Tag Archives: Lockdown

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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I Need New York

When I’ve had a crappy day or my head is filled with made-up scenarios and situations I’ve made ten times worse by overthinking, only a trip to New York can soothe me.

Sadly I’ve neither the money nor the physical ability to hop on a transatlantic flight right now. So the next best thing is Sex And The City. I know, I know. It sounds utterly ridiculous but losing myself in the drama of four, wealthy, successful women, living it up on the streets and Park Avenue apartments of New York, is good for my mental health.

We’ve all don’t shitty things in our lives. Lied, cheated, been selfish, whatever. But somehow, watching fabulously-dressed, no f&ks-given, women make these same mistakes, is pretty spell-binding.

Carrie is awful to Big, he can’t commit. Carrie treated Aiden even worse. He needed security. Trey can’t get it up, Charlotte just wants to be loved. Harry loves Charlotte, just like she wanted, only initially she’s ashamed of him/his appearance. Miranda wants her independence, Steve just wants to adore her, and Samantha? Samantha just has it all.

Since SATC hit UK screens back in ’99, the overriding question was always, “which one are you?” Same went for The Spice Girls. The stigma being if you were a Samantha, you were a bit of a slag. Fast forward 20 years and I’m fully admitting that I’m a little bit of all of the SATC characters – guys included. Just not Berger. Don’t be like Berger.

When everything around me feels like it spiraling out of control, the ultimate chill is a full back catalogue binge. Followed closely by Gossip Girl – although I can’t see Dan as innocent after becoming hooked Netflix series ‘You’. If you know, you know.

I have deadlines looming early next week so I can’t currently afford to lose two days to New York and high fashion. I’m going straight in with the first movie. Expect tears, but an altogether much happier me in around 2 hours time.

 

 

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For Your Eyes Only

Lockdown has actually unlocked some interesting new pastimes for me including sewing non-surgical face masks and having a crack at writing erotica. A mixed bag you might say.

It’s day 81 since Coronavirus put paid to my next career move and I’ve found myself trying on a number of new roles. First up is teacher. With three school-age children at home for the foreseeable future, I wasn’t about to let up on the learning routine. Luckily my eldest is a superstar and has managed her work and timetable like a boss.

For the younger two, I’ve constructed tick lists of worksheets, art projects, practical skills, and fun science experiments and baking.  We’ve also enjoyed kick back days in the garden, riding bikes, playing on the Switch and ipads too. All in (just about) equal measure.

I’ve officially mastered banana bread and apple crumble. So that’s the baker box ticked too. Other roles I’ve assumed include film critic, artist, interior designed, engineer, mechanic, photographer, maid, cook, dancer, scorekeeper, delivery woman, and last but not least, writer of erotica. Yep, I said it.

Writing has paid my bills for some time now, but I’m talking what’s on guides, features, and news stories about celebs and communities doing amazing things. I’ve read a fair few books during lockdown and got talking to a friend about why Fifty Shades is much better in the written word than on screen. Despite the kick-off about the use of language when describing the kinky sex between the two main characters. Writing erotica is pretty challenging if you’re trying to avoid getting too poetic with the words.

I thought I’d give it a go. It’s different from my usual writing prompts and well, there’s only so much banana bread a girl can make (and consume).

So, I’ve got 1703 words of pure lust on offer. I won’t post it here, because it’s a free and open platform that anyone can access. This particular body of work isn’t suitable for those age 18 and under. We all know the internet is a big old junkyard, I just don’t want to add anything to the ‘easily accessible’ pile.

If you’d like to read it and offer some feedback, email me, Katereillyjames@gmail.com and I’ll send it over.

Look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Homeschooling – Take Two

It’s day 34 for us and I’ve made a real effort to get back into the swing of things after the Easter break. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for the kids this week and some handy links if you want to give any of the activities a go. 

I gave the kids (and myself) the Easter break off homeschooling.

I won’t lie, it’s pretty exhausting trying to source new ideas and activities every single day, especially if you have kids of different ages. Now that we know lockdown is being extended until at least 7th May, I realised I was going to have to up my game.

Having created back garden artworks, livingroom motorways, made our own pizzas, did PE with Joe and worked on our footy skills, it was time to get back to English and Maths. I have three kids, aged 14, 8 and 5. All the previous activities we’ve done can be found here. 

 

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Luckily, the 14-year-old has a full online learning program which is monitored by her teachers. She’s also a complete legend and I know I can trust her to crack on. Which leaves me the task of organising fun/educational stuff for the younger two.

They have an hour a day of TT Rockstar, Mathletics and Purple Mash, which again is monitored by the school. Aside from that, it’s up to me. The purpose of these worksheets – the majority of which I have ‘borrowed’ from Pinterest, is to do something fun together. It’s quality time. It’s family learning.

So, to keep me off the chocolate and the kids’ brains stimulated, these are the sheet work ideas I’ve come up with, plus a couple of handy online learning sites to break them up.

Read All About It

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Independent learning is an important step for all kids. I’ve devised this idea that my 8-year-old is a reporter and she’s to fill her newspaper front page with an exciting story and picture. Once I’ve explained what she needs to do, and the time frame, I know this is something she can get on with while I do some maths with her little brother. The exercise covers handwriting, research and a little bit of art.

World Wide Word Search

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I’ve made a word search for both of the kids. 8-year-old Cleo will focus on countries of the world while the little dude gets the months of the year, something he’s still not quite got in the right order yet. Cleo will also fill out an additional sheet with a fact about each of the 12 countries. Something she can use her Ipad for.

What’s The Time Mr. Wolf

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Parenting fail o clock! Well, they’re still young but, time is something my eldest daughter didn’t grasp until much later than most, and she’s pretty good with maths. So I’m making an effort to start early with the younger two.

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We’re making a spinning clock together (a la this one above from Mum in the Mad House blog) and we’ll fill in these super easy sheets with terminology such as: quarter past, half past, quarter to and the hour. They’ll number them, cut them out and add them to a bigger display. I’ll then routinely ask them what time it is throughout the day. I’ve bought them both a Lego watch each to wear too. Get them on Amazon, here.

Dollar Bills Y’all

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Money is another concept that took a little while to catch on in our house. Well, they’re all bloody fantastic at spending it, less so at appreciating its value (not unlike myself, ooh shoes).

I’ll use these basic sheets to lay-out the coins in order (how I’ll chuckle when they ask why we don’t have a £20 or £50 note!) and then move on to some good, old fashioned money questions: If you have £1 and you buy 3 x 10p sweets, how much change will you have? Playing shop at home is equally effective!

Aquatic Maths

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I hate, actually hate those sheets of sums in long rows that the kids are given at school. They’re so uninspiring. With times tables taken care of online, I’ve tried to be a bit more creative with Logan’s sums and drawn them into either fish or octopus shapes. I made some Sudoku puzzles for Cleo to get to grips with. More ideas welcome.

Eggsperiments

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Awwww man, I love a bit of science! I told the kids I could make square eggs. They think I’m nuts but it’s a really easy and fun science experiment you can do at home. Providing you have eggs! Give em a boil, peel them and while they’re still warm, stick them in a square container or box (use the Youtube Kids app here to learn how to make an easy card/paper box). Once they’ve cooled, they take on the form/shape of the box! SCIENCE!

The sheet I’ve drawn out gives the kids a space to write down or draw what we did, what we think will happen and what was the result.

The Jolly Post Girl/Boy

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We’re really lucky to have two besties living just around the corner from us and as part of our daily 30 min bike/scooter/rollerskate exercise, we’re going to play The Jolly Postman/boy/girl. The kids are missing their friends and while they know they must abide by social distancing rules, they can write and draw letters and pictures to post to each other. Exercise, English and Art! Winner. You can buy The Jolly Postman book here. It’s a classic.

Lockdown Locks

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Bit of fun for all the family this one. We’ll be lining up all our fave Lego figures and seeing what we can style a new hairstyle out of. We’re hearing great things about grapes, raspberries, playdough, Blue Tac, mashed potatoes, Nutella and more.

Feed The Birds

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As part of our daily 30 mins government-approved exercise, we pass a whole load of pine trees and so we’re planning a little nature activity too. Collecting a few up on our next route, we’ll be slathering them in peanut butter, dipping them in birdseed and lashing a ribbon around the top to make bird feeders. Ta dah!

BBC Bitesize Daily

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This week sees the launch of BBC Bitesize Daily. A handy 20-minute programme, covering a number of different subjects for kids of all ages – each day. On days when I’ve failed to prepare any worksheets or maybe they’d rather be out in the garden playing, 20 mins and pen and paper isn’t a big ask. Check it out here. 

Pinterest

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Pinterest is a free website/app which essentially details all the cool stuff on the internet. It’s an online project book/pinboard/mood board. Simply type in key stage 1/2/3 worksheets, fun art ideas, spellings, how to teach the 7 times table, whatever and the internet shall reply. It’s visually more fun that just googling and you’ll be surprised at just how many ideas there are.

How are you getting through lockdown with your little ones? Any bright ideas to make learning more fun? Drop me a line, like, please, share your ideas! I can’t help but think the kids aren’t going back to school any time soon! KateJamesBlogs@gmail.com

Good luck everyone, have fun and enjoy. Plus, there’s always gin. 

 

 

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