Lost and Found

On Monday I got lost. I was somewhat ok with this because I knew it was going to happen. Despite living in London for more years than I care to mention there are still some parts of it that remain pretty alien to me. In such a huge city I think we generally tend to stick to well-worn routes, or turfs that we recognises and feel at home in. These are usually the areas we work in, the places we have rented flats or just those locales we visit often for shopping or nights out. We get so familiar in these patterns that it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock when someone suggests to meet in Putney and you realise that you’ve never actually been there before, as happened to me last week (to the TFL journey planner!)

As much as I can tell you the quickest route from Forbidden Planet to the Big Topshop, there are definitely parts of the old girl that I just can’t fathom. One of these black holes is the City. Now this may come as something of a shock to you dear reader but I have never worked in the City. I’ve never inhabited an office called Jenkins and Stead, required the services of a ‘sandwich man’ or worked anywhere with a dress code any more taxing than ‘no ripped jeans’. I’ve worked in offices, but they have always been relaxed televisiony offices somewhere in West London where people wear whatever is newest on the ASOS website and eat cereal at their desks for lunch. Frankly, the City proper I find a bit otherworldly and weird. It seems to be endless wide and empty streets lined with glass and chrome with the occasional mock folksy 1800s pub front rammed into the bottom of a shiny building that was built circa 2001. Invariably these places are called some pseudo Medieval tosh like the Chime and Barrel or Golden Horn and serve what are essentially Weatherspoon’s meals but at three times the price so that the people in suits can gather together and discuss businessy business things with each other without feeling cheap. I know this to be true because I had to pop in to one on Monday when I couldn’t find a McDonalds to use for its primary function (public toilet) and instead darted through a space bedecked like Bilbo’s house full of red-faced men downing pints at 12.15pm. The only time I ever really seem to frequent the City is when I get on the wrong night bus and end up at three in the morning on some street that sounds like it was named by sodding Merlin, like Hob Knuckle Lane or Kings Guild Walk, and I’m the only thing with a pulse within a quarter of a mile radius and there’s nowhere to get any chips.

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So as you can see, I was planning on getting lost at some point on Monday when I had a spare hour and decided to go and see the poppies at the Tower of London. Like some areas of London that have completely slipped me by over the years, so have many large tourist attractions. I hang my head in shame as a history graduate and also human being with a head that I have never been to the Tower of London. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been to the British Museum so many times I’m thinking of asking for a spare key but I’ve never been to the Tower of London once in all my years on this earth. Well I suppose it is a bit pricey and is all the way across town in the City….

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Anyway, I have still never been inside but I thought I would go and see the poppies because they look beautiful and they are finishing soon. I am also still trying to get used to the idea of having free time for the first time in about six years after uni has finished. I’m trying to embrace this by doing the things I always mean to do but never have time for.

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The poppies were beautiful. I was surprised by how close you could get without tickets, queues, or any of the things that can make living in Britain particularly frustrating at times. There was lots of room to navigate the Tower and everyone was nice, calm and not at all elbowy, which given the reason we were all there was heartening. It is of course a simple idea, and like many simple ideas, beautiful in that simplicity. Officially, this installation is called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by the artist Paul Cummins, but everyone has just started calling it ‘the poppies’, which I find terribly sweet. Although not numerically accurate, each poppy represents a life lost in the First World War and I think even the least empathetic person on earth could hardly fail to realise the poignancy of the work when confronted with it. Silent and all the same, cloaked in red and standing tall in a space designed for defence. As I said beautiful in its simplicity.

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After the poppies, I got lost. I was trying to find Bank Station but I must have wandered too far and instead ended up by Mansion House. When I saw the (in more ways than one) motherly form of St Paul’s I made a beeline for that instead as I knew I could pick up, what I like to think of as the arterial vein of London, the Central Line from there. On the way, I spotted some very sweet graffiti by the Thames and took some shots of the moody looking river. It was wonderful to be a tourist in my own town for a while. I took some time to think about my life over the last year. Although in some ways taking the plunge to leave work and study was scary, particularly now that it is over and I’m trying to forge a life from my studies, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve never really cared about where I apparently should be in life compared to my contemporaries. All I’ve ever wanted was a life I could be happy in. A life that when I’m a little elderly Miss Marple I can say I owned rather than rented. That ideology can sometimes be lost, especially in this town. It can be swept up with visiting the newest pop-up something, going Glamping, and managing to maintain a monthly cut and colour schedule. Apparently, these are the things people my age do, but I never have. I think these activities sound lovely, and I would probably enjoy them if I had the opportunity to. However, I have so much freedom just at the moment. I can take an hour in the middle of a Monday to wander the streets of London, lost and daydreaming, people watching and happy. As much as my future right now is in flux and unknown, standing beside the windy choppy brown river, looking at the clouds and the elderly couples holding hands I knew more than ever that I was in the right place and I wouldn’t change it, not for all the lunches at the Bell and Hog on earth.

Bxxx

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Dazzle ‘Em

Camouflage can be a funny old thing, generally it will allow you to blend seamlessly in to your surroundings, i.e. for a woman in 2014 London, jeans, knee boots, dark coat. But sometimes on those very special occasions there is that rare and shocking phenomenon – dazzling camouflage. Dazzle camouflage is exemplified by Eddie Izzard’s ‘first battalion transvestite division’, blinding the opposition with their sheer glamour and well-put-togethery-ness. Well a common world view was clearly shared dear Eddie and Norman Wilkinson. ‘Who he?’ you say. He was a Lieutenant with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and in 1917 had the cunning planning to paint British merchant ships with contrasting abstract patterns in order to confuse the enemy. It was thought that it would be difficult to determine the direction, turning and speed of the vessels because the common lines of the boat would be broken up and concealed by the pattern.

In homage to his frankly genius idea, which by the way seems to have been very effective, the Imperial War Museum has teamed up with Patternity to create a range of products inspired by the bold designs of Mr. Wilkinson, known as the Fleet of Dazzle.

I really like a black and white design scheme a the beI think. I particularly like the mug and tote bag, and a think a nice bold tea-towel can really brighten up a kitchen. Like a good rug in a living room, it really ties the room together man.
I’m already well under way with planning Christmas shopping ideas (I bought my first present the other day), and I can think of several people who may appreciate this range. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, you can’t beat a good museum gift shop for original present ideas.

Right, I’m off to find my own dazzle camouflage now because I’m going out for dinner tonight at my favourite London restaurant, the Wolseley, and frankly blending in is boring.

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Archaeologists Assemble!

As some of you will be aware I am currently completing my MA in Archaeology. Adorning my department walls is an ever changing carnival of posters for multiple and varied conferences, lectures and projects covering a broad spectrum of historical and archaeological research interests. I’m not going to lie, most are pretty darn niche. However today I spotted one that I thought looked really interesting and was thoroughly deserving of a bit of a shout out.

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As we all know this year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War. I have already mentioned the great ‘Letter to an Unknown Solider’ project that I took part in recently (and you can too!). However this year The Council for British Archaeology are also commemorating the War by launching a four year project (2014-2018) exploring the effects of the First World War in Britain through previously unrecorded sites. The Home Front Legacy Project is asking you to get involved by letting them know about sites in your area which are historically valuable to the story of the First World War in Britain. This is your chance to flex your archaeologist elbow. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be experienced in the field or even get muddy. Much of archaeological work, which isn’t for some reason documented in Indiana Jones, is recording evidence (like a detective I like to think, which is equally as cool). Archaeology is a destructive process and so we replace what we remove with accurate records to preserve the site for future study. This model of recording is what the CBA are asking us all to do. They provide all of the tools needed on their website (along with a much more thorough brief than I have sketched out). The website will also serve as a repository for the information and will develop a UK wide map plotting newly discovered sites. The data will also be shared across multiple archaeological agencies and submitted to local councils to ensure that First World War sites are considered in any future planning decisions. Very cool indeed.

The sites could be anything, from requisitioned buildings, military sites or even documentary evidence such as photographs and letters.

I think this is a fabulous opportunity to preserve our relatively recent local history in a synthesised way and to ensure it doesn’t disappear over time.

Also I just really love doing detective work.

Follow the project on Twitter too @homefrontlegacy

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