Sunday 26 December 2010

Amateur and lovin' it

On our way back from a day out in New Zealand we spot a sign for wood turning. We turn into a residential house drive - next to the garage there's a sign pointing to an old small caravan, saying,  'IN HERE'. The quality of the chopping boards inside is very good, with a unique embedded paua shell technique - not as polished as the shops in Nelson, but with a good sense of the natural beauty of the wood, shell and other embedded stuff. A man pops in later, telling us not only the wood (we choose kauri and lawson cypress)but where, when and how he came across the wood.

Today's been the best day for shopping - earlier we stopped by at Gourd man's gallery - very personable, and able to explain where I'd been going wrong with my gourd growing and decorating. His passion for gourds, skill and experience in the various traditional and more experimental techniques for decorating is incredible, and we can't help leaving with a small gourd and a packet of seeds.

The chance encounter somewhere in New Zealand Abel Tasman National Park is a stark contrast to the prescriptive, albeit 'choiced out', LA Hollywood experience from earlier in our holiday.

For example, we went to Universal Studios - the studio tour was fantastic - we saw the Bates Motel (Psycho) and, of course, classic Jaws coming out of the water.  In the theme park there are any number of choices to make - whether you want to do 'Waterworld live performance' or 'Simpsons Virtual Rollercoaster' (both fantastic) or any number of inventive rides. Everything is carefully prepared for you - even the waiting in queues is carefully managed so you are constantly entertained.

Eventually though the highly professional spoon feeding of entertainment wears off and at the end of the day you have a nagging empty feeling. Whatever you've done, there's no feeling of discovery. Despite the many, and amazing choices on offer, you don't get the same sort of conversation I got with gourd man with a giant Bart Simpson.

It's true that we had a huge range of quality stuff on offer in LA, but that's not the same as finding it for yourself.  I know the majority of my present work will end in July, and I'm beginning to think about what I will do, how I might sell myself. I've been following bloggers like the excellent Helga Henry on how to run successful creative businesses and make money. I agree the two aren't exclusive, but you do need to set priorities.

I can see that researching my market will pay dividends. A better, more professional website would benefit my business. Also I don't separate my work much from my home - when or how I do it. In many ways I am not professional.  That's because I am an amateur - That is, the work I do is driven primarily by my passions. Money-making does come into it, but very much a secondary thing.  I can see my experiences and skills put me in a good position to have the luxury of choice. However, in the words of Prof. A. Dumbledore, 'It's our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our skills'.

MacDonald's started in California 1940.  Did they make a choice at some moment in time, sacrificing the quality and enjoyment of making food for a more saleable product? Is it really possible to continue 'lovin' it' or 'living the dream' if the dream, or what you're lovin' is about making money? I just hope there's a gap in the market for two gourd men.

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Monday 20 December 2010

High New Zealand Art and Culture

We're in Wellington Botanical Gardens on a beautiful hot summers afternoon. The bandstand's been taken over by a motley bunch who look like they've spent the night there.
On the stage is a big tattooed Maori bashing a cardboard box and a couple of plastic buckets. He stops. There's a polite pause, to be absolutely sure he's finished, and a warm cheer and clap from the audience. He's joined by a singer. After that there's an impromptu haka, then a couple of Japanese tourists step up and take a turn. I'd have stayed longer, only we've got a ferry to catch.

The night before we'd been on the front with a couple of thousand or so teenagers and their families watching Wellington xmas tree lights going on with a cover band blasting out Bon Jovi and other rock classics. School is out, but kids, and their parents, are a lot freer here and there's 'no worries' - maybe the mauritanga makes the difference.

Mauris were here only 600 years before the first European settlers. Some think they were too friendly, as their land was carved up and sold on. The Mauri culture is largely passed on through families by storytelling, song and dance. Although culture has changed and adapted through the centuries, Kiwi folk tradition doesn't appear to be sneered at in quite the same way folk is in the UK - can you imagine the English Rugby team donning bells for a quick Morris meet before a game?

Any folk tradition is by people for people, open to anyone, young or old, to bash out a tune, tell a story, carve some wood, whatever. I've heard people say, 'There's no culture in New Zealand'. As a foreigner coming in, it's true there's American, Asian, European, Polynesian, all sorts of foreign influences; But there is also something very Kiwi. Like the story of Kiwi flora and fauna, it's very inviting to new settlers, precious, unique and in need of some protection.

Us outside Puke Ariki

Arthur and Jag play Moo Poo
Palms in the library
Fortunately, heritage is something I think Kiwis do very well. Photo is us outside Puke Ariki in New Plymouth - a combined museum, library heritage tourist info centre. In the library part (see photos) to scale model palms, moo poo game, where oil comes from display, and a few books.
Then there's Te Taupo in Wellington - a massive living museum packed with artefacts, small buildings, musical instruments you can play with/in. Even the smaller places we've been - Waitomo Caves have a museum including a video of the lifecycle of a glow worm, some mockup caves to explore, feelie boxes, Victorian front room, and school class photos from 1920s with all names, showing long history of integration and tolerance in NZ.

There's Art and Culture (high Art, high Culture). It's professional and exquisite. Then there's other cultural stuff. It's amateur and anyone can do it. In New Zealand, is there more value attached to experimenting creatively and culturally than to experiencing Creativity and Culture (High Art/Culture)?

I don't know, but only in New Zealand will Bon Jovi, a Haka and 'O little Town of Bethlehem' naturally follow each other in a gig, and all go down well.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Jago in NZ to FK

Hello FK, I hope that you are all OK and that the christmas play went well and you remembered everything.

We saw lights in the glow worm cave - the glowing lights were the glow worms! They ate flies by webs in the cave.

We goed on a volcano. It's a hill that sprays out lava - something that is very very very very hot. We got a stamp from the museum of a volcano. (In his own words)

Photo is us outside the excellent Museum/Library/info and tourist centre at New Plymouth.

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Arthur in New Plymouth

When we arrived in New Plymouth it was raining but when we got to the eco hostel it was beautiful because all the flowers were covered in raindrops.

At the hostel we met a little girl called Briah. At first she was she shy, but when we got to know her she became one of our friends. We played games with each other and she showed us one of her games called spider crawling up your back

Then we went up Mount Taranaki, which was a volcano and we went up lots of steps. I counted over one thousand! When we got to the top the view was superb but we could only see half of it because most of it was covered in clouds.

We didn't go to the very top of the volcano because that would have taken all day. At the top it was so cold there was snow. When it melted it made a waterfall called Dawson Falls which was 70 metres tall. We agreed that the water was freezing cold.

I found out volcanoes made land because when volcanoes spit out lava it moulds into rock which is what we know as land.

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Monday 13 December 2010

If it weren't for your gum boots

We're in New Zealand (try this link for gum boot song)!  Flight great and straight onto Waitomo caves youth hostel - big contrast with LA.  LA was great, but you've got to hold on tight to kids in the Metro (or anywhere else).  In Waitomo Arthur and Jago have made good friends with Pig 1 and Pig 2 (now Buttercup and Smiley) and straight into the new pool.  I suppose we should be worried about freak pig mauling incident, but somehow it seems easier, safer and more relaxed.

We visited the caves (second time we've visited caves this year).  Glow worms were amazing - children created a game 'glowworms and flies' chasing each other arround - amazing what they pick up, and what they do with it. The year before last we visited a 'coffin ship' in Ireland - Arthur and Jago spent the rest of the (long) journey playing an Irish famine/ desperate journey to America re-enactment.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Arthur's first blog

Hello everyone. I hope you are having a brilliant time at school because we're having a brilliant time on holiday.

We started our holiday in London, at British Airways airport and we went to the bag drop, walked through the security scan before we could get into the plane. On the plane there were the seats and the crew and first class and standard class and all the usual things, but in the seats there were identical remote control televisions.

When we got to LA (Los Angeles) we were very tired because in English time it was 11:00 at night but in LA time it was 4:00 in the afternoon, but we soon cheered up when we got to Roosevelt Hotel. The next day we managed to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and went on our long journey to a place called Griffith Observatory, which is basically a space museum and had a lot of fun there.

We woke up at 4:00 a.m. because of English time. I watched some telly and got ready for swimming. At first the pool was really cold, but it got better and I swam two lengths.

We then went on the bus to Santa Monica. It was quite hot so it was quite frustrating as the bus went slow.

In Santa Monica we went on the pier and we went on cool rides. The first was a solar powered ferris wheel, which means it was powered up by the sun. The next was the Sea Dragon, which was very, very scarey. You had to hold onto your tummies otherwise it felt like they would fall out.

Friday 10 December 2010

Jago's first blog

I hope you're having a good time at school. I've been swimming lots, and I've been on a plane.

On the plane the telly had Cbeebies on and I looked out of the window and saw everything tiny.

We went to the hotel with the swimming pool in Los Angeles (Hotel Roosevelt). We went to a place with all the stars and the globe in it (Griffith Observatory). We went by train (LA Metro) and we went on a long, long walk.

There was mountain lions and rattle snakes. We only saw tracks of them, but we did see a woodpecker and squirrel.

My favourite bit was my weight on Jupiter and earth and all of those. On Jupiter I was 100! On earth I wasn't heavy.

The Highest European Standards

Another great day in LA, started off with search for a 'decent' cup of tea for Nikki.

We wondered over to 'coffee bean and tea leaf' - a californian coffeeshop chain. No trace of fairtrade - I've not seen the FT logo over here yet, and not yet confident enough to question shopkeepers on ethics, as I probably would in UK.

I have a lovely mocha latte on which the paper mug gives brief history of the company, and its claim to have always met 'the highest European standards' for its tea and coffee.

Now its true we English moan a lot about 'American' influence on our culture generally, and here was a proud claim to meet superior European standards. It's easy to feel at home in the US, with everyone so friendly (lost track of number of times strangers have made nice comments about our children) and so much shared culture - walking down hollywood boulevard all the names on the ground are as familiar in UK as in the US. Also like the UK, the stars are predominately white men.

While drinking my mocha, served by non-white shopkeepers, remembering the yellow school buses at Griffith Observatory, on public transport generally, and our visit to Santa Monica pier, with a distinctly Blackpool feel (albeit sunnier), outside the richest and most touristy spots of LA, it seems the population is mostly Mexican descent - something that had not occurred to me before visiting.

Just as in Europe, are the stars on the pavement in Hollywood, the stories of Hollywood dreams written in mosaic on the floor of the shopping mall, can these dreams be shared by the non-white cleaners?

Talking of which, hope I get to thank hotel cleaners who gave the kids some fun by placing our children's expanding collection of small soft toys in unusual locations around the beds.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Our first US burger chips and milkshake

We've made it to LA! We did have the only little children and 2 hours on ground before take off at Heathrow was tough. The air hostesses looked after us well, although a bit low on food for 12 hour flight.
Anyway, now comfy in upgraded kingsized beds watching TV and Arthur dancing off jetlag at 4 in morning. Planning walk in park to burn off monster burger and milkshake.

Arthur - 'I really like the palm trees, the swimming pool and the bright lights!' The olympic size swimming pool has Hockney 'squiggley lines'.

Jago says, 'It looks like a big city because it is a big city!' 'I like the swimming pool because it glows and is all squiggley.

Freya mostly likes squeezing into small gaps and shouting, 'I'm stuck!'

Nikki wants to go shopping, but we won't let her.

Sunday 5 December 2010

The Sarah Jane Archives

My first laptop! - Compaq LST128, top of the range
At the end of my 'O' levels, I symbolically ripped every sheet of notes, coursework, everything, and burned them. For one scary moment the flames licked the ceiling and I was reminded that by ripping them all up, I had increased the surface area exposed to air, therefore impressive flame (I always liked physics).

Fortunately, the pitifully low volume of fuel also meant the fire lasted less than a minute, and school was safe.

My 'A' level notes and first degree notes went much the same way, but by the early 1990s I had a green screen laptop the size of a small car, 'wordperfect' had made me legible, and I discovered Papyrus Bibliography system!  My computer may have had the RAM of a modern fridge, but for the first time I could catalogue my notes, list, add keywords, search by author, date, anything. For the first time my notes were useful for something other than fuel.

Sarah Jane's computer, Mr Smith
Sarah Jane (Dr Who spin off on cbbc) also has a computer the size of a small car, but with much better special effect add ons. This morning Luke (son of Bane, with near perfect memory recall) was using said computer, Mr Smith, to create his own backup of aliens encountered, and a new spin off series.

I've worked a lot with archives and appreciate their value to future generations. In our (Birmingham's) archives, I'm also aware how little 'primary' material there is written by young people in our archives (rather than 'secondary' i.e. About children, of which there is quite a lot). It's a tough one, but the pandora box opened by our new technologies, accessible, properly catalogued information recorded by young people (and other poorly represented groups and comunities) is an opportunity we need to take full advantage of.

Today on Radio 4 news following the Cumbrian floods (again) a victim was upset about loosing the most valuable thing to her - the photos and artwork of her children.  Our own children's work holds a special place for each of us, but how important is the artwork and voice of our children now, and what should we be doing to listen to, celebrate, document, and archive it for future (or even the same) generation?

Our own Creative Partnerships database does document and evaluate our work in schools extensively, and I hope will be put to good use when CP is no more in July. However, is this really going to hit our own (CP's) objectives to empower young people, providing open access to all? In Foucault's terms where does the knowledge and power reside?

Luke ended the programme with a pithy remark which sums up archives for me - 'I hope this is useful to you, Sarah Jane, or whoever you are, in the future , to save the world.'