To boldly…

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I’m allowing a few months of being immersed in The Manchester International Festival (MIF) to sink in. Along with five other creatives, I was awarded a Jerwood fellowship to observe the production of a large scale work from initial concept to world premiere, learn from the MIF team and to connect what we experienced, both to our own practices, and back to Manchester’s Creative community. We were supported by the MIF Creative Learning team and PANDA through the fellowship and supported one another as a group.

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I was attached to Yael Bartana’s What if Women Ruled the World, which takes as a jumping off point, the end of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’  where, ten women are assigned to every man, but in Bartana’s universe, ten women – five actors and five different experts every night – rule the world. Every night the women come together to exchange ideas to imagine alternative futures to our current, fucked up state of affairs.

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The concept, which blurs fact and fiction, is brought to life, by Vicky Featherstone (performance director), Abi Morgan (writer) and fabulous cast and crew. The creatives talking about the idea, the process and reviews of the show are covered by others elsewhere (see links below). In considering my own creative practice, I was excited to reflect on the making of work that evolves in public, over time.

Bartana gave a clue when she introduced the concept at the launch of MIF – ‘there is a failure of imagination and this needs to change‘.  Bam, I was excited to live under the umbrella of a concept that got us thinking beyond the current status quo. I was invited to witness the birth of a new universe, to stare into the intersection of art, politics, reality and imagination, where Bartana’s art does its work. It was as thrilling as visiting Cern’s large hadron collider, which seeks to understand the birth of the universe and what makes matter, matter. And, for this social experiment, live performance, is both the material and the method.

The ideas exchanged between actors and experts every night, the scope of those exchanges, whatever was left unspoken, and the audience response are the true test of our imaginations, to push the idea of gender back into the realm of myths and unicorns and imagine alternative futures. For some, it would be the equivalent of going to the moon and back.

If I asked you what does earth look like from space, you might google ‘earth from space’ and come up with an image, a picture that fuelled the birth of the environmental movement. A picture that was taken by folk who went there a generation ago, at the height of the US civil rights movement. By considering the race to space at the same time that collective consciousness broke around racial segregation in America, it helps to put a finger on the pulse of a contradiction inherent in the gendered critique of the show.

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The nature of this public experiment, that investigates the limitations of the spaces we inhabit everyday at home, at work and in the institutions of our minds, can perhaps only be fully understood in the re-watching of it. Unlike the collective consciousness of african americans (and their allies) around the unequal treatment of African Americans, mainstream press are not collectively conscious around the mythical construct of gender and race (ha, or maybe they are and that is what we are paying for?). Indeed, their privilege, which is so invested in these myths, and this privilege, which is itself a myth, continues the perpetual cycle of violence against women, people of colour and those who do not neatly fit into the mythical categories of race, place and gender which maintains the status quo, by controlling the right to work, to education and to reproduction.

There are moments when actors slip out of character, and speak as citizens, there are moments when the experts talk about their everyday experiences. The role of expertise, of democracy and democratic structures, the very nature of society is questioned. Theatre has explored such territory before, with attempts to bridge social divides and, historians will argue that theatre played a role in giving birth to greek democracy.

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Watching the show grow and evolve and participating in rehearsals, it dawned on me that the piece not just spans history, but compresses history. It connects a past tangible threat of nuclear war to the persistent threat of climate injustice. Both, of which, are real world extensions of ‘imagination failure‘ that hold an entire species, indeed an entire planet on the cusp of extinction. The show, as you’d imagine, encourages us to be collectively held to account, not just rely on politicians. It would be hilarious, if it weren’t so tragic. Nuclear war, Donald Trump, Brexit and yes, Grenfell and climate change don’t just happen, and won’t just go away. This is what we get when we fail to tune into those closest to the trouble, to listen to what’s ethically and morally wrong in society. Right now, Malcolm X would be talking about chickens and Simone De Beauvoir, updating The Second Sex

If we are dead in our minds, lost to the myth of privilege, where and how does revolution begin? There was a moment in rehearsals when I suddenly realised that my mother had to see the show. She had tuned in, via PBS radio, to jazz. She was moved by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Duke Ellington and alerted to the African American freedom struggle, even though she grew up on a farm in Denmark. She passed on this revolutionary spirit to me, bringing up her family in East London. I had no idea we were poor, black or gay until I went to high school.

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I realised the show needed to be watched collectively, intergenerationally. I invited ten women, a man (who invited his son), spanning 8 to 80, to watch the show. This idea of collective consciousness, plays out into a single, memorable gesture at the end of the show. I asked myself a question at the beginning of the fellowship – what remains after a show – and for me it was this. From here, an idea, I was unable to get started on, due to my own creative failures, now takes it’s cue (more on that some other time).

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The world was tilted, five nights in a row, and I learned so much. It’s still sinking in, about timing, space, layering and crafting performance, cultural leadership, the power of observation and the kindness of strangers.

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Not only was every show different each night because of the different global experts participating, but, brilliantly, it will become a moving image piece. What Bartana and her team create and unearth with this filmic layer, will likely give an alternative perspective on the world. To my mind, Bartana’s concept holds the same possibility as that image from outer space. Our potential to act on what it reveals, well… that’s up to us and, we need to look closely.

Witnessing the making of this work has been an education. I had been disinterested in the battle of the sexes, because the myth of gender is at the heart of what makes traditional institutions so exhausting (yet not impossible), to navigate for those who are politically black, politically queer.

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And, it’s here that I found my own blindspot. I had not, fully grasped the extent of violence directed by men at women, not just in physical terms, but verbally too. In a way, I had stepped away from it, had chosen to not look at that reality. Immersed in watching women work together to craft the show, and then paying closer scrunity at work and watching the media, I was plunged into and awakened to it. I now better understand why heterosexual women cannot instantly be allies in the traditional hierarchical workplace. You have to step outside and inside of that to truly see it. I saw the value of third spaces, spaces, that being queer in the West, you might take for granted. Theatre, can of course, be that third space, when the commissioning is bold, against trend.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how a younger generation respond to the piece, as they are in a unique position to create the future, if only we collaborate with them, and, perhaps, to step aside and allow them to lead the way. Do we want to continually re-create the past, or do we genuinely want to create a different future?

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One thing is for sure, hats off for the creativity, trust and uncertainty associated with evolving a new international commission that boldy goes where others might fear to tread. What If Women Rules the World goes, on to Aarhus, Denmark. I hope the Danes, like my mother before them, will tune in and … wake up. The collective consciousness of those who really see and respond to the show are what will the concept, its edge as it expands and travels the globe. Bon voyage!

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Image credits

Image 1 – 4, 6, 7- 10: Squirrel Nation (Erinma Ochu/ Caroline Ward)

Image 5: Tristam Kenton

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Fat cats & the polls

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There is chatter on the internet. Britain has gone to the polls. The votes are being counted. I am watching BBC at the top of twitter (TV just died another death?) as the results come in. A fat little white cat has found its way into our back yard. It caused a flurry. We will go to bed and wake up to see if the country lurches back or forward. And the little white cat, may or may not return. Night all.

 

Embelms

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Summer is long gone and yet, its just around the corner. Meantime, I’ve been watching movies, movies, movies, documentaries for Doc/Fest Exchange, writing, writing, writing  and getting our MSc off the ground. At the moment the writing side of things is stewing, slow surfacing and needing more attention but its working itself out. Its sort of on a horizontal plane, finding a way in and out of itself. Three things got me started – privately blogging for course assignments, reading Susan Sontag: Rolling Stone Interview which made me acutely aware of how writing can take you somewhere.

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The thoughts and arguments that get you stuck (and bored), but you write and write, bend it in and around your life and a voice forms, words come and you write and you move on, leaving it behind on the page. I said three things, the third was a writing deadline, which is long gone, yet pressing all the same. I’ve decided this is the last week to spend on it, because I am impatient to move on and get back to writing scripts.

These other stories, old ones, are hovering behind my eyes, well they are images mostly, wanting to come out. The Images have become sharper, moments make sense. A key image reveals itself to me and i know – okay this film revolves round this moment and i can write upto and around this moment. What’s the next one…?

Everything seems to be stuck between life and death, and i really want to move on from that and get closer to composition. Somewhere along the way I lost my left hand, well the intelligence of my left hand, and i want to go back and retrieve it and the only way to do that is to write and play music. It scares the hell out of me and feels impossible, but every new challenge often finds itself, bringing discomfort and fear before pleasure. For this new mountain, I have to find the right collaborator.

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Last summer i was watching an orchestra rehearse, over three days, I’d had this script in my head for maybe a year, and it was still where was and then yesterday on a tube in London, the two main characters walked on and sat next to and opposite me, with their instruments. Just to know they exist is thrilling. They were Spanish, which surprised me.

And so i am starting to see these patterns that work away at the top level, in between life and death, and the movement of everyday life going across that and noticing key moments to pay attention to. What do they look like, when you barely see them?  And that’s where i want composition to enter my practice.

What the UK is going through with Brexit, felt quite exhausting and is now quite bland – you wouldn’t imagine there was a general election on the horizon, but it is busy writing reshaping the UK. And, in between dreams and reality, this has my attention and makes some stories more urgent than others.

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Midsummer Madness…

SO I am a month into an amazing new job. Lucky me totally landed on my feet as lecturer in digital science communication at The University of Salford. I am hired by the School of Environment and Life Sciences under the auspices of the brilliant Prof Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication and Future Media. But i didn’t get there on my own – have a few people to thank for helping me make that next move  – you know who you are – thank you thank you thank you.
The joys of curating DocFest Exchange a public strand at Sheffield International DocFest in June, got me into full on cultural exchange mode with 24 cross-disciplinary talks inspired by independent documentaries and alternative reality projects.
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Difficult to choose favourites but i simply loved the movie Snow Monkey, a multi-protagonist plot following the exploits of street kids growing up in Afghanistan who, on encountering filmmaker George Gittoes, swap their violent ways for filmmaking.
In spite of the rain, another highlight included hosting a packed out in conversation between long time collaborators Mark Herbert and Shane Meadows under the DocFest Exchange tent and, when i knew i was doing the DocFest gig – my dream pairing for a talk were the visionary Anna Higgs, Creative Director of Nowness and the brilliant Ingrid Kopp, senior consultant at TFI.
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I decided to take a short break between finishing DocFest and starting at Salford, something i neglected to do when i began my last new thing. Ahead of the madness that was Brexit, I spent a couple of weeks pottering in the allotment, swimming in the sea, walking through fields and chilling in Berlin ahead of a live performance of the soundtrack of our film Nature’s Switch, which played Shuffle Festival. Shuffle was fab – totally chilled – as the festival crew set up, breakfast was served and the public welcomed in – a mix of artists, local residents and art lovers.
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Sadly a friend of mine, Jaya Graves, died this summer – she was a poet, an activist and a buddhist – i met her 8 years ago at Manchester Museum – i was heading up a community-university project and being a bit of a rebel and she was on a community advisory panel being a bit of a rebel. When you were with her, she had this amazing ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the universe.
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When i went to her funeral i met so many other people who could vouch for this incredible all encompassing attentive presence. She also gave the best hugs and had a wonderful mischievous laugh. She campaigned for nuclear disarmament, to get Southern Voices from the Global South heard and raised money for the survivors of the Bhopal chemical disaster, the homeless and the Nepal earthquake.
A wonderful thing is that Open Voice, the community choir that i am a member of sang to Jaya whilst she was in hospital and also at her bedside before she died and again at her funeral. I finally realised what funerals are all about – they are not about the dead but the living – to embrace and keep alive the values of the person who has gone. Her presence lived on in her poems, the stories people told about her and the way in which people came together to celebrate her life. Its in these moments that you consider how you move forward in life – what you carry into tomorrow and what you leave behind. One thing i will take with me is that Jaya said… ‘we have enough in common as human beings to use our differences creatively… diversity is a point of continual quest and excitement’.
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What’s brilliant about going to Salford, is they told me – ‘keep doing what you do, just involve the students’. In time this will be formalised as a postgraduate course. Indeed, not even a month in and with The European City of Science casting its spell across much of Greater Manchester i jumped head on into Team Scicomm Salford Science adventures – from the launch of a science app that uses the same technology as Pokemon Go to reveal science stories, objects and fly throughs as you walk around Manchester, to the ESOF young reporters programme to The Allotment of The Future, on which, with our FarmLab, social enterprise hat on i produced a pop up urban Mushroom Farm and #DIYmushrooms experiment to get the public growing Oyster mushrooms on freshly discarded coffee grounds from the Grindsmith’s coffee trike. Bar the distance the mushroom spawn had travelled, we literally created a supply chain of a few metres.
From mushrooms to the mad times we live in… what a crazy summer… the rise of the right, brexit, horrific murders, terror acts popping up around the world and global climate change looming larger – in spite of all of that, i feel a sense of hope and of being in the right place at the right time.
The crazy beautiful project that i initiated and dreamed up with Danielle George, to crowdsource a recycled Robot Orchestra, had it’s moment in the spotlight at the opening ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum. As luck would have it, Sir Mark Wolpert, the chief scientific advisor who i’d briefly met on his climate related tour, introduced the orchestra and read out what we’d said about it – ‘a collaborative endeavour to foster care for the planet through making music‘. A recycled tram light kept time for the human players and a robot known as Graphene made from a discarded industrial control unit, used to power production lines connected to a meccano toy, kept time for all the musical robots. One of the Siemens graduates told me he’d learned more in nine months on the project than he would in five years – it was pure problem solving and innovation all the way.
Ending on frivalry, with the launch of Pokemon Go, technologies like augmented reality, mean i can forge ways ahead with Lost Cats Legacy, a project that will truly put the past to bed. Off to check on my mushrooms…

Our house…

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The first single i ever bought was ‘baggy trousers‘ by Madness. This song made total sense to me ‘our house, in the middle of our street, our house…‘ living as we did in a terraced house in the middle of our street in the east end of london.

I remember walking to the record store on Forest Gate High Street, going into the shop and after shuffling about a bit, heading to the counter to ask for ‘Baggy Trousers by Madness‘.

7 inch or 12 inch‘ came the reply.

I nearly die of shame – what the hell does that mean – why does noone tell you these things?

i just want the record‘ i say.

7 inch or 12 inch?‘. The guy chewing gum behind the counter, doesn’t look at me.

7 inch‘ i say

‘Good choice – B side is better

B-side, B-side – what is the fricking B-side? I walk home with the record in a paper bag, wondering if it will work and that the hell the B-side is. At home, i slide the record out only to discover i have bought the wrong bloody record… i flip it over… ah…

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Speaking of houses i had a lovely thing happened this week. A kind of time travelling type thing of a very human nature. The other morning I got in a cab … the cab driver asks me how long I lived in the house – four years – he tells me he lived in my house ten years ago… we laughed ‘that’s crazy‘. I say ‘I saw the house number pop up and I thought no way!’.

We thought there should be a name for that – people who lived in the same house but years apart – I bet Germans have a word for it? Die Hausworterbucher or some such cleverness. It must somehow be related to time travel – a moment in time, opened up, where me meeting him and him meeting me – gives us a view to the future and to the past at the exact same time.

Where you going?‘ he says, ‘Museum of Science and Industry‘ I say. ‘Where are you living now?‘ ‘We’re in Withington – we all moved – the house was too small‘.

When the car stopped to drop me off, I ask him his name – he asks me mine – we’ll forget them but we won’t forget that we lived in the same house, and the feeling that created to want a word to exist to describe it.

I had so much work to do and yet this moment with the taxi driver and a meeting I went to the museum got me thinking about how new words are born, how cities get made, how space is a civic and personal responsibility – to protect the mind, to protect the planet to help humans and animals thrive.

On Right Move, i can glimpse right inside our little house in East London as it was in 2012 when it was bought by some folks i don’t know – its completely changed – the garden, the bedrooms, everything – i think the curtains in the front room are the same but i cannot be sure. I can also see our current house as it was when we bought it, but not when the taxi driver lived there – again – its different – a baby cot in the main room, a shed in the garden – all, gone.

The feeling it leaves, though not quite as creepy, reminds me of this game, gone home..

It drives me closer to an idea, about the mental architecture that wraps itself around a sense of a home – something my nephew said to me when i asked him how he felt about moving, a while after her had moved. ‘its fine, its all up here‘ he said, ‘pointing to his head‘. My partner on the other hand, insists that we should forget completely and move on. Philosophers, like Kierkegaard, would have a field day! In Repetition (1843) he visits the same lodgings in Berlin to see if he can repeat an experience, without success.

…why bother remembering a past that cannot be made into a present?

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I wrote a poem recently, spurred by the memory of processing films in a basement in my old home, when i was at a 16mm filmmaking workshop at Lux Cornwall a couple of weeks back. The act of developing film again, reminded me of waiting to see what i had shot, the labour in the dark to make it so, anticipation bathed in red light. Digital photography/ filmmaking has removed this anticipation somewhat, and perhaps with it, erased the memory of what was shot.

…why bother remembering a past that cannot be made into a present?

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It brings to mind Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (house) ‘a life-sized replica of the interior of a condemned terraced house in London’s East End made by spraying liquid concrete into the building’s empty shell before its external walls were removed‘.

Thanks to Brian Lobel  & Natalie Daring for inspiring initial draft of this post on Facemash and to Karen Gabay for recommending a book ‘Home’ (see below) and friends who posted comments on Facemash about their experiences which made me decide to write a blog post.

Related…

I decided not to change the world…

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It was 1971 and my mum took her first born to Whitchapel Art Gallery. I like to imagine, when i usually tell this story, that i was the baby in the pram that time, but visiting the Whitechapel Archives, i discovered it could only have been my sister because i was born a year later, in ’72.

It was 1971, spring, most likely and David Hockey’s first exhibition was on show. My mum contemplated buying one of the paintings, a series of four, Love paintings, painted when Hockney studied at The Royal College of Art. It was on sale for £48. When she first told me this story, we used to fall about laughing, ‘oh my god, we’d be rich – why the hell didn’t you buy it?‘.

If i had bought it, then what would i have given your dad and your sister for dinner?  £48 was a lot of money in those days.And, anyway‘ she whispered, laughing, ‘I never would have sold it!’.

Maybe i am romanticising this too much, but i imagine my mum looking at the picture, and momentarily grappling with whether or not to buy it. Aesthetic desire crushed by the burning reality of everyday life and feeding your fledgling family. Naturally, I wanted to glimpse this ‘love painting’, indeed I tried to track it down – my mum described the colour red in the painting – ‘it reminded me of the love and warmth of friendship‘.

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Serendipitously a love painting showed up in a Royal Academy exhibition. But it wasn’t red. I did get to see a love painting, a year or so ago, but i don’t think this was not the one.

Dinner one time with friends in London, and I’d invited my mum and sister, all the way from Copenhagen to celebrate. I smiled, mildly merry as i kissed friends goodbye. Next morning, I realised I’d found it – the feeling that is, not the painting – the love and warmth of friendship.

I was back at Whitechapel Gallery recently – and it took me to another place…

Me, aged nine, tied to a lamp post in the school playground – all alone, watching leaves blow around the playground whilst all the other kids were inside studying mathematics or english or maybe science.

I was tied to the lamp post because that’s what the dinner ladies did on your birthday. It sounds weird but i was glad they forgot me there. I got to see the playground with noone in it, just me and autumn leaves swirling, at the whim of the wind.

I went back to my junior school last year and stood pretty much where i was tied up – although the lamppost had gone, looking  out into the playground.

For the last three years I’ve been trying to get back to that person, minus the lamp post of course, curious about the world, not caring if it was science or art or maths or anything else language might throw at me.

Understanding the ‘feeling that happened‘ was my starting point as a wanna be neuroscientist twenty years ago, and that that is the starting point as a storyteller now.

To believe that these things are the same thing is where i have landed.

Post note: I just looked back at the Love Painting that i saw, and it does have red in it…. (picture added above)…

 

If you get left behind…

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Occasionally, when the business of the day has settled, I close my eyes and two faces from my past pop into my my mind. Patrick and Aisha (not their real names) – in real life, they have never met yet in my mind they occupy the same space. Both, waiting, looking at me with regret, disdain, both quietly angry. I know this look, as i have inhabited it myself, from the inside-out.

Aisha is 9 – she sat quietly through a noisy session at a Moss Side school when I came to talk about careers. The boys in the class I am been told by the teacher are ‘jittery, unambitious and unfocused – English is a problem.’ – ‘ohh‘ I reply, and in my mind, a fire is lit ‘we’ll see‘.

I focussed my attention on those boys – their questions and ideas about the brain and filmmaking and science rained down – the teacher was surprised.  But, at the end of the session I spotted Aisha – she was staring straight at me, with ‘that’ seething look.

Those eyes wanted something – ‘what about me?’ They seethed. The bell rang and the kids left. The teacher walked me to the corridor – ‘that was amazing – who knew they were so interested in science?!‘ I want to ask about Aisha, I don’t know where to start – how do I know? How do I explain ‘that look‘?

Patrick is a 19 year old film lover – I get to know him a little over 10 weeks or so of a 12 week programme screening films at a homeless centre. At the very start I am told ‘The films are already programmed – just hook up the DVD to the projector, introduce the film and encourage a debate afterwards…  it’s best if you don’t tell people where you live. If people are drunk or high they’re out and they know that‘.

The films were all British, volunteers served up popcorn and coca cola. Patrick dropped by on the second week and stayed til the end as others drifted in and out. His eager criticism and arguments during post-screening debates got people annoyed ‘he talks too much‘, ‘shut up‘ – it sparked an idea – lets do a review, every week. Amazing how a number can be a way in to conversation for those who say very little or are tongue tied when put on the spot.

The Gasman, what would you give it? Out of ten?‘.

Ten!

Ten, ten!?

Because I travelled all the way up to Glasgow and back again – good times, good times‘.

Ocassionally we watch a short film, made with local filmmakers and some of the punters. Then we had a panel – chats about how to act, falling in love with your co-star and dressing up. When the credits rolled, we did our reviews and then folks told their own stories.

Patrick, was our most vocal critic and wanted Polish films. Give me a list and let’s see if we can influence the next programme. Each week I brought him European film magazines which he took away and diligently brought back the following week. He pointed out films to me – ‘this and this and this‘.

When the 12 weeks came to a close – the manager asked me to her office – ‘we would love you to stay but the funding fell through‘. By now we had a lovely routine going – as I arrived – people would rearrange the chairs to face front – other folks would give out popcorn and coke. Someone would shout ‘lights!‘ And duly they would go out. Jessie (not his real name) introduced the film this time – Sherlock – he’d been in it as an extra. Thinking back I had so much love for those times and the moments when people who usually waited to be served came alive suddenly.

At the last session I introduced a quiz, to get feedback easily for the final report. I announced that this was my last session. My heart cracked when I looked at Patrick. He sat there, seething at me. That look. And then he slowly turned his back. I lost him.

A fire alarm rang. The quiz was abandoned ‘slowly now – make your way outside‘. And that was that. I went back with another project, this time, growing sunflowers in the centre’s allotment. Patrick was gone.

I might not find Patrick or Aisha again – and, yet, a few months back, the universe came calling… it started with two emails and a meeting – first from a filmmaker, then from a researcher. ‘Erinma, can you help me? I tried to speak to these funding people and they didn’t have time.‘ I replied, hesitant at first.

Why me?‘ I ask – ‘because I have looked out there and I just know, I know you will get me, I think you will understand where I’m coming from.

We have a saying – me and my partner, ‘if you get left behind, I will come and find you. if i get left behind, you will come and find me.‘.

Lessons in love and life.

 

So this happen’d

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Quite mad and surreal: a trip to Buckingham Palace on 10th Dec 2015 with my mum, sister, primary school teacher and partner to collect an MBE for services to Public Engagement with Science, Engineering and Technology.

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If you ever get nominated – make sure you check out the loos, write a letter well ahead of time if you need an extra ticket (my letter writing skills came in handy – i invited my mum, partner, sister and primary school teacher) and don’t worry about wearing a hat or doing a courtesy (i did neither, just a head nod). Everyone at Buckingham Palace is incredibly kind and reassuring. There is a video that plays showing you what will happen, and someone guides you every step of the way.

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You might not get the Queen – i got HRH Prince Charles, which was pretty cool – given he had just come back from Paris… he told me we needed ‘an idiots’ guide to climate change‘ – i told him, ‘in Manchester, we are making a recycled Robot orchestra‘. He laughed. We shook hands. I stepped backwards and exited stage right… then watched everyone else get their medals for services to the NHS, netball, mental health, wildlife and the environment and much more besides. An orchestra played behind us as we sat in the Ballroom – my mum, who is Danish, of course noticed that one piece was by Carl Nielsen – a fellow Dane.

We dined afterwards at the Cinmamon Club before heading to the theatre. The night before, i invited a bunch of my friends to Cigala in Bloomsbury. Next day i took my mum to see visit Wellcome Trust, which has supported me with a Fellowship for the past couple of years.

We then travelled back to Manchester and I took my mum to see the new wing of the Whitworth Art Gallery, which is Louisiana inspired.

You will queue, after the ceremony, for hours to get photos taken, so join the queue early (thanks to Clare Matterson for that tip and the extra ticket tip!). It will be cold, so bring a coat and gloves and hat! We forgot and froze. Plus bring snacks as they don’t feed you (we are public servants – servants do not get fed! – thanks to Caroline Coates for that tip!) but you will get a glass of water.

All in all a memorable occasion – especially to see the Buckingham Palace Christmas trees adorned with huge velvet crowns!

Massive thanks to everyone who has supported me and my family.

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