28 February 2017


The front lawns of Sydney University are bustling with activity today, as the campus readies itself for O Week (short for Orientation Week, even though it only lasts 3 days), setting up stalls and tents as best they can amidst the rain (don’t be fooled by the beautiful blue skies in the photo, they were extremely fleeting). For the last few months the campus has been quiet, largely devoid of students and even of many academic staff – although the tourists have been out in full force. O Week begins tomorrow to officially welcome a new crop of students to the university, although the campus is already getting busier, as international students arrive early to begin to get their bearings, and academics return to their offices. Today there’s a feeling of anticipation, as we prepare for the campus to overflow once again.

Looking over my blog posts for the past 9 months, I can see that many of them are marked by the comings and goings of staff and students around me, and the rhythms of the academic year. These rhythms have to an extent defined my time throughout my PhD research, and yet I’ve also felt somewhat detached from, particularly in the semesters when I haven’t been teaching. Staff and students come and go around us with the schedule of lectures and study breaks and exams and holidays, but in our little corner of the campus, we research postgrads are still here, day after day. Although soon, that too will change – just as thousands of new students are preparing to begin their degrees, I’m coming tantalisingly close to submitting my thesis to the university where I first enrolled almost exactly 11 years ago.

26 February Belief


Mary Jackson sitting, adjusting a control on an instrument. Photo: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/mary-jackson-at-nasa-langley-1


Coming full circle, but also moving on. My first blog post was written after seeing a film, and completely unintentionally, so is my last.

Growing up I could never really understand why other children would watch films over and over again. This seemed totally alien to me, but there was one film that I could watch repeatedly and every time I would hold my breath, wondering how it was going to end… In fact, if I watch it now, I still do wonder! That film was Apollo 13.

I was reminded of it last night while I was in the cinema watching  Hidden Figures, probably because of the space race element to it. But I also sat there thinking – very rarely for me – I want to watch this again.

Although this time it wasn’t because of the dramatic tension, but because of the inspirational traits of the three main women in it. And how with intelligence, perseverance and humility they helped to shape science and advance human knowledge. Not only that, but they did it at a time when prejudice and sterotyping was an overt and instutitionalised brick wall. They chipped away it until it slowly crumbled. But it also took people who could see beyond colour, race and gender – people who believed in them.

Whilst there are big messages we can take from the film in light of the barriers that are rising in our society today  around crossing borders and #womeninsceince, for me the big message was abut belief: the belief these women had in their own abilities, in each other’s abilities and the belief others had in them.

The Secret Garden 

Needed a change of scene so have drifted back to my parents house to write. And it’s blogging day (for the last time) so I thought, let’s do a material culture sweep of the back yard in the drap month of February! 

And sure enough, I discovered some forgotten, leaf tangled secrets in the undergrowth. Garden furniture is either bemusing or just…awful. I hope my mum never reads this. 

(Ps. I NEVER instagram or filter photos but, because this IS a sentimental garden, thought I’d go all out.)

What is with the marbles?

Remenents of my sister’s art project in flowerpots…concrete milk & washing up bottles…I’m going to ask her about them

Statue to all the late cats we’ve known

This one time, my youngest sister took a massive run into the garden, all the way down the path and headbutted the bird table. Which broke. Dad fixed it pretty well considering #familysaga.

Obsolete blueish paraphanelia

Need a hand? This guy is supposed to be the wish granting goblin thing in Five Children & It

I don’t understand the fat penguin but hey ho!

Thanks for the blogtimes Human Seasons! 


The Archaeology of Light


As I write this, my last post for the Human Seasons, the days are stretching. Climatically, if not geopolitically, the darkest days are behind us.

In terms of human culture, there’s no better way to celebrate and channel light than through stained glass. A few weeks ago I was in the Sainte Chapelle, the world’s greatest light box. This week I was in the Cavendish Arcade, a sort of Georgian shopping mall in Buxton, where the stained glass is more modest but still throws the light into the space, enriched with new colours.

But material culture, no matter how elegant, is not what gladdens the heart most. I’ve realised that time and again during this project. The action of walking in a landscape, the unchangeable qualities of water and air, the sharing of good company from one end of the year to the next, are what make the seasons human.

A List of Reasons to Sing …

#16 To mark the end.

It’s my last post for The Human Seasons, and what a year it has been. I’ve published some posts under the influence of morphine, some under the influence of singing induced endorphins, and now I can happily say I’m writing under the heady influence of spring.

Thank you for having me, and here’s a gorgeous spring filled song with Sussex connections (collected by Bob Copper from “Jim” Swain in 1954). I learnt it from Shirley Collins’ album ‘Adieu to Old England’. It transpires that I misheard one of the lyrics but I’m keeping it in – it’s the folk process, after all. The Dovetail Trio do a stunning rendition of this song, there’s a link to a video of them performing it on the Mainly Norfolk page for this song (and a comprehensive recording history).

Adieu winter!

And for the hell of it, here’s a quick recap:

#1 The birth of a new family member

#2 Because it is finally May

#3 Because is night time in the woods, and the owls are out

#4 To ease pain

#5 For unity

#6 To give warnings

#7 Because you’re on a family car journey

#8 To release endorphins

#9 Because the bells are ringing

#10 For heritage

#11 Because the seasons are changing

#12 To rehearse

#13 To embrace failure

#14 To accompany

#15 To learn something


22 February 2016


Interview space

It’s my final post today and I’m back in Ironbridge prepping time-space budget surveys for this afternoon. I will be asking people on their way back to their cars if they would tell me where they’ve been during their visit, and how long it took them. I’ve been looking back over my posts from the last year – 18 snapshots illustrating how what I do in a space transforms my experience of it. For the people I’m surveying this week I imagine a car park probably just means a place to leave the car. For me it is a challenging environment where I have to find a location which is not in the way (of pedestrians and cars) but from which I can spot people who look like they may be leaving and get to them without scaring them off by running headlong across the car park waving a clipboard and yelling ‘wait’!

Looking back over my previous posts I can see it is my sixth post from Ironbridge, my field site, matching six posts from Birmingham where I live and have my office. There were also nine posts from other places where I’ve visited for work or holidays. Two posts came from conferences (in Orkney and Nottingham) while others came from trips to Sweden, Northumbria and Canterbury as well as trips home to my parents in Lincolnshire. This seems like a fairly accurate reflection of my year, although probably under-represents the amount of time I’ve spent sat at a desk! I guess on those days I managed to find things I perceived  as being more interesting from my environment. While not a mis-representation it is intriguing that I didn’t want to keep showing pictures of a desktop computer. I wonder if this is something we all do when talking about our work – not necessarily trying to make it sound more ‘out there’ than it is exactly, but certainly downplaying the more mundane aspects. Perhaps boring is more truthful!

20 February 2017


The last post. The last performance. The last time we meet. This can’t last. I’ve played before in the space of lasts. The Chicago-based Goat Island performance company came to an end in 2009, not a victim of the slow collapse of liberal global capitalism – though that would make a great story – but, after 20 years of practice, for the poetics. The Last Performance was a ‘constraint-based collaborative writing, archiving and text-visualization project responding to the theme of lastness in relation to architectural forms, acts of building, a final performance, and the interruption (that becomes the promise) of community.’ Based on the architecture of a Byzantine dome, The Last Performance evolved over two years, alongside the creation and performance of the company’s final work, The Lastmaker. The writing project and the performance evolved in parallel and shared generative constraints. I was lucky enough to be a part of it, although my contributions are now lost in the density of the dome. My chosen constraint was: Construct a last performance in the form of a heavy foot that weighs 2 tons and remains in good condition. 


Wikipedia tells me that a last is a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot. It is used by shoemakers and cordwainers in the manufacture and repair of shoes. Lasts typically come in pairs and have been made from various materials, including hardwoods, cast iron, and high-density plastics. As my Human Seasons postings have so often been about moving, it seems fitting that last night I unpacked one of the last boxes. I’ve been desperate to reduce the heavy load in the third bedroom, an abject space that pitches wildly as though it imagines itself to be a ship on a stormy sea. Under the now-stripped wallpaper is the wonderfully fierce instruction: Fuck da police, written in bubble letters. I wonder who lived in the tiny room and whether they dreamed of sea-faring. Most of the heavy stuff has now been tucked into other spaces. What remains is a wardrobe, a box and 2 suitcases. The last large box contained shoes I no longer wear but can’t quite face throwing away. It also contained a shoe form – not a last – but from a size of shoe I’ll never grow into. Unsure what to do with it, I’ve left it in the middle of the room. Another thing to stop me from grappling with the impossible labour of making that space liveable. The last stand.


The last time that I walk into work thinking about a Human Seasons post. So I was heartened by the appearance of these little magical agents, who greeted me from the deli window. Although the fashion sites say it’s all about the men and Movember started in 2004, girl moustaches have been irritating the internet since 2008 or so. About that time, a friend’s birthday on the Cornish coast was spent in glorious stick-on ‘taches as we danced until dawn. I didn’t think about it as a ‘thing’ until the summer of 2015, when I was overwhelmed by feminine moustache mystique. A moustache on a woman or a fish is unexpectedly powerful. A carnivalesque topsy-turvy donning of the sign of the oppressor? Why would a fish wear its murderer’s moustache? Whatever is going on with them, these cute-n-coy feminised moustaches seem to make some men very angry. They make me slightly hysterical.


I arrive in the office without further moustachioed incident, though I should check that my flat white hasn’t left its own mark on my upper lip. Today my diary tells me that I must write this post, catch up on the one I missed, confirm my meeting with Hugh Brody to finalise our conversation on 30 March as part of the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival, fill in my Annual Research Review form for my Critical Friend meeting, read and comment on Faculty Conference and Research fund applications, book a coach to London, read my PhD student’s latest draft, check my School’s PhD theses for plagiarism via Turnitin, write the paper for my gig in Victoria next week (terrible guilt about the academic carbon footprint) and go to the gym. That is clearly ridiculous. And yet it must be. There is no last task there.

It’s after 11am now and I must crack on with the to-do list. I’ve enjoyed my time in the Human Seasons and the way in which the invitation has demanded a different kind of attention and writing. I’ve enjoyed sharing this space with a gang of people who spin beautiful yarns. I’ll miss you terribly. I leave you with Donna Summer because Spring is around the corner and archaeology is, if nothing else, totally disco.


19 February 2017

New Pier, Stromness. By Diana Leslie (2014)


Stromness artist and friend Diana Leslie paints Orkney, and especially Stromness. Wearing a marine survival suit and using a weighted easel to combat the wind she paints in-landscape, all year round. At first glance, her townscapes, buildings, boats and occasional landscapes are timeless, portraying Orkney as we might expect to find it, forever. Her most interesting work, however, captures the everyday – the people, co-op, post office and garage. In addition, these paintings are often repeated. For us, her paintings, therefore, are subtly about change. Now: old co-op, old post office, new pier.

Among the iconic line of Stromness piers, which has formed the theme for our Human Seasons blog posts throughout the year, the new pier has been a significant new landmark in the town. Diana’s painting, above, captures that point in transition, so often forgotten and ignored in favour of the static monument. Large floating cranes pile driving into the soft mud and bedrock. The painting itself may have been completed in more than one session. The essence of the moment, if you look closely, is captured even more by the drops of rain encapsulated in the surface of the oil paint.

For our last Human Seasons post, we want to remember changes throughout the year. Against the patterns of the tides, moon, sun and sky, changes have occurred, often unnoticed. Materials brought by the tide, a baby boy arriving in the night, the increase in cruise ships, house renovations, the water board digging up the street, developments at the community garden, storms and ferries come and go.

2017 marks the 200 year anniversary of Stromness becoming a Burgh of Barony. This designation meant that a Town Council could be formed and that the town could start to take control of some of its own affairs.  They adopted the motto ‘Per Mare’ meaning ‘by sea’. This year we look forward to celebrating these changes by the piers.

Sunrise                  07:34                    Moonrise           02:20

Sunset                   17:19                    Moonset             10:44

High tide         02:52 (2.58m)             Low tide       08:24 (1.56m)

High tide         15:28 (2.56m)             Low tide       21:22 (1.52m)

Waning Quarter Moon