New Year, New Job

So, here’s news; I have a new job, in a new company (but still within the financial services sector – in case any of you were worried of me jumping the sector-ship).

Just a little bit smug/proud of myself. A little.

Nothing encapsulates this glorious news better (/brings me back down a peg) than this card sent to me by a dear friend. The message inside is wonderful, it’s all incredibly heartful, only, he didn’t realise it was one of those personalised cards you’re meant to edit beforehand.

(My family are now refusing to call me anything other than Stacey Peterson.)

Brilliant.

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Happy Christmas!

A quick one from me to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and, if Christmas isn’t your thing, a relaxing few days with happiness and relaxation a plenty.

With love and hugs, Alice x

(Ps, if you’re after some fireside reading, you do know there’s a wealth of past blog posts on my Contents page? You’re welcome.)

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A Very Happy Alice

I’ve just got back from my writing retreat and, newsflash, it was beyond amazing.

Full retreat cohort, including course tutor/professional author Caitlin Davies (in the red jumper)

I met 22 wonderful human beings (15 other participants + tutors/guest readers + Arvon staff), and there was so much to take in and reflect on, and every night I felt I like I could burst with creativity (which would have been awkward, as I don’t think anyone signed-up to being coated in chunks of Alice…at least not before dessert).

With so many thoughts, feelings and emotions running through my head, it’s hard to put into extacting words what the past week has meant to me. From 1-2-1s with critically acclaimed writers, to long walks, to sitting down at a desk (in front of a gorgeous view) and hitting word to paper, my time spent on an Arvon tutored retreat at The Hurst (deep in the Shropshire Hills) has been an incredible experience.

A group of us prepare for a mid-morning woodland hike. Photographed alongside course tutor/publishing editor Jacob Ross (second right)

I’ll get something more substanial down soon but for now know this; I’m a very, very happy Alice!

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It’s Official: I’m a FULLY Vaxxer!

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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Opinion: Don’t use Covid-19 as an Excuse for “Closure Culture” of the Arts

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.

Apsley House, location of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, until it’s closure in March 2020. Photo credit: https://englandrover.com/listing/swindon-museum-and-art-gallery/

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.

I had thicker brows then, but (unsurprisingly) the same clothes.

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.

Artist impression of new museum, situated in Swindon’s “Cultural Quarter”. Phot credit: Swindon Advertiser
Architectural “cut through” of the proposed museum design. Photo credit: Swindon Advertiser

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?

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Swindon Museum and Art Gallery website: https://www.swindonmuseumandartgallery.org.uk/

Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery: https://friendsofsmag.org/

Petition to Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery: https://www.change.org/p/swindon-borough-council-save-the-swindon-museum-and-art-gallery

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For Anyone Questioning The Quality of My Work

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.

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My Face, On Your Tissues

There is more to the humble spam folder than missed opportunities and utter junk. Exactly, there’s missed junk opportunities!

Ladies and gentleman, may I kindly introduce to you this email…

I admit, it’s not the easiest to read on the photo. Let me detail it below:

HiAeb
I am glad to know your demand for the tissue market.
We have specialized in providing customized tissues for more than 8 years, and have provided sources of supply for many domestic companies.
We are eager to expand channels and we are eager to cooperate with you.
Samples will be sent to you for evaluation.
Thanks, and best wishes

Ms Luo (General Manager)
Chengdu Dixuan Trading Company

I know! Cutomized tissue paper?! Where have these opportunities been in my life? In my spam folder, that’s where!

Oh my, I think I’m getting giddy with all the possibilities. “Expanding my channels” – I can see it now, my face in toilet cubicles up and down the country. No, not the country, THE WORLD!!

I’ll be quite honest with you, I can’t think of anything much better.

Or, I could do as my email provider recommends and just delete the email, or, do nothing and let my email provider automatically delete it for me. (I’ll let you guess which I ended up doing.)

And people say I excited over nothing…oh hey, a shiny bit of foil blowing down the street!

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Remember Eurovision’s Daz Sampson?

Saturday was rough. Real rough.

By now pretty much everyone in Europe will be aware that Britain’s entrant for this year’s (2021) Eurovision scored 0 points.

Ye-ep.

For those who haven’t already seen/heard it…

Compare this to Germany’s entry…

Germany scored 3 points. At the risk of eroding the UK’s diplomatic relations with Europe further, 3 points was plenty.

And before you go all “Alice, you’re from Britain so naturally you’re going to be a sore loser about this” – well, do you remember Daz Sampson? Back from the 2006 Eurovision in Athens?

Let me refresh you.

Daz Sampson was originally part of Uniting Nations, the duo that, in fairness, brought out this one-hit wonder in 2005:

(Side note, was I the only person deeply uncomfortable with the trend to sexualise women in music videos, even back then? Why was this an acceptable thing?!)

Needless to say, the guy knew how to make a club banger.

But when it came to our Eurovision entry, we got this:

Basically the same setup from Out of Touch, but in a school setting, with DJ turnstiles, none of the tune status and, to quote one YouTube comment, “your drunken Dad trying to rap at a wedding.”

Dear goodness.

This is the edited version, in the XXX director’s cut I’d wager the women get on the desks while Daz fans their awkward dancing with cue cards and revision notes.

I mean, just look at the album artwork.

The wannabe hard guy who peddles drugs at the school gates and then tries it on with the 16 year-olds, even though he’s 45 and still lives with his mum. Tell me I’m wrong.

The best bit? We got 25 points that year, 25! By British scoring standards that’s alright, a fair crack of the whip. So please, please don’t tell me that the 2021 entry is of inferior quality compared to that. Don’t tell me it levels with Britain’s only other nil point entrant from back in 2003.

Exactly.

And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

What has Daz Sampson been up to since Eurovision?

Still trying to get back into Eurovision…by representing Belarus.

To quote the article, “will the dynamic duo make it to Eurovision?” Well no, they didn’t.

Ironically, Belarus went for another song called “I’ll teach you” which was itself disqualified on account of it’s heavy political agenda, mocking of the ongoing peaceful protests against recent election results. Lyrics (translated into English) here.

Make of that what you will.

I wonder why the country weren’t prepared to enter Daz’s number?

Honestly, I have no words left to say and a cupboard that’s now chronically low on alcohol.

Christ.

I’m off to urgently restock.

(If you enjoyed this, you may also like my other Eurovision-themed post – British Politics, as Told Through the Medium of Eurovision Songs)

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Fancy Chinese Footwear

So here’s a bit of background for you, on the jazzy socks featured in Why Alice is *Still* Single…Probably.

Back when I was living in London I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Tate Modern’s critically appraised exhibition Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy. It ran between 8th March – 9th September 2018.

I didn’t attend “1932…” until late on, days before it was due to close. Why? Because I’ll be honest, Picasso had never really been my bag. I appreciated his reputation and there’s no denying Guernica is a masterpiece of political demonstration, but otherwise I just saw the man as someone who took a lot of credit for not a lot.

Don’t shoot me.

In the end, it was a little voice inside my head that urged me to go, that I’d only regret it if I didn’t. (Also, because at the time I could get in for £5. Minor detail.)

I’m so very glad I went. For one, turns out the man is just as trigger happy on the paint brushes as I am on my blog. In one year he produced over 100 works of art (mostly of his mistress). Secondly, some of his work isn’t too shabby.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had questions. Most of my secondary school art projects were on par with Yellow Belt.

And yet God knows, you never saw my Art teacher praising me as the Second Coming. I took a snapshot and sent it to my Mum, she still insisted I keep the day job.

So what has all this got to do with socks? Well, sometime after the exhibition I was browsing the wonderful world of Far Eastern shopping when I came across some socks printed with the iconic painting The Dream.

I’ll spare you my cobble-dash description on this painting but yep, the way he painted the face is intentional (classic playboy Picasso). More information here.

Short story, shorter, I found a pair of socks online depicting this masterpiece (or, as the sellers called them, “style #3 sleeping lady”). Don’t ask how or why, it’ll be easier for us both. Neither did I enquire as to the copyright, given the same people were also selling “magic man” socks of Jesus.

12 million months later my socks arrived, looking something like this:

First observation – no way in hell were these made for a ladies foot-size 5 (EU 38). Definitely men’s socks. But still, the print detailing was alright and the image had been flipped. Without disclosing the price, (*cough* 99p), you get what you pay for.

I couldn’t wait to try them on.

Then I looked down…

Because the socks were bigger in size than expected, I’d had to pull them up higher, and because my calves are the size of tree trunks, the print was stretched-out even more.

Far from looking mellowed after a bit of artist lovin’, Marie looks genuinely pained from having her face stretched to that of a horse. And let’s not even go there with where that places Picasso’s perceived manhood.

Oh well.

I’m still gonna wear them though. I mean, Picasso socks! How cool is that?!

…What? What’s wrong?

Thanks Col, babe. xx

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The Pubs Are Open!!

You can tell how ruddy happy I am that things are starting to open up again in England, including the pubs, just from this one picture of me and my mates.

Usually it takes 5,000,000 attempts to get something semi-passable. This means one of two things.

A) I’m very, very happy

B) My tolerance to alcohol has fallen off a cliff edge

You know what? I don’t even care. First, cider. Secondly, and this may be a minor, insignificant detail, but…

THE PUBS ARE OPEN AND I CAN SEE MY FRIENDS AGAIN (IN PERSON) AND THERE IS SOME HOPE FOR THE FUTURE AND YES THAT MAKES ME A LITTLE EMOTIONAL AND NO, I’M NOT CRYING, YOU ARE.

Mumma B’s reaction to all this?

Brilliant.

(By the way, shout-out to all pubs up and down the length of the United Kingdom, including The Hop – where above photo was taken. You’re all superstars.)

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