There is no rest in the street…

Autumn always make me think of T S Eliot.

There is no rest in the house. There is no rest in the street. I hear the restless movement of feet. And the air is heavy and thick. Thick and heavy the sky. And the earth presses up against my feet…

Here I am deep in the copper, rich reds, golds and fading greens of an English rural autumn with its misted mornings and purple brooding skies playing christmas music and drawing christmas sketches and browsing ebay, pinterest et al. for inspiration and items for the craft room at the Christmas Fayre contemplating the various stages of turning a sock into a snow person. How on earth do you make it all for a small profit? Even sourcing craft items eats the PTA budget. I wonder how many school fayres and fetes would turn a profit without the generous donations of the parents who not only donate their time and expertise but also quite often the raw materials? But I’m glad we’re having a home produce stall this year, I love trying other peoples chutneys!

It has also been the Rugby World Cup 2015 championship. Christmas and Rugby in October is quite a strange combination. I may have been marred by the experience. I am dimly aware of events in the Middle East and in particular Syria, attempting to inflame my inner moral compass but stoically resist as I contemplate how it must feel to flee my country, un-prepared and in fear, not just for myself but my family, the vulnerable. Would I really be prepared to accept the traditions and culture of the country that offers me sanctuary, almost certainly in the immediate aftermath but in the long-term? Is re-settlement a long-term solution… In the same way that I struggle to be at ease in hot countries where women are suppressed and treated as second-class citizens, can those used to such a culture deal with our climate, our ways and fully integrate towards a harmonious community?

Despite all our technology and knowledge we haven’t yet solved hunger and poverty but there, I’ve digressed. Plenty of questions, not enough answers yet.

If you’re feeling open to reading something on poverty and inequality, can I recommend this; a speech by Sir Michael Marmot ending with the Pablo Neruda quote “rise up with me… against the organisation of misery” Sir Michael Marmot

But what about you? What have you been doing this autumn? Have you escaped Rugby fever or embraced it? The more ‘live’ matches I go to the more ‘sport speak’ I pick up. This year it’s all about how the Northern hemisphere game isn’t up to the Southern hemisphere game. I’m neither an expert, a rugby player or a particularly avid sports fan but it seems to me the northern hemisphere teams get penalised for things the southern hemisphere teams are adept at not getting penalised quite so much for.  ‘Playing the Ref.’ a term which saddens me because it’s why I can’t watch football anymore and which refers to a most un-sporting box of tricks that I’m told everybody does at some point – is a term I wish I hadn’t come across. I saw South Africa play a match in Cardiff some years back and was amazed to see them punching and kicking as they tackled, mauled and rucked, largely without reprimand. The males around me shrugged it off as part of the ‘intense physicality of the southern hemisphere game’. References were made to the tribal idea of nationality and pride and battles won and lost on the sports ground rather than the battlefield. I’m not so sure about that, look around you guys! I thought that I wouldn’t be very proud to win a game on that basis rather than on my skill at dodging, passing and kicking the ball, which South Africa also do very well, they were beautifully choreographed as a team and to be fair, it was just a few that I saw being so ‘physical’. I know, it’s a contact sport but really should it be acceptable? It has been great to see how Rugby has striven to make this very physical game safer for players and more consistent in terms of the technology it employs to monitor the games but ‘playing the ref.’ is too reminiscent of the bone crunching, gore spattered rugby of the seventies which I grew up with and was appalled by. As the players get bigger and teams like Japan come bounding into the rugby spotlight I suppose I’m fairly confident this will be addressed.

After Scotlands defeat by Australia on Sunday I was informed that Rugby is largely a sport for the privately educated according to a Daily Mail article (which I couldn’t access as my spam filter wont let me do Daily Mail links – who said technology isn’t humanised;0)) That’s not my personal experience but it doesn’t change the fact I wouldn’t take my daughter to a football match but we’ve safely attended several rugby ones. Would I let my daughter go to a party at the Rugby Club? Possibly not, as the inherent machismo of “tell her no means yes” is not yet eradicated from male dominated sport but maybe in my lifetime it will be. I feel the restless movement of feet….

Murder in The Cathedral by T S Eliot


Why this new Anglo-Scottish family will be voting YES

A balanced and heartfelt blog about the Scottish #Indyref. Well worth a read

The Nose...

During the independence debate we have heard from some political commentators, such as Jeremy Paxman, that the steady rise in support for a yes vote represents a surge in anti-English sentiment. It’s one of the arguments I have found hardest to swallow, since it clashes with what we as an English family living in Scotland have experienced here, and what I have learned in my work as a freelance journalist and community media activist.

My partner and I have lived in Edinburgh for 15 years, and regard it very much as home. Like many we came for university, but stayed because of a love for the country. For us, it was a mix of complex factors that made it feel right as a home. Not just the cultural richness of the city and the beauty of The Highlands and Islands, but also the political and social fabric of the place…

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United we Stand, Divided we…?

The growing furore over Scotlands impending Independence Referendum has got me thinking; where do I stand on the potential breaking up of the United Kingdom?

England is this amorphous blob amidst a triumvirate of Celtic fire and passion (with the good folk of Yorkshire and Cornwall vociferously fighting their corner – understandably so, they still have an identity). Are we the glue that buffers the passions of our neighbours and binds us all together? Or are we a grey swamp that sucks the colour out of our Island Nation, a no-mans land? What is our substance beyond the village of Westminster?

I am English, but in my genes lie Scotland’s Black Country, County Durham, Middlesex, Norfolk, Dorset, Wiltshire, Kent, Wales and Northern France. My Maternal Grandfather used to say we are descended from the Norsemen a race of people with black hair.  I, with my light brown hair represent the dilution of all that heritage. This watering down of our essence lies at the heart of the question.  My ancestry recognizes no borders, I see myself as belonging not just to England but to Wales, to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. When I am abroad I think of myself as being English, which stands for freedom of speech, justice and Shakespeare. Or it did. …. I can see why Scotland are considering independence.

I sympathise with the Scottish people, it is not a simple question, it has far reaching implications as many of the young people interviewed on our news programmes this week explained, their decision is a decision not just for themselves but for future generations. I also heard John Major spitting nails on the radio “they must realize” he cried, “there is no going back”.

I empathise with Scottish people because I understand the frustration of having to bear the impact of consequences of decisions made in a parliament formed of people who don’t seem to live in the same world and who aren’t struggling to live a decent life based on the policies they foist upon us and the many rights and services, from health to welfare that we have seen eroded or removed, by their constant fiddling with our laws and local governance. It must be even harder when you live in beautiful places such as Scotland, Ireland and Wales and are governed by politicians who are in it as much for their career ambitions beyond politics as they are by any vocational sense of duty, or national pride: by politicians who seem to emulate America and who doggedly pursue the application of a long list of destructive policies without any regard to the people who suffer by them.

For me, it started with Margaret Thatcher’s government – I voted for her (even writing that feels like a guilty confession).  I wanted a woman in parliament, but that ground-breaking step came at such a price when her government introduced the ‘Poll Tax’. I remember saying to my parents ‘if I can see that it is unworkable, how come the government can’t?’

It culminated two years ago when Eric Pickles, the ironically named “Communities Minister”, over-rode a planning decision by our Local Authority Planners who quite rightly were blocking the excessive building of new houses on our green belt.  We, the local community had fought a hard, unfair battle against large commercial developers and their expensive lawyers who it seemed had a direct line of communication with Eric Pickles, which we did not.  It means the main roads into our City already ‘officially’ overburdened with heavy traffic will now be under even more pressure as thousands of new houses spring up in the gap between our city and our rural villages, hamlets and suburbs.  All of this to create new ‘communities’ with shops, schools, medical facilities, recreational areas and amenities? No, far from it. The resulting urban sprawl, has no such amenities – they remain in the City where traffic jams abound. Instead it obliterates our local environment, destroys wildlife and their habitats and places enormous pressure on our water services, waste, police, highways – in fact all our public services. If I could I would have left the country, so despairing am I for how our once beautiful countryside and cathedral city is beginning to look and function (in a now dysfunctional way) under the impact of all this destructive house building. And don’t get me started on the education system…

So yes, I have empathy for a need to distance myself from Westminster Governance, to become more insular and protect myself and all I hold dear about where I live and my way of life from what seems like ‘careless destruction by a wanton child’. In our history we’ve been here before, ordinary citizens suffering under the whims of Kings and Queens. Long before the Unions, we had Guilds that controlled our trade and commerce. Protectionism, insularity, is that what independence brings, or frees us from?

But my struggle with this question of Independence goes even deeper than all of this. My first visit to Scotland was in 1987 it was a memorable experience, I traveled with three actors all the way around Scotland performing a play written by Mark Wheeler. I fell in love with Scotland. Even then to my twenty-three year old self, it seemed like a foreign country untainted by all the greed and rampant self-interest of eighties England. Everywhere we went people were warm, welcoming, intelligent, thoughtful and connected to their environment in a way that many of us in England at that time weren’t.   We were escorted around each region by members of each Police Force, to whom I remain eternally grateful for their hospitality and the trouble they took in introducing us to their region. We were given an insight into the country and a way of life that no tourist could hope to enjoy, from Primary schools in Dumfries and Galloway, to the Isle of Mull; from Gleneagles to a small B&B in Dundee; an ancient farmstead in Gollandfield to granite walled Aberdeen, we soaked in a culture and sense of pride that was so intoxicating.   From the school in Port Glasgow that was the only school in the area not to have a day off and was not happy about having to watch a play with English actors, to an official dinner in Edinburgh, sitting next to a young Alex Salmond whose office had instigated the tour as part of a national programme addressing Drink Driving. As first jobs go, it was all a bit of a ‘spoiler’. The Scotland experience utterly overwhelmed the job.

There are places I have traveled to and places I’ve yet to go within the United Kingdom but the distinct difference for me between England and it’s Celtic neighbours is that we have lost our character. Here in England we have allowed ourselves to lose our ‘Yeomen of England’ image without replacing it with anything distinctive. Conjure up a vision of ‘Office Workers of England’ and it doesn’t hold quite the same allure. Despite the fact that the sum of all our parts should be a stronger, more attractive prospect, it is no wonder people want to pull away, when they don’t know what it is they are holding on to.

September 11th, 2014

Nanny states…

We had the most extraordinary letter home from school yesterday, a whole side of A4 from the Chair of Governors and the Head Teacher telling us how we should comport ourselves on social media and informing us of the law regarding malicious communications…

“….As a school, we encourage parents to support us with the education and wellbeing of their children. Parents who have concerns about their child’s education have established procedures to discuss these in school. As a community we should all frown upon the use of social networking sites to criticise and make unsubstantiated comments about the school or any members of staff. We ask that parents are mindful of this when using social media. Current laws such as the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, 1997 Protection From Harassment Act and 2003 Communication Act all can be used to protect people from malicious and threatening posts on the net, and unfortunately there have been instances when schools have had to resort to having to send out legal letters from solicitors to parents about unsubstantiated and damaging comments made on social network sites…”

– good grief I thought, have there been death threats towards staff at our school? Surely this can’t just be about some frustrated/angry/ parent sniping on facebook? Unaware of any overt maliciousness aimed at school staff other than the usual after-school playground chatter,  I spoke to one of the Parent Governors at school this morning. What, I wondered, could have provoked such a heavy handed missive?  It was, it seems, about a stream of colourful invective on facebook  aimed at the school.

So, what’s your problem I hear you say. Well it seems to me that social media or not, if a parent is prone to de-crying  their child’s school in public they’ll do this one way or another, a hard-line letter is not dealing with the problem itself and indeed, simply shows the school is as guilty of intolerance itself and also has communication issues.  It implies  ‘I don’t like being criticised, and rather than dealing with this on a human level over a cup of tea and cake, where I listen to you tell me why you feel so frustrated by what we are or aren’t doing and try to help you manage your expectations of us, instead I’m going to flex my collective  muscles and let, not just you, but everybody else know I am not to be treated in such a way’.  It is a bullish response to bullish behaviour.

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.
Noam Chomsky

There is plenty of colourful language about in our daily lives; American films abound with it. It is a tool for people who don’t have a better grasp of language, or who express their frustration or  their anger by using  less considered language as a pressure valve for an emotional or distressed state.  Not everyone is able to talk coherently about the issues and challenges they face in life. Being a parent can be deeply challenging and not everyone is kind, sensitive and selfless. We are human, we are imperfect, we are all different.  It isn’t right to demean  teachers or other parents or the school your child attends, but if your child’s school is failing to successfully communicate its policies and practice you may well feel the need to criticise.  As a responsible educational establishment I would hope a school would recognise this and either ignore it for what it is, petty griping, or try to tackle the underlying problem and ask themselves – are WE communicating enough, are WE communicating effectively?  Are the usual channels for parents to air grievances working effectively?

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.  ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

A parents gripes published via social media isn’t anonymous ‘trolling’.  It’s a symptom of a wider problem, and a savvy school who has attempted the tried and tested tea and cake method, could consider engaging other ‘happier’ parents to lessen the impact.  I understand how distressing vitriolic  and abusive language can be and  whilst I am not suggesting it should be tolerated directly, if a school which has no social media output and is therefore experiencing this  invective second-hand  can’t do better than  issuing a  generic veiled threat and using a mallet to crack a nut then…  what hope is there of building a relationship of trust and openness within the rest of the school community?

What happened to ‘Education, education, education?…’  It died it seemed and  now  ‘Nanny’ is here to tell us all how to behave. It is so much easier than all that messing about with listening, understanding and embracing more than one point of view.  Once everyone realises it’s Nanny’s way or the high way mums and dads will be soon be found mindlessly mowing their front lawns with a glassy eyed smile on their faces and ‘Nanny’ at least, will be happy.  Meanwhile, I have to hope that I’m not contravening some recent law change and wont shortly be receiving a letter….

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led,  like sheep to the slaughter

George Washington




Here’s the real reason the Tories are allowing the destruction of robin eggs and nests

This is what is fundamentally wrong with a conservative government, they are blind to the bigger picture and have no thought to the future consequence of their questionable actions! Unbelievably short-sighted behaviour yet again!

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Tories!)

I must admit to having been more than a little puzzled at first as to why Natural England are proposing that nests and eggs of bird species such as robins and starlings will be allowed to be destroyed without the granting of special licences.

This would mean members of the public would be allowed to destroy any nests or eggs they came across – more or less at will.

Natural England’s consultation paper on the subject doesn’t shed much light on the reasons for these quite shocking proposals either – other than stating that these birds can present a “public health and safety” hazard.

There is no explanation of what exactly the public health and safety hazards of robins’ and starlings’ eggs are.

However, after a little investigation into the murky waters of party donations all has now become clear.

Last year government ministers chose Andrew Sells…

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We’re all in this together…

DSC_0413ed copy   Mindful of last nights particularly ‘Europe focused’ BBC Question Time in which the ‘in or out’ debate raged across the panel and through the audience, I am moved to write about my recent trip to Paris. It was my second time and a special event. Mr B. had scrimped for a year so he could take me for my half century and as that falls on a bank holiday weekend, a lot of scrimping was involved. Mr B. is always shocked at how ‘untravelled abroad’ I am, even my eldest daughter has travelled abroad more than I have but as the sibling of a severely handicapped child it is perhaps unsurprising and I do know England, Wales and swathes of Scotland and Ireland – like the back of my hand.

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Travelling is so important it broadens your understanding of history, life, people. Travelling extends your sense of secret self by challenging your presumed response to new situations and assumptions accrued by ignorance and lack of experience. I did most of my childhood travelling in books and by listening to the stories and memories of others, later through plays and theatre. As soon as I could drive and afford petrol I explored and adventured the counties of England and Wales soaking in all the rich history, culture and people.


The Europe debate is quite a poignant one for me, every time I travel via Eurostar to Europe I am mindful of how wonderful it is for the unaccustomed traveller to venture abroad safe in the knowledge that there is a structure in place that helps them to do so with relative ease. One of my uncles went alone to India in his early twenties, he was lost for two weeks before being flown home in shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes, having fallen ill and having had all his belongings including his passport stolen from him. As traumatic experiences go, it didn’t break him, it helped him discover a part of himself,  previously hidden; a resolve to survive, an ability to communicate-  to live every day more fully. But travel shouldn’t have to have such a strong sense of danger and uncertainty attached to it, we are not all twenty-something thrill seekers and lone adventurers and for me that is one of the strongest reasons to be part of the European Union.  What I would hope the European Union starts to address is the retention of a country’s  identity and sense of self so we don’t become an homogenous land of fast food outlets and perfectly formed fruit and vegetables.

Anyway, back to Paris. Whilst travelling on foot to Monmartre we came across a school building which displayed a plaque recording that over three hundred children had been taken from the school and died in concentration camps in the second world war.

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Later we came across the Ecole Ville de Paris which displayed a similar plaque more blatantly naming the Vichy Government as well as the Nazi’s. It occurred to me, whilst registering the utter inhumanity of that act, that recently over two hundred girls had been taken from a school in Nigeria and were still being held captive. It is all too easy to forget the lessons of that war and the biggest lesson of all is that together against a common enemy we are stronger but equally in times of peace together we are stronger in building a better world where we stand against injustice, tyranny and inhumanity. There may well be corruption within the European Union itself but its formation had a higher purpose and we should be very careful not to turn our backs on the potential of a relationship formed from the utter horror and evil of a war, when it strives to do the best for all people, although it may not always achieve this.

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I don’t believe that we as imperfect humans with all our myriad weaknesses and vulnerabilities, should strive to live harmoniously in a one world culture but I do believe we should celebrate and respect our cultural differences.  Later, whilst sitting in the La Place de La Republique  considering ‘Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite’ I felt the benefit of the European Union more keenly than I ever have before.

I had been considering closing down the @cultureactive  twitter account. Finally it feels as if other platforms are emerging to champion on a broad scale all that is good and glorious and should be celebrated about culture largely in the UK but also internationally. It is good to see what is being done and what is being valued or explored in countries far away and to reflect on that, in much the same way that we have embraced events at night in museums, a popular concept originally offered by French Museums. As our twitter base grows and we continue to promote awareness of all that is out there it seemed that perhaps our act of ‘activism’ has come to an end. But perhaps we should simply be considering more fully whether it’s time to move on a stage?  Like the broader debate on the European Union, our beleaguered arts organisations and the fight to recognise the value of arts and artists perhaps rests on the simple premise of “it is better to be all in it together than apart”.