Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


In Uncategorized on September 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

Oh dear, I think I’ve been hacked. Well, technically ‘spoofed’.

A few people contacted me recently to say they’d received suspicious messages from my email address. Of course the first thing I did was panic. And then I calmed down, changed my passwords and completed gmail’s very helpful security checklist.

But then the messages kept on coming.

It seems that I’m not necessarily the victim of a hacker, more of a spoofing attack.

Google describe it really well:
“When you send a letter through the post, you generally write a return address on the envelope so the recipient can identify the sender, and so the post office can return the mail to the sender in the event of a problem. But nothing prevents you from writing a different return address than your own; in fact, someone else could send a letter and put your return address on the envelope. Email works the same way. When a server sends an email message, it specifies the sender, but this sender field can be forged. If there is a problem with delivery and someone forged your address on the message, then the message will be returned to you, even if you weren’t the actual sender.”

And that appears to be what’s happened. I’ve taken the precautionary measures that Google suggest I follow, but even they admit that spoofing can’t be stopped 100%. They assure me they’re on to it, but if you receive an email from me in error in the meantime, I’m sorry (on behalf of someone or something out there who’s using my name).

If you have any top tips on what else I might do to prevent this happening any more, I’m all ears.


Exhibiting invisible objects

In Museums, Uncategorized on July 29, 2016 at 11:46 am

When we’re planning museum exhibitions one of the obvious starting points is the object list. We talk through the options for what we are going to put on display for the public to see.

But what happens when the subject of the exhibition isn’t visible to the naked eye?

Graphene is an incredibly thin wonder material – a million times thinner than paper but 200 times stronger than steel. It’s just one atom thick, which makes mounting an exhibition about it rather difficult.

Wonder Materials has just opened to the public at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. It seeks to explain and interpret graphene for a general audience. There’s been a lot of chat about graphene in recent years, since it was discovered a decade ago. But I wonder whether most of us really understand what it is.

A really simple, but effective, interactive shows a series of rubber sheets of blown up atoms on top of one another. Visitors are invited to peel the top layer off, replicating what the Nobel-prize winning scientists did when they isolated a sheet of graphene. It’s a really simple and effective way of showing us that this material is super thin, whilst also remind us that it’s super strong. By engaging our sense of touch, we are invited to feel the experience of splicing off a layer of graphene, rather than just reading about it on a text panel.

I wrote a piece about the exhibition on Northern Soul this week.

In this case, the subject of the exhibition meant that the objects selected for display were all going to have to be illustrative of graphene, rather than made if the material itself. That’s quite a challenge.

A key part of the museum interpretation process is thinking, at the early stage of exhibition development, not only what we will put on display, but also what story will those objects or art pieces tell and how we will interpret that story for visitors. It’s important that we keep their expectations and motivations in mind and that we think about what their visit experience will be like, as well as deciding what to include on the object list, be they visible or invisible.

Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond is at MSI Manchester. It’s free and runs until July 2017.

A walk down Choumert Road

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Here’s a little film I made with a friend about one road in Peckham, London.

It’s a look at some of the buildings on the street, and the history surrounding them. Looking at the world around us, especially in urban environments, is really interesting. The streets we live on have been shaped by the people who lived and worked in the same place over centuries. And searching out the clues which can tell us more about them, I think, is fun and sometimes surprising.

Museum advent calendar

In Museums, Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Today is Christmas Eve. Throughout December I’ve been adding objects from museums around the world to my #museumxmas advent calendar on twitter. I thought I’d pull them all together into one place here.

Happy Christmas!

1 Dec: In 1843, Henry Cole, director of V&A sent the world’s first Christmas card
2 Dec: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! A piece of snowflake obsidian from the National Museum of Scotland
3 Dec: The Adoration of the Magi by Mantegna from the Getty Museum, CA
4 Dec: Christmas decorations from Mexico and Russia at the Horniman Museum, London
5 Dec: 1950s Christmas card from a Liverpool sweet factory from the Museum of Liverpool
6 Dec: An awesome, if slightly terrifying, C19th bauble from Brooklyn Museum, NY
7 Dec: Japanese snow scenes by Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Hokusai (1760-1849) from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
8 Dec: Feliz Navidad! A 1969 photo of Christmas at the Plaza Mayor, from the Reina Sofia, Madrid
9 Dec: The reindeer are getting ready for their massive delivery round. Here’s a 13000-year-old one from the British Museum, London
10 Dec: Some festive objects from the U.S.S.R. from the Wende Museum, CA
11 Dec: David Shrigley is definitely not scared of Santa. Or so he says in this 1996 artwork in Tate, London
12 Dec: A festive photo from the National Railway Museum, York
13 Dec: A beautiful, if expensive bauble from London Transport Museum
14 Dec: Front cover of 1995 xmas NME, strangely in Seattle Art Museum, WA
15 Dec: Christmas Day 1916. British officers enjoy turkey and champagne in a mess tent. Photograph from Imperial War Museum, London
16 Dec: Christmas cake decoration (Santa drove a car!?) from Te Papa, New Zealand
17 Dec: ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ a novel in which Santa gets murdered! Available from the British Library shop
18 Dec: Do you have as many Christmas cards as this chap from 1960s Hong Kong from the Ashmolean, Oxford
19 Dec: A 1837 snowy scene from St Alban’s Museum, Herts
20 Dec: The Spruce Bark Beetle eats Christmas trees! Make sure you haven’t got one on yours by checking in at the Natural History Museum, London
21 Dec: A charming xmas card from 1903, showing that little boys and girls have never really got on from Castle Drogo, Devon
22 Dec: Tree-shaped Spode ceramics for Christmas from the Spode Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
23 Dec: The Reverend Christmas Evans 1766-1838 (what a wonderful name) immortalised in pottery at the Wedgwood Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
24 Dec: The famous Met Christmas Tree, complete with nativity scene tree from the Metropolitan Museum, NY

. c/o @Wedgwood_Museum #museumxmas
To conclude the #museumxmas advent calendar,  Merry Christmas!

Ssssh, it’s a secret …

In Museums, Uncategorized on April 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

What do you think about secrets?

There are some necessary secrets we all need to keep – your PIN and passwords; anything to do with the security of the nation; perhaps some personal medical information. But after that I get a bit nervous about keeping secrets.

Someone told me a secret recently. I felt honoured to be told it. And then found myself wondering what I’m supposed to do with that information – apart from keep it secret, of course. But if they’ve told me the secret already, then is it still a secret any more? And does that mean that I’m allowed to share it??

It’s not a hugely important one in the scheme of things – it’s about an exciting plan for an exhibition coming up in a few years. Of course I can’t give any clues as to where the exhibition might be or what it’s about – but I can tell you that it’s pretty darn exciting news in the world of museums and heritage. It’ll be all over the news when it comes to it.

Have I said too much already, I wonder?

No, it’s fine. I’ve just acknowledged that I know something you don’t (unless you’re the person who told me and you’re reading this) which is sort of showing off.

There’s a lot of that in the museum/gallery/heritage sector – people tend to think that the decisions they take in private are much more important than they really are. Some announcements to the press in recent years have supposed to be huge media splashes, but have of course ended up being a public outing of the best-known secret across the sector. Gossip and word-of-mouth are pretty powerful tools.

Perhaps I’ll just keep this post sitting here on my blog for a few years and then, when the mighty revelation comes, I’ll revisit this and see if the secret ended up being kept a secret or if it got blown in the meantime. Watch this space ….

Dreaming of libraries

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

I had a dream about libraries the other night. Yeah, it took me by surprise as well. I thought I’d write it up.

It started strangely when, like all good dreams, the world had been taken over by aliens. The invading forces informed the human race that one of their first acts was going to be vaporising all the national libraries and archives on the planet. How unfair, I hear you gasp.

The generous aliens did, however, allow us to remove and keep just five items from all of the libraries in the world. Five items in total to sum up humanity.

I flattered myself in my dream that I’d been summoned to the committee that was going to save them. What would be pick?

In the end we opted for Magna Carta, a first folio of Shakespeare, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Gutenberg Bible and – due to pressure from the Americans – the US Declaration of Independence.

The documents were saved and the libraries duly destroyed. But then the aliens informed us that three of the documents were far too concerned with the rights of humans and their plight for democracy, so vaporised those too.

So in the end we just had a bible and a copy of Shakespeare which, incidentally, is what you get provided as reading material on Radio 4’s Desert Island Disks.

And then I woke up.
Strange dream I know, but there we are.

What would you have picked if there were allowed to choose just five objects from any library in the world? Would you have chosen historically signifcant documents? Or your favourite author? Hmmm, I wonder what I’d choose if I wasn’t in dream-world …

Roman Halter (1927-2012)

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

It is with great sadness that I read recently of the passing of Roman Halter.

I first met Roman at the Imperial War Museum, where his personal story is told in The Holocaust Exhibition. After I left the Museum, we continued to write to each other and occasionally meet up for coffee to chat about a variety of subjects, notably museums, architecture and where to get good food in north London.

When working with people in a museum context who have survived something as disturbing and life-changing as the Holocaust, it is sometimes easy to pigeon-hole them. They can perhaps be seen as Holocaust survivors and nothing else. Roman was one of the first survivors I met who really helped me to understand that although people may have lived through and witnessed terrible events as young people, they also have gone on to lead rich, diverse and fulfilling lives afterwards. The Holocuast is only part of a survivor’s life. And it happened 60 years ago – so much more has happened since then.

Roman is remebered today as a survivor of the Holocaust, yes, but also as an architect, a designer and an artist. And as a father and grandfather. It is perhaps fitting that the legacy he leaves behind is a physical one – there are countless Halter stained-glass windows around the world today and I am very proud to have one of his paintings hanging in my study as I write – and an historical one in terms of his personal story during the Second World War. I hope that his story is not forgotten, and that his art continues to inspire people to create beautiful things as well.

Indeed, it is at sad times like these that I am reminded of the power that museums and collecting institutions have in preserving the experiences and memories of people who have lived through periods which have shaped our world. Oral histories, personal possessions and documentary evidence all ensure that we won’t forget stories like this and we won’t forget people like Roman.

On the subject of collecting stories, Roman was kind enough to take part in my ongoing research project into the nature of happiness – a world away from museums, but still a project based around collecting stories. I visited him at his home in 2008 and we chatted for a few hours about his life and experiences in relation to happiness. You can read the interview on this website here. In April 2009 he also sent me a hand-written note with some further thoughts on happiness.

The interview was picked up by The Telegraph, who quoted my conversation with Roman in his obituary, which you can also read here to get a fuller picture of his life.

Ups and Downs of museum development

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Museum and heritage development projects are a bit like roller coasters. There are ups and there are downs.

One minute you’re nervously awaiting a decision – the next you have your arms thrust in the air, screaming with excitement. And at the end of the process, while proud of your achievements, you wonder what all the fuss was about.

Nowhere is this analogy more relevant right now than in the Kent town of Margate, where plans are presently in progress to redevelop the site of an old theme park and turn it into a museum and heritage site.

Dreamland Margate will be the home of the nation’s first roller coaster and theme park museum, if you like. A with a roller coaster almost 100 years-old and a long and respected tradition of entertaining families by the seaside.

The town is on a high after the success of Turner Contemporary, which opened there last year.

But, alas, they are in a spot of bother at the moment as the people who own the land on which the site sits are contesting a compulsory purchase order. It’s going through a local inquiry now and they’ll know more in the summer, but in the meantime there’s a piece all about it on Museum [Insider], of course. For the moment though, this ride isn’t going anywhere.

I’m due to make a visit to Margate later this year, so see the Turner Contemporary again and to check out more of the towns, er, delights. I’ll report back on what I’ve found!

Pizza, cholocalte and telly

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm

The results of a BBC survey out today have revealed that the three things that make us most happy in Britain today are pizza, chocolate and the television.

I’m not sure I agree with that entirely, and this little video on the BBC website seems to indicate that people also derive a sense of well being from many other factors in life, such as family, friends, the weather and even happiness itself. And the usual things as well – holiday, money, winning lottery etc.

What makes you happy?
Take a look at my ongoing reserach project in the nature of modern happiness for more inspiration.

Wrest Park submits bid to HLF

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content, Uncategorized on May 1, 2010 at 10:02 am

Wrest Park in Bedfordshire has submitted plans to the Heritage Lottery Fund for consideration which will see the site undergo a major upgrade of the visitor experience.

The English Heritage site – consisting of a Grade 1 listed stately home and outstanding historic gardens – is a recent acquisition for the charity and needs plenty of attention.

There’s detail about what they’re planning in an article live on Museum [Insider].