Archive for category Events
As I only knew Norman Geras – Norm – through his blog, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to him on my own. He was one of the writers who inspired me to use this form to write about whatever mattered to me, and he was kind enough to invite me to complete one of his profiles.
I cannot speak of his life, except as revealed through the many entries on Normblog, and now through the obituaries that have started to appear. A life of conviction and passion, of family and friendship, of music and books and film, of cricket… His very last entry was a list not of books that you must or should read, but of ‘books you might enjoy’ – no browbeating or pressure, just the suggestions of a friend, who wants to share their pleasure with other people.
He also used his blog for a series called Figures from a Dark Time. This was a response to those who argue that we all go on too much about the Holocaust, that it’s all been said often enough. Each entry was composed of testimonies of individuals who were engulfed by that darkness, some who survived, many who did not, and some too who risked everything to help those who needed it. He wrote ‘contre l’oubli’, restoring to some few of those individuals their names and their stories.
atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale
- Norman Geras: 1943-2013 (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- In praise of Norman Geras (1943-2013) (nickcohen.net)
- Norman Geras, 1943-2013 (outsidethebeltway.com)
- RIP Norman Geras (samirchopra.com)
- Bye bye Norm (harrietdevine.typepad.com)
- Pioneering blogger Norman Geras dies of prostate cancer aged 70 (theguardian.com)
- Norman Geras: Rest in peace, comrade (blogs.spectator.co.uk)
‘The Space Between’ Exhibition for Refugee Week
CARA is delighted to invite you to our photographic art exhibition ‘The Space Between’, taking place at The Rag Factory from the 17th-22nd June, as part of Refugee Week. The exhibition has been commissioned by Birkbeck College and will feature images that explore the experiences of women refugee academics.
We will be holding lunch-time talks by women refugees during weekdays who will speak about their experiences leaving everything behind and starting again in an entirely new culture.
From Spitalfields to Green Lanes: mapping the refugee experience in London
London through the eyes of its communities (a talk and viewing of original documents)
London is widely known for its cultural diversity. Where, why and when did the different refugee and migrant communities settle here? Using written and audio-visual material from LMA collections, this talk will present stories from some of London's diverse communities, focusing on their experiences of coming to London and making 'the monster city' their home.
How can I capture that 24 hours of inspiration that we shared last week? I don’t want to forget anything, or anyone, who made it what it was. I don’t want the sense of possibilities, of beginnings, of connections to be dulled by the everyday concerns that have had to now re-enter our lives. I don’t want the elation to ebb away, because what happened really, profoundly, matters. It has to be the start of something, and I believe it can be.
What follows is not a coherent account of the event – I’m not sure that I could provide that – but various sources that, taken together, I believe give a sense of what it was about, in all its rich variety. I’ve drawn this from my own opening and closing words at the event, from emails, tweets, other bloggers. There will be lots more to come, and whilst we want to continue celebrating and enjoying the event itself, we want to start asking where we go from here. What’s next?
These are edited versions of my opening and closing words at the 24 Hour Inspire.
17.00 Thursday 28 February
Good evening everyone, and welcome to the 24 Hour Inspire, 24 hours of lectures presented by the charity Inspiration for Life, of which I am the Chair. This event has been made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of colleagues in all parts of the University, not just our speakers but also the buskers who’ll be entertaining you in the foyer, the wonderful people who’ve baked cakes for us to sell, the University services which have been made available to us without cost, and all the volunteers who will be here throughout the event to make sure it all runs smoothly.
Inspiration for Life was set up by Dr Tim Richardson, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last June, to promote lifelong learning and the public understanding of science, and to raise funds for cancer charities. This is our first major event – when we started planning it we hoped that Tim would still be with us, but sadly he died on 5 February. His family, friends and colleagues want this event to be a tribute to him, and a celebration of his life.
You may recall that back in November 2011, Tim did 24 hours of lectures solo, to raise funds for Children in Need. Tim’s heroic achievement is the inspiration for tonight’s event. Tonight we have 42 speakers, from across and beyond the University presenting a wonderfully diverse range of talks, going through the night and up to 5 pm tomorrow. We’re raising funds for two charities in particular, Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and Rotherham Hospice:
17.00 Friday 1 March
It’s been an amazing 24 hours. We’ve raised funds for our charities, and we’ll be announcing the totals early next week. The 24HrInspire hashtag has been all over the twittersphere, and the buzz has reached far further afield than we could ever have imagined – an email from Iran reached me last night, from someone who was a PhD in Sheffield, and who read about the event on the University website. He translated this into Persian and has been circulating and web-blogging it amongst his colleagues and friends. I won’t read his email in full, as I don’t think I could do so without losing it [see below for the full text] – but just one short quote: ‘When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true’.
How wonderful that someone who wasn’t even here could sum up what’s happened so perfectly. We’ve been entertained, informed and moved, we’ve eaten a lot of cake, and we’ve seen some eminent physicists in their pyjamas. What more could you ask? I think I can speak for everyone and say that we’ve been inspired.
As I said at the beginning – 24 hours ago, when I was a lot more coherent than I’m able to be now, as well as more fragrant, probably – this has all been for Tim. Inspiration for Life is his vision, and we will do everything we can to make it a reality. He would have loved it all – the talks and the music, and above all the sense of the University not just as an institution or an organisation, but as a community coming together to do something wonderful. This is just the start, and we will go on to do all sorts of things in the future, and in everything we do, we’ll be raising a glass to Tim, to say thanks, to say cheers, to say hello.
Blog by Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information & Computing Services, who gave the event tremendous support throughout
Storify Twitter feed from the #24HrInspire hashtag (thanks to Chris Sexton)
Email from Iran, 28 February 2013
I have been PhD Student at the University of Sheffield from 2003 to 2006. I saw the news about 24 hours of nonstop lectures on the University Website, which I believe is being held right now. I wish I was there to attend this inspiring event. However, my thought is with you all in Hicks Building, one of the first buildings that I visited at the university during my study time and I have a very clear picture of it in my mind.Although I am not there at this moment, I have done a very small contribution to this event by translating the news of this remarkable event into Persian and sending it to a number of mailing lists in Iran and uploading it on a weblog to share this story with my colleagues and friends here.I believe what Dr. Richardson has done is a wonderful and profoundly inspirational initiative, which I am sure will be a source of hope and courage for many people for a very long time. When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr. Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true.
Yazdan Mansourian, PhD, Associate Professor
The 24 Hour Inspire!
24 hours of lectures in celebration of Dr Tim Richardson
Thursday 28 February-Friday 1 March
Hicks Building, Lecture Theatre 1
University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH
Tickets on the door, minimum £1 per lecture or £5 for the full programme. Refreshments on sale throughout the event. Inspiration for Life raises funds for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and local hospices (Rotherham, St Luke’s and Bluebell Wood).
For more information, please visit our website, http://www.inspirationforlife.co.uk.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @inspirationfor2
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY
17.00-18.00 Introduction – Catherine Annabel, Chair of Inspiration for Life
Is Science Magic? – Professor Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation and Professor Tony Ryan, OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Science
New science and technology can seem like magic – but how deeply do the connections go? New sciences like nano-technology and synthetic biology promise magical possibilities, like invisibility cloaks, shape-shifting objects that make themselves, and miniature robot surgeons to cure all our diseases. Can science, like the promise of magic, solve all our problems and realise our dreams? Or are we in danger of waiting around for magical answers to problems like climate change and sustainable energy rather than doing the hard work of solving our problems with the tools we have? This discussion between Tony Ryan and Richard Jones will explore some new science that looks like magic, but is very real, as well as finding some unexpected historical connections between the worlds of science and magic.
18.00-18.30 The End is Nigh: Impact Probabilities and Risk – Dr Simon Goodwin, Reader in Astrophysics
How often are we hit by asteroids? What risks are associated with impacts from space and what can we do about them?
18.30-19.00 Hope for the Innocent? – Professor Claire McGourlay, Innocence Project & Freelaw Manager, School of Law
A small insight into miscarriages of justice in the UK and the inspirational work that students do across the country in helping to give hope to innocent people.
19.00-19.30 Future Gas Turbine Technology -Dr Jamie McGourlay, Partnership Manager, Rolls Royce plc
Jamie McGourlay is the Rolls-Royce Partnership Manager with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) of the University of Sheffield, an environment literally at the cutting edge in the development of high-value manufacturing technologies. His presentation will look at the current to future challenges involved in the design, manufacture and operation of the world’s best gas turbine technology.
19.30-20.00 Though We Fail, Our Truths Prosper: John Lilburne (1614-1657) and the slow victory of human rights
Professor Mike Braddick, Professor of History, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Arts & Humanities John Lilburne was a radical campaigner for the rights of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ during the English civil war and revolution. He was on trial for his life three times, and in prison or exile for most of his adult life. Despite these ordeals, his central political ideas are now taken for granted, and many of his specific suggestions have become central to our constitution. They have also had a liberating influence around the world. I will give a brief account of his life and ideas, how he came to have them, and how his political tactics have provided a model for later radicals. It is a dramatic and inspiring vindication of his famous claim that despite the apparent failure and suffering he experienced, the truths for which he was campaigning would, in the end, win out: ‘though we fail, our truths prosper’.
20.00-20.30 Searching for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider -Professor Dan Tovey, Professor of Particle Physics
On 4 July 2012 the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the CERN Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a new particle believed to be the long sought-after Higgs boson. This talk will describe the background to the discovery and how it was made, and explain its significance for fundamental physics and our understanding of the universe at the smallest and largest scales.
20.30-21.30 Beyond Dentistry: On The Mouth, Kissing and Love – Dr Karen Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Cultural History/Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, and Dr Barry Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology, School of Clinical Dentistry
The meanings given to the mouth have changed over time. Our modern dental rituals might be part of a longer ‘de-spiritualisation’ of the body. In the end, though, let’s not forget kissing and love …
21.30-22.00 This is not a Lecture. Stories of Wellbeing – Professor Brendan Stone, Professor of Social Engagement and the Humanities
This talk will tell stories of personal journeys, journeys which have been deeply informed by the storied lives of others. The journey of the self may be to seek meaning, affirmation, peace, or connection, but is often diverted or abandoned when illness or trouble strike. How can we retrace our steps and take up our route again at such moments of loss?
22.00-22.30 From Bones to Bridges – Gaining Strength from Structure – Dr Matthew Gilbert, Reader in Civil & Structural Engineering
Why might the internal structure of bones be of interest to the designers of buildings and bridges? How does the layout of elements in a structure affect its strength? And how can we identify layouts with the ‘best’ properties?
22.30-23.00 The Big Bang Theory of Lifelong Learning (in which Sheldon teaches Penny Physics) – Dr Willy Kitchen, Director of Learning and Teaching, Institute for Lifelong Learning
In this brief talk, I will offer up some of the essential ingredients necessary to inspire lifelong learning, drawing upon my own experiences of working with a wide range of adults returning to learning after a significant break from education. As a jumping off point for my discussions, I will be offering Sheldon some feedback on the approach he takes to teaching Penny Physics.
23.00-23.30 The EU’s Fight against Cancer – Professor Tammy Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, School of Law
The European Union is a trade organisation, concerned with creating markets and economic development. For a long time, it had no formal powers to develop health policies of any sort, and even now, its powers are limited. And yet the EU has contributed to the fight against cancer in numerous ways, including using policies, resources, and laws. This lecture will explain the history of the EU’s fight against cancer, and outline what more could be done in the future.
23.30-00.30 Taking up the Ghost – Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of National Fairground Archive, and Head of Cultural Engagement
From Robertsons’s fantasamagoria in the 1790s to the modern day theatrical horror promenade show, the staging of haunted attractions as popular entertainment has been part of our history for many years. This paper seeks to look at three historical entertainment concepts which incorporate or use as their basis the uncanny, the supernatural and sensory deprivation, incorporating technological practices from the magic lantern, photographer and the cinematograph to demonstrate how the haunted illusion works in popular entertainment.
FRIDAY 1 MARCH
00.30-01.00 The Blues of Physics - Dr Ed Daw, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Physics can be a great and wonderful joy. And it can also give you the Blues. Fortunately I was given the Blues independently of being given Physics, so when the latter drives me bananas, the former can step in and keep me slightly insane. Please come to my ‘lecture’ and listen to my attempts to keep myself slightly, and joyfully, off-kilter.
01.00-01.30 Deep Sky Astronomy and Astrophysics – Professor Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics
I will present astronomical images of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies obtained with large ground-based telescopes (ESOs Very Large Telescope) and space-telescopes (Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel) together with an explanation of the astrophysics behind these inspirational and beautiful images.
01.30-02.00 Light of Life – Dr Ashley Cadby, Lecturer in Soft Matter Physics
Humans and nature both use light for a variety of reasons. In this talk I will take some specific examples from nature and show how, given several hundred million years, evolution has perfected the control of light to perform some remarkable feats of engineering.
02.00-02.30 How to Make the Perfect Cuppa – Dr Matthew Mears, Lecturer, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Not all physics research is serious and swamped in mathematics! Tim firmly believed that you should have fun and explore the field away from the expected route, a philosophy I have enjoyed following. In this talk I will discuss what happens when a) a physicist starts crossing subject boundaries in strange directions, and b) he gets fed up with his brew going cold.
02.30-03.30 A Beginners Guide to Nano – Professor Mark Geoghegan, Professor of Soft Matter Physics
This presentation will cover the origins and applications of nanotechnology. A working definition for nanotechnology will be presented with examples from various areas of technology where nano might be used. In particular, I shall discuss how nanotechnology might find an important role in solving the great issues facing us in the 21st century. You will be encouraged to consider what these might be. Fears about unleashing this technology on mankind will be discussed, and we shall consider, by comparing the physics of the macroscale with physics of the nanoscale, why impending apocalypse is not going to happen.
03.30-04.00 Pet calves: The science of drumming - Professor Nigel Clarke, Professor of Condensed Matter Theory, Head of Physics & Astronomy
Drums are probably the oldest of musical instruments, and their basic form has changed little over the centuries. In the 1950s a major revolution took place with the introduction of the synthetic drumhead, which very quickly gained universal acceptance, replacing calfskin and other animal skins, as the material of choice. This was driven not by musical benefits but by pragmatism. We will look at the science behind drums and drum-skins, including the way in which drums vibrate, the pitchless nature of many drums, the implications for tuning and the relative merits of synthetic and natural drum-skins.
04.00-05.00 The Origin of Mass – Dr Stathes Paganis, Reader in Particle Physics
What are we made of? What is mass? Einstein tells us that mass is energy: E=mc^2. Basic physics tells us that the mass of our body comes from the chemical elements that make us, water for example. Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen and these are made of protons, neutrons and electrons spinning around them. How deep do we have to look for the answer? The talk presents a travel to the origins of matter and explains how experiments show that mass is not due to the Higgs boson but due to quantum mechanical energy stored in protons and neutrons one millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
05.00-05.30 Red Wine and Tea: Short tales about Astringency – Dr Patrick Fairclough, Reader in Polymer Chemistry
I will wander, often aimlessly, through ideas around how your mouth senses changes not in taste but in viscosity (thickness). How this leads to ideas behind the science of astringency, and how the tannin in tea and red wine induces these changes. Astringency is poorly understood with conflicting views from taste experts, physicists, biologists, industrial scientists and “marketeers”. This will clearly require me to drink red wine during a lecture, something that I often felt the need to do.
05.30-06.30 Elena Under Her Skin – Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Professor of Enterprise & Engineering Education, Department of Mechanical Engineering
What happens when people see past the front cover of your life? Are you still able to have a happy, successful and rewarding work/life experience? Does one achieve despite or because of our mixture of experiences and attributes? Elena will use her life as a point of conversation with the audience and reflect on various aspects of diversity in the workplace such as religion, sexuality, nationality and gender.
06.30-07.00 Inspiration, Risk and the Politics of Fear – Professor Matthew Flinders, Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance, Department of Politics
A reflection on the nature of life and politics in the twenty-first century. This will include a discussion of hyper-democracy and the politics of fear in order to carve out a new approach to understanding the limits and possibilities of democratic politics.
07.00-07.30 Gas Sensing Biscuits and Other Research by ‘Team Tim’ – Dr Alan Dunbar, Lecturer in Energy, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering
Some of the work published by Dr Tim Richardson’s research group ‘Team Tim’ will be presented. This involved developing gas sensors which change colour upon exposure to volatile organic gases. This talk will gently introduce the porphyrin molecules used in these gas sensors and explain why they are sometimes described as being like biscuits.
07.30-08.00 Soaps, Bubbles and Cells – Dr Andrew Parnell, Research Associate, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk and demonstrations will highlight the amazing properties of soap molecules and how very similar structures make up the walls of our cells and ultimately help to construct the complex compartments essential for biological life.
08.00-08.30 Health Informatics: Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century – Professor Peter Bath, Professor of Health Informatics, Information School
Health Informatics concerns the use of digital information and digital technologies in health and medical care to improve health and well-being among patients and the public. This lecture will examine some of the exciting opportunities and challenges in this fast-moving field. It will draw on recent research undertaken to examine the use of NHS Direct by older people and will discuss the implications of this for the new 111 service.
08.30-09.00 Infinity! – Dr Paul Mitchener, Lecturer in Mathematics, School of Mathematics & Statistics
The plan is to talk about what infinity means mathematically. This will include a precise definition, which leads to the surprising idea that there is more than one type of infinity.
09.00-09.30 We are all living in a Bose-Einstein Condensate… made of Higgs Bosons – Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor
What is this Higgs Boson? What does it tell us about the nature of the Universe? Using familiar examples, I will tell you what Bosons are, how they condense and explain the origin of mass in the Universe.
09.30-10.00 Four Candles? Or was it Fork Handles? – Marie Kinsey, Senior University Teacher, Director of Teaching and Curriculum Development, Department of Journalism
Communication is a two way process. There’s endless scope for accidental misunderstandings, miscommunication and just getting things plain wrong. What can you do to help make sure your message gets across loud and clear?
10.00-10.30 A Brief History of the Universe – Professor Carsten van de Bruck, School of Mathematics & Statistics
I will review our current understanding of the history of the universe. But more importantly I will let you know what we don’t know. Many puzzles need to be solved before we have a full understanding of how we got here.
10.30-11.00 Science, Art and Human Rights – Professor Aurora Plomer, Professor of Law and Bioethics, School of Law
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” I will talk about what the drafters meant then and what the right means now.
11.00-12.00 Seeing the World – a talk for primary school children – Professor David Mowbray, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk will look at some of the properties of light. It will cover how we see things in the world around us and the uses of light. Colours will also be investigated. There are a number of demonstrations which the children help with.
12.00-12.30 Birds, Poetry and Music - Professor Rachel Falconer, Professor of English Literature, University of Lausanne
This talk provides an introduction to contemporary nature writing, with a focus on poetry written about birds. It touches on the long history of poets’ fascination with birds, explores some of the links of this tradition with music about birds, and presents a detailed look at three short poems by contemporary British poets.
12.30-13.00 The Human Body: an Anatomist’s View – Professor Alistair Warren, Professor of Biomedical Science, Director of Learning & Teaching, Faculty of Science
Art, science, medicine, literature and ethics. All of these subjects and many others have their own perspectives on Anatomy. These have changed dramatically over the years; I aim to give a personal view of what it means to be an Anatomist in the 21st century.
13.00-13.30 Is Anybody Out There? Intelligent Life in the Galaxy – Dr Susan Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Are there other intelligent technological species out there, or are humans rare (or even unique)? I will examine a number of arguments that technological civilisations are rare.
13.30-14.00 Prejudice and Self-Knowledge – Professor Jenny Saul, Professor of Philosophy, Head of Philosophy Department
Psychologists have shown that the overwhelming majority of people harbour unconscious race, sex and other biases. In this talk I explore how this threatens our knowledge both of ourselves and of many other things.
14.00-14.30 Sources – Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy, Lecturer in Law, Café Scientifique Organiser
In this lecture I want to discuss the tension between traditional and modern sources of law. This is a big point of debate in international law in the context of devising new regimes for the protection of our intellectual resource and heritage. In the 21st century where intellectual property is central to economic and social growth and prosperity, this arena of contestation has an impact on our everyday experience of music, books, dance, medicine, sculpture, health, etc. Culture and identity are being shaped through these battles for supremacy. In an effort to look inwardly at the notion of sources, and why it is important to us, I venture into sources and truth, probing the subjective and objective how this is viewed in Indian philosophy. Chamu is an international lawyer with special interests in intellectual property, a keen student of Vedantic Hinduism and enthusiast for all forms of enquiry including the scientific.
14.30-15.00 Living Matter – Professor Ramin Golestanian, Professor of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics, Oxford University
The large and important and very much discussed question is: How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?’. This sentence, which was written by Erwin Schroedinger on the 1st page of chapter 1 of his visionary 1944 book, What is Life?, describes a notion that is still as illusive today as it was back then. I will highlight some of the marvellous and complex physical properties of living systems, and try to put them in context using ideas from physics and chemistry.
15.00-15.30 Darwin and Sexual Selection – Professor Tim Birkhead, Professor of Zoology, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences
The male Argentine Lake Duck has the most extraordinary genitalia of any bird. The Harlequin Duck by comparison is extremely modestly endowed. Why should such differences exist? After all a phallus is a phallus, and on on the face of it, all serve the same purpose, so why such extraordinary variation? This type of question has intrigued and perplexed biologists and non-biologists alike for centuries. The answer was a long time coming. Not until the revolution in evolutionary ideas, and a century after Darwin, was the truth revealed.
15.30-16.00 Studying the Muse: The Psychology of Creative Inspiration – Dr Kamal Birdi, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology, Institute of Work Psychology
Have you ever wondered where great ideas come from? In this lecture, we’ll look at different psychological perspectives on answering this question, from experiments on romantic impulses to creating machines that make up stories!
16.00-17.00 Catalytic clothing - Professor Tony Ryan OBE & Professor Helen Storey MBE
The speakers will be wearing the world’s first air-purifying jeans, embedded with the technology that we hope will be applied in the laundry process so you too can purify our air. Catalytic Clothing explores the potential for clothing and textiles to purify the air we breathe. Artist and designer Helen Storey (London College of Fashion) and chemist Tony Ryan (University of Sheffield) have been working together to explore how nanotechnology can eliminate harmful pollutants that cause health problems and contribute to climate change. We will explore how nanotechnology can be used to solve an everyday problem. It has been seen by millions of people, and there is a great demand. Of course there are still technical problems to solve, but the the biggest problem in getting it to market is getting past the marketeers. This is a truly altruistic product – but to make it happen might need a new business model.
2012, for me, has been the year of the blog. The year that through this medium I found a creative outlet, met some fascinating people and discovered some wonderful writers, engaged in some stimulating and unexpected discussions, and generally had my optimism about the internet reinforced. I’ve been uplifted, fascinated and inspired on a regular basis by bloggers such as Diana J Hale, Vertigo, The Fife Psychogeographic Collective, That’s how the light gets in, Weaver’s Journal, Steve Sarson and Decayetude. And my blog on the US election led to a mutually respectful encounter with Rick from Billerica, with whom I would disagree about pretty much everything, except the principle of mutually respectful encounters with those who hold different views. On the Our Island Stories blog, set up in the aftermath of the Olympics to talk about questions of national identity, we’ve had contributions from some of the above, and also from Kate Elmer, Mike Press, Emily Wilkinson and Diane Magras. To all of those people, and so many others, thanks!
The internet comes in for some harsh criticism – and I read ‘below the line’ often enough to be brought almost to despair at the bigotry, the hatred, the cruelty that’s out there, only needing the anonymity of an internet forum to come spewing out. But my own experience has been entirely positive. Through blogging, through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve made friends, had fascinating conversations, shared enthusiasms, learned stuff. I’ve connected with people I would never have encountered at all otherwise, and connected in unexpected ways with people I already knew. This obviously doesn’t invalidate the experiences of those who’ve been subjected to the viciousness of trolls and the deceit of sock-puppets – but it needs saying, that it can be, and often is, an enormous force for good , and that connections made via the net are not intrinsically less ‘real’, less worthwhile than those made by other means.
So, looking back at 2012, these have been some of the best bits, culturally speaking:
- John Akomfrah‘s extraordinary The Nine Muses
- Watching the ever elusive and enigmatic Last Year at Marienbad twice – to be the subject of a later blog.
- TV : Homeland - plot holes wide enough to swallow up the odd aircraft carrier, but the degree of ambiguity in all of the main characters has been wonderfully sustained, and the denoument was unforeseen. Line of Duty and Good Cop shared the best of those characteristics. Misfits and Being Human somehow survived a brutal cull of main characters to emerge still witty and surprising. The Walking Dead kept us on the edge of our seats, where we must remain until February, and anxiously awaiting news of Daryl’s fate (and the others, obv, but hey, Daryl!). Oh, and Dr Who continued to be marvellous, moving and magical.
- I’ve been reading Proust. A statement which will probably feature in my summaries for 2013, 2014 and possibly beyond. I’ve been fascinated by two particular elements recently – the constant referencing of the Dreyfus Affair, and the theme of sexual ‘inversion’ – and rather less fascinated by some of the aristocratic dinner parties that one has to endure almost in real time, such is the detail with which they are described. There have been moments when I’ve wished Robespierre had been a little more thorough. I’m about at the halfway point in the whole A la Recherche project.
- New great stuff from Stephen King (11.22.63), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies) and Jon McGregor (Even the Dogs)
- First encounters with writers I should have read before and will read more of – Hans Fallada, Alexander Baron, Haruki Murakami and Wilkie Collins.
- Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s – I approached with caution knowing that she was riffing on my favourite novel of all time, Bleak House, but I need not have worried. Indeed, I went straight from Tom to her earlier novel (Murder at Mansfield Park), and have her next on pre-order – and she led me to The Woman in White as well.
- Theatre - Geoffrey Streatfeild in both Macbeth at the Crucible and Copenhagen at the Lyceum, Betrayal (lovely John Simm) at the Crucible
- Tramlines festival – Screaming Maldini and Early Cartographers in Weston Park, The Third Half at the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Ghedi & Neal Hepplestone at the Cathedral, and Frankie & the Heartstrings, Field Music and We are Scientists on Devonshire Green. Three days of music spilling out of every bar and coffee shop, of sunshine and people dancing in the streets – literally – and generally being nice to each other.
- Music in the Round – a fabulous Quartet for the End of Time, an introduction to Louise Farrenc, and the early polyphony of Pérotin and the Notre Dame composers in Sheffield Cathedral.
2012 has been the year that the Hillsborough families were vindicated, utterly and unconditionally. The year that the truth was not so much revealed – it had been in plain view all the time – as spotlit, so that there were no shadows in which the lies could continue to lurk. And that justice seems finally to be within reach now. Massive respect to all of those who fought this battle when it must have seemed hopeless, when everything and everyone seemed to be against them.
And it’s been the year of Inspiration for Life. The year a dear friend and colleague, Tim Richardson, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and a whole community came together to support him, and to help him set up a charity to do the things he believes in – supporting living, giving and learning. We’ve been both devastated and uplifted.
So – onward to 2013.
No resolutions as such. But anticipations and aspirations -
- Graduating (again), and planning the next stage of my lifelong learning, and publishing (if I can, in real, proper, academic journals) some of my work on Michel Butor
- Fundraising for Refugee Action – having hung up my trainers, I’m not sure yet how I can best do this, but their work is vitally important and I want to do what I can
- Reading Proust, and lots of other stuff. Lots and lots.
- Enjoying to the full Sheffield’s rich cultural life – theatre, arthouse cinema, Music in the Round, Tramlines, Festival of the Mind, Arts-Science Encounters, Site and S1 and Bloc, and more
- Blogging, about Butor, Sebald, French cinema, refugees, Dr Who, national identity, and whatever else is buzzing around in my mind at any given moment
- Enjoying working with physicists, astronomers and other scientists, and facilitating what they do, through what I do
- Continuing to be an utter geek
- Listening to as much music as possible, with as eclectic a range as possible
- Getting Inspiration for Life going – with the 24-hour Inspire at the end of Feb (24 hours of lectures, activities and entertainments), the publication of Tim’s diary, and the art exhibition in May, funds from which will go to local cancer charities (Weston Park Cancer Hospital Charity, St Luke’s Hospice and Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice).
- Going on about stuff that matters – refugees, environmental issues, injustice, inequality, that sort of thing. Going on and on.
- Doing all the above whilst being a good-enough parent, partner and friend
Phew! No pressure then.
Thanks to all who’ve enriched my life in 2012, and with whom I’ve shared the best bits. Here’s wishing you all good things in 2013.
There’s a conversation that’s been going on, here and there, across the blogosphere, since Danny Boyle blew our minds and melted our cynical hearts at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. It’s not a new conversation for most of us, but it’s suddenly become more intense, more personal.
We – those of us who are having this conversation now, rather tentatively, almost apologetically – are generally of the left; our disposition is likely to be cosmopolitan and internationalist, and we’re likely to be sharply critical of current and previous government policies at home and abroad. We’re highly unlikely to have celebrated the recent royal wedding, or the Jubilee, or to own or wear any clothing featuring our national flag. We probably agree that the national anthem is a dirge even if we disagree about what – if anything – should replace it.
But we found ourselves recently coming over, as Mike Press put it, ‘a little bit Continental, even almost disarmingly American’, in the way we responded to that opening ceremony and the display of sporting excellence that followed. Steve Sarson echoed this – ‘It was like I’d turned into an American, or something’.
A bona fide American, Kate Elmer of the ‘Yankee in Yorkshire’ blog, mused earlier this year that ‘when I speak to English friends and colleagues about The Olympics they reluctantly agree that “Yes, I suppose this will be a rather large event won’t it?” Some of them hope to attend events. Most of them hope to keep their heads down until the whole thing goes away.’ Just the other week she wrote that: ‘I have never seen the British get so excited about their own success. I have never seen them so patriotic. The Jubilee didn’t do it. The Royal Wedding didn’t do it. The Olympics did. It’s not an “In Your Face, World!” kind of pride. It’s bone deep. It’s real, true, forever love – the kind many of them perhaps thought might have been lost. Every medal, every waving flag, every play of the national anthem has them physically on their feet and emotionally on their knees.’
Blake Morrison in the Independent was part of this too: ‘I didn’t expect to feel excited. And as the opening ceremony grew closer, and the stories of mismanagement multiplied, I feared the worst. I was wrong. Most of us were wrong. The last two weeks have been amazing. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times my eyes have welled up. And even more embarrassed that the cause has usually been a British medal’.
So our conversation has been about what happened to us and what it means for our perception of who we are. There are two main threads to that, I think. One is about the mood that prevailed – summed up in the opening ceremony – replacing our ‘seemingly eternal cynicism and negativity’ with the sensation that we are better than that, that we can be warm and open and welcoming, joyous and positive. The other is about that tug of pride that we felt in the depiction of our ‘Isles of Wonder’, and in the performance of ‘our’ medallists. The first is something we want to celebrate and nurture, the second, as another friend of mine said, is ‘complicated’.
It’s not a new conversation. Billy Bragg’s book The Progressive Patriot is an eclectic invocation of the history, literature and music of his homeland – one feels Danny Boyle must have read it – and a response to the BNP’s gain of a dozen seats on Barking & Dagenham Council in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings. It’s an attempt to identify the narrative that explains ‘how we all came to be here together in this place, and how successive generations of those who were initially excluded from society came to feel that this was where they belonged … to reconcile patriotism with the radical tradition’.
That’s not straightforward, and it goes against a strain of radicalism that discards, as Gustave Hervé said in 1907, ‘a flag along whose folds are blazoned in letters of gold the records of so many butcheries’, that distinguishes the affection and loyalty we may feel for the place we were born or grew up, from love ‘for such countries of privilege and iniquity as are the great nations of today’. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks incurred the wrath of US patriots when she said, almost 100 years later, ‘I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don’t see why people care about patriotism.”
I agree. With both of them. And yet, and yet… I feel that tug of love without embarrassment or complications for another country, because of the place it holds in my childhood memories and because being there shaped how I see the world. I’ve put Ghana’s flag on my desktop and my Facebook profile – I would never dream of doing that with the Union Jack. I’d fail Tebbitt’s notorious cricket test if the England football team were to come up against the Black Stars. So why is it OK for me to be gung-ho about Ghana, and not about the country where I was born, where I’ve lived the majority of my life, where my children have been born and raised?
What do we mean when we talk about pride? What do we mean, come to that, when we talk about Britain? Kenan Malik‘s response to the Olympics was sceptical. He asked ‘What is the Britain in which we are supposed to have pride? The Britain of immigration and diversity, a diversity celebrated in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony and that has resulted in the gold medals of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams and countless others? Or the Britain that is suspicious of immigrants and immigration, and whose politicians continually seek to limit it and to preserve ‘British jobs for British workers’? The Britain that went all out to stage one of the best Olympic Games in recent memory? Or the Britain of austerity and public spending cuts? The Britain of the Levellers, the Pankhursts and Red Clydeside? Or the Britain of Knox, Rhodes and Rothermere?’ Easy answers spring to mind, but he’s right, my Britain may not be your Britain.
And yet, and yet. I think there’s something going on here. I don’t want to wrap myself in the flag any more than I did a month ago. I’m the same person that I was before, but along with many others, I thought I’d had a ‘glimpse of another kind of Britain’, of a ‘soft and civic’ patriotism that maybe I could be OK with. Jonathan Freedland said that ‘It will slip from view as time passes, but we are not condemned to forget it. We don’t have to be like the long-ago poet who once wrote: “Did you exist? Or did I dream a dream?”’
So, do we treat Boyle’s vision of the Isles of Wonder as a requiem for what we value about our country, or a celebration? Or even, perhaps, a warning and a call to action? Do we allow our ‘normal state of being’ to be reinstalled in the British psyche, without protest, without attempting to hold on to what we briefly experienced? As Billy asks in his blog, ‘Has the euphoria of the past two weeks has caused a seismic shift in the meta-narrative of Britishness? …Can a new spirit of engaged and transformational patriotism emerge from this experience? One that seeks to build a fairer, more inclusive tomorrow, rather than constantly rehashing a narrow vision of the past?’
We could just say, well, we got a bit carried away there, but it’s ok now, we’re ourselves again. But with the Paralympics just around the corner, what if we get a bit carried away all over again? What if we actually rather like it? I think we need to talk.
- Leader: The London Games and the rise of the new patriotism (newstatesman.com)
Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder: Paradise Lost? (gerryco23.wordpress.com)
- Blake Morrison, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/aug/11/olympic-games-review-blake-morrison?INTCMP=SRCH
- Jonathan Freedland, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/10/london-2012-glimpsed-britain-fight?INTCMP=SRCH
- Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony: madcap, surreal and moving(guardian.co.uk)
- Gustave Herve, http://www.slp.org/pdf/others/antipat_herve.pdf
- Billy Bragg, The Progressive Patriot: a search for belonging (Black Swan, 2007)
I’m not given to patriotic outpourings. I have difficulty saying I’m ‘proud’ to be British – I’m too aware of our colonial history to feel that in any simple way it is a matter of pride. But I’ve always resented the appropriation of patriotism by the racists of the National Front, the BNP and EDL, and whilst flags and royal weddings and the like don’t move me terribly I do feel lucky to live here, and I love my homeland.
I wasn’t expecting to find anything about the Olympics that would move me, any more than that wedding did. I was wrong. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony celebrated my Britain, my home, in all its glorious diversity, in a way I hadn’t for a moment expected. It was a delight – I was laughing with pleasure, and with tears in my eyes. And last night I was moved by our own Jess’s triumph in the heptathlon – a Sheffield lass, after our own Arctic Monkeys had greeted the nation with a cry of ‘Y’alreight?’ – and by . ‘s triumph in the 10000m
And so the whole thing, which I’d expected to be a massive bore, has turned out to be instead a massive, bonkers celebration of this marvellous, mixed up country, where the multiculturalism which a Tory idiot and the Daily Mail derided has brought us medals beyond all expectations, where the successes of a Yorkshire girl with a Jamaican dad, and a Somali refugee have been celebrated across all the boundaries that sometimes divide us.
Last night Mo was asked if he’d rather be running for Somalia. His answer is powerful in its simplicity and confidence: “Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.”
That’s not a pride that requires disparaging or disqualifying anyone, it’s not a pride that is based on being white or being able to trace centuries of ancestors on British soil. It’s not about believing that we as a nation have always been heroic or just, or that our policies at home or abroad are right now.
I’m proud that over centuries we’ve kept our doors open to people who’ve needed to find refuge here, from French Huguenots to Russian and European Jews, to victims of more recent conflicts and oppression. That’s the Britain I love, and celebrate – whilst at the same time wishing we were more welcoming, less mean-spirited (see my series of posts for Refugee Week, and if you would, sponsor me to run for Refugee Action in a few weeks time!). Our diversity is our strength, and I love and celebrate that too.
Danny Boyle’s vision for the opening ceremony was summed up in Tim Berners-Lee‘s gift of the internet to the world, a gift, as he said, that is for everyone. That celebration of ‘the creativity, exuberance and, above all, the generosity of the British people’ had ‘a golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of a better world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. We can build Jerusalem. And it will be for everyone.’
Idealistic, naive – perhaps. But that’s my country. And I’m proud.
- How Mo Farah rejected the “plastic Brit” charge (newstatesman.com)
- London 2012: Danny Boyle’s story of Britain was a celebration of freedom | Shami Chakrabarti (guardian.co.uk)
Les éditions invenit,
avec L’Odyssée – Médiathèque de Lomme
vous invitent à rencontrer
Michel Butor autour de son livre : “Dirk Bouts, Le Chemin du ciel et La Chute des damnés” dans la collection Ekphrasis
le samedi 19 mai à 16h00
Dans le hall d’entrée de l’Odyssée, jusqu’au 19 mai,
venez découvrir une sélection de livres, d’objets et de photos liés à Michel Butor et son travail, qui montrent le poète dans son cadre quotidien de création entouré d’amis et d’artistes.
Possibilité de s’inscrire à des ateliers d’écriture autour de la peinture, dont le premier se tiendra à 15h00, avant la lecture.
Inscription obligatoire auprès de l’Odyssée, places limitées.
L’Odyssée (Auditorium) 794, avenue de Dunkerque, Lomme
03 20 17 27 40
Thanks to Attic Fantasist for the following:
Info on an upcoming conference at Derby University, covering a range of topics including psychogeography, cultural politics of identity and landscapes,national identity, edgelands, landscapes of trauma and memory, theories of affect and landscape
And another link of interest to Sebaldians, this interview with the director of Patience (after Sebald).