Sordid as this may sound, I’m a big fan of magazines. Just the usual glossy fashion magazine, not the other kind. We smart women, we’re not supposed to admit to enjoying turning the pages of those shiny, consumerist, advert-filled little books. But I do. In fact, I have one arrive every month, which I caress and devour, from the very first Dior ad to the stockist lists at the back.
Each magazine works to its own aims, its own purpose. I cannot claim to know what they are. I simply enjoy the final piece. However, the (presumably unintended) consequence of these often wonderful books being put together and distributed across the country, is that with reading, we feel terrible about ourselves.
The idea that women’s magazines have been making women feel awful is not revolutionary. We have become accustomed to our roles as magazine masochists, deriving pleasure from those beautiful photo-shoots and adverts that subsequently cause us pain. Our bodies are not as slim, wrinkle-free, or as well-dressed as those in front of us. But we love to look.
Increasing awareness of the agonies and aches invoked by the tricks of airbrushing can only serve women for the better. But there’s another trend in women’s fashion magazines that stings us as readers. New articles and features, designed to highlight interesting and remarkable women, are inadvertently poking fun at those of us who are much less remarkable. Featuring a new kind of airbrush system (one that does not attack your thigh gap or lack thereof), the Glossies now contain stories about run of the mill women - meant to represent you and me - who are absolutely NOT run of the mill. Whereas the Dolce girl, we know, is subject to technological tricks and a designer wardrobe to die for, the just-like-you-and-me-but-yet-amazing-flaxseed-smoothie-drinking-superstar is subject to absolutely no flashy trickery. Ergo, her lifestyle is attainable/desirable/the benchmark.
The ‘run of the mill’ women that I know, are all of course independently wonderful and incredible in their own right. My mother is the most notable. She would never feature in the glossy pages as an inspiration to womankind. But she should. Despite never having made a flaxseed smoothie.
I’ve written this article, because on my daily commute to work, flicking through those glitzy pages, I found myself feeling inadequate. And though all human beings suffer from feelings of self imposed inadequacy from time to time, I recognised that this mind-set was being nurtured by the Gloss. And it wasn’t because the Gloss was saying that my skin is scaly, or my eyelashes stumpy, or my legs short, or my clothes too mediocre. It wasn’t because the Gloss had listed all the things that would fix my many imperfections. Now, the Gloss was (albeit unintentionally) criticising my breakfast, my career choice, my home, my single status and my lack of exercise regime. My life. The Gloss was telling me that I had not met the benchmark.
Yes, it is absurd to compare my life with that of another woman’s, and to feel bad about the areas that I am supposedly ‘lacking in’. And I do not wish to attack those magazines which I so adore myself. But the resulting blog was written with the following in mind; you, and me, and all the other ladies out there, we’re brilliant. Whatever we do, whatever we wear, and whatever we have for breakfast, we are all still brilliant. And we’re notable. We’re notable enough to appear in those glossy pages, if they would have us. I’d like to be able to devour a wonderfully written magazine article about a fellow fabulous female who I can actually feel akin to. Until that happens, below is my own one-day diary. A completely, run of the mill, boring, smoothie-free day, in which a seemingly unimpressive woman goes about her seemingly unimpressive day.
Daniella Hadley, 23, is museum educator and junior bar manager. She lives in London, with her two flatmates Hayley and Laura.
“I always thought that I would become a teacher. As a child, weekends were spent delivering English, Maths and History lessons to my younger sister, who would cry and complain that she would rather be out playing on the go-kart. During my time at University, I became involved with a local interactive science centre, and realised that learning need not always take place in a classroom. It took me two more years to think up a career in museum education. I don’t remember how I came to that decision, but after a year of study, internships and placements, it all slotted into place.
I get up at 7am. I’m supposed to get up at 6:30am, but the extra half an hour in bed is worth not having clean hair for. Though I am truly, madly, and deeply in love with fashion, my weekly budget for clothes usually amounts to about thirty pence. As a result, I’ll throw on a basic black skirt and an old mustard blouse (I’d rather not say how old). After a session with the dry shampoo, and a little time with BBC Breakfast, I am ready to leave my 3 bed flat. As for my actual breakfast, I don’t have the time or patience for starting the day healthily with a smoothie, nor the extra cash for a luxurious start to the day with a croissant, so I stick to a cup of tea when I get in to work and a couple of biscuits.
From home, I head straight to either Work Number One, Two or Three. Unlike other, more fabulous women, I skip a morning gym session altogether. Work Number One is a beautiful old school that has now been transformed into a museum. I get to work at 9am, like the rest of humanity, and after turning on the lights, I write the day’s date on the blackboard; ‘Monday 18th November 1883’. I then spend the day working with schools, talking to them about life in Victorian London. My work is brilliant but lacking entirely in glamour. It has been known for the children to fall sick, make an enormous mess with carbolic soap and ask me if I was born in Victorian times. At Work Number Two, I’ll spend the day chatting with school groups and families in the interactive areas. There are days when an audience of more than one hundred people will watch me deliver a science show full of brilliant and show-stopping experiments. But there are also days when I am asked to guard urine, to make sure that no one slips and falls in it while someone else rushes for a cleaner.
Lunch will ultimately involve leftovers and a yoghurt. Not together, obviously. I’d like to say that I go somewhere fabulous for my lunch, like Pret or Nandos. But my homemade lasagne isn’t half bad, even if the cheese sauce does initially enter the kitchen in the form of granules. I don’t know what quinoa is and I’ve never been to Ottolenghi. If I’m lucky, there will be doughnuts on the table at Work Number Two, which I can scoff during my lunch break. If I have enough time, I’ll try to get two in.
Work Number Three begins at 6pm. I rush from one end of London to the other, for my manager shift at a student bar. The first thing I do when I arrive is devour a bag of crisps and change into a pair of really grotty converse. Our patrons really love their Sambuca, and I’d rather not have it getting on my Topshop ankle boots. I’ve been doing this job for more than two years and customers never cease to surprise me. The closest thing we’ve had to a celeb in our bar is the kid from Junior Apprentice, but we do get several crying blokes and even a head-butter. At the end of the night, while I’m cashing up or helping clean down the bar, I’ll imagine that I will one day write a brilliant novel, or get spotted singing at Thursday’s karaoke by a talent scout, or own a property, or will receive a sudden lottery windfall and spend the entire thing in Zara.
My busy, boring and yet brilliant working day reaches it’s end at midnight, when I collapse into bed without having been to the gym, or having drunk a smoothie, or having worn anything remotely designer all day. I’ll soothe myself to sleep with a fizzy drink, some more biscuits and an episode of Friends. I’m on Series 6 at the moment. Rachel is dating Bruce Willis.”
A Life in the Day of Another Science Museum Bubble.
I follow my brothers and sisters out into the open air, wobbling up, and up, and up…
A Life in the Day of a Third Science Museum Bubble.
Oooh, I’m smaller than the others. As I make my way across the room, I see lots of giant grinning faces follow my teeny sphere shape. Chubby arms reach out. Dangerous fingers pointing. A gust of wind pulls me away from their malevolent grasp, and I float unwittingly into a…
A Life in the Day of the Greatest Science Museum Bubble
Yay! With a wave of a wand, I’m ENORMOUS. The biggest bubble of the day. I slowly wobble into a perfectly round sphere. I hear a chorus of “oohs” and “aaahs”. They love me. I’m a star! I saunter towards the crowd, and I see their arms raise up. A sweet puff of air tickles my belly, and I lift even higher. The crowd beneath me wave their arms, round, and round, and round again in circles. I climb higher into the air. Again, a puff of air. I look down, and see their faces raised, mouths open, arms waving frantically. If I go on lifting, I’ll be sure to reach the heavens.
I’ve almost made it to the back of the room – the distance I have travelled is astonishing. And still they keep on blowing, flapping, even cheering. I’m high; I’m alive. I can no longer see the floor. Instead, the vast ceiling extends before me. I reach out for it, I’ve made it, I’m at the top, I’m…
Adding Glycerol to your bubble mix will help your bubbles last longer – as will wafting.
A technique invented by humans centuries ago, wafting involves the waving of the arms and hands in a circular motion to move the air underneath a bubble, allowing it to float higher, and preventing it from popping on the floor. Blowing also adds to this effect.
Bubble thrill seekers should visit the Science Museum this Summer for the amazing Bubble Show. Please note that Bubble Saboteurs are not welcome.
No bubble lasts forever. Delight in them when you can, and as much as you can.
Use Your Outside Voice: A Guide to Public Speaking
Whilst my friends may hold me in esteem for my Minaj-rapping abilities, my in-depth knowledge of Spielberg’s ‘93 dino classic and my slap-up shepherd’s pie, in my professional life, none of these rather outstanding talents are of use. An enormous problem faced by my generation’s graduates, we leave university with a host of fantastic abilities, quirks and experiences, which, to our friends, are inexplicably valuable. Our personal CV’s practically glitter. Interviews that focussed upon our private and downright peculiar reminiscences rather than our professional biography would be a snitch. And HILARIOUS. ‘Can you think of a time in which you experienced conflict and how you dealt with it?’ ‘Describe a situation when you worked as part of a team?’
Anyone who has spent the last two years job hunting, job applying, and job crying will know that those beautiful memories of ‘the time so-and-so broke a radiator/had an allergic reaction/set chip pan on fire/lost dignity to toffee vodka’ are rendered largely useless and pretty futile when it comes to convincing an employer that you professionally rock (those things still make you who you are though, m’kay?). Your private skill set – dinosaurs, rap, pie – is not your winning hand.
But what might be?
I want to focus on one particular skill. One winning ability that is highly valued (citation needed – it must be though, mustn’t it?) not only by employers, but also by Lordsugar himself. One that, in my line of work, is pretty bloomin’ crucial. One that – almost – straddles the line between what you’ve engaged in professionally and personally. One that might get you the job. One that might keep you out of the boardroom. One, that could earn you a handful of change along the Southbank on a Saturday. It is of course; the art of public speaking.
From dictators to Darcy, great public speaking has won over nations, employers, the voting public, even women. It can prove a useful tool for you both in the office and at the bar/open mic night/golfing range. But for those not born naturally into the highly coveted and extremely elite group of mind blowing public speakers, the whole thing is flipping daunting.
However, there are methods of teaching yourself this ancient art, much like teaching yourself how to make the perfect meringue. First, there will be mistakes. Your speech might turn out limp, or chewy, and imperfect for dessert. Persevere, and there will be success. Once a snivelling and shy character, I myself now work within environments that require talking to OHMYGOD THE PUBLIC everyday. I’ve done the Macarena to a one hundred strong audience. I’ve dodged difficult questions from super inquisitive school groups. I’ve pointed out where on my body my rectum goes (somewhat obvious). I’ve tripped over. I’ve shouted the word ‘poo’ (and accidentally said the word ‘turd’). And, thanks to my work as a public speaking hero, I’ve even been asked to pose for photos. Big thumbs up. It felt only natural that I should collate my advice and experiences, along with that of others, in order to provide a comprehensive guide to public speaking.
Don’t bother using it. It is probably safe to assume that it is not working, in which case, simply yell at your audience.
“OI! Yeaah, OIII. Mics not working…”
The microphone is in essence a show piece – its your prop. Cuddle it, and it will make you feel safer. Use it even, to hide your face. You’ll see that Shy Ronnie uses this technique wonderfully. In addition, by holding the microphone, you will give your hands an object to play with, thus distracting you from your attempts to speak to a crowd.
Compliments are great – and your audience will love them. Say the right thing, and those guys will be eating out of the palm of your hand. Wonderful examples include Kanye’s kind words about Bey’s music video, back at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, and Bridge’s sweet attempts to list the top thirty Books of Our Time.
Kanye in particular, has had such a successful record with public speaking that during filming Shy Ronnie I for SNL, Rihanna lamented that King Yeezy would have been a better choice to star alongside her.
Pretty important, don’t you think? You want your words to form witty and interesting sentences, that have the audience hanging on your every mouthful. Movie stars have a wonderful back catalogue of inspiring, well thought out and frankly, RIP ROARING acceptance speeches that could provide you with some much needed inspiration. Shy Ronnie also has a beautiful way with words, so long as you can hear them. Swear freely, reference your you know what and throw out one wisecrack after another, and you’ll be a star.
In my line of work, we often invite volunteers to take the stage alongside us. Its polite to get their names. Perhaps you could even offer them a nickname (you should probably keep it PG13), which will certainly bring humour to your discourse; “And here’s the man we all call…
…Mister Fitzherbert. Because that, is his name.”
And finally, on the subject of words, it is important to note that there will simply be times when you won’t need to use them. Allow the audience to think on the topic, and offer breaks in your speaking so that they may applause, cheer, and even whoop. It is often the case that expressions and emotion can convey so much – Halle Berry was once so wonderfully overcome with gratitude that her tears spoke to the audience for a good minute and a half. If it works for Halle, it can work for you too.
Even the best public speaker needs to ensure that they are nice to look at. Enthrall your audience with a loose nasal crater, a fun beret, an exotic piece by Gucci, chocolate stains or even a one-liner jumper.
You might find that your body language speaks more than you do. Hunched over shoulders are a mark of subtle confidence. Ron has the body language thing locked down; looking down as you speak will enable you to check that your feet are not only looking delectable, but also that you are standing in the right spot for maximum comfort.
Clap. In fact, if the audience won’t oblige you, clap yourself. Start the clapping off. They’ll soon follow your suit.
Tell them who you were.
“Thank you very much for listening, my name was Steve.”
Because now the show/speech is over, that is no longer your name. The person you are in the present, well, that never even mattered. You were Steve, and now that you – and they – are clapping, you’re not.
And there you have it. Steve probably read this guide before embarking upon a successful career in public speaking. And now, you will be able to do it too. Whether its in interviews, at book launches, in Lord Sugar’s boardroom, during bank robberies, or as part of an educational team in a museum, your ability to speak publically will rock an audience’s world. Make your professional CV glitter, and throw yourself into public humiliation discourse.
Did you know that you can be anything? Anything you could ever possibly want to be? Do you want to be a bee keeper? Great, do that. You’re hoping to make money from your writing? Wicked, try it. You want to be an accountant? YOU CAN DO IT MY FRIEND. One lady trying to spread this inspirational mantra is Barbie.
Barbs is a woman who knows a lot about work. According to Wikipedia, she has had illustrious careers in education, medicine, politics, the public services, in the transport industry, in business, and in the arts, whatever they are. She has also been employed as a Princess, a Cowgirl, a Babysitter, and a McDonald’s Cashier – despite the headgear. If there is any figure to drive the “Realise your dream” movement, its Barbs. This girl wakes up in the morning, grabs her track gear, and says “I can be a Track Star.”** Or, she grabs her glasses and her takeaway coffee, telling herself, “I can be an Engineer.” Hopping in her F1 car, Barbs grips the steering wheel as if to say, “I can be a Race Car Driver.”
Hell yeah she can.
Over the years, Barbie has been breaking ground, establishing herself as a leading expert in various careers – some of which are often usually driven by, or associated with, Ken or Action Man. She now turns to Hollywood. But not to star in your usual romcom, like the 2009 Confessions of a Never Been Kissed Wedding Planner in the City. Oh no. Barbs has come to Hollywood to become a Stunt-Person-Woman.
Breaking the boundaries set by the informal title, Stuntman, Barbie truly hammers home the idea that she CAN be ANYTHING. We join Barbie on the set of her one of her most dangerous stunts.
The room is cold, the air conditioning a little high.
“Chilly isn’t it? I think that’s making me more worried. I know how it feels to have my name up in lights and all, but this stunt opens up a new world for me, and I want to get it just right.
“All Stunt-People-Men and Stunt-People-Women are nervous before they start they’re work. No matter how long you’ve been doing it for, or how skilled you are. Stunts are, well, dangerous.”
And Barbs has just about every reason to be nervous on this job.
“The stunt involves a very flammable gas called butane, which will be sprayed inside a special chamber. Inside this chamber, the butane is able to mix fully with the oxygen that’s in the air around us. Then, a spark will light the butane, causing an enormous explosion.”
Oooooh. Sounds pretty dangerous. What is your role in all this Barbie?
“The explosion created by the butane will be powerful enough to move an object out of this enormous cannon. I’m going to be that object!”
Holy Cow Barbs.
And she’s right, the cannon is ENORMOUS. Covered in sparkly stars and stripes, the cannon looks almost friendly. But taking a step back into the safety zone, it is easy to see why Barbie is so nervous. Butane?? She sets herself up with all the necessary safety gear and points to a wall on the other side of the room.
It’s a target.
“So that’s where we are aiming!” She says brightly.
Erm, okay. Rather you than us.
Barbie’s crew help her climb inside the nose of the cannon. With her arms raised high, she looks nervous but excited. Cameras are ready. She’s ready. The butane is ready. The room is really ready. A countdown begins, and some eager supporters shout cries of, “Fly, Barbie, Fly!”. As the countdown reaches two, Barbs closes her eyes.
The explosion comes out of nowhere: a sudden and violent release of energy. We see a whoosh of blonde and pink. A jet of orange streams out of the back of the cannon. A thud follows the initial bang.
A member of the stunt team ensures any flames are safely extinguished, whilst another helps Barbie stand.
“Amazing!” Barbie cries. “That was utterly exhilarating – I can’t catch my breath – I have no words!”
As she makes her way over to the safety zone, we all burst into a round of applause. We give Barbs a minute while she takes a drink of water and sits through quick medical checks with one of the stunt team. The girl is all good.
She joins us for some final words, before we leave her to her amazing work.
“I guess my inspiration has to be the Bond films. They are just chock-full of stunts. And danger. My favourite is probably the ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me. I’ve done lots of ski and snowboard work myself, and I’d love to combine this with dodging bullets and a fabulous Union Jack parachute.”
Well, we’re pretty impressed with the cannon stuff to be honest.
“Explosion work is amazing. And I can’t thank the team enough. They have done so much research in preparation for the stunt, and as a result I’ve picked up on some great science: you need a fuel, a heat source, and oxygen. And explosions can have such good uses too – I’d like to think that the cannon stunt really demonstrates that.”
Needless to say, we leave inspired, in awe.
Barbie flew. If she can fly, maybe we all can too. But you know, metaphorically. She is the ultimate demonstration of the dream that a person can be anything. If she can be, then you can be. I can be.
Move over Bey. Here comes Stunt Barbs.
**The term ‘track’ in this instance refers to athletics and sports things. Not music ‘tracks’.
Following on from a previous blog about the wonder of the doody-do-do card, I wanted to discuss the joys of the doody-do-do KEYS. To remind you - or for those of you who never read it (WHAT) - a doody-do-do card is a little plastic magic thing, generally with your face on it, and your name, and your job title, that allows you to freely storm around your place of work, going through secret doors that no customer or client would EVER be able to go through. The best bit about this card, is the wonderful noise it makes as you swipe in, and around, the building.
Through a “Staff Only” door,
Now, into a storage cupboard, where there are things.
And now, you come back out into the “public” areas, from nowhere, as though you were magic.
Try and say it really fast.
Good. Now you understand the doody-do-do card.
The doody-do-do keys, unfortunately, do not make the sound “DOODY-DO-DO”. What kind of key makes this electronic sound? Unless you have a Mercedes, or a Polo, or something. But an enormous set of keys does give the same power and sense of importance as the card with your face on it.
My newest place of employment does not offer a card with your face on it. But we do get keys. A big, jangly, janitor-esque set of enormous keys with all kinds of shapes and sizes.
You must take your keys to work with you.
People will see you, at ten to nine, at the door of your workplace, holding your keys.
"Oooh, look at her. Look at those KEYS. You just know she’s IMPORTANT."
Warning. You will never remember which key goes in which door.
The Seven Ages of Man appears to be a missing a stage. Arisen in recent years, the missing eighth in the set is the result of increasing difficulties during the Big Transition from university graduate to real life professional person. Alongside the Employment Hunger Games, fought by all eager twenty-somethings using their CV’s to bludgeon one another to death, these Not-Quite-Real-People, often known as Graduates, also face the strains of continued reliance on parents, painfully high fibre optic internet bills, the misery of eating chicken from a can and the impossible choice between buying new socks or shampoo.
Okay, yes, so these are all very much First World Problems. And the pain isn’t all that bad. But there is a genuine sadness amongst those of us who are scrabbling for the career ladder. This distress is so pervasive amongst my friends, course-mates, and twitter followers, that an additional stage in the existing seven is required. Number Four, the soldier, seeks his place in life: recognition, greatness and reputation, whilst the justice, Number Five, with his wisdom and prosperity, fills his round belly with, well, presumably NOT chicken from a can, but roasted duck and profiteroles.
As soldiers, or students and young people, we hope that our academic work, relentless study and the gaining of “life experiences” in the SU bar may translate into the justice, the dude with the nice car, the mortgage, the iPad and the right reaction at parties: “Oooooh you work for Google?” Perhaps in Shakespeare’s day, the transition was much simpler, comfier, easier. But now, his seven stages are a weeny bit out dated. And so for the eighth.
Slotted nicely between the Soldier and the Justice is the Doody-Do-Do Card. This stage marks the end of the Employment Hunger Games. It is your prize. The brilliance of the Doody-Do-Do has made the pain of the Transition all the more worth it. In the stage of the Doody-Do-Do, the soldier puts down his weapons and replaces them with a tie and a little card with his face on it. It is his first job, the first rung. The period in which you enjoy your first Doody-Do-Do is special, momentous, and we have failed to recognise this time as a viable and celebratory stage in adulthood.
If you’re excited about your new workplace, then there is nothing better than having a card with your name and face on it, next to the little company logo. You show it to all your friends, many of which don’t even have one yet. You send a picture of it to your mum, and you show your Nan on Skype. Your work colleagues can even remember when they first got theirs. The Doody-Do-Do is additionally special, because it opens doors. Amazing, thrilling doors at your place of work. Doors to store rooms, to backstage areas, cleaning cupboards, offices, places where no one but you and your magical Doody-Do-Do can go. Your Doody-Do-Do will also get you staff discount. Oh, how you’ve dreamed of staff discount. Whether its money off shoes, BIC pens, soup from the cafe or a toy tank from the museum shop, your Doody-Do-Do screams at others “I AM SPECIAL.”
And you are.
You’re more than the soldier, and you’re on the path to the Justice.
That roasted duck is that little bit closer. And the chicken in a can? You can tell your children and your grandchildren about the day that you stopped eating chicken from a can. Because you got your Doody-Do-Do.
Additional Note: Excitement surrounding the Doody-Do-Do is intensified when it is assigned to you by a museum. Museum doors are SO fun to open.
The Grown-Up's Castle: Kings and Queens of the Archives
Having spent some years mulling over it, I think that the magic behind the castle lay in its ability to survive. They are incredible structures, having lasted for several centuries, more recently under the protection of organisations such as English Heritage. Wonderfully, castles, despite their age, continue to dominate over landscapes, and many have been preserved well enough to exist similarly as they had done in their heyday. Visitors are able to pass over the drawbridge, through the gatehouses, and wander the rooms of the keep. The slim, circular and seemingly twirly staircases up to the tower were always my favourite part of the castle experience.
Often, an object’s age, and the need to preserve it, hinders us from getting truly involved with the past; we are unable to handle the oldest of things, and really experience them for ourselves. Undeniably, such items need to be protected from environments that may cause damage or disintegration. But with castles, these barriers rarely exists. Hence the magic. They are certainly interactive, like Merlin Entertainments’ Warwick Castle, where princesses and knights continue to wander the grounds, and the dungeon experience can be relived by all visitors. The lovely ruin, Kenilworth (English Heritage) is equally as interactive; where visitors can touch the twelfth century walls, climb the stairs to see the view, or peer through the gigantic windows, that though glassless, are in some places beautifully intact.
And so, my current research project had me thinking about castles. Though admittedly, it isn’t related to them at all. I’ve been working with the Stopes Papers, held at the British Library in London; a collection of correspondence belonging to Dr. Marie Stopes. My work focuses largely upon letters written to Stopes in the interwar period, and in particular the appeals made to her for advice and information.
So, where do I see the link between castles and the Stopes manuscripts? Archives are in many ways the grown-up researcher’s castle. They are incredibly old, wonderfully preserved, and have been made accessible by organisations such as the British Library and the National Archives. While children race around castle grounds, we historians relish the magic of the Manuscript room; the giant chairs, high ceilings and personal desks and lamps. Of course, it can be a struggle hunting down the item you need using the online search engines, much like the fraught family using the Satnav to find Belvoir Castle in the middle of Lincolnshire. But once you know the journey through the ordering process, getting your hands on the archives is infinitely more simple.
In the archive, history lives on. For me, the ability to view, touch and read a manuscript is irrefutably exhilarating. On my first visit, the hours I spent with the Stopes papers passed like a whirlwind, as I was so involved with the characters and stories that were presented by the letters. A second and third visit allowed me to get a handle on these manuscripts in an academic sense, and though the exhilaration has mellowed as I have become accustomed to these British Library trips, I continue to be animated by the magic of the archives.
My first experience with archives and genuine manuscripts has come a little late in my career. Though I certainly came across primary source material in my school years and as undergraduate, it was not until my postgraduate experience in London that I was able to fully access and use manuscript collections. For the majority of people who enjoy history and heritage outside of academia, archives appear relatively closed. It may be that access requires membership or a library card, or that the collections do not have a distinctive presence within the establishment or on its online webpages. Castles have the ability to inspire the young and old to take up an interest in the past; it’s an often delivered tale amongst historians and students of history that visits to these old structures were the impetus for their degrees and careers. A visit to the archive has all the potential to stimulate a similar passion for the past. More than this, experience with original documents in an archive setting, whether in an educational or entertaining capacity, can offer audiences of all ages and backgrounds the ability to handle objects and papers that might be otherwise stored away, a taster session in which they might use the archive to create exciting stories, and a chance to unravel history’s secrets for themselves.
Rockets and Burps: Applying the "Inspire" mantra to History
It was at about this time last year that I was alerted to the fact that my little East Anglian science museum was due to close. With the anniversary of our loss of the Inspire Discovery Centre coming up in the next few days, I decided that it would make the most adequate topic for this week’s ThinkExhibit blog post; dedicated to the staff who made it imaginative and eccentric, and to our visitors who loved it.
Let me tell you about Inspire. Housed in a stunning, medieval church, Norwich’s hands-on science experience offered the young, the old and everyone in between, a chance to get to grips with the science behind the likes of the goblet cell, the laws of motion and even red cabbage. If our families were not participating in the specially themed shows or workshops, then permanent hands-on exhibitions provided opportunities to build a free standing bridge, communicate via satellite dish, test one’s senses and see the stars.
I, as ThinkExhibit (and long-suffering friends and family!) will tell you, have always been an eternal fan of museums, whether they deal in history or not. I cannot doubt however, that my interest for museum learning arose from my experience with this particular centre of discovery. Our task, like that of other museums and learning centres across the world, was to enthrall and entertain, and impart a little knowledge to our visitors; children and adults alike. Witnessing Inspire’s achievements in this worldwide learning project has left me enlightened.
Firstly, those lessons on goblet cells and the laws of motion have really stuck with me. I don’t claim to be a professional in the realm of science, but I’m very clear on the contents of human sweat and saliva, and I know how to make “burps” in small canisters using the marvellous Alka-Seltzer…
Secondly, and more importantly, I know the great success that museum education and non-classroom learning can achieve. And I want to get on board.
Science is great. And the Inspire Discovery Centre was magnificent. History and heritage has been making its way into the ‘hands-on’ and ‘real-life-experience’ domains for some years now. But I have great hopes that we will continue to establish new and fantastic ways in which the past might literally ‘burst’ out at our curious visitors, like carbon dioxide molecules suddenly exploding out of a little canister rocket.
I have every faith that Inspire will return one day. My only small suggestion for its future embodiment, is that they include a dinosaur. It needn’t be animatronic!
The thought of joining the blogging trend was terribly daunting, and having blundered my way through the first baby steps, I find myself with the most disconcerting task of all: the first post. It reminded me very much of my first ‘tweet’, where I was unable to choose which thought to share first. Should it be witty? Inspiring? Though provoking? My Twitter debut was probably none of these. But tweet I continue to do, and now that the initial pressure has lifted, I very much enjoy it.
And so, baring this in mind, I come to the first post of ThinkExhibit with a little more ease. I have grown accustomed to sharing my thoughts and views within 140 characters. Whats a few more?
When I was a small child, my dad used to take me to the ever so stunning Natural History Museum in London, where the T-Rex resides. I went to visit him again just a few months ago, actually. My family and friends have a little quip; that these early visits led to my affection for history and my fascination for dinosaurs in particular. My Velociraptor impression became rather famous (or infamous?) at university, and I have been known to spend a Sunday or too with Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. As a result, on every birthday for the last six years or so, my friends have bought me a dinosaur. I have to date, a “Do-you-think-he-saurus” money box, a small and featherless plastic Raptor, a wind-up T-Rex, a Make-Your-Own-Balloon-Dinosaurs set (impossible to do, by the way), even a dinosaur flannel. And for my most recent birthday, a friend painstakingly forged an origami Stegosaurus from blue paper.
These jokey - and often impressive gifts - represent more than simply an inherited childhood enthusiasm for these incredible creatures. The animatronic T-Rex, and his skeleton dinosaur friends were simply magical. The darkness, the jurassic shrubbery, and the roar of ‘Rex as he turned to face you, remained with me for more than fifteen years. So magic it was, that just last year I forcibly took my friend to see it all for herself.
The fantastic reality is this: ‘heritage’ need not simply suggest a beautiful garden, castle, or seventeenth century manor. Heritage for me, at the dear age of seven, and indeed still today as an academic, meant, equally, staring into the face of the past: staring into the face of a roaring, animatronic, giant lizard.