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Running in a pandemic

the world took a deep breath

and went silent and went still

keep your distance keep at least 2 meters apart

out once a day for exercise

running one foot in front of the other foot in front

keep going long enough you always get there in the end it’s a marathon not a sprint

but now running through streets which are sunny and serene

sense of total freedom this city is mine and then remember why this sinister beauty exists

a virus that respects no borders, no race, no class it doesn’t care how much money you have or where you come from

it is the great global leveller everybody can get it. Tom Hanks, Idris Elba,  Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson…

but not everybody experences it the same.

BMA raise concerns over ethnic minority doctor deaths to Covid-19

Black people account for 72% of COVID-19 deaths in Chicago while making up less than a third of city’s population, mayor says

COVID-19: massive impact on lower-income countries threatens more disease outbreaks

at least here in the UK now we know who the real key workers are: NHS, social care, delivery drivers, supermarket stackers…

things we were told impossible suddenly are possible

money at the click of a computer button

NHS to benefit from £13.4 billion debt write-off

it’s possible now why didn’t we do it before

Councils told to house all rough sleepers in England by weekend

Chancellor unleashes £350bn bailout to rescue UK economy from coronavirus crisis

it’s possible now why didn’t we do it before

keep running long enough to see what kind of world  lies on the other side

Coronavirus: Only 9% of Britons want life to return to normal once lockdown is over

Max Richter’s Sleep: revisited

4  1/2 years ago, back in a world that feels at once both distant and close, 8 hours of live music was broadcast overnight from the British Library, scoring the soundtrack to a nation’s dreams as they slept. 

Easter Saturday / Sunday 2020 – Max Richter’s ‘Lullaby for a frenetic world’ was repated for a UK  in lockdown from Covid 19:

A nation clapping every Thursday for the NHS, the carers and the key workers

A  nation needing a lullaby now more than ever to comfort it while it sleeps

A nation holding its breath

Waiting to see what kind of country emerges the other side.

 

 

 

 

Saturday April 4, 16km

Spring morning run. Same streets, but the streets are silent.

Greenwich approx 830am

Have you heard….the lack of sounds….on the way to Deptford…approx 845am

Deptford/Greenwich Saturday April 4 2020 at 922am

First training run for the London Marathon 2020

A biting cold winter morning, one of those days where no matter how many layers you put on, the wind finds a way through. 12 January 2020 – the official start of my training plan for the London Marathon, the start of my fundraising for my local charity South London Special League. Along the Thames Path, I was met with this  crystal clear view looking across from Surrey Quays to Canary Wharf.  No harsh wind in this photo, just a rare sense of peace.

 

 

A Talk by Anna Burns – Booker Winner 2018

Small, dressed all in black, hesitant, evidently nervous in the spotlight, Anna nevertheless provided an intense, captivating hour, speaking in a hushed, rushed Northern Irish accent:

‘Sorry. I forgot your question, was that what you asked? I’m used to writing down my thoughts rather than speaking them…’

The question was about her writing process:

‘There is no process. Some writers block everything out before they start, whereas I know how my sentences end but not how they will start. I went to a City Lit course for 2 years. I started writing in my 30s – piecing together notebooks and identifying themes and characters…’

Anna started reflecting on the relationship between location, identity and belonging:

‘I came to London 30 years ago. People ask me where I’m from. I’m from Belfast, I’m Northern Irish. I’ve lived in London for over 30 years but people assume I’m Irish first.’

Although it’s captured the zeitgeist, Milkman was written in 2014. ‘It’s Belfast in the 1970s and it’s everywhere at the same time,’ Anna said sadly, continuing, ‘I did try to give the characters in Milkman names but nothing fitted. The sisters, for example, I’d see them a little like puppies – bounding around, full of energy… a pack of interchangeable, joyful puppies…. it’s the lack of names that makes it universal but it wasn’t intentional.’

Milkman may be universal in its themes of division and but it’s very specific to one place and time in history – Belfast in the 1970s. A place where everybody is ‘other’ – from the other side of the road, the other side of the city, the other side of the water, of the political divide feels all too relevant in today’s polarised world.

‘The use of language to hide the real meaning….Brexit, Northern Ireland, they’re calling it a backstop – what does that mean? In Belfast, we say ‘sorry for for your trouble, we refer to it as the Troubles when it was murder, it was war….’

Writing started to unlock long buried traumas for Anna, memories she’d buried deep inside as a coping mechanism.

‘I didn’t make a conscious effort to write about Ireland, the Troubles, the divided city…but I started remembering many, many things….’

One of the more shocking images in Milkman is the mountain of murdered dogs

‘That was definitely a memory from my childhood. It might not have been as big as I remember but I was only around 8 at the time – their throats cut – it’s a hair trigger society – one wrong word, one false move…’

The paranoid society of Northern Ireland in the 1970s is vividly evocated throughout the book where fitting in is everything and being part of the wrong tribe in the wrong place can have disastrous consequences. Like the central character in Milkman, Anna was a bookish schoolgirl who walked down the streets where she lived with her head in a novel by Thomas Hardy. The book also captures the #me-too movement as the central character is stalked by the titular Milkman. Anna pondered;

‘Why didn’t she say no? Why didn’t she speak to her mother about what was going on? If she had done, would her mother have listened? I don’t think so…who will believe me, I will get through it, I will cope, I will not make a fuss. People would stop and stare and I’d be thinking why is this worthy of being looked at? I’m the girl that walks and reads? Why are they watching me?  Why is this worth remarking upon? I was expected to get married at 16. I always just knew I was not going to be doing any of that. I got through school. I existed. I distanced myself from what was going on around me….’

The Booker win is clearly a life changing experience for Anna, one she is still coming to terms with. Anna gives heartfelt acknowledgement to those who kept her going;

‘I was homeless and on benefits.  I couldn’t feed myself. I went to food banks… I’d have liked to have a different ending for the characters but I do what they tell me – I can’t help the way it ended.’

Small, dressed all in black, hesitant, evidently nervous in the spotlight, Anna nevertheless provided an intense, captivating hour, speaking in a hushed, rushed Northern Irish accent:

‘Sorry. I forgot your question, was that what you asked? I’m used to writing down my thoughts rather than speaking them…’

The question was about her writing process:

‘There is no process. Some writers block everything out before they start, whereas I know how my sentences end but not how they will start. I went to a City Lit course for 2 years. I started writing in my 30s – piecing together notebooks and identifying themes and characters…’

Anna started reflecting on the relationship between location, identity and belonging:

‘I came to London 30 years ago. People ask me where I’m from. I’m from Belfast, I’m Northern Irish. I’ve lived in London for over 30 years but people assume I’m Irish first.’

Although it’s captured the zeitgeist, Milkman was written in 2014. ‘It’s Belfast in the 1970s and it’s everywhere at the same time,’ Anna said sadly, continuing, ‘I did try to give the characters in Milkman names but nothing fitted. The sisters, for example, I’d see them a little like puppies – bounding around, full of energy… a pack of interchangeable, joyful puppies…. it’s the lack of names that makes it universal but it wasn’t intentional.’

Milkman may be universal in its themes of division and but it’s very specific to one place and time in history – Belfast in the 1970s. A place where everybody is ‘other’ – from the other side of the road, the other side of the city, the other side of the water, of the political divide feels all too relevant in today’s polarised world.

‘The use of language to hide the real meaning….Brexit, Northern Ireland, they’re calling it a backstop – what does that mean? In Belfast, we say ‘sorry for for your trouble, we refer to it as the Troubles when it was murder, it was war….’

Writing started to unlock long buried traumas for Anna, memories she’d buried deep inside as a coping mechanism.

‘I didn’t make a conscious effort to write about Ireland, the Troubles, the divided city…but I started remembering many, many things….’

One of the more shocking images in Milkman is the mountain of murdered dogs

‘That was definitely a memory from my childhood. It might not have been as big as I remember but I was only around 8 at the time – their throats cut – it’s a hair trigger society – one wrong word, one false move…’

The paranoid society of Northern Ireland in the 1970s is vividly evocated throughout the book where fitting in is everything and being part of the wrong tribe in the wrong place can have disastrous consequences. Like the central character in Milkman, Anna was a bookish schoolgirl who walked down the streets where she lived with her head in a novel by Thomas Hardy. The book also captures the #me-too movement as the central character is stalked by the titular Milkman. Anna pondered;

‘Why didn’t she say no? Why didn’t she speak to her mother about what was going on? If she had done, would her mother have listened? I don’t think so…who will believe me, I will get through it, I will cope, I will not make a fuss. People would stop and stare and I’d be thinking why is this worthy of being looked at? I’m the girl that walks and reads? Why are they watching me?  Why is this worth remarking upon? I was expected to get married at 16. I always just knew I was not going to be doing any of that. I got through school. I existed. I distanced myself from what was going on around me….’

The Booker win is clearly a life changing experience for Anna, one she is still coming to terms with. Anna gives heartfelt acknowledgement to those who kept her going;

‘I was homeless and on benefits.  I couldn’t feed myself. I went to food banks… I’d have liked to have a different ending for the characters but I do what they tell me – I can’t help the way it ended.’

Meditation and T.S.Eliot

 

‘The still point of the turning world.’  ‘Mankind cannot bear very much reality.’

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

These were the two quotes that kept floating unbidden to my mind at my first mediation class. It was a cold Sunday morning in February and I was sat cross-legged on a cushion in a small, white walled, intimate room with several strangers. I was looking up at our teacher, a doctor in two very different languages and cultures with one foot in the East and another in the West.

She was writing on a white post-it note with a black marker pen.

‘This is the Chinese word Chan – there is no direct translation in English,’ she said. ‘Meditation is part of it, it’s about learning to control the wild wolf our heads and understanding that our thoughts are an illusion and shape our reality.’

I took no notes. This was all written from memory later in the afternoon. I am a copious note taker so to write something up without referring back to hastily- scrawled notes is a strange experience. There is nothing to fall back on other than my fallible memory, busily constructing what may or may not have happened earlier in the day…

Our teacher told us to be completely present in the moment. ‘Accept the past is gone forever and can never be changed and there is no point fretting over what might or might not happen in the future.’

So the future is unwritten. The future is what we can have an impact upon. But first we need to learn to control our minds– the ‘wild wolf’ that lurks in our subconscious and drags us down unseen, twisting avenues.

A spoon passed over the front of a white cup. A shadow fell on its glossy white surface.

‘Here under the shadow is where other people’s behaviour can have a negative impact upon you. Here is where you store all the hurt and the anger deep inside. Maybe somebody shouted at you earlier in the day. Maybe you didn’t react then but later on you snapped at your family for no reason. But the ‘tranquil mind’ has no shadow falling on its glossy white surface. You have controlled your inner self and so external pressures falling upon you can have no impact.’

But surely I thought, for positive change to happen, people have to get emotional and worked up? Or how can societies evolve? If everybody walked around in a state of Zen-like acceptance, what kind of world would we end up with? How can we all deny external events? Maybe these are questions for next time…

‘Remember,’she continued, ‘your thoughts create your reality. But your thoughts are an illusion – they are transitory, they are the flashes of light on a pond, they are moments vanished instantly into the  past where they can never be repeated.’

She told us that the mind is a mischievous monkey that doesn’t want to be tamed. The mind flits restlessly from one thing to another.

Our eyes were closed, our right hands sitting cupped inside our left, thumbs touching so the energy could circulate around our bodies. Slow breaths in, slow breaths out.

It was time to take the first three steps.

  1. Centre – With your eyes closed, focus on an internal spot. Or eyes open on a candle, or on the patterns water makes. The important thing is to find your still focus.
  2. Constant – Keep your attention at this spot. Breathe in and breathe out slowly. Count your breaths if that helps – but only go up to 10 and then return  back to 1.
  3. Control – If you find your attention wandering, bring it back to the centre and keep it constant. There is no harm in your attention wandering as long as you bring it straight back to your chosen central point.

 

‘You should aim for 3 minutes a day for the first week. By the second week, try to build up to 5 minutes a day, ‘ our teacher told us.

So, time will tell if our internal mind monkeys have begun to be tamed, whether we can all begin to find our still points in this constantly turning world.

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood explores the science in her fiction

‘If you are trained to observe precisely, you will write more precise prose.’ Margaret Atwood, speaking at New Scientist Live, October 2017

Margaret Atwood has always been a writer interested in scientific developments and the seemingly bottomless capacity for humans to be either truly inspirational or totally f**ked up. Unfortunately, as she discussed at New Scientist Live, she may no longer be a writer far ahead of her time, for it seems the present may be catching up with the author.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction. However, the dystopian future contains key ingredients that are with us today. Its sinister world suddenly seemed within touching distance for many the morning after the American presidential election in November 2016. Just months later, women dressed as handmaids sat silently in court months later to protest an anti abortion bill.

‘Oh heck we didn’t dodge that bullet. People sitting as handmaids…Let’s make Margaret Atwood fiction again!’ said Margaret with a wry smile before continuing,

‘I don’t write things hoping they will happen, I write things hoping people will think that’s a really bad idea, let’s not do that!’

Oryx and Crake

A long-standing interest in extinction – especially human caused extinction – led to a thought experiment – what might bio-engineered people be like?

Margaret said:

‘They wouldn’t need sunblock…therefore they didn’t need clothes.

They can eat leaves and grass so there’s no need for factories and agriculture.

They mate seasonally like mammals so there’s no rejected lovers.

They are non aggressive so there is no war and no arms spending…’

And there you have the naked and peaceful humanoids of the Oynx and Crake trilogy. However, their creator Crake quickly realises for these creatures to be able to survive, the clothes wearing, emotionally irrational,violent humans must be eradicated or these purring peacekeepers wouldn’t stand a chance. Snowman, who becomes their caretaker, begins to feel bad about the impending extinction of the human race…

Like all utopian experiments, the world of the Crakers sounds idyllic. It would be a vast improvement from some people’s point of view. But , as Margaret says, ‘would you want to hang out with them, or have a drink with them?’

No tragedy means no drama . ‘Do utopias have to be boring?,’ muses Margaret, ‘You’re on a dream vacation for ever – how many beers could you drink? The joy is the end point…’

Transgenetic science developed in the late 1990s – 2000s and provided a rich seam of inspiration for Margaret’s imagination. Oynx and Crake may be closer to science fiction that her other work, yet Margaret revealed that when she went to a geneticist convention and gave them 3 real and 3 made up scenarios, the geneticists couldn’t tell what was made up.

‘One of them was sheep that could grow human hair…you heard it from me first!’

Usually, Margaret’s novels exist in the world of the possible. She grew up with scientists – her brother is one – and when he read Madd Adam, he told his sister:

‘I think you did quite a good job with the sex, but I’m not sure about the purring.’

But science has since vindicated Margaret by proving that cats do purr to heal ‘so you really could have a laying of purring instead of hands. Just call me Margaret Catwood…’

Genetically modified animals and crops is one of  the biggest Pandora’s boxes in the world. How deep inside dare you go?

‘The headless chickens from the books -should they be liberated into the wild? Surely meat grown in labs is better than the alternative – it’s kinder both to the animals and to the environment – it would reduce methane and tropical deforestation…’

Extinction would be bad for humans but great for plants and animals. ‘The atmosphere of earth was originally methane because of marine algae – they make 60% of oxygen..’

Speculative Fiction

In today’s fast-moving, uncertain, interconnected world, ethical dilemmas appear all the time. What role does Margaret believe speculative fiction have to play.?

‘I don’t think about roles – you can’t tell a writer what they will write…they will write what they feel called to write…if you ask for something specific, they may get stubborn and write something else. However, talking about what role a book may play once it’s written is different.’

In general, says Margaret, novelists tend to be optimistic – even speculative, apocalyptic ones. ‘Generally, the truth about novels is that somebody is left alive at the end. Take the start of Moby Dick ” call me Ishmael” you know somebody is left standing…’

The art of storytelling

People used to think animals didn’t suffer – that there was no ghost in the machine. However, as Margaret says, ‘we know there isn’t such a distinct dividing line between species. But Rover the dog is unlikely to ask where did dogs come from, what will happen when I die? They don’t have a far reaching past tense or future perfect like we do.’

Storytelling is a very ancient human device, our way of making sense of the world. Reading and writing are two separate brain functions. ‘Writing possibly came out of animal tracking,’ says Margaret, ‘if you want somebody to remember something, tell them a story.’

Stories can be fact or fiction – however, Margaret is very clear that she wants her narrative universes to remain firmly fictional.

 

6 Music T-Shirt Day

It’s a day to dust down your favourite band t-shirt and re-live those gig memories. After years of listening, finally came the day where I could join the 6 Music team photo.

There I am in my Courtney Barnett t-shirt just behind Steve Lamacq.

6musicgroup.png

We didn’t know it at the time, but they were secretly filming us getting into position – cue fast forward fidgeting which sounds like a track title that could have been requested on T-Shirt Day…

 

Donato di Camillo

In a five minute break from work, while I was mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook news feed, I saw an image that jolted me and made me stop and stare.

It’s a one eyed man, his mouth wide open revealing broken teeth and he’s staring up above him – in surprise or in fear? Is he looking at  the seagull that’s just flown past or at something unseen and terrible in the heavens? Behind his right shoulder is a brightly coloured seaside funfair. To his left, dark clouds are gathering over the pier and out to sea.

It’s like a scene from a film or the first picture from a novel. Except it’s real and it’s the work of a photographer called Donato di Camillo.

Donato is self taught – upon his release from prison, he began taking photos of the people he saw around him in New York, people on the fringes of society, people who are otherwise unseen or ignored.

Donato says:

“I want [my subjects] to understand that the reason I’m photographing them is because I see something in them that I see in me, or that I think the rest of the world could relate to.”

He is a photographer with a real talent for capturing portraits that reveal their subjects at a particular moment in time – sometimes chaotic, sometimes touching, always unique.

Related Content

Donato di Camillio’s website

 

 

 

 

 

My first time doing a live radio interview…

As a producer, I’m used to being on one side of the microphone. But during the course of BBC Music Get Playing, an opportunity presented itself for me to do a live radio interview.

I met Miranda Rae through Sound Women. Miranda presents her own show called The Word on Ujima Radio in Bristol. Her programme goes out live every Friday from 1400 to 1600 and is a wonderfully varied mix of art, culture and music.

The Virtual Orchestra deadline was fast approaching and I was trying to get as many people as possible to upload their videos of themselves playing Bizet’s Toreador Song. Miranda asked me if I’d like to go onto the programme to invite her listeners to join the Virtual Orchestra.

At first, I must confess I was was tempted to ask for a pre-recorded interview but soon decided to go for it.

Miranda has interviewed many people during her career including Massive Attack, Roni Size, Neneh Cherry…and now me.

I really enjoyed my first live radio experience and you can hear the interview here.

And you can follow Miranda on Mixcloud and hear more interviews here.

Useful Links

Ujima Radio

Sound Women