#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.

Pandemic Pondering #287

Its been a funny old festive season @theoldmortuary . We have a smallish family circle and a larger circle of friends. We are very lucky. One Christmas lost to being decent citizens, who stuck to the rules, is not actually a ‘ lost’ Christmas just a diminished one without all our treasured people around us.

Pyjamas @theoldmortuary

Today it is 360 days until Christmas 2021. Our strange distorted world will look very different.

Anish Kapoor at Pitzhanger Museum and Art Gallery

And while it can never turn the full 360 degrees to return us to our pre-pandemic normal. ( We can’t ever turn back the clocks.) Things will look and feel very different 360 days from now.


A feature of a cleaning cupboard at The Box

And more.

The tunnel at Royal William Yard during Illuminate 2019

Pandemic Pondering #268

A quiet day at The Box yesterday. Being in a gallery I’ve talked about a bit gives me the chance to talk about a very old ponder that took place in The Plymouth City Museum, the forbear of The Box more than 25 years ago.


It happened in the galleries that are now called Port of Plymouth. 25 years ago I was a very regular visitor to the museum , particularly when the weather was not good and I had two small children to entertain. We always spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the case that held Plymouth Argyle artifacts and memorabilia, because my son was obsessed with football. On one visit a face and a name caught my eye from a 1920’s team photo. The name , Jack Pullen, and the face reminded me of someone I was at school with and briefly I wondered if they were related. In many respects this was highly unlikely as I went to school in Essex, The player in question though was a Welsh International player and my school friends name was Dai so it was not a completely unreasonable thought. In fairness I didn’t really dwell on it too much.

© http://www.greensonscreen.co.uk

In 2010 I was living and working in London and the internet had changed communication in all sorts of ways. Dai, who lives in Australia, and I would exchange occasional volleys of emails. On one occasion I was nattering about both my grown up children working in hospitality at Plymouth Argyle. He responded by telling me his grandfather had played for Argyle for 10 years in the pre World War 2 era. My pondering of the team photo all those years ago had been correct. I did a little bit of research but didn’t find anything much about the talented player beyond what Dai already knew.

By the time I moved back to Plymouth the old city museum has been closed for a long time and the new museum was taking shape. It was only last week when I was working in the new museum that I remembered that strange coincidence.

Meanwhile Dai had misplaced photos of his grandfather. Once again the internet and chance/coincidence and serendipity took the old ponder and gave it some new life.

Whilst working in London I made a friend of another Welshman called Marc who had introduced me to a woman called Sarah that he had trained with. She is an ardent Plymouth Argyle supporter, not something you meet too often in the capital. Last week I contacted her and asked if she had any books about Argyle history. She didn’t but after a bit of research she came up with a really informative website.


The picture I gleaned from the website and one of Dai, published recently in a Colchester newspaper show why this curious long time ponder happened.

©Colchester Gazette

Grandfather and grandson look pretty similar .

Pondering, it’s not a quick process every time.

Pandemic Pondering #260

My first day back at The Box after Lockdown 2, and my first day in a new- to-me gallery.

I could give you the official description of Port of Plymouth 1 but yesterday for an hour or so I had a unique experience. The gallery was almost empty and I had the chance to explore it unencumbered with any responsibility for the well being of visitors.

The portrait above is of an anonymous fisherman, he is the human face of the character of this gallery. The gallery yesterday represented to me the biography of the city. Port of Plymouth 1 tells the story, the basis almost, of every other gallery in the museum. The sort of thing that might be written on the back of a funeral service booklet to give an over view of  the deceaseds life. Of course Plymouth has not died and under current circumstances enjoys relatively good health.

I deliberately chose a man’s photograph because the gallery has a woman’s voice. Dawn French narrates two audio visual presentations within Port 1 and  while you are in the space you are never very far away from her voice. This is a brilliant piece of gender balance because inevitably Port 1 is for the most part a man’s world. Not because women played no part in the history of Plymouth but because history has traditionally sidelined women’s contribution. It is only really the 20 th Century exhibits that begin to truly reflect the importance of women to the city.

©The Box

As you enter Port of Plymouth 1 there is a massive 3D screen showing a film presentation of the developmental history of  Plymouth. The film is one of the exhibits narrated by Dawn French. Currently with Covid-19 restrictions only about twelve people can view it at any one time, with so few people it is hard to gauge the impact but later in my morning a whole school group of about 40 watched it together and the impact on them as a large group was remarkable, when the museum can open as normal this will be a memorable group activity.

@theoldmortuary we are in the process of moving home. It was a little bit strange to view our proposed new location as history evolved over it and  in the WW2 era bombs landed very close.

©The Box
©The Box

Ambient Lighting in Port of Plymouth 1 is subdued but the lighting of each exhibit is so beautifully done that even when it is full of people ( a future aspiration) it is really easy to concentrate and understand the significance of each exhibit.

One historic artifact was simple but poignant.

©The Box

The Falklands Conflict left a big mark on the recentish memory of Plymouth

©The Box

This is the point that pondering has to stop, just like the Dockyard Gate photo above, the visitors started to arrive. There is loads more to talk about but visitor safety and smiling took over my time.