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Pandemic diary 81: Lockdown walks lead to a new map

Just before lockdown, three of us launched Walkspace as a Midlands collective based on the strange and often academic arts of creative walking. We ran a few events, mostly night walks, before the global pandemic smothered all our plans. 

Restricted to solo walking our suburb of Stirchley we started noticing… everything. And then we started mapping all these things, inviting others to help, and creating a local taxonomy of the weird and usually ignored.

From these lockdown observations, new walks shall be created! And maybe we shall even walk them together.

Today was the day we hit 100 pins on the map. A landmark in its own right. And we've barely scratched the surface.

The survey has highlighted peculiarities including:

  • temporary landmarks, such as the Rubble Hills, Secret Garden or the location of a song thrush at sunset
  • bizarre curiosities, such as the stone-carved moustachioed cat lintel and the (occasionally) ticking house
  • alluring infrastructure, from alleyways and tunnels, to a hall of mirrors doorway, to a concrete cricket pitch
  • digital notes, such as Google's centre of Stirchley
  • amusing or creative markers, such as the world's most uncomfortable hammock to 'the world's smallest post office' or favourite tree trunks.

It is the antithesis of the 'Viva Stirchley' slogan/hashtag which celebrates everything new and shiny and independent, and all those things that have swept Stirchley to being featured in Conde Nast Traveller.

No, this survey is driven more by a 'Keep Stirchley Weird' stance, celebrating the oddities, curios, marvels and wonders of our neighbourhood; the beloved markers of those who frequently tread its streets; a freak show of small and large landmarks for other local walkers and the visiting tourist hoards (no doubt) of the future.

Details of the Stirchley Mapping Project and how to add your own lockdown walk observations/photos are on Walkspace.

Or you can go direct to the Survey of Stirchley map and peruse the strange landmarks at your leisure.

Thanks

To Doctors. Not only doctors in general but the BBC TV show Doctors, which is based in a fictional Birmingham called Letherbridge. Today was the day that lockdown hit – both in their filming schedule and in the wrap-up content. 'Can You Hear Me?' was an extended show with the characters all dealing with lockdown from week one to week five or six.

And it was all there, everything we've all been through: the awkward technophobic Zoom calls; the working from home online meeting; the online exercise classes; the anxiety, panic, tiredness, insomnia and depression; the assumption that every symptom is the virus; helping vulnerable friends and family; the experiences of doctors and nurses on the frontline; the frustration on not being with loved ones in maternity wards or indeed at the end of their life; and, of course, one of the key characters, a nurse working 13 hours shifts, contracting Covid-19, and the will she/won't she make it storyline.

It was awkward in places but also so well done. It made me laugh and cry. I'm a longtime Doctors fans and I loved it. It's on iPlayer here if you want to give it a go.

Well done Doctors. Even acting Doctors!


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 80: Shielding at home – I guess I'm lucky (guest post)

We gotta get out of this place… Carlos the narrowboat cat.

I know of only two or three households that are supposed to be shielding, ie, not leaving their homes and minimising all contact until at least the end of June because they are at the highest risk from coronavirus. This includes my friend Paul and his family, usually gregarious and upbeat despite having a lot on their plate in recent times.

He’s kindly written about his experience of supermaxlockdown…

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I guess I’m lucky. 

Lucky in a way that I have a home that doesn’t leak when it rains. Doesn’t let slugs into the kitchen on a regular basis. (GOD, I hate slugs). Lucky that my cats don’t bring home anything bigger than a moth as presents. 

But my son was born disabled with (only a mild) cerebral palsy. My wife developed a (substantially harsh) condition about three years ago and has had immunosuppressant treatment just as a crippling virus pandemic breaks out. Oh and a slipped disc I suffered at Christmas that doesn’t stop me working, but has stopped my main stress relief – playing musical instruments. 

And now we have lockdown. 

Ours started in January after my wife had her latest (hopefully last) round of treatment – clever chemo I call it. Killing just the bad parts, even if the bad parts are her body’s immune system. Then followed six weeks of confinement and shielding. Our son got a cough at school – it was just a cough – but as this thing called a Novel Virus started to become push notification news, he was encouraged to stay away from school… ironically in a household where someone present might be in greater danger. 

A week away from school became two weeks (because Boris said so) and then the school shut for good. His cough was long gone (told you it was just a cough), but the lockdown was now more than just our house – it was our street, our city, our country. 

I’m told to stay home for 12 weeks. 

Not because I’m susceptible, but because my wife is. Our son has to, too. No friends round no more. No youth theatre groups to explore art, culture and expression. So what now?

Food. That’s important. The government promises vulnerable people will get priority access to online supermarkets – great. A letter is due in the post. Great. We get nothing. Talk about an empty promise. 

A cry for help on Facebook produces tens of DMs offering help – I’m in Sainsburys now, what do you need? I’ve got loads of time and can bring anything whenever. I may live 30 miles away but, hey, let me know how I can help!!! A friend who works in the NHS gets early entry to a supermarket and texts me, waking me, at 7:30am. Hey man, what do you need? Cider, I reply. Just get me some cider. 

Weeks after no government help, I phone the supermarkets directly to find out how to get on the priority list. They don’t question our situation, they just get us on the priority list straight away. We now have slots effectively whenever we want – incredible. Suddenly, we don’t have to rely on the kindness of friends to risk their health getting us toilet paper, bread, cheese (and alcohol). We can book deliveries online. Amazing. 

We start creating lockdown videos to pass the time away from home schooling. Great ones too, full of imagination and magic. I create some tutorial videos (on how to solve the Rubik's cube) I’ve been putting off for two years and friends start to react to them positively. 

But work carries on for me throughout. 

Working in IT Support during this means a remote workforce of no more than 200 usually has now ballooned to 4000 and “financial year end” is around the corner. I’m doing 50-hour weeks, plus the cooking and cleaning; 1am bed times are a luxury. Not that the pressures of life aren’t keeping me awake at night enough already. Thankfully, there’s always a cider available. 

But it’s now June. Or is it just March Part Four? 

The weather has been great, the garden has had loads of attention each and every weekend. The weeds were purposefully left alone and they turned into a glorious sea of Forget-Me-Nots. The seeds are planted early and sprouting well for a late summer/autumn harvest of cucumbers and pumpkins.

Not bad for a man with 35 years of hay fever to his name. 

Gardening brings satisfaction and happiness – back to basics. I’m lucky to have a nice garden I can enjoy… WE can enjoy. Because even if she can’t help out digging, weeding, planting and watering, my wife can still enjoy the beauty of the birdsong (that’s so much louder without the drone of traffic), the perfume of the roses, the beauty of the irises. I’ve painted the salad boxes and small shed a charcoal grey colour. They look lovely now and far less washed out than before. Back to basics. 

We’ve kept away from the horror of Covid, unlike some close friends we know who have suffered just hundreds of metres away. A close friend’s uncle has passed away from it. A colleague’s husband, too. Just two of the 40,000+ now lost. And whilst we’ve bubbled away from it all, major world events have exploded: Australia caught fire, war with Iran nearly started, most recently the tragedy of George Floyd, re-igniting the BLM movement. 

But our world became smaller. Our lives became compartmentalised. I worried about things like my car battery going flat through lack of use. 

I guess I’m lucky in a way. I have a wife and child I love dearly, who I willingly care for 24/7 out of necessity. I’ve probably had a drink a little more often throughout this lockdown – but haven’t we all? I’m guessing none of us are leaving this thing ‘beach-body ready’… And I have a roof that doesn’t leak, a kitchen that doesn’t let the slugs in and a close-knit neighbourhood of amazing friends who, I’ve realised, will do everything we could ever need just by mentioning it. 

If anyone reading this feels they might need help, but that asking for help feels beyond their comfort zone, believe me, you MUST speak up and ask. It’s okay to not be okay. And there are more people out there looking out for you than you realise. Fiona is one of them. She allowed me the opportunity to pour out all of this onto you, whoever you are. It’s been very cathartic. Thanks for reading.

Thanks

Thankyou, Paul. It's humbling to be reminded how easy we've had it in our little unit, not too far away from you. I can't imagine the extra stress of shielding and being solely reliant on others to bring supplies. While there was a big initial wave of help and signups to help each other get through this in our local communities, I really hope that continues.

For those for whom restrictions are easing… be safe. I talked to someone today for whom the early anxieties of lockdown were starting to come back as we go into reverse and start to open up and live our lives again.

It's a door we're all going to have to go through at some point.

Stay safe all. x


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 79: Violent tendencies channelled into growing food perhaps

Little white glove.

Hello! Anyone still reading after 78 blog posts? Hi sis. Hi Triz. Hi Hazel. Hi Liz. Hi Ray. Hi John maybe. I hope you like the headline – I thought it sounded like a cryptic crossword clue.

Five days in a row at the allotment now and I'm starting to get strong whatever-muscles-you-bend-over-to-pull-weeds-with. Those ballet pliés must be helping.

The violence continues… I chopped the heads of the tall grass, wrenched bindweed from every cranny, stood on brambles til I broke their backs, and hacked and raked the soil to a fine tilth (love that word). While others have been online shopping for mere frivolities, I've been looking at folding laplander saws and a heavy duty Mora knife. I need bushcraft tools on my overgrown plot. (I don't but hey!)

After the hunting and killing of weeds, came the gentle art of transplanting… three small squashes (including the top-named petty pan), three courgettes and six sweetcorn.

Earlier at home, I refilled the now-empty seed pots with soaked peas, nasturtiums, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, parsley, lettuce and marigolds. We'll see. I hold out some hope. How much? 9%. (Nod to High Fidelity there.)

Food growing and bushcraft are key skills for survival. Perhaps I'm subconsciously preparing for the coronapocalypse (see yesterday's post on covocabulary).

Moar beer!

In other pandemic news: Single people can stay the night with loved ones, PM says!!! What about the married ones?

Thanks

Today I am thankful for getting to play football with my nearly four-year-old great nephew. We have to social distance but a garden kickabout worked quite well. If anyone has any other suggestions for outdoor distanced activities with someone under-5, please leave a comment! I'm booked in again on Friday.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 78: Making your own path and vocab

If you were expecting one of those metaphorical exhortations to blaze your own trail, hack your way through the many barriers we face and ultimately find meaning from the journey, then you'd be wrong.

I literally made a path today. Where once was four foot teazel and couch grasses, now lies a flat, walkable path. I have blazed a fresh trail through the neglected allotment plot, hacked my way through the jungle and ultimately found meaning in a cold beer on my return. A beer or wine after editing copy just doesn't have the same glorious let-go sigh of happiness as a post-sod digging session.

I documented my journey along the path thus…

Before shot from a few weeks ago when the weed path was only a foot high.
Note dug-up couch grass and teazel pile in the distance also. The weeding never ends.
Cardboard layer – it'll last a few months.
Hay layer – et voila!

Thanks

Speaking of a drinks after work during lockdown. Today I discovered the joys of new Covocabulary (hat-tip and thank you to Julia Catnip!). New vocab includes lockdown drinks at home called quarantinis, also known as locktails, often drunk during virtual happy hour. I kind of want to add coronawinos to the list (too tenuous?).

Others I like include:

  • upperwear – the part of your clothing seen on screen
  • covidiot – self-explanatory
  • zoombie – when you've used Zoom too much.

On dictionary.com there's also doomscrolling (for endless Covid-19 news), quarantine and chill (the new Netflix and chill), and Miley (Cyrus, virus). And today I saw pandemonstration and normstalgia under the Twitter hashtag for #coronaspeak. Let's see if my pun f(r)iends come up with anything better when I publish…

I'll file all this under gallow's humour, shall I?


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 77: We're still only 'at the beginning of the pandemic'

The magnificent cinnabar moth – killers of ragwort! – chilling on allotment teazel yesterday.

A disease modelling study from Imperial Collage London has estimated that without lockdown three million lives in Europe would have been lost, including 470,000 in the UK. The study ran up until the start of May when 130,000 had died in the 11 European countries assessed; and the UK had a death toll of 26,771.

I think we all know that, without us all staying home, the numbers could have been so much worse. But the buried intro to the story is that statistically, only a small proportion of people have actually been infected, and that means that we are still only "at the beginning of the pandemic".

Food for thought as we start to relax. And another reminder that it is yet to go through most of the population.

We're all individually on a spectrum of how we perceive the risks of Covid-19. Sometimes I feel like I've forgotten there is a global pandemic going on because even socialising at a distance has become normal and therefore less noticeable. Other times, I'm jumpy when someone else forgets and gets too near, or coughs and sneezes nearby.

I'm just glad it is summer here so we can meet up outside and that I don't have to go into a workplace where the risks need to be managed daily. The winter is going to be… difficult.

Thanks

Did I mention that I got to meet my three-month-old great nephew this week? I feel like I have missed so much of his development as he is already so different from a newborn, and it was hard not to be able to hold him and burble like a high-pitched loon. But it was also great to see my niece doing so well and looking so happy.

And how drunk do babies look when they are tired? Hilarious.

In other news, tonight I came home from the allotment – beans, cucumber, sweet potato and tomatillos now transplanted – to find the ineffable Battlecat snoozing on my beanbag.

I tried to explain allergies to him but the little fecker just wandered off and jumped over the fence. Between him spraying my ferns and lolling around on tables and chairs, and Clem chinning all obstacles, this is a most scented garden!

Battlecat chilling on the beanbag – earlier he spent a good 20 minutes rolling around on the table in the foreground. No respect! None!

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 76: Emotional Whiplash (guest post)

Rabbit news – we got a leaflet through the door today saying a neighbour had lost their pet ferret. So we are now on high predator alert as well as all the other alerts we have to stay alert to..

I don't think I've ever actually met my next guest poster but I've become her internet fangirl. Claire Edwards writes an irregular newsletter from her world, plus what she is reading, listening to and watching. It's called Emotional Whiplash, it's very good and you can view the archive and sign up to it here. I found it via following her partner Andy Cowley of the Walsall band, 8-bit Ninjas, who local friends may know. Claire kindly said yes to me reposting her April newsletter extract on her lockdown experience. Claire, Andy and their awesome dog now live in Surrey. It's no Walsall but they seem to like it.

As to her lockdown experience Claire says in 800 words pretty much what I have been talking about in 74 posts, covering deep change, new sleep cycles, new ways of communication, the welcome absence of cars, missing family, missing holidays, home exercise and the compulsive news cycle.

This is my tl;dr…

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It's been over a month since the UK entered lockdown, and probably two months since it started to become clear that this pandemic was something that was going to profoundly affect all of our lives. Over the last month the rhythms of my life have shifted profoundly – I've barely been more than a mile away from my house, apart from one or two bike rides which have taken us as far the next few villages. Freed of the need to actually travel to an office I can wake up naturally, and go to bed later as befits my night owl nature.

Video conferencing has become part of my daily life – I chat to academics in their box rooms, and occasionally catch a glimpse of their children or pets. My own dog has become a standing joke with colleagues as he invariably starts barking furiously at some imagined intruder outside at least once during every call I have.

Zoom drinks with friends are joyous and anarchic – we started off with the intention of running a quarantine book club but ended up just drinking wine and talking nonsense for two hours. The irony of social distancing is that I'm now seeing friends who live further away or who have children much more frequently than before – I wonder if perhaps this is a shift in communication we should keep? 

People say hi in the street much more frequently than at any point since we moved to Surrey, overcompensating for the fact that we all have to physically avoid one another.

We walk the dog on the field opposite our house, primarily because it's quiet and offers plenty of space to stay away from other walkers. I note with amusement how many more people are using "our" field now that outdoor time and space is at a premium.

The road outside our house, in normal times always busy with cars, is quiet even in the week. The noise of a single car seems much greater than before, particularly in the evenings and at weekends when everywhere is deserted.

My desk faces the window and I spot deer, pheasants, a heron, and lots of warring ducks. The dog mostly ignores the wildlife but saw a fox on a late night walk last week and got extremely angry. 

I miss my family. We talk every week but it's not the same. I see my sister's 11-month-old baby change and grow week by week – since I saw him last he's mastered crawling and is starting to talk. I know I'll miss his first birthday and it breaks my heart. As does the fact that he strokes the iPad screen when Andy or I are talking. I really hope he remembers me still when we're allowed to travel again.

I worry about Andy's mum, recovering from pneumonia and still grieving. I miss being able to jump in the car or get on a train, at a moments notice if need be, to go and see the people I love. 

We have a cottage booked in the Lake District for late June. I wait to see whether by some miracle we might be able to go, knowing deep down that we'll have to postpone it. Not knowing when to postpone to – will September be possible? Would it be more sensible to just write this year off and rebook for next June?

I watch the TV and make mental lists of everywhere I'd like to go once I can travel. Most of the destinations are in the UK. I can't imagine when I'll next get on a plane. 

I do a lot of yoga and cycling in our back bedroom, converted to an exercise room for the duration of the lockdown. Our next door neighbour uses his turbo trainer in the garden which seems like a nice idea but I can't be bothered to change our set up now. I cycle with the window open and the fan on instead! 

I run when I can, finding new routes in the local countryside that avoid people and taking flying leaps into hedgerows to maintain appropriate social distancing. My running club organises virtual relays, treasure hunts, and virtual training sessions – after not getting as involved as I'd like since we moved I suddenly feel much more part of something. I resolve to stop making excuses for not going to club nights once we are allowed to train together again, whenever that may be.

I miss swimming so much I dream about it. 

The temptation to keep refreshing the news and Twitter to see if something has changed is overwhelming. I've deleted and reinstalled Twitter several times now to try and resist the temptation of scrolling but it doesn't really help.

Some days I feel positive, like I've adapted well and that the future will be brighter soon. Some days I feel like this might never end. I think that's normal? 

For more Emotional Whiplash – subscribe here.

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Thanks

Today I (back to Fiona here) am thankful for anti-histamines and easy access to medicines in the UK. It's hay fever season and today it hit me. By 5pm I was able to function again and went to do some digging, groaning and sighing at the allotment.

In positive statistical news – strange how a death toll can be positive – the UK recorded 77 deaths yesterday, the lowest since lockdown began. And no new coronavirus deaths were recorded in Scotland or Northern Ireland. It's partly the effect of lower incoming stats after a weekend apparently.

Speaking of transmission, I saw two teenagers snogging in the park on the way to the allotment, surrounded by their mates hanging out on the swings. I'm not here to demonise them but a whole world of quips were going through my mind: from "You'll catch something…" to "Wash your hands after." Or as friends have suggested: “No, no, it’s Stay Alert, not Start To Flirt”, “Kiss of death”, “Two metres… unless you two are from the same household, in which case I hope your mother doesn’t find out!”, “[name] and [name] sitting in a tree / D-I-S-T-A-N-C-I-N-G” and “This is NOT Solihull!”

Of course, I said nothing. Teenage first kisses and first loves are probably always going to trump coronavirus. As someone said to me today after I wrote about my uncertainty over mass protests in a time of Covid-19, some things are just more important to those involved, also and some things are going to happen now and can't be postponed.

Life goes on. Death does too.

PS. A message from the Zoe Covid-19 app: "If you joined any peaceful protests this weekend, please don’t forget to quarantine yourself afterwards to protect others."


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 75: Allotment and art practices

Behold my tomato structure – they are protected on nearly all sides from the wind but will grow up to 2m tall so hoping for a mild summer.

People make allotments look so easy and I'm equally guilty of posting pretty pictures of my plot to the Instagrams. Today it took my almost four hours of back-breaking preparation to get 16 tomatoes plants in the ground.

This is because the soil needed a dig over and de-weed. Then a rake. Then figuring out some kind of structure that creates a little mesh-wrapped micro climate for the toms since I don't have a greenhouse or polytunnel. Then bashing the stakes in the ground with a mallet. Then filling the wheelbarrow with compost. Then planting the delicate little things and tying them to the stake. Then watering. Then wrapping in mesh and tying that on. Putting tools away, bringing stuff home. And no guarantee of blight-free tomatoes at the end of it. We'll see what this summer brings.

I've got another 20-30 plants to go in the ground all with different needs and planting structures (at which I'm rubbish – see tomato structure in top photo.) Here's this year's plan, currently on a three-year crop rotation. (Anna is my occasional plot partner.)

Allotment 2020.

Meanwhile at home I've been sorting out my collage cuts and resource library. I've been resistant to sorting them out as there are cuts everywhere from various sessions last year and many works in progress that haven't been stuck down yet. But it was actually quite enjoyable and I now have a cube of (clockwise from left):

  1. Cuts and tear sheets in organised folders and random boxes
  2. Magazines going back years
  3. Picture books for cutting up
  4. Collage books/inspiration and coffee table books for cutting up.

Here's a close up of the folders. The 'folder of folders' contains sleeves of stuff such as weird backgrounds, limbs, other body parts, vehicles, maps, etc. The boxes contains odd cuts for that lovely random element of collage plus other materials (Quality St wrappers, foil, sofa samples, autumn leaves).

I have a sneaking suspicion that I like the foraging for images and the sorting out more than the actual collaging. A bit like at the allotment I like the digging over and preparation in Feb-March more than the planting, weeding and cropping.

More on my collage project and finished works here for the interested.

I have to go back to the allotment tomorrow to get the peas and beans and courgettes in so I'm now chilling with a glass of white and waiting for dinner.

I'm on one sofa tippity-tapping away, Pete is on the other doing the same. It's like some kind of digital marital ballet. Soon we'll stop and eat and watch a ridiculous TV series.

Thanks

Today I'm thankful for having an allotment half-plot. This is my fourth year and I nearly gave it up. But it's taught me a lot about how to grow food from scratch. Which is potentially a very useful skill to have during a pandemic.

And there is a lovely community around it – I have been given lots of plants from other's leftovers/excess. Some of the plants, I don't even know what they are. Tomatillos, for example.

I'm feeling very George Orwell – he used to write about his allotment and World War 2, mixing political newss/views among crop growing updates.

Big world events make the headlines of history but there is a world of small mundane or marvellous happenings – such as seeing my great nephew for the first time since he was born yesterday – in between the tragedy.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 74: Mass protests, white privilege and Covid-19

I haven't known what to write about the protests over the death of George Floyd but I have to admit the mass protest element worries me and I didn't go to the Birmingham demo partly for that reason.

Yesterday 4,000 people gathered for the Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham. The continuing protests are emblematic of an issue that is of massive significance in our time, and they may or may not trigger change. (Background: my protest spirit was broken after the 2003 London Anti Iraq War march, in which one million voices were not enough to stop Blair going to war). But the #BLM protests are showing solidarity and signalling to those in power that change is coming, whether they like it or not. I sincerely hope it is a wake-up call.

But I'm also conflicted because how can this not have an effect in terms of virus transmission, which means further deaths? That the Birmingham, London and Manchester protests took place during a pandemic is astonishing and shows the strength of feeling. The mass protests were said to be unlawful under current lockdown rules. The passionate anger over George Floyd's death is rightful but the outlet action feels risky. 

The number of additional UK deaths on Friday 5 June 2020 was 357, taking the UK to a total death toll so far of 40,261. The West Midlands remains a relative danger zone, with more deaths than the capital currently. The threat is still very real – transmission hasn't changed, though it is perhaps understood slightly better than 12 weeks ago. Being outside helps but it's not enough on its own.

This week I witnessed two personal stories at opposite ends of the protest spectrum. Firstly, in Tampa, Florida, my cousin was tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets at a protest. I saw her wounds. It was shocking. It didn't need to happen; it was a peaceful protest. Secondly, my neighbour whose husband works as a nurse called out our local MP on his silence over George Floyd. She received a long letter in reply in support of equality and his actions towards tackling racism in the UK. (He has now sent out a newsletter on Black Lives Matter.) Two very different approaches to raising the issue.

It made me wonder: How can we protest under lockdown in ways that are safe?

I'm not sure I have any answers. But ultimately I have to figure out where I stand on this particular spectrum and what action I'm going to take. As a woman it can feel as if we are also fighting against a system that can't or won't change, but that doesn't mean we can't also be there for others who are reduced by it.

I think the most powerful thing I can do is speak up and, knowing the situation, try to effect change where I can. For example, I have a job interview in a couple of weeks and my initial research shows the organisation to be predominantly white but trying to engage people across multicultural Birmingham. A new person on the team brings new voices and opportunities for growth.

Again I find myself wondering: If this job did come down to between me and a BAME candidate, should I stand down? Although I suppose the truth of the matter is, how would I even know?

These aren't easy things to discuss or to get right. So I didn't go to the mass protest but I am still thinking about it and asking what I can do.

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Thanks

Today I am thankful that I finally got my collage resources sorted out. In the process these two images accidentally juxtaposed themselves together inside a plastic sleeve, into which I read all the issues of gender, race, white privilege, power and change on my mind tonight.

Layers of images coming together to tell a story.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 73: Amuselele

Psycho and the Delics.

Despite the RSI twangs in my wrists, I showed up to virtual Moselele tonight. To avoid a cacophony caused by lags on video conference calls, the ukulele group is playing along to pre-recorded songs from past sessions. Which means we don't actually have to sing and play at all if we don't want to.

Many were strumming, a few were singing, some were drinking, one was knitting. It was all very contemporary in its performance tone.

A toy accordion appeared at some point when someone's kid wanted to join in. Then a proper piano accordion appeared. So I went and fetched my Dad's old accordion. The accordion thing escalated quickly.

It was kind of fun to play an Irish tune badly to a backing track of REM. So I cast around for what other instruments were lying around and spotted my 1994 harmonica. Glen Frey's The Heat Is On never sounded so good!

Today I was thankful for the cool, soft drizzle of British summer.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 72: It's about time (guest post)

Read Pete's post then chill with some Fat Fluffs.

Guest post incoming – heeeeeeere's Pete, writing about his experience of coronavirus, lockdown and furlough, framed through the perspective vortex of unfolding time. Brevity bio for those who don't know Pete: he works at community bakery Loaf in Stirchley, teaches photography and makes art. The rest of the time he is also my beloved husband and bunnypops.

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When this all started it was cold. While my sense of when has been skewed by pandemic mindfuckery, I can be sure of this because when we stopped people coming into the bakery by moving the counter right to the front door I had to wear a hat to keep my bald head warm. The funny thing about our bakery is while the actual bakery is hot as all hell, the ventilation draws air in through any open doors creating quite the cold wind in the winter. Where the counter usually sits is in the perfect sweet spot where the warmth of the ovens meets the cool of the outside. The counter was moved for sensible health reasons and necessitated lots and lots of changes to how we worked, but for some reason the change in temperature and necessity for a hat is what stuck with me.

Soon after this I was furloughed. It's been weird. I wrote about it.

It's now hot. We've had quite the mini-heatwave through the end of May and while today's rain has cooled things off, it feels like an intermission before June summer kicks off properly. While I was furloughed the pandemic crossed seasons.

When this all started and I was trying to get my head around it I came up with the idea that a viral pandemic is like a natural disaster but unlike a tsunami or volcano that kills horrifying numbers of people in seconds, it kills them over months, maybe years. This extension along the temporal axis is what, I think, makes it so hard to deal with. I don't know whether it's the modern media news cycle or a natural human habit of looking for the immediate threat above all else, but as a species we're shit at dealing with big important things that take place over long periods of time.

There's a project called The Long Now which is all about thinking beyond human timescales. It comes from the sort of west-coast tech-utopia thinking that should be taken with all the salt (their 10,000 year clock is being built in Jeff Bezos' private mountain, ffs) but the big idea is pretty sound – encouraging humans to think beyond their immediate timescapes and consider a different scale. The Long Now guys are futurists, but they're no different to archeologists, professional and amateur, communing with the ancient past. To hold something that was held by someone thousands of years ago and try to make sense of what they were doing with, and around, it. It puts you in perspective.

My personal version of this is considering the vastness of space and time visible above us. I love the idea the the night sky is a time machine. When we look at the stars we're seeing nuclear reactions that happened years ago, sometimes hundreds of thousands of years ago. The famous Hubble image, The Pillars of Creation, is a photograph of something that happened 7,000 years ago. For context, this is what was happening on Earth. Imagine having a photo of that.

Barring accidents and disease, humans currently live for about a century. Beyond that things get harder and harder to comprehend. My grandparents saw the arse-end of the Victorian era and the march towards WW1 and all that entailed. I can get my head around that because those epochs had a tangible effect on my life. But the lives of my great-great-grandparents? No fucking clue.

I've always had a very reactive approach to life. This came up the other day when talking with Fiona about our future plans. I realised I didn't really have any. Whatever happened, I'd make the best of it. Give me a few things to chose from and I'll figure it out, but I have no idea how to make that list. I've always bounced from one situation to the other, my hand forced by circumstance rather than by choice. I probably should have taken the initiative at times and not just waited for thing to happen, but it's not something I'm practiced at. I don't think this is a massive problem. If anything it helps me deal with the now more effectively. But it is something I'm trying to get better at.

This pandemic needs to be considered on at least two timescales. There's the day-to-day adjusting to things that used to be taken for granted and are now massively complicated. How do we do what we do when we don't know if doing what we do will kill us? Every action needs to be considered, assessed, deliberated. I've noticed this weird feeling in my hands after going outside. They feel larger, my fingers thicker, because I'm so incredibly aware of them and their quantum superposition-ness. You really haven't lived in the now until you've traversed the pandemic-scape in full awareness of your ignorance.

On the other hand, it's like watching a disaster movie at one frame every 10 minutes. To put that another way, imagine watching The Towering Inferno but it takes two years 8 months to complete. The world is on fire and hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people will die, but it's going to take AGES with loads of boring bits between the scene changes.

Soon it will be cold again and everything and nothing will have changed again. I guess that's the new normal.

Thanks Pete

Today I am thankful for Pete's support over the past few weeks. As my furloughed forever-friend, he's brought me drinks on demand, done the shopping, cleared the back room out, reorganised the kitchen and put up a massive whiteboard (also in the kitchen) to work through lists of big and little house chores, Pete-specific tasks and shopping oddities.

And now he's written a guest blog post for me because I'm having an RSI flare up.

Blogging is how we met btw. He was an early blogger (since 2000) and eight years later I turned up and asked for some blogging advice. And now here he is blogging his blog posts on my blog. </blog>

PS. You can read more Pete perspectives on his blog.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com