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making connections

Updated: Jul 4

I grew up in a small town. As a teenager wondering about career paths, I thought it would be pleasant to be the graphic designer for my small town. I dreamt that I could fulfil the artistic and design needs of the other inhabitants and never have to leave the safety my small pond.


Years passed. I graduated design college and left for the nearest city. My small town grew in size. I grew in experience, weariness and attack. I left the big city and found a different small town and settled there....


...but when I say settled what I actually mean is bought a house, raised a child and hid from the rest of the world. The years in the big city had left me bruised, shy and anti-social. I moved to a strange town, knew no one and was happy with this solitude. It's a funny experience settling in a place one does not know. I felt anonymous. I was quiet. My world lacked colour and sound. I am naturally shy and would have stayed in this quiet, white place but for the need to make money.


One of the joys of being a graphic designer is that one can peek into the lives of other professions. Over the years I have learnt about JCBs, deep sea diving machinery, sliced pans, hotel chains, financial management, running a gallery and giving facials. I have also learnt that what I love is heritage, social history, beautiful interiors and fashion. Could I find this, and friends in my new small town??


(I'm hearing the Bob the Builder theme tune in my head as I write this "Can he fix it? Yes he can!)


Because Yes. I. Did.


There I was, a stranger in a strange town, wanting to make a place for myself in the area of heritage and beautiful things and no idea how to make this happen. And here I am now, writer and designer of a series of books on social history, designer for the Ellen Hutchins festival, and designer and tour guide in Bantry House. Here's me making a strange facial expression and odd hand gesture at the head of the Bantry Historical Society talking with the Mayor of Cork at the launch of the Ellen Hutchins Festival 2019.

At the evening I realised how many connections I had made. I knew everyone in the room. The local bank manager whose daughter and mine were friends, the head of local tourism office where I had worked as a volunteer, the heritage officer for County Cork with whom I have had contact through Creative Ireland, the manager of the hotel who used to run a shop that I supplied with hand painted children's bedroom door signs, the conservation ranger for the NPWS that I met through an annual pop up charity bookshop where I also volunteer (and love so much working in a bookshop that I would pay them for the experience).... I could go on.


At that evening I also realised how inter-connected all my connections were. One of the organisers of the Ellen Hutchins festival is the conservation ranger I mentioned above. The festival is holding one of their events in a secret garden owned by a woman with whom I am linked through a Women in Business group. This woman's partner has joined Bantry House as Head Gardner. Bantry House is where I work as tour guide and have recently designed a book written by a maid who worked there in 1905. Bantry House was also the venue for an exhibition of Ellen Hutchins drawings which were never seen before in Ireland. After which they were exhibited in UCC - the exhibition which I was invited to design and now am designing a book about her life.


At that evening I made a new connection. A woman, originally from Bantry, who like me, left her small town but unlike me, she returned to hers. She is currently the managing director of a London based company and is in the process of setting up another. She introduced me to the business of LARPing - Live action roleplaying. I had previously thought this was something for men wearing kilts brandishing swords and rushing about and shouting. But apparently it's not all Braveheart, there are also Larps which are geared for those with more sense and sensibilities. Thanks to my new connection I am now taking part in a letter writing LARP set in 1811. For the summer I shall write and receive letters as if I am a regency gentlewoman. There are many others taking part and we will write and share our characters' lives, developing the story through each missive. For me, this a brilliantly, imaginative way to research my next book.


Connections are curious. As I mentioned, I tend to be shy. Before I started this post I thought I would end on how the letter writing was a good way for me to connect with people as it does not involve the scary face-to-face contact. Now that I have written it, I see that I am not as shy as I thought; that over the years I have reached out, made friends, found people I care for and have been loved in return. Until now, I never realised that I was so brave and that the world was so kind.

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