are beginning to open up again instead of being closed in and narrow.

However it is still sad to know that my youth has passed. My care-free days are gone, but I look forward to seeing Mylo grow into his in the coming decades.



Nottingham Contemporary visit

I decided to try a second visit the to the Nottingham Contemporary last weekend, after reading good things about their children’s activities. I invited one of my friends from Derby Museums along, who also has a son slightly younger than M as another point of view.

The first time I visited I had more of a general look round, taking in the architecture (which is nice, with great links to the Nottingham lace making industry), the cafe and the shop. The shop has got some lovely things in it, but seemed to tend towards the pricier end of the spectrum for what could be sourced far more reasonably elsewhere.

This second time, my first with son, was a chance to see things from a more in-depth point-of-view.

We visited the activity for children first, located on the second floor. It was billed as ‘matchbox art’. Essentially creating larger pictures into many smaller ones, by cutting them up and sticking them onto the sides of the box. It has lots of creative possibilities, creating puzzles or replacing parts of the picture with something else, for example. Materials were laid out and we were directed to a seat to make a start.

After about 5 minutes, the activity supervisor came rushing up and said that we were using the wrong materials  Matchboxes? Magazine pictures? Glue or scissors? Between welcoming other families she explained over a further 5 minutes that the activity has a limited budget, and that the matchboxes we could use were the ones with paper wrapped around them, not sticking to the boxes directly like we had begun to. Not a problem, but there was nothing explaining this and plastic bags of boxes left open on the table, giving the distinct impression to help yourself. It was a real shame, as the kids had started to explore the possibilities of decorating the insides of the box, creating art surprises, and so forth. Plus being interrupted midway was a distraction it itself. We recovered but for me the activity lost a bit of sparkle, mainly because when you took away the paper wrappings you were left with something that looked pretty deflated, which was a shame. When we walked around the exhibition we also realised that there was a great link to some of the artwork on show. This wasn’t made clear at the time, and I feel that an opportunity was missed here.

We visited the exhibition space next. The show was billed as ‘Monuments should not be trusted’, bringing

“together over 30 leading artists and groups from the “golden years” of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – the period between the early 1960s and the mid 1980s.

Over 100 artworks and artifacts illuminate the key contradictions of this single party state – built after WWII on socialist principles, yet immersed in “Utopian consumerism.”

There was a vast range of artworks, over 100, spread across 3 spaces, and broadly grouped into themes of Public Space and the Presence of Tito, Socialism and Class Difference, Comradess Superwoman, and Utopian Consumerism and Subcultures. The mix of media was good, with sculpture, photography, film, paint and historical objects all included.

Unfortunately I found the gallery experience itself unsatisfying. Considering the venue included a family activity on the day, there was nothing outside the Comradess Superwoman gallery indicating that some of the content might be unsuitable for younger visitors or cause offence. Images included topless women in quite suggestive poses and could be considered pornographic, albeit on the softer side.

My son and I are used to being quite free in a gallery space. This exhibition was of contemporary works, which was probably less accessible, however certain aspects, such as a large monolithic sculpture in the corner that my son and I were placing peek-a-boo around the side of was not cordoned off in any way. Despite this we were asked by one of the assistants to ‘step away and not touch’. Several times the assistants approached us to point out that the display cases were tall, narrow and with extremely spindly legs, and seemed to be at risk of falling over. Not great with younger children around. Some of the head-sets for the film were were deafeningly loud when put on, with no concern given to the visitor’s hearing.

I have always tried to teach my son to be respectful and considerate towards others, however we are very used to being playful in a museum space, and as such with consideration given for the needs of visitors of all ages. I really didn’t feel this was the case with the Nottingham Contemporary exhibition. The staff spent a long time hovering nearby and after the third of fourth reminder about what to do (or not) I decided to give it up and head downstairs for a drink.

The cafe had a buzz to it, but was not decidedly busy. We ordered a coffee, a peppermint tea and my son chose a piece of cake from the display. After waiting over 10 minutes for 2 drinks to be delivered (the server behind the counter seemed to be rather vague about his work) we discovered that the cake has been left in the air for so longer as to render it inedible. Unfortunately this fact has been disguised by a thick layer of icing.  I returned what was left of the cafe to the counter and waited for another 5 minutes to ask for the bill, ignored by the 3 members of staff who were working there at the time.

All in all, I wasn’t that impressed. The kids activity was great, but the links with the exhibition were not obvious. if you visited first as we did there was nothing describing the inspiration. The gallery experience was mediocre, with little signage or allowances made to adapt for children of families. Although the staff were not unfriendly in their approaches, continuous intervention does begin to become tedious and off-putting, You have to ask yourself could a better job not have been done in the space set up? At least put up some signs for crying out load.

The cafe, don’t bother. There are umpteen better places for coffee and food outside the gallery doors.

I think I will go again, but certainly not with child in tow and definitely not without checking what the exhibition is by calling in advance.




A great start to 2016.

So I cleared out the house this weekend. Mark and Mylo exited, leaving me with 12 months of accumulated crud to tackle, with a huge side helping of Christmas presents and and holiday icing dirt to finish. What an appealing prospect. Well, from the point of view of being an autie it was. One of the things I get genuine pleasure from is restoring order from the chaos, and man things had got chaotic over the last 2 weeks.

We live in the same building as my partner runs his business from, as well as having a toddler, our living space has to be multi-functional. We have a fairly modern house which includes a through living room cum diner so can’t even designate one of two spaces for working and the other for living. Over 48 hours our living room is a lounge, dining space, photographic studio, office, exercise room, playroom, and dispatch bay. Keeping the oasis of calm I relish is all but impossible, so we have all had to compromise a bit. The main one I ask is that we practice toy rotation. At any time about 60% of Mylo’s toys were packed away, but we still had too many. Christmas was just the straw that broke the camel’s back so, everything came out, got sorted, and packed into plastic storage boxes (a bargain from Aldi, half the price of Homebase). It was a strange feeling of space having a house with no toys in it – a phenomenon not experienced in over 3 years.

I decided to go for it and tackled a few more jobs. Everywhere has been spring cleaned – no dust balls. I took all of the extra stuff that has been stored in the main bedroom when we moved my son into his new room 10 months ago. We were still co-sleeping until recently, but have made the decision to let him have his own room, and on the whole it has been a success. Now all his clothes, treasure and books are organised. The wardrobes have been turfed out and a few hideous shirts belonging to my partner have gone to a better place in the charity shop down the road. Luckily he rarely reads this blog and would give up before this point so I should be safe. Two sets of drawers have been moved downstairs, one to store the business odd and ends in the living room, the other TBC. My son’s room has been cleared and I’ve bought the paint to decorate; a lovely shade of blue called Javan Dawn 2. I also found an indoor Jasmine looking forlorn in the reduced section which smells divine –  now located on my desk whilst I type. So much nicer than a Glade plug-in. I also put together a bunch of stuff from around the house that will really brighten up the living room. It ended up being a bit brown and beige – not a look I rate excessively.

I’ve been spending a bit more time on myself recently. I have been growing my hair. It just reached my shoulders and I think that it has brought out more of my femininity.  I put some earring in for the first time in age and have even found time for make-up! If you see the image in the side panel you can see how short my hair was 3 years ago. I think it was just a reaction to being so busy, with moving house and being really ill, renovating a property with a 3 month old, anti-social neighbours for 2 years. You name it, we did it.

My last treat to myself was a BurgerKing. Real food resumes tomorrow and I haven’t done a scrap of shopping since Christmas Eve. I’ll leave you with the hilarious proofread fail I spotted on the menu.

Happy New Year!


Spot the fail.
Spot the fail.


OMG: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So I feel about twelve years old at the moment. Just got back from watching the latest Star Wars movie and it was totally amazing. The writers have managed to fit three movie’s worth of references into one feature film. There was patricide (down a bloody deep shaft) comedy, wobbly musicians, a new improved R2D2 type robot, a planet blasting mega-weapon! Amazing new actors joining the line up of old favorites; Han Solo, Chewie, Princess Leia and the robots.

This is Star Wars but on steroids, Star Wars for the 21st Century! It’s 20 times bigger than the original series (there’s a handy CGI 3D image comparing the new Death Star to the old to illustrate this)  and as much a film showcasing the best technology and skills as the first trilogy. I know that I’ve used far too many exclamation marks, but I have been waiting 17 years for this film after the disappointment that was the prequel trilogy. I was raised on Star Wars and Star Trek – next cinematic stop the Star Wars rebooted movie 😀 😀 😀

Derby Local Offer event

I attended the Derby Local Offer event at Derby QUAD last Friday. It hosted a number of organisations who work with young people (read up the the age of 25), who have disabilities and other additional needs.

I went in a number of roles. Firstly to see if there was anything relevant for the Autism organisation I am involved in, Right of Way for ASD, second to see if there was anything that could also work for me as an Autistic individual and third to see if I could begin to figure out why services seem to stop for people who are aged 25 or 30 respectively.

Speaking to a lot of the voluntary organisations such as Umbrella, or Derby City Parent Carer Forum  and the like it is understandable. Most of them have been organised and established by groups of parents frustrated with the lack of organised support and facilities for their children and families. In these cases it is of course only natural that the focus should be on children, and increasingly on young adults as these families grow up. It still highlights the shameful lack of understanding and support for families with additional needs such as those with high functioning Autistic children in Derby. You do wonder that nobody seems to give any thought to these young people as they grow. There are also the rest of us who received our diagnoses as adults or who just got too old and so abandoned in the wilderness.

Despite everything, there are some really good ideas coming through in the city…

Derby Shared Lives offers support to adults who are vulnerable, either in their own home with a more typical support worker visiting, or alternatively by living with a host family, either for a short break or as a member of the household. Host families are trained to assist their visitors, and will be involved with things like social or household skills, getting out into the community or support in other ways.

Derby QUAD holds supportive environment screenings, which include subtitled films for deaf audiences, described films for partially sighted or blind audiences and adapted screenings for those with sensory issues, (involving reducing volume, keeping the lights up and allowing people to move around. The demonstration of these on the day of the event gave a good indication of how they differ from the usual film showings).

The St James Centre in Normanton supports individuals and their families with complex and additional needs between the ages of 3 and 35 years old. They run a range of services, from social events, employment support, and host a disabled women’s social group. Additionally, weekly sessions for children are held across the week under the ‘Fun-abil8y’ banner.

Disability Direct manage the Lottery Funded ‘the stuff’ website that acts as a great focal point for information relating to services and other organisations for young people and adults with additional needs. Like most things the service is for those who are up to the age of 25 years old, or over 50 years old. When questioned about this, the response I got was that “this is the requirement for legislation.” it was suggested that I write in to point out the disability doesn’t cease for 25 years in the middle. it would be good for somebody to perhaps pick up on this and make provision without needing a poke though!

Jumpz Fitness hold fitness classes for individuals with additional needs or a disability. They take place once a week at Derby College between 11 and 12am. THe organiser Michelle has experience of working as a support worker and is also a competitive powerlifter. I spoke to her at the event and she was really engaged, describing the project as something that allows her to combine both the passions in her life.  Jumpz also works with an Aikido instructor in Milford to provide adapted lessons, weekly on a Sunday.

If there’s anything else you’re aware of please let me know. It would be good to be able to make further connections.

Volunteering for Derby Museums – first impressions.

Derby Museums Mascot stickers

So a brief conversation on twitter about Aves, the music @DMNature gallery had commissioned for their natural history spaced turned into a fully fledged volunteer opportunity working within the co-production team. My main contact is Andrea Hadley-Johnson, the Co-Production Manager who is an amazing arts and culture professional who was the Head of Display at habitat in a former life. I’ve met a lot of the volunteers who assisted with the redevelopment of the nature gallery, as well as the larger co-production team who work on everything from audience engagement, which features a huge amount of data, through to technical support creating, building and maintaining the exhibits themselves.

I’ve already made a good start on the video I mentioned in my original tweet ( more news here later) and will be assisting with a prototyping exercise for MA students visiting from Nottingham Trent University on the 17th November, next week. That has been fun to prepare for, including collecting junk and creating a creative and unusual ratings system for the students to reflect on what we have asked them to do, using leftover mascot voting stickers.

On the day, I’m going to be hanging about in the background, recording the student’s activities and communication. This will be included in an activity toolkit to supplement the Human Centred Design Handbook the museum has already made.

In the coming few weeks I’m hoping to get involved in some of the new ceramics gallery project labs and also learn some of the theory behind co-production from working with Jane Hardstaff.

If there’s any specific projects I get involved in like the prototyping exercise I will post about them here.

Weekly Round-up 5/11/15

This is what I have been doing / reading / loving this week:

1.) Silent Signals is a collaboration between University of the Arts London, Derby University and the Derby QUAD. It ‘s aim is to develop the intersection between science and art through collaboration between specialists in these fields. A symposium has been planned for February 2016 which I shall be attending, together with an exhibition of 6 animations, based upon genuine scientific research, that are the result of the project.

Image courtesy of the Silent Signals website

2.) Lunar21 held it’s second live event of 2015 at the Derby Silk Mill on Monday 2nd November. The topic was ‘the power of co-creation’ and speakers from Derby City Council and Derby Museums Trust enlightened the audience on just how they were adopting organic working methods that focused of team work and collaboration that traditional lead and follow management. Lively debate followed, trying to pin down just how and what co-creation is with a number of different points-of-view expressed.

Image courtesy of Lunar21.com

3.) Chris Unitt’s culture digital’ newsletter  is worth signing up to if you are interested in the meeting of culture, the arts and digital surprisingly enough. I received my first edition this week and it included some great articles. Here are the best:

4.) I found an amazing video by a Swedish Professor Hans Rosling who shows what amazing things can be done with data and it’s visualisation.

The Joy of Stats from Gapminder