Monday, 25 July 2011

Monday Morning Discombobulation!

It’s our first morning back on the Greenwich campus following our move from Avery Hill.  It all feels strangely familiar but also different.  Last year I was working down the other end answering queries specific to the School of Health while this year I am part of Uzma’s team. I am able to ride my bicycle over Blackheath and through Greenwich Park which is such a lovely way to start the day!  Being classified as staff for the summer I have been given a key to lock it away in the special bike shed so hopefully it won’t get stolen like my last year’s Clearing bike did!  I would be so upset to lose this lovely new bike especially after having my scooter stolen last week.

My weekend started wonderfully with a visit from my daughter Kate and her boyfriend Martin, who is a very skilled carpenter.  He, ably assisted by him-at-home, installed my beautiful lion stained glass window.  This is the window that was given to me eighteen months ago by a workman who had taken it out of a house that was been fitted with new PVC windows.  Although it was absolutely filthy and very badly damaged, he couldn’t bear to throw it in the skip so he took it home where it languished in his garden shed for years.  I wasn’t sure whether I like it or not and couldn’t even work out what the design was for ages until I could put it over a light box. It was so exciting to see the beautiful painting with the lion’s face and details of fruit, leaves, columns and scrolls.  I have worked all year in my stained glass evening class to clean, restore and enlarge it. This involved painting two replacement panels, cutting several new clear glass pieces, replacing much of the lead work, reinforcing it with  fine steel bars and making a new section all around it to fit in our window space. 

So often I hated the process – all that fiddling around with cotton buds and scalpel blades!  However when the window finally went in on Saturday morning I was absolutely thrilled to bits!  Now I have to keep going to look at different times of the day to see how the different light changes it.  Then at night it is different again depending which room we are in and which light is on.   Him at home thinks I am completely bonkers!  Then I invited Lucy over from across the road to look at it.  She is a stained glass teacher and was really excited about seeing it in place.  She went as bonkers as me so we decided that only a fellow stained- glass-oholic could really understand!

So after all that excitement,  which almost compensated for having  Valerie  Vespa stolen last Monday we had a lovely roast dinner and we all just relaxing digesting and sitting soft.  Then we heard the news which really brought us down to earth.......

...firstly about the slaughter of all those innocent people in Norway – such senseless destruction.  It is so huge, so unimaginably shocking that I find it hard to know how to react, how to feel, how to think and what to write. 

My heart goes out to all those injured and those who are left behind having to cope with the loss of precious family members and friends.

Amy Winehouse
Janis Joplin
...and then I heard the news about the death of Amy Winehouse.  I felt so sad.  She was such a brilliantly talented young woman, only a year older than my beloved daughter.  Amy had always reminded me of the amazing, but terribly troubled, Janis Joplin who died in 1970 at the same age. Twenty seven seemed so much older to me then when I was only 16.  Now it seems so young. Drugs and alcohol can wreak such havoc in the lives of so many people not only those with the fragility of Amy and Janis. 

Rest in Peace Ami.

Friday, 22 July 2011

We’re moving!

It’s Friday afternoon and we should have been celebrating completing our first week with the new phone system and in our new Clearing teams.  Instead we have been working with the old system, sharing computers, doing everything one handed with no headsets and having to go to another computer to resubmit details for printing out forms.
...but you know?  It’s been fine.  Everyone has helped each other out and there has been very little grumbling.  The decision was made on Wednesday that we had to pack up and move to the Greenwich site so each day there is less and less equipment around as the full time staff set up ready for us to re-start on Monday. 
I am in Uzma’s team which of course will be the best! We have to personalise it appropriately which will be such fun.  I had to bid a fond farewell to Rhoda, my absolute favourite lady in the Dome cafeteria.  Since we moved to the Mansion site on Monday I have spent each lunchtime walking back to the Southwood site to have dinner because the food is so much better there and Rhoda is so lovely and smiley.  I first met her properly when we worked together on my first Open Day.  We had to sort out all the refreshments for the day and we had a really good system going.  Ever since then she has been so lovely and friendly every time I visit.
The other reason to go back to Southwood is for the coffee in the Student Union.  I am a complete coffee snob and cannot stand instant coffee or over roasted beans.  The best coffee on campus is from the Student Union shop and you get your sixth cup free – an extra bonus.
But there is lots to look forward to at the Maritime Campus – wonderful buildings, the river, Greenwich town, riding my bicycle and the lovely man in the cafe there!  I do seem to cultivate friendships with staff concerned with food supplies!
So I am looking forward to the weekend when my daughter Kate is coming up with Martin her boyfriend.  He is a carpenter and has promised to help put in my new stained glass window which has been lying on my lounge-room floor for the past three weeks as I am too terrified to try and put it in by myself.  So hopefully I will have pics for you of it all done next week so watch this space!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Adventures in Clearing and Valerie Vespa disappears

We have now moved over to our new clearing home for the next seven weeks.  Everyone was nervous on Friday knowing that we were at a new sit in our new teams and having to begin using our new phone system.
On Sunday I had a lovely afternoon with my sister –out –law (we are exes of brothers!) doing the  Sydenham  Arts trail.  Lots of local artists open their houses to exhibit their work and you can just pop in, look around , talk to the artists and buy incredible quality work.  Some places offer cups of tea, others a glass of wine while others charge for tea and cakes to raise money for charity.  Of course we had to drop in to our stained glass teacher Pippa’s house or she would have been thoroughly cross with us!  There is so much work I would have loved to have bought but I retrained myself to two pieces of Pippa’s painted glass work – I am a poor student after all!
After being visually maxed out with all that wonderful art work I spent the evening watching the film Australia with him-at-home. My sister had warned me that it was a pretty dodgy movie but worth watching for the wonderful scenery. It had been filmed in the far north of Australia where quite near to where she had worked with an Aboriginal Art Centre.  It was also interesting for some of the history.  My father had been stationed in Darwin in the 2nd World War and the film featured scenes from this time.  Overall I agreed with most of the critics who  found it quite a disappointing film,  turgid in parts, and quite unbelievable in others. 
I had planned for that to be my relaxing evening before the full on busyness of this week in Clearing. We tucked ourselves up in bed and had just drifted off to sleep when we were woken by a noise in the street.  We went to the window only to find my beloved little scooter, Valerie Vespa, being  ridden off down the street.  She had been stolen! As you can imagine I was not a happy possum.  After reporting the theft to the police I could not settle back off to sleep until 3am so I arrived at work having had to be driven in, very droopy and still very upset.  During last year’s Clearing my bicycle was stolen, this year it is my scooter so I hope it doesn’t mean the car will go next year!
Everyone was very sympathetic and we all logged in ready to tackle the new phone system ....but it didn’t work!  Everything had to be re-jigged back so we could use the old system and we could not sit in our new teams.  We are still waiting for it to get sorted and it feels quite an anti climax after being so geared up for the change.
Today in between taking calls we have been decorating our folders and magazine racks.  Raz brought in her coloured pencils and felt tips while I provided the glitter, sequins and glue.  Our corner now looks quite lovely but the boys refuse to join in apart from Sharat graciously condescending to allow us to decorate his pen top with red glitter – he is very scared he may be attacked by a frenzy of pink which happened last year when all the girls in his tem decided to brighten up his bay! 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Olympics in Greenwich and a right royal time in Hampton Court

Three weeks ago I took my daughter Kate to the Olympic equestrian trials in Greenwich Park.  Kate was very excited when I told her that lots of her heroes from the equestrian world would be there.  Although I do not have a horsey bone in my body I have been to lots of stuff with her – exams and competitions – that are out in the country.  It seemed so bizarre to have these country events taking place in a city park with the backdrop- of the University Maritime Campus, Canary Wharf and the city.  We went on Tuesday fro the eventing  where a course was set up through the park with jumps, ditches and a water pools.  There were lots of school children positioned around thevarious jumps and it was lovely these city kids enjoying an event usually attended by thoroughlycountry folk!  Most people were sitting around the pond bit where Kate informed me that riders are most likely to fall off in the water, making quite a splash!
Here are the pick of my pics: 
Jumping in the arena
Making the different jumps for an eventing course is an art in itself and these little fake country cottage houses make up the  part of the course that goes though the arena. They look so strange with Queen Anne’s House and the university behind!

Jumping in the arena
This shot shows the wonderful domes of the Maritime Campus designed by Christopher Wren.  Is this horse aware of jumping near such esteemed architecture?

Picnic Table
This is known as the ‘picnic table’. And up close it is like a giant’s table, being about six feet high and five feet wide with equally giant hampers for the horses to jump between.

Over the Picnic Table
Luckily this horse didn’t find it too difficult though!

Water jumps
This bit of the course was built through the boating pond.  We wanted to get a good view and so ducked under the ropes and wandered into this corner.  It seemed odd because the only other people in this area had special ‘Press’ vests.  As we wandered out a security man commented “Well I hope you enjoyed yourself but I’m not sure how you got there!” This is the jump most popular with the primary school children but I hope they weren’t too disappointed when no one fell off!

Jump and Ditch
This looks really difficult as the horses have to come round a corner, jump the fence, go down a little slope,, then over the ditch and then up a hill.  The competitors made it look so easy but having been to so many trainings and events with my daughter I know what commitment and hours of practice is involved.

The country comes to Greenwich
At the end of the day we were able to walk the whole course and it is only when you get up really close you realise how big they are! This one is called the ‘brush fence’.

By the time we had walked from Hither Green to Greenwich and then up and down the course several times, my feet were aching and my bum muscles tingling! It’s staggering to think that all this work to get this up and running is only there for a week as it is all taken down until next year when the real Olympics begins. We had a wonderful day out and such fun to spend the day with my gorgeous daughter who go to see some of her riding heroes.
Luckily I had two days break before my next adventure that involved lots more walking – the Hampton Court Flower Show.  This is our extra special yearly treat.  We went with friends and were so disappointed when the rain began belting down on our train journey and didn’t stop for about four hours. Being quite tall I have an absolute loathing of umbrellas because generally they are just at the right level to poke me in the eyes with their prongs.  I am contemplating setting up a campaign to ban them from the show.  As the rain pelted down all we could see was a sea of the blasted things! The rain suddenly cleared after lunch and we had a gorgeous afternoon.  Here are some of my favourite bits:
Flower Sculpture
Sculpture detail
A lovely flower  and insect sculpture.  It has a sort of vintage feel to it.

Lizards and frogs
My faves!  I have a real thing for lizards – they are so wonderfully curly and frogs are such fun!  We have loads of them in our tiny garden.

We found a special display entitled ‘The Swinging Sixties’.  This was a floral art competition for college students.  The Beatles featured very prominently:
The Beatles

The Beatles - Detail

I love these leafy beatles!

Look carefully and you’ll see the guitar is made entirely of flowers – brilliant!

Below is our own Hadlow College entry.  It was inpired by the title of a popular 60’s song ‘She’s like a rainbow’.

More Beatles with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Yellow Submarine
This yellow submarine was a superb piece of floral art.  Each corner of the display table had a ‘love’ display in a different colour scheme.

With Love
I liked this one the best – all my favourite colours!

Positive & Negative
I loved this display garden.  The water appeared black – probably achieved with a black pool liner.  The black contrasted beautifully with the green grass of the positive and negative 3D-ness.

This horse covered with plants reminded me of Kate so I had to include it!
A horse for Kate

Monty Don
While we were there the BBC was filming Gardener’s World and Monty Don was presenting.  I am quite a fan so I couldn’t resist snapping away!!  It was fun to watch him again on TV the next night and ‘revisiting’ all the highlights with him.
…so, dear reader, my holidays are over  for the next two months as the clearing adventure unfolds….

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Art of Dying Euphemistically

My two weeks of holidays seem to have become a distant memory as I am propelled towards full-time Clearing work in the Enquiry Unit.
It felt like I hit the ground running on Monday.  The phones began ringing at 9am and I did not notice anything else until I was told my phone had been ‘taken out’ for me to go to lunch at 1.30.  I am working all week in the usual Enquiry Unit office until next week when we all move to the Mansion site and take over the computer lab that is normally used by students during academic year.  The campus is invaded by lots of groups of small people doing summer courses – both British and overseas students.  It is very lively in a different way to when the campus is buzzing with uni students.
Today I received my official pass notification to say I am clear to proceed to my third year.  I have also had an email giving the start date and a book list of nine books to read before I start.  September 27th seems a long way away at this time but I have the feeling that it is going to rush past.  I am still unable to read anything with words of too many syllables while I recover from second year!  Maybe I will venture into the library and start on the thinnest book and be gentle on myself!
Last week I only work one day so it felt like a continuation of my holiday two weeks which was really lovely.  I spent the Saturday in Highgate cemetery with my sister.  I love cemeteries – yes I know I am weird but they are amazing places!  I always have fun finding all the euphemisms for dying.  I am reminded of the Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot Sketch where John Cleese argues that he has been sold a dead Nowegian Blue parrot while the pet shop owner, played by Micheal Palin, insists it is just very quiet ,resting or ‘pining for the fjords’. John Cleese, getting nowhere with the salesman who has an answer for everything, retorts in exasperation:
“'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e  rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”
…so as we walked around the famous Victorian cemetery it was fascinating to read the various expressions for ceasing to be.
On one family memorial the first ‘entered into rest’, the next was ‘called home’, the next ‘entered the homeland, the next fell asleep while the last ‘is with them now’.  This is maybe a sign of the times, the mid 1800’s and of a very religious family.
In contrast was the very different memorial to Patrick Caulfield the pop artist who died in 2005.  It certainly says it how it is!
My sister loved this cemetery and pointed out one of her favourite pieces.  Almost hidden away beneath the undergrowth was this wonderful grand piano.

I was so curious that I came home and looked it all up on the internet.  I discovered I am not the only weirdo that loves cemeteries – there are whole web-sites devoted to them! There are lots of fans of this piano, a memorial to the pianist John Thornton who died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 .  There is a wonderful pic of it taken in 1970 before it was vandalised and lost its lid and ‘music’.  See  As we were leaving I totally fell in love with this gorgeous angel holding a water filled dish – a wonderful bird bath- covered in ivy. 

It was worth the trek up to North London but I have always loved our South London Nunhead cemetery – a wonderful overgrown Victorian wonderland and the perfect place to go for a stroll when you need a rest from academic overload. It is very peaceful – no noise from those quietly entered in rest residents!
The two other great days out last week were to the Olympic trials in Greenwich Park and to Hampton Court Flower Show but that will have to wait for my next blog – back soon!

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Banners are up!!

Street view
Chloe and I are so delighted to see our banners up, brightening the centre of our little community in Hither Green.
It was such fun working on them and we have met lots more people in our community as a result of this project.  I am so fortunate to be working with Chloe who is such a brilliantly talented designer.  Our working styles are very complementary.  She has over twenty years experience as a community artist after completing a BA and MA in art.  I was taught to sew by my mother, grandmother and older sister and made most of my clothes when younger.  Chloe is the main designer while I take charge of the technical things such as measuring, fabrication and machining.  We are so different but learn so much from each other – a wonderful partnership.
Throughout my masters I have continued working doing fabric projects, and working on my stained glass.  I think it is really important to balance the heftiness of academic pursuits with hands on practical activities.  My brain gets a rest from all those big words while working with the wonderful colours and textures of all that gorgeous fabric is an absolute delight. 

Busy bee


Butterflies and flowers

Cat amongst the flowers


Dragonfly and Sunflowers

Fox behind Tree

All week we have had comments from people enjoying the banners especially those who attended the workshop and have spotted their artwork on them!  However now I have to come back down to earth.  I am back from my time off and started back in the Enquiry Unit today.  It was with a vengeance as we are now in Clearing so I had to start off with a training session to learn lots of new things.  The phone rang all day and I hardly had time to catch up with all the gossip I’ve missed for almost three weeks.
….meanwhile until my next blog – enjoy the display!!

Friday, 1 July 2011


Off to the beach Madeiran style!
I’m just back from a week on the beautiful island of Madeira.  As we waited for our flight we played the game of “summing up the holiday in ten words”.  So here goes with my ten:
1.   Sunshine: Madeira has a mild climate pretty much all year.  It was sunny everyday but didn’t get over 30 degrees which suited us just fine.  I wore my big Aussie sunhat, sunglasses and lots of sun cream the whole time to avoid coming back looking like a peeling beetroot. We swam in the hotel pool each day and I attempted to swim in the sea but found the undertow far too strong.

2.   Hills and more hills!  Madeira is a volcanic island and rises up steeply from the coasts to central peaks and plateaux.  We have leg muscles like mountain goats after walking up and down millions of steps and hills.  One of the ways people would get quickly down to the centre of Funchal (the capital) from the hills above was by basket sled on wooden runners sliding down the centre of the road with two men guiding it. Now it is a tourist attraction - completely mad but such fun. We also took cable cars down to the local beach and up to the tropical gardens.  We had fantastic vies of the island set like a jewel in the sparkling blue ocean.
3.   Scary bus rides:  Getting to Funchal entailed a 20 -30 minute bus journey along roads that wrapped around the coast line with hairpin bends, sheer drops to the ocean and spectacular views.  On arrival our knuckles were white from gripping so hard and we felt nothing like the James bond martini  - we were thoroughly shaken!
Scabbard fish - something out of your
worst nightmare but they taste divine!
4.   Great food and wine:  Madeira is not the ideal eating place for vegetarians, and any vegans visiting would probably starve!  Luckily we love fish and the local speciality is a particularly ugly long black fish with bulgy eyes and wickedly sharp teeth.  If you can get past the looks of it, it tastes completely delicious – a lovely soft white flesh! Wine is excellent and very cheap so each evening meal was accompanied by wonderful Portugese red wine. We came back with a bottle of 10 year old Madeiran wine which has to be treated with caution as it is 19% proof!
5.   Fabulous coffee.  I am a complete coffee snob.  I grew up in Melbourne where the Italian and Greek immigrant introduced wonderful coffee and I find it really hard to get consistently good coffee in England.  Madeira has excellent coffee- small cups, good and strong - so we’d start every morning sitting in a cafĂ© with the locals getting our caffeine fix. The local people are so friendly and helpful and we always felt really safe wherever we went
6.   Black soil:  Being volcanic, the sand and rocks are black the result of ancient lava flows.  I couldn’t resist bringing two rocks back for the garden.  They look like very big extra hard pumice stones.
7.   Exotic  flora:  All those amazing luxurious flowers you spend a fortune on here grow rampantly in Madeira.  Bird of Paradise and agapanthus flowers line the roadsides and the colours were so bright and cheerful. Palm trees were everywhere and up in the hills were gorgeous tree ferns – so familiar to me as they are Aussie natives.
8.   Lizards:  Little lizards scurry around everywhere, basking on the hot stone walls and darting away as you approach
9.   Dogs:  where we stayed there were yapping dogs everywhere and once one started it set all the others off.  We rarely saw anyone walking dogs but early each morning any grassy verge was liberally sprinkled with their excrement as though they were only taken out to clear their bowels then locked back in their yards again.
10. Sudoku:  I finally learnt how to play Sudoku and ended up quite addicted.  I can only do the easy ones though.  I have always liked doing things with words and letters but shied away from things with numbers because they remind me of maths.  That is so silly because Sudoku is not about maths it is about patterns.  I was delighted to conquer another prejudice of mine and it went very well with the coffee!

So Those are my ten words for our holiday.  We came back thoroughly relaxed but not for long!  Monday was so hot and Chloe and I spent all day finishing off our banners really for installation on Wednesday.   More next blog!