Monday, 24 October 2016

Torchlight Tour of Teesside Archives. Me, and old papers, in the dark, together ...

Before we begin the answer's no

No, I didn't steal any of the old books/files or tear out any pages! I may have a reputation for collecting and re-purposing old paper but - trust me - on this occasion I was a paragon of restraint! (And I reserve my scissor action for books I've paid for or been given thankyouverymuch.)

And now we can begin properly ... 

Earlier this month James and I threw on our 'big' coats and headed out for a night in the dark as part of the 'Nightfall: Sky Full of Stars' event in the town centre as part of the annual Discover Middlesbrough festival. (You can catch up with my post about 2015's festival here). This year's event featured all kinds of outdoor light installations, which I'll share in a post of their own, but it also included various atmospheric torchlight tours of notable buildings and, nosey-vintage-paper-obsessive that I am I booked on to the tour of Teesside Archives

It wasn't entirely dark when we arrived but by the time we'd been greeted, had an introduction, and embarked on the tour the sky had darkened and the atmosphere had begun to build. We were shown upstairs - with the lights on because: health and safety - but soon then the torches we were given began to come in useful as we were led into the rabbit-warren of corridors and rooms in a building that began life as a postal exchange.

Forgive the blurry photos, my camera does usually cope well in the dark but even so, I came away with a lot of photos like this:
While were were brandishing our torches and generally mooching up and down the racks and racks of boxes and files we learned about:

  • what kinds of documents are stored in the archives: eg. local business archives such as British Steel, council proceedings, housing plans, plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge which was designed and built in Middlesbrough
  • and also what's involved in the preservation of the contents: eg. regulating temperature and moisture, checking for pests, having a sprinkler system in case of fire ... and having cardboard boxes that can withstand a few hours of being sprayed with water. Who knew? 

And, when you see some of the amazing old volumes it's home to, you can understand the drive to protect it all.
However, while the whole experience brought out my serious, book-loving, historically-interested side ... it was equally satisfying on the level of making me feel I was inside a mystery drama ...  
How many times have you seen a scene like this in a film or on TV? The protagonist sneaks into the building at night, their torchlight sweeping up and down the shelves seeking the 'files' that will solve everything and then ... what was that?  Someone creeping behind you ... a security guard, a stray cat, an enemy? Don't breathe. Don't make a sound. Don't drop your torch ...
Carried away? Who? Me?

Then from the dark (and our over-active imaginations) we were ushered into the light of the conservation room:
That entire wall of light boxes on the right hand side allows the conservator to repair and restore large maps and plans, while smaller light boxes come in useful for viewing and repairing old slides:
And, smaller still, was this light which is as thin as a couple of sheets of paper - and in fact looks like a rectangle of card until it's switched on. 
It slides easily between book pages and, once illuminated, it shows up any problems with the paper which can then be restored as well as revealing watermarks and ink qualities which can be used to determine the age of the paper.

Continuing the theme of 'light and dark' the curator demonstrated how light had effected a book from the 1800s:
And we heard something about this indenture from the 1580s ... but I can't remember what. Possibly the impressive fact that it was close to 440 years old made me forget everything else!
And she pointed out the glues and the 'fibrous Japanese papers' she uses to restore and reinforce damaged pages ...
... and it took great restraint for me not to shout "Washi! Is it washi paper? It is isn't it? Tell me more about paper!!"

And again ... no ... I didn't squirrel any of it away for myself. So stop thinking of me like that ... I mean it's not like I was the only person there who was taking photos of the piles of paper on her desk ... oh ... hang on ... yeah ... I was. I was the only person taking photos of paper. Oh well ... moving on ... and up ... and up:
When we reached the top floor we were allowed out into the darkness, on to a fire-escape on the roof in order to fully appreciate just how close the road runs to the building:
So close in fact that, in an act of cultural and historical vandalism, they actually knocked down the remainder of the buildings in the row and the archive was the last building to be saved before they drove the A66 right through the old town. Even the building that holds so much of the area's history has its own story to tell.

In fact, it's latest story is that it's almost full. The archivists told us that in several years they'll likely run out of space to hold everything they have coming in and then what? Their hope is that they'll be given - for the first time ever - a purpose built archive, but in this era of local government cut backs, who knows?

Now, why does the idea of a building almost full-to-bursting, shelves groaning under the weight of so many old books and documents sound so very familiar to me? Can't imagine ...


I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes, if you want to share stories of your own experiences of archives, or restoration, or collecting old books then let's continue the papery conversation in the comments here or over at Instagrammy Facebook page or on Twitter.

And I'll whip up another post about the 'Nightfall:Sky Full of Stars' event soon.

Julie :-)

Monday, 10 October 2016

Book review: Knickers Model's Own by Caroline Jones

Hi you. 

It's been such a long time since I shared a book review here and - considering that once my own book is published I'm going to be talking about it awkwardly but endlessly - I want to make sure I point you towards someone else's first! 

Please note: this is not a sponsored post.  I heard about, and paid for, this book all by little self. You'll see why I'm happy to recommend it once I start describing it ...  

Book review: Knickers Model's Own: A Year of Frugal Fashion by Caroline Jones

My copy of the book alongside some of my many charity-shop price tags.
Like a panicky under-prepared student taking a multiple-choice exam ... this book really does tick all the boxes.

For example ...

  • It's about personal style, clothes and every-day outfits ... so far so perfect.
  • Better still ... it's about personal style, clothes and every-day outfits ... using items found in charity shops!
  • Even better still ... it's about a woman - Caroline Jones - who set herself a year-long challenge to dress only in charity-shop outfits and then share them on Instagram (Challenges? Outfit photos? Social media? Tick, tick, tick!!!)
  • And the piece de resistance? She did it all in memory of her mother and to raise money for Cancer Research UK and this book continues that fund raising.

In short: there's nothing about this book I don't admire. 

Want to take a look inside?
The main focus of the beautifully presented 144 page hardback is Caroline's daily outfit photographs which are laid out on one side with details of the outfits and tips on how to wear/combine pieces on the other:
I bought my copy back in the Spring and ever since Caroline's brilliantly creative approach to styling second-hand clothing and accessories has reinvigorated my own love of the same. In the last few months I've  been encouraged to look again, to browse with an open mind, to discover a bumper crop of pre-loved treasures (if you're interested you can catch up with my latest finds on Instagram).

For one thing it's her ability to layer her outfits that I find myself drawn to, scrutinising how she did it, which elements I can introduce into my own outfits, seeing how interesting combinations breathe new life into individual pieces.
In amongst all of the fabulous visual inspiration the book also features tips on things including how to buy pre-loved:
... and how to style it:
Plus it takes you through the moving story of why Caroline began her year of fund raising through frugal fashion following the death of her mother, Mary, to cancer in 2014. And we see where Caroline's efforts took her, the people she met along the way, the money she raised (over £50,000 in the first year and ongoing with the book) and even how she sold off her year's worth of outfits.
A beautiful book, a beautiful sentiment, profits to a good cause close to all our hearts ... what's not to recommend?

Knickers Model's Own is for you ...
  • if you're interested in clothes and personal style and enjoy drooling over creatively curated outfits.
  • if you're feeling a bit stuck in a rut with your own wardrobe - these outfits will help you reassess your current clothing and find new ways to put outfits together.
  • if you're interested in charity/thrift shopping - this will only harden your resolve to go forth and find fabulous outfits that no one else can copy.
  • if you want to experiment with clothes but don't want to spend a lot of money - this will wholeheartedly inspire you to get into charity shopping to seek your treasure! 
  • if you love the feel and personal connection created by blogs and social media but sometimes wish you could see that kind of content in 'traditional' book form - you'll love flipping back and forth through this, dipping into the story, poring over the images. 
  • if you like well made glossy coffee table books - in presentation and content this can't be faulted.
OR ... 

Buy Knickers Model's Own as a gift ...  
  • for yourself ... if you fancy a guilt-free way to indulge your fashion-loving instincts then you should know that 100% of the book's profits go towards finding a way to beat cancer sooner. Who's going to argue with that?
  • for anyone you know who fits any of descriptions above; the style-loving / charity-shop addict / fund raising-fan in your life will thank you for it. 
  • for women of all ages. Like me Caroline is in her 40s but her style is pretty ageless, there are so many styles, so many options, so much inspiration here that a woman in her 20s would easily find something to relate to and I for one am determined to keep aiming for this level of stylishness into my 60s, 70s, 80s ... 

Want to know more?
So, what do you think? 

  • Is it going on your own Christmas List? Alongside the usual pyjamas, socks, and knickers will Knickers Model's Own be waiting for you under the tree this year?
  • Or has it ticked off a name on your list? Does this quickly and easily sort out a gift for the fashion-lover / fashion-novice / creative blogger / best friend / stylish sister / charity-shop-trawler on your list? 
I hope that in sharing Caroline's fabulous book I've not only indulged my love of all things styley and charity-shoppy ... but I've also helped out with your gift-planning this season. 

If I have I'll feel like the best dressed and most useful of Santa's Elves in all of Christmastown!

Thanks for dropping by today ... let's continue the conversation in the comments or on Instagram, my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Julie x

Monday, 3 October 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: September

Hello hello.

There've been some big work-related milestones ... in numbers ... to record this month, alongside the usual eclectic caboodle. So let's leap straight in before I forget what I was going to say ...

This month marked the 10 year anniversary of my role in supporting disabled students at university. 
  • So that's 10 years of note taking, door opening, bag carrying, book fetching, guiding, reading, writing ... and more. 
  • 10 years of experiencing so very many degree modules; everything from 2D animation to digital forensics. From theories of IT management to sexual deviation. From TV production to Occupational Therapy ... and countless in between.
  • 10 years in both my official capacity of offering practical assistance ... and also my unofficial one as emotional back-up where I've been vented at, cried on, ignored, welcomed and thanked.
  • 10 years of unwitting lecturers trying to get me involved in lessons, or put me in a seminar groups, or asking me to express opinions - none of which is permitted. 
  • 10 years of navigating my way around almost every building on campus, finding the right rooms as well as all the nearest cafes and toilets! 
  • 10 years of witnessing how people with disabilities have so many things to contend with before even getting on campus.
  • 10 years of having my eyes opened and my empathy exercised. 
Then almost 10 years to the day of my first induction I attended a 3 day / 18 hour induction process for the same job.
The view from beneath a staircase on campus last week.
 And during that process, on the last day, in the final 20 minutes I had one of my proudest moments ... I secured for myself and the others in my role the use of the office kitchen and kettle. Which until this summer I didn't even know it existed! So I bided my time, then raised it in a meeting, and voila! we can now boil our own water!  Someone who'd been there longer than me leaned across the table and shook my hand. I felt like a hero!

So, that's one of the jobs that keeps me busy ... how about the other ...

I handed over one original notebook full of stories, and one mocked-up version of how it will look ... once it's professionally printed! 
If you missed the announcement about my book then hop back here for a read. In order to get the stories reproduced for print I had to hand them over ... and for the first time in 6 years the book they are in was has longer been within arm's reach. I keep going to check something in it ... and remembering it's not there. It's been strange. And yet very soon ... not only will the original be back in my hands ... the reproduction will be in the hands of other readers! Which is even stranger.

The day I handed the book over and signed the contract with my indie-publishers I was waiting for James to come and pick me up, and I noticed that not only was the sun was shining and the sky was blue ... but the flags were out too:
20 minutes later, when we arrived home, our neighbour spotted us and handed over some cakes she'd just baked, which has never happened before.

Surprise bunting and cake for an impromptu celebration? Nice touch universe!

In more mundane numbers ...

I took at least 7 morning walks and wrote nearly 2000 words afterwards:
I get up with James, throw on my trainers and something comfy then ride along with him on his way to work. After about a mile and a half he drops me off and I walk back, which I find a little more motivating that just decided to walk somewhere and back again from home.

I take a photo along the way and, once I'm back home, I write down all the observations I made along my journey and share it all on Instagram.
This project isn't about glamorous landscapes or outfits, I'm make-up free and windswept and the view is suburban and full of tarmac and concrete and cars ... but I try to find the treasures within the every day just the same. Because there's always good stuff ... if you look carefully enough.

Now we've had a trip up and down the road ... let's travel back in time ...

We went back to the 19th Century with a visit to Preston Park museum:
In fact, in the Victorian street, we specifically went back to 1893 when PC311 was on duty from 6am to 9pm:
Here I am in what would have been my natural habitat back in the day - the haberdasher's - appropriately wearing a new top (a £5.99 TKMaxx treat):
But if the thought of old fabrics and clothes isn't enough for you ... how about some printer-tray-ogling?
"There's something in there you'll want to photograph" he said after peering behind the screen of the (not in use!) Victorian street toilet. And he wasn't wrong:
Something else that called for a photograph was this playbill from a local production of Hamlet from November 1812:
I love the fact that they followed up one of Shakespeare's tragedies with 'a comic song by Mr Lancaster' and a performance of 'a new farce of the Sleep Walker'. Well that's certainly one way to make up for the stage littered in bodies!

Speaking of which ... when we left the museum the grounds were full to the brim with families with small children ... and dogs. I was already nervous about getting back to the car without being molested by canines before stepping out of the door to be faced with some sort of bull-dog owner's club meeting where they were trying to get a group photo ... there were lots of them, a mere metres away! I snatched this terrible shot on the way past as some sort of proof that I'm not exaggerating, but there was no way I was hanging around for a better photo!
We also attended the 4th year of the 'Festival of Thrift'.
Unlike previous years, which have seen the festival hosted at Lingfield Point, Darlington, this year's event was held closer to home for us, in the buildings and surrounding fields and forests of Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar. All of which meant that it's 35,000 visitors over 2 days got to enjoy this view of what I like to think of as 'my' hills:
There's too much going on at the festival for me to describe here - you can read the official stuff here - I don't entirely buy into all it's upcycling/foraging ethos ... but I do like to peruse the Oxfam stall where this year I bought an 80s bat-wing jumper and some fabulous old books. And, as always, we took full advantage of the street food stalls: 
For the record: that there is a brioche bun; there's no denying now that hipster-life has finally reached the dim dark back-waters of the grim North East. 

Batwings, books and brioche aside ... one of the highlights of the festival for me was the 'Stable' installation (various art installations in the old stable block, organised by Navigator North) and particualr favourites included Janet Rogers's ‘The Glass Curtain’ which swayed and chimed whenever the air took it:
And Becky Nicholson's shadow piece called 'Dark Horse' ... isn't that clever? I love the way it's even 'eating' from the trough!


So that was my September - how was yours? Anything utterly exciting to report? How about something entirely mundane - like my morning strolls through suburbia.

And now here we are in October; in england it's currently all blue skies, leaves on the ground, and complete uncertainty about which coat to wear. And I took my gloves with me on my walk this morning. Says it all really ...


If you want to keep in touch throughout the month you can find me on Instagram, over at my Facebook page and Twitter too.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Exciting news! Think: old papers and a new book

I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a while now but, until very recently it didn’t feel quite real enough to say out loud. But now it does, just about, feel real enough, so here goes: 

I’m publishing a book.

I want to tell you all about it, I do. And I can tell you about it; and I will.

In fact, I’ll probably go on about it for so long that it’ll make those 15 months I stretched out the story of ‘when I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet’ seem as brief as an England football manager’s career.

But, right this minute … today ... I don’t know how to begin, or in what order to spill my beans, or how much to say without knowing all the specific details so … 

.... how about I just make a start in this post … and anything I forget to say, or anything you want to know more about we’ll take it in turns sharing afterwards? OK? OK …

So what’s the book?

The book is a collection of my Snipped Tales; my short, short, stories collaged together from words found in old books.

If you want to know what they look like then you can find several examples of them in this post.

That post was one of just a handful of times I've shared finished 'tales' from my book and - strangely, because I've shared all kinds of other collage projects here -  I never did share any more. 

I think part of me, somewhere, buried deep (possibly beneath many layers of paper) ... part of me  always hoped ... always knew ... that I was saving them up until I had a book's worth. 
A Snipped Tale in progress - on felt, because it prevents the snippets from slipping about too much.
And now I do; so I'm making a book filled with them!

Here's a link to one that I can share because it isn't in the book, but it does have a connection to it. I made that particular piece as a gift for my friend and frequent collaborator Kirsty Neale who has spent the summer reading through the tales and creating illustrations that pick out the book's main themes. I can't share any of those yet ... but here's some of my plans whose scribbling showing the kind of thing you can expect: 

This is how it began it's journey into a published book ... rough photographs of each page, printed out then sifted and sorted into 7 themed chapters: 
 Here's the first draft:
It's since been finalised and I gave my indie publisher's a second, completed, rough copy as an example ... and then handed over my actual original notebook filled with the tales so they can professionally scan and arrange them.

Is it an e-book or a paper book?
Go on; guess.

Yes, it’s going to be an actual papery book. One you can hold in your hands, slide into your bag, leave on your bedside table.
  • Paying for a colour print reproduction of my micro-stories is a gift I'm giving myself. 
  • But I'm sharing the work because it's filled with all kinds of wild and wonderful stories to make people laugh, smile, and maybe feel a little less alone, a little more understood. So I hope it's a gift to others too.  
  • And if it's then given as a gift ... then wouldn't that be perfect full circle? 
As for a digi-version – I don’t know. As it’s a photo-book I don't know how that works on an e-reader … so I’m not sure. File under: to be answered later. 

And finally ...

When will it be available?
It’s forthcoming. (ie. that's my attempt to sound professional while admitting I’m not sure).

It's not quite finished yet ...

But both me, and my indie-publishing house, are doing everything we can now to get it released in time for Christmas list making season. 

There's a chance we'll be taking pre-orders once the design work has been completed but while it goes on its journey to and from the printing process. Once all that's clarified I'll let you know. 


So that's my news ... but ... before I go ...

Even though you didn't know anything about my plans, I wouldn't have done this without you.

Without your comments and support over the 8 years I've been blogging here I wouldn't even dare to think that my own private notebook of eccentric collaged stories was something I should even attempt to share with a wider audience.

And now, because some of you seem to think I'm not so bad to have around ... I'm taking a chance that other people might feel similarly. 

Thank you. 

If you have any more questions ... do ask, ask, ask.

Do you know how hard it's been to keep quiet about all this for so long? But now that the cork's out the bottle, the genie's out of the lamp, the cat's out of the bag, and the page's been torn from the book ... there's so much we can talk about.
And rest assured that when I have more to tell ... I'll come and tell you ...

Julie x

Don't forget you can catch me more frequently on Instagram now, as well as over at my Facebook page and Twitter too.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Power of Friends with Stripes - how a zebra aided my mental health

Hello hello.

Today, I have a guest post over at my local branch of the mental health charity Mind, and guess which story I decided to share ...

If you've been visiting me here for a long time then you'll probably already know the backstory of the unlikely bond I made with a plastic zebra. If you're newer to me you might just have thought I have a  zebra collection because I like stripes. Which I do ... but there' more to it than that.

I'm always, always, keen to have the story - and indeed little companion zebras - reach and help more people so I leapt at the chance to share it with the Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind blog readers.

Here's how the story begins ...

"Depression can be a lonely place; one where, as well as battling with ourselves, we might also struggle to explain to others how we’re feeling. [...] 

But what if we had a secret back-up to help us approach those moments with a little added confidence? What if we could find a calm, constant, non-judgemental companion who wouldn’t leave our sides, who could help us concentrate when things got a bit wobbly, who could reassure us that no, we aren’t going to die, we’re going to breathe slowly, get through this, and then get home for tea and biscuits unharmed. 

 What if that someone, that calming friend, could fit in our bag or pocket so no one around would know they were there? And what if that someone wasn’t a someone at all … but rather a plastic zoo animal?" 


If you know someone:

  • struggling with their mental health right now;
  • or who needs a little confidence boost;
  • or who is anxious about starting a new venture (maybe someone heading to University for the first time);
... and you feel like there's nothing you can do ... please know that there is, even if it feels like a tiny gesture.

Share my zebra story from the Mind blog today with them and maybe even find them a striped supporter of their own.

Or - if you are that person - get one for yourself, or print one out, or draw one ... whatever helps. (In an ideal world I'd buy up the world's supply of plastic zebras and hand them out to anyone who needed one!

Zebras don't solve our problems for us ... but they do make excellent companions while we work on the rest. (Now there's a sentence you don't expect to hear very often).

If you do join in the stripey army, whenever, do let me know. But for now ... make sure to read the full story here ... so that everything else begins to make sense!