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?


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


Please support unpaid writers, like me, by donating to my funding page: Ko-Fi (formerly Buy Me a Coffee)


London Recalling: The Throwback-set

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley

Tower Bridge

A year ago today, I returned from a London city break and published my first post. I’d spent a year living in the UK capital, so for me it marked a refresh of the best bits of city-living, including art galleries, theatre performances and catching up with old friends.

Days after my return I was left encumbered, battling a mystery illness. Those following weeks I pressed on the best I could, putting it down as another one of those viruses which circulate in densely populated environments. A year later I’m no closer knowing what struck me down; we all have our theories.

Back then, my friends and I had whimsically noted the high-adoption of face coverings being worn by the predominantly Asian tourist base. We mused on the foreign illness that was gripping other continents, but to comprehend the possibility that our own country could already be rife with disease was a step too far. We were better than that, we were British. Instead, we continued to pack ourselves into dense sweats to watch live music, feasted in noisy restaurants and embraced fondly.

If only we’d known.

So, with perhaps a naively romanticised view of what were truly the last days of normality (late January 2020), here are all four parts of London Recalling.

London Recalling – the Mini-Series

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs


*Donation Station*

Enjoy this content? Please support unpaid writers, like me, by donating:


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly


Betrayed by a Toblerone

he Repair Shop is on, but we can’t watch that because of your father.’

‘Is that because the clock repair guy?’


At which point Mumma Bennett quickly switched channel to the more favourable Homes Under the Hammer in case the family member suddenly made an appearance. (Although usually that occurrence is preceded with the sound of creaking floorboards and my sister calling out ‘the kraken has awoken!’ from her lady cave upstairs.)

To my dad, a clock maker, the clock repair fella on the aforementioned television program represents a sour relationship from a time now since passed. Their falling out was probably the only time I had to give counselling to my old man.

‘Perhaps I should call him again.’

‘Dad he’s not interested, if he was he’d have contacted you last week when you emailed him.’

‘But maybe he didn’t see it.’

‘Dad…I know it is hard to accept but perhaps it’s time to let go. Here, let me get you an ice cream.’

‘I’ve texted him.’


And that’s the thing, to my dad the feeling of ES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230b6cdSELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac1betrayal SELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac142724SELRES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230wasn’t marked by a singular event but more ongoing jabs. How the other party continues to ghost my pa but happy to lap up minor celeb status as an apparent expert on horological affairs.

In a very different example people tend to interpret the Biblical Judas as a man who betrayed Jesus (I know, what a novel concept). In Christian theology Judas is seen as not a nice guy but then his actions in turning against Jesus led to the salvation of humanity. If he hadn’t turned Jesus in for 30 silver coins would we be in a better place than we are now? Would it be worse? Would Toblerones still be the same size? I guess there’s some things we’ll never know.

Don’t, I can’t bear to look at it.

For me when it comes to defining a back-stabber I think of it as more someone that damages the reputation of oneself or one’s trade. Don’t get me wrong, when BankUK stuffed up my mortgage application I was pretty miffed about my treatment but on reflection (and having conducted a number of Financial e-learning courses) I see that what they did was incredibly immoral to the institution as a whole, as well as myself as a customer. It undermined the wider financial industry and the rules that govern lending.

I also see the creative efforts of certain authors, artists, directors etc. as a criminal act. I’m sure you can think of a multitude so I won’t name any in particular *cough* Twilight Saga *cough, cough* Burn After Reading. Such tragedies are anything but Shakespearian.

Also, why is it called “Good Friday” when something bad happened on it? I mean you don’t go ‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss Sally. Was it a “good” Monday?’ In terms of emotion I feel rather ‘meh’ today on Good Friday. More meh than good, which makes me question everything about my almost non-existent Christian card I use.

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“On Good Friday? JESUS DIED INDIA!”


The concept of betrayal is more complex than we give it credit for. Does the pain of betrayal make us intelligent beings or are we human because we’ll use that intelligence to better ourselves no matter the cost? Are we no more than immature children (after all, wars have been started for little more than a perceived betrayal of treaties). I suppose it’s something scholars have discussed and argued over for many centuries and a topic that will be debated over for years to come.


Today’s WordPress prompt was Betrayed and given today is Good Friday I wonder over the choice of daily prompt (WordPress being, after all, a forum of all creeds and faiths). This post is admittedly rather forced and not my best (starting with such a fun topic to write about is like trying to make a puppy cute when its head is already half hanging off). It’s a hard task is all I’m saying.

On a lighter note, here’s a pop video about Moscow:


If you were unfulfilled before I hope you are now satisfied, if you held my work in high regard before I expect your expectations have been suitably lowered. I will not pass judgement on either.

Our Ancestors Discussed Death – Why Can’t We?

“Rule one of life: we’re all going to die. Accept it and move on.” – our ancestors felt free and informed enough to discuss the topic of death, so why can’t we?

To read my new opinion piece for The National Student, click here:

Our ancestors openly discussed death – we should too

A Lesson in Modern Culture? The Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014

My sister and I have always preferred physical catalogues compared to online shops. I like the smell and feel of the pages, my 19 year old sister enjoys drawing mustaches and glasses on the models. Like many people, we get flooded with various clothes magazines every year, but this year one caught my eye in particular. I am, of course, referring to the Jack Wills Gift Guide 2014 (Unknown author: 2014).


(Heads up, this is going to be a very visual post and I’m armed with only my Lumia phone)

Page Three

Open the cover and the first thing you see is this:


For those of you with normal eyesight, it says ‘This Book Belongs To’ with a gap underneath for a name. Because a dated gift guide for this season’s choice outfits will always be relevant and have a place on my bookshelf next to my dystopian classics including Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Handmaid’s Tale. I think the feminist author Atwood would particularly approve of the up-skirt underwear imagery. Actually scratch that, I don’t want to devalue this first 1,000,000,000 edition by writing my name on this. I’m no fool.

The Models

These two loveable delights are the main focus for the Jack Wills gift guide:


Wait, I think I recognise these two from somewhere. They have that 90s awkward are-they-friends-or-brother-and-sister-or-girlfriend-boyfriend look. Oh wait, I know these two. OH MY GOD IT’S SAME DIFFERENCE FROM X FACTOR

For those of you too young or hipster to remember these guys (aka the readership of the Jack Wills Gift Catelogue 2014), Same Difference were a pop duo from 2007 who released this classic:

(FYI playing this track may help you get through this post.)

So, Same Difference are modelling nowadays. Huh.

These guys rock all the looks in this gift guide. I won’t drown you in images but here is my personal highlight:


Where have I seen this look before…?

However, my lowlight of the Same Difference models is:


I know the picture is blurry, but as you can see there are four items on this page. One is being modeled (i.e. the coat) and two have additional information (product name and price). The awesome gingerbread reindeer, the only product on this page (and arguably in this entire gift guide) I want to buy is neither priced nor modeled. Where can I buy/eat this?!


Very disappointed by this.

I even hit Google in case I was mistaken and Jack Wills did stock gingerbread, that there had been a mistake when the guide had gone to print but alas all I found was this blog post:


I don’t want to read about how they made them, or how I can make gingerbread, I want that gingerbread reindeer and I want it now! I then clicked on the link to their website, to find out where I could buy them…


Of course the company that makes them is based in ruddy London, why am I not surprised. Not just London, Notting Hill London. Even if you didn’t know this information, one look at the price they charge for their gingerbread men should be enough to guess it. This Alice-after-a-froffy-coffee (sorry, Santa) gingerbread man is £6. £6!

christmas gift card biscuit santa clause biscuiteers, cutout

On finding out this information I decided that maybe a chocolate bar would fill the reindeer shaped hole my stomach craved. It did.

Anyway, all this tangent talk of gingerbread his links me nicely to my next subject of review…

Page Design/Layout

As you have seen, no expense was spared on the models. Expense was however spared was given the job title of product page layouty stuff. The gingerbread reindeer was just one (although I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Jack Wills for teasing me so). This confuses me:


As my old art teacher, Mr. Grover, would have said, “Needs to make more of space. C grade”. Some of these products are priced at £25. I think the logic that was used here is that if your eyesight is too poor to see these products you’re not worthy of buying these products. I know there’s only so much space on a double page, but still, there’s space there to play with. This catalogue has several double page spreads like this. The spacing and size of he products just reminds me of that one time I accidentally went into a fancy shop in St. Mawes, Cornwall. I’m relieved I took this picture quickly, I couldn’t look at this page for that long before feeling judged that I wasn’t buying something.

Something else I didn’t like was Jack Wills, the brand, verus Jack Wills, the reality. This was a real bug bear with me and I’m sure I am neither the first or last person to mention this. The JW slogan is ‘Fabulously British’ and is frequently displayed like so:


…Yet very (and I stress very) few of their products are actually British, in the sense they’re made in Britain. In the whole of this gift guide I found two products made in Britain. A scarf and two perfumes:


It’s good to know that Britain can produce water, rose petals and fern leaves. Stuff to really make the world sit up and realise we can produce a diverse range of products. Like I said, I’m sure this point has been raised a million and one times either in passing as people look at the ‘made in Korea’ swing tags, or in ranty letters. I won’t linger further on this point.

Fun Stuff!

I know right, because going through a gift guide and selecting what overpriced goods you want to buy loved ones can be sooooo tiring. Thank goodness Jack Wills’s put a dedicated team in charge of a fun section to relive the boredom and stress of shopping from home.


“Colouring!! I wanna colour the worldddd!” was my first thought, until I realised I was a grown adult and haven’t had crayons since 1999.

There are some weirdly drawn images in this section, including Fred doing the reverse Alistair Darling with his dark hair and white eyebrows…


Although watch out, it’s those creepy Uncles that are always invited around for Christmas. You know, the ones who have given themselves the name ‘Uncle’ when you pretty dam sure they aren’t related. Yep, they feature in the Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014 too!


The wave and garish jumpers should speak for themselves.

What Have We Learnt From This Piece of Literature?

So, what can we gain from this glossy clothes catalogue? Well on the surface of it we’ve learnt that Jack Wills has models that bear a strong resemblance to former pop one-hit wonders, they don’t sell gingerbread creations, and I really would like to meet their creative department. That’s all obvious and only goes page deep. Being a History graduate I couldn’t help but read further into this guide as a reflection of modern society and culture.

Everything about this guide screams ‘childhood’ and ‘immature’. I’m sorry, it does. From the ‘this book belongs to’, to the comic modeling, through to the double page colouring-in spread. A dedicated 12 page section of the guide may be fun and lighthearted but it shows the readership of this publication.

I know what many of you will think, you’ll be thinking ‘yes, so what? Can young people not buy clothes now?’ and yes, I totally agree, they can indeed (beauty of free will). But what gets me is the level of it. These are not cheap items, Jack Wills sets itself as a semi-designer high street brand. £198 for a red coat and the £44.50 price tag on their Langthorne scarf shows that. Yet this is a publication which is being targeted at young teen/pre-teen people. Don’t believe me? Can I point out this question in their quiz…


I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but no one over the age of 17 in the UK is a Belieber. I may also be losing it at the grand old age of 22, because I have no idea what a ‘dutty beat’ is.

Also, these stickers came with the gift guide, featuring images from hearts and arrows, to pugs and bacon:


I’m not disputing that pugs and bacon aren’t awesome, they both are, but it’s an odd addition to a Christmas catalogue given the nature of this publication.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Jack Wills is targeting themselves at a younger age group compared to, say, Laura Ashley. But the prices aren’t cheap. Bear in mind I’m speaking as someone who was raised in the 90s and 00s where clothes shopping was limited to what Mum bought you and the only money you got was £1 a week for cleaning cars, the kitchen, living room etc. If JW are targeting themselves towards younger people I don’t understand where their money is coming from.

Maybe it shows that young people are now in possession of more money and are being exposed to fashion at a earlier age. Maybe this catalogue is just trying to be different. I just don’t get it, and I think the fact that I’m 22 adds to the confusion. Surely at my age I should get the point of this gift guide? As someone who has bought Jack Wills products in the past, surely I should be swept away with the products on display here? Why am I not getting the point? Why am I hungry when I’ve just eaten a big meal? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions?

Of course, the Jack Wills team might say that the fact they’ve had a scarccy blog post written by a nobody about their gift guide does them no harm. Even if I was a somebody in the big hipster world they probably would shrug their shoulders. Bad publicity is better than no publicity and all that. For me such an outcome would be what the young people call a ‘massive fail’, right? I stick by my guns though, this gift guide says a lot about where fashion and the high street has come from and where it’s heading. Dumbing down to get the pounds. Combined with the rise of social media, television and film and the ending of the financial recession, will we start to see more of this creep in elsewhere? Should we not only accept, but embrace it? It wouldn’t be the first, nor will it be the last time big stores chase the consumers with the money and young people have more money than ever before. How they come into such money is another debate altogether, but they must have it. Either young people have money, we’re becoming more simplistic as human beings or I’m reading far too much into this one gift guide. Don’t answer that last point too quickly.

So yeah, that was my first book review/analyis since writing my dissertation about ten months ago. It’ll probably be my last. Glad to see I haven’t lost my commentary skills in the intervening time (hah). Two posts in one week, I’m on fire in the run up to Christmas. Don’t get too excited though, I doubt very much I’ll post anything else this side of the festive season. Work is very busy and my social life is crazy at the moment (eating my weight in chocolate every night while watching Don’t Tell the Bride takes time). But I will be back in the New Year, and you will get more information about my housemates, including my mermaid housemate. Honestly, I promise it will happen!


Did someone say they wanted a terrible Christmas joke, courtesy of Jack Wills? (Of course you did):


What did you think of that Peter?