Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thirty out of thirty! Result…

So, thirty days – thirty posts. I’ve successfully completed my first National Blog Post Monthly (NaBloPoMo) challenge. If you’ve stayed with me all the way through the month – thank you very much; your support is hugely appreciated. If you’ve been irritated or moved to boredom by anything that I’ve posted here, then I am very sorry. I hope that (at least on one or two occasions) you’ve found something that has been interesting, challenging or has caused you to think about things in a slightly different way than might otherwise have been the case

For me, the discipline of posting each day has been something that I’ve actually come to enjoy – even if from time to time it’s been a challenge to find the time or to find the inspiration. I admit that I’ve become something of a ‘Stats Page’ addict, monitoring the number of views of the blog each day, and constantly surprised by the countries of origin of people who have visited during the month. During November, visitors from the US, Ukraine, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands have all called in. There have been over 400 views of the blog in total (more than the total for the previous three months put together) and daily visits have doubled on average from seven on November 1st to nearer fourteen up to yesterday

It’s been interesting to see the sorts of posts that have captured readers’ attention more than others. Surprisingly (to me at least) it’s been the stuff that has been most personal that has generated the most traffic. My tribute to my dad on his seventy-fifth birthday ( and my trip through the family photo album ( have been the most popular topics that I’ve written about. Intriguingly, the posts including some of my favourite poems have also been well-received

So – what about the future? Well, I will certainly keep working on the blog – but probably not every day. I doubt that you, dear reader, or I could keep up that sort of pace!

Black Eye Friday, more like!

Some traditions don’t necessarily survive being transplanted from one country to another, and it appears that Black Friday may be one of them. Traditionally, US retailers have taken the opportunity on the day after Thanksgiving to heavily discount stock items to clear the decks ahead of the final sales push in the run-up to Christmas. This year, Asda in the UK (part of the US-based Walmart Group) decided to heavily promote a UK version of the Black Friday promotion, with major reductions in the price of electrical goods and other high value items. Unfortunately, Asda executives appear to have failed to properly assess the risk of hundreds of bargain-seeking crazies descending on their stores in search of give-away TVs and the like. The result (broadcast nationwide on news programmes this evening) is tragically comedic – with mass brawls, fist fights and (in one case) a customer left with a broken bone in her wrist (

In the world of advertising, the mantra is that all publicity is good publicity, but it’s difficult to see how either Asda or its customers derive very much benefit or credit from the unsavoury scenes that were played out in stores from Belfast to Bristol to Liverpool today

People of Britain – we’re better than this! At least wait until Boxing Day before bludgeoning each other in the name of bargains!!

Is it just me, or has this been a looooonnnnnggggg week?!

I don’t know about you, but this week seems to be taking an eternity to go by. It might be because of the sudden upsurge in work that I am faced with, coupled with an increase in meetings and a corresponding decline in the amount of time available to DO things. However, I think it’s also linked to the weather that we’ve had in the south west of the UK this week. It’s been resolutely slate grey overhead, and has never really seemed to get fully light. I know that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a recognised medical condition, and I’m not suggesting for one minute that I’m actually ill, but life does seem so much better when you get an occasional glimpse of blue sky!

Oh! well – on the bright side – it’s Friday tomorrow; the weather forecast hints at a break in the cloud; and there’s only three more working weeks until Christmas

I’ll just have to battle on!

Out of the ashes – economic woes provide opportunities for artistic and social creativity

Doomsday predictions of the death of the arts and creative industries outside London have been commonplace in recent months. Cuts in grants to funding bodies such as Arts Council England, and the pressure on local authority budgets, have led to headlines warning of a “cull” ( and claims that over £100m will be removed from the arts sector ( This is clearly a major threat to lots of established arts and performance groups across the country, and especially to those which exist primarily to target specific groups or communities as part of social integration or cohesion programmes

However, the economic downturn is also creating opportunities for other individuals and groups to take advantage of vacant premises on high streets throughout the length and breadth of the UK, to showcase their talents to a much wider audience ( The use of empty office and retail premises as galleries, studios and performance spaces prevents buildings from falling into disrepair, reduce vandalism, brings vitality and activity to the high street, and allows artists and performers an opportunity to raise their profile and increase their following. It’s a great example of the resilience and opportunism of local people, and offers a model for the local activism that is now increasingly being seen as the only hope for protecting the delivery of local, community-focused services

It is part of the continuum that has seen communities assume responsibility for running their local shops (, libraries ( and leisure facilities (, amongst other things. These sorts of co-operative enterprises are likely to become even more important as local councils struggle to deliver even the services that they are statutorily required to provide

Nor is this a uniquely British phenomenon. In Greece (where the impact of the worldwide financial crash was felt much more strongly than in many other European countries) there are signs that new models of social action are emerging as the proof of the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention is demonstrated once again

When the financial crisis first hit, there were loud calls for radical changes to the world economic system to ensure that we should never find ourselves in such a mess again. In fact, there has been very little radical change since then – the problems having been explained away as a temporary aberration rather than an inevitable consequence of the economic system. Perhaps the real change will not come as a result of revolution, but rather through the collective impact of many local changes in communities across the world

Education for education’s sake – why the pursuit of knowledge must not be restricted to things that can be costed, measured or counted

I’m going to start with another declaration of interest today. I work in the UK Higher Education (University) sector and I have done for the past seven and a half years. I have also benefited from studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level in UK universities at various stages in my career to date (and who knows, I may yet enrol on and finally finish a Masters course at some point in the future when time permits)

I’m inevitably biased therefore, when it comes to discussions around the purpose of higher education, and in particular, research undertaken by HE institutions. At a time when the economy is still struggling to emerge from the damage inflicted through the world financial collapse, and when public expenditure is subject to closer scrutiny than at any point in the last thirty years, it is perhaps inevitable that questions are asked about Government support for research into apparently niche or minority areas. Even those communication channels that tend to be seen as more moderate and enlightened can fall into the trap of pandering to an agenda that seeks to differentiate between research that is worthy of support and that which is (implicitly at least) classed as being frivolous or an unnecessary luxury

An example is the coverage of “more unusual research” on the BBC website today ( The article appears at first sight to be neutral and value-free, but on closer inspection, there is a sneering undertone that suggests that the reporter is unconvinced by the value of the work that forms the basis of the story. This is reinforced by references in the introductory paragraph to work on the human genome project or the discovery of antibiotics as transformational, while other “research passes into the annals of human knowledge largely unnoticed.”

The problem with this binary approach to the classification of research as valuable or not is that it is only possible to make this judgement AFTER the fact. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in research occurred quite by accident (see examples here : and here : However, in each case, whilst the discovery may have been accidental, it was recognised, developed and exploited because the researcher was in the right frame of mind to seize the opportunity

“Ah!” I hear you say, “but these are medical and engineering breakthroughs; things that we can see or touch or use with measurable, visible effects. How do these compare to studies into lap dancing, shoes or tattoos?” It’s a good question, but it’s not a new one. There is a wealth of research to support the suggestion that research in the arts and social sciences also produces direct economic, knowledge and societal benefits (see for example, the report here :

So let’s take care not to risk ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ when it comes to public funding for research in all academic disciplines. Investment in research is never certain, and even the most well put together research proposals will occasionally fail – but even in failure, what is learned can prove to be hugely valuable!

Me thinks he doth protest too much!

I have to confess before I go any further that I love Christmas – for all the wrong reasons. I love the garish decorations, the sentimentality of the films, the predictability of the department store soundtrack, the turkey and trimmings, and the sense of well-being that comes from the giving (and receiving!) of presents. It is an oasis of light in the midst of the long dark winter of the northern hemisphere, and it’s a great excuse to take a fortnight off work safe in the knowledge that at least three days will be courtesy of the Bank Holiday arrangements in the UK. Truly, what’s not to like?

Well, apparently, quite a lot. And in today’s Guardian, Stuart Heritage goes to town in describing all the ways that Christmas (and the cutesification of life generally) is driving him to distraction. It’s a very well written and funny piece and I commend it to you ( Of course, I don’t agree with the sentiment, but you have to admire the way that Heritage sets out his case

Once you’ve read it, don’t forget to go to here ( to create your personalised animation for the new festive season. If you’re feeling particularly mischievous, you could send it to Stuart! (That was just a joke – I don’t want to be responsible for triggering that stress-related heart attack that he refers to in the article!!)

The Day of the Doctor : Review

So. It happened. After weeks of tantalising trailers and promotion for the show on practically every BBC programme that’s been on for the past week (including the news and even James Martin’s Saturday Kitchen), the Day of the Doctor took to the airwaves at 7.50pm last night (UK time). This was the special to end all specials; the 50th anniversary celebration that was marked more ubiquitously than the deaths of JFK or Aldous Huxley (events that also happened 50 years’ ago this week). And to top it all, it was fantastic!

Doctor Who has managed to shape-shift in much the same way as the Zygons who were the ‘star’ aliens for this plot. Initially, a cutting edge sci-fi drama that was a testing ground for low-tech special effects and electronic soundtracks, it became a bit naff and nerdy in the late 1970s and 1980s as low budgets and poor plot-lines failed to measure up to the competing sci-fi offerings at the time. The renaissance came with in 2005 with Russell T Davies taking over as Producer and Christopher Ecclestone in the role of the Doctor. This was a new, post-modern Doctor – long on irony and sang-froid, and with a companion (in Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler) who was feisty, sexy and a genuine partner in the ‘saving the universe’ game. The development of Dr Who as a worldwide phenomenon has continued under the stewardship of Stephen Moffat following Davies’ departure in 2010, and the characterisation initially forged by Ecclestone has matured in the hands of first David Tennant and more recently Matt Smith. Tennant and Smith have both brought eccentricity and superb comic timing to the part, that has enabled plot lines which combine genuine drama, pathos and tragedy to be tempered with funny and superbly delivered one-liners

It was the superb interactions between Tennant and Smith, juxtaposed with the careworn, heart on his sleeve agonising of John Hurt (who was simply brilliant), that made The Day of the Doctor so compelling to watch. The plot was impossibly complex, and it will take at least half a dozen viewings to properly figure out what was going on and to appreciate all the references and subtleties of the dialogue (I’ve only managed to watch it twice so far), but actually that doesn’t matter. It was a ripping good yarn

The inclusion of Billie Piper (as the sentient being evolved from the universe’s most deadly weapon) was a master-stroke, fulfilling the role of margin notes – clarifying some of the more Gordian plot twists, and generally sign-posting the audience to the key moments in the narrative. The explanation of the role of Jenna Coleman’s character (Clara) throughout the most recent series was ingenious, and the use of archive material and modern editing techniques to interweave her character into plot lines from throughout the 50 years of the programme was cleverly done without appearing contrived or cliched

There are lots of questions that this 50th anniversary special will have raised in the minds of Dr Who fanatics and those who analyse the plot lines in fine detail. It’s probably true that various ‘red lines’ have been crossed and things previously thought to have been sacrosanct have almost certainly been stamped all over (for example, there has previously been a pretty hard and fast rule against The Doctor meeting and interacting with himself in previous or later lives). However, to dwell on these would be churlish. The reason why Doctor Who has survived for fifty years, and has enjoyed probably its most successful period ever since 2005 (77 million people worldwide tuned in last night), is because it has been prepared to evolve, to move on, to – dare I say it – regenerate itself to meet the needs of new audiences (and the changing tastes of older ones)

When I trailed this review on this blog yesterday, it prompted a couple of responses suggesting that the people commenting found Dr Who boring. I can only assume that these are people who maybe haven’t watched it for a while (or at all?). It is now a superbly made, brilliantly acted, and amazingly well-written drama series. The morality plays of Medieval Europe served a particular purpose in society at that time. “Morality plays typically contained a protagonist who represents either humanity as a whole or a smaller social structure. Supporting characters are personifications of good and evil. This alignment of characters provides the play’s audience with moral guidance. Morality plays are the result of the dominant belief of the time period, that humans had a certain amount of control over their post-death fate while they were on earth.” (King, Pamela M. “Morality Plays”. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre. Ed. Richard Beadle. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1994. 235). It is not too much of a stretch to say that Dr Who is a morality play for our time – confronting ethical and moral dilemmas and offering guidance on appropriate responses to them

And it’s also great to watch!

Oh! The Irony…

This story ( and the comments that appear beneath it in today’s Daily Mail reminded of the following poem by Roger Woddis :

Down with Fanatics!

If I had my way with violent men

I’d simmer them in oil,

I’d fill a pot with bitumen

And bring them to the boil.

I execrate the terrorist

And those who harbour him,

And if I weren’t a moralist

I’d tear them limb from limb.

Fanatics are an evil breed

Whom decent men should shun;

I’d like to flog them till they bleed,

Yes, every mother’s son,

I’d like to tie them to a board

And let them taste the cat,

While giving praise, oh thank the Lord,

That I am not like that.

For we should love the human kind,

As Jesus taught us to,

And those who don’t should be struck blind

And beaten black and blue;

I’d like to roast them in a grill

And listen to them shriek,

Then break them on the wheel until

They turned the other cheek.

You don’t ‘get’ cricket? You’re just watching it in the wrong frame of mind…

To continue the sports theme that started with yesterday’s piece on football, my inspiration for today comes from the Ashes Test cricket series that started overnight (UK time) in Australia. Cricket tends to elicit a ‘marmite’ response – people either think it’s the greatest thing ever, or they simply don’t understand it at all


There is something wonderfully idiosyncratic about a sport, the pinnacle of which involves matches played over five days and that frequently end without achieving a positive result. In a world where sport is becoming ever more sensational, and where artificial drama is created to resolve stalemates (eg the penalty shoot-out in football), and where even cricket is becoming something of a circus (cf. the recent one day series between India and Australia where fielders seemed to spend more time fetching the ball back from the stands than actually making a difference on the field), it is reassuring to find that Test cricket retains an appeal for those who prefer their sport to contain elements of philosophy, psychology, and dogged determination, rather than one-dimensional displays of physical prowess

The point of Test match cricket is that it is the closest that any sporting contest comes to imitating life. Let me explain. It starts at 11am each morning – a civilised launch time for any really meaningful endeavour, coming as it does exactly two hours before any right-thinking person elects to stop for lunch. The pace of the match is largely determined by the amount of time that it takes the bowlers to get to the end of their run-ups, stop, shine the ball on their (to start with) white trousers, and then run up to the wicket and deliver the ball at about 80mph towards the batsman. This happens six times from one end of the pitch (an over) and then begins again once everybody else is in position, from the other end. In theory, the fielding side is supposed to complete 90 such overs in a typical day’s Test cricket. This is the productivity target that has been set down by the International Cricket Council. However, as in life so in cricket, productivity targets are there simply to provide a gauge against which players can judge their success in ‘sticking it to the management’. Consequently, whilst play is designed to finish each day at 6pm, most international cricket sides have long since realised that rushing around to meet the overs target while the sun is at its highest point, is madness. Consequently, they condition themselves to playing more slowly in the afternoon and staying on a bit longer to complete the day’s quota at the end of the day (when it’s cooler), thus also reducing the gap between the end of play and the arrival of an acceptable time to arrive in the bar for post-play refreshments (sadly – in my opinion – rarely of the alcoholic variety these days). There is no doubt that this practice has its roots absolutely in the behaviour of workers around the world, whose motivation is to behave in a way that is subversive enough to demonstrate their independence, whilst being compliant enough to avoid serious sanction

Fielding positions are themselves a great source of mystery and confusion to the uninitiated follower of cricket. Silly mid off becomes silly mid on depending on whether the batsman is right or left handed; and when straight midwicket, wide mid on and ‘cow corner’ can all mean basically the same thing, I have some sympathy with those who struggle. There are helpful diagrams available to provide some clarity for those new to the game


Unfortunately, this one (courtesy of Robin Flavell) isn’t one of them – but it’s very funny! Again, the point is that the complexity of the fielding positions, and the agonised deliberation that bowlers, captains and ‘senior players’ devote to the decision on whether or not to move wide fourth slip to narrow gulley (ask a cricket-loving friend if you miss the subtlety of this), is all designed to make it appear that the whole thing is much more difficult than it actually is. It’s the equivalent of the plumber or mechanic who manically sucks air in through his teeth whilst muttering darkly about flanges and one-eighth gauge washers – when all you really need is for someone to fix the tap or change the oil

Ultimately, then, those who don’t ‘get’ cricket are missing out because they aren’t watching it in the right frame of mind. Look beyond the superficiality of the sporting contest and see instead the subversive behaviours and the unionised practices at play, and suddenly it all becomes so much more entertaining. Nobody who enjoys cricket does so from a position of naive optimism – that way lies despair! You have to adopt the attitude of the knowing cynic, always assuming that victory is about to be snatched from your grasp by the weather, a bum umpiring decision, bad light, or an unlikely tenth wicket stand. As somebody who I used to play cricket with was very fond of saying : “We’ve lost from better positions then this”

He got cricket.