Monday, 14 July 2014

50 things to do before you're 11 and 3/4s at Packwood House

Good afternoon Positively Packwood readers! I do hope you enjoyed a lovely weekend of sunshine and visiting some of the many gorgeous special places that the National Trust has to offer.

I was back at Packwood this week after another week off (for work rather than holiday unfortunately…darn jobs cutting into volunteering time!) It was fabulous to be back and there were a few changes to see; the dining room is now fully open for visitors to wander round and plan their fantasy dinner parties…well that’s what I do!?

I met some fantastic visitors again and had lots of lovely chats about small beds, antique Delft tiling, conservation awareness and the many and varied explanations for why cutlery was placed ‘face down’. We still don’t have a definitive answer, fun to discuss though.
So today’s blog is dedicated to the little people. There were some fantastic kids at Packwood this weekend; I particularly enjoyed the two girls who accompanied me on door duty; complete with their own dragons! They were terribly inquisitive as to how I could possibly be married…but without children!? I’m used to fending these questions off from my family…not so much two very persistent, small strangers!
I am always impressed with a good idea. The 50 things to do before you are 11 and ¾’s is a blooming brilliant idea. Childhood memories captured in a list it is a clever and beautiful thing. I’ve met many children conscientiously carrying their books around Packwood looking out for things to be able to tick off. So I thought I’d give them and their ‘handlers’ a bit of a head start and let you in on what of the ‘50 things’ can be ticked off at Packwood.

First gods we would like more of this please...possibly without the cloud!?

With the summer holidays so tantalisingly close we’d best get going…

  1. Climb a tree – check out the Welly walk & woods and get climbing! You might even find a special something hidden away in the woods…
6. Run around in the rain – Most definitely possible! This is the British Summer remember!
11. Go on a really long bike ride – With Baddesley Clinton within cycling distance perhaps you could complete this one and see 2 amazing properties in one day
12. Make a trail with sticks – Why not make a trail in the woods with sticks, then get your big humans to follow it?
13. Make a Mud Pie – The Welly walk provides PLENTY of mud after a few rainy days
15. Play in the Snow – Perhaps not until next year…
17. Set up a snail race – I’m sure the kitchen gardener’s could point you in the direction of a couple of snails; they’d be glad to give them a job other than eating our lettuce!
24. Go on a walk barefoot – In the Yew garden…what an experience! Don’t forget your shoes when you’re done though!?
25. Make a grass trumpet – With the long grasses from the meadow or round the lake
31. Hunt for bugs – There are plenty of creepy crawlies and mini beasts to be found in all our gardens, leave the digging to the gardeners though please, you can always offer to help.
32. Find some frogspawn – In the lake
44. Go bird watching – Lots of birds call Packwood home. See swifts flying over the house and our resident robin

Ready for your barefoot walk

And why isn't hosting your very own Teddy Bears Picnic one of the 50 Things?! 

Of course there's lots to do at Packwood that are far too specific for the 50 things...

You can also...

  • Hunt for Dalmatian dogs hidden throughout the house
  • Lie on a carved 4 poster bed in a field
  • Host a Teddy Bears Picnic
  • Find a hidden beehive (or 3)
So what are you waiting for? We'll see you there!

Here some links to more info on The fantastic '50 Things' campaign...

And don't forget to tell us on Twitter when you complete your adventures! 



Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How do you spend yours?

What is well spent or hard earned? What will heal all things?  What can’t you get back once it’s gone? What is wasted, squandered or well managed? What is there never enough of? What is lost and can be made? What can you be in or out of? What cannot be held back? How do you spend yours?

We expect a lot from our time.

We pride ourselves on being ‘good time keepers’ and yet this is the ultimate misnomer. Time marches on regardless of our perceived control of it. It never truly stands still (although it can feel that way at times!).

It’s interesting that we humans use a lot of currency language when related to time. Perhaps it began when we started to place a monetary value on our time by the hour. What is one hour at work worth to you? Of course your time alone is not what you’re paid for, it is your skills, knowledge and expertise; it is what you DO in that hour that determines your value.

So what of your ‘own’ time, the time that is not paid for by your boss or your customers? Your ‘free’ time, I would argue it is the time with the most value. I would argue that it is anything but free. If we were to continue with our familiar linguistic metaphor of currency, this time is the invaluable time. This is the time where you create your ‘money can’t buy’ existence. In this time memories are made. It is what you DO with this time that determines the value of your life.

This is the time we can make choices about; choices that have the greatest impact on our emotional and physical well-being and of those around us. We can choose to ‘spend’ time doing things that enhance and enrich our lives. We can choose to ‘invest’ that time in our relationships and ourselves. We can allow ourselves and our values to determine where and with whom we cash in our ‘time cheques’.

Awareness of my time is something I take seriously.  I, like everyone else have to make enough money to pay my bills, eat, buy vintage cowboy boots and headscarves (you know that sort of thing) but I have found that when balancing my monthly ‘life statement’ if I have spent enough ‘paid time’ to earn enough money whilst being able to also ‘donate’ time to a cause or organisation I love and have ‘time of my own’ for things like reading books, walking in woods, calling friends, listening to music, cuddling dogs and having dinner with my husband then my ‘happiness/time bank balance’ looks pretty healthy.

Time unlike money cannot be banked. Regardless of our stupid terminology it cannot be ‘saved’ we can’t get back last Thursday because we didn’t use it. Time 'saving’ devices don’t in fact ‘buy us time’ they just mean that the time it used to take to do a job is now reduced. How we choose to spend that ‘extra time’ is still up to us. Time does not know it is ‘extra’, it is just time.

Packwood House is a place where I choose to spend time. It is a place where I have invested and donated time. I am not alone; many like me dedicate regular time to this special place. But of course it is not just our time we invest here. It is ourselves. We spend our time helping you get the most out of yours. Our garden teams work tirelessly for you to enjoy your ‘free time’ walking in our tranquil gardens. Our house teams share stories and knowledge to enhance your time spent in the property. Time is ‘managed’ by our leaders to make sure for us there is ‘always time for cake’ and for you always someone on hand to answer a question, help find a hidden dog or just to give you a smile. Our visitor reception teams help you to ‘plan’ your time so you can know you’ve got all the information to ‘get the most value for your time’ and our conservation teams manage the effects of time in preserving these special places for visitors now and in future generations.

Yes Packwood along with many National Trust places is a ‘step back in time’; a chance to indulge your inner historian and reflect on ‘times gone by’. Or to put your own time in the great timeline of humanity and gain perspective. Packwood’s ‘timeless quality’ allows you to ‘lose a few hours’ but again I would argue that rather than experiencing loss what you gain in those ‘lost hours’ is a sense of calm and peace that in todays often frantic world is time well spent. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

What Is

Well hello to you Positively Packwood readers and thanks once again for joining me! I am back after my wonderful holiday (what do you mean you didn’t notice!?) and it was brilliant fun to be back in Packwood House this weekend.

It’s a funny thing volunteering. You don’t have to do it (obviously) and you don’t get paid for it (again, obviously) but I really miss it when I’m not there. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone this property has such a special place in my heart. Pulling up in the car park or that first view of the house as I cross the road never ceases to make me smile. Taking the time to notice the subtle changes to the flowers as the year rolls around week by week.

This place has an energy all of its own. As I make my way through the courtyard and the warm sun heats up the roses giving off an intoxicating scent, entering the cool darkness of the flower room I smell that ‘old building’ smell of aged wood and years of memories. It’s like coming home. Seeing the faces I do every Sunday, all of us with at least one common interest.

I’ll be honest, as with so many altruistic acts there is a certain amount of self gratification involved. Of course I volunteer because of my love of heritage, equally for my love of people and the opportunity to share such a special space with other like minded folk. But I also come here because I love this place. I want to inspire other people to love this place, so long after I’m gone there will be others who will value it and take care of it.

I met another volunteer (from another property) this week as a visitor who asked me ‘Don’t you find it frustrating?’ I got the impression he was struggling, maybe he’d come to Packwood to gain some perspective, it’s that kind of place. I don’t know if my answer was the 'party line', but it was from the heart.  I explained as I see it when you care about a place as deeply as we do it’s hard not to become attached to every decision made. It’s important to remember what we are there to do and why we do it. There are volunteers at Packwood who have been there for 20 or 30 years, they have seen change after change no doubt of their beloved property. Decision makers come and go and (believe it or not) we are in the enviable position of having a simpler role to play.

We are there to engage, to share and to protect. We do not have to monitor budgets, meet targets or navigate new processes. I’m not saying that we should go through this experience without offering positive or useful feedback if we see a way that something could be changed (we are people not droids!) but there is something to be said for enjoying the job that we are there to do and not focussing too heavily on the things we can’t control.

Quite often we may not always have all the information, it’s kind of like government…everyone thinks the decisions they make are wrong/useless/Barry in the pub could do better (delete as appropriate!) but however much we like to think we have freedom in the press, and we all know it all, we don’t. If we let the ‘blue sky thinking’ of others in an office cloud the experience we have, today, in our beautiful properties we are the ones who miss out. If we let frustration tarnish our enjoyment of these spaces, if we are resistant to change then we cannot do the job we are there to do as well as we are capable of doing it.

This isn’t the blog I intended to write; that happens sometimes! I’d intended to tell you all about being in the Great Hall (first time I’d done this room). I was going to tell you about learning about an artist ‘lay’; the mannequin that would be dressed in the same dress of whoever was being painted so the painter could do the detailed dress bits without a sitter getting fidgety! Or I could have told you about how the balcony balustrade for the minstrels gallery was made from the hay rack previously used for feeding cattle in the barn the great hall used to be!? In fact I’m almost positive I would have told you how the oriel window chosen by Baron Ash was inspired by the one he’d seen at Hampton Court Palace.  

But one has to be welcoming of change, so here is what is; as opposed to what I thought would be.

And for those who would have preferred a detailed account of the Great Hall, get yourself to Packwood and see it for yourself, here’s a few pictures to inspire you…

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Door Duty

Hello Packwood Lovlies, what a joy it is as always to speak with you.

I am still computer less but there has been some progress and it seems I have not lost several pages of my novel or the last 5 years of photographs! Good news indeed, but it does mean once again I am coming to you from my 'infinitely smarter than me' smart phone ;)

Strong thumbs.

So, this week at Packwood we were blessed with some sunny weather and expected the madding crowds to appear...what we weren't expecting was for a loose dog to come hurtling in through the main doors of the house and go off in search of its owner?! Quick thinking (and even quicker acting!) Judith, a long standing volunteer saved the day and without a thought for her own personal safety grabbed hold of the dogs collar as it shot past her. Fortunately suffering nothing more than acute separation anxiety (and a healthy dose of cheekyness - that's the dog, not Judith...obviously) once reunited with their (slightly embarrassed) owner all was well. I assume he spent the rest of the day brushing up on his knot tying skills to avoid any future 'mishaps'.

Who knew volunteering could be so full of action and drama!

I was on the door for my first stint. It's a great gig (particularly if the weather is lovely) as you get to welcome guests to the lovely house.

Where as visitor engagement in the other rooms is quite a relaxed affair, with the opportunity to chat about specific pieces or the people who lived in the house; often if/when a visitor wants to talk to you (we don't actually pounce on you and give you thousands of facts!) The 'door' role is far more operational.

I thought it might be good opportunity to talk 'Timed Tickets'.

Now obviously you will be greeted with a big smile, we are genuinely pleased to see you and enthusiastic about showing you the house we love so much! 

You will then be asked for your timed ticket:

Timed Tickets

At Packwood we are currently trailing a timed ticket policy, bringing us in line with many other National Trust properties. 

What this means is when you visit Packwood if you want to go round the house you will need a timed ticket. These are collected from visitor reception (in our case; next to the cafe, where you come in from the car park) you don't pay extra for a ticket they are part of your entrance fee or membership. 

The ticket has a time on it, currently you can enter the house any time after that time and before 4:30. 


The answer is conservation of the property. Since our fantastic new cafe facilities alongside even more things to see and do, like our amazing 'Packwood Follies' we have been getting increased visitor numbers. This is great news, we want you to keep coming! Alongside this however we have a responsibility to protect and maintain the property. Having a timed ticket system allows us to control how many people are in the property at any one time. It also means we only have enough tickets for the maximum daily capacity for the house (worked out by conservation manager mathematicians?! Of some description)


Our job is to balance conservation with you having a brilliant visitor experience. We do ask that everyone who wants to come into the house has a ticket, if for some genuine reason your time is later than you can possibly stay, you've travelled a long way and won't be returning soon or you have some other extenuating circumstance, talk to us. If we can, in good concience (from a conservation stand point - basically if it's very unlikely the house will exceed daily capacity) let you come in early we will do our best to accommodate your situation.

As with all new things we are tweaking the process and your patience and feedback is appreciated and acted on. We are experiencing a time of great change at Packwood, it's exciting but it's also creating some unforeseen issues that we have a responsibility to act on.

I'm hoping to bring you a further informative piece on 'behind the scenes/what to expect from your visit' so you'll understand a bit more about why we do what we do. We love our property and we love sharing it with you, hopefully if you get to see a bit more about how we do that you can get the most out of your visit.

Well that's enough from me for today and in fact for the next 2 weeks as I'm off on holiday for my birthday next weekend; so won't be at Packwood!

I was going to tell you all about the outdoor performance of Romeo & Juliet but as it sold out before I could tell you that seemed a bit mean! It's on this Saturday (14th June) and for those who've got tickets no doubt you are in for a complete treat, what a perfect setting!

Wish me luck with the weather, I'm holidaying in the UK!

Until next time Lovlies!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Queen Mary

Hello Packwood Lovelies (as you shall henceforth forever be known!) and thank you once again for joining me over here on Positively Packwood.

Today's post is a little shorter than usual as I am bringing it to you from my phone!? Whilst the ability to do this is a godsend after the hard drive on my laptop packed up (no pun intended!) whilst trying to write a Packwood blog, it isn't exactly the smoothest of writing methods and does feel like I'm writing a rather long and involved text message!

However in the words of Freddie Mercury and Miranda Hart 'On with the show!' ***what a dream team that would have been!***

This week was a return to volunteering after last weeks illness and it was wonderful to be back. The weather gods honoured us with another day of glorious sunshine and I got to work some of my very favourite rooms again. Queen Margaret (with my favourite painted knight window), the Parlour (with my favourite fantasy tapestry) and the Drawing room with Queen Mary's teacup.

I had some wonderful conversations with visitors again this week and it's always so interesting to hear their stories about Packwood and the occupants. In the drawing room I often share with people the 'lesser known facts' about Queen Mary and her visit to Packwood (you're almost always guaranteed a laugh!) and it's the personal tales that people enjoy most.

For those that haven't been to Packwood (why not?!) Queen Mary visited Packwood  and Baron Ash in August 1927. She stayed for tea but had a room made ready for her for 'resting' should she require it, which is why we still have 'Queen Mary's Bedroom'. As a non titled man Baron Ash was understandably terribly honoured to receive a royal visit and had the cup and saucer she drank from, the pen she signed the guest book with and the chair she sat in authenticated and plaques applied almost the minute she left! 

We have them here to show you at Packwood House and continue to share with visitors all the stories from that day.

One visitor on Sunday offered to share with me his own Queen Mary story and I loved it so much I thought I must share it with you. I shall tell it to you as it was told to me...

"Apparently Queen Mary did not have much in the way of a sense of humour but there was one thing that she had found incredibly funny. She always carried a letter about her person. This letter had been sent to her by a little girl and was addressed 'To The Queen Mary (Not the Ship)' apparently the Queen found it hilarious that not only was this how she was addressed but that it had made it to her."

I must confess I loved that story and although it doesn't relate directly to Packwood I'm sure it has become a fixed part of my knowledge of Queen Mary.

Hopefully by next week I shall be back to the keyboard, equally hopeful I haven't lost several thousand words of novel since the last back up! Trying not to think about all those is contained in said poorly hard drive. Today's lesson, go forth and back up!

Until next time lovelies!


Queen Mary's teacup - from an out of production Rockingham set. The queen wanted to take this one that she'd used and Baron Ash refused offering her another from the same set.

The chair Queen Mary sat in

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Packwood Follies

Hello and thanks for joining me on Positively Packwood once again for today's blog **sponsored in a metaphorical sense by decongestant & cold relief tablets…I am not one of those people who does ill gracefully!**

Today in the bloggesphere I am bringing you Packwood Follies! I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the official opening of these incredible art installations by artist Hilary Jack last Saturday. There’s already some blogs up with incredible photo’s (see links at the bottom) so it’s now ‘over to me’ to do the word-smithery bit I guess!

Now, onto the facts, were this a commercial for shampoo…this would be ‘the science bit’. Packwood House received a grant from Cadbury’s (The Cadbury’s Play Grant) for those who don’t know Cadbury’s where have you been!? They make the yummy chocolate in the purple wrappers, but more significantly they are a local company based in Bournville. I always knew chocolate was good for you and now it seems it has been very good for Packwood too!

So with the grant secured artists tendered for the job of creating some ‘Spirit of Packwood’ art installations for the grounds. A clear winner, Hilary Jack. Hilary is known for her work across the UK and abroad and had come onto Packwood’s radar following her piece ‘Empty Nest’ at Compton Verney. **There are links to Hilary and her other works at the bottom**

As with any project of this scale there were many links in the chain; both physical (chasing off sheep) and administrative (putting together technical drawings etc.). The Packwood Follies has been a collaborative effort involving many people to realise Hilary’s creations and all were recognised on Saturday.

So, onto the day itself. I’ll be frank…it was biblical. The previous week that had bought us all that glorious sunshine (you’ll remember there was photographic evidence only last week on this very blog) was but a fading memory, washed away by great torrents of rain. On sitting huddled and damp in the new cafĂ© with its roaring fire another volunteer commented on seeing a caravan flip over on the motorway in front of her on the way to Packwood! The dangers faced to be able to tell you all about these fantastic pieces!

However nothing could put a dampener on proceedings and brolly’s and wellies the order of the day we all tramped over to the house to begin our tour. I have to confess as a volunteer at Packwood I felt twinges of guilt/panic at the prospect of so many soggy people in the house and tried to make sure I was on a carpeted area at all times! You just can’t unlearn conservation awareness it seems!

We were welcomed by Lucy Reid Ops manager for north Warwickshire properties (yes we don’t know why it’s labelled North Warks either) and she explained the process of the development of the Packwood Follies. Lucy then introduced Hilary who spoke about how she had been inspired by Packwood to create these pieces.

Hillary spoke about Baron Ash and his desire to restore and reuse and how this is very in line with her own philosophy as an artist, creating beautiful works of art from items that no longer serve their original purpose. It’s about giving something a new lease of life. Creating a new start for something that had been previously discarded. Hilary takes what others would deem useless and makes them useful again. I found it interesting she used the Morris analogy I have used to describe Packwood before in my other blogs; something has to be ‘useful or beautiful’. In my opinion Hilary’s work is both.

Her pieces capture the true spirit of Packwood (as I told her whilst standing in a terribly soggy Yew Garden…again feeling guilty for being in there in such poor weather!) they are dreamy, they play with scale and size and most importantly they have a spirit of ambition in a quiet and appreciative way. They both stand out yet are sympathetic to their surroundings. Both ostentatious yet whimsical, they have a fairy tale quality to them that encourages people (as with Packwood) to take a step out of their daily lives for a moment. To think more creatively, to imagine, dream or just be. Their placement allows you to discover them as if for the first time, the experience is your own.

It was a conscious choice to ‘play with scale’ after visiting the Yew Gardens and experiencing that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feeling  Hilary explained that this was a key feature of Packwood she wanted to bring to her artwork, the dream like quality where all is not as it would normally be. I agree we all need to feel small sometimes. It helps us gain perspective; it’s why people stare up at the stars or lie back (perhaps on a giant, turfed bed) and watch the clouds rolling past. There is a sense at Packwood that time stands still. You are allowed to breathe out if just for a moment. It is restorative and gives you pause to reflect.

Also like Packwood the pieces each have an underlying message. They welcome you in, you are encouraged to explore them and experience them for yourself but as with Packwood they were designed with a clear vision in mind. You can appreciate them as they are, as you find them and also once you know a little more about them (and Packwood) you discover the subtle nuances that create such a multi faceted place.

When I started this blog I thought I’d talk to you about all the pieces individually. Talk you through the quirky inside out house with its reclaimed, reproduction Tudor furniture exterior. The ‘Baron Ash style’ attention to detail of the moss already placed growing on the roof giving the impression it has already always been here, the Tardis like inside and the leaded windows. The giant carved oak four poster bed, turfed to lie back and ‘dream on’. The hives described on the day as ‘A boutique hotel for bugs’ created as an ‘Ode to Packwood’s garden team’ furiously buzzing around creating this beautiful place. But actually the best thing you can do is to come and discover it for yourselves.

Mine was an incredible ‘First Experience’ sure to never be replicated! I mean how often do you get to experience an art installation with commentary from the artist herself complete with a ‘rainy’ poem outside the inside out house from the brilliant Jo Bell and improvised story telling on a giant bed with creative master Gavin Young!? Even the rain gave an interesting effect to the wooden pieces creating textures and highlights that would otherwise not have been there.

It goes somewhat without saying that for children the imagination opportunities of these pieces are somewhat endless. I remember thinking on the day that whilst we as ‘grown-ups’ view these things as ‘Art’ there is an element to them that allows you to suspend such adult restrictions and just enjoy a child like wonder at discovering a cottage in the woods or a giant bed in a field or a bee hive hidden in a bush.

As with many of my blogs I could write for hours about my feelings, experiences or interpretations of this special place (now enhanced by this amazing installation) but as always my advice is to have your own. Because that is part of the very essence of Packwood, it gives you back your mind; you have a chance to dream.

Those Links I Promised:

Talk to us on Twitter!


@VolunteerJessie - that's me
@NTPackwood - Official Packwood House Twitter
@hilaryjack - Hilary Jack Artist
@GavinWJYoung - Storyteller
@Jo_Bell - Poet
@SuziGuy - Photographer
@lifewithAutism1 - Photographer

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A picture speaks a thousand words...

Hello and greetings my lovely Positively Packwood friends! I shall say it in the most hushed of tones for fear that I will jinx the weather permanently but might it really be time to pack away tights for a few months? Oh joy oh rapture!

Packwood House was looking very much like the best place to be on a sunny day for most of this week. I made an extra visit on Thursday as on a Sunday I'm too busy, well, room guiding and talking to you lovely lot to get outside and take photos.

The saying 'A picture speaks a thousands words' has never been more apt. I bloomin' love this place (not new information!) and can extol it's every virtue to you on a weekly basis with ease but the following really do say everything I could tell you. Together with the happy faces of all the visitors I met on Sunday I can confirm Packwood is THE place to be on a sunny day...Here's to many more!

Next week is the opening of our new 'Packwood Follies' a series of art installations by artist Hilary Jack. I'm really excited to bring you more news of that next weekend along with some 'hopefully' **prays for dry weather** pictures! 

To celebrate the opening, visitors to Packwood on Saturday (24th May 2014) can enjoy all the usual Packwood delights with additional storytelling, poetry and more fun activities throughout the day. The National Trust is also holding a wildlife drawing competition for children so this might be a good opportunity to get out and be involved with that. 

After seeing these pictures I'm sure you'll agree Packwood is too good to miss!