Bladderblog 1: The Risk Assessment From Hell
Earlier this year, the Making History events team set themselves a challenge: to create a spectacle for children, all about Tudor life. Specifically, those elements of Tudor life which encite a 'yeeeeeuurgh' from children - and a raised eyebrow from grown-ups. And thus, the concept for Mayday Misrule! was born.
Children's history isn't always easy to interpret, especially since kids are always disproportionately affected by social inequality. Child labour, lack of education or sanitation, are all very tricky subjects which might crop up when we look at the world of the child in the past.
It is, however, an important field to explore, as it addresses human rights, family dynamics, comfort, identity and much more. They are sometimes things which we might think difficult to explain to a young, enquiring mind. But, as Learning Department fave, Teacher Tom says, "Viewing disaster at a distance gives [us] an opportunity to calmly lay down a little philosophical groundwork to prepare for when tragedy strikes closer to home.".
It would be very easy to tell our young visitors that they've "never had it so good" and leave it at that, but we wanted to engage and delight, not make them feel guilty for having Xboxes.
And that is the slightly wordy explanation of why, this week, I find myself phoning up abattoirs looking for pigs' bladders.
During 'Misrule!', there'll be Tudors to be found all over the museum: from surgeons, archers and pipers to cooks, skinners and wise women. I will become Sara the servant: not a massive stretch, but it will involve wearing the wooden corset again, joy of joys! My job will be to show the Tudor sporting life - confirming, as my purple face did after my first-ever 'jog' on Saturday, that I like my sports a little rough, but mostly extinct.
As part of my talk, I will be demonstrating how to make a football using a bladder. It's a traditional skill which outlived the Tudors, as there are plenty of staff here at the Museum who remember playing with a bladder ball. Unfortunately, none of them remember making one: It was a skill that their grandparents had, but did not pass on. When the time came to learn, mass-produced plastic footballs were cheap and readily available, and there was really no need to learn how best to wrap your lips round a dead pig's urethra.
All of which leads on smoothly to the next bit: Health and Safety! The implications are weighing on my mind a bit - not only because the public will be there, but because I don't want to come down with some sort of horrible disease and end up like a porcine version of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The Re-enactors I've spoken to swear by salt water to kill any bacteria, but written information is very thin on the ground. Before I decide on my method for this expermient, then, I'm going to cast my net a bit wider... Dear reader(s): have you any tips at all on procuring, and safely handling, a pig's bladder? Please post them in the comments box!
I will be posting updates as I go about learning these techniques, so I hope you'll look forward to the next installment of Bladderblog!
28 March 2011 update
Female appears to have started incubating.
28 March 2011
Welcome to the 2011 season of Peregrines on the Clock Tower.
There has been plenty of activity around the tower in the last few weeks - in fact the adults have not left all winter. Perhaps more surprising is that 2 of the youngsters from last year have also been putting in occasional appearances.
3 weeks ago the young female was flying around calling for food when the adult male flew in clutching a bird in its talons. Then last week I was lucky enough to see the young male tearing at a carcass alongside his mother - who didn't seem to mind the intrusion, although he only butted in once she had eaten her fill!
The bad news this, as far as we're concerned, is it looks like they're going to use the nest on the north face of the tower. This will make life difficult for all of us trying to watch what's going on.
It's not all doom and gloom though, we can still see the nest - just not as well as the one on the east side - and we'll be able to see the adults bringing food into the chicks a little later in the summer.
Here's to a successful 2011 season.
One week left...
Just one week left now for schools to send in their weather data. Many have done so already and are well on their way to receiving their super scientist certificates.
So far this week I've had 305 records sent in! The schools that have kept the best records will be put forward for selection for a chance to win a nature activity trip. The winner will be selected and announced next Thursday!
Flower reports have come in by now from all across Wales. I'm glad so many flowers have survived this cold winter. Some schools lost their daffodils to the frost - such a shame - but they will still receive their certificates for being such good scientists.
This year's mystery bulb is a tulip. I really like this one because it is so colorful.
On Sat the 2nd of April we are holding a nature activity day at St Fagans. Click the link and watch these short films about the bats and other fantastic animals living at St Fagans to find out more.
Conservation of Roman Armour
Archaeologists from University College London and Cardiff University have been excavating remains of Isca, the Second Augustan Legion’s permanent fortress, since 2007. The area excavated has centrered on a building in Priory Field, located in modern day Caerleon, South Wales.
Excavations in summer 2010 focused on an area of a courtyard building, with evidence to suggest it was a warehouse. A room in this building revealed some very exciting finds: the apparent remains of Roman body armour, ‘lorica segmentata’.
Archaeologists spent days carefully exposing these rare finds, which seem to have been thrown haphazardly on the floor of the warehouse.
These fragile artefacts were then carefully removed by conservators from the National Museum of Wales. The exposed objects were wrapped in Clingfilm, to prevent them from being contaminated by the materials used to support them.
Plaster of Paris bandages, similar to those used in hospitals, were very useful for holding these soil blocks together, and preventing damage to the artefacts whilst in transit.
Once the plaster had set, the team undercut the plaster blocks: this was a tense moment, as the archaeologists did not want to cut through any material that they could not see.
Supporting the artefacts with robust materials meant that they could be driven back to the National Museum at Cathay’s park safely. There they will be re-opened and carefully micro-excavated in the conservation laboratory.
The largest of the blocks removed measures about a metre squared, and had to be carried into the museum by 6 men, given its weight.
Progress of the investigation of this block will be recorded here.
Explore Nature at St Fagans Project Launch
On Saturday, April 2, we will be officially launching the Explore Nature at St Fagans project, here at the museum. The launch will be at 11am in Oriel 1. Then, throughout the day, there will be a variety of different nature based activities.
We will have visits to our new bird hide, where a member of staff will be on hand to help with identifying the birds that can be seen visiting the bird feeders. Find out also how to attract different birds to your own garden so that you can watch them from the comfort of your own home!
We will also have a number of activities at the Tannery. The Tannery has become home to a great variety of wildlife, from protected Great Crested Newts to rare Lesser Horseshoe bats. Come and find out more about these fascinating creatures. We will also be doing a spot of pond dipping and minibeast hunting, come along and see what we find!
As part of the Explore Nature project we have commissioned a couple of films. The first is a general nature film shot at the museum, it shows the wealth of wildlife that we are lucky to have here. The second film concentrates on the Lesser Horseshoe bats that roost here. Enjoy!
On 2 April we will be launching the Explore Nature project
There will be loads of different things going on so look out for more information on the blog and on twitter.
As part of the launch I will be running an art and craft session about all things birds! If you fancy doing a bit of sewing we will be making badges or fingerpuppets and for little ones we can make spinning thaumatropes.
Oh, in case you don't know what thaumatropes are (I didn't!) they are thoses circles of paper that usually have a picture of a bird on one side and a cage on the other and then when you twizzle them it looks like the bird is in the cage. As we are celebrating nature we won't be putting any drawings of birds in cages! but will be giving them the appearance of flight instead.
The sessions are suitable for families, but adults are also welcome to come and sew some badges or fingerpuppets with me!
The Buddhas are as many as the sands of the Ganges River: Carved inscription at Baodingshan, Dazu, AD 1177-1249
May 2010. I’m standing next to the largest head I’ve ever seen. Carved in sandstone and painted, it belongs to the vast reclining Buddha at the heart of the Baodingshan cave temple. Baodingshan, ‘Summit of Treasures’, is the most impressive of the seventy-five rock-carved temple sites that make up the Dazu World Heritage Site in south-west China. 10,000 individual figures populate its 500m-long tree-shaded sandstone cliff, all carved between AD1177 and 1249.
The experience is overwhelming. I’m astonished by the sheer ambition of this Buddhist complex, by the sophisticated imagination that planned it, by the skills of the artists that fashioned it. I’m here with colleague Steve Howe to plan an exhibition of Dazu carvings at the National Museum in Cardiff early in 2011, and I’m wondering how we are going to convey the magic of these places to our visitors.
This visit to Dazu was my first time back in China since working there in the mid 1980s. China had changed hugely, of course, and the pace of change is as breathtaking as the ferociously spiced Sichuanese food (the best in China, in my view) which our generous hosts pressed on us at every opportunity. The most important things, however – the sociability of the people, their rightful pride in a distinguished cultural heritage – remain undimmed.
Our week’s work with colleagues at the Dazu Rock Carvings Museum developed a warm and trusting friendship, along with the realisation that we had an opportunity to create something really special back in Cardiff. Dazu, after all, represents the last great flourishing of the cave-temple art form and its treasures of Song-dynasty (AD960-1279) sculpture had never been seen outside China before.
Back in Wales, the whole exhibition team rose enthusiastically to the challenge and, under serious time pressure, captured the serene drama of visiting a rock-carved cave temple. The exquisite beauty of the carvings, something both spiritual and deeply human, shines out. From a number of favourite pieces, I would highlight the meditating figure of Zhao Zhifeng, the designer of the Baodingshan complex, and, in complete contrast, the charmingly characterised family group from a tomb complete with serious father, delighted mother and two naughty children. Pride of place, though, goes to the central Sakyamuni Buddha, whose authoritative dignity greets visitors to the exhibition and provides a profoundly spiritual focus for the whole experience.
I was particularly pleased to see the delight of our Chinese colleagues at the results, but equally so to see the enthusiasm of so many visitors of all kinds, whether people from Cardiff or China, specialists or local school children. If the multitude of Buddhist figures and schools of thought, and their interweaving with Confucian and Daoist ideas, all seem like too much to grasp, not to worry. Just enjoy the spectacle and take heart from another Dazu inscription that expresses the essential simplicity of Buddhist thinking: ‘to know clearly means that there is nothing to know’.
Andrew Renton, Head of Applied Art, National Museum Cardiff
Day of the daffs
Hooray the daffs have arrived!
Reports from Ysgol Y Ffridd, Ysgol Nant Y Coed & Ysgol Cynfran. Mine too have opened and are as beautiful as ever.
See the charts and maps
I've taken some pictures. Please send in your pictures and don't forget to take part in the flower drawing competition. If you have half an hour of sunshine pop outside to do some sketches for your flowers.
See comments from schools below.
Love spoons art cart
These images are from half term. We had a bit of a love theme and were looking at lovespoons, pockets and stay busks. We looked at all the kinds of patterns you find on lovespoons, from the usual hearts and commas, to horses and forks!
Lots of people took their work home, but quite a few added decorations to our large lovespoons that are pictured here. I have to admit that Tracey Williams did a lot of work on the spoons and made them much more beautiful than when they started out.
The next art activity i'm involved in will be part of the launch of our new Explore Nature project in Oriel 1