End of an era
Last week mainly consisted of a number of internal meetings, such as audit committee, staff executive and so on. All are important of course, but it does mean that during such weeks I do not get the chance to visit sites outside of Cardiff.
The evenings were also busy, and on Tuesday night I went to a dinner hosted by the First Minister to mark the special relationship between Japan and Wales. It was the first type of event since the election, and it was clear that the international profile of Wales will be important to Carwyn Jones over the next few years. His speech was excellent, and I was amazed to learn that there are over 130 companies from Japan operating here in Wales. Though it was a lovely evening, it did strike me that there were very few women present and that most present were men of a certain age in suits, like myself. This was reinforced in a performance by a Male Voice Choir. They were excellent singers, but it did make me wonder if in the future we could showcase a more creative Wales at such events? Something to ponder anyway...
Wednesday evening was also a late evening, this time at the Museum to mark the retirement of our President, Paul Loveluck. I have only been in post in Cardiff for 8 months, so I have not had the privilege of working for years with Paul as some of those present hae done. But in that short time, it is already clear to me that he has been an exceptional President. His combination of vast managerial and Chief Executive experience in different organizations in Wales, and personal values, is exceptional. I have found that Paul is hugely liked and respected by everyone, inside and outside Amgueddfa Cymru. And they in turn feel that he respects them.
His diplomatic skills, and his ability to understand and represent many different groups in Wales, have ensured that significant and potentially serious challenges and difficulties have not developed into crises.
Paul has overseen the most important changes and developments in Amgueddfa Cymru, certainly since the opening of St Fagans in 1948, and possibly since its foundation. His legacy is one of impressive physical transformation of our sites for public good, but it is also of something even more important - an organization that over the last 9 years has been shaped by his values.
The best tribute we can pay to Paul is that Amgueddfa Cymru holds these values close, and carries them forward in its heart. Though we of course look forward to a new chapter with a new President, we will miss Paul and the contribution he's made to our work.
Investigation Results 2006-2011
The ‘Spring Bulbs for Schools’ project allows 1000s of schools scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change.
Since October 2005, school scientists across Wales have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.
See Professor Plant's reports attached or download the spreadsheet to study the trends for yourself!
Fun, but an important insight
Over the past few weeks, I have been undertaking work experience at our sites. There are two to go - Llanberis and National Museum Cardiff - but I thought it would be interesting to report back on what I've been tasked to do up to now. One of the things that struck me the most was the high level of skills required at all of our sites to ensure that everything runs smoothly. It is not just a matter of opening and closing the gates at the start and end of every day, and each member of staff has an important role to play in ensuring that we deliver the best for our visitors.
I was given a wide range of tasks that were in accordance with my limited skills level in some areas! Highlights included taking part in the safety inspection at Big Pit, selling a site booklet at Caerleon, cleaning the ladies toilets at Swansea, supervising the operation of the carding machinery at Drefach and removing corrosion on the earliest surviving mining truck in Wales at our Collections Centre in Nantgarw. St Fagans worked me the hardest, from removing hundreds of dead heads from tulips, to creating threads by hand for the reconstruction of the Clogmaker's cottage to making nails from scratch at the Blacksmiths workshop. I nearly succeeded in making the perfect nail, but I made the mistake of overheating the metal meaning that the nail became too brittle and alas, unusable.
I'm looking forward to completing my work experience at the remaining sites! It has been a fun experience, but also an important one as it has given me a different insight into the workings of each of the sites. It has been a great way for me to get to know staff in a more informal environment. Although formal presentations are necessary from time to time, I do prefer having the opportunity to talk one to one.
Conservation of Roman Armour- Opening the Block
After wheeling the large block into the archaeological conservation laboratory, I began the task of removing the plaster bandages covering the top of the block.
This proved a simple and satisfying job- the bandages were easily torn off in layers, revealing the Clingfilm barrier underneath. In order to reinforce the sides of the block, yet more bandages were wetted and wrapped around it.
The next step in opening up the block was to peel back the Clingfilm. This had to be done very carefully, as I didn't want dust from the plaster covering the archaeological artefacts beneath. Pegs and bulldog clips were very useful in holding back the plastic layers neatly.
After much anticipation, the armour was revealed. As I had not been present during removal of the armour from the fort, this was the first time I was able to see the lorica, and I was very impressed by the corroded remains.
As I excavate the armour contained within this soil block, I have to document every individual feature, and the physical relationships between all the artefacts. This provides invaluable information for the archaeologists working on the project, who want to tell the story of Isca.
This documentation process involves taking many photographs and making copious notes day by day; before I even begin to excavate the block using small hand tools, I drew a plan of the whole block, at a 1:2 scale. It was easiest to do this by laying string across the top of the block, and drawing it in sections.
After all this preparation, I cannot wait to get started excavating the soil overlying the armour and other artefacts- though this will take a very long time.
Bladderblog 2: Slimy Trials and Smelly Errors
Reader, I blew it.
It took a bit of practice but the Learning Department now has in its possession a brand new bladder football. At the end of the Misrule! weekend, it was tested rigorously by some of our 5 and 6 year-old visitors, and found to be satisfactory. Over the three days, we had some failed attempts; some almost-worked attempts; and finally, a fine, egg-shaped ball which made a satifying, basketball-like 'donk' noise when bounced on the floor.
Now, this installment of Bladderblog comes a bit later in the process than I anticipated, because it is hard to live-blog something while dressed as a Tudor. As you'll see above, under my skirt is the only place I can hide anything, and I'm sure you couldn't get a computer under there. So, despite the new/old technology hiccup, I hope you'll enjoy this latest foray into sporting history...
The bladders themselves arrived frozen, in an ice-cream tub. A natural by-product of slaughter for meat, the bladders would be discarded otherwise, as they are not very appetising. Once out of the tub and into brine, they remsembled big poached eggs. To touch, they were slimy, slippery and quite tough - not dissimilar to sausage casing, but perhaps a bit thicker and harder to swallow! The farmer said that 'of all the strange requests' he's ever received, this was the strangest. He also said we were 'all mad', but was happy to see his pigs get put to a variety of uses after their slaughter. The meat, I am informed, has gone to make posh salami.
Blowing the 'practice bladder' up at home using a very long curly straw worked well. I cured the ball with salt, sanitized my hands and then slapped myself on the back: I had successfully avoided having to lip-lock with any part of a pig (a good job as the bladders came with a few stray hairs).
Then it burst, mid-demo, on Friday. I plundered my (very well-hidden) Aldi bag for another and spent lunchtime making the ball with the tools I had at my disposal: salt, string and a feather. Now, trial and error is usually a fine way to learn. On the other hand, bladdersplashback is something to be avoided at any cost. Using the bottom part of a feather as a straw, I attempted the Tudor way of blowing up a bladder. It was really quite unpleasant. Really, really unpleasant, actually. But it was over quickly.
I was keen to explore the 'nose to tail' ethos of Tudor farming and manufacturing, and so talked to all sorts of people who are still using these traditional techniques and principles in their work. Amongst them was Peg the skinner, who had an array of skins and historic animal-derived products on display last weekend, from hedgehog brushes to Tudor prophylactics. I will be posting about what I found out in the coming weeks. Some very beautiful, and probably more traditional uses for animal products can be found in our Making History 1500-1700 exhibition, too. I was particularly enthralled with this pair of leather gloves from around 1600: each part is silk-lined (another animal by-product!), and embroidered with detailed, erm, animals. I chose the squirrel detail today because, well, because I like squirrels.
I hope you'll join me for the next installment of Bladderblog - and let me know if you fancy a kickabout in the meantime!
Update: Two more articles popped up last weekend seemed to complement our bladding-about, so I'll leave them at the bottom here, so you can have a look!
The Lure of Eccentric Sports on BBC online.
BoingBoing's Mummifying Chickens for Fun and Educational Profit (not as grim as it sounds).
Natural History galleries now open
After 18 months the Natural History galleries have finally reopened. The seacliff and woodland dioramas have received a thorough clean and now look just as they did when they first opened in 1994.
Further back we now have a new gallery - Insight - which explores some of the scientific research which goes on in the Department of BioSyB and Department of Geology.
Beyond the Insight gallery the science education space has also received a major revamp and reopens as the Clore Learning Space.
We have nestlings!
At long last the female has been seen carrying food into the nest so we know at least one egg has now hatched.
As the eggs are incubated as soon as she lays them the others should hatch at 1-2 day intervals.
Making History - The Acts of Union
Keep an eye out on Wales Today, BBC1 Wales, at 6.30 tonight for more information!
May Misrule - oriel 1
The bank holiday weekend was busy with our May Misrule event. Lots and lots of things were going on, and I was in the gallery running art and craft sessions where we made Tudor ruffs and there were replica Tudor clothes available to try on.