Archive for April, 2010

Savages recording session

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Robert St-John Smith, Emily Maguire and myself were in a sound studio in Leeds to record the voices for a forthcoming animated film about the original Leeds Savages. We did a brilliant rendition of, ‘On Ilkley Moor baht at’.

Recording session 1

Recording session 2


Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Some schools are encouraging their students to solicit sponsorship for trips abroad. I was told about one student (attending a private school) who was looking for sponsorship for a trip to Peru to climb some exotic hill. I thought to myself, ‘but that sounds like a fun adventure holiday’.

The idea then occurred to me to ask for sponsorship for my own adventure holiday – visiting a rain forest perhaps. What would be the difference between me and the student?

A lot of the trouble is with the word, ’sponsor’. Originally, this meant a form of advertising for an organisation that funded a programme on television, or some kind of event. It was clearly a trade off; they give you money, you advertise their product. Not much different from regular advertising.

So when a student asks to be sponsored on their trip to Peru or wherever, do you ask how prominent your advertising will be be on their shirt? (what, you mean, there is no advertising!?).

Technically then, as individuals, no sponsorship is actually taking place, you are simply giving money and the student is simply begging. That’s the reality of the situation; a student of wealthy parents is asking you for money so that they can go on holiday and their parents don’t have to pay the bill (hmm, sounds a bit like the recent banking crisis or the MP’s expenses scandal).

So what about those people who abuse their bodies to collect for charity and to achieve something arbitrary on the way – say, running a marathon? Is that any better?

Well, generally, these people like running anyway, that’s why they do it in the first place so it is still not much different from going on holiday. But they have never run a marathon before, I hear you say, so it will be really hard for them, so hard in fact that they will suffer pain.

So it is the pain that we are sponsoring – I mean, paying for? Why is that a good thing? And does the logic still hold that if the participant is crippled in some way in the attempt, it is somehow even better? – yep, that was worth every penny. Why is the pain important? Is the Christian idea of suffering for someone else’s sins so inculcated into our consciousness that we automatically follow it unquestioningly? Most sensible people would simply stop doing something if it hurt them to the point of hospitalisation. But then would they be accused of not caring enough about the suffering members of the charity that they are collecting for? If it is about suffering then, why don’t these people do something that is thoroughly unpleasant and alien to them like working in a third world sweat shop for a couple of weeks? If it is about the caring then why don’t these people volunteer their time in the charity of their choice for no sponsorship money at all! Imagine that, no grand ego trip!

In days gone by, people simply asked for money to support a charity that they endorsed. Nothing wrong with that (assuming the money was used appropriately – a can of worms I won’t go into now). You either supported the charity or you didn’t. The idea of sponsoring as opposed to charity collecting has opened up another can of worms that has allowed the concept of ’sponsoring your local drug dealer’ to become a near reality.

So insidious is our consumerist society that even a deeply personal value of wanting to ‘do good’ in the world is now sold to the general public like an x-factor style event with premium rate telephone numbers.

I, for one, do not sponsor such a development.

Happy Death Day

Monday, April 12th, 2010

On a visit to a cemetery yesterday, I noticed an unusual grave. Amongst the familiar flowers and candles freshly arranged around the headstone there was a silvery helium balloon waving gaily above them. On the balloon, in funky lettering, was the words ‘Happy Birthday’.

‘How refreshing,’ I thought.

Refreshing, because the friend or relative with the balloon was not going to be dictated to by convention and was going to celebrate the life of the deceased in whatever fashion they wished. Just because someone has died does not mean that we have to become fixated by that fact.

Then I realised that the balloon could just as easily have said – in similar funky lettering – ‘Happy Death Day’.

Some people would find that idea shocking, even irreverent. But rationally, it makes perfect sense. Here’s why.

When we die, we leave our still living loved ones in corporeal mode and it is assumed that we go to some other place. The living are grief stricken because they will miss the person who has died. The person who has died either doesn’t care because there is nothing of their consciousness left after death, or they go to some sort of Heaven – consciousness intact – where they have a great time. Either way, it is the living which suffer the grief.

But here’s the kicker; we never think of the time before birth. For some reason, the arrow of time forces us to look only forward. Part of the problem is that a recognisable vessel of the dead person is left on earth that becomes corrupt and disintegrates, a depressing image. But the supposition of what happens after death has to be applied to what happens before birth. Presumably, that space after death must be the same space before conception. There must be a heaven before birth (if you believe in the concept). Birth, therefore, is a transition into something ‘worse‘, into the suffering, pain and grief that is life (perhaps the cards ought to say, “Sorry for your birthday”.). Rationally then, death is a release, a return to the heaven from which we came and should therefore be celebrated as a good thing. If we only had a useful image of ourselves before birth – a cartoon cell with a resigned look of disappointment on our face – it would help to visualise the truth in this. But a sperm and an egg don’t carry the same emotional charge as a broken cadaver. Pity.

Give me a Sign (but not just any old sign)

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

SatNav for the Soul cartoon

When I heard that a Farmers’ Market had opened up in Wakefield city centre I went to investigate. I like Farmers’ Markets for several reasons;

  • They support local farmers who have an alternative to just dealing with the supermarkets
  • You can check the provenance of the food (in theory) and actually ask the farmer about the pig in the sausage
  • It cuts down on food miles
  • Fruit and veg have to be in season which is healthier for us and the environment

The council had set up temporary stalls directly in front of the cathedral in the main pedestrianised area. It was an immediate hit. It had the perfect position as nearly everyone visiting the centre walked past this location at some point in their visit and couldn’t help but notice the market. Such was its popularity that it could sustain niche products – an ostrich stall and a mackerel stall for example. It was a wonderful addition to a typical High Street dominated by the big retailers. All I had to do was remember to come into the city centre every second Saturday in the month.

So then one cold second Saturday in the month, I cycled into the centre, locked up my bike and walked to the Farmers’ Market (it is the one reason I visit the centre on a Saturday) only to find it wasn’t there. The precinct was devoid of any stalls. I went through my immediate conclusions that I could jump to;

  • Wrong day… nope, I checked before I left
  • The Market has been cancelled at short notice… possible, but  no snow forecast. Need to explore further
  • The Market has been moved… another possibility and one that I can explore immediately

So with that I started to wander around the centre looking in the most likely places. Eventually it dawned on me to check the new permanent market hall which had been built adjacent to the new bus station (as you can guess there has been some redevelopment work going on). The market hall was on the outskirts of the centre and you would only go in that direction if you wanted to either catch a bus or actually visit the market hall. As I generally use a bike and find the new market hall depressing and soulless I never go there. But sure enough, the Farmers’ Market was strung along the pavement outside the hall. There were fewer stalls than usual as well.

When I spoke to the farmer that I regularly buy from I asked him about the move. He surmised it was an attempt to boost the footfall to the failing permanent Market Hall but it seemed to be helping neither it or them. When I told him it was lucky that I found him as I Assume Nothing, he looked surprised and said there was a sign up. I said I didn’t see it if there was. This was a concern for the farmer – if I hadn’t seen it, who else hadn’t?

Afterwards I decided to go back to the precinct and look for this sign. Sure enough there was a large vinyl sign with writing on it informing anyone who cared to read it that the Farmers’ Market had moved. So why didn’t I see it when i first arrived?

Because I wasn’t looking for a vinyl sign. I was looking for temporary market stalls like I was used to. Also, the sign was hung up near where the stalls used to be but not in the exact area. It was also competing (and failing) with all the brightly coloured city centre signage that we simply ignore after a while. I realised that the council should have set up a single empty stall in the precinct and put a small sign on that. In that way, people would immediately see what they were looking for and notice that a change had occurred.

Imagine the number of potential customers who simply assumed that the Farmers’ Market had ceased to exist and gone instead to the supermarket.

Lesson 1: For best results, any change needs to start from the familiar then move to the unfamiliar.

Lesson 2: Combining a successful strategy with an unsuccessful one does not automatically produce an average.

The critical mass of community

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Savage writers

Here is a real life example of a community developing.

From my Freethinkers Group I met Jane Walton who told me about Mike Chitty and his Progress School. At this School I met Phil Kirby who told me about Temple Works and its remit of becoming a cultural centre. As a result I formed BettaKultcha along with Richard Mitchie, who is a friend of Phil’s and we put on an evening of entertainment and culture at Temple Works. Phil then told me about Robert St-John Smith who was reforming The Leeds Savage Club and recommended that I get involved. I subsequently became a founding member.

Last night at the Grove Inn in Leeds there was a meeting of the Savage writing group. It was standing room only. After the formal part of the evening Rob made some announcements about the activities of the Savage Club. The Yorkshire Evening Post will print a full page report about the reformation of The Savages on April 1st. The Club had also been approached by various people asking the group to contribute to one thing or another. Peter Etherington had got involved with South Leeds Radio and was looking for collaborators to help with a fictional radio serial to be aired sometime in the future. Rob also mentioned the forthcoming BettaKultcha evening on April the 27th at Temple Works for which the Savages will make a presentation.

Many people at the meeting had not heard of BettaKultcha and I explained to Heather Lloyd and David Maguire who were sitting directly beside me what it was about and that currently we were looking for musicians to contribute to the evening. Heather announced that she played the flute and would be willing to add to the evening. As we got talking, the subject of a sketch show came up, similar to the Footlights Club, and both heather and David expressed their enthusiasm for such an event. Arrangements were made to get something in motion.

Something is happening in Leeds, something remarkable.

As individuals we may have have a particular talent that we would like to use but are frustrated in doing so because either the opportunities are not there or we need the complement of someone else’s talent to enhance the potential of both. This is where community becomes a force of good. As individuals, we can only accomplish so much and only prodigious talent or luck produces something significant for very few people. But as a group, you can unlock the potential of many people and become a beneficial force within a community. A group like The Savage Club, represents motivation, organisation, commitment and creativity. It’s people doing something and making things happen. As the group grows it becomes inevitable that more creative heat will be generated and products of quality will be manufactured. Before long people will be referring to Leeds as a crucible of cultural enterprise. When that happens, talented people from outside the area will want to come to Leeds to look for involvement in such a stimulating environment.

It is at this point that a community can rightly see itself as truly wealthy.