Category Archives: University

A Bristolian Wander

Dscf0614Well now, here we are with a couple of hours to spend in Bristol while Cat goes to her UWE interview. Bristol is bathed in Spring sunshine. Where shall we go first? Being female, Mary wants to find some shops, so let’s go looking, eh? First, we find this, which is large, old and churchy. I conclude that it is a large old church.

Shortly, we arrive at St. Nicholas’ Market, a fascinating collection of stalls, including foods from around the world, second-hand bookshops, unusual clothes shops and more. I suspect that the University students use it a lot. Also, it is quite beautiful – check out the shadows thrown by the roof:Dscf0618 Interesting clobber at this place, too –DSCF0616 After a meander around the market, which would have made a #wander all of its own, we headed back down to the Harbourside.Dscf0625 From here we strolled down towards this footbridge, which has what appear to be two giant cream horns sprouting from it,Dscf0627 

Dscf0628…passing some interesting sights on the way, although I preferred






to photograph a rusty chain and a mooring bollard. I’m either sensitive to texture and spatiotemporal context, or I’m an eejit. Make up your own mind.


I also photographed these pretty flowers, though.




Four cranes loom menacingly over the south end of the harbour, from where can be seen a row of pretty houses near yet another church.



We still haven’t found any shops, have we? Around the next corner we stumble across the Aquarium, outside which is this proud beastie. Anybody got a giant cup and a huge sheet of paper?


Dscf0643And here’s the Planetarium –



Yes, that’s a Wombat reflected in the glass there. Dscf0644







Up past the Cathedral gardens, looking peaceful and tempting of a sit down while gazing at the rather lovely windows, Dscf0648Dscf0649 

Dscf0651 … but no! For we are on a quest to find some shops.

I liked this clock that will always tell the right time.





Now we catch sight of a few shops, but they sit on a very steep hill. I am reliably informed that @AhcomeonnowTed once cycled up this hill. How mighty-thewed must his thighs be, eh?




At the top (and along a little bit), we get this expansive view over Bristol.


Just a little way on, Little Mavis takes this fantastic photograph, which I shall call ‘Trees’. Can you see why? Yep, thought you would.Dscf0657

Dscf0660 This is Zed Alley – I wonder if the lamp is tilted due to hundreds of kids swinging from the crossbar over the decades.Dscf0659






And Dscf0661finally, after passing this clock which must be real fun when it is working (which it was not), we found the Shopping Centre and bought some Pick and Mix.


On the way back to the Park and Ride we passed this extremely attractive graffiti in a passageway –Dscf0663 Finally, out of the bus window, I snapped this shot of the coloured houses on the hillside. A Bristolian Balamory, if you will.


Cat’s interview, though, did not seem to go well, since those taking it appeared to go against what they had told us at the Open Day regarding Foundation years. Time will tell.


A few more Loughborough pics

Thought I might as well whack up a few more photos I took in Loughborough, but didn’t use in the last post. These are the fairly crappy ones, so you’ll miss nothing by skipping this particular blog entry.

First, just below, is Cat with the Town Hall waaaayyy up the end there behind her.Dscf0245

Dscf0256Next we have a shot of the Age Concern bookshop, which I took mostly just as a reminder that there are a lot of charity shops in Loughborough.

And here’s one of a number of shopping arcades that are to be found around the town. Up those stairs at the far end is a rather nice-looking coffee bar (or pizza place, or something).Dscf0259

Dscf0261 Next (over on the right there) is an example of the traffic that winds through this pleasant town, surprisingly little of which actually gets in the way of the meandering pedestrian – and yes, the tractor did drive through the red light which appeared as I took the photograph.

Here’s a shot of Churchgate (apparently the oldest part of the town), which did have some interesting little shops, not least the one called Mary Mary, which sold somewhat distinctive women’s clothing. Dscf0269Since my own Mary Mary is also somewhat distinctive, that’s hardly surprising.

Dscf0265 There was a beautiful old tree in the churchyard of the 14th century parish church, which I attempted to capture through the panorama feature of my camera. This failed, due entirely to the fact that I stood way too close and confused the function with bendy perspective.

I have therefore attempted to join the three parts of the tree manually, using good old Paintshop Pro. You can still see the lines where I couldn’t be arsed to meld the lighting and little offsets, but I reckon you still get the overall effect.

From where she is standing beneath the tree, Cat took the photograph below gazing up through the branches at the pretty blue sky.



Now, what’s left? Oh yes, a combination teddy bear / guitar shopDscf0272





in THIS arcade,Dscf0274





which sold these –Dscf0273




Yes, I know, ladies – Awwwww!!




And finally, a typical pub (all together, men – Awwwww!!)Dscf0260

Cheesecake Shop!

Dscf0277 The drive down to Loughborough for Cat’s latest University  interview was much more pleasant than the Derby trip, although they are pretty close to each other, presumably because we weren’t trying to force our way through rush hour traffic.

And here I’ll make a quick ‘by the way’ for my American readers (Hi, Viv!) – Loughborough is pronounced “Luff-burrer”, not “Lowg Bo Ro”.

On registration, Cat was given an interview time two hours later, which gave her enough time to come and check out the town with me. Yay for me, since she’s marvellous company. Plus – hey, sunny day! Win all round.

Dscf0243 One of the first things we spotted was that there seems to be a large (or at least ‘noticeable’) Chinese community in Loughborough, as evidenced by, well, the large number of Chinese people we passed, as well as various establishments like the Yi Ming chinese supermarket here. Dscf0244 The town centre is but a ten minute walk from the campus, maybe even five if you’re not stopping all the time to go “Oo, look at the interestingly shaped and coloured buildings yonder, behind Sainsbury’s!”

As we approached the town centre, we found a healthy number of fascinating independent small shops, such as this second-hand bookshop – Dscf0247

Dscf0249 – in amongst the usual chain stores, like this big Costa on the corner just opposite the town hall. The interesting mix of shops continued throughout our exploration, and was a big factor in our enjoyment of the place.

 The Sock

Dscf0251This odd statue, over on the right there, graced the Market Place nearby, and appears to be a bloke sitting on a bollard, wearing nothing but a strategic leaf (a sycamore, I believe, for you tree fans out there) and a sock, which he seems to be extremely impressed by. Later Googling found that this is indeed “The Sock”, created by the sculptress Shona Kinloch, having been commissioned by Charnwood Borough Council “to provide an attractive feature and focus of public interest”.

His sock is symbolic of Loughborough’s hosiery industry, and the rest of the sculpture contains images from the town’s history. Apparently, The Sock was far from universally admired when unveiled but “hearts have warmed to it and it is now a well loved feature of the Loughborough scene”. We loved it. And now here’s a big old shot of the Market Place, looking lovely in the Spring sunshine…Dscf0250

Dscf0252… and a closer look at the Town Hall.

Further up a little way past the flags and the naked chappie with one sock, we came across The Reel Cinema (see what they did there?), which impressed Cat because (a) it looked like a cinema from fifty years ago, and (b) the names of the films currently showing had obviously been put up there by the highly technical method of someone climbing a ladder with some adhesive lettering. In light of (a), lets try looking at the cinema in sepia, shall we?


Dscf0254Yes, that works! JUST like the Fifties!

Just above this time warp, we found Cat’s favourite shop of all. I don’t think I need to tell you anything other than the name of this shop for you to be able to judge its attractiveness and wow factor – yes, its…

 The Cheesecake Shop!


Dscf0262Meanwhile, down at the other end of town, this corner seemed to encompass the place – the white building being a combination of a Chinese Medicine Centre and, of all things, a stationers. Next door sits “The Cheese Cottage”, and emporium of a wide variety of said comestible. Past the cheesy vendors and we’re into Church Gate, which leads unsurprisingly to the parish church. But more of that anon, for what is this delightful establishment?Dscf0271 Oh yes indeed! Handmade chocolates, and a chocolate café, where you can  sit and enjoy all sorts of hot drinks accompanied by chocolates made to order. Mmmmm. But on to the church, which sat very prettily amongst budding trees.Dscf0263 In a month or so, when the trees are in leaf, and the cherry and apples amongst them are full of blossom, I’ll bet it will be a lovely sight. As it was, we found a large number of these harbingers of Spring:Dscf0268I’m sure if I tried I could come up with a snappy title all about birth and death, but to be honest with you I just can’t be arsed tonight. Dscf0248Now, although we took many more photographs (oh so many), I think I’ll limit myself to just this one before Cat and I walk back up to the University for her actual interview –  yes, its Cat’s favourite source of lunch again. This time however, they had sold out of her favourite sandwich! Oh noes! But wait, the young whippersnapper behind the counter (whom Cat described as “a puppy!”) offered to make her one from scratch, so hurrays all round.

The interview itself, Cat reports, was her hardest yet, given that they asked her many questions for which she had to think on her feet. She reckons it went quite well, though. The town itself was a big hit with Cat, who said it was the sort of place she’d be really happy living in. Here’s a summing up:


DSCF0164 Over on the right is Cat, outside the Markeaton Street site of Derby University. She is carrying her Portfolio of glorious artworks in the big black case. It isn’t half heavy, I can tell you. Over her left shoulder is her bag of sketchbooks and working drawings, while over her right shoulder is her UWE bag containing girly essentials.

Getting Cat up at 6am wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined, although she was noticeably monosyllabic, and we set off into the damp drizzly dark. (Half past nine in the morning – what sort of time’s that for an interview at Derby, I ask you?). Cat settled herself down for a right good doze.

The traffic was twatmongering awful, the windscreen kept drizzing up, and the road works were almost constant. Also, why the hell did I keep getting bloody white vans in front of me so that I couldn’t see any further ahead than its filthy back windows? Bloody Sod’s Law, that’s why! For two and a half hours I ranted, and used every swear word I could think of. Cat, however, snoozed on calmly like her namesake.

At 9:28, two minutes to interview time, we were still three miles from the University, and sitting in a barely moving traffic queue. Behind a transporter carrying, you’ve guessed it, white vans. Cat phoned the University to warn them she might be a bit late, then suddenly, delightfully, the road cleared. With a mighty “Wahey!” we foot-downed and were DSCF0138there in no time at all. After dropping Cat at the college, I parked up and walked into Derby to check the town out.  Oh, hang on – it has a cathedral, so it’s a city. On the left there is the Markeaton Street building from the east side, from which (were there any actual, you know, windows) you would have a lovely view of some allotments.DSCF0139DSCF0163There is student accommodation no more than two minutes walk from Markeaton Street, at St. Christopher’s Court (see right). It looked very secure, with fences, locked gates and entries, and a red car failing miserably to get in.

Big-arsed Gate Thingie

The road down into Derby looked as boring as a ledger book, so I struck off down a side streets and soon became completely lost. However, I did discover several hidden treasures of Derby’s cultural heritage. First, this big-arsed gate building thingie:DSCF0140No. I’ve no idea what it is. Google it if you’re that bothered. Down past there, and up some worn old steps, were several old abandoned mills. They were beautiful, in a ramshackle, knackered way, and redolent of the textile industry which used to thrive in Derby. Through the shattered windows could be glimpsed hints of how the interior used to look.DSCF0142 The graffiti was nothing to write home about, however. A little further on, someone had dumped this:DSCF0143 It looked like a work of bloody art to me, but I didn’t have a carrier bag big enough, so I left it there to be gathered in by the spring grass which will soon appear.


DSCF0162 I was beginning to get my bearings now, and turned right by a lovely old church which had fallen on hard times and been forced into prostitution as a Chinese Buffet. The final insult must have been having to submit to the name Wokmania.

Finally, though, I’d found the town (or rather, city) centre – in the picture below, you can see  Derby DSCF0160Cathedral at the far end of the street, thrusting itself at the grey, dismal sky. Derby, on this day seemed a normal everyday town (sorry, city).

All the usual shops you would expect were present and correct – Clinton’s, Smiths, Waterstone’s, Boots etc. etc. I saw no sign of any independent little shops that might have added a much-needed touch of piquancy, but later research shows I just missed some of the good stuff.

Rampant Rabbit Thruster Deluxe

DSCF0151 My hopes for some interesting retail outlets at last were briefly raised by this place (left), but sadly the very next shop along was just a Poundland. (and what exactly IS ‘Liquid Satin’, which you get free with every Rampant Rabbit Thruster Deluxe? Is it a vital ingredient? And doesn’t the rabbit get scared? I will never know, for I am far too cowardly to ask).

DSCF0148 A little further on was a market hall, which was most pleasing to the eye with its stripey roofs (rooves?), and globular lighting; there was a fair selection of reasonably priced stalls therein.

I did see a very pretty Chinese lady with blue hair, also, but I doubt she’s a permanent fixture.

The Halifax Building Society building DSCF0156surprisingly perked me up, featuring as it did several statues that looked about ready to topple over onto the oblivious shoppers below.  That’s Florence Nightingale over on the left there, and I’ll bet that if she HAD toppled with murderous intent, the death certificate of her victim would have made interesting reading.


Invisible in Derby

DSCF0159I had discovered by now that I was invisible in this town CITY. People kept walking into me as if I wasn’t there. Actually, it now occurs to me that they may have simply all been overcome with a desire for physical contact with yours truly given my high sexual charisma. Yes, that was probably it.

I also quite liked this clock, for its simple, angular Fifties feel. It told the correct time, too.

Finally, I stumbled across this place, which always puts a smile on Cat’s face –DSCF0149 

I bought us a couple of baguettes and Fantas, and returned to fetch Cat. She told me that the interview had gone well. She’d spoken eloquently about her art, and was now pretty impressed with the place – much more than she had been previously. She and another girl had drawn each other while awaiting their turns, which she had enjoyed.

In summary

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden

The River Eden is entirely Cumbrian and is one of the few large rivers in England that flows northwards. The source of the river is on the high limestone fells above Mallerstang Common, near the North Yorkshire border, and makes its way across eastern Cumbria, with the hills of the North Pennines to the East, and the fells of the Lake District to the west, to Carlisle. As it meanders through Carlisle, it passes the Brampton Road campus of Cumbria University.

Here came Cat for her interview and portfolio presentation, which went really well. She enjoyed it far more than Birmingham, and has been offered a place. Yay!

DSC00796While she was in the Uni, I took Ben on a Carlisle walkabout. First we visited this place – Rickerby Park – which lies between the campus and the river, and runs down to the riverbank. Ben, typical Labrador, DSC00794immediately focused on the water – and took a mighty leap to plunge greatly and splashily into the Eden, which was flowing swiftly, but not too strongly, in the middle, and more gently to the sides.DSC00788

DSC00795He had a little bit of trouble negotiating a log, but made it out OK and immediately decided I’d be better off it I was wet, too, shaking himself standing next to me. We started walking towards a nearby bridge, passing this fascinating sculpture, carved out of a tree trunk still rooted in the ground. Luckily, Ben forbore to do a wee up it.DSC00791

DSC00806The bridge was called, unsurprisingly, Eden Bridge, and was designed by Robert Smirke in 1815, and doubled in size in 1932. So said a weathered sign attached to the bridge stonework. Here’s an engraving of the bridge in  1815, shortly after it was first built.eden bridge 1815

A short walk of ten minutes and we found ourselves in the centre of Carlisle, a very pleasant town indeed.DSC00801

DSC00799The Christmas decorations were… interesting (see right, and above)… but the various buskers, including a jazz band, a brass band, and a string trio, were fun and rather talented.

DSC00802Carlisle’s history was much in evidence, and thankfully they had not followed the example of many other towns, but had kept their old buildings and thus provided a fine atmosphere. The council offices were situated in red stone towers, while other banal offices were similarly housed in impressive structures. On the left there is the police station.

And here is Carlisle Castle, unfortunately standing by a very busy road, which we did not have the time to visit, I’m sad to say.DSC00804Here and there were reminders of the recent floods which have devastated the North West of England, such as this small park where the trees appeared to be growing out of their own little islands.DSC00805

I popped into Gregg’s to buy a sandwich for Cat, although it turned out the University had provided biscuits and drinks. DSC00810I also bought one for Ben and I. In this photograph on the left you can see his “Need some help with that bread, Beardy Bloke?” expression. Note Eden Bridge in the background.

We found that Cat was still enjoying her visit, and so we returned to Rickerby Park for some Puddle Fun. DSC00813Yes, everywhere were deep (-ish) puddles left by the recent rains. Here, Ben surveys one particularly large example for gulls which he might consider chasing. In this case, he decided to give the lone bird in sight a break, and decided on a simple paddle instead.DSC00814

I was overcome by an uncontrollable urge to do something artistic, and took this artistic photo of some artistic trees reflecting artistically in, erm, another puddle. Artistic, isn’t it?DSC00817

Ben was still paddling calmly,DSC00819 when he suddenly found – a stick!

DSC00824“Its MY stick, you can’t have it!” he shouted loudly in body language, and proceeded to engage in The Zoomies, sprinting round and round at top speed in circles and figure of eights.

Across the sodden grass and through the puddles he careered –DSC00822

… often at too great a speed for my reaction time.DSC00820

By the time Cat called us back to go home, three hours of walking and running and swimming and jumping had taken its toll. Fortunately, I only have before and after photos of Ben, rather than me. I present, on the left, Ben before his three hour spree, and on the right, Ben afterwards. The look in his eyes is eloquently pleading “Can we go home, Beardy Bloke? I’m knackeredDSC00811DSC00818


So Cat had her first University interview-cum-lets-have-a-gander-at-your-art session yesterday, at Birmingham. After she had lugged her enormous portfolio through the door, I walked into the city for my first look at Britain’s second largest city.DSC00774 Um.

Can you say “uninspiring”? On a brief two-hour jaunt, it seemed nothing more than a tedious collection of chain stores put together in a boring layout. Even the ‘special’ Frankfurt Market paled into insignificance when compared with Manchester’s mighty Christmas German Markets. However, I did find THIS!DSC00775 Ho yes. Tasty, and entertaining to eat. While getting that little lot down me gob, I came across this outside the Bullring – he looks a bit grumpy, poor soul.DSC00776I was also amused by this sign outside the shopping centre, above a gadget shop –DSC00779  And that was about it. There was a pleasant (ish) view down one shopping street of a church and blocks of flats in the distance…DSC00777 … but honestly, the best thing about Birmingham as far as I can see is the hugely entertaining accent. I’ve tried to find a playable example to link to, but Google has let me down, so you’ll have to do it yourselves.

On my way back to fetch Cat, I did see another stall, which tempted me with its offers of delights outside my sphere of experience, but by then I was full of sausage and all the stuff I’d ladled onto it.DSC00780 Look! For twenty pence you can have cheese on your Ostrich Burger! Wonder if it is yak cheese?

Cat on Tour, Saturday 10th October 2009

UWE Bristol. “Can you smell fish?”

boweraston-722507A three hour motorway drive, during which I only fell asleep once (no, of course not), got us to the leafy Bower Ashton campus of the UWE School of Creative Arts by midday. The immediate difference between this campus and yesterday at Birmingham came even before we were out of the car: DSC00584 we were immediately directed to a convenient parking area, and found plenty of people in red T-shirts happy and willing to help. All through the day, in fact, we were looked after well, and kept informed of what was available to see and when to see it. It was a bright sunny day, which showed the green and rural nature of the campus off well. Forested hills cosy around the campus, which itself is dotted with trees and plenty of greensward. And the occasional giant letter.

I attended a Welcome Talk, while Cat waited in the sun to meet her Bristol-based friend, Vay, who was popping in to see her. The number of attendees meant that the talk had to be handled across two rooms with a common slideshow, but it was extremely competently done. As we were told – “Art & Design doesn’t need a large lecture theatre, so we don’t have one”.

DSC00610 Bower Ashton is in the grounds of Ashton Court Estate, and the house can be seen up the hill across the deer park (oh yes, there’s a deer park alright. Right next to the campus, and open for students to wander in, and presumably draw some deer). Although extremely rural, it is just ten minutes from the city centre. Many of the buildings are new. The School of Creative Arts has, in fact, four sites – the three others are used by the various disciplines. Students studying Illustration, Cat’s particular interest, also have a space in the historical Bush House, which is by the river in the centre of Bristol.

Resources are open to the whole faculty, so there are no confines to how students want to develop their work. Resources include an Art Shop, library, SU shop & bar – the faculty has strong links with Tate Modern, Aardman Animations, and the V&A among many others. Their deadline date for UCAS applications is January 15th, although interviews will be much later to give applicants several weeks to complete their portfolio.

DSC00591 Cat and Vay (for she had arrived while I was being impressed by the man with the disembodied voice) sat in on the following Welcome Talk while I poked about – everything was clean and orderly, with informative signage, including where to wait for coaches to see other sites, and what times they left. There were many bicycle racks – a student we chatted to told us that cycling was the best way to travel between the various sites, as there were dedicated cycle paths throughout Bristol.

We ate a tasty meal in the Refectory (where the food was rated with a traffic-light system according to how ‘healthy’ it was), before the time came for the Illustration talk. Now, Vay eats at the speed of a tiny bird. A dead one. She therefore had a whole fish yet to consume when the time came for us to move. We persuaded her to wrap it in napkins and eat it on the move, like a, well, wrap.

DSC00596 The talk was a little dry in its delivery, but the information we got was interesting and useful, although I did not feel inspired to take photographs during the talk. I shall therefore jazz up the information with a couple of pictures I took at other times in the day. The talk particularly lent itself to being presented in a blog via bullet points:

  • Animation kicks in at level 2, and could be an added option.

  • Working illustrators and agents visit often.

  • A degree consists of 360 credits. Students have to get 120 a year.

  • The year runs over two semesters: SEP to JAN and FEB to JUN. There is an additional two week break between the semesters. Extra hols, yay!

  • Year 1: Skills & Idea Development (printmaking, painting based on a theme, life drawing, location-based reporting, narrative, visual culture (a written module)

  • Year 2: Professional Working (how image gets to the page, text-based illustration both fiction and non-fiction, option modules)

  • Year 3: Students negotiate their own programme of study, receive live briefs and enter competitions, production of one major work or a number of short pieces, degree show in London, tutorial based: tutor assigned depending on choice of specialism.

DSC00599 At this point, several people (OK, me) began asking “Can you smell fish?” However, our presenter soldiered on, telling us that at interview, the chappie said, be prepared to tell them why you are applying; what is driving you. You should show an interest and knowledge of Illustration, and of the world in general (display that you have read widely, for example, watched films, know some current news etc). Your portfolio should include plenty of drawing (showing enquiring interest in ideas). Portfolio bullets:




Applicants do not need to have done a Foundation year, as they feel it achieves not-much-at-all.

DSC00603 After saying farewell to Vay, who sadly had to go to work, we were taken on an Illustration-centric tour of the campus by two chatty and knowledgeable Illustration students. Damned attractive gels, too. The picture on the left is Attractive Gel Emily enthusing to us about the library, which was a very-large-indeed library. It stretched around three sides of the building. DSC00606 I immediately found a book I wanted to read, and cannot resist sticking a photo of it here. There it is, look, on the right. Look where I’m pointing. We were shown, as well, various print shops with gorgeous views over the deer park, photographic and animation studios, and several fabrication workshops. Oh, and also where the new life-drawing studio will be situated.

Next, a trip on a charabanc! The attractive gels gathered with us to board a coach which took us into Bristol to see Bush House. The journey took us past SS Great Britain, the suspension bridge, and all-in-all served to show us what a beautiful city Bristol is. Fountains and art everywhere.

DSC00615 Bush House is a historical building by the river in the centre of Bristol, the fourth floor of which is for the sole use of Illustration students. First Years are given a desk and a locker, and by the third year students have their own work room. DSC00617 The rooms felt inspiringly artistic, the semi-circular windows giving fascinating views on all sides. According to attractive gel Emily, the best way to travel between the sites is on the ferry across the river, followed by a ten minute walk, although the cycle path is along the river and also very pleasant.

Finally, we were taken to an accommodation block, which was fairly average. We did not get to see any en-suite rooms, as these were all on a different site.

All in all, UWE was a resounding success with Cat, who rates it highly – perhaps on a par with Loughborough. Bit far, mind.

Cat on Tour – BIAD, Friday 9th October 2009

DSC00583The Arts and Design campus, known as BIAD ( Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) is one of several dotted around Birmingham City Centre. After ninety minutes of motorway driving, parking seemed unnecessarily difficult (no signs), until we spotted a bloke in a yellow vest way down a side street. Yep, he turned out to be the incarnation of parking signage. Once out of the car, our first impression was that the building is (in Cat’s words) HUGE! The photo up there is just the front bit – it goes back for ages. The setting is urban in the extreme, with few places where students might sit and relax on sunny days.

While we were queuing to register (see below), we amused ourselves trying to work out what courses other visitors were there for – Illustration, Architecture, Textiles, Jewellery. We were consistently correct, as is the way of things when its all in your head.

The Open Day was badly organised. It was not obvious where we were supposed to go once we got in, other than mill around aimlessly, and the place was a bit of a warren. DSC00558 However, we stumbled across the Student Union stand eventually, where two happy students were extremely friendly and helpful (if a little blurry – the drawback of using the phone camera). We also discovered the Art Shop, which was very well-stocked at reasonable prices. Cat bought a couple of sketch books.

Back in the canteen it was packed with rabbiting punters waiting for various tours, with the consequence that it was impossible to hear announcements as the “guides” all spoke softly, although they carried no big sticks. We managed, more by geographical happenstance than by judgement, to latch on to the correct crocodile of people for the Visual Communications (or VisCom, as they have it) tour. Pleasantly, we found that the walls everywhere were covered with students’ work, and impressive work it was too. In another “arty” touch, the floors, rather than being numbered (first floor, second floor etc), were referred to by colours.

Many of the rooms are open access, for the use of any student regardless of discipline. We saw a computer room full of iMacs for students to use for work, for browsing, or even for personal email. However, the bloke showing us round was at great pains to stress that in design, not everything is computer-based, and in this light we were shown a Print Room for all sorts of practical hands-on printing. DSC00570 We also inspected a well-equipped Photographic Studio where I took an Arty Photo (see left), a small Theatre (all black), and a Green Screen room (all, erm, green). In each area, a technician is always available to assist and teach students in the use of equipment. There was also a studio of desks for more traditional artistic work, given natural light through windows in the roof. Guide Bloke told us – “Good drawing skills are essential and greatly encouraged. Drawing is the basis of everything else”

Then a short lecture by George Hart, Illustration tutor, which covered the following points. Birmingham has three Universities. BCU has six faculties, including BIAD which dates back to 1843 and is the largest Art & Design educational centre outside London. DSC00561 The degree in Visual Communication has four strands – Graphic Design, Illustration, Moving Image and Photography. The course description was over-detailed for what we needed, but it boiled down to this – the course starts as a very broad-based learning experience, with much cross-discipline work. Specialisms (is that a word?) develop over the three years of the course until eventually the student is assigned a tutor appropriate for their particular field.

Students build a portfolio, making a Reflective Visual Journal (RVJ) – they keep everything: sketches, storyboards, research documents etc. In year 2, exchange visits are available to Hong Kong and Thailand. Visiting speakers appear from time to time.

He also gave advice on interviews and portfolios –

  • show a range of media, a range of ideas, a range of working sketches and/or models

  • bring sketchbooks as well as finished work

  • show passion and interest (Who do you admire in your field? What was the last exhibition you went to?)

  • it is more an informal chat than an interview – don’t be nervous.

He finished by saying that the degree is a team effort between student and tutor, not just tutors telling students what to do.

DSC00578 The accommodation we saw (reached by coach) was very plush, and included on the ground floor a gym, a jacuzzi, and a swimming pool (which are also used by members of the public). It was a tall block on a busy road in the middle of Birmingham, and I imagine it would be likely to be quite noisy. We weren’t told anything about student reps and security, unlike on other Open Days.

Cat quite liked the sound of the course, and will likely choose it as one of her five on the UCAS application. On the way out, she took a photo of a poppy in one of the few spaces where students might relax:DSC00582

Cat on Tour visits Carlisle

Mary drove Cat two hours North to the Brampton Road campus of the University of Cumbria; this is collated from her notes. The campus is small, on the north side of Carlisle. Apparently, non-sequiturily, there are a lot of Swedish students. There is one other campus in Carlisle, and others in Lancaster, Ambleside and Penrith. The campus tour was with a large group, which included a noisy toddler, with the result that some things the guide said couldn’t be heard. The area being created for computers was interesting, being a balcony in the library building (see right).
The presenter for the talks, in a very small lecture theatre, was engaging and interesting. The University does not guarantee campus accommodation for all first-year students, but they will find accommodation for them . All students (we think) get a bursary of about £1000 per year, although we do need to check this if Cat decides the place is for her. IT facilities are available round the clock at Fusehill Campus and in the library. Students can do evening classes in Media, Textiles, Ceramics, Woodwork, and Jewellery and in any case can use the equipment in any area (band saws, sewing machines etc.) once they have completed an induction session.
Illustration, which is Cat’s particular interest, is a BA degree. Students who the tutors feel are not quite ready for the course but show promise may be offered a place in year 0 which is a foundation entry course and is actually another year in Further education (no fees but no grants/loans). NOT to be confused with a foundation degree. In the first year, Graphics and Illustration do the same course. Workshops are communal 1st year students work in the same area as third years. Most work is marked on screen and need not be printed. Colour copies are 75p each. Students will typically fill three or four sketchbooks per term.
The second year sees Graphic Design and Illustration beginning to separate, although there is still some common ground. In Year 3, students are expected to concentrate on their strengths, and are expected to work on at least four projects.
In year 1, three weeks are given over to a language project, while one week is spent on Creative Writing. In Year 2, students produce a website. Work Placement is undertaken in Year 3. The University has connections with the design company, Pentagram.
Overall, Cat was pretty impressed to the tune of 8/10, but says that Loughborough leads the way still. Here’s her thoughts at the moment –

  1. Loughborough
  2. Cumbria (Carlisle)
  3. Derby
  4. Glyndwr (Wrexham)

Cat visits Derby University

We got up hellishly early (6.30 on a Saturday! Can you believe it?) so that we could get to Derby early enough to make the talk about the course Cat’s interested in at 11am. As it turned out, it was a wise decision as the roads were clear, and a cloudless sky promised that the day would quickly become uncomfortably hot for driving.
For now though, it remained pleasantly cool. An hour and fifty minutes of amusing chat, and we arrived at the University, easily found near the A38. A young gentleman directed us into the car park with a wildly camp gesture, and we wandered across to the modern buildings, half-covered with scaffolding.
Inside, the “atrium” was beginning to fill up, but we registered quickly thanks to (a) bringing the confirmation letter with us and (b) Cat’s skillful queue jumping.Just inside was a desk full of goodies – yay! We grabbed bags and badges and car stickers and lollies and pens… no wait! The pens, somewhat weirdly, are mostly a plastic tank for a bubble-blowing solution. Also, they are leaky. Whoops! Very leaky. Put them back.
The introductory talk was interesting, and explained the scaffolding – there is currently £75m worth of new facilities being built for next year. Derby University is a Teaching University, rather than a Research institution, and provides vocational training. That is, the teaching is always geared towards finding a job. Other points included –

  • Students work in small study groups.
  • There is a Family Programme for parents.
  • A Student Employment Agency provides vetted part-time work.
  • There is a bursary of £520 pa for our income bracket.
  • The Art & Design Faculty is based in a separate building on Markeaton Street.
  • There’s a free shuttle bus between all sites.

Out we go, and straight onto a bus down to Markeaton Street – another modern building not ten minutes walk away. The inside was clean and white with no decoration – perhaps surprising for an artistic institution. We sat down in a lecture theatre for the Art & Design talk by a woman whose name I missed, but whom we later dubbed (sarcastically) Mrs. Interesting.
Her Powerpoint slides were (again surprisingly, for someone saying they were an artist) abysmally boring, being plain text lists in dry language. Her voice and tone, and the content of her speech (as much as we could make out above the sound of yawning) were also tedious in the extreme. See how fascinated Cat looks in the photo on the right. (And no, its not a fag, its a lolly stick). However, I caught these bullet points-

  • They have a Year Zero Foundation, which is NOT a “foundation course”, and which we would have to pay for.
  • There is a lot of cross-course interaction.
  • They also run an MDes, a four year course leading directly to a Masters degree.
  • Students share common spaces, and exchange ideas.
  • They want passionate & committed students, who “Dare to be Different”
  • Acceptance is (as usual) by interview with portfolio, which can be in many forms (including electronic)
  • Prospective students should show commitment and passion.
  • Students make a wide circle of friends and contacts for the future.

Here we separated off into subject-specific talks, and ours (Visual Communications – Illustration) was given by – oh no. Mrs. Interesting again. Ah well. This time she was more animated, and I managed to glean some information –

  • Students are entered for national competitions
  • Students are given work to do on live briefs for real clients.
  • The first year is common with Graphic Design and Animation students.
  • Second and Third year more specialised, plus visits to London and Europe.
  • Drawing and Storytelling are important.
  • Students have desk space in a studio and work in company with others.

Cat brightened up considerably when she saw the boy who was to give us a tour of the building. She deemed that he was “hot” (see picture above, where Cat has absolutely no idea what Hot Guy is telling us). He showed us computer rooms full of iMacs (photo below – note the music keyboards attached to each machine), photography studios, and a room where students could go to borrow Apple laptops, cameras etc. free of charge. And yet it still nagged me that there was no artwork on display anywhere in the building. Just those ubiquitous bare white walls. Perhaps that was the influence of the Head of Art, Mrs. Interesting, which would fit in with her minimalist design for Powerpoint.We decided to walk back to the Kedleston Road site, which took about ten minutes during which we passed the most delightful park, or as Cat put it “a big-ass park with a little-ass railway”, for a miniature railway, complete with miniature diesel engine and rideable carriages, ran all around the perimeter. There was also a boating lake which looked very tempting.We ate in the café (good food), then took another bus to one of the Halls of Residence – Peak House (see right). The rooms were fine and adequate; there were five to a flat, and a common room for each building. The laundry room featured a vending machine dispensing four products – Persil washing powder, Durex condoms, Caffeine Pills, and some tablets called Golden Root (“You’ll love it and so will she”). Each room had free broadband. There was a boys school across the street that “sometimes might get a little noisy”. Cat found a phone with huge keys in one of the drawers.
And that was that. Cat decided that, all things being considered, and adding a point for the groovy park, that she was quite impressed. So, 8/10 for Derby University. The day was pretty hot by now, so Cat adjusted her dress accordingly for the drive home, which we brightened considerably by motoring through the Peaks instead of the motorway – and she looked so cool that I had to follow her example –