Sharing things

Sharing things from 2020: Stuff that helped us through part 1

December 17, 2020 The University of Edinburgh Season 3 Episode 10
Sharing things
Sharing things from 2020: Stuff that helped us through part 1
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to a very special edition of Sharing things. Rather than our usual conversation, we decided to ask past guests about their most memorable objects of 2020. What helped? What will they remember? What made a difference? What did they hold on to as other things fell away? Part one features Beth Christie, Catherine Wilson, Shy Zvouloun, Max Sanderson, Ross Nixon, Amalie Sortland, Melanie Reid and Peter Mathieson.

There will be more past guests and more 2020 objects in part two. Join us then, or check out the Sharing things back catalogue and get to know our community through objects that were important before this year.

Each episode of Sharing things is a conversation between two members of our university community. It could be a student, a member of staff or a graduate, the only thing they have in common at the beginning is Edinburgh. We start with an object. A special, treasured or significant item that we have asked each guest to bring to the conversation. What happens next is sometimes funny, sometimes moving and always unexpected.

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[Theme music]

Kate  0:07  
Welcome to a very special edition of Sharing things. I'm Kate, a 2018 graduate and your brand new host for 2021 - but before we welcome the new year, we have to say goodbye to the old one - and it's complicated. So rather than our usual conversation, we decided to ask past guests about their most memorable objects of 2020. What helped? What will they remember? What made a difference? What did they hold on to as other things fell away?

Unknown Speaker  0:39  
[Theme music]

Beth  0:47  
White, grey, green, blue, stone, shell, glass. This shallow wooden dish on my table holds a mixture of bits and pieces gathered from the stretch of coast where I live.

Kate  1:00  
This is Beth Christie, Senior Lecturer in Learning for Sustainability in the School of Education. 

Beth  1:07  
I know this beach well. I've been running, walking and clambering over the rocks and the foreshore for years, decades even. But this year, I know it better than ever before. Lockdown, working from home and isolation have caused me to spend more time in one place than I can remember. Returning to the shore day after day, early morning, late afternoon, dusk, in the darkness of night, has taught me the stories of this place. I know the patch where the sea glass is brought in with the swash. I know the stretch where the crows sit on the fence posts and they watch waiting until I'm so very close before they turn and they fly low and inland. And I know where the goldfinches gather at the field edge close enough to snatch grain from the bottom of the cow's feeder. And I've watched whilst the swifts and the swallows arrived in early May gracing our skies for a few months before returning to Africa when the evenings became cooler. Running these coasts, I've discovered stonechats and knots and caught sight of a sparrowhawk, or was it a merlin? It flew between the dunes fast and sleek and purposeful, and I'm waiting, patiently, to be able to see it again and know exactly who it is. And lately, it's been the turn of the pink footed geese coming in from the north, Iceland and Greenland to rest here on the Scottish East Coast before leaving in the yellow autumn light, mob-handed and loud, letting us know that the days are getting short and winter is just around the corner. But it's not just the wildlife, it's the ground underfoot that I've come to know. It's the composition, the textures, the cambers and the contours. I know the soft sand that gathers around certain rocks, and the burns that track to the shore and the stretch where the seaweed is buried under a dusting of sand hidden just enough, that I still smile as my feet bounce on the spongy, forgiving bed of tangled kelp. And why has this been so meaningful to me? Well, when this year has felt devoid of my usual markers of time, commutes and conferences and travel, those ubiquitous structures that bookend days and weeks and months. It's been the changing tide, and the strandlines on the shore that have taught me new concepts of time, all driven by natural cycles of sunrises, sunsets, and seasons. And it's been said by Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect, that it's the tactile senses, in my case, the holding of stones and the picking up of glass and shell that connects us with time and tradition. It's through the impressions of touch that we shake the hands of countless generations. He says "a pebble polished by the waves is pleasurable to the hand, not only because of its formation, a perfect pebble on the palm materialises durations. It's time turned into shape". This shallow wooden dish of stone, shell and glass, white, grey, blue, green means so much to me, as it represents time. Time well spent, and importantly, time better understood.

Catherine  4:27  
When asked to sum up 2020 with one object, I started looking around my flat trying to think about what - in the future - will remind me of this year.

Kate  4:37  
This is Catherine Wilson, poet, writer and arts administrator.

Catherine  4:43  
I think we've all relearned our homes, they have become schools, offices, nurseries, cinemas, bars, whatever our imagination and floor space could get away with. I sit at my kitchen table most days next to two huge windows. And early in lockdown, I decided I wanted to decorate them with plants. Despite growing up in the countryside, I've always loved being based in Edinburgh. But during lockdown, I started aching for nature and all its wildness. There's a huge sense of comfort for me in knowing that there's a whole part of this world; animals, insects, plants, dirt and trees that keeps ticking no matter what. The squirrels in the park and flowers between concrete slabs have no inclination of what has been going on. Whether that's you missing a bus, or a global pandemic. When coming home from one of my daily walks, I saw my local supermarket was selling succulent plants in tiny pots. They were shaped like unicorns, and I bought one on impulse and set it up right next to my desk so that he could peer out into the world for any passers by to see. A couple of weeks later, out for another daily walk, I noticed so many of my neighbours had their own gold-horned unicorns, and they were all staring out at each other. It felt like a silent form of conversation. You might know that unicorns are actually Scotland's national animal. It's a piece of pub quiz trivia that many scoff at thinking it's like a trick for tourists. Because it doesn't seem right for us to have something mythical represent us, you know, we should have something a bit more sensible. But I've always loved it because Scotland is a land of stories, of coming together with friends, maybe some booze and good food and sharing our lives with each other. In the past, this would have been around a fire but these days it can be at a bus stop, or in a pub or in your front living room. But we couldn't do that. So this cheap, winking unicorn plant pot suddenly felt like our way of still sharing stories. Nature of course intervened. Since April, my succulent bloomed so large, I had to rehome it. And now my unicorn pot holds my partner's and my toothbrushes in the bathroom. It spent so long in the sun that the glitter gold paint on its horn actually melted slightly. Over the weeks and months other unicorns disappeared from the windows across the street. I imagine everyone else had a similar issue. Nature outgrew its little home. But I want to leave you with this. How amazing, in a year where our lives felt like they stood still, we still grew something together as a community.

Shy  7:47  
The object I've chosen is my copy of the book, the Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy.

Kate  7:54  
This is Shy Zvouloun, law student and director of the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative.

Shy  8:01  
The book is a picture book, a fairly unconventional picture book containing a lot of really wonderful drawings and gentle words about kindness and friendship and love. I remember the day that I bought it, it was around late February, early March or so. I'd been having a really bad day and I remember that this was not made much better by the fact that I was feeling quite unsettled. I'd been debating whether or not to return home before a lockdown was inevitably announced. And my mind was a messy and fairly chaotic place. As I always do when I'm having bad days, I did find myself in a bookshop. And the book, the Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse immediately caught my eye. I always felt like it was calling me from across the bookshelves, sometimes I don't know if other people have this, but I feel like books will look at you and they'll beckon. So I call-- I listened to the call. I remember picking it up paging through it a little, and tearing up and it was then that I knew I had to bring it home with me. It's been with me ever since, it came home with me when I inevitably went home for lockdown and it returned to Edinburgh with me and it now sits beautifully displayed on my desk in all its glory. Over the past few months, there have been so many moments that have felt hopeless and frightening. And so many moments where life felt turbulent, but also really weirdly static and so frozen. And it's during those moments of fear and anxiety and angst that this book grounded me. It reminded me not to be as hard on myself as I tend to be and to allow myself to be loved and to love other people and to be vulnerable and to appreciate the world and the people around me even when I felt that I couldn't and didn't want to do so. Yeah, it provided me with a lot of-- a lot of support and comfort. In particular, there's this one page in the book, that's my favourite page of the book, and it contains an illustration of the four friends, the boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse upon whom the book is based, walking through the woods. And its captioned, 'sometimes said the horse, sometimes what? asked the boy, sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.' And that's what it feels like nowadays, it feels like getting up in the morning is such a task and getting work done from home is such a task, but doing that is what Charlie says, it's brave and magnificent. And it's what's going to get us through, and the light is at the end of the tunnel now. So that is, you know, that reminder is needed and those words have stuck with me, and I'm sure they'll stick with me for a long time to come. I hope that they will with anyone else who gets the book too.

Max  10:49  
So my object for 2020 is a bit of a weird one...

Kate  10:57  
This is Max Sanderson, the Guardians lead producer in audio. 

Max  11:01  
...probably needs a bit of a backstory. And the object itself is my wetsuit. And I suppose 2020 for me, like for a lot of people, was that it was a year of change. And sort of living in London, living by myself, it was quite a-- it was quite a kind of insular year and insular experience. And, and I was lucky enough to get home for a month back to Ireland, where my mum lives on the west coast, just by the sea. And it was there that I kind of realised that, you know, the time had come for me to leave London and be by the sea really. I grew up-- growing up in Hong Kong, which is obviously a small island, there was-- we spent lots of time on boat trips. Coming back to the west coast of Ireland, like we did every summer, in the school holidays, you know, being by the beach, I spent a lot of my youth sailing, surfing, swimming. And yeah, had a conversation with my mum, and just sort of realised how much of my life sort of revolved around the sea. And so yeah, and so went up to the attic, in my mum's house, retrieved my old wetsuit, went for a couple of swims in it. And, yeah, I said, mum, I think I'm gonna need you to send this over to me when I get back home, and sort of made up my mind then. Came back to the UK, and basically started looking straightaway, where could I-- where could I be by the sea, and I'm lucky enough to be working from home quite a bit. But also to-- when I do work, to have access to a train that, that comes down to the Kent coast. So I said, within about a month of getting back, myself and my girlfriend had decided we were going to move to Deal which is on the Kent coast, and got out just in time, just before the second lockdown. And since then I've been, you know, trying to swim in the sea as much as possible. I've joined the local Sailing Club and I just feel so much better. I think there's something about being able to leave your house and walk down to the seafront and sort of doesn't matter how stressful your day is. Yeah, so that's my meaningful object. And it's a wetsuit, but it's, um, what it represents, I suppose is, is a lot more. And in a weird way, as you know, it kind of represents, you know, growing up, but also that part of growing up, where you kind of revert to the things that, that gave you so much sort of comfort when you were younger, you know, I feel like I've kind of done full circle. So yeah, that's my, that's my meaningful object.

Ross  14:24  
It's not something that really encapsulates this year, but it's something that reminds us of things to look forward to.

Kate  14:30  
This is Ross Nixon, 2020 graduate and future trainee solicitor.

Ross  14:36  
On my wall and on every wall, I bring it round all my flats, is a picture that was taken in 2017 by the fantastic photographer, Mihaela Bodlovic. And it's a picture of Alyssa Edwards during Welcome Week 2017. Being Welcome Week coordinator all those years ago was one of my first real jobs at University and kind of first time I had a project that I could look after and manage, so working with the fantastic team at the Students' Association, we put on loads of events throughout the entire week. But we got the chance to bring Alyssa Edwards from Ru Paul's Drag Race to Teviot and that was really important to me, because it's the first time we've done an event like that. And on the night it was-- we were all tired, we were all exhausted, but it was just so nice to see the energy in the room and people getting together and having such a good time. And we queued people out the door, down Teviot Towers and all across sort of Bristo Square. And it was just a fantastic opportunity for lots of different people who were new to the city, who were new to university to meet each other, to bond over something they enjoyed, and everyone has such a fantastic night. Even looking now at this picture, I can see people there who became lifelong friends after that. It reminds us that this isn't here to last. And although we can't meet up our friends, we can't bond over those common issues in person, we have these fantastic technologies that we can still keep in contact. And we all get Zoom exhausted, we all get that experience, but one time, we will be able to go back to Teviot, to these event spaces and have a good time and meet people and just celebrate what Edinburgh is, what the University of Edinburgh is, what Welcome Week is, what our degrees have meant for us. I didn't get to graduate this year, our graduations were unfortunately cancelled. And the biggest thing on my mind right now is being able to get back together and seeing all my friends, where we worked four or five years towards these degrees and finally have that celebration and have that ability to recognise the hard, hard work we've put in and celebrate our successes. So the thing I've chosen isn't so much to remember this year, but it's to remember to think about what's coming and what we can get back to. And that's not to say that this year has been awful, there's so many things this year, that being forced to slow down has forced me to consider, whether it's and looking after myself, whether it's choosing time and planning more effectively, whether it's maybe getting healthy eating or physical exercise, the ability to slow down and stop going 100 miles an hour all the time has been so valuable. But I do miss seeing people, I miss the events, I miss everyone around George Square campus, King's Buildings. And I miss seeing people. So I'm so excited to get back to that and at the end of my year, that's what I'm focusing on: what's to come.

Amalie  17:26  
So my meaningful object of 2020 is my 'A' mug.

Kate  17:30  
This is Amalie Sortland, 2020 graduate and former host of Sharing things. 

Amalie  17:36  
So it has this big A in the front, which is the first letter of my first name. And then it has black and gold detailing around it. It's ceramic, and it's quite big and it's definitely very, very nice to look at. So I was gifted this mug by two friends on my 22nd birthday last year. So that was 2019, and I've been using it daily ever since. And my birthday is in the summer and I remember this day so clearly because Edinburgh was starting to get ready for the Fringe, can you imagine? And my friends and I had brunch and then walked around in the meadows where there was a fair. And I remember after that we went to the cinema and we watched Booksmart, which is an amazing movie and then we got drinks in Tollcross. This was also the day before I started working on Sharing things with the alumni department, so the first time I ever used this mug was on my first day at this job. And I remember feeling very warm and happy on this day. And I guess this is also the feeling that drinking coffee from this mug gives me too, especially now that going to bars, the Fringe, going into an office for work, and Edinburgh in general feels like a very distant dream to me. It's been a very treasured object ever since corona happened, and I left Edinburgh and I used it all throughout lockdown and will continue to do so, as long as it stays in one piece I'm imagining. Not only does it remind me of Edinburgh, it also reminds me of the life that I lived there, and my friends who I sadly haven't seen for a while. 2020 has been such a weird year, I think we can all agree on that with lots of unexpected turns. And where I am now is so far from where I thought I would be at this point. But there's something about using this mug that makes me feel connected to something that feels constant. And that is all the memories of Edinburgh and the feelings I get when I think about them. And because I'm a huge coffee drinker, the experience of drinking coffee just becomes a whole lot nicer because of all of these connotations. So yeah, that is-- that's my meaningful object of 2020.

Melanie  19:53  
My memorable item of lockdown is a dog.

Kate  19:56  
This is Melanie Reid, writer and columnist at the Times. 

Melanie  20:01  
He's a rescue staffy. He came from the charity called Staffy Smiles and he's about eight years old, and he came from a loving family, but one where they were very, very stressed by one of their children had ADHD. And the dog couldn't cope anymore with the growing excitement in the house. So they were desperately seeking to have him adopted. And they'd approached the society and so, we were looking for a dog, we had contacted charities and adoption agencies, and suddenly, in this sort of scramble in the sort of two weeks before lockdown, we were landed with this dog straight from its other house. And it was a sort of a very, very hastily arranged match. And this poor dog was very insulted at losing his home and very stressed, and we had quite, it was quite an interesting few months during lockdown. And one of the lovely things has been seeing him decompress, and start to trust us and love us. And we call him Popeye. He is a real character, a very strong character. And now, because he loves exercise, and he'd never been off the lead before, and we live in the country, and so we let him off the lead and he runs and he runs as if he's discovered the glory of running and watching it is so beautiful. This dog thundering around in the forest and the undergrowth like a bullet, snorting and sniffing and just running with the beauty of movement. And now every, every afternoon, I climb on my mobility scooter, which I didn't used to do, because I'd stopped using it, but I climb on my mobility scooter and I take him for a walk. And he and I, we go for miles, and he runs and he runs and he runs. And he's trained to come back to biscuits now. And he is turning into the most wonderful dog. It's been bumpy. But it's been Popeye's year. And it's been the year of lockdown. And it's really helped us a lot.

Peter  22:26  
The suggestion was that we should look around the room that we're working in and identify a meaningful object.

Kate  22:32  
This is Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh.

Peter  22:38  
I don't know if he can really be described as an object, but this ginger cat, which spends a lot of the time with me, especially if my wife is at work has been an irremovable object in some of my video conferences and some of the meetings that I've held during lockdown. He waits to hear me speaking at the most crucial moment and then tries to come along and get in front of the screen, so I'm just going to put him back in his comfortable place. But I would say he for me is the, the issue-- the, the object or the individual, which has really made the biggest impact on some of my working from home. If that illustrates my caring responsibilities, because, because my children, children are grown up and gone. It does also make the point that many of our students and staff and colleagues have had other responsibilities to deal with during this period of lockdown and it's a really difficult pandemic period. And I know that people have been working under very difficult circumstances, both in terms of divided time and prioritisation, also, sometimes room, physical space, or the internet access or various other aspects of the changed circumstances that we've all had to deal with. For me if all I get is interrupted by a cat every now and then that's hardly a major problem for me and delivering my, my job. But I know for many people, it's been much more significant than that and there have been many challenges to balance. We know that the pandemics not yet over and the challenges will continue. But we are learning lessons and we hope that as time goes on, things will become easier. So my very best wishes to everybody for the holiday period. I hope you'll get a rest. I hope you can spend some time with people you love. And I hope you all stay safe. And I look forward to seeing everybody hopefully in more normal circumstances as time goes on.

[Theme music]

Kate  24:33  
Thank you for listening. There'll be more past guests and more 2020 objects in our next special episode. Join us then or check out the Sharing things back catalogue and get to know our community through objects that were important before this year.

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