Posts Tagged Inspiration for Life

The 24 Hour Inspire

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We’re in the final run-up to an event that somehow or other I have found myself organising, and which – for all the panics, headaches and hard work it entails – is a labour of love, and the thing I’m proudest of in my career.

First caveat is that whilst I am the chair of the charity and I drive the planning of the event, actually putting it altogether is the work of many people.  My annual thank you list is only marginally shorter than the credit sequence for a Marvel superhero movie.

Second caveat is that, given the scale of the event – 49 speakers, delivering half hour talks over a 24 hour period, with a range of fringe events – the panics and headaches are very few, and the hard work by and large doesn’t feel like hard work.

It all started with a friend and colleague being diagnosed with a terminal cancer.  This particular friend and colleague was one of those people who was not only respected but held in enormous affection by those who he taught and who he worked with – he inspired people, and the news of his illness hit many, many people very hard.  I remember calling the admin and technical staff in the department together to tell them the prognosis, and their shock and tears – and anger at the disease that was claiming him.    Right from the start he was determined to do something positive with the utterly lousy card he’d been dealt.  And he did.

He had far less time to do anything than he – or we – had hoped.  All the more reason for us to ensure that we did something creative, joyous, inclusive and inspiring, in his name.

monifaThat first year it was incredibly personal. A fortnight after the funeral we were still raw with grief and one of our speakers commented on the intensity, a kind of tension that underscored the celebratory mood that we had, nonetheless, achieved.

It’s different now, of course.  Many of our speakers, most of our volunteers, never met Tim.  But the event has taken on a life of its own. It is – and was even that first time – a celebration of what the University is all about.  There’s a lot of cynicism about institutions like ours – we have to jump through so many government initiated hoops, we have to somehow be viable financially, it would not be surprising if the ideals that we proclaim were a bit tarnished and compromised.  But acknowledging all of that, from all of my experience as a member of staff, as a student, I know that those ideals are still burning brightly.

Give people a chance, an excuse almost, to demonstrate and to share the passion that led them into teaching and research in the first place, and they seize it.  When we ask people to take part in the 24 Hour Inspire, they so often respond with a Yes, and.  Yes, I will do a half-hour talk, and would you like me to bake some cakes as well?  Yes, and why don’t you ask my colleague A, because he/she is a brilliant speaker? Yes, and how else can I help to make this a success?

That applies whether they are Professors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the like, or PhD/MA students at the start of their academic careers.

So on 12-13 May, 49 speakers from across the disciplines – engineers, lawyers, physicists, historians, medics and more – will be sharing their ideas, their research, their love of their subject with a diverse audience.  Between midnight and 6 am speakers, and many members of the audience, will be pyjama clad.  True, some members of the audience may actually be asleep, but I believe that’s not unknown in daytime lectures either…

Other colleagues will be hosting a pop-up radio broadcast, featuring interviews, Desert Island Discs, a quiz, and lots and lots of music. Some have contributed artworks for a small exhibition, others may be busking live in the foyer.

Of course it has another purpose, alongside the celebration and sharing of knowledge.  We’re raising funds, this year for the Teenage Cancer Trust and Impact Young Heroes, two organisations who work with young people with cancer.  Everyone who buys a wristband, a cupcake or a book, everyone who donates on line or on the day, contributes to that invaluable work.  Since Tim set up Inspiration for Life in 2012, we’ve donated £17000 to a range of cancer charities as well as to the Snowdon Trust who provide grants for students with disabilities.  I’m very proud of that.

But most of all I’m really excited about what’s going to be happening this Thursday from 5.00 pm.  I know that by 5 pm the following day I will be exhausted, but I will also be exhilarated, and that by the following day, I’ll be starting to think about the 2017 24 Hour Inspire…

Do pop in for a bit, if you can.  If you can’t, follow us on Twitter, and tune into the radio station.  It’ll be a blast.  It’ll be an inspiration.

@inspire4L

#24HrInspire

https://inspirationforlifeblog.wordpress.com/

http://www.inspirationforlife.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/Inspiration-for-Life-340350772727621/

 

 

 

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2015 – the best bits

This was the year we threw off the shackles of paid employment.  Martyn first, in March, and me at the very close of 2015.  It feels terrifying and liberating all at once.

For me, this new freedom will give me more time to do the things I care most about.  My PhD, which I hope I will now be able to do justice to.  And Inspiration for Life, in particular the 24 Hour Inspire.  Of all the things I’ve done over the years, this is what I’m proudest of.

And I hope of course to have more time to do the other things I love, more time to read, write, listen to music, go to gigs, go to the cinema/theatre, meet up with friends, travel, watch some of the box sets which are gathering dust by our DVD player…

Below are some of the cultural highlights of 2015.  I’ve been lucky to have access to Ensemble 360, Opera North, Tramlines, Sheffield Jazz etc, and to have wonderful friends and family to share these experiences with.

Film

The best of the year, without a doubt, was Timbuktu. Abderrahmane Sissako’s film is both beautiful and harrowing, a passionate cry from the heart about the threat posed by fundamentalist jihadists to the people, the culture and the music of Mali.

timbuktu

I won’t rank my other favourites, but they are:

Inside OutPixar at its very, very best. Clever, imaginative, daring, funny and moving. As the Guardian review said, ‘In the film’s wildest moment, the wanderers enter a zone of abstract thought, where they are zapped into a series of increasingly simplified geometric shapes, as they – and the film itself – dizzyingly self-deconstruct (“Oh no, we’re non-figurative!”)’.

inside outriley

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Ana Lily Amirpour’s film has been tagged as ‘the first Iranian vampire Western’. Atmospheric and full of unexpected touches (including a skateboarding vampire), and a powerful feminist narrative. Sheila Vand has a fascinating face that can look very young and somehow ageless at different moments.

Love and Mercy – biopic of Brian Wilson, portrayed both in the Beach Boy years and in later life, by Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively. Cusack’s portrayal is fascinating – seeing the clip of the real Brian Wilson at the end of the movie, I realised just how perfectly he had captured him, despite the lack of obvious physical resemblance.

love and mercycusack

I Believe in Miracles – the story of Nottingham Forest’s astonishing European Cup success. A joy from beginning to end. And featuring a couple of brief glimpses of my kid brother who was a ball boy at one of those games, as well as glorious clips of my all-time footballing hero John Robertson at his best. And funny and poignant anecdotes from the players, and clips of Clough running rings around interviewers.

miraclesrobbo

Mad Max: Fury Road – just a blast, possibly the best action movie I’ve seen, with a powerful female lead in Charlize Theron’s Furiosa (an action movie that passes the Bechdel test!), visually almost overwhelming and with an awesome soundtrack. And the Doof Warrior.

mad maxdoof warrior

Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’ve written previously about how much I love the Marvel films. This was a joy, thanks in large part to Joss Whedon’s crackling dialogue (the script is often where costs are cut in big budget movies, but thankfully not here).

TV

Lots of Marvel here too, with Agent Carter, Daredevil and Agents of Shield all delivering in spades. Daredevil was the darkest of the three, but the others had their moments and all had humour, well-drawn characters and moments of poignancy as well as action.  In other sci-fi/fantasy telly, Tatiana Maslany continued to be astonishing in Orphan Black, The Walking Dead continued to ramp up the tension till it was almost unbearable, and left us at mid-season break with everyone we care about in mortal peril – again.  The latter also spawned a prequel (Fear the Walking Dead) which showed the start of the crisis – the bit we missed as Rick Grimes was in a coma in hospital whilst society crumbled in the face of the undead onslaught.   And Humans was a thought-provoking and engaging take on issues around AI and what makes us human.

tatiana

As always we watched a lot of detectives. Two French series – old favourite Spiral was back (we missed you, Laure, Gilou, Tintin et al), and a new drama, Witnesses, was complex and compelling with an intriguing female lead (Marie Dompnier).   River was something else – Stellan Skarsgaard’s broody Nordic cop haunted by ‘manifests’ of his dead partner amongst others. Nicola Walker was stunning in this, as was Adeel Akhtar as River’s actual living partner.  Walker also caused considerable potential confusion by simultaneously leading in Unforgotten, which made one forget the implausibility of an entire police team investigating a very cold case (and nothing else, apparently) by the subtle and compassionate portrayal of the various suspects as their past actions resurfaced to disturb the lives and relationships they had built.  No Offence was refreshing too (though we felt uneasy with some particular plot developments in the later part of the series) with Joanna Scanlan’s  DI being startlingly rude, but also funny, forceful and warm, and a fab supporting cast.

witnessesno offence

This is England 1990

This is England deserves a much more in-depth consideration than I can give it here – one would need to re-view the whole series from the film to this final (if it is indeed that) instalment.  But there’s no denying – they can be a tough watch, as brilliantly funny as they often are.  It’s not just the moments of horrifying violence, I think the hardest thing would be to have to go through again with Lol her descent into despair in TiE 88.  Vicky McClure’s performance was intense without any histrionics and all the more devastating for that.  This final part had moments too, relating to Kelly, and to Combo, which stay in the mind.  And whilst the ending was upbeat, with that long-postponed wedding and Kelly’s return to the fold, Milky’s separation from the group and the reasons for it, and the likelihood that Kelly’s recovery will not be as straightforward as all that, mean that the darkness is not far away.  It’s been a hell of a series, with superb writing and direction and equally superb performances.

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Raised by Wolves

When it comes to comedy I can be a hard woman to please.  Not that I don’t like a laugh,  GSOH, that’s me.  But I’ve given up on so many sitcoms because they’ve made me cringe more than they’ve made me chuckle.  However, despite feeling slightly neutral about the pilot, I did get into Raised by Wolves, and fell rather in love with the magnificent Della (Rebekah Staton) as well as with the writing, which as expected from Caitlin Moran (and sister Caroline) was rude and exuberantly funny.

della

Roseanne

We watched this back in the day (88-97) and rewatching it now is punctuated by cries of ‘OMG that’s George Clooney’, or spotting Big Bang Theory cast members (Sheldon’s mum and Lesley Winkle, with Leonard still to show).   But what we also realised was how much of our approach to parenting came from this show, where family life is chaotic, temperamental, combative but always loving.   And ‘our’ tradition of summoning family members to the meal table with a loud cry of ‘FOOOD’ appears to have been inspired by the Conners as well.  As I recall, things went seriously off kilter in later series, but so far, so funny.  Joss Whedon had a hand (probably just a fingertip in some eps) in the early series, which can’t ever be a bad thing.

roseanne

Résistance

French drama focusing on the activities of various Resistance groups in Occupied France – this was obviously a must-watch for me.  I hadn’t expected it to be as close to real events as it was, which was a mixed blessing, as I quickly realised who was doomed and who might survive… The central female character, Lili, was a fictional construct, which seems to have annoyed some viewers, but I felt it was a valid way of providing a thread to link the early activity of the Musée de l’Homme group with the Maison de la Chimie and the Combat and Manouchian groups, taking us all the way through to the Liberation.  It was a powerful, well constructed drama.  And the renditions of the Marseillaise, ringing out in prison cells and in the face of firing squads, came back to us so intensely in November when that spirit of defiance was called upon once again.

lili resistance

Fargo

If the idea of series 1 seemed in principle a bit odd, a second series was all the more so.  But if anything, series 2 is even better, even madder, even wittier than the first.  The film had Frances McDormand, who is always a very good thing, and series 1 had Allison Tolman, who filled those shoes admirably. In series 2 we root for her dad, Lou (we’ve gone back in time) and grandad Hank (played by Ted Danson), and her mother Betsy (I would like some time to see Cristin Milioti NOT dying of cancer, if that’s OK).  And we do kind of root for Peggy too, with her passion for self-actualisation and ‘being the best me I can be’, even if it proves somewhat dangerous for those around her.

fargo

Honourable mentions to Homeland, Doctor Foster (Suranne Jones magnificent as a woman scorned), and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

And of course there was Doctor Who.  This year’s Who was top notch.  Capaldi really found his voice, the plots were rich and complex without being merely baffling, and the climactic episodes were powerful and moving.  I will be writing more about Who in due course.

who

Theatre

On the Crucible main stage, we saw Arthur Miller’s Playing for Time, with a stunning performance from Sian Phillips, and Romeo & Juliet, with Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark as the lovers.  The Miller play seemed stagey at times (an odd criticism, in a way, for a stage play) but the performances carried it and I reflected afterwards on the way in which the Nazi death machine was itself stagey, whether the intention was to terrify and subjugate, or to deceive.  Romeo & Juliet was terrific, but reminded me of how bloody annoying those two are, and it’s no disrespect to the actors that I wanted to give them both a good slap.

Music

Operatic outings this year included a fabulous Kiss me Kate, a powerful Jenufa, and a magnificent Flying Dutchman, all from Opera North.

 

I’ve written previously about the splendid Bassekou Kouyate gig at the University’s Firth Hall.

bassekou_and_amy

At the Crucible Studio, Ensemble 360 treated us to performances of Mendelssohn, Ives, Janacek, Watkins, Brahms, Berg, Boulez, Kurtag, Mozart and Bartok, amongst others.  Such fantastic musicians, and particularly delighted to have had the chance to hear so much 20th century music this year.  Same venue, different ensemble –  Chris Biscoe’s Profiles of Mingus feat. Tony Kofi on sax (we’d heard him playing Mingus last year, with Arnie Somogyi’s Profiles of Mingus).  More jazz, courtesy of  Leeds Jazz Orchestra (feat. one Aidan Hallett) in Leeds Golden Acre Park.

And then there was Tramlines.   Nothing much to add to what I said at the time, except that I can’t wait for the 2016 festival.

So, thanks to those who shared these highlights with me.  I look forward to lots more in 2016.

I hope to blog more in 2016, of course.  I managed a post most months in 2015, and the overall total looks more impressive thanks to eight in Refugee Week and a few reblogs from That’s How the Light Gets In and Nowt Much to Say.  I blogged for Holocaust Memorial Day, wrote about the Hillsborough inquests, the 24 Hour Inspire, Marvel films, Tramlines, the phenomenon of the ‘fugueur’, the music of Mali, the ‘refugee crisis’, and the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris and elsewhere.  I also blogged for Inspiration for Life, and on the aftermath of the May General Election. Thanks to all who have read, liked, reblogged, commented, etc.

And for 2016, which may seem to hold so much threat and so little hope, I cannot do better than to quote this poem, by Sheenagh Pugh.  Apparently she doesn’t rate it – scribbled it in a hurry on a card for a friend going through a tough time.  I beg to differ.

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

May it happen for you, may it happen for all of us.

 

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24 Hour Inspire, 16-17 April 2015 – Programme

monifa

If anyone had told me a few years back that I’d be organising anything like the 24 Hour Inspire, I’d have thought they were delusional.  But we’re about to hold the third such event – 24 hours of non-stop lectures on all sorts of topics – and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of in my professional life.  It’s not just the funds we raise, though I’m delighted to be part of raising money for charities like the ones we’re supporting this year, who provide end of life care for cancer patients or support young people with cancer.  It’s the way that the event makes connections across and beyond the University which is my alma mater (twice) and my workplace, the community in which I feel so much at home.  It’s the way that it taps into such a deep seam of goodwill, that people respond with such enthusiasm and generosity to our requests for help, often offering more than we ask for.  It’s the way in which not only the task group who have been meeting for the last few months to plan and organise the event, but a much wider group of people want it to work, and do whatever it takes to make it work.

I get slightly nervous, of course.  There are so many things that potentially could go wrong with an event on this scale.  But that nervousness is always offset by the recollection that every time something has threatened to unravel, someone has sorted it out.  A speaker drops out at the last minute – a quick tweet to say that we need a replacement, and half an hour later we have one.  It’s a collective effort, and that’s why it’s such a joy.

It emerged of course out of great grief and loss.  But in those 24 hours I believe we’re doing something special, we’re living intensely and revelling in learning, in making connections, in broadening our horizons, and in collaborating.  Twelve sleeps to go now.  I can’t wait.

Come along if you can, for some or all of it.  If you can’t, but wish you could, you can still tweet about it using the hashtag #24HrInspire, and you can donate here:  https://mydonate.bt.com/events/24hourinspire2015

Inspiration for Life

Catherine Annabel Inspiration for Life Introduction and welcome
17:00:00 Professor John Flint Town & Regional Planning Victoria Henshaw – a tribute
17:30:00 Dr Nate Adams Molecular Biology & Biotechnology Throwing spanners at nanobots
18:00:00 Dr Victoria Williamson Music Music for wellbeing: possibilities and promise
18:30:00 Professor Paul White Geography Global population growth – the good news and the bad news
19:00:00 Professor Rowland Atkinson Town & Regional Planning Ecology of sound: the sonic order of urban space
19:30:00 Morag Rose Town & Regional Planning Loitering with intent: psychogeography the Mancunian Way
20:00:00 Professor Claire McGourlay Law Legal aid – what legal aid?
20:30:00 Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson French Post-traumatic landscapes
21:00:00 Professor Davide Costanzo Physics & Astronomy Anatomy of the ATLAS particle detector
21:30:00 Dr Tim Shephard Music Machiavellian sounds: how to rule a Renaissance state with music
22:00:00 Dr Catherine Fletcher History The insider’s guide to Wolf Hall
22:30:00

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2014 – some of the best bits

Some of the cultural highlights of my year – a year of working at home, long train journeys to long meetings which gave me more time to read, less time to go to the cinema or the theatre.   However, I did manage a few outings…

  • Twelfth Night at the Crucible – a real delight.  I’d been disappointed that we weren’t getting a tragedy or one of the problem plays, rather than a comedy that I’d seen on stage before, but that feeling evaporated very quickly indeed.  The performances were excellent, the staging imaginative and suggestive of darker undercurrents (the cast appearing at windows almost like the undead, the showers of rose petals  – see also Poppeia).
  • Brilliant opera at Leeds Grand – La Boheme,  and The Coronation of Poppeia.  And another Boheme, this time in Graves Gallery, from Opera on Location. 

poppeia la boheme

  • Tramlines!
  • Music in the Round – I’d pick out the Schubert octet, Tim Horton’s bravura performance of the Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 7 (described by the Guardian as ‘ferocious’),  Charlie Piper‘s WWI suite, The Dark Hour; works by Schulhoff & Haas, and consort of viols, Fretwork.
  • Once again we celebrated Tim Richardson’s life and passion for learning and teaching with the 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on a host of topics, from WWI poets to insect sex, from biogeography to Mozart, from underground science to fairground history – ok, you get the picture.  Once again a host of people stepped up to help, everything ran smoothly, and we were able to donate to Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes.  We’ll be doing it again on 16-17 April 2015.  Tim’s charity, Inspiration for Lifegoes from strength to strength.
  • I revisited the City Ground after far too many years, for the first home game of the season, and Stuart Pearce’s first game as manager.  That was a great game.  We’re in a slump at the moment, and that early euphoria has dissipated.   If it was anyone but Psycho in charge I suspect the calls to sack the manager would be ringing out right now, but few Forest fans would want to deny him the chance to turn things around.  I hope he can.  I really, really, hope he can.

Top TV of 2014

No attempt at ranking.  How could one decide on the relative merits of a gritty cop drama and a comic book fantasy?  So, what do all of these shows have in common?  First, excellent writing, and great performances.  Essential to have both.  So many big budget dramas skimp on the former and blow the budget on the latter, but even the best actors can only do so much with a script that clunks.  Second, great female characters.  All of these programmes  basically kick the Bechdel test out of the park.   It’s not just about having ‘strong’ women.  Not all women are strong, and no women are strong all of the time.  It’s about having women characters who are rounded human beings, fallible and flawed, but not dependent on men to make decisions or to solve problems.   Some of these women do indeed kick ass, but they don’t all have to.  So, to Nazanin Boniadi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Amelia Bullmore, Lauren Cohan, Clare Danes, Siobhan Finneran, Danai Gurira, Keeley Hawes, Elizabeth Henstridge, Gillian Jacobs, Suranne Jones, Nimrat Kaur, Sarah Lancashire, Melissa McBride, Vicky McClure, Tatiana Maslany, Lesley Sharp, Allison Tolmin, Ming-Na Wen and the rest – cheers, and thanks for giving us images of women that are as diverse and complicated as actual real live women are.

orphan line of duty happy valley mollyhomeland scott & baileycarol community shield

  1. Fargo – I was decidedly unconvinced beforehand, but it turned out to be funny, gruesome, and touching, with one of my favourite women cops in Allison Tolmin’s Molly (not just a re-run of Frances McDormand’s marvellous Marge from the film, but a character in her own right), Billy Bob Thornton as a grimly hilarious killer and Martin Freeman as a weaselly one, and a wealth of other characters, some of whom we came to care about so much that at tense moments there was much yelling at the screen as we thought they might be in danger.
  2. Line of Duty – I wasn’t convinced about this one either, mainly because the first series had been superb, and I wondered if they could match it.  They did,  and it was Keeley Hawes’ performance that clinched it.  Whilst I’d watch Vicky McClure in anything, Keeley wasn’t in that category for me, despite Ashes to Ashes.  But in this she was riveting, absolutely mesmerising.   The rest of the cast was superb too.
  3. Happy Valley was perhaps the most ironically titled programme of the year.  This valley was pretty damned grim.  But Sarah Lancashire as cop Catherine Cawood was wonderful, and the story was compelling and moving.
  4. Scott & Bailey maintained its form in series 4.  The three central women (count them!  three central women!) are all convincingly real, sometimes infuriatingly so.
  5. The Walking Dead opened series 5 with an episode so gripping that I really could neither breathe normally nor speak for quite some time.   It’s maintained that tension (more or less) whilst varying the format, to focus on different subsets of the characters, and different locations.   Carol has been central to this season’s episodes so far, and her character is one of those that has been allowed to develop and deepen throughout.  There’s no shortage of other interesting characters, and the plot allows for philosophical, political and ethical speculation as well as for gory shocks and suspense.
  6. Agents of Shield got past a slightly wobbly first series and got its pace and tone just right.  It fits right into the Marvelverse, but stands alone perfectly well.  And it features girl-geek Simmons, a Sheffield lass, and there’s just a hint of South Yorkshire in her accent from time to time.
  7. Community made me laugh more than anything else this year.   Just when you think it is as bonkers as it could be, it ups its game, to be even more meta, and even more daft.
  8. Doctor Who I have spoken of elsewhere.  I have a deep love for this programme, and whilst this regeneration has been unsettling at times, uncertain in tone perhaps, I have great hopes for Capaldi and Coleman in series 9 next year.
  9. Homeland redeemed itself.   Gripping stuff, with Clare Danes acting her socks off and getting us deeper into what makes Carrie tick.
  10. Orphan Black is one of the most criminally underrated programmes of this (and last) year.  Tatiana Maslany inhabits each of the characters she plays so well that I forget – disbelieve almost – that there is just the one actress involved.   And when she’s playing one of them pretending to be one of the others….  Cracking plot too.

Films of the year – I leave the in-depth cinematic  reviews to Arthur Annabel who promises an extensive blog on this topic soon.   I simply note these as films which have delighted and/or moved me, in no particular order.  Worth noting that whilst the programmes on my TV list get A* on the Bechdel test, the films are considerably weaker on that front.   Nonetheless, some fine performances, and Nicole Perlman was the first woman with a writing credit on a Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy).

guardians 2 cap america x men lego dallas white ribbon mr turner  slavedragonaurielcornelia

Women of the year:

  Jack Monroe – for enlivening my repertoire of meals to feed the family, and campaigning about food poverty

Professor Monica Grady – for being emotionally, exuberantly passionate about science

kate Kate Bush – for doing it her way, as always

fahma Fahma Mohamed – for telling men three times her age what they needed to be told about FGM and how to protect young women in the UK

malala Malala Yousafzai – it’s all been said really.  A young woman of remarkable maturity and dignity, as well as courage.

adedevoh Dr Ameyo Adadevoh – helped to curb the spread of Ebola by quarantining a patient in the face of pressure from his government, but succumbed to the disease herself

 

laura bates Laura Bates – her Everyday Sexism project helped to give women a voice, to tell their stories, to shout back.

In 2014 I’ve blogged about refugees, genocide, footballW G Sebald and Michel Butor, Kazuo Ishiguro, everyday sexism, Tramlines, Josephine Butler and Doctor Who.  I got a bit personal on the subject of depression, and was inspired by Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl to present my manifesto – a plea to just be kind. And my blog about reading the last of the Resnick series of detective stories won the approval of the author, John Harvey, who linked to it on his own blog, and republished my jazz playlist!

Amongst the blogs I’ve followed, or at least tried to keep up with, I would particularly note Searching for Albion.  This is the record of Dan Taylor’s four month cycling trip across the British Isles, talking to people he meets, by plan or by chance.  A fascinating project, beautifully documented.

To all of those who’ve shared some of the above events, obsessions and enthusiasms with me, who’ve given me support when I’ve needed it, who I’ve learned from and with, thank you.   I don’t know what to expect from 2015 – but see you there!

 

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2013 – the best bits. And some of the other bits.

 

It has been a funny old year.  Funny peculiar, though not without the odd moment of mirth and merriment along the way.

 

I came back from one secondment to my regular job in January, and went off on the next secondment in December.  This new one is a major change – working for HEFCE, based at home when not attending meetings in various exotic parts of the UK (oh, OK then, Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester, Dorking…).  It’s a fantastic opportunity, and challenges the way I organise my life as well as requiring me to acquire new knowledge and new skills.

 

I graduated, again.  Did the whole gown and mortar board thing which I hadn’t been fussed about when I was 21 and graduating for the first time. And then, with barely a pause, on to the doctorate.  Studying part-time, it’s going to be a long haul, with who knows what possibilities at the end of it, but I’m loving it.

 

In February, a beloved friend and colleague died, and we – his family, friends, colleagues, students – grieved but also worked together to put on an amazing event in his honour, the 24 Hour Inspire.  We raised money for local cancer charities, and have raised more since, through an art exhibition, plant and cake sales and various 10k runs/marathon bike rides, etc.   And we’re now planning the 24 Hour Inspire 2014, and the publication of Tim’s diary.  He will continue to inspire.

 

Culturally, my high points in 2013 have been:

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the Showroom, talking about Americanah, and Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Peter Hill premiering newly discovered/completed Messiaen at the Upper Chapel (and playing Bach, Berg and Schoenberg too)
  • Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City, playing Mingus at Sheffield Jazz
  • Tramlines – the Enid in the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Jones Revue and Selecter at Devonshire Green. (And more, but those were the absolute top bits).
  • The 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on life, the universe and everything, including Ed Daw’s blues piano, Rachel Falconer on poetry and birds, Jenny Saul on implicit bias, Claire McGourlay on the Innocence Project, and personal narratives from Brendan Stone and Elena Rodriguez-Falcon.  Plus John Cockburn’s rendition of (What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding, and my favourite Beatles B-side, Things we Said Today, and more busking from Mike Weir, Graham McElearney and Eugenia Chung.  And more, lots more.
  • Fabulous Beethoven quartets/quintet from the Elias at the Upper Chapel
  • A magical Winter’s Tale at the Crucible
  • Two awesome Britten operas (Peter Grimes and Death in Venice) from Opera North at Leeds Grand
  • New (to me) authors enjoyed this year: Maggie O’Farrell, Louise Doughty, Lucy Caldwell, C J Sansom, Alison Moore, Edward St Aubyn, Rebecca Solnit, Wilkie Collins,  Jonathan Franzen
  • Wonderful new books from authors I’ve enjoyed before: Stephen King’s Dr Sleep and Joyland, Lynn Shepherd’s A Treacherous Likeness, Jon McGregor‘s This isn’t the Sort of Thing…., Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy
  • Finally finished Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe.  Allons-y, to La Prisonniere!
  • I’ve learned to love Marvel superheroes (Avengers AssembleThorIron ManAgents of Shield!), and have thrilled to The Walking Dead, Orphan Black (virtuoso performance(s) from Tatiana Maslany), Utopia and, of course, Dr Who.
  • Speaking of which, not only an absolutely stonking 50th anniversary episode, but also a fascinating and very touching drama about the show’s early days, with David Bradley as William Hartnell, the sweet and funny The Five-ish Doctors, with Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker sending themselves and everyone else up with great affection, and Matthew Sweet’s Culture Show special.  And the Christmas episode
  • Other cracking telly – Broadchurch, Homeland, Misfits, The Fall, Southcliffe, The Guilty, The Americans…  And from across the Channel, not only another masterclass in French profanity from Spiral, but the wonderful The Returned
  • And other top films – Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, Lore, The Hobbit Pts 1 & 2, Lincoln, and Patience (after Sebald).

 

About the blog itself.  It’s been less focused on my areas of research recently, and that will continue to be the case, as I’m working on the PhD.  The odd digression will find its place here – as Tim used to say, tangents are there to be gone off on, and the blog is a good way of nailing those (to mix my metaphors somewhat) and stopping them from distracting me for too long.  I shall be continuing to go on about all sorts of other things that pique my interest.  In particular the blog will continue to be a place where refugee stories are foregrounded, as a riposte to the mean and dishonest coverage which those stories tend to receive.

 

Over the last year, my posting has been somewhat erratic.  I note that I didn’t write anything between March and June (I made up for it in June, however, with a Refugee Week blog-blitz, as well as a piece about Last Year at Marienbad which I still intend to follow up.  That hiatus may have had something to do with being in the final stages of my degree – finishing off my dissertation, and a last batch of essays and presentations.

 

There are so many fantastic bloggers out there, too many to do justice to.  We lost one this year, as the great Norman Geras passed away.  But I’ll continue to enjoy, and to share/reblog That’s How the Light Gets In, Nowt Much to Say, and Futile Democracy, amongst others.  For my research interests, I will no doubt continue to find lots to think about and follow up in blogs from Decayetude and Vertigo.

 

So, thanks to the aforementioned bloggers, to the various people with whom I’ve shared the cultural delights enumerated above, to friends and family who’ve supported me in my ventures and refrained (mostly) from telling me I’m mad to try to do so many things.

 

Thing is, I have a history of depression.  I know that the best way for me to fight that, to avoid sliding back into that dark pit, is to do lots of stuff I care about.  So, not just the job – which I care about, passionately – and my wonderful family, but research, writing, ensuring that we do Tim proud via the charity, and so on.   I am very aware that there’s a tipping point, that if I do too much stuff I care about, given that I also have to do stuff that I have to do, just because I have to do it, the anxiety of having so much going on can itself lead to sleepless nights, which make me less able to cope, thus leading to more worrying and so on and on… It’s all about balance, and about having support when I need it.  So, to all of you who, whether you know it or not, provide that support, and help me to keep that balance, a heartfelt thanks.

 

In particular, over this last year, I’d like to thank:

 

For unstinting support and encouragement through the part-time degree and especially as I reached the final stages – tutors Sophie Belot and Annie Rouxeville, and classmate Liz Perry.  And a special thanks to Chris Turgoose for ensuring that my graduation gown stayed put via an ingenious arrangement of string and safety pins.

 

For support and encouragement to go on to the PhD – the aforementioned Sophie, Annie, and Liz, plus Rachel Falconer, Helen Finch, and my supervisors Amanda Crawley Jackson and Richard Steadman-Jones

 

For their contributions to the work of Inspiration for Life, and the 24 Hour Inspire, and their support in commemorating and celebrating Tim – Tracy Hilton, Ruth Arnold, Vanessa Toulmin, Chris Sexton, John Cockburn, Lee Thompson, Matt Mears and David Mowbray

 

My family, of course, without whom…

 

And, finally, Tim.   I’d have loved to share this year’s triumphs and tribulations with him.

 

Have a wonderful 2014 all of you.

 

fireworks

 

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You are now in Bedford Falls

IAWL

It’s a Wonderful Life.   Often described as ‘heartwarming’, which I usually interpret as a warning,  a euphemism for cloying and sentimental.  It’s a family Christmas film, yes, but so much more.  It breaks my heart each time I watch it, and at the same time it heals me.  It speaks to the disappointments, the failures, the wrong choices, that are part of everyone who’s been around for a while.   It speaks to the idealism, the sense of values that aren’t monetary, that are part of everyone who gives a damn, whether it’s their turn or not.

It earns that ending, that wonderful, ridiculous ending.  Because we feel George’s despair, and we feel his frustration and anger at the irreconcilable conflict between what he wants his life to be and what it has to be.   He does the right thing, because he can’t not do the right thing, but we see what it costs him.   On an individual human level, we identify with George because he really isn’t OK with the failure of his plans and dreams, he’s not at peace.   And we admire him because nonetheless he will always do what is right.  (Indeed, if it seems frivolous to link him to Mandela and Picquart, the heroes of my last two blogs, so be it.)

But the film is not just about an individual, it’s also about a community.  George’s choices made Bedford Falls what it is.  But this wasn’t because he did it all himself.  He inspired other people, gave them the courage to do the right thing, to be as generous as he was.  The direct impact – the lives he saved through direct intervention – are only part of it.  People who in Pottersville were mean and fearful weren’t born that way, they learned to be mean and fearful because their lives had taught them that other people couldn’t be trusted, that everyone was out for themselves, that mistakes and misfortunes would be punished.   In Bedford Falls, they saw generosity and kindness, and mistakes and misfortunes met with sympathy and support, and they learned to be generous and kind themselves.

It’s so easy to despair, when we see so many examples of meanness, prejudice, callousness to others’ misery.  We’re encouraged to be xenophobic and suspicious.   Watch out!  In January we will literally be unable to move for Romanians and Bulgarians every single one of whom will be coming here to take our livelihoods.  Watch out!  That neighbour who you haven’t seen leaving for work recently is probably spending all day on the sofa in a onesie watching Jeremy Kyle and scrounging huge amounts in benefits.

We can choose instead to live in Bedford Falls.  Why would we do otherwise?  The Potters of our world will continue to spin their scurvy little webs, but we don’t have to acquiesce.  So, for 2014, my mantra will be ‘You are now in Bedford Falls’, and whenever I encounter stories that show how communities can work together, support each other, reach out to those who need help, across the boundaries that might be expected to divide us, I’ll share them, with that hashtag.  There are a couple below, for starters.

I don’t believe that humanity is a lost cause.  I do believe that humanity is all there is, and that makes it so much more vital that we care for each other, because we’re all we’ve got, and these years we have on the planet is all we’ve got.  Joss Whedon said it well, in Angel:

If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Postscript

 This year, in particular, these words from It’s a Wonderful Life have greater poignancy and resonance than ever:

 Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Because we got to find out what an awful hole was left when Tim Richardson died, in February.  The memorial blog we set up for him tells so many stories of how his life touched those of others, and how much he is missed.  And in his honour, we held the 24 Hour Inspire event, a community coming together to celebrate his life, his influence and his inspiration.  It was a joyous occasion.  And it was a glimpse of life in Bedford Falls.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/bradford-synagogue-saved-muslims-jews

http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/a-tale-of-two-villages-it-could-be-a-wonderful-life/

http://aurorasginjoint.com/2013/12/14/its-a-wonderful-life/

 

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Reflections on the 24 Hour Inspire

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?

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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:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/inspirationforlife

http://www.justgiving.com/forTimRichardson

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.

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Blog by Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information & Computing Services, who gave the event tremendous support throughout

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Storify Twitter feed from the #24HrInspire hashtag (thanks to Chris Sexton)

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Email from Iran, 28 February 2013

Dear Catherine,

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

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