Cotswold Life


With su­per­hu­man pow­ers pos­si­bly gifted by the Greek gods, Dr Janina Ramirez is re­turn­ing to Glouces­ter this month to bring a se­ries of events cel­e­brat­ing our di­verse and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory

- WORDS: Arts · Youtube · Cowley, Oxford · Oxford · Oxford University · University of York · Winchester · Woodstock Festival · Blackfriars · Wonder Woman · Twitter · Gal Gadot · Cotswolds · Janina Ramirez · Saint Anne · Centre for Medieval Studies · University of Winchester · Michael Scott

There’s no get­ting away from it, the coro­n­avirus sucks like an empty Dyson. You don’t need me to tell you that. But, in the spirit of art his­to­rian Dr Janina Ramirez – the glo­ri­ously, con­ta­giously, fab­u­lously eter­nal op­ti­mist – there is al­ways a flip side. While phys­i­cal fes­ti­vals and lec­tures have been put on hold since March, Janina has been bring­ing us a stream of vir­tual talks via Youtube, BBC iplayer and other on­line sites. And they’ve been bril­liant: en­light­en­ing, en­ter­tain­ing talks on sub­jects such as art his­tory, rit­ual ob­jects and god­desses, brought straight to our so­fas.

As so­cial dis­tanc­ing’s still a ‘thing’, Janina and I are us­ing that other tech­no­log­i­cal saviour, Zoom, to catch up... and I al­most, al­most feel like I’m with her in the sun­shine of her beau­ti­ful Ox­ford­shire gar­den.

Janina – known to most sim­ply as ‘Nina’ – is a force of na­ture, and what a force. Re­cently cel­e­brat­ing her 40th birth­day, she has packed an as­ton­ish­ing amount into those years.

Af­ter gain­ing a de­gree in English Lit­er­a­ture, spe­cial­is­ing in Old and Mid­dle English at St Anne’s in Ox­ford, she went on to gain an art/lit­er­a­ture PHD on the Sym­bol­ism of Birds at the Cen­tre for Medieval Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of York, then a lec­ture­ship in York’s Art His­tory

Depart­ment, fol­lowed by lec­tur­ing posts at the Univer­sity of Winch­ester and Univer­sity of War­wick – may I breathe now? – she now runs the Un­der­grad­u­ate Cer­tifi­cate and Di­ploma in His­tory of Art at Ox­ford. But you’ll know her best for her metic­u­lously re­searched, lively and en­gag­ing books – and her nu­mer­ous ap­pear­ances on telly, with Trea­sures of the An­glo-sax­ons, The Vik­ing Sagas, In Search of Ar­ca­dia, Art on BBC, Raiders of the Lost Past, and very many more.

Although based in the Ox­ford­shire town of Wood­stock, Glouces­ter has been lucky enough to have her as pres­i­dent of its suc­cess­ful His­tory Fes­ti­val for the last six years. With this year be­ing the fes­ti­val’s 10th An­niver­sary, as well as cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of Her­itage Open Days in the city, 2020 was due to be a barn­stormer of a year. Then along came Covid-19...

With all sorts of plans for the pop­u­lar Black­fri­ars Talks and more, Nina and the fes­ti­val team have been work­ing hard to de­liver a pro­gramme of on­line events, while en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors and res­i­dents to get out and ex­plore our her­itage for them­selves.

“I’ve been say­ing for a long time about be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, in the broad­est sense,” says Nina, “but there’s so much we can do now with­out get­ting in a car, a train or aero­plane and phys­i­cally go­ing and do­ing things. There has to be a democ­racy in learn­ing. If you say to peo­ple ‘come to this hall on this day at this time’, that’s not demo­cratic; peo­ple can’t all get to that talk, whereas with some­thing like a vir­tual talk you can go any­where in the world and, if some­one has ac­cess to the in­ter­net, they can watch it. That’s a broader part of shar­ing knowl­edge – shar­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally and with peo­ple who wouldn’t be able to ac­cess it oth­er­wise. So, ed­u­ca­tion­ally, I think there have been lots of won­der­ful things hap­pen­ing over the last few months. There are ob­vi­ous down­sides, but I’m al­ways the op­ti­mist!”

Through­out lock­down, Janina has been home-school­ing her chil­dren, too.

‘To see a real scrip­to­rium, to see the carv­ings of a bored monk scratched in a win­dow frame – I ab­so­lutely fell in love’

“We locked down early as we had the virus, and at that stage I went for it all guns blaz­ing. I said, ‘right, we’re go­ing off for ed­u­ca­tional walks, we’re do­ing paint­ings, we’re cre­at­ing Celtic torques...’ We were do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent ev­ery day. I was try­ing not to make it all about the his­tory of art; I was do­ing sci­ence, film stud­ies and all sorts of re­ally in­ter­est­ing cross-sub­ject classes. It was OK – they knew why we were do­ing it – but as the time went on the en­thu­si­asm re­ally started to wane... although my son learnt to play three in­stru­ments in lock­down. By him­self!”

Nina’s chil­dren have in­her­ited dif­fer­ent as­pects of her per­son­al­ity, she says: her daugh­ter (now eight) has all the niceties and gets on with any­one, whereas her ten-year-old son has her “crazy, mad en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion.”

She says that her heart has gone out to ev­ery­one who had to home school as well as cope with the other as­pects of the coro­n­avirus lock­down, and ad­mits to feel­ing “re­ally down” at times. Nina was ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal be­cause of the virus at one point and, un­be­liev­ably, thought at the time she was a fail­ure...

“I re­ally felt I couldn’t keep all the balls in the air; I couldn’t be mother, teacher, cleaner, gar­dener, and do all my other work. My Ox­ford work was off the scale as we had to turn all our cour­ses vir­tual, so I had to re-train all our staff and stu­dents and get all of the lec­tures up on­line. I had so much to do, and re­ally did feel that I wasn’t do­ing any of it well... just try­ing to get to the next day. So, I have to say there is no room for per­fec­tion dur­ing times of dif­fi­culty – you just go for sur­vival!” she laughs.

“Strangely, just be­fore lock­down, I was made pa­tron of the Na­tional So­ci­ety for Ed­u­ca­tion in Art and De­sign. It’s been go­ing for over

100 years and is the beat­ing heart of keep­ing the pow­er­sthat-be in­formed of what art ed­u­ca­tion should look like – how it should de­velop, how it should tie in with changes in his­tor­i­cal as well as cul­tural devel­op­ment. It’s a won­der­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion and I was so proud that, when I was taken on as pa­tron just on the brink of lock­down, how im­por­tant that body has be­come in the last few months. I’ve seen so many peo­ple turn­ing to the creative arts – to writ­ing, to play­ing in­stru­ments, to mak­ing things... even the rain­bows made with crayons for the NHS! We have to take that as a chance to show just how im­por­tant the arts are.

“I think they’re just start­ing to lis­ten and, when the mu­se­ums and gal­leries re­open there’ll be such a flood of pas­sion and de­sire to get into those spa­ces. It has to be acted on, and it must fil­ter down to pri­mary school level.” Though she won’t ad­mit it her­self, dur­ing lock­down Nina has been jug­gling enough balls to keep Gif­fords Cir­cus go­ing for the next ten years. She’s not only been writ­ing two chil­dren’s books – and God­desses – but also pen­ning a tome called Fem­ina, which will re­dis­cover lost women of the medieval pe­riod, and pro­pose new ways of en­gag­ing with the past. Oh, and there’s a new se­ries of Raiders of the Lost Past com­ing out, so she’s scoot­ing off to Knos­sos soon as the first stop in the tour. Phew!

You may think that’s more than enough to keep an art his­to­rian/me­dieval­ist/ writer/tv pre­sen­ter/lec­turer/wife/ mother busy but, re­mem­ber, this is Janina we’re talk­ing about – the Ox­ford lec­turer who once sported a Won­der Woman out­fit on Twit­ter in such a bold and beau­ti­ful way that it put Gal Gadot in the shade. She’s also been writ­ing an – at present – se­cret chil­dren’s book se­ries. While tak­ing a rare break re­cently with her hus­band in the Cotswolds, she found her­self – for the first time in years – ac­tu­ally re­laxed. Away from the pres­sures and de­mands of work and fam­ily life, her mind started clear­ing of ev­ery­day stresses.

“I’ve been work­ing on this se­ries of chil­dren’s books since I was 21,” she says, “and I can’t even tell you the ti­tle be­cause it’s all un­der wraps! This was the big tril­ogy I’d al­ways wanted to write and, weirdly, it all came into fo­cus – the whole sto­ry­line, the whole world just crys­tallised – and all be­cause I’d re­laxed.” And now she’s turn­ing her at­ten­tion to this year’s Glouces­ter His­tory Fes­ti­val, which is run­ning from Septem­ber 5 to 20 as a vir­tual event, with films, speak­ers, in­ter­ac­tive maps, walk­ing guides and more. Janina, in par­tic­u­lar, was look­ing for­wards to re­turn­ing to Black­fri­ars Pri­ory for the bril­liant talks pro­gramme, but Covid dic­tated that wasn’t to be.

“That place hit me right in the heart the first time I walked in. And then I saw the Scrip­to­rium... I was mak­ing The Pri­vate Lives of Kings at the time, and to see a real scrip­to­rium,

to see the carv­ings of a bored monk scratched in a win­dow frame – I ab­so­lutely fell in love... with the space, the team and the city.”

Nina spends months ev­ery year get­ting in­volved with the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the fes­ti­val, call­ing in favours from aca­demic friends – “smil­ing and buy­ing

This year’s fes­ti­val may be a ‘vir­tual’ one, but there’s still so much to see and do. Here are a few high­lights:

In­ter­ac­tive map: On the new web­site you find a fully in­ter­ac­tive map, fea­tur­ing 16 her­itage sites across the city. A vir­tual visit to each lo­ca­tion will lead you to an in­tro­duc­tory film; drone and 360-de­gree film/pho­tog­ra­phy, re­flect­ing this year’s theme of ‘look­ing up’; and links to web­sites and fur­ther con­tent.

Mem­ory Box: A new area on the his­tory fes­ti­val web­site to share mem­o­ries of each land­mark in the form of video, sound record­ings, so­cial me­dia con­tri­bu­tions or graph­i­cal con­tent, which will con­trib­ute to the com­mu­nityled film and fu­ture fes­ti­val op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Fam­ily fun: Down­load­able ac­tiv­ity sheets, colour­ing and fact sheets, plus oral tran­scripts.

City Voices: A day in the life of Glouces­ter Town Crier, Alan My­att, as he at­tempts to de­liver the first ever so­cially-dis­tanced Glouces­ter Day.

Di­verse City: Ex­plor­ing Glouces­ter’s BAME her­itage, in­clud­ing Black His­tory over­lay for pints” – to pro­vide talks, and this year is no ex­cep­tion. Although the pro­gramme is still be­ing pulled to­gether at the time of go­ing to press, with a theme of Voy­agers and Vi­sion­ar­ies for 2020, there’s an ex­cit­ing line-up for the Black­fri­ars Talks, in­clud­ing Michael Wood, Michael Scott, Olivette Otele and Cather­ine Hanley, among many oth­ers. It’s just one part of a wide-rang­ing fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing a host of unique and in­no­va­tive dig­i­tal projects in the city-wide City Voices pro­gramme, as well as the an­nual Her­itage Open Days. The fes­ti­val’s new web­site also fea­tures so­cially-dis­tanced live events and tours that can be en­joyed through­out the fes­ti­val.

This year, City Voices has a theme of Glouces­ter Look­ing Up and will form a big part of the His­tory Fes­ti­val. “It shows you just how di­verse Glouces­ter is,” says Nina, “but it also lets you see the city through an­other pair of eyes, and I think that’s the most im­por­tant thing. the map and a film about the All Na­tions Com­mu­nity Cen­tre.

King­sholm Look­ing Up: An il­lus­trated guide to the peo­ple and places of King­sholm, in­clud­ing a walk­ing map.

Take it to the Clean­ers: Un­sung heroes of her­itage are recog­nised for the in­valu­able work they do.

Tales from the Cross: An in­ter­ac­tive au­dio ex­pe­ri­ence de­signed to stim­u­late in­di­vid­u­als into think­ing about their city – its past, present and fu­ture, and their part in its story.

Il­lus­trated lock­down di­ary: 100 draw­ings doc­u­ment­ing the life of il­lus­tra­tor Karl Whiteley, his part­ner and young son dur­ing lock­down.

Bri­tish Sign Lan­guage tour of Glouces­ter: Deaf artist Olivier Jamin will present his unique and en­gag­ing response to 2-3 sites across the city in BSL, with sub­ti­tles for hear­ing au­di­ences

Glouces­ter Firsts: Two short doc­u­men­taries, which will ex­plore Black His­tory through telling the sto­ries of firsts - The first Mosque and first Black Busi­ness.

I’m so pleased that one of the big things that’s been hap­pen­ing with the fes­ti­val over the years has been to pump funds into City Voices; to see it as the unique as­pect of our fes­ti­val. We’re not try­ing to be the big­gest, the best or the flashiest, we’re try­ing to do some­thing that’s a com­mit­ment to the city of Glouces­ter long-term. And I think that’s amaz­ing.”

Janina is ab­so­lutely buzzing with en­ergy and ideas for the fes­ti­val, and you can be cer­tain that as long as we have our very own Won­der Woman on our side, it’s sure to be an in­cred­i­ble event.

“It’s go­ing to be a smor­gas­bord of the best out there,” she says, with un­abashed ex­cite­ment, “and I can­not wait!”

BAME pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion: Across prom­i­nent sites across Glouces­ter.

Black Lives Mat­ter: Project doc­u­ment­ing the lives of Glouces­ter’s black el­ders dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­demic, to in­clude a film, pod­cast and doc­u­men­tary.

Archives & Bris­tol and Glouces­ter Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal

So­ci­ety: Lo­cal his­tory talks, in­clud­ing the flood­ing of the Sev­ern in Tu­dor and Ste­wart times; what hap­pened to the poor in Glouces­ter­shire; ori­gin of place names, and more.

An­ces­try/archives Fam­ily His­to­ries: To fea­ture two key­note speak­ers plus film snip­pets from lo­cal peo­ple.


 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Black­fri­ars Pri­ory, Glouces­ter
Black­fri­ars Pri­ory, Glouces­ter
 ??  ?? Janina Ramirez chan­nelling Won­der Woman
Janina Ramirez chan­nelling Won­der Woman
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Dr Janina Ramirez
Dr Janina Ramirez

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