Just back, having spent a week in the lovely city of Belfast (capital of Northern Ireland, UK).
I had a wonderful time visiting The Giants Causeway, drinking Guinness, admiring political murals, drinking my weight in coffee, absorbing the industrial significance of the Titanic…getting through a lot of local gins. It was a cultural whirlwind. Best of all, it was unbelievably sunny; it didn’t rain once!*
* – apart from the ten minutes it pelted it down, but at that point had just paid my entrance ticket to spend some time inside Belfast’s notorious Crumlin prison. (I swear I’m a normal human being deep down.)
Hopefully there will be a video coming up soonish (when I get a spare day to pull everything together), but in the meantime here are a selection of choice snaps from my staycation.
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You know how it is. It’s a Friday night, you’re a single woman with the world at your fingertips and anything is possible. You could go out, let your hair down or…you could stay in and give your kitchen a deep clean.
Thing is, I’m not even embarrassed to admit this. In the same way I’m not at all ashamed to say the only bottles this girl was demolishing the other night were these:
(Obviously in non-drinking, sense. Please don’t call 111.)
With cleaning plans firmly lodged in my head, I changed out of my dress and put on a black vest, thus transforming me into a low-budget search engine result for “contemporary dancer near me”.
(No refunds for crimes against the aeroplane dance move.)
First item in my line of cleaning sight (yes, this was genuinely how I spent my Friday night), the fridge. Breaking this mighty deliverable down into smaller, manageable, chunks (who said bringing the day job into personal life isn’t exotic?), I went for the bottom drawer first.
This was followed by a healthy amount of neighbour stalking / Alice rambling (feat. actual cleaning).
Several hours later, and after inhaling quite a considerable about of cleaning fumes in a confined space, this happened.
I’m not going to explain nor apologise. I sent it to my close friends and the responses speak for themselves.
So that’s how I spent my crazy Friday night, what about you?
This is my obligatory public service announcement that I’ve now had my second dose of the Covid-19 vaccination. Whoop! Go me/science/go-away pandemic.
And, because I’m also that kind of person, I used it as an excuse to post a number of letters on the way home. That’s right, I’m so productive!
I spent the vaccination part of my appointment talking to the nurse about my fabulous taste in dresses (best two minutes of any girl’s life) and the fifteen minutes wait time afterwards reading a book. I could have taken a photo of either one of these two activities but it really wasn’t that exciting. Posting letters in a pillar box, that was more exciting.
In short, the process to get both my vaccines was so laid back, it was virtually horizontal. All super friendly people, with big smiles and even bigger bottles of hand sanitiser.
I’m not going to get overly-preachy, but I’d highly encourage anyone to get jabbed (*if it’s something that’s offered to you and something you can medically take).
Still unsure? Browse information published on medically recognised websites, log onto your national health webpages (in the UK, anything endorsed by the NHS), talk to medicine women/men. Don’t listen to idiotic turnips, the ones who own little more in the technical department than a cheap keyboard and have way too much time on their hands to write whacky blogs (oh, wait…)
Anyway, this is my little bit to inform people that yes, I’ve had my second dose of the Covid vaccine and yes, that does mean 14 days from now there’s a heightened risk that I’ll start running around and hugging people for no apparent reason. Also, I may start crying. No reason, I just might.
You have been warned.
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It’s not often I hop onto my soapbox, least of all on anything bordering on political. That’s not what 99% of you guys came here for, to be quite honest it’s not really what I came here for. However it has now reached a stage where I cannot sit here in good faith and say nothing.
Back in March 2020, at the start of the first UK wide lockdown, all museums and attractions across England were forced to close. This included Swindon Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG), a small site located in the heart of the town’s oldest district. Like all respecting patrons of art and culture institutions up and down the country, I fully supported this government-enforced directive.
On the ending of the first lockdown in Summer 2020, Swindon Borough Council refused to reopen SMAG. While other heritage sites reopened their doors, awash with safety posters and guidance on basic handwashing, the chains around SMAG’s grand entranceway continued to rust with dejection. Now, in August 2021, dejection has slipped into acceptance, the rust into rot. It feels like culture was never here at all.
Throughout the assorted protests and disjointed cries from local residents, the council has strongly defended their decision, stating this move is only intended as a short-term measure. Other rumours speculate Covid being used as a thin veil of scapegoating the closure on underlying problems the council had been failing to redress for years, including low footfall, costly repairs and accessibility issues. This, and the proposed £33,000 per year saving it would make to the local budget, at a time when the council needs to urgently balance the books.
For the years I have lived in Swindon, I openly admit to being less that a frequent visitor to SMAG. In fact, one of the few visitations I made was on a first date with my (now) ex boyfriend, which dates it very well. It was a long time ago.
But, on the few times I went, I enjoyed it. Aside from the unchanging artefact exhibits (complete with the much-loved “Apsley the Croc”), there was also an extensive art collection which went through frequent rotations. I was never a fan of the 1960s extension, bolted on in the 1960s, but as far as the contents was concerned I respected and enjoyed the contents for what they offered. Only in hindsight do I realise how little I fully appreciated what we had; now it’s gone.
In some ways the council’s decision to close SMAG is predictable. For years, concern was tempered with optimism over plans to relocate the museum to a newly constructed “Cultural Quarter”, proposed as part of a 2019 bid for Heritage Lottery Funding. Housed closer to the train station, the site would also contain a digital media centre, dance studio, and an expanded 1200-seat Wyvern Theatre. It was estimated to cost £80 million to build, create up to 1200 jobs and pump in an estimated £35 million into the local economy. Sadly, this bid proved to be unsuccessful.
At the time of writing (August 2021), all capital investment projects are on hold. Headlines will often cite the pandemic as the main reason, however the pessimist in me would also cite that by the council’s own omission, work on constructing the theatre alone wasn’t due to start until 2025. In other words, this project was always going to be a slow burner.
During the course of writing this article, I’ve discovered Swindon Borough Council are now considering different options, including having an “Art Pavilion”, and/or touring Art and collections in pop-up spaces, in a format being referred to as “Museums Without Walls”. Citing the museum elsewhere is also being considered. But these conversations are incredibly early in the process, and this response is quite possibly driven by community action by the Friends Swindon Museum and Art Gallery group (and local news coverage). Where the preservation of Arts and Culture is concerned, it shouldn’t take a group of people shouting and screaming to force the hand of local government. When the justification reads as “temporary closure, due to Covid”, was the expectation that we’d all forget? That we wouldn’t care?
Why does it matter?
I get it, not everyone is big into History; not everyone enjoys stuffy old exhibits and random bits of art. And that’s absolutely fine. But here’s the thing, when you’re sat in a boxy little room, planning ahead for the future, it becomes increasingly harder to pitch your town as being a “place to be”, “up and coming” or a “desirable” if with the other hand, you’re eroding the cultural bedrock on which it stands.
It’s why most towns in the UK will have a heritage centre of some size. It celebrates and brings communities together or, to be a bit more cold-hearted, it adds to the sales pitch. “Move to Swindon, we have…houses”, it doesn’t quite butter the parsnips.
Yes, the museum had a small footfall and yes, there were many areas in which it was crying out for improvement, but we’ve slept-walked into losing another thing that celebrated this town for what it was. With it, and an increasing trend of young professionals adopting WFB (Work From Bedroom) jobs, I fear we’ll start losing the point of why any of us are here at all.
So, where does this place the arts and culture in this sprawling town? It seems the future is set to remain uncertain indefinitely. And this post only relates to one type of cultural attraction; novels could be written of the erosion of a good deal of other services (libraries, community groups etc) in the years leading up to 2020.
In light of all this, I have only one thing to ask of the local council; don’t use Covid-19 as an excuse for a move that can only be described as closure culture. Because, at the end of the day, I think we’re all smarter than that, don’t you?
A massive thank you to the team at Baker Tea House in Cardiff for the lovely card and coffee and cake vouchers! Super unexpected but a wonderful delight.
Baker Tea House is my absolute, number one, favourite coffee shop, quite possibly ever (definitely in Cardiff). I have been frequenting it for years. Located in the High Street Arcade (opposite Cardiff Castle), this multi-level venue stocks oodles of teas, alongside the coffee classics.
Thanks to the pandemic I’ve been unable to go for over a year. Which sucks. Wales said that English people weren’t welcome to cross the border, the politicians in power said so. And we all know what happens when people say no? That’s right, it turns it into forbidden fruit.
Welsh footballer, Gareth Bale, now counts as ‘exotic’, on account of him being someone that, at one stage, it was illegal for me to visit.
Huh? No, I don’t fancy him. Just, *whispers*, forbidden fruitttt. (I’d probably fancy a chimp in a suit if it was classed as forbidden fruit…don’t tell my employers I said that.)
And don’t tell me I’m using the pandemic as an excuse; it still counts.
What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, Baker Tea House.
If you guys know me, you’ll know I like to write a letter or two, or three…mostly after an unhealthy amount of tea.
So I was going through a mountain of post and, in amongst all the junk, there was this:
Call me intrigued. Also semi expecting it to be Neil (I think his name was Neil), from the Petemoor community football club asking me for money again, because “Tom” hadn’t paid his annual subscription fees. Addressing a hand-written note to “the householder”, that is such a Neil thing to do. He knows “Tom” doesn’t live here, I’ve told him twice already. He’s playing a very, VERY long game to try to get to me.
Telephone calls go like this, “Neil, Tom doesn’t live here. I’m not Tom. Uh-huh, thanks.” End scene. (almost five years and this is the extent of our flirty chat.)
Yeah…the letter wasn’t from Neil. It was this:
Jehovah’s Witnesses are busy at the moment discussing the Kingdom we pray for (Matt 6:9,10), by writing to our neighbours. We would like you to know that God’s kingdom will undo all the harm that millenious (sp?) of human rule have done. It will provide perfect health, peace and security, meaningfull (sp?) work and a clean environment.
Hopefully, you will want to know more, in which case please get in touch with the above address or visit Jehovah’s Witnesses official website http://www.JW.org.
We hope this letter finds you well.
(I’ve ‘?’ and ‘sp?’ the words I’m not 100% sure on/fairly convinced they’re written with typos.)
There are many questions I have about this letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW).
Has Daphne been writing letters to everyone in the area, on the street, or just me? How long did Daphne wait on my porch for me to answer the door? Did Daphne scribble this note, hoping that at any moment I’d throw the door wide and yell “come on in, Daphne! I have cake!”? Does Daphne keep a stash of notelet paper on her for times like these?
EDIT (seconds after writing the above), just remembered there was a stamp on the envelope. NOW THERE ARE ONLY MORE QUESTIONS!! How have the JW got my address AND WHY?!
…I don’t think this was the kind of response the JW’s were expecting, or hoping for.
I did enjoy this letter, and I really would love to get more hand written letters. In the interest of open mindedness, I decided to do some additional research before jumping to conclusions.
I browsed multiple videos to refresh me on the fundamentals of JW (most of which I viewed at well-gone midnight, on several glasses of wine, but let’s not dwell heavily on that).
(FYI I struggled to find videos without derogatory titles.I really did try.)
After viewing some clips I’m going to have to say it’s not for me. At the age of 28, I’m still far too attached to my 1990s collection of Beanie Babies to start believing they “make Jehovah sad”. You read the delightful little poems inside the name tags and tell me they make anyone sad. Jehovah must have a heart of stone is all I can say.
Forget about the not celebrating birthdays/Christmas part, the Beanie Babies are a non-negotiable for me. And if you honestly think I’m joking, then my darling friend you really are mistaken.
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Remember the post I did, titled Very Cotswold Problems, #3001? It turns out Mr Maverick Lawn Mowing services (catchy name) liked the video upload, and they liked it a lot.
24 seconds of top-notch video footage of my Mumma B and her lawn mower shed antics and the dude has both liked and subscribed to my YouTube channel (still working on getting them to like the actual blog content).
If that doesn’t scream quality comedy, I don’t know what does.
Hang on…have they liked this just because of my Mum?
Seesh. Anyway, moving on…
UPDATE: Maverick has taken down their comment. Rats.