#483 theoldmortuary ponders

It is not everyday that I turn up to work looking a little like a queen. One of the 3 Armada portraits of Elizabeth I has arrived at the Museum and Gallery where I work. A painting that has stared out of a million history books. The iconic image of a Tudor Queen that is both familiar and yet never actually seen before. Sartorial comparisons may take a stretch of the imagination but to aid the process I took up a queenly pose while working.

While the Queen holds a globe to show how well Colonising was going, I am close a Barbara Hepworth sculpture because it was the only round thing available. In the Armada Portrait we do not see Elizabeth’s shoes but in a painting from a similar time I found her feet.

Tiny Elizabeth feet in flat shoes.
Bigger feet in flat shoes of a simple design not too dissimilar from Tudor shoes.

Elizabeth and I were both wearing predominantly black garments but with peach ribbons and statement necklaces.

Hers were statements of wealth, mine are the opposite. The Lanyard is a modern emblem of employment. My necklace is home made from recycled beads. The thing they have in common is that both my lanyard and plastic beads and Elizabeth’s pearls and silk ribbons are made from traded goods, mine possibly more ethically traded than hers. Which brings us to the backgrounds of both our pictures. In Elizabeth’s picture there are painted scenes of Francis Drakes victory over the Spanish. In my picture the background is filled with objects from the permanent collection of The Box, Plymouth. Without the British victory the world and this wall of acquisitions would look very different today. Below is a link to an explanation of the Armada events


Strange how far Pondering over peach ribbons and beads can take me. Coincidences can be a wonderful thing.

#254 theoldmortuary ponders

Two new exhibitions at The Box yesterday had me pondering. The exhibitions themselves couldn’t be more different and yet they are both about a sense of place and our place in places

Because the Night Belongs to Us, is an exhibition about Plymouths changing nightlife. George Shaws, George Shaw is about one mans relationship with his home.

Goodness me they made me think and for anyone local to Plymouth I would recommend a visit over the summer.

George Shaw paints landscapes in Humbrol Enamel Paint. The smell in the galleries is soft and curiously nostalgic. The paintings are intimate and sometimes painfully similar to my own life experience.  Because the Night is similarly evocative, dark  and warm coloured, neon lit with snatches of music both familiar and unknown. The only thing missing in this exhibition of the underbelly of a city is sticky carpet and the smells.

Because The Night Belongs To Us. The Box

I am not from Plymouth or Coventry, the two cities that are the subject of these exhibitions but I am a wandering citizen of the worlds they represent.

George Shaw paints a council estate and the council house in which he grew up. I’ve never lived on a council estate but like many people I am deeply familiar with their architecture and the proportions and landscaping of Social housing. His painting could easily be of the corner of North East Essex, where I grew up.

©George Shaw. The Box

George Shaws painting of a tree ‘New Romantic’ could be the tree in my home village of Gosfield, which was also a serial victim of vandalism or in a different mindset, embellishments.

©George Shaw. The Box

In my village, during the seventies, and quite possibly in George’s tree zone it was relatively common to find old porn mags and beer cans in the undergrowth, curious treasure for children to find, we were amused more than harmed by it. Such things were, of course, the night life of these little patches of woodland.

Again finding a common experience in someone elses life. George depicts, in a series of drawings his childhood home emptied following the death of his last parent. The heartbreaking emptiness after the forensic clearing that most of us will have to go through. The last time you will ever see that, oh so familiar, back door of your childhood and or adulthood. The door that launched you into the world.

The back door indeed that you crept through after venturing into your version of Nightife.

A fab day working at The Box, thinking my own thoughts and sharing other peoples experiences. What better way to spend a Wednesday.

#139 theoldmortuary ponders

Today was my last shift at The Box being a room steward for the Songlines Exhibition. There are still 4 more days to visit, for those of you who live locally, as the exhibition actually finishes on Sunday. Then all these wonderful paintings will be crated up for their journey to Berlin. I’ve pondered a good bit on what to write about this exhibition. Not feeling quite able to live up to the words of many very knowledgeable art critics or indeed the wise words of Dame Mary Beard, I’ve decided just to give my thumbnail response.

Songlines is a cross cultural tale, both ancient and modern, of womens care and responsibility to one another when faced with predatory male behaviour. It is a #metoo story handed down for thousands of years, woman to woman. The villain of these stories is a bad bad man. Songlines as presented here skims on some of the brutality and the accompanying texts are lighter in mood than the true depravity of the situations the women in the stories endured. All of the exhibition can be viewed by adults and children and enjoyed simply for the artwork, with or without,an age appropriate understanding of the story. But viewing all the paintings ,videos, and 3d sculptures leaves no one in any doubt of the way these stories unfold and that there will be no happy ending. For all that this collection of Australian indigenous art is a wonderful blast of colour and form, there is enough to keep most people occupied and interested for a whole day with appropriate rest and nattering stops. Throughout the exhibition the visitor is kept in touch with the artists who created the work and the portion of the exhibition which is held in the University gallery recreates the art hubs where these works were created.

Yesterday, among the hundreds of visitors, I pondered which piece of art I would miss most and came up with two choices that could easily be acommodated in my own home were I to become an International art thief. I don’t actually have the wall space for my favourite paintings.

Shape shifting vases.
Poker work Coolamon

Since I have zero talent for crime, no theft occured.

#55 theoldmortuary ponders

I’ve spent the last couple of days with fellow Gallery Guides at The Box in Plymouth. The picture above is three of us standing in the North Hall of the museum within a video installation which is part of the Songlines Exhibition.

One of those unusual moments when illumination does not make something easier to see. I haven’t really written a blog about Songlines yet, I am still finding more to learn and appreciate every time I spend a few hours in the galleries. By the end of February when the exhibition closes I will have distilled my thoughts. For Gallery Guides it is not just about the installed artwork, the reaction and questions from the public also forms a vital part of our perception of the exhibition.

Yesterday I had many different interactions with visitors and some of them really do set me thinking. This exhibition has brought people from all over the country to Plymouth, some of them with vast experience of world travel and Indigenous Culture.


Talking to strangers is something I took for granted before March 2020 when Covid shut the world down. Now it is something I only really get to do at Art Exhibitions. Thank goodness art expands the mind.

Pandemic Pondering #517

©The Box. A shard from a North Devon Pottery, excavated from a Colonial site in New England

My leisure reading life and my work life are intersecting currently and in truth a little bit late. I spend a lot of time in the Mayflower Exhibition when I am working in the museum.

Both the exhibition and the book have the same constraint. Very little is known about the actual Mayflower Voyage. Difficult for Historians but good for me as the original source material is the same. The curators of the exhibition do a brilliant job of explaining and expanding the known facts and illustrate them well with actual artifacts. The 60 years following the voyage of the Mayflower is the significant part of the narrative for history and probably the least accurately portrayed by the Thanksgiving myth and beyond. As I read the book my mind is illustrated with the items and documents I spend my day with.

This makes my reading of the book jog along very nicely. Neither the exhibition nor the book allow sentimental and fictional nostalgia, the darkness and brutality of the settlement and the impact on the indigenous people is all part of the story of European Colonisation. In reality the book is not a comfortable or easy read, but I didnt expect it to be.

© The Box

Here is the book I am currently reading.

The Exhibition is at The Box Plymouth.

Pandemic Pondering #504

©Leonor Antunes – The Box, Sequences, Invertions and Permutations

Today was a serendipitous colour concatenation. I spent some time peacefully in the beautiful space that is St Lukes, part of The Box museum. My two periods working in this space had moments with no visitors.

©Leonor Antunes

This particular installation will be leaving the museum soon so I took the chance and took some photos with no people about. I also took some close up photographs of the glass lights.

Imagine my happiness when a friend posted the picture below of Compass Jelly Fish captured briefly in a blue bucket.

© Jess Rippengale. Compass Jellyfish at Portwrinkle

The colours are identical. That’s this blog done. Colour happiness.

Pandemic Pondering #497

I’ve changed my museum working day to Wednesdays instead of Thursdays. Perhaps the dullest sentence to appear in the blog! Yesterday was a red letter day as the museum has adopted a near normal working model for the first time since it opened.

Figureheads loom over the entrance and reception area, I happened to look over as a large unruly group of people walked in. I imagined what a shock it might be to the figureheads who have spent the whole time the museum has been open, hanging over strictly ticketed punters, who could legitimately be limited and controlled in the name of Covid regulations.

At last the museum can relax, I’m not sure the figureheads ever will.

Not particularly museum related, this picture popped up on a sea swimming page on Facebook. Our summer swimming ‘friend’ the Compass Jellyfish doubling up as a display cabinet.


Museum time was sandwiched between dog walking and normal domestic chores. A prime donestic chore was to find a supplier of camping gas. Not as easy as you might think. Britain and presumably the rest of the world is in the thrall of a new, allegedly, type of holiday. The Staycation. The strangest things are in short supply. Camping shops ran out of replacable gas tanks weeks ago. @theoldmortuary ran out of gas at last weekends festival. This was a crisis of sorts as no gas= no tea, and @theoldmortuary runs on tea. A proper first world crisis! Thankfully as Plymouth is a seafaring port it has Chandlers. I have only once in my life been into a chandlers in search of a caribineer to hold a poo bag dispenser for dog walks.

Yesterday I went into 3 , they are fantasy destinations. The first two might not have had gas but they did have intrigue. Shelf after shelf of things to do with boats, all of which had names and practical uses that sounded exotic and quite unknown. The 3rd Chandlers had some gas but I may think of other reasons, in the future, to return to these shops just to look around and ponder a whole new world on my doorstep.

These flowers are also on my doorstep. I hope Thursday is good to you…

I will try not to visit a Chandler just for the sake of it.

Pandemic Pondering #485

Friday follows Thursday. In Pandemic terms yesterday was my first working day at The Box ( Plymouths Museum, gallery and general cultural space) since the government announced Freedom Day when all legal restrictions were lifted on the English public and organisations and individuals are free to decide the level of restriction they wish to self impose.

©The Box

Suddenly a huddle of strangers is considered to be a safe option. The Box as an organisation decided not to go into full on super spreader event and restrictions remained much as they have been for many months, so the only obvious crowd were these Mayflower passengers. The museum visitors were still booked in and limited in numbers but they were, I felt more willing to engage and interact with the gallery guides and yesterday felt like the museum had a much more normal buzz about it. It helps, of course that the museum has wonderful air conditioning and we are in the midst of a heatwave.

Heatwaves are a summer thing and this morning a heatwave picture popped up on my Facebook Memories page. I wish I had remembered this image earlier in the pandemic because it is a pretty good image to demonstrate looking after yourself in a pandemic.

Better late than never.

Pandemic Pondering #416

A late email changed the shape of Thursday. The Box in Plymouth was ready to re- orientate Gallery Guides. I signed up for the Thursday morning training session. It is 6 months since the museum closed to visitors. Opening next week in a ticketed controlled way there is also some optimism that the museum can open fully, very soon and function in the way it was designed and planned for.

Yesterday was about Health and Safety and continued Covid precautions but along the way some new exhibits were glimpsed. The new Wompanoag Gallery will be one to spend some time in.

© The Box

In the nearby Mayflower exhibition there have been some tweaks. I especially liked the new position of these words on the hull of the Mayflower.

©The Box

On a different level it did feel strange to be in a room with a group of mostly unknown people. This last period of Lockdown has really messed with my head, I’ve grown accustomed to the strange, reserved, way we have all been living as isolationists. Switching back up to relatively normal sociability is the next adventure in these unprecedented moments.

Have a fine and fabulous Friday.

Pandemic Pondering #339

There was a time when Thursday blogs were based on my experiences as a gallery guide at The Box. A Pandemic put a stop to that but here we are on a Thursday and this blog will be distinctly Boxlike.

Not Real World of course. Another new tech experience .

The Box Quiz

The people with all the questions and all of the answers.
Two of many categories

The low tech answer sheet.

What I can’t show you are my fellow competitors. Microsoft Teams was new to me and I had failed to download the system . In consequence only the hosts/quizmasters were visible to me eveyone else was just a disembodied voice as I was to them!

The questions were fired at us at speed, all the better to thwart googling cheats. It was a fabulous quiz and reassuring that I could actually retrieve random facts from my pandemic befuddled mind.

As it happens @theoldmortuary did quite well. Which just goes to prove that straddling the digital/ Analogue divide is entirely possible, especially if you have your comfy pants on. Or even if you don’t. No video evidence!

So thats it, another Thursday Box Tale.

Thanks to everyone who made the magic happen.