My United Kingdom travels

In amongst all the Brexit anxiety and heightened awareness of the climate damage that air travel causes I have tried to spend more time exploring the United Kingdom this summer, rather than relying on the old fall back of a cheap package holiday.

Time away this summer break has been particularly important. Last summer, most of 2018, was spent rectifying the abysmal state the property that Derby Homes let to us, was in. This affected nearly everything that was important in my life. My mental health, my relationship with my son and partner, and my allotment. The latter is just a case of pulling up some weeds, but my health and my family have taken more careful consideration; namely some respite and some dedicated time spent together one-on-one.

M and I spent a week together staying with friends of mine who moved to Totnes in Devon twelve months ago. The southwest really is a paradise for little boys and we spent our time peering into rockpools, crabbing off harbour sides and building sandcastles. M also seems to be developing a fondness for poking through charity shops and bought some fabulous items from a tiny antique shop located on Totnes High Street.


More recently I took myself off to Glasgow for a week of culture sans children. After locating an amazing Victorian tenement apartment deal on Airbnb I submerged myself into a five day extravaganza of culture, art, food and fresh air.

I had never visited Glasgow before this visit, or even Scotland. I was extremely surprised. Given the cultural stereotypes that exist about the Scottish (Glaswegians in particular) the exact opposite appeared to be the case, both of the city and its residents. Glasgow is a city with a style and beauty that is all its own. Given its association with Charles Rennie Mackintosh it is easy to say that would be the case, but walking around, the relationship between the architecture and art, and what we know as the ‘Glasgow Style’, is more symbiotic. Things that I identified as ‘Mackintosh’ existed every day in the city before he began working there, and so I think that the city influenced him as much as he eventually  influenced it.


I am looking forward to visiting Edinburgh inasmuch to see if my suspicion that there might be a similar relationship between it and Glasgow and Madrid and Barcelona is true. When visiting the first and second cities of Spain, Madrid felt very regal and austere. There was definitely creativity and pomp but it was also extremely regulated, with a high degree of protocol. By comparison there was a lightness of touch to Barcelona that I really appreciated.

I wonder if the same might be true of Edinburgh and Glasgow too

Patricular highlights of both trips for me were; in Devon, the ’round robin’ boat trip between Totnes and Dartmouth; crabbing in Paignton harbour, and having a coffee there thinking about my ex-partner Ian, whose birthday it was. He died last year and was the last person prior to this that I visited Paignton with. Mostly though, spending time with my boy; even the car trips were fun for that reason.

In Glasgow, cafe Zique, the Hanoi bike shop (try the ‘Feed me!’ option for lots of delicious surprises). The accomodation we stayed in; masses of character and perfectly located for walking around, the Botanical Gardens, and the Kelvingrove Musuem and Art Gallery where I learned about the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of the UK in the next year or two.

Weeping Window, Derby Silk Mill remembers World War 1

I managed to visit Derby Museum Trust’s Silk Mill installation of the ‘Weeping Window’, created from poppies made in Derbyshire and originally installed at the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Blood’ featured at the Tower of London. These photos were taken the morning it was due to be removed, and I rode into town for 7.30am in order to get them.

If you didn’t see it, the installation was removed at the end of July 2017, but I guess the individual poppies will be stored and may perhaps be exhibited somewhere else in the future.

Weeping window and gate

Weeping window Silk Mill Tower

Weeping window poppy detail

Finding Lines Opening 14/7/17

Tonight I went to the opening of Finding Lines, the last exhibition at Derby Museums and Art Gallery. It was curated by my wonderful friend Andrea Hadley-Johnson, who has been sadly absent in my life recently because of the flurry of activity in getting everything ready. The creative and wonderful results have been worth the wait, as her sparkles were evident everywhere in the space and atmosphere.

  The event had been carefully planned with entertainments and distractions to suit all ages and temperaments. Carefully constructed linear face painting, turned participants into living works to admore alongside those hung on the walls.

 The museum cafe was transformed into a lively bar, complete with DJs and doodling invitations enticing passers by to linger longer.  The fabulous culmination of the Twitter hashtag, #findinglines were displayed in a colourful and engaging grid of pictures, continuing the co-produced themes that permeate Derby Museums Trust work. 

I took up a suggestion to sit, chat and sketch by an artist who doesn’t take his eyes off you. The result is a melty, swirly picture that reminded me of a Dali dreamscape.


Monday visit to Harley Gallery Nottingham

The Harley Gallery in Worksop Nottinghamshire is part of the ongoing work of the Welbeck Estate. The gallery sits in a beautifully restored estate, which also houses a fabulous cafe, amazing farmshop that sells the cheapest raw milk I have found anywhere and a pretty decent garden centre.

The gallery itself includes several spaces, one for temporary exhibitions and the other housing the Portland Collection, a historic collection of fine and decorative art, as well as a well stocked gift shop, which has some beautiful, if pricy objects inside.

The gallery is one of the hidden gems in the Midlands. Considering the pedigree of some of the artists I have seem there and the quality of the permanent collection, very few people seem to know about it, even those working in museums in the West Midlands. This is especially sad because, unlike Chatsworth House which can require a second mortgage in entry fees, everything is free to access!

The second time I visited was to see the ‘Bricked’ exhibition; a creative endeavor created entirely out of lego. Little M, being 4, is totally crazy about the stuff, and so I thought it would be an opportunity to sneakily engage in some art with him, in a medium he would appreciate.

Brick Wonders was the second exhibition at Harley by artist Warren Elsmore. In it he recreates the seven wonders of the world entirely out of lego, as well as a diverse range of seventy other models with different technological, scientific and educational messages. My favourites were the quite gruesome operating theatre and hypodermic needle, which looked worryingly realistic, and the map of global fibre optic cabling that enables the internet we all rely on in the 21st Century. The breadth of content made for a brilliant starting point for many conversations with younger visitors about a whole host of topics.

The exhibition appeal was well considered, with a lego graffiti wall, together with a lego trail around the Portland Collection. The collection is breathtaking, with many pieces with significant cultural relevance, such as the earring worn by Charles I on the day of his execution. it spans a range of themes, such as horse paintings, miniatures, jewellery, books and household silver. Given this side of the gallery may have less appeal to kids, a lego trail extended around the space, with small lego figures located alongside different objects. This layered fun and engagement for children into what could be a wholly adult space and allowed the grownups a chance to explore without too much complaining.

We finished our trip with a visit to the Harley Cafe, located just across the square. The cafe’s food is excellent quality, with many items able to be made gluten free at short notice. The cafe is one of the most accommodating for guests with food intolerances, as well as providing one of the widest GF choices I have found in the midlands.

For anyone visiting the East Midlands who is taking a look at Chatsworth, I urge you to make the short hop across Derbyshire and check out the Welbeck Estate’s Harley Gallery as another must see!




March in photos

A few pictures from my travels in March 2017 🙂


A beautiful spring morning on a walk in Cambridge visiting a friend. A moment that took my breath away and I tried to capture, but didn’t really succeed.

Inspiring thoughts from the International Women’s Day Festival held in Derby in 2017. 
Amazing Lego exhibition at the Harley Gallery in Mansfield. We did go dressed as dinosaurs, why not?
Loved this vertical Lego graffiti wall. Didn’t need to say much else really.
Beautiful sinuous shapes in the trees, soon to be covered in greenery. #noticenature
From the muse’s point of view…
Taken on the sly, hence being a bit shaky but worth it to record the method of eating breakfast for posterity. Apparently he didn’t think to get a bowl.
Loved the sense of scale in this one

Derby Museum Volunteering, October 2016

So October  has been a pretty busy month. Mylo has started school and has settled into his first half term. It’s given me a chance to take stock and re-involve myself in a number of projects at Derby Museums and further afield as well as picking up Lunar21 once more.

Firstly, I have been developing a series of volunteer badges with other makers at the trust.

The museum and art gallery have long suffered expensive and often fragile badge designs that did not really do justice to the collection or reflect the ethos of the Trust well. By contrast, the Silk Mill’s hackspace and maker studio produce outstanding and unique designs for each of the events that they host.

Volunteer badges tweets, October 2016
i wanted to try and find a low cost solution to enable volunteers to pick from a series of designs that not only represented their interests, but also the broad nature of the Trust’s sites and collection. The brief was to be a conversation starter, create interest and be visible from a reasonable distance.

I created some prototypes with maker Graeme Smith.  As these were well received, I took the project forward to the next stage. Working with Super Nature volunteer Andy Thornton, we have created a series of originally designed images that represent the Museum Trust’s collection. Currently we are at the stage where we have completed a first round of laser cut samples, working across the size and shape to make them consistent. We hope to have the final range completed for approval at the end of November, when I will complete a post for the projects section of the website.

Volunteer badges tweets, October 2016
The small reveal we did on Twitter generated loads of interest and positive comments, so I am hoping that this means we are heading in the right direction on the project.

I’ve also become involved with the Audience Development work at the museum. I was lucky enough to help facilitate a tactile tour for partially sighted visitors. From this came reams of really valuable information. The hope is that we can go on to develop a kit for this audience segment and run a similar experience for the Silk Mill building. At the time of writing these things are very much in consideration, but I am hopeful to be able to continue with this work as it interests me greatly, and perhaps even go on to work on accessibility and engagement for other niche audiences such as those on with ASC.

Volunteer badges tweets, October 2016
Work to develop engagement with the ceramic collection has taken a digital turn. Working with Culture 24’s Pintrest boards, I am about to begin photographing the re-interpreted objects as well as the interventions that are on display with the more traditional Derby ceramic and porcelain objects.

The last thing I have managed to help with was a call out on the Volunteer newsletter for citizen journalists to write about their experiences within the DMT. I sent across a couple of my blog pieces to Gemma, our lovely volunteer coordinator, and she thought they might be of some use to her in the future.

Last but not least, I have also been appointed to the Museum Computer Group Committee to assist with marketing and communications over the coming year or so, which I am mightily looking forward to. Watch this space for more information.


Tactile Tour Facilitation | Derby Museum and Art Gallery

This afternoon I had the pleasure of assisting with a session to learn more about the audience experience at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery  for visitors who are partially sighted. Having very different sense perceptions myself, because of having Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) I am always curious about how others with different sense abilities to the usual, and my own, perceive the world. I was also curious to see how a ‘tactile tour’ compiled by a fully-sighted and neurotypical (NT) programmer would compare to the reality of a partially sighted experience.

Although the tour was created around sensory elements of the collection at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, the experience of the environment itself was much more insightful. Walking around with the group opened up a world of possibilities about how hazardous a space could possibly be, with changes in floor material as well as low level obstacles such as rope barriers at knee height all creating issues.

Viewing Joseph Wrights with a magnifier
What became apparent quickly was just how much more there was to think about than just what parts of the collection could be used to best effect. Also, the lack of understanding about the environmental factors that could be considered tactile surprised me. I have found that NTs tend to be very sight-focused, to the exclusion of the other senses. There are a myriad of different textures and sensations about the museum building. From the cool leather Chesterfield seats in the Joseph Wright Gallery, to the original lead glass panels in the doors opposite the Egyptian mummies.  The different sizes and textures in the rooms changed the sounds, temperature and air sensations on the skin. Varying materials underfoot contrast as you travel around the space; hard and creaking wooden floor-boards with quiet and soft cork tiles.

Leaded glass window panes create unexpected texture
Improvements in the visitor experience were explored. How to make displays behind glass more accessible for example. In the Notice Nature gallery small LED torches were available to see the detail in the displays of insects, These dramatically increased the contrast and detail recognition available to our group of visitors. Lighting generally was found to be a quick fix, with the preference of the group being to raise lighting levels across the board. I thought how this would come into conflict with my own sensory needs, and the difficulties exposure to bright lights can cause me.

Tactile marble touched
The greater subject of balancing the accessibility needs of different groups into a visitor experience was raised. The Silk Mill building, which is about to undergo a full renovation into a Museum of Making, will be an amazing test case for this cause. Given that the building and thus the visitor environment, is being built from the ground up, the opportunity to integrate the needs of different groups could potentially be done. Designing the lighting system to have variable capabilities across both the ambient and display lighting would be am amazing place to start. This capability would need to be built into the final programming of the space; perhaps with particular visiting times for different groups, as Manchester Museum currently offers, so that accessibility is as universal as possible.

As well as learning loads about the visitor experience from a different point of view it was a chance to see how a museum relates to different audience groups and explores improvements. We spent a good five minutes in the disabled toilet discussing (certain aspects) of the user experience and where the pinch points might be – getting some rather strange looks when all seven trooped out one after the other!

Exploring the Mummy Gallery
We finished the tour with a handling session, exploring objects from different aspects of the collection. Medieval tiles and obsidian arrow heads were passed about and discussed. The three dimensional aspects of objects such as these could so easily be included within the permanent exhibition space, making use of the 3D scanner and printer, as I had seen at the  Arch’ and Anth’ Museum at Cambridge University. Any surface which has texture and relief could be reproduced, with the added advantage of allowing children to explore with their hands, as well as including another sense in the experience.

I really enjoyed meeting the group of volunteers who shared their time and experience and I’m looking forward to the next part of the project.



Yorkshire Sculpture Park | Museum Visit

On a blazing hot Bank Holiday Monday this August, I took Mylo up to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to explore with the friend who accompanied me the first time I went nearly 8 years ago. The weather was terrible then. I remember drinking tea huddled into each other coats in an effort to remain defrosted. Luckily this time was considerably warmer, so I got to spend more time appreciating the sculpture and less time dodging the pouring rain.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 001

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 002


The YSP is one huge art space set out over acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and natural English countryside. Originally a stately home, and then a college of art amongst other incarnations, the YSP are currently undertaking a sensitive and gentle restoration of the grounds and architecture. The sculpture and newer structures blend beautifully with what remains from the past. The overall affect, with the sculpture, landscape and buildings is one of balance; with old and new coexisting alongside. It is a shame that this cannot be achieved as successfully in many other places.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 010

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 007

Highlights of the day included seeing how Mylo, who is four, interacted with the environment in a completely different way to adults. We pulled faces, discussed reflections, climbed, crawled and touched. The wildlife was beautiful and the cows weren’t bad either. The walk around the main lake includes a farm animals section which include some particularly impressive Highland Bulls.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 003

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 014

The range of pieces of permanent display is impressive. Classic Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore synchronise with challenging modern examples. Some of the latter resemble abandoned plastic bags and a smashed up garden pathway. The sheer scale of the site and the sculpture within it make it art on an unprecedented scale. A great experience for children, and a lesson in size, stature and lots of walking.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 013

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 009

The temporary exhibitions were located inside and outside the space. Outside, monolithic cartoon characters waved and smiled, whilst towering over you like extras from some sick fantasy in the mind of a War-of-the-Worlds alien. Inside, we discovered a craft and print exhibition. The curation and space they were in seemed ill-considered by comparison. Located upstairs along what I can only describe as a corridor in certain places, we were squeezed in alongside other visitors and forced to crane our necks in an effect to see the pieces, as there was no space to step back and admire them from the distance they deserved. Perhaps because the rest of the site is so well put together the prints seemed a little pale by comparison; even then the subject matter, craft and retro styled images seemed ill-at-odds with the sculpture and modern space.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 004

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 006

For families the day is second to none, as long as you have the weather. There is a very pricey cafe available but my advice would be not to bother and pack a picnic, making use of the glorious rolling lawns to enjoy your food. We ventured in for a coffee at the end of the day, and I was not terribly impressed. We had to wait 10 minutes to find a table and even then it was covered in dirty plates. The staff member making the coffee had to redo my order 3 times as it was wrong and was them unable to find our table to deliver it to us.

Definitely visit. Check the weather and take a picnic. Don’t bother to pay for parking on the day, you can do it online up to a week afterwards. The queues were 20 minutes when we went.


Week’s readings

This week’s readings