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November 2013

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P-spaceAs a teacher of drama I am aware that I perhaps view the world – on occasion – through slightly different eyes to those not so involved.

This thought came into my head recently as the result of my having to make a trip to Loughborough, which is –  for those unfamiliar with the geography of the United Kingdom – in the Midlands, approximately 90 minutes north of London by train.

Which fact is germane – since I decided to eschew my normal practice and to take public transport rather than driving. I am still somewhat unsure as to exactly what made me do so: the weather had turned colder and I had been doing a considerable amount of driving of late, so I perhaps felt that what was needed was a relatively stress-free peregrination.

Why I thought that public transport would afford such I do not know!

Our end of Berkshire is not quite on the opposite side of the capital to the Midlands, but given the transport topology of the south of England it might as well be so. I paid my customary visit to the InterWebNet to ascertain the optimal route and discovered that I would needs journey into and across London before heading northwards out into the wilds of Leicestershire. This meant leaving in the frosty dark of the early morning, driving to the station, taking two trains to get to Paddington, taking the tube (underground or metro for those not of these parts!) across the metropolis to St Pancras and then finally boarding the intercity train to Loughborough.

The morning rush hour in the home counties is no fun at all, which has a great deal to do with why I routinely drive 35 miles in to School rather than relying on public transport (assuming that I could ever afford such!). For the second leg of my journey north – from Reading to Paddington – I had a reserved seat. Unfortunately I boarded the designated carriage at the wrong end. The train was non-stop to London and the coach so packed with standing passengers that I had to abandon any hope of pushing my way down the length of it to find my place. I do hope that somebody else enjoyed it!

“All very interesting” – I hear you cry – “but what has this to do with drama?”

Well – the portion of the first year drama curriculum that covers physicality includes an element concerning personal space – that private but invisible zone that we maintain around ourselves for our physical and emotional protection. In the course of this study we are – naturally – particularly interested in the dramatic possibilities of incursions into this space, which usually occur as a result of one character attempting to impose his or her status on another. Imagining an RSM lecturing an incompetent private at particularly close quarters, or a hoodlum intimidating his victim (to take just two obviously rather extreme examples) should give some idea as to what I refer.

Needless to say – we usually guard this space jealously, and when we do allow or invite others in it is normally a clear indication of the closeness of the relationship concerned.

On the commuter train – to the contrary – all of this goes out of the window! One finds oneself crushed in extreme close proximity with others, including those of the opposite sex for whom such intrusion would normally be a cause for raising the alarm! It seems that the modus operandi in such cases is simply to pretend that the incursion is not taking place at all – which is most strange.

I have always found the London commuter experience to be a puzzle. The wealthy banker may leave his luxury domicile in the home counties – given, perhaps, a lift to the station by his trophy wife in his top-end BMW. Once in the city he sits in his luxurious office on the upper floors with a panoramic view of the capital, his needs being serviced by PAs, underlings and secretaries. In between – however – he endures the commuter crush with tens of thousands of others in what is indubitably a pretty low-order experience… and for the ‘privilege’ of so doing he pays what can only be described as an eye-wateringly extortionate toll.


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Nature – splendidly – works to its own rhythm, rhyme and reason. Here – in the last week of November – we are finally seeing the sort of autumnal display that I more normally associate with the end of October. The leaves have really only just begun to fall properly now and at this rate the trees will not be bare before we head across the water to Canada.

Some photos from the jolly old Fuji x10:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…today we will be in Canada!


We have been whetting our appetites by making further arrangements for our celebratory visit to the Wickanninish Inn just after Christmas. We spent a happy 15 minutes on the phone to Tofino booking a table at The Pointe restaurant for my birthday dinner, as well as arranging some little well-deserved treats for us both at the Ancient Cedars Spa.

We can’t wait!

Nor – it goes without saying – can we wait so see all of our loved ones and good friends over in British Columbia.

Not long now – chaps!

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Levellers'_ManifestRealize that everything connects to everything else.

Leonardo da Vinci

Proof yet again – if proof were needed – that all things within our consciousness are bound together by a common strand and that even when one is unaware of the fact connections are being made which only become apparent after the event…

To whit…

I wrote a couple of posts some few weeks or so ago on the subject of the chancellor – George Osbourne’s – speech to the Tory party conference – under the banner “The World Turned Upside Down“. I chose this particular appellation largely on the back of the quotation – by Pope Alexander VI to Lucrezia Borgia – that I had used as the strap line for the second of those posts.

The phrase itself is well known but – as is sadly all too often the case – I had not at that point adequately considered its origins. I later felt moved to look it up – as I should have done in the first place.

The World Turned Upside Down” has its origins as a ballad (of uncertain authorship) which dates from the 1640s. It was penned as a polemic against the puritan parliament’s edict that Christmas should be henceforth be regarded as a solemn religious festival – thus banning the kind of pagan celebrations with which we are now familiar.

The ballad should not be confused with the considerably more modern ditty which bears the same title but which was written in 1975 by Leon Rosselson and later recorded by Billy Bragg. This song is in turn frequently confused with the “Diggers’ Song” (also known as “Levellers and Diggers“) which is another 17th-century ballad, inspired by the Digger movement and composed by Gerrard Winstanley.

Leon Rosselson took the title for his song from the synonymous book by the Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, the subtitle of which is “Radical Ideas During the English Revolution”.

The period of chaos that marked the English Civil Wars – the ‘English Revolution’ – that confrontation between the monarchy (with its belief in the divine right of kings) and parliament (determined to establish democracy – however primitive in form) re-invigorated a radical tradition that had previously been rigorously suppressed whenever heads had been raised above the parapet. A variety of movements – the Diggers, the Levellers, the Ranters, the Quakers (very different in nature to the movement we know today) and the Fifth Monarchists – flourished for a brief but significant period.

“All well and good” – I hear you say – “but what has this to do with connections?”

Well – the period immediately following the civil wars – the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy – is also know as the Golden Age of Piracy. These historical strands are – without doubt – interconnected, there being solid grounds for believing that the rise of piracy was at least partially rooted in English radicalism…

…and it just so happens that I have recently been reading extensively and widely on the subject of piracy – for an embryonic project to which I will no doubt return within these posts before too long.

Altogether now – “Arrrrr!”…

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Images by Rob Masefield on Flickr

To the Stoop tonight for some more rugby – in this instance the international between England and Canada’s respective representative womens’ XVs!

See what I mean about trouble?!

The Stoop for those that don’t know – is the Harlequins ground – and is in Twickenham, just across the road from the ‘cabbage patch’ itself.

This promises to be a tough, physical encounter on both sides. The English women beat close rivals – France – at the weekend by a convincing 40 points to 20. They lost – however – the last two engagements against Canada over the summer and will definitely be seeking revenge on home turf, particularly since the two sides are drawn in the same pool for the Womens’ Rugby World Cup next year in France.

The Kickass Canada Girl has dug out her maple-leaf mitts and has lent me her England scarf (dual-nationality doubtless causing some internal conflict here) – but in reality we are probably both supporting both sides.

Well – I am, anyway!


Addendum: On this occasion the English girls were rather too strong for their Canadian cousins – beating them 32 points to 3! They had home advantage and a partisan crowd of course.

The Girl was a bit glum afterwards, but had no complaints.

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488px-Lincoln-Warren-1865-03-06As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?

Abraham Lincoln (before he grew such!)

We are now well into Movember – that intriguing charitable appropriation of the penultimate month by those who encourage the effusion of facial fungus in support of mens’ heath issues. This is – of course – an extremely good cause and one which I wholeheartedly support. I understand that the campaign is already well established in Canada and support in the UK and elsewhere grows year on year. At the School boys and staff alike have taken up the challenge – in many cases with inevitably hilarious results.

Good for them!

I am not myself one of those so engaged, but it should be admitted at this point that I am – nonetheless – currently cultivating something of a beard –  an undertaking that I have never before so much as attempted. The main reason for not being a party to the charitable effort is that I stopped shaving – as I frequently do – over the recent half term, only deciding as School returned not to re-start. Those properly adopting the challenge are supposed to be clean-shaven on the first of November – which ruled me out since I couldn’t face starting again from scratch.

The other reason for my ambivalence is that I still find myself very much in two minds as to whether or not I really do want to sport such facial growth.

First steps in anything new – as always in this technological age – are to consult the InterWebNet. There I get something of a shock. There is a fair amount of ‘beard’ literature thereabouts, but much of it has about it the sort of evangelical zeal that I find vaguely discomforting. Enthusiasm for the wearing of a beard I can – I suppose – understand. Efforts to stigmatise those who choose not so to do as being somehow less than manly could be conceived as humourous until those attempts become just that little bit too vehement – at which point I start to sense the pungent odour of rodent!

I am not particularly hirsute and three weeks into the experiment progress on my putative brush seems to have slowed to a crawl. Before you smile knowingly and mutter “there you go, then” to yourself, it has to be said that I actually think the growth quite suits me. It makes me look almost distinguished. Further, the Kickass Canada Girl – having previous form in the field of beard appreciation – has given the nod of approval.

The thing is – though – that I’m not sure that I either particularly like the feel of wearing the thing, nor – indeed – that I actually like the notion of being bearded. Though I am susceptible to the romantic caprice of the grizzled mariner I’m not sure if that is in reality how I see myself. I simply don’t know whether I like the idea or not.

Well – perhaps I’ll give it a week or so…

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Image by Duncan Hull on FlickrA couple of days ago I found myself reading online yet another article intent on delivering a good kicking to the generation of which I am still proud to be a member – the baby boomers! It would seem that there is something of an open season on the boomers, but whereas cross-generational assaults are nothing new – and are indeed normally to be considered healthy – there was something about this particular bushwhacking that finally got my goat… In fact – there were several things – and a whole herd of goats!

It has become highly fashionable to paint a picture in which the boomers – inheriting a veritable garden of Eden from what was arguably the ‘greatest generation’ – proceeded through their self-indulgence and negligence to run amok, scorching their way through the post war decades and leaving in their wake an arid wasteland of debt and desolation for the generations to come.

Well – let’s try to get some perspective here. Whereas I am unstinting in my admiration for those who lived through the depression and fought the last great war for us, we should perhaps ask ourselves why it was that they were obliged so to do at all. The boomers are far from unique in having made mistakes that have impacted on succeeding generations. Let us recall a century of political and religious extremism, of bigotry and repression and of the resultant global conflagrations. Let us remember the experiments with communism and fascism – the equal failures of socialism and of unfettered capitalism. Let us not forget the eagerness with which we rushed to create weapons that could destroy all sentient life on this fragile planet, and let us not doubt for a second that greed and self-interest are as old as civilisation itself and have caused havoc across the millennia.

Certainly we boomers were and are lucky. We are blessed in so many ways. We were not called upon to make the sacrifices that were demanded of the preceding generation. We have doubtless had it better than will those that immediately succeed us, but such generational variation has ever been the case. More to the point is the question of the purpose to which this generation has put its good fortune – of what legacy it will leave. I firmly believe that history will show that – alongside the negativity endemic in its self-absorption – this generation will be remembered for its creativity and for its espousal of good causes – even if sadly also less positively for its failure to contribute to their resolution as properly as it might.

One of the things that annoyed me most about this recent attack was that its author himself qualifies as a boomer! It seems that it has now become ‘de rigueur’ to assail one’s own generation. Now – as it happens, I don’t think that this is particularly healthy. I have no issue with the younger generations so doing… indeed – that is as it should be. When we were young we certainly rebelled against the mores and strictures of our parents’ existence and I don’t think that we expected for a minute that they would meekly cave in and bow to our youthful (lack of) wisdom. It is bad enough that some of my generation seem all too keen to be perceived as ‘cool’ by today’s ‘yoof’ – to be thought to be ‘good guys’… it is quite another thing to be giving our own generation a good kicking to save the young the trouble of having so to do.

Worse yet – the attack was not on the pitiful state in which we may indeed yet leave the world’s economies – but on our cultural hegemony. The suggestion appeared to be that all those writers, poets, musicians, film-makers, designers, thinkers and other creatives whom many of us believe to be the cream of our generation, should do the decent thing and step aside – to retire and leave the stage to the young. That’s not how it works! How are the new generations going to be able to attain the heights of achievement that did the best of us if they don’t have to fight for the right so to do?

Gentlemen – and ladies – this is not helping! The young need us to rebel against. This self-flagellation and expiation helps no-one – least of all the coming generations. If we can’t give the young something to kick against we are no use to them at all…

…and if we can’t be proud of ourselves how can we possibly expect anyone else so to be?

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Chapel,_Radley_College,_22-05-2007Regular readers will doubtless not have missed within these postings the frequent references to those venerable institutions – the English public schools. Those without these shores – should they feel moved to investigate a little more closely – may find that any preconceptions that they hold concerning the nature of these august establishments and of the type of characters they attract – and indeed breed – are at best partial. Safe to say that the stereotype of the English public school boy – whilst indubitably having at least some basis in truth – paints a somewhat misleading picture.

Those wishing to know more would have done well to catch – on the BBC last weekend – a splendid documentary by Hannah Berryman entitled “A Very English Education”. The conceit behind the production was the revisiting of some of the subjects of a previous BBC documentary series – first shown in 1979 – which examined the daily lives of a group of young men then attending Radley College. The purported intent was to discover the effect that a public school education had on the lives of these privileged youths, and to that end the first part of the film took them back their younger days to observe and to comment – in the light of their later experiences – on these rarified schooldays spent in the bucolic Oxfordshire countryside.

The programme provided – as one might expect – a fascinating insight into the nature of such an education. As it progressed – however – it became apparent that the true heart of the piece lay elsewhere. Ms Berryman astutely withheld until the very last segment the revelation of what had become of these entitled scholars as they journeyed through life. When their fates were finally revealed – in what proved an unexpected and delicately moving series of sequences – it became apparent that the real subject of the piece was considerably broader than had first appeared – on childhood and growing up – on the nature of ambition (or lack thereof), success and failure – of family and of its echoes across the generations… In short, the stuff of life itself.

“A Very English Education” was beautifully judged and expertly made, proving far greater than its initial impression promised. You may – if you act quickly – be able to catch this excellent piece on the iPlayer. If that proves impossible this review by the Guardian’s Sam Wollaston catches the tone. Don’t read it if you have a chance to catch the programme though…

I missed the first showing and had to catch up on the iPlayer myself. That was enough to reduce me to tears, but then – I am a notorious softy!

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