Category: Education

Upcycled Table Centres and Jewellery (by )

paper flowers

Tomorrow I am running two of my Sustainability Series of workshops as Salaric Craft at Gloucester Cathedral as part of their Sustainability and Harvest Festival - it marks the 1st yr anniversary of the solar panels going live and is part of an on going development process to make the Cathedral green and sustainable.

Upcycled Flowers

One of the workshops is making paper flowers from old magazines and books and turning them into table centres and displays, this includes making the "vases", basket making, and weaving paper and is adaptable to all skill levels.

Jean weaving paper

The other workshop is creating jewellery from reclaimed materials, this is another upcycling workshop - some of the materials are "rubbish" like old paper, card, bottle tops and some things that were surplus to requirements and were saved from becoming needless landfill like half used bottle of nail vanish and metal washers.

Paper beads

The Sustainability Series of workshops and talks that I have designed as part of Salaric is very important to me as I believe it a) helps people learn skills that maybe life changers or even life savers and b) it helps people become more aware of the waste and issues surrounding the environment and hopefully will help curb things like global warming c) it gives people ideas of cheap ways to fix, repair and make things which in these times of austerity is something that many people need (p.s. these workshops are free tomorrow 🙂 )

Upcycled Tag Bracelet

20 yrs Ago… (by )

20 yrs ago, me and my friends Nikki and Helen went nervously to our school to collect our GCSE results. I at least was petrified, I believed that everything hinged on the results. I'd had noise bleeds and panic attacks trying to get through the damn things.

The added pressure for me was that I had a hell of a lot to prove - it wasn't just my future that was at stake - it was me myself - it was my self worth.

I am [dyslexic](, very dyslexic, I have ADHD and dyspraxia too - I was not statemented for the dyslexia at this point. There was no extra time or allowances for SPAG made, some of the papers I sat I'd only gotten to the centre of the exam paper before the exam time run out. I also had several stints on walking aids and crutches due to the hypermobility and general clumsiness of dyspraxia.

I'd only sat 8 GCSE's (counting double science as two GCES) in place of the ninth I had "Option Support". I'd been talked out of doing geography because of the amount of writing involved in it.

Also I tended to get lots of chest infections and had extremely bad periods where I would throw up meaning I often missed big chunks of school.

I was bullied unmercifully - I was one of the poorer families, I had mostly home made uniform, I wore NHS glasses and had frizzy hair. Every one thought I was thick - I saw what other people were like - I was pretty sure I wasn't thick (most of the time but sometimes I thought I was the stupidest person on the planet).

One girl would steal my bag and copy my homework, her spelling was great but my finding things out and reasoning was much better than hers. She would get full marks, depending on the teacher I could score 0 for my spelling nullifying the answer for them. Most of the teachers were great and incredibly supportive but not all of them. My bag would end up in the bin, sometimes it would be hidden, sometimes it was thrown on top of things and kindly teachers had to retrieve it. I had stones thrown at me and my hair set on fire, I wasn't the only one.

When I started the school my parents were informed I'd be lucky to be sitting GCSE's at all. I needed to prove the world wrong about me.

I worked on my coordination with my little brothers help, I worked on my reading - I was desperate to read - I could see there were films where you could see inside peoples heads inside books and they were quiet so you could "watch" these films anywhere.

My dad made me alphabet and spelling cards and my mum and nan sat with me for hours trying to get that click of recognition were letters and words were concerned.

The head teacher Ms Winstone was on my side and this was a tremendous help. But I had little to no drama, music, second language lessons as I had to go and do extra English. I had to go to The Red Room. I actually loved the Red Room and the ladies who helped me in there. There was a chicken game with spelling eggs that I think one of the ladies sons had made. I loved it!

I respond well to gamification.

But the Red Room was the "special room" for special people who couldn't be anything and needed to be put in their place in society.

In year 8 when I was 12 yrs old my friend lent me two point horror books The Boyfriend and The Girlfriend. I decided that what ever it took I was going to read those books! I was going learn to read.

It took me three months to get through the first book - point horrors are for young teens and are between 1 and 2 hundred pages of largish, well spaced type. It was so so damn hard, I had a red ruler that I used to follow the words - to make it clearer which line I was reading. It was a slog.

The second book I believe only took me 3 weeks, by the following year I had it down to 3 days! But... I was reading all the time - I still wasn't a fast reader I just devoted a lot of time to it, I read walking home, I read whilst waiting for my friends, I had books shoved in the pockets of my blazer. Within five books of starting this "proper reading" I was reading long epics such as The Eight and Weaveworld, I read classics such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories. I began to collect books to read, from charity shops and library sales. I discovered that I don't really like most "classics".

This reading transformation is not as clear cut as this makes it seem. I would never have loved books if it had not been for the books my last year Junior School teacher Miss Savage had selected for me or the help the librarian at that school had given me - the use of high content low word count books was amazing and I loved [Bangers and Mash]( and Tim and The Hidden People. And the help to over come speech problems and so on via looking looking after ducklings all played a huge huge part.

And I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a archaeologist, opera singer and astronaut. I did not know the difference in Infant school between archaeology and palaeontology and the boundary is a tad blurry! I wanted to be an opera singer so I could design the sets, cloths, and write the stories as well as sing and act. These are still pretty much all my aspirations.

I don't let go of dreams easily, and getting to secondary school had been a near miss with suggestions that I needed to go to a "special needs" school. To be a geologist I needed to get to university and even I at infant school age 4-7 yrs old knew that you couldn't get there from those types of schools (this was the 80's).

So GCSE's were a pretty big deal and I was terrified on the day I went to get my results - I was determined to do four A'levels but I was starting from a bad base of doing less GCSE's that most people to begin with.

Due to the tremendous improvement in my reading skills I had been put up into first set for Science from third set - something that was a big gamble for the teachers and something everyone had to have meetings about. Some considered it wasn't fair and there was the issue that bottom sets are often not taught everything because they just don't have the time to get through everything at the pace needed for students who can't read through huge texts books by themselves etc...

This meant I was trying to catch up on 2-3 years worth of science foundation as well as learning the stuff for the actual exams. I really loved my science lessons and ended up in what was called the "super set one" who did more in depth stuff like cosmology and A'level and degree level questions just to stretch you a bit - the down side? You lost lunch times for the classes.

My science teachers believed in me - or at least let me think they believed in me. And this was a confidence boost but at the same time put an expectation for success on me that was probably all projection from my own expectations of self. I knew I couldn't fail because I'd let down all those parents, grandparents, teachers and friends who had helped me. My nan died during my GCSE years so it was important not to let her down - she had won a place at grammar school but had been denied it as she was just a girl and the eldest of a large brood who needed caring for. I had to succeed for her.

And yes my friends helped me - they helped me by letting me catch up with notes copied from the board when the maths teacher was bullying me in year 8. They helped me face down the bullies and snuck sweets into the cinema with me. These were the same friends who came with me so we could collect our results together - Nicky and Helen who were both fire bearers at my wedding.

No one in my family had made it to university, it was not something you did, I could not fail, I could not fall but I was sure I'd have to do it part time whilst working because how else did you do university?

I wasn't even sure if people like me could go to university but I never let the impossible slow me down. I would have to find away.

We marched into the front of the building through the official visitor entrance, giggling with nerves and being too loud (or at least I was) and we picked up our envelopes. I couldn't read the results, my vision had blurred with fear or blood pressure or nerves.

The results? 5 Bs, 3 Cs and a D - the D was in History where Id had to write essays and hadn't gotten very fair with the paper - however I was borderline for a C and the teachers suggested we get it remarked. This cost £30 I think and was a lot of money to us but we did it - it came back still a D.

This was higher than I'd expected, and higher than most of the teachers had expected due to that only getting to staples in the middle of the papers thing, oh and having a panic attack in one exam and having been in A&E with a stupid injury from trying to run to an exam when our friends mum forgot to pick us up.... and so on.

The only exception to this was Art - I was actually predicted A for art but I didn't realise that I needed to write up the art work - my portfolio was lit. just all the pictures I'd created and sheets of practice eyes and colour work. That was it - that was the art but there was supposed to be writing too. No writing, no A.

Science was BB - but only because I took the higher paper - I did not finish the exam paper - every question I had managed to answer was right. Maths I'd only gotten to the middle of the paper - Intermediate paper - I got a C again my teacher made a big point that I had gotten everything I'd answered right.

The biggest surprise though was English Lit. I got a B!!! I got a B with a reading age of 12 and a spelling age of 8 - yes I took my GCSE's with a spelling age of 8 much to my English teachers horror! Part of this was the subject matter - I loved my GCSE books - To Kill a Mocking Bird, Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls (and Shakespeare - I actually like Shakespeare but I tended to turn it into little comic book strips so I could work out what was actually going on). The anthology had included the poem No Streamin' There - a poem about someone in lower sets who realises that even if they are not good at school the graveyard shows it doesn't really matter because everyone is just dead! The Oakum Room which had me obsessed with womens' right in the Victorian era and the absolute horror that many in my class thought the protagonist (a young mother in a workhouse) was to blame. London - one of my all time favourite poems and The Cream Cracker Under the Settee - a story that still haunts me and was part of the inspiration for how I wrote Alfie's Triumph (though obviously the actual story of Alfie was built up from an actual person and event).

I loved the GCSE reading so much that I'd also been working my way through the entire list of potential texts and not just the ones I'd been assigned - I was still doing this when I moved to Gloucestershire and sadly lost the list somewhere in the move. This how I ended up reading some truly amazing books!

Seriously people check out the books! (Libraries and few downloads... amazon links below).

There was also a lovely film of The Cream Cracker Under the Settee and an audio adaption which you should look out for!

Teachers got hugged on the day of my results - of course not the cute biology teacher I had the biggest crush on ever 🙂 He'd compounded the issue by being the main teacher to rescue my bag for me when it was thrown on roofs etc... he was also only about 22 and not butch! (think a short gothier dressed Alaric), I could barely talk or even look at him!

I was elated, ecstatic and amazed! I had 5 B's, I only just had 5 B's and I had Cs in English and Maths - this meant I had just scraped enough to sit my four A'levels. My friends thought I was mad (the normal at the time was 3) but the head Teacher Mrs Winstone thought it was a great idea and informed me that she had done the same. I was in the top 20 students of the school for my results and there was a special cup for progress The Craven Cup so of course there was a prize given award to go to the following academic year. I chose a book on Geology and it was awarded to me by an Eastenders actor (played on of the first gay roles on British TV) and just happened to be Mr Hogg's (the deputy head or head of year (I can't remember now)) son 🙂

It was amazing that I got through and that I achieved - but here's the thing as I see young people I know stress and panic about exams I think that it is not worth it - it is not worth the health of our kids. Exams are not a good judge of how academic a person is, and academia is not a measure of how intelligent someone is. There are so many paths you can take in life and education should be about the learning and more so... the learning how to learn - not about stressing that you are going to be stuck in a pit of poverty and waste your life and be a big fat failure. This is what is sold to kids, this is the fear that drives our youth to education and it is not a sustainable system.

So I found myself congratulating kids and for others giving them examples of other routes they could take and pointing out they were not failures just because of some stupid piece of paper! Exam learning doesn't stay in most peoples brains - they've crammed and it is slinking away by mid afternoon the next day - not committed to long term memory and actually a lot of it is just fact checking - you don't need that in you brain - you need to know how to fact check but not the instant fact recall! (obviously if you are going into something like the military then how you recall info and behave under stress is very important but that is in the training!)

20 yrs ago I got my GCSE results - my 12 year old bought home a GCSE maths book from school - it was what she is currently learning in class. She likes exams, she doesn't see them as a stressful thing - I hope we can keep it like that for her.

Horrid Henry isn’t Horid (by )

There is an article on the BBC news website asking - Should Parents Ban Horrid Henry?, my response to this is... NO.

Horrid Henry is not actually horrid - pretty much as soon as you ask should you ban a book the answer is NO (even bad books that really shouldn't exist should not be banned they should be watered down with lots of other books and besides if you ban them you have just made it more likely that impressionable people will read them as they are now EXCITING, it's what I call the prohibition effect).

The stories have progressions where the kids fight and resolve differences and get around issues such as dyslexia and ADHD etc... and the insecurities that brings for kids etc... they are a positive thing. They also covered headlice and all the other little things that dominate a child's world, yes they contain toilet humour but lets face it 6-12 year olds tend to love that sort of stuff (regardless of gender), just pomp loudly in a room full of kids and you'll see what I mean!

Jean's read all the books and for Mary the Too Cool for School episode/film thingy was immensely important as a confidence builder. In the article the actors main issue was that his kid started kicking up after watching it - my take on that... kids go through phases. Jean started kicking after watching Ben 10 the animation - this was a time to teach that you can't just blanket copy what you see.

Also the books have the easy read high content thing going for them which is exactly what reluctant readers and those with things like dyslexia need. They need a story they can get their teeth into and in this case they will often identify heavily with the protagonist i.e. Henry but it is not so bulksome and wordy that they will feel they are grinding their way through them.

Yay so Horrid Henry is not actually horrid!

Septembers Events – 2017 (by )

Fri 1st Sept 11 am - 3 pm Gloucester: Community Craft Day at Gloucester Cathedral - upcycled accessories a Salaric Craft workshop.

Fri 1st-2nd Sept Cheltenham: Jean's performance as Joe in the Young Gloucester Opera and Dramatics Society's production of Fame at the Parabola Arts Centre.

Sun 3rd Sept Oxford: ICFP-International Conference on Functional Programming where Alaric will be speaking about the programming language Scheme part of Kitten Technologies.

Tues 5th 6:30 Stroud: Villanelles Poetry Evening with the Gloucester Poetry Society. Performance as part of The Wiggly Pets Press.

EDIT2: Talk is Wednesday lunchtime at the Museum of Gloucester.

EDIT: there is some confusion currently as to weather this talk is on Tues or Weds as the History Fest have it down as Tues and the Museum for Weds - Currently trying to sort it out 🙂

1pm Gloucester: The Start of Art general interest talk on cave and rock art at the [Museum of Gloucester](] part of the [Cuddly Science's)( Histories.

Sat 9th 3-5pm Gloucester: Food For Thoughts at the Cafe Rene, poetry performance as part of The Wiggly Pets Press.

At three things to be confirmed later in the month 🙂

Of Finger Prints, Stones and Old Bones… (by )

So last week I went to Bristol to meet up with my friend and walk around the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery which neither of us had yet been in even though we have lived in the area for years now. It was fantastic and I have loads of photos but that is not really what this post is about - no this is about a book I found in the shop on our visit.

I saw this book and I could not resist it! For a start I am doing a general interest talk on cave art etc... at the Gloucester Museum at the beginning of September and am doing some little bits of research trying to build some lovely maps up and this is exactly the sort of thing I want to be reading right now. And secondly when I started looking through it I realised that it was the write up of part of a group of projects that I helped out on during my work experience at the Natural History Museum London (it is actually an NHM publication) - it even has one of the people I was working with named in it! Simon Parfitt.

The project the book is about is the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project - I believe I was actually working on a European sister project but that they tied in together - I wasn't doing anything uber exciting - I wasn't out digging trenches against the clock like in Time Team - no I was sieving cave sediment and then pulling out "organic" material. This was one of my first encounters with each group having very specific meanings for words which don't always tie in with everyone else's definitions. I was a geologist - I realised they did not mean the Chemists idea of organic i.e. everything with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in, nor the astrophysicists idea of organic i.e. anything that is heavier than helium (I think - it was something like that anyway and linked to star evolution), so I was going for the biologists definition with a bit of geology laid on top - I was pulling anything that had once been alive or had been created by living processes. However what the archaeologists actually meant was mammal teeth, bones and poo and maybe some insects if I was lucky!

This meant all the little cave corals I'd carefully extracted were a waste of everybody's time!

Still once I realised what I was supposed to be doing I got on with it. My friend had initially come along with me but she had too much work etc... so for most of the time it ended up being just me. I didn't actually like this - I'd liked it initially when the two paleo-anthropologist/archaeologists and their volunteer where there but most of the time it was just me and it was a faff to get in and there were often weird skulls plonked down on the workbench were I worked. I couldn't go and get coffee in the paleo department because my back was bad meaning I was having issues with my hands if I over taxed them - the door to the coffee/tea room was a big old heavy thing so there was no tea for me because I couldn't push the door open!

But I did like it when Simon gave me papers to read on the various types of animals I was finding - I remember thinking I'd found a hamster tooth - it was a little rodent - most of it was mice and bats teeth - what's living in the cave when tells you when it was and was not occupied by humans. And I liked it when the lady was in the office as she would get my coffee and tell me about how what she did for her work experience and the projects she was working on.

Sometimes I would get mistaken for a guy who worked in the department who had long hair - we both tended to have a thick plait and wear the same hippy/metal type t-shirts. I was quiet shy so it was always a shock to have some bloke slap you on the shoulder and then go into hyper babble as they realised I wasn't the person they thought I was!

I was also working in Meteoritics in Mineralogy - they gave me my own pass and it became easier to go in and work on rocks from space. And there were people in the lab... and I ended up with my own project. Even so I think Paleo would have kept me if the lab move hadn't happened.

In fact the museum could have had a lot more of us students and for longer but there was a miss communication. In our first year we had brazenly gone to the museum in a group of about give I think, and asked about work experience and voluntary positions. We were told that they kept those positions for final year students only, so we went away and awaited our final year. When we told the researches in both Mineralogy and palaeontology this tale they were horrified as that is not the case at all! And we had Wednesday afternoons off at uni for things such as sports or work experience.

Now the scientists Simon and Tiana(?) where great but were often just not about and because I didn't understand how academia worked I did not know that you were supposed to ask people to be your refs. I think I asked in general and Simon had said yes but I couldn't remember his surname so I put the ladies name down instead (ironically I currently can't remember it! Poss. head injury, poss. the passage of time and I think I only remembered Simon's as it was in the book!). Of course this kind of floored her and she asked me to warn her next time - me being shy... felt I'd upset her and had been stupid etc... but I don't tend to give up so would have continued with the work anyway - had not been for the lab move...

I was in lab (Anthropology 2 I think) when it was time for computer upgrade - the nhm is a large and sprawling thing and so though mineralogy had shiny computers in the early 00's - paleo did not and it was time for ethernet (everyone else was moving to wifi!). The guy came to install, the guy found the lab was lined with asbestos - I was sitting there at the time! - I don't know if that is the reason for the move but I know I wasn't happy with the situation as my granddad had died in 2000 of asbestosis (or rather the cancer caused by it!). Anyway all the stuff was moved and I was shown were it was but... I'm not good at remembering such things and they both went off on their digs and no one else knew where the samples were that I was supposed to be working on and... they'd finally given me a pass and all I could do with it was wonder aimlessly looking for the samples - so I left a message explaining and went and got on with stuff I could do in mineralogy and rocks from space.

And never heard from them again :'(

It's interesting because now I can see that it was me not knowing how things worked and being shy.

I still love Quaternary Science and all things to do with human and civilisation origins, I also still love the Pre-Cambrian and the questions surrounding the origins of life... and of course Space - I love stars and stuff and to me these things hold the same fascination - academically they are very different areas especially at post grad level. When I was considering doing a PhD this was one of my issues - which area to choose?

It was why I picked the MRes in research techniques in Earth Sciences - it taught the stuff used in all the areas so I was pretty much still looking for some breathing space before having to choose and I also felt I needed to bone up on the old maths and physics - without A'levels in them I had struggled through my degree and I felt I needed them to do proper science. I've been told that I am intuitive at maths by multiple people, I just don't have the basics or language in place to use it.

Of course that pathway did not work out for me and I ended up being the Geologist Running Scared.

I thought I'd stopped being a geologist - I'm an artists and writer now... I did the post grad in Practical Science Communication but that is science in general and is kind of just an extension to the writing and art and performance etc...

But I think that you can't stop being something you are - you might not be able to apply it and you may study something you aren't but I am and always have been a geologist.

And I think... I might not be the only one in this family anymore. I get excited about rocks, the girls now know my fern tree tale off by heart - I still tell them about giant cats/marestails every time I see the little plants.

Jean sometimes asks questions but was always more books and keyboards (even as a baby we had to give her a keyboard) but she still has a rock collection and has always been drawn to them 🙂

Mary also collects rocks, lots and lots of rocks and I have to stop her from pillaging other people driveways. Also bits of pot - to be fair her sister started this craze. At Blists Hill last week I had both of them geologing in different ways - Jean asking questions about the underlaying rock structures and formation processes and Mary steadily filling a bag that was getting heavier and heavier and watching metal pouring and general how to make things and getting excited about old mine workings.

Mary is a little confused about word definitions - she wants to be a hair dresser because they do art stuff and she already is an engineer, she says, but she also says she wants to be an artists because they find out how things are made and how they work - like Mummy is an artist and that includes science stuff because she has no concept of them being different things. She has collected stones and sticks and feathers since she could grab things. She loved the rocks in South Africa and Wales and will always find something to bring home.

This is very like I was - I had bags and bags of finds and it only solidified into an idea of something when I saw the giant dinosaur in the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum (I wanted to show it too her but will have to await the bronze replacement skeleton that is going in the gardens - I just don't think she will engage with the whale skeleton that now hands in the NHM's main entrance hall in the same way).

This summer we have also been to the dino exhibition at the Gloucester museum as well were we had to forcefully extract the girls! And of course we went to Jodrell Bank where she was awed by space and planets and rocks from space.

Her enthusiasm has awoken me to the wonders I love once more - I had shied away feeling a keen pain when I thought about geology and the academic world I was no longer a part of. I'd focused Cuddly Science on science and engineering in general and then last year we went on holiday with my brother down in Cornwall including looking at old mines and seeing the rocks along the beach and the kids all showed interest and I thought about how I needed my paleo posse puppets and set about designing things.

The trip to South Africa showed me that I could still read landscapes and that setting me loose on a mountain was going to result in everyone panicking when I lost track of time and didn't make the rendezvous.

This year I have thus ended up running archaeology and palaeontology workshops and drawing colouring sheets and looking at rocks and buying books on rocks. I count everything as rocks and rocks are everything from our origins to our futures to the stars and the seas. If they are not rock currently they are part of rock forming processes.... and so on.

I am excited. I was excited about the book I got at Blists Hill on general geology in Britain:

And the book from the museum: Britain - one million years of the human story. Both times Mary announced "BORING!" at the books (her general reaction to books (unlike her sister)) and both times I have found her either reading them/looking at the pictures or found sticky finger prints just the right size for a precocious little 6 yr old!

I don't think I a geologist in hiding or running scared anymore - I used to say "what use is a geologist on crutches/in a wheelchair?" I even wrote stories about a geologist who is injured and creates an exoskeleton so she can continue in the field. I know I will probably never be out in the field (even without the crutches) or in a lab and that does still make me sad (I am a high octane engine in a little skoda chassis). But also I've seen that light of wonder in kids eyes as I explain Mary Anning's discoveries to them - I know that the stones are in my bones and I can not stop being a geologist. And I am no longer alone - I have little rock minions to help me (even if one of them is now taller than me) 🙂

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