And the sun makes an appearance

London in the summer is glorious – although avoiding public transport becomes an ever more urgent game; the last bus I was on was pumping out heating full blast on a day of 27 degrees….
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At work, things are hotting up – and not only because of the lack of ventilation. I had my contract extended and am being promoted (might finally end up above the living wage!). It is reassuring to know that, if I had changed my mind about Egyptology, I have the potential to survive in the real world; something that I was beginning to doubt in my stint of unemployment. I now spend my days filling in spreadsheets, printing letters, and training other people to do my old job. How exciting my life has become!
I have pinned job success down to 3 factors:
1) Getting a foot in the door. Anyway, anyhow.
2) Basically being a willing slave. And SMILING while you do it.
3) Getting bored quickly and doing everyone else’s job for them (always given a more professional slant in job descriptions and called something along the lines of ‘initiative’ ‘leadership skills’ etc.)
The relief of secure employment for the time being however is huge; and I can still stop my brain disintegrating by filling my spare time with researchy things. 
It is so much easier to be motivated once the days lengthen and you wake up to birdsong in a blue sky. This does however has the somewhat unfortunate side effect of meaning you take too much on! Deadlines are popping up left right and centre at the moment. The Inspired by the Crystal Palace Subway project has finished interviewing people who remember the subway in use, and the deadline next week for collating all these will be swiftly followed by heavy research and figuring out how to display everything we have gathered to the largest number of people. The exhibition, due to coincide with Openhouse weekend in September, is going to be unlike anything I’ve worked on before. It seems strange to work with audio and visual recordings; that’s certainly not something you get a chance to do often when working with ancient finds! 
The magnificent Crystal Palace Subway

The magnificent Crystal Palace Subway

It must be exhibition season as well as conference season, because I’ve also been invited to help design a tour and workshop for the European Day of Jewish Culture on 15th September, which will be converted to an exhibition. The theme this year is women in Judaism, and we plan for the exhibition to coincide with International Women’s Day on the 5th March. The three of us who volunteer at the Wiener basically get free rein to design and implement the tour/workshop, so it’s fascinating delving into the Wiener’s huge collection and pooling our experience to try and bring them to the attention of the general public. One focus of mine is to tell stories that are perhaps less well known; and to bring personal experiences across as belonging to people, rather than statistics in a book, which many cannot relate to. The Wiener’s work is still so relevant today, particularly in light of what is happening across Europe at the moment. 
But I am managing to keep in Egyptology through all this; and at the Petrie’s Festival of Pots on Saturday, I got to combine it with fun in the sun for once! 
A day celebrating all that is awesome and useful about pottery. Could I ask for more?! I was invited to take part by Sarah Doherty, an Egyptologist specialising in ceramic technology, who also makes and experiments with her own pottery, but there was a massive dedicated party of volunteers. We spent the morning demonstrating how to do technical drawings of ceramics; and it was quite strange having to actually think about what I was doing, and explain it logically for a change. Brought back a bit of nostalgia for the first time I learnt to draw too. Good lord I was terrible at it. One man confided that his entire family were artistic and yet he’d never been able to draw a thing; but after persuading him to have a go I think he was very pleasantly surprised at the wonders measuring everything can achieve!  
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The afternoon was filled with painting pots, colouring in paper flowers, and pretending I could remember how to read hieroglyphs properly. There were potters demonstrating firing techniques, and they even made proper ancient Egyptian bread – which strangely enough tasted like vinegar, even more surprisingly in a tasty way! Everyone who stopped by painted their interpretations of  on this huge pot we had out on the table, in red and yellow ochre. The high point of the festival was typically Egyptian… With a ritual pot smashing!
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Sarah Hurling the pot with a ritual exclamation of “Life, Prosperity, and Health!”

I have a particular interest in foundation deposits and the ritual smashing of vessels; and it was great fun to recreate one. The whole crowd seemed to catch onto the excitement of the gathered Egyptologists; and we soon had everyone from children to passing UCL students picking up pieces of the smashed jar to turn into ostraca. 
One thing I have come to learn, is that there is never a dull day in London if you know where to look. I only wish I felt half as awake during my actual job as I do when working on my other projects…fingers crossed, they’ll soon be one and the same…

Battles of heritage

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It’s been the most deliciously crisp autumn weekend down here in Crystal Palace; absolutely freezing, but wonderful blue skies. Given the horror expressed by family members and their friends up North London way when we told them we were flat-hunting in this neck of the woods,  the sense of being in the countryside couldn’t be more incongruous.

I’ll openly admit: when we moved to London, I picked Crystal Palace because it was pretty. I’m an absolute sucker for Victorian conversions– drafts, water lurching between hot and cold, and random heart-stopping creaks as the house moved about overnight like it was alive (or a burglar was prowling around as I more commonly think) are, thanks to growing up in a 300 year old toll house, necessary for a home. New builds, with their insulation and perfect squareness freak me out no end. It was the wealth of old houses here that meant I dragged my fiancee into ten different estate agents until we found someone to give a viewing of a flat that afternoon, not any consideration of the history of the area. And the sheer number of drinking spots of course….

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I’d heard about the palace but never really considered it much past an observational “Ah, yes, this is where it must have been!”. The obsessive archaeologist within me however, was not entirely impressed with my energy being expended entirely on cushion arranging and after one too many times manically scrubbing the bathroom sink on yet another unemployed afternoon, strictly told me to get myself together. If I can’t be a paid researcher on an Egyptological project, there is no reason why I can’t be a volunteer researcher on a local project. 

To this aim, I have recently joined the Inspired by Crystal Palace Subway Project (http://www.inspiredbythesubway.org.uk), whose aim is to reopen the old railway subway, which closed in 1954, to the public. I will leave detailing the project’s manoeuvrings to a separate page on this blog; but as I sat in an Oral History training workshop over the weekend it was not the subway that was the main focus of debate (or the mysterious reason it is known as a subway and not its English word, an underpass) but Park Politics.

In particular, the fact that a Chinese Billionaire, Ni Zhaoxing, had purchased the plot of land upon which the original Crystal Palace had stood, and was planning to rebuild it, came under heavy fire (for more information, see here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24375547).  This would mean building right over the subway, which would not be demolished but used as an entranceway.

Protecting our heritage from non-sympathetic redevelopment is, in my opinion, absolutely vital if we are to avoid becoming a concrete, soulness nation. However, I seemed to be the only one reserving judgement about the development until more information was provided. Both my enquiries as to the intended purpose of the development and whether the Exclusivity Clause signed with Bromley council meant council-led excavations would be carried out pre-building were met with blank stares. The only thing flying freely about was rumours, although this seems to be a feature of the news coverage in general; a 6* hotel and an exhibition space are only two of the purposes being confidently asserted as definitive!

An artist's reconstruction of the proposed development (image belongs to Sky.com)

An artist’s reconstruction of the proposed development (image belongs to Sky.com)

This is not intended as a slur on the project; far from it. One of its main aims is to interview members of the public for their personal memories of the subway, bringing the community into a heritage project which could have become purely architectural all too easily. Rather, this is meant as an observation of the tension simmering beneath the surface of every archaeological and heritage find, brewing spats between the desire to protect heritage and the needs of a modern community. How are we meant to deal with both? Are they inherently antagonistic? 

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View from the West Croydon train station

Redevelopment is, in my opinion, not only a necessity for heritage sites but often a blessing. If an ancient building is sensitively redeveloped and given a new use as a town hall, it will be seen more as community heritage than if the stone skeleton was picketed off from the public and red tape made it impossible to use the area. One of the most beautiful things about British cities is how new builds have grown around old and the fascinating picture that presents on a day to day basis. On the flip side of the coin, cases such as in Sudan where future redevelopment of the Nile river is due to flood not only archaeological sites but also modern towns obviously brings no benefit to anybody. 

Nu and the Zhongrong Group have promised not only to restore the site but also to engage with community feedback, although whether they will keep this promise remains to be seen. Personally, my main concern is the loss of community green space. What do you think?