Friday, 20 May 2016

Knife Edge Promenade


The reminder email the afternoon before I was to see  Knife Edge from The Big Houseproduction company at the Pond advised that I should prepare myself for a ‘promenade performance’ and  to ‘travel light’ added to my expectation

Through the making of theatre The Big House provides a platform for young people who’ve been through the care system and being challenged by life, an opportunity to have their voices heard, in KnifeEdge we certainly hear their voices!

I was shocked by the directness and frankness of those voices the plays language pulled no punches in making manifest the anger the youth felt about the way they’d been treated  by society - it was full-on, frank and foul. I was left in no doubt at the young people’s resentment, mistrust and suspicion, rejection being their experience and expectation. They in turn rejected many of those sent by society to care for them; a line from the play that reflected that  despair and mistrust  for me was one directed to a carer  ‘You only care ‘cos you’re being paid!’


The acting was without exception powerful and emotional, I had the sense these guys were not acting but living their lives before us. - the words came from their own lives.

The settings were brilliantly innovative as we – the audience moved around the restaurant from sets depicting a Nando’s restaurant to a kitchen to a living rooms and the street. The lighting was particularly inventive much use being made of  plastic water bottles and  LED light strips – you have see it to believe how magical it made the various sets as we were led from one scene to another around the entire restaurant space.


As the play moves form one scene to another, the young people are on an emotional journey  from one life changing event to another  we the audience followed their story  through a physical journey as we moved  from set to set .

Knife Edge’s ending is as powerful as moving as its beginning as we the audience complete our promenade as we are invited to share a meal with the actors - cannot speak highly enough of the Hawaiian style fish – sharing food , Knife Edge and their lives.

I very much enjoyed the meal both the food and  meeting and sharing with the actors and The Big House production team ,  the meal was also a chance to network with other like minded folk concerned about the life outcomes of our young people leaving the care service.  I was minded of Cameron’s statement that children in care have been 'let down for too long' something had to be done by Government,

To conclude my Knife Edge promenade showed me that there is hope as young people from care despite set backs can ‘make it’ but we can certainly do more to help them on their promenade.

Knife Edge - a great evening's entertainment with good food and good company and a strong message - recommended !






Sunday, 18 January 2015

A right not to be offended. An Enlightened View?




Salman Rushdie defending his novel The Satanic Verses said  Nobody  has the right not to be offended , it has been repeatedly quoted in the media these past few days as a defence for CHARLIE HEBDO’s cartoons in general, and in particular those castigating or mocking  Islam.

The Enlightenment’s freedoms certainly allow us , in Great Britain and France at least, not to be bound by the fear or the manacles and chains of  lèse-majesté  so today we are free to offend or mock the Monarchy, equally the Church. I am minded of the words of the Enlightenment philosopher Diderot : Man shall not be free until the last king is hung on the entrails of the last priest such was the hold the Monarchy and the Church had over the common man at the time, before the Enlightenment.

But with the freedoms of the Enlightenment come responsibility, not to replace one intellectual tyranny with another, rather to understand how a free and open society works.  We must take time to understand each other's points of view, it is a case of tolerating,  respecting the other’s point of view, that tenet is fundamental to the liberal democratic society we live in.

My thoughts are  rooted in the cliché I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death to your right to say  it*.  Rushdie can, at face value,  seen to be right but he makes no reference to how a liberal democratic society functions, effectively.  Such societies are founded on mutual respect and tolerance, without either they are doomed to endlessly fighting ideas and beliefs with knives and bombs rather than Enlightened reasoned rational thought.

So, for me, CHARLIE HEBDO was as wrong to create such ugly images not just of Islam but of Christianity and Judaism as their images are unremittingly offensive to and disrespectful of those beliefs.

I'll conclude, for now, not with a cartoonist's drawings but with the words of the French cartoonist - Tomi Ungerer : Mutual respect is after all the key to peace and understanding.

* Voltaire is often quoted as the source but (sadly) he never said it!

FootNote
Having written this post I am now moving on from posting #JeSuisCharlie in Facebook and Twitter but I'll continue to post in Pinterest from time to time.




Friday, 13 June 2014

What are British Values or Why to be British is be a Goth ?


A friend posted on Facebook that picture of the front page of The Times reporting the Minister for Education Michael Gove's demands for British values to be taught in schools following attempts by Muslim fundamentalists to dictate the way some schools in Birmingham should be run and the sad, untimely death of the comic actor Rik Mayall. They pointed out The Times juxtapositions headlines and pictures so well.

For me, the headline and picture raised the question: what does it mean to be British and how on earth could we extend that definition to include the Minister as well as such an odd character as the idiosyncratic Rick from The Young Ones who Mayall was portraying? 

I propose that an answer is to be found in the architecture of my home town Liverpool, in its Gothic  Anglican Cathedral (left above) and its Neo-Classical St George's Hall (right above).


One of the fundamental design tenants of the Anglican Cathedral was that no two  of its 11 million plus carved stone blocks were to be identical, each and every stone was to be different, nowhere is this better seen than in the vault of its Lady Chapel (above left). Each stone of its vast vaulted ceiling is different, even when there seems to be no need, in those places were the bosses and ribs of the vaulted ceiling could be simply replicated , each boss, each rib and their stones respect the design tenet and is individual.

I would argue the individuality of the bricks in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral is a metaphor for Britain  and British values. In Britain we are all, like the stones, individuals in our right - unique - nevertheless we fit in to a greater thing than ourselves as individuals. This intrinsic individual uniqueness allows the manic, wild eyed  Young One's Rick and the calm, irascible Michael Gove both to lay claim to being British. 

The Cathedral's designed diversity is in contrast to the relentless uniformity of St George's Hall. The Hall can be seen as combination of repeated construction elements for example the Corinthian Columns of its entrance portico (above right). Each column is uncompromisingly identical - base, shaft and even its capital. The latter is  where the Hall's neo-classical craftsman could have been given some leeway to apply his own individuality without comprising  structural integrity, just as the Cathedral's Gothic craftsman were allowed. 

Neo-Classical architecture is not British as it has no place for the individuality of a Mayall or a Cove,  one must be one or the other to fit in, the two cannot coexist. It is no mistake the uncompromising, uniforming political governing systems - Communist and Fascist -  both favour neo-classical or pastiches of neo-classicism in their architecture.

Being British is to be Gothic like Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral stones, to be an individual yet fitting into a greater whole, keeping your intrinsic values yet able to fit in with others to create a greater something; out of many we are one United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland aka Britain.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Signed Mr Mandela's Condolence Book at South African High Commission 9th Dec '13

Signing the Condolence Book at  South African High Commission
The message I left...
Many thanks Mr Mandela for teaching my how to forgive and have compassion and understanding for my fellow human beings - you were one of the greatest.
Love
Michael
Obama gave a powerfull and moving speech at Mr Mandela's memorial service, the lines that struck me were:
It took a man like [sic] Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.
Obama closed by quoting Mr Mandela
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
There were many floral tributes left outside the High Commission....



Friday, 6 December 2013

When I Encountered Nelson Mandela



The sad, but not unexpected, news of the passing of Nelson Mandela made me recall the time I had the honour of encountering The Great Man.

It was on an early morning flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town in the early 90s.

I was one of the last to board and to my amazement I saw Mr Mandela sitting there literally as large as life - he was a tall, distinguished man - in the middle of a row of seats half way down the aircraft’s cabin. He was involved in conversation with the folk around him, looking just like any other traveller. There  was one small sign of his position as there were two rather tall, even when seated, young men in dark suits and open neck white shirts, sitting either side of him, presumably his body guards, while he talked across them. I tried desperately not to gawp as I filed past to find my seat further down the aircraft.

This scene in itself was remarkable as the leaders I had experienced elsewhere in Africa had a very different style around aircrafts  - always last to board. vast numbers of hangers-on and lackies,  sitting up front in a curtained off area - protected , isolated and elite. Mr Mandela seemed the exact opposite as he sat patiently almost discreetly, in amongst the rest of the passengers on what was a busy flight, that morning. No pomp, No circumstance.

In the arrivals hall at Cape Town I was caught short.  I need to go. As the gap for me personally between needing to go and catastrophe can be quite short I made my way  - very quickly - to the toilet only to have my entrance barred by one of his bodyguards I’d seen on the flight , who told me politely that I had to wait till Mr Mandela had finished. Normally I would have respected the wish but I was heading towards catastrophe. I started hopping from one leg to the other trying to retain  my composure as I tried to explain my desperation. He relented and let me through.

There was Mr Mandela in front of one of the toilet’s  two urinals, I rushed to the vacant one. There was me shoulder to shoulder with the great man - well almost - he was taller and there was a respectful space between us.

Then it all went wrong. I dried up. The urge left me. I couldn’t do it. I just looked up, stared ahead, directly, at the wall. By this time Mr Mandela had finished I went to speak - he smiled  politely - I was speechless,  I was gobsmacked. I just stared  at the wall while he washed and dried his hands, I continued  to stand before the urinal there all ready to to the business but failing completely!

It was just like that scene from the eighties TV satirical program Spitting Image which had Thatcher characterised as a man rushing into the men's room as two of her cabinet - Heseltine and Fowler - are noisily using facilities yet dry up in both speech and flow.


Thatcher noisily joins them, they go quite, as both their conversation and flow dry up in her presence. After she’s left the room Heseltine says to Fowler ‘I never seem to be able to go when she comes in’

I knew exactly how they felt!

Mr Mandela that day, for me, had a presence I could not understand yet I responded to his greatness with what can only be described as reverence such was his command of the space around him - a truly awesome yet engaging human being with grace and greatness in equal measure.

I feel humbled and honoured to have shared that brief, unlikely moment with The Great Man.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Walkie - Scorchie

In August 2013 the building nick named The Walkie-Talkie, melted cars , set fire to carpets, blistered paint and for few days became a tourist attraction in central London. Here are my pictures.



The Walkie-Talkie with its concave glass structure acted like a giant magnify glass focussing the sun's rays down on the street below - Eastcheap.



The Walkie- Talkie


The Walkie-Scorchie










Burnt Carpet!


Blistered paintwork!


Sunshields and Closed Car Parking Spaces


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Why The West Should Overtly Leave Syria Alone



I was saddened to read that the only debate we now seem to be having on Syria is whether or not to bomb Assad’s regime, following the dreadful chemical attacks his regime has reported to have inflicted on his own people.

Right now we need to forget the rhetoric of war with its “lines in the sand” and “steps too far”. The West - UK and US specifically -  needs to think logically and coolly. Regrettably there are no votes in thinking it through, though there are some in being cool. It's holidays cut short, it's  Parliament recalled, it's decisions need to made with seemingly little or no time to think things through.


Some politicians seem keen to make the big bombing decision in the face of public opinion and in many cases (sadly) public indifference. In the UK 2:1 against bombing or believe Syria is of no concern to the West.

I argue that the thinking decision is to do nothing. Look at history: in the 1990s Algeria over 100,000 died in a bloody civil war as Islamist fought the Army for power , in Turkey its Islamic state was overthrown by in a peaceful coup by ‘Young Turks’ leading a secular army to create an equally secular state. Similar  - sometimes peaceful , sometimes violent - things appear to be happening in Egypt and Syria today in the overt struggle between Islamism and Secularism.

I would ask politicians to look at the legacy of Tony Blair and George Bush that  must make some of them think twice. 

If politicians believe they must become involved in Syria then I urge them to puruse a covert electronic war with Assad. The hidden, some say dirty,  war -  the one that goes unpublicised, behind closed doors – a few key strokes on a computer on one side of  world causing  problems the other side of the world.  Internet war , virus spreading and the like can be very effective  eg the Stuxnet virus used against Iran’s nuclear capability.

There are no plaudits or Nobel Peace prizes in a covert war to constrain Assad, no votes to be won. But I would argue this is the most effective solution using the  Internet, to make electronic strikes on Assad and his infrastructure.

If the US or UK do not have a hidden handle or kill switch on Assad's technology I would be surprised, after all they sold Syria a lot of it, so they know how it works, so surely, they know  how to stop it working.

I urge US and UK governments to bring together their covert internet technologists in order to contain Assad's regime – switch off their iPhones, their smartphones, their Kindles, their Blackberrys , switch off their power transformers,  restrain Assad's regime electronically.

Leave Syria alone. Let Syria work out its own destiny - secular or Islamic state - like Egypt is doing now as Algeria and Turkey did in the past, in doing so let history take its course.

Bombing Syria will not work. Bombing a country into a submission has never  worked, except for the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. The West would not do that - would it ?