If I only…

July 9th, 2009

I was thinking about language again (as I often do, in a lackadaisical sort of way), and about language changes that have happened within my lifetime - how catch phrases and catch words rise, achieve ephemeral popularity, and then mostly fade away to become tomorrow’s curios. When I was at university in the mid-80s, ‘mega’ was, well, mega. And ubiquitous - everything good was mega. But it’s now returned to a more normal status AFAICT. I was surprised when I first heard my daughters using ‘gay’ as a contemptuous dismissal of things (like shoes, for example) that just weren’t fashionably up to the mark. Coming to NZ, I find that usage of ‘gay’ became common here at the same time time. So 2007 though, now.

The origins of phrases are frequently obscure. I was driving my daughter to school the other day, and started thinking,”Why on earth does I can’t be arsed mean I can’t be bothered?” Couple that with the fact that the driver of the car in front had hair sticking out all over the place like a scarecrow and somehow this just oozed out of me. Think Wizard of Oz

Well, I could be quite impressive
If I wasn’t so obsessive
And showed a bit of class.
I could scale the very heights,
See my name up there in lights
If I only could be arsed.

You can purse your lips and mutter
About lying in the gutter,
But I’m looking at the stars.
People say of me, by God he
Really could have been somebody
If he only could be arsed.

Oh my, how I would try
Before my chance was gone
To be the number one
And find at last I’m getting on.

Now the truth must be admitted
I’m really quite unfitted
To be the man in charge.
Though I seem to be a sinner,
I could turn into a winner
If I only could be arsed.

For as the veil is lifted,
You can see that I’ve just drifted
Without a plan or chart.
With a little more ambition
I’d achieve a top position.
I could start a new tradition –
It will take much more than wishing –
If I had the will to get up off my arse.

A suitable case for tweetment

June 19th, 2009

On Wednesday last I attended a talk at Te Papa by Tee Morris about social media. Much of the stuff I was already familiar with - blogging, YouTube, Ning, Bebo, Facebook, Flickr and so on. As far as I know, I was the first person to use Flickr for collection images (glad to see the work continues after my departure!). But Twitter had not so much passed me by - I had set up an account to see what it was, but never actually used it - as been something I just didn’t get. Maybe it’s my age. I hope not!

Anyhoo (as everyone seems to be saying now - have they all become Scottish or something?) I was almost convinced. At least I could see how it might form part of a viable strategy for an organisation in some circumstances. Sometimes it does seem that all social media are just a short corporate invasion away from jumping the shark (and turning into MySpace). But this is very striking - maybe there really is something to Twitter. How often has it happened that the users themselves define what the application is really for (and end up driving its development)? Don’t bother to answer - it’s every time.

Pique condition

June 18th, 2009

Via I can no longer remember where, this week I discovered the concept of eggcorns (something I had earlier mentally tagged as verbal mondegreens). Hours of endless fun for those who, like me, are easily amused by quote on quote unintended humour. When I don’t find it mildly irritating, that is.

I’m back

January 20th, 2009

So finally I get around to updating the blog. Why the long lay-off? Partly because with moving to a new job on the other side of the world - as far as you can go, without starting to come back - I’ve been preoccupied, and partly because my new job has taken me to a role that’s not just museums. I now have responsibility for a library service as well as an art gallery, the council’s (yes, still working in local government) relationship with the museum and a variety of community development projects.

Does that mean I’m no longer a curator? Not really. In here <taps head> I’ll always be a curator, a museum person. I still keep up with museum developments, especially the webby, techie sort. I still get the Museums Journal every month - and strangely it cost me less to join the Museums Association as an overseas member than it would have done to remain a member in the UK. OK, it was only £2, but as Tesco say, every little helps. I just don’t do any actual curating, I have no daily contact with collections and exhibitions. And sometimes I miss that - it was part of my life for more than twenty years.

On the other hand - I have a new job, half way round the world from the old job. Sometimes it strikes me as I’m driving along. New Zealand can seem very like Scotland - very green, hardly any people, lots of sheep, and they drive on the left - but then I’ll see a cabbage tree or something, and I’m forcibly reminded that I’m really here and it makes me laugh out loud. Especially when  see the weather reports from the UK.

Sound of Museums Revisited

March 17th, 2008

List Ev’ry Object

List ev’ry object
Search high and low
Name, location, donor,
And all you need to know

List ev’ry object
Make sure your scheme
Will comply with Spectrum.
It’s like a bad dream.

A scheme that will list
All the stuff in the store.
It would not be so bad
If it weren’t such a bore.

List ev’ry object
Make sure your scheme
Will comply with Spectrum
It’s like a bad dream !

Inside out

March 16th, 2008

Insider or outsider? I’ve always felt that I am an outsider, but is that how I’m seen? Or am I really part of the museums establishment in Scotland? Though I never aimed to be or wanted to be, and though I can’t see myself as The Man, maybe that role is now mine. So we become by the passage of time not who we are but rather who we are perceived to be, and the perception becomes for everyone else the reality.

Same as it ever was - yesterday’s mouthy Young Turk is promoted to old fogey. Ah well, this is how the profession is renewed, and the young, as I remember well, must have something to rebel against, something to give a purpose to their professional existence.

So where does that leave people like me? Here doesn’t feel like the establishment - it’s always felt like the periphery. And I can’t deny I’m happy here, but nonetheless it seems I am indeed The Man - at least so Frank says. Of course, that could just have been the drink talking.

Leaving on a jet plane

March 1st, 2008

I’ve been extremely dilatory about this blog since April last year. The intervening months have been a bit weird to be honest. I went with my family to visit my brother in New Zealand again (and hang the expense!) last summer*. While I was there I had an interview for a job. Since then, I’ve been going through the immigration process, which is surprisingly expensive - though my prospective employer is picking up the tab for this. Now it’s crunch time - I’ve handed in my notice, indeed my post has just been advertised. Yes, the corpse isn’t even cold and they’re starting the fight over the spoils. In two weeks I’ll be off away from the UK to a new job in New Zealand. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying.

I’m leaving. After nearly fourteen years it’s surprisingly hard to write those words without a twinge of regret. Museums have been my passion and working here has been the largest chunk of my professional life. I will miss the place, the people, the collections, the things we have done and the exciting things we are planning to do. How could I not?

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Although I do know when I’ll be back again - in August, when I fly back to the UK to accompany the rest of my family back to New Zealand. And though I hate to leave, it’s also exciting: new job, new opportunities. One thing I have learned in my time here is that you have to grab opportunities when they present themselves - they may not recur. But as ever by doing one thing you close off the opportunity to do other things with the same resources of time or money. There’s no point worrying about what might have happened if other choices had been made. To quote CS Lewis in the Magician’s Nephew (and it’s not often that the Narnia books get quoted!):

Make your choice, adventurous stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had

Still, I’ll be able to keep in touch. Scotland will be just a hyperlink away. Unlike Charn.

*Or winter, as I must now to learn to think of it.


April 20th, 2007

I see that today’s (20th April 2007) featured article on Wikipedia is Yosemite National Park. So lots of morons are deleting the main article, seemingly unaware that being a wiki we can see the old versions anyway. Sigh.

Blogging the train from Merced to Martinez

April 19th, 2007

The bus from Yosemite made good time and actually arrived at Merced Amtrak station early. The station itself is just a small building, and there’s no café - but you can buy drinks and unhealthy snacks from a machine, so I naturally made use of them. The train was perfectly on time, but I did enjoy the note of surprise in the automated announcement of its arrival.

The central valley of California is so flat that it almost makes Norfolk look like the Alps. I can still just make out the mountains in the distance, but it is a grey, misty, cold day and they look almost like far-off banks of cloud. So we roll past rusting barns and semi-derelict houses, scattered amongst vast fields of fruit or nut trees, all standing in immaculate rows, through small agricultural communities and acres of estates of new housing, while the locomotive’s horn repeatedly blasts out its warning for the many crossings.

Of course, as in the UK, the trains seem to travel through all the least attractive parts of any town - naturally, I suppose, since industry old and new has tended to cluster near the means of transport. Such places tend not to be the favoured places of abode of the better-off. They are rather the domain of trailer parks and run-down housing. It’s surprising though how often the train makes its way past the water treatment plants (or sewage works as we would call them).

Past Modesto on the way to Stockton we seem to be passing over a lot more irrigation canals. It makes me wonder how sustainable the sort of agriculture carried on here would be without irrigation. Would it all have to return to pasture? The amount of livestock in the fields to be seen from the train is pretty small, and on a very small scale. Perhaps it is different beyond what I can see, but so far it amounts to about a dozen sheep and maybe twenty cows, but millions upon million of trees in orchards.

Judging by the packing going on, we are now approaching Stockton. Nope, we’re just held up by a freight train ahead on the line. Still, it was only a short delay. I’m a bit disappointed that we haven’t passed one of those gigantic American goods (sorry, freight) trains yet today. They make UK goods trains seem such wimps. Ha! Hardly finished typing that and we passed one with over 100 cars. Now that would be hard to stop.

Eventually arrived in Stockton, which started me thinking about last year when I attended the John Muir Global Perspective Conference at the University of the Pacific there. Every time I told people from California at mw2006 that I was going on to California they would ask whereabouts. And when I said “Stockton” their faces took on this strange expression. “Oh”, they’d say. “Why Stockton?” I’m not sure my explanation ever convinced. I guess it’s the same look I would give Californians who announced they were going to Scotland, and then revealed their destination as Cumbernauld.

What is it about farms, that they accumulate great piles of rusting vehicles and equipment? Is it a reluctance to throw things away - sure that the bits may come in handy one day? Or is it that it’s not a proper farm until it has a share of rusting metal piled outside?

We’re here. Hope I can get a lift to my motel…

Yosemite Falls - and I don’t

April 18th, 2007

After two sunny days, today was more cloudy. Indeed it was snowing all day - just flurries, and nothing sticking. It didn’t seem to me to be cold enough for snow, but maybe I’m becoming acclimatised to Scotland. Certainly Yosemite Creek was full of slush formed from the spray from the fall, though with the water running underneath and occasionally bubbling to the surface.

I had a guided tour of the new displays in the Yosemite Visitor Centre from Tom and Vicky of the Park Service. The display only opened last Friday (13th - good choice!). Muir gets a section to himself, and there’s a bronze statue of him seated looking up at a reconstruction of his Yosemite ‘hang nest‘. Children climb all over him, and everyone (including me) gets photographed with him. Mind you, not everyone knows it’s John Muir. I overheard one visitor asking her companion, “Do you want to be photographed with Ansel Adams?”

After that I thought I’d take another walk. Plan A was to just walk to the bottom of Yosemite Falls. But despite the snow it was a nice day, so I thought I’d make the journey to Columbia Rock, a viewpoint on the Yosemite Falls trail that I had struggled to last year. This year though it only took me just over an hour to get there, so I decided to walk on to the viewpoint for the upper falls. I didn’t have the time (or to be honest the energy, and my knees were getting very sore) to go to the top of the falls.

Everything in Yosemite is uphill once you get away from the shuttle bus route and the valley floor - sometimes very steep. Although the paths and trails are well maintained, they are often still rough and full of granite rocks of sizes varying from pebbles to ones the size of a small house. Maybe next time.

As ever, it was much easier and quicker going down than up. I mentioned this to someone I met on the path, and they pointed out that there were many very quick ways to reach the valley floor. Indeed.