Category Archives: Blog Post

The Community Power Coat

During COVID lockdown, I was commissioned by Collective Encounters to create a piece of art that reflected the thoughts and feelings of my local community.

Do you remember how great it felt when your school mates (and one of two of the more sound teachers) signed your leavers shirt? Do you remember finding it hanging in the back of your wardrobe or rolled up in a memory box in the loft years later? How wonderful does it feel to remember those life events?

I took my cue from this feeling. I remember leaving primary school with the positive weight of good and hopeful wishes, literally on my shoulders. Fast forward five years and there I was again, leaving senior school with messages from all my friends scribbled and drawn all over my sleeves and chest.

Physically wearing thoughts and feelings is a truly transformative experience and one the majority of us remember fondly. Sadly it only seems to happen in childhood.

When I first moved to Liverpool age 8, I remember hearing my mum say ‘Oh, she’d give you the shirt off her back. referring to a friend who would help anyone and everyone, whenever she could. The saying stuck with me.

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As my teen years wore on in L13, I became increasingly aware of labels. I wore Bon Bleu, Sweater Shop, Fila and Nike Air Max 95’s. Our school coats were Helly Hansen and Sprayways. The lads all wore Rockport (in tan, obvs). Labels enabled us to fit in where it mattered. If you didn’t wear those labels, you weren’t cool, or in with the popular kids. It’s an age-old cycle on which we’ve all been on one side or another.

I looked more closely at how labels and their meanings change to us as we grow older. During the pandemic, labels such as Key Worker, NHS, Furloughed, and asymptomatic became more prevalent as we learned new ways of social acceptance.

Back in May 2020, Collective Encounters commissioned 10 new works by emerging artists. The commissions form part of its Above & Beyond project, and respond to themes of “community power” and “community action”. To fulfill my artistic brief, I combined the ideas of wearing feelings, labels to fit in, and labels to stand out and engaging with a community with human kindness at its heart.

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I created a coat. It’s a run of the mill, beige trench coat that you’ll see on any street in any town or city, around the world. Men and women wear this style and its colour is universal.

I began collating input from friends and family, then on social media and then with my neighbours, local food bank, and volunteers involved with food hampers and medicine deliveries.

I asked the questions: “What does community power look like, to you?” and “What does community power mean?”. The answers to these questions, coupled with the labels, words, sayings, and phrases that have become the ‘norm’ during the COVID pandemic, then formed the pattern for The Community Coat.

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The more I explained to people what I was working on, the more giving they were with their own experiences and feelings. Grief was an overriding theme as elderly loved-ones in care homes passed away without family members present. This gave way to rising anger as political figures were seen to be flouting the rules while funerals were watched through Zoom.

New behaviours and hobbies came to the fore. Family bike rides, street bingo, and making masks all got a mention. While riding the highs and lows of mental health on the Corona Coaster also featured heavily.

I used mixed textiles to recreate symbols old and new during this time. Black Lives Matter protests and moving tributes to the late George Floyd are there alongside nods to the International Space Station, our incredible NHS, and our city’s iconic architecture – surrounded by wildflowers, reminding us that the world revolved, without us.

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From crayons and sharpies to embroidery, temporary tattooing, stitching, gluing, painting, stenciling, feathering, and caligraphy – The Community Coat pays homage to a city filled with passion, dealing with grief, injustice, and new normals, all while having each other’s backs.

My profound thanks to Collective Encounters for allowing me to do something different with a creative brief, and for helping me to bring people from my community together, during unprecedented times.

Thank you so very much to each and every person who generously donated their words to The Community Coat. I hope it speaks volumes about our lives during the lockdown.

 

 

 

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Summer Tunes

My August 2020 mixtape is bursting with classic summer tunes and new music for your ear lobes.

I was late updating the Mixtape section of the website this month as I had a total crisis of confidence. I spent the first few days of August on a 600 mile round trip to Scotland and had tried in vain to curate a playlist for the journey.

Didn’t want to come home

I threw together a whole load of hip hop, RnB, classic soul and Motown – my go-to mash up of easy listening. And it kinda worked, although it felt old and over played.

To make matters worse, my boyfriend put together a kick-ass playlist which charted his musical tastes through the decades – including influences from his parents, school mates, college, jobs and pre, during and post uni.

I’m not going to lie. I learned so much about him from that playlist. Stuff I definitely never knew before and while busting some serious car seat moves up the M6, I also felt massively inadequate.

What even is that picture?

So, dear readers. I want you to know I’ve put more effort into the August playlist. While you don’t know the story behind each and every track – just know that they’ve all made me abundantly happy at one point or another. I hope one or two tracks make you smile too. Happy listening.

You can check out the August 2020 mixtape, here.

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Saturday Catch Up

Feeling a bit paranoid this morning. I woke up with a smidge of a sore throat and it’s making me anxious. Can’t help but think it’s due to the tonne of alcohol I necked last night though.

Before anyone worries, I’ve no temperature or cough so I’ve come to work, where I toil on my own for a few hours so I’m also staying safe and not endangering others.

Waiting to get in at work

Tell you what though, four months on, it’s still really scary all this COVID shiz, isn’t it? I try to limit my COVID media consumption otherwise I end up feeling panicky and like I don’t want to let my kids breathe fresh air or see daylight again.

I’m slightly more concerned at present as I’m due to have surgery in a few weeks and the thought of going into hospital, plus the self-isolating period beforehand is making me a little nervous. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I have to take a COVID test four days before the procedure to make sure I’m in tip-top condition, so that’s a weight off.

It’s disappointing to see so many people STILL not wearing masks in my local area. Both Tesco and Aldi seemed to have relaxed their measures. There’s no longer staff on the door encouraging people to mask up and sanitise their hands. People are back to moving your trolley or leaning over you for produce. Again, maybe I’m a bit paranoid but surely it’s better to be safe than sorry?

Just wear a mask, will yer!

I also understand that not everyone can wear a mask, but I doubt very much that accounts for the many I’ve witnessed.

So back to Saturday morning. I’m currently sat outside work waiting for someone to let me in as I’m not a key holder. It’s BOILING out. 19 degrees and cloudy at 7am can take a running joke. Speaking of which, I text my boyfriend last night (after a few glasses of wine) and said: “ isn’t it brilliant sleeping alone when it’s hot”. I’m not sure what he made of that but I think it made some sense.

I woke up this morning with the youngest night ninja sprawled out across my side of my bed!! I don’t know how he does it! My subconscious picks up every moment they turn over on the night so I’ve no idea how he sneaks in. Little beggar.

He read me the ‘Mummy and Me’ forever friends book this morning then proceeded to make me a slice of wholemeal bread, slathered with Philadelphia, for breakfast. He’s gonna make a smashing husband one day, that kid.

Full up with love, I cycled the 2 miles into work and have been sat, sweating on the steps outside waiting to get in ever since. Happy Saturday peeps!

Thunder & Lightning Ice Cream is the one

Prepare for a barrage of blog posts in the next week as a number of art commissions I’ve been working on, officially go public. Plus I’m yet to bore you all with my Scotland trip photos and anecdotes. Nice one Julia!

 

 

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Love Not Fear – Visions of the Future

Looking back through a huge catalogue of 17,000 images, I rediscovered a photo I took of my daughter, three days before lockdown. 

One good thing to come out of lockdown (aside from the incredible rosemary fries at Honest Burger, Bold St) is time to reflect. I don’t mean philosophically, although I’ve done a bit of that too. But through the massive haul of images I’ve taken over the last year, and one really stood out.

Now, I don’t profess to be anything other than a hobby photographer. Three years on I’m still only just getting to grips with my Canon 1300D (see, total amateur), but I’ve honed a skill for capturing absolutely ANYTHING that catches my eye. This has become a way of life now and just walking around the estate to the shop, throws up endless snap opportunities (it also adds an additional 10 mins on to what should be ‘nipping’ to the shop).

My daughter, Cleo is my willing subject. When she’s not throwing the peace sign at me and touching her nose with her tongue (eww) she genuinely loves setting up shots, looking at the light and how it affects the picture, and she’s nailed the ‘vacant eyes’ look which encourages the viewer to take in the entire scene, rather than just her little frame.

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I took this picture in Stockbridge Village, Liverpool. We’d been to a friend’s birthday party at the swimming pool. It was bedlam, full of fun and laughter and friends and good times. On the way home, we took a shortcut behind the housing estate and along the side of the primary school. Through a gate designed to stop people on quad or motorbikes avoiding police detection and along a path of broken paving stones.

The route was like a post-apocalyptic Total Wipeout course. Littered with broken glass, mattresses, small fire debris, kid’s plastic toys, laughing gas canisters, and household waste. There’s always dirty nappies, isn’t there?

On approaching the gate, we’d been full of chat, laughing about the kids having fun in the pool and playing party games. Walking along the path, each step felt like the party colours faded away. A modern-day Wizard of Oz scene.

I took the picture and we quickly moved along through the end gate. Far from an out of body or time travelling experience, the two minute stretch of wasteland was just plain eerie.

Love Not Fear (www.lovenotfear.co.uk) is a citywide collaboration uniting our communities through a digital vision board with people’s hopes and visions of the new world. It’s a place to plant the seeds and spread the message of the positive changes we want to see in our future through all creative mediums.

I have added my photo to the Love Not Fear vision board as a reminder that if we don’t take action to look after our community land and spaces now, the dirty nappies, mattresses and broken glass will be all that’s left for our kids. I’ve named the photo ‘Economy Class’. Investing love in our communities will help us to not fear the future for the generations to come.

You can add your Love Not Fear artwork here.

 

 

 

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HHT Kids

This is not just another blog post about HHT. This is the M&S blog post of HHT because things are about to change. Here come the kids! 

July 2020 has been transformative. For 2 years we, as a family have come to terms with a staggering diagnosis. HHT is an incurable, hereditary disease, which can be fatal. Having a personal diagnosis can be very frightening. Having two of your three children, your dad and your brother also diagnosed, all in one go, is off the scale.

You can read our full HHT story here.

It’s time to make a change. HHT is not widely recognised nor represented in the UK. There are no specialist treatment centres and trying to get your hands on up to date advice, let alone treatment, can take months and months.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

What

I’m going to launch HHT Kids. Primarily a website, HHT Kids will become the go-to platform for children, young people, and their families looking to access quality, medical-backed information, support, and a sense of belonging.

How

Having already established connections with HHT Italy, HHT Ireland, Cure HHT, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital VAC Centre, I will curate factual, medical-approved information and guidance for free digital access.

The website will offer information about the diagnosis and treatment of the condition in multiple formats. I would like to see walk and talk videos from clinicians to show children and their families what happens when they go to an HHT appointment/Genomics/MRI Imaging/ Phlebotomy etc.

The website will also feature case studies. Kids, writing, or creating unique art to illustrate their HHT symptoms, in their own way.

The website will feature important information packs for parents, caregivers, schools, nurseries, and community groups. This information will help those outside the family bubble to understand the HHT diagnosis and coping mechanisms.

The website will feature additional information which HHT sufferers can personalise to help others understand how they cope with their symptoms. ‘My Friend Has HHT’ and easy to complete, downloadable school packs, which families can pass on to school, will prove to be invaluable.

The website will offer practical advice from people with HHT. Tips on how to pack for travelling, competing in sports, what happens if your nose bleeds in the middle of an exam/at the cinema/while swimming, etc.

Developing relationships with amazing artists has enabled me to begin planning different ways of reaching young people with HHT. Thanks to Andy Reilly, Brian Denham, and Wedge Collective, together I am positive we can actively engage HHT patients with art therapy, creative challenges, and printed deliverables.

This will be the first initiative to acknowledge how important positive mental health can aid HHT daily life.

The HHT Kids website will feature a blog where users will be encouraged to contribute, along with updates from our amazing partners in medicine and genomics and our European partners.

There are no specialist centres in the UK. This isn’t a national charity nor is there any real understanding among health care professionals outside ENT or vascular departments.

There is currently no cure for HHT. I firmly believe it is vital the voices of HHT children and young people are heard and they are actively engaged with education and research which could ultimately save lives.

The wheels are in motion. Follow @hht_kids on Instagram to find out more. If you’d like to be involved with the project, please email: katereillyjames@gmail.com 

 

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Holding Back The Years

I recently rediscovered a video-camera tape from 20 years ago. It’s a 7 minute long, shaky as hell, candid effort of 17-year-old me and a friend driving around Sydney in a Porsche, behaving like extras off Neighbours. It’s bloody brilliant. 

Now when I say brilliant, I mean in the most non-brilliant, sarcastic of ways. It’s actually horrendous. The camera work is filmed as though we’re on a fairground ride, it’s windy as hell or pitch black most of the time, and the shots of us getting in and out of the car resemble something from either an 80’s porno or a cop film. Then there’s my hair.

I’ve had to borrow an old school Sony video camera to be able to watch this epic back. It’s such an old model. There’s no viewing screen, just plug-in aux cables and a battery pack which no longer works without a mains cable. Somehow, the tape we recorded on is as good as new, almost 20 years later.

Not particularly loving sixth form or my job at Merseyside Police, I grabbed my Aussie passport in 2000 and went back home to work in Sydney while the Olympics was on.

I made some amazing friends and memories and carried out my share of irresponsible behaviour. Well, that’s what your teens are all about, right? But that hair! Where the hell were my friends when I asked for an official KAREN cut? Sheesh.

Last night I sat on the floor and stared up at the big screen as my teenage self came into shot. The instantly recognisable frown, the wiggle in my walk (those heels were immense, I bought them in Dune on Bold Street in Liverpool before I left), and my hysterical imposter Aussie accent.

Having been back in Sydney just three months, and having left the UK as a fully paid-up, card-carrying Scouser, I was definitely putting that on!

I look back at my tall, athletic frame and wonder why I ever beat myself up so much about my body. Three kids and 20 years later, I’ve fallen heavily into the trap of wishing I had loved myself and valued my self-esteem at that young age. Instead, I just wanted to feel like I belonged, somewhere.

Singing along to Christina Aguilera on the car radio, we drove around Double Bay and over into the city without a care in the world. We were pretending we had it all and could rule the world. When in actual fact, we were broke and wondering how much longer we could last out before calling home for a bailout.

If I had any advice for my 17-year-old self, it would be to value and understand the importance of living an authentic life.  Put honesty, with yourself and others, integrity and loyalty at the very top of your list and never lose sight of them.

Twenty years later, having, at times been ruled by my ego and selfishness, I realise there is no opportunity to wipe the slate clean. You learn, (eventually) and you move on. On reflection, in all its technicolor, straya-accented glory, I was already on a bumpy path at just 17.

The video is entitled ‘Pie’s Adventure’. Someone, I think it was my dad, once said: “Kate’s in Sydney” which apparently sounded a bit like Steak and Kidney, so naturally I was nicknamed Pie, from there on out.

Let me tell you, Pie has had many an adventure since Sydney 2000, some good, some not so good, but this is the only videotape I have to document who I was and how I’ve changed. It’s wonderful and mortifying in equal measure.

Here’s to holding back the years. Stopping to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and being grateful for another blessed day.

 

 

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Gone Fishing

The following short post is in response to Writing for Wellbeing, an initiative by the University of Liverpool, Literature & Science Hub. The course ran throughout the Covi-19 lockdown period and encouraged people to write in response to 9 different themes. This piece is from a prompt about nature as metaphors in mental health. 

I like to cast my net far and wide. A skill I have mastered from 37 years of making four beds every morning. The muscle memory serves me well.

The net encompasses the whole body of water, overlapping the shore on the other side, bullrushes, and rocks poking through. The objects that lay on the far shore are lost and forgotten, like toys taken to play outside and left in the rain.

The net sinks deep in places where the current is strong. On my own, it takes all my might to pull the catch to the surface. Entangled with the outstretched claws and tusks of polar bears and elephants, suspended in the dark trenches and cold water.

There is no fight for breath anymore. They wait patiently to be brought back to the surface to be disected.

The shallow pools offer a more palpable yield. Flamingoes in formation, performing their rudimentary dance. It’s loud and chaotic but the routine brings me peace and clarity. I catch flamingo on every trip and they are delicious.

Lemurs, on the other hand, cause me grief and give me life in equal measure. The most challenging of my daily catch, the striped tails mesmerise and disorientate me and I regularly lose my balance.

Sometimes they resist with such force, the struggle tires me to tears. Other times they are curious about my methods and indulge me, coming right to the surface to reach out or inspect the net and my equipment, before darting away. The unobtainable Lemur, always slipping through my hands.

I am committed to the notion that successfully catching a Lemur, will make me an accomplished angler. For now, I will feast on flamingo and nurture their existence on the water.

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The Tin Opener

The following short post is in response to Writing for Wellbeing, an initiative by the University of Liverpool, Literature & Science Hub. The course ran throughout the Covi-19 lockdown period and encouraged people to write in response to 9 different themes. This piece is from a writing prompt about technology and the environment. 

A stalwart of the cutlery drawer. A modern-day essential ‘bit of kit’. As I sit here in perfect solitude watching great big clouds float by, dragons, bikes, and pitchforks captured in mirror image over the vast lake, I turn the tool over in my hands.

From Heinz 57 to the ground beneath my feet where the ingredients are sourced. The rich, unmistakably earthy smell fills my nose and throat and transports me back to a time of Land Girls and victory curls and a sense of purpose, a day’s work well done. Propeller planes engine overhead then and now, bring me back to my temporary home under the clouds.

Cutting through the earth the mechanical teeth take a clean and greedy mouthful of soil and grass, crawling with wildlife.

A sod, laden with all the nutrients, goodness, and greens yet it cannot nourish my soul with enough enthusiasm to take a bite.

A can of worms is what I have opened, and now I am no longer hungry.

 

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Crocs, Geese, and Giant Strawberries

There are fundamental signs of getting old, and choosing to buy a pair of Crocs is undeniably one of them. It’s official, I am middle-aged. Shouldn’t I be buying a sports car and dating a 22-year-old?

Alright, so the old adage of suffering a mid-life crisis is a bit outdated, but seriously, I want my PORSCHE 911! I’m joking, although I have bagged a younger man, but that’s not news.

The weather during lockdown has been nuts. 30 degrees one day followed by 8 days of solid rain, followed by a week of mid-twenties and 40 days and 40 nights of rain again. Like I said, nuts. I wasn’t prepared for summer.

I panicked. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew I didn’t want to wreck another pair of Adidas Campus by wearing them without socks, to avoid tan lines and before I knew it I was on the Very website looking at flip flops and then didn’t stock my size in Havaianas and then after three hours of scrolling for stupid flip flops, I just went for plain black, hit order and logged out.

I wasn’t even excited when they arrived. I opened the bag and there, staring back at me, were Crocs. Not Crocs like, Crocs. They’re not mules that you slip your feet into. They don’t have air holes in the front, nor a strap that goes around the heel. They don’t have Crocs written anywhere on them bar the sole, and they don’t have the logo. Oh God, I bought Crocs, didn’t I? Shit.

The weather stayed warm and so I wore them, making sure to hide them from my teen in case she started legal proceedings against me. It’s been three weeks and so far, so good. Having published this, I won’t be surprised to find my secret Crocs have been kidnapped like in some summer sandal version of Taken. I can’t see Liam Neeson turning up to rescue my flip flops. Can you?

From crocs to geese! Yesterday I wrote about The Untitled Goose Game on Nintendo Switch and oh my days, it’s so addictive! The other worrying aspect of this game is realising that acting like a complete asshat is actually really fun! Scaring a kid into a phone box by honking at him, stealing household items from the shop, lobbing a pint glass in the canal, and smashing valuable vases is a riot! Anyone else played it yet? What do you think?

Where do the Giant Strawberries fit into all this, you may be wondering. It’s simple really. I managed to get a shed load of work done today, loads of research, I’ve started making more progress on HHT Kids too. Funding, set up, content creation, talking to our website designers, getting the ball rolling with organisation status, etc. I’ve cooked, cleaned, emailed, called, text, typed, and listened. All-day long. (Still no strawberries?!)

At 5:30pm we packed up some snacks and headed out to a new park for an alfresco dinner and some exercise. I met the cutest dog, annoyed my boyfriend by calling him for no good reason, took loads of photographs, hid my little boy as he took a quick leak in the bushes, and cycled home. Bit of TV and everyone into bed.

Here I am, trying to not rustle the packet of Giant Strawberries I told the kids must have ‘fallen out of the bag at the park’ so I don’t have to share them. The old ones are the best!

 

 

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Summer Loving

It’s officially July. This makes me happy for many reasons. A fresh start on my Everton calendar (oh hi Tom & Dom), a fresh start in my diary and it feels like summer again, which to me, means great music and good times. 

I’ve just updated the Mixtape section of the blog with 31 of my favourite tunes for the month ahead. As usual, it’s a real mixed bag in there. Everything from Beyonce to Al Green, Doves, Nick Ellis, Sinead Harnett, Earth Wind and Fire, and the King himself. Give it a listen here and send over any new music recommendations to katereillyjames@gmail.com.

Elsewhere, it’s set to be a busy month. I’ve just had a second art commission confirmed, which I’m mega excited about, more on that soon. Having just gotten into the swing of things in my new job, I’m finding managing working from home difficult.

The kids are home all day and crave structure and while I’m learning all kinds of medical terminology and working out marketing strategy, they’ve been spending way too much time on their ipads. Back to homeschool planning and prep for me!

We discovered the most awesome Nintendo Switch game earlier today. Untitled Goose Game is bloody hilarious. You play a goose, let loose on a local village and the aim of the game is to be as annoying as possible at all times.

There’s a dedicated honk button and your to-do list consists of tasks such as ‘grab a pint glass and chuck it in the canal’ or ‘lock the little boy in the phone booth’. Honestly, I’ve howled laughing playing it with my very impressionable 5-year-old. I was slightly mortified when he asked me what a phone booth is?! God, I’m so old. Check out Untitled Goose Game here.

Absolutely chuffed for the Toffees today (COYB!) and a home 2-1 win against Leicester and our first penalty of the season, at Goodison. Still not loving the fake crowd noise but a win is a win! Bring on Spurs on Monday.

Had white chocolate Coco Pops for dinner (thanks again to @Kelloggs for the fab nutrition advice for HHT patients) while emailing the European co-chair of the VASCERN HHT group for some advice about setting up HHT Kids on Instagram. If you don’t already know my HHT story and why it’s so important to me to raise awareness of this rare, vascular disease, you can get the low down here.

So after a 3 mile, 9pm walk with the little ones, I’ve blitzed the house, prepped homeschool for tomorrow (for me and them), and flopped into bed to get my first blog of July done – only to realise it’s already the 2nd…bugger!

Happy July Everyone, hope it’s a cracker for you.

 

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