Since January 2008 I have been ever so fortunate to work for Middlesbrough Council as a casual museum assistant, education assistant and gallery assistant at the Dorman Museum, Captain Cook Birthplace Museum and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. It has been one of those rare jobs to marry both my enthusiasms, abilities and need for encouragement. With excellent managers at those venues I have been able to grow my experience, dabble in different areas of my passion for history and help wherever I could. One of my most regular duties is covering lunch at the Museums shops and today at the Dorman Museum we had a visitor I thought I would tell you about.

One of our venerable elder gentlemen from the community had been on one of his regular walks through the fantastic Albert Park beside the Dorman Museum recently when he had stumbled across a dull coin sticking out of the ground. On closer inspection, holding it to the light, it turned out to be a Penny coin from the reign of Queen Victoria and minted in 1898. This was of interest to the man as he had recently read an article on the spectacular fountain in the center of Albert Park which he thought had been presented in 1898. After getting home I’ve since found that it was actually presented in 1869 by Joseph Pease but that does not undermine the coins discovery at all.

Whilst it may not be linked to the fountain, the coins discovery beside a tree and lack of damage suggests that it had indeed been planted with the tree over a century ago. Sitting there under the ground, unchanging whilst all around changed with the decades, the two world wars, the refurbishment of the park. Completely undisturbed until the roots of the tree it had been buried with finally pushed it up out of the dirt. It is a rather nice potential narrative of the coin and one that ties it to the local history of the area. Someone buried that coin for a reason, maybe for luck, maybe for remembrance.

The supposed burial of the coin, if it indeed happened shortly after it went into circulation will have coincided closely with Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee, the Empress of India had been on the throne for sixty years and had surpassed George III as the longest reigning British monarch in 1896.  A possible alternative is that the coin was buried under a tree after the death of Victoria in January 1901. Whatever the reasoning, the coin laid undisturbed for at least a century, a suitable tribute befitting a monarch of such longevity. It has now been kindly donated to the Dorman Museum by the gentleman, which will make a decision on whether to keep it in their collections.

Do you have any memories of Albert Park you would like to share in the comments below?

And if you have not been to Albert Park in recent years, take advantage of this good weather and go enjoy an afternoon there now!

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Just a quick squeeze of the Vysocina oranges to announce that you can now read my works of fiction over on a seperate blog at http://www.awritingculdesac.wordpress.com

I shall still be updating this blog with the mundane and profane thoughts on the world, but the seperate blog allows me to keep a clearer line between my strange fiction and stranger life.

This weeks Friday Flash Fiction is a short scifi piece entitled “The God Particle”. How does humanity deal with a new reality in which they are presented with all you can eat buffet? I’m talking physics, not catering.

This Friday gone marked the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest epic blockbuster, INCEPTION. A film about a team who work for shadowy corporations stealing secrets from within the minds of victims. They also offer the opposing security services and are challenged to do the opposite of stealing – they’re asked to plant an idea in a mind.

It is a wonderful scifi plot grounded at its heart in the guilt of Leonardo Dicaprio’s character. The work is big, loud, dark… And wonderfully intricate.

Nolan has been tagged the new Alfred Hitchcock by mainstream press for a reason. His cerebral filmaking has reached such a mass popularity and critical acclaim as to make him the number one man in Hollywood.

INCEPTION, as wildly enjoyable and compelling as it is will probably not make the money of The Dark Knight. Nor should it. No built in audience (besides growing Nolanites ala Hitchcock fans) and an insanely complex idea that it will probably turn off some people who fail to grasp the intricacies and concepts at play. Still, I will be renting it for a second viewing when its out.

INCEPTION is also somewhat a love letter from Nolan to cinema and film making in general. Think of it. The film features a man projecting images, ideas into another mans mind and manipulating him in the process. Is this not what the auteur, the film maker-artist does? When he writes a script, shoots a film and projects it on screen he is taking you to another reality, a dream, in your mind where he plays with ideas and concepts. Trivial, revolutionary. The final moments of the film (careful choice of words follows to prevent spoiler) when the plane lands and Leo steps off is also perhaps a metaphor for the cerebral, complex high quality film making of decades past finally arriving back to Hollywood.

I could go on and dissect it more thoroughly. The media student in me demands it but that would mean spoilers. Therefore, I encourage you instead to go and see it and endorse this supremely talented film maker at the height of his powers.

In terms of a review, this gets 3 Bells out of 3. Ding dong!

I understand that I may be coming to this debate late, and indeed you may have seen the following arguments mentioned elsewhere. However, with the international release of the iPad recently and the start of what promises to be a price war in the ereader market my interest has been renewed.

Mr Vysocina wants to spend some money.

Amazon’s Kindle is now retailing at $189 which my nifty xe.com app tells me is equivalent to £125.50. One of the biggest issues over ereaders has been entry cost. The technology, especially e-ink is perfect and is being delivered in styles and forms that are appreciable. The $489 price of the larger Kindle would cause any but the most die hard to balk at. However the magical £100 mark for us in the UK is almost reached by the smaller Kindle and psychologically it makes the device suddenly accessible. The latest software update including social media integration also added a powerful second use for the kindles global wireless network. All those literary bloggers can now review on the fly. Further provisions for email/basic blogging would round the device out. However as a reading device, the massive catalog of books and use of e-ink makes it perfect for purpose.

Now hold on you say: Why buy a kindle when I can buy an iPad and not only read books but watch movies, search the wider web and listen to music?

Good point. The iPad is of course more expensive but has so many other bells and whistles that it could best be described as a consumers device. All media, in one place. More ability to create content (emails, bloggage, social media) than Kindle also gives it some clout. The Kindle software is even available on it. Buy an iPad, use Kindle on it! Best of both worlds.

The problem which I have always come back to has been glare. The failure of the ipad to deal with glare to me makes its ibooks a bit of a gimmick. On the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader etc the e-ink technology means you can read in the sun at the park. You can’t do that on an iPad to the same quality.

So which device will I be buying in the great Kindle vs iPad war?

Both.

Not to show off, but I think they both have different uses. I will get a Kindle first as I have rediscovered my love of reading recently thanks to a history book I reviewed here recently and HG Wells ‘The Time Machine’. Later I will buy the iPad. 75% of what I and Mrs Vysocina do on a computer the iPad does faster and more conveniently. That’s the purpose of the technology and I am happy to embrace it.

Where do you stand in the Kindle/iPad debate?

When things just go wrong, they go wrong in multiples. A week ago the final piece of our settling in plan – installation of sky tv + broadband – for Mr & Mrs Vysocina’s new flat was to be completed. Instead a week of misunderstandings, mistakes and just plain dumb luck has followed. Let’s take a look at why you didn’t want to be me this past 7 days.

Thursday 17th June:
Reject several offers of work for this day because SKY are scheduled to come between 8am and 12PM. Those who follow my blog posts will know that I do a lot of casual work, I have no guaranteed income so I really need to take what’s on offer so this rejection was a big deal but meant to be the last. Instead nothing happens. No Sky engineer calls, no body clambers up my walls, no Sky Movies to watch or World Cup games to see. I call them up and ask what’s the hold up (in so many words) and the woman replies quite regally that sky have no record of installation scheduled for today as it states they are coming tomorrow. But what of my email? She repeats her mantra and asks me if she can be of any further use. No you can’t, thanks for nothing.

Friday 18th June:
Turned down work again. Sky man arrives! He’s early too setting me up for a nice day of catch up TV. However there is a snag. He grimaces the moment he goes into the back yard. Trees. Nasty, green, wooden, living, solid state things! Tree’s are one of SKY’s most troublesome foe. Don’t believe the rain forest adverts on SKY. SKY hate tree’s. The satellite signal won’t be able to get to the dish. Yes it can travel thousands of miles through the atmosphere but it cannot punch through a six inch diameter tree trunk. Credit to the engineer, he gets paid per successful installation, he tried for half an hour adjusting the dish and marching round the estate for a good angle. No luck. No Sky. All because of Mrs Vysocina’s bloody beloved trees. SKY and Mr Vysocina share a common foe henceforth.

Saturday 19th June:
I manage to get to work to earn a little money for rent. However I have a full day shift for next month taken off me. 3hrs versus 7hrs isn’t a good compromise.

Sunday 20th June:
Found some job opportunities in a paper for Classroom Manager / Cover Supervisors. Okay. Today is a good day, it does mean more applications to fill in though.

Monday 21st June:
Starts great, as my twitter stream shows. I even get told that I might be paid for one of the school trips I’m out on as a guide for Mount Grace. Problem is we have to get there. A19 has a rolling roadblock slap bang on our turn off. No way of getting to the Priory. A little further down the motor way, guess what happens? The Bus breaks down!

Picture it me and a gtp student the only ‘senior’ staff stuck with 50 kids on a busy motor way. Urgh! To compound it we couldn’t get in touch with management at the school and had to relay messages through the school reception. Eventually we got a replacement and had our misery compounded by the news that if we had asked at the roadblock they would have let us through. We made it there in the end at least.

Tuesday 22nd June
Great news! Been asked to work an extra couple of hours tomorrow at the Dorman Museum. I keep thinking I have forgotten something.

Wednesday 23rd June
Oh yes. The England match. Doh! I miss it. Boss takes sympathy on me and gives me a few more paydays for next month though.

Thursday 24th June:
Mount Grace again! Problem with bus again. It’s too small. We’ve hired taxi’s for the rest of the students. Are we done yet?

I hope so.

The following is a book review of ‘The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England’ by Ian Mortimer, published by Vintage (London, 2009).

*

During the Summer term at the school I teach in we are pursuing a topic on Rievaulx Abbey and Medieval Monasticism for the Year 10 GCSE course work. The GCSE (which means General Certificate of Secondary Education) is the last set of exams required by law for students to sit. A Levels and Degree’s are non-compulsory though the government is looking to extend the leaving age to 18 which would make A Levels and equivalents compulsory as well.

Fortunately this topic is close to my specialism as I studied a lot of the workings of monasteries when researching the lives of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious (Frankish/French Kings circa 755-830s) as most historical sources from the period are written by the clergy in monasteries. So I did not need to do much research, however I took the opportunity to learn a bit more about medieval England to provide background information to liven and colour lessons. The book I bought was the Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.

As a history text it is quite a different beast to the dusty academic works on my bookshelf. That should not detract from its historical merits. It is historical fact, not the fiction written by the likes of Bernard Cornwell or Conn Iggulden. It is the collection of a historians patient exhaustive research on a topic presented in a completely alien form.

The book describes the lives of 14th Century english men and women and the great events of the century in the very modern style of a travel guide. Just as if you were going to modern Peru, this book purports to be a guide to a living, breathing 14th Century England. Etiquette, dress, food, politics, law and order, entertainment, social order… These are all topics covered which you would expect in a modern tourist guide. The book sleeve leads with the familiar line that;

“The Past is a Foreign Country; they did things differently there…”

Which I think illuminates the inspiration for this book brilliantly. As history has been traditionally approached – as something that has been, is gone, is in the past… Is DEAD. Something to be poked at and debated on the basis of available evidence. The truth of that past, the knowledge of how life actually was is impossible. You simply cannot put yourself in the mind of Edward II or Geoffrey Chaucer and know why things happened truthfully. You could ask him immediately after a decision, and then thirty years later and you would get different answers because of how our memory changes and differing motivations become prominent.

What Ian Mortimer tries to do is instead of analyzing the past as being dead and cold, he tries to approach it as a living thing – a place you could visit tomorrow. As a result you begin to think about life back then differently. As a reader you come to respect and appreciate the lives of these people – both lowly villein and noble Lord.

The descriptions are vivid. You react with laughter, horror and bemusement at the everyday quirks of life in 14th century England. The stories are real, culled from documents of the time and they offer snapshots of a way of living we could not condone from our position in the 21st Century. But then I have always argued since I was a 14 year old studying Nazi Germany in a predictable boring good guys beat the bad guys approach that you cannot apply your morality to the past. If the aim of the study of history is to understand the past we should leave our judgments aside and try to experience from the sources how it was for the actors involved.

The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England is a very useful and easy to digest book on a wide range of everyday topics in 14th Century England. It is not a detailed social study, it is more an introduction but told in such a fashion as to make you want to explore more. I am not known for a love of poetry but after reading this book I will be looking in to the poems of the GAWAIN author and John Gower.

Inspired by a family nickname of ‘The Three Bells’ (mom, dad, me) I’ve decided to adopt a three bell scale for reviews. One bell means its OK/Passable, two bells mean its Good and three bells means its a Must Read/see.

This book proudly earns THREE BELLS. Ding dong!

I bought my copy from English Heritage at Rievaulx Abbey but it can be purchased from all good book retailers online too.

Late last week I informed readers that I worked the fancy boots opening talk by artist Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond at the MIMA for their new sculpture called TENEMOS.

I promised I would provide a few photographs for you all to see what the great hubbub was about. After I finished teaching on Monday the weather was so wonderful I decided to take a walk around Middlehaven and snap a few photographs and take a little video. Tenemos looks big from a distance, and its scale is rather overwhelming when you get under it and look up. Just as the Angel of the North has been accepted, I think this might after a period of scepticism by the locals. It is certainly a structure that needs to be experienced and not just judged on a few photo’s. So pop along and take some time to consider it.

Note: video was too large to upload on blackberry. Will add it when I have internet access from computer

This topic could possibly be titled Understanding Depression or Understanding Phobias or any other psychological issue which does not easily project their symptoms to other people from sufferers. People may unwittingly make sufferers feel worse by suggesting there is nothing to worry about. That after all, is the point. It wouldn’t be an illness if there was a reason to be anxious. What differentiates anxiety sufferers from the anxiety every one of us feels from time to time is the fact that we can’t easily ascribe a reason – there may be none – and its very presence can provoke panic in sufferers who keep getting told there’s nothing to worry about.

The problem is far bigger than you probably imagined. According to the Anxiety Disorder Resource Centre website (http://www.anxietypanicattack.com) an average of 1 MILLION Americans each month suffer anxiety related panic attacks. Which equates to about 1/3 of Americans over their life time. The ADRC website is a useful website with information, statistics and approaches for dealing with various types of anxiety.

I have suffered with anxiety since I was a teenager. At first I had what is known as social anxiety. This means that I was afraid of being embarrassed when with other people regardless of who they were or where we were. As a result I was an almost recluse as a teen. I had friends, but I didn’t go to their house parties, or out with them on a friday/saturday night. The very idea could cripple me with fear. A dear friend Imran one day showed me a website which explained how we both felt and introduced the term social anxiety to us for the first time. I believe we were Year 10 students at the time. From there I seemed to gradually improve as I was at last able to put a name to what was ‘wrong’ and face it down. I eventually put it behind me when I reached university and participated in the Basketball and Film making Societies. I just threw myself in. Don’t think for a minute I wasn’t terrified, I was. But people responded to me, I got invited to a curry meal in a fellow members flat and slowly but surely I no longer feared social environments.

However my anxiety problems didn’t vanish. They just transformed. Speaking with a Doctor a couple of years ago he said that there was a theory that anxieties as a youth, if concrete enough, can be ‘dislodged’ in the mind and can re attach itself to a different object of worry or none at all. Clearly he didn’t mean this in a physical sense, the brain is wired up in such a complicated fashion that wires just get crossed at times. My anxiety re manifested itself in my 2nd Year at University in the form of severe panic attacks in the Library. I almost left University I was in such an emotional wreck by the end of the year. Fortunately I was convinced to take a years absence on medical grounds instead.

I had three attempts at counseling which I found useless (but a friend found very beneficial so don’t dismiss it before trying it for a few weeks) before I eventually swallowed my pride and took some weak medication – 10mg Escitalopram.

Since then – touch word – I have been okay. I tried to come off the pills with Doctors assistance but went back to panic attacks so I am still on them to this day. I completed my degree successfully and have been juggling six jobs at once for the last six months. So the pills must be working!

The thing to realize when dealing with somebody with anxiety issues is that they may be fine with some things. I can teach 30 horrid fourteen year olds at school with no problems. However, ask me to fill in a government form and I seize up. Identify what are the affected areas of your life and try, with help, to find workarounds or solutions. I treat forms now like a maths exam – I answer all the easy stuff first, then gradually fill in the rest. I don’t spend ages fretting over one question. That’s how I work best.

Check out the above website for more general information on anxiety. Post any other helpful links, comments or stories below… And don’t forget to stop telling people not to stress out. Its easy for you, but we all deal with things differently. Have some understanding, offer assistance and if it’s not wanted give them the time and space to work it themselves.

And in the famous closing words of televisions Frasier Crane:

“I wish you goodbye and good mental health”.

I haven’t kept the blog regularly updated recently but I have good reasons. I just moved into a flat two weeks ago and have been without internet for a while. On top of that I seem to be working all the time at the absolutely fabulous Dorman and Captain Cook Birthplace Museums and recently the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. So you will let me off the hook?

Today I would like to talk about art. I am not artistic – I am creative. I am I guess an ideas man, able to see the big picture but struggle with the details. As a result plotting stories I can do all day long, painting the eiffel tower I can’t. We tend to dislike that which we struggle with. Yet I have regularly told my fiancé that one day (dreamy sequence..) I will take up painting in our czech log cabin. I recognize the relaxing aspects of art, music, writing, cooking. Since my problems with anxiety and depression I have moved to include avenues to relax in my day to day life – buying a guitar, cookery books, adapting a graphic novel idea to novella format – painting was another avenue but for the future. Well on Valentines Day this year, my sweetheart gave me an acrylic painting starter set and told me simply – “Why wait?”

The result of my first experiment is attached for you all to see. So okay, the Great Artists have nothing to fear from me. But it was a first go, and was fun. I have a target painting that I might mention in another post, which I am gradually trying to build my skills before attempting. Its a project and that’s good for me.

Art has grown into my life in more ways recently after being given the chance to work as a Gallery Assistant for the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Now my idea of art has always been the traditional landscapes and portraits. A string of lights by Felix Gonzales isn’t art, its a crime against the environment burning energy and costing taxpayers. What does a room of monochrome pages offer as art? Nothing to me. And the physical construction of a hospital day room inside an art gallery? Now we are wasting time!

Perhaps it has been the weeks I have spent staring at them lately as part of my job… But my opinion is changing. I now recognize it as art, understand what the artists intentions are after listening to people chat about it and watching educators with school groups. I still may not like it, but I’ll acknowledge it as art. One persons ‘modern art’ I have grown to really like has been that of Anish Kapoor. He likes to play with space, illusions almost, and uses pigment and mirrors in a lot of his works.

I worked the launch evening (invite only) of Mr Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmonds TENEMOS public exhibit at MIMA. The giant funnel/web like sculpture stands over the Middlehaven Dock site in Middlesbrough transforming the visual landscape. I will take photos when I have a day off. They gave a fascinating insight into their work relating it to the ancient greeks (as a historian I instantly became more interested) obsession with geometry. If I had been taught by an artist or engineering teacher like Cecil Balmond, there’s no doubt what discipline I would have followed. He was such an inspiration over an hours talk, highlighting the limitless possibilities. I recommend you google both men and check out their works yourself. Teesside isn’t finished with them yet as they are committed to producing another 4 giant sculptures for the region over 15 years.

Part of the problem people have with modern art is its need in some ways for an interpreter. Landscape paintings do not need explanations, you look and understand immediately. Modern art, abstract and sculptural is produced in such a closed world that the average joe may not have the tools to fully experience it intellectually. As a gallery assistant part of my job is to talk to people and guide them if they want me to, in order to understand what the artist is attempting and then to make their own interpretation. Alongside my teaching, this work has surprisingly become some of the most fulfilling work I have done.

What is art? An excitable little german lady asked me looking at the monochrome watercolours. She continued:

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think of this. I know I respect it. It is art, it is art. But I cannot say I know what art is”

Neither can I. But we stood talking for twenty minutes. Maybe that, after all, is the point of art.

I would like to start posting the occasional blog about education as a means of self reflection and possibly canvassing opinions. As you may be aware I am currently studying for my PGCE in Further Education (teaching students from 16 to adult) and volunteering as a history teacher in a secondary school. I earn a little pocket money doing cover supervisor work around the north east.

My first topic is a bit of a taboo and revolves around this central question: When do you give up on a student? By the hushed silence and/or deafening protest (depending on your disposition) I’m assuming your response is to say “Never.”

Is that not premature? Is there a case to be made that sacrifices must be made for the benefit of the majority? I will use an example. A colleague took over a bottom set GCSE class. They were not expected to even take the exams and the teacher was told that they would be successful just to get anything out of them. All students were listed with moderate learning difficulties which translated for a good half of the class as serious behaviour problems. Violence, obscene language, bullying (of staff and students) and outright hostility towards staff charecterise the daily lessons.

Yet, the teacher had success. The students are now all being entered for the exams and coursework and the teacher believes they can get E or above grade – which is better than nothing. Several students have even earned merits in recognition of improved behaviour and understanding. A real sense of positivity is taking hold where previously the students all knew they were the idiot class (the word scribbled on an excercise book is a lot stronger).

Only two students remain a major problem. Very disruptive, they rarely stay in class – getting removed by senior management for isolation. Now it is revision time and these two have shown no interest at all in passing and have hurled abuse at female members of staff. With two weeks to the exam would it be too unthinkable to cut losses on those two students – transfer them elsewhere during the revision lessons so the teacher can have productive vital help sessions with those who want to try their best and prove everyone who said they would get nothing wrong?

The same revision material is provided to the bad apples, just their disruptive influence is withdrawn for the last crucial fortnight.

What do you think? Is it an abandonment? An act of realism? Should the teacher feel they have failed in someway?

Themes of Interest