Thursday, 21 September 2017

Culture Means Culture

I've been quite quiet on here in recent weeks. I've been saving up my brain power as, as of today, I am once again an official student!

Enrolment Day at KCL

I'm already a little bit exhausted, and I definitely chose the wrong shoes, but I'm also exhilarated after meeting the others on my course and the inspiring professors who will be guiding us throughout the year.

We've been laden down with course materials, and I will be spending every extra penny I can scrape together on books from the Recommended Further Reading lists.

Getting Started

I've made a start on a couple of the required reading sources, and I'm raring to go:

The first article calls for a rethink of the ways in which we teach, and think about, performing arts,; arguing that performance doesn't have to mean 'staged', and that performative action is seen in many aspects of day-to-day living.
When I think about this, I realise that many aspects of my own life could be seen as performative (aside from the *actual* performances) - when I work in retail, the interaction between customer and server follows a definite pattern, like a script.

By eliminating the 'performance' from performance, it becomes more accessible across disciplines. The Bacc For The Future campaign argues for the importance of the arts in the curriculum, and incorporating elements of performativity into other subjects could be a way of engaging future generations of practitioners and thinkers. 

Arts and culture can be seen as elitist, but if we think of our own interactions as a type of performative action: from political protest chanting, to singing along with a band; dancing at a club, putting on make-up in the morning, etc - we realise that culture creates Culture, and that the Culture (identity, customs and ideas) of a community or country is defined by, and dependent on, the culture (arts, literature, etc) it produces, as much as culture is a reflection of the society that creates it.

And that's just from the first piece of source material!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Trust Me

Recently the stars aligned and my boyfriend and I managed to wrangle some holiday days off work at the same time. On our first day we joined the National Trust and had a simply lovely week exploring some of the gorgeous sites.

Coffee and Cameras: pretty much sums up my week off!

I also decided to bite the bullet and renounce my status as Photography Widow by convincing him that it would be a good idea to teach me how to take proper pictures with a proper camera. Neither of us is dead yet, so I'm obviously doing something right.

Ightham Mote, Kent

The National Trust safeguards some of the countries most beautiful heritage sites, and we visited castles, gardens, manor houses and parks during our week.

          Knole, Kent          *          Hughenden, Buckinghamshire

Cliveden, Buckinghamshire          *          Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire

One thing that struck me during a visit to Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home, was the connection with Europe. Once I noticed it, I picked up on it everywhere; Hughenden, Knole, Scotney Castle, Wimpole Manor... every time we walked into a library, or living room, or bedchamber, there would be books written in French or German; photographs from across the continent; letters from acquaintances in Italy; maps of travels, art and sculpture decorated the walls.

Disraeli's desk in his study at Hughenden

There was a deep and recognised connection with Europe: European culture was sought after and highly prized. Learning from across countries was seen as the pinnacle of scholarship. Young men would take the Grand Tour to experience life on the continent in order to expand their horizons and grow up.

As Brexit bites deeper I couldn't help but think that, while many who voted Leave claim to want 'our country back', our country has always been heavily influenced by Europe and European culture - indeed, we sought it out. 

Chartwell, Kent

My (EU National) partner and I came away from the week uplifted - buoyed by the rich and interesting heritage of England; proud of the beauty of the country we call home, and excited by how much more there is to discover. The lesson I took from all of the places that we visited was that our history has always tried to be open, expansive and interested.
However it also made me feel saddened that this gorgeous glut of history is being interpreted as a sign that we must turn away from Europe. I don't think that our past should dictate our future, but in this case I would argue that our predecessors aspired to and admired European culture, sought union and exchange with the continent, and saw themselves as European, and in that I would support a return to the ideals of the past.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Stressing Out and Calming Down

It's a stressful time in the world at the moment isn't it? I've also had, recently, a personally sad time, and one of the ways in which I cope with stress is ranting on this blog. So, since this is my blog, I'm going to rant about some of the ways in which I cope with stress.

A day in a nutshell

Since November last year I've been on a health and fitness kick. I've made "lifestyle changes" and I'm pretty impressed with myself! I am proud to say that I'm now one of those totally irritating people who extols the virtues of sweet potato and kale, and does yoga every day. It's only a matter of time before I'm posting silhouettes of myself in tree-pose (vrksasana - I had to google it) on top of a mountain at sunset.

Attempting to do yoga with my yoga-buddy

I found a great channel on YouTube called Yoga With Adrienne; she's not too perky, or too hippy, but she is quirky and constructive, and I became addicted. Yoga has worked for me on a level beyond physical fitness; through connecting with my breath and movement I can take ten minutes to tune out the noise and chaos. It gives me a little bit of breathing space (literally) when I'm doing something just for me and not feeling guilty about it because it's good for me too!

I often refer to myself as a Frustrated Creative. I long to be the type of artsy person who can learn an instrument really quickly, turn a doodle into a work of art, or write a novel or poem that resonates beyond my own brain. But I'm not. My musical ability is limited to singing (although nowadays it's mostly in the shower or while I'm doing the washing up) and about four songs - badly - on the ukulele. My artwork is only one step above the kind of pictures parents of toddlers stick to the fridge door, and my notebooks are filled with one line of poetry that I can't link together, or ideas for stories that I lack the ability to develop further.

Amigurumi ballerina

But I am good at crochet. I am the crazy lady on the bus with a ball of yarn and a crochet needle, knitting away while I listen to podcasts on politics, history or etymology. I find it relaxing to follow a pattern and know that, at the end of it, I have created something and educated myself at the same time. I'm now trying to learn origami, so my poor boyfriend will have to put up with scraps of paper littering the living room along with snippets of wool and fragments of crochet toy body-parts.

I know I said I wasn't very good at the ukulele, and I'm not. Not at all. But I enjoy learning it. I can strum the chords, it's changing between them that I struggle with, so each piece I endeavour to play there are awkward gaps in the melody. But it's only for me, and maybe the occupant of the upstairs apartment who has to put up with me attempting to play Somewhere Over The Rainbow for the fiftieth time.

Learning to play Disney songs on the ukulele. Because I'm a grown-up.

I'd love to be able to play to a standard that someone could sing along with me, without leaving space for the gaps between chord changes. But that's practice. It's relaxing for me to sit with my little red ukulele and sing along myself as I stagger through a song, and it gives me a sense of achievement when I either get to the end, or grasp the beginning of a new song (the next challenge is Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which is one of my favourites).

Reading and Writing
Anyone who has read this blog before, follows me on social media, or knows me offline, knows that I read a lot. I always have my Kindle and one or two books in my bag, and I'm not particularly fussy over what I read, although historical fiction and fantasy novels are my guilty pleasures. 

Books, books, books

However, when I'm reading for research I find I learn and absorb information better if I then write down what I've read; whether that's notes (I'm a margin scribbler) or blogs. Indeed, this blog was started, way back in 2014 (!) as part of a learning process while I was studying for my degree.
I love learning, and I cope with stress if I don't feel as though I'm 'stuck'. When I'm learning something new, I'm moving forward. And, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, whenever I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my head, so eventually learning new things will push whatever old thing I'm stressing about out and away.

Other Methods
Time alone, to reset. Taking a bath while reading a book. Stroking one of the cats and listening to them purr. Cleaning the house so my external world isn't as cluttered as my internal thought processes. Ticking just one thing off the mental to-do list. Ignoring social media, or at least trying to. Talking to my long-suffering boyfriend. And sleep: sleep is awesome.

How do you cope with stress? 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

We're All Mad Here

There's a method of coping with anxiety which suggests thinking of the worst thing that could possibly happen, then telling yourself that it probably won't. There's another method called Reductio ad Absurdum, which reduces an argument or scenario to ridiculous conclusions.

Neither of these are particularly helpful at the moment.

Politics, and society, is operating so illogically at the moment that even denigrating a scenario to absolutely ridiculous proportions, making it the worst thing that I could think of happening; I wouldn't put it past the realms of possibility.

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Quote: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

I recently watched an interview with Armando Iannucci, one of the creators of the television show The Thick of It, which spoofs the inner workings of a political party. He stated that there was an episode where the politicians and civil servants had to pull a major policy announcement and replace it, at the last minute, with policies which were created on their way to the press conference. Iannucci said that the writers sat around a table and came up with the most outlandish suggestions that they could think of.  Since that episode aired in 2012, several of those policies are now law.

You couldn't make it up. Except Iannucci and the writers of The Thick Of It did. Maybe the ruling elite thought that the show was a documentary rather than a satire?

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I am anxious at the moment. There is tension in the air, and I worry that during the simmering summer it will all boil over. Westminster Bridge, Manchester, London Bridge, the General Election, Grenfell Tower, Finsbury Park, the DUP, Brexit negotiations... the list of tragedies goes on. We have a lot to be angry about.

And in the past twenty-four hours we have been informed that the government is paying an obscene amount of money in order to secure the occasional support of a party that denies climate change, is against LGBTQ+ Rights and anti-Women's Rights; and the deal itself may be illegal, while public services across the UK are cut to the bone and those most in need suffer the ongoing effects of Tory slash and burn austerity.
The offer that was given on the rights of EU Citizens in the UK after Brexit is laughable, raises more questions than it answers, and may actually remove rights and freedoms that EU Nationals have had in this country for years. (But I'll write another blog about this soon as it's something that is personal to me!)

It's madness. It's maddening. We're all mad here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Puppet Protest

May you be cursed to live in interesting times... so says the misquoted and mis-credited proverb.

Theatre has a responsibility to reflect the state of the nation, but one of the issues that theatre has is generally the long lead time to staging a piece. Several productions over the past year have looked at old events, such as Limehouse and This House, which depict political events from years ago and allow the audience to draw out the similarities, and therefore, maybe, give some idea of what might happen next in our current crisis.
It can be difficult to anticipate crises, which is why, I believe, we often read allegory into classic or already established work. Shakespeare is a case in point here: whenever a new staging takes place, we see parallels with our own time. I don't think that this is a bad thing, and I will discuss this further in a future blog.

However, in times of political crisis, guerrilla art comes in to its own. Reactionary and impromptu, theatrical performances can spring up as a result of an outpouring of passion: Aristotle believed that one of the functions of theatre was catharsis, the purging of high emotion, and at the moment there are few things that rouse a more emotional response than politics!

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Something that caught my eye on social media was the Number 10 Vigil at Downing Street, using puppets to stage a 'final leaders debate.' This group use various styles of performance, including songs and spoken word, in a nightly demonstration, and they have incorporated Spitting Image style puppets into their protest.

Puppets have been used in performance and ceremony for hundreds of years: they have even been found in excavations of ancient Greek and Egyptian sites, believed to have been used in dramas depicting the stories of the gods.
Similarly to cartoons, puppets can 'say' and 'do' things that a human actor couldn't get away with, and the ridiculousness of the puppet form creates comedy in a situation that might otherwise be humourless. Humour humanises, and can create empathy and understanding through laughter by disarming an angry reaction - it's very difficult to get angry at a puppet!

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Ancient Greek marionette puppets

Because of the highly visual nature of puppetry it can communicate across language, learning, and cultural barriers, and the caricatures immediately convey the character, or what the creator would have the audience believe about the character!

I'm going to keep an eye on the No10Vigil and see what else they come up with: I feel that impromptu performance protest will expand over the next few years as people turn to the arts to express their hopes, fears and frustrations, which are sure to increase as political instability increases.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Well Hung

This blog has been a work in progress for a couple of days: I started writing in a delirious haze on Friday morning after no sleep and a lot of gin, so I sensibly held off posting until the fog had cleared. Then the internet went down all weekend, so this post has been a few days in the making!

I had gin, fluffy slippers, and my boyfriend and I have been prepping for the zombie apocalypse for years. All bases are covered.

Blimey, it was a long night on Thursday wasn't it? And a little bit of a roller coaster! I've said previously that I always thought that, while the Tories would win, I didn't think Theresa May would get anywhere near the landslide she assumed she'd get. So I was expecting a slim majority, a loss of a couple of Tory seats, a surge in Labour support, and for the Conservatives to continue their roughshod ride across the social fabric of the country.

Then the Exit Polls were revealed, and it all went a little bit topsy-turvey from there. I'm not a Labour supporter, but I was still excited at the prediction. I spent the night flipping between BBC and C4, watching as the results came in, and my mood was the polar opposite of this time last year when I pulled an all-nighter in a very different state of emotion.

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And here we are now. A hung parliament. In a slightly-less-than-lucid state of mind on Friday I typed a few notes, and I'm going to try and make sense of them now:

  • Theresa May wanted a mandate for her vision of Brexit. A mandate for her, personally. What is this a mandate for?
    Her speeches yesterday, both in her constituency and outside Number 10 were incredible, in the sense that I couldn't believe what she was saying; how arrogant, patronising and detached from reality she seems. But then, her entire party and 51% of the electorate also seem to prefer to believe in fantasy than reality so I guess she's appealing to her base.
  • She has been reprogrammed from "Strong and Stable" to "Certainty and Stability". Does anyone actually believe a word she says?
    How dare the Conservative government talk about needing stability when all of the upheaval over the past two years has been their fault? David Cameron said he would hold an advisory referendum on EU membership to quell party in-fighting; he stepped down amid party in-fighting. Then there was a party in-fight to elect a leader. Then, because of party in-fighting, Theresa May called a General Election. Now there is in-fighting amongst the party as they debate whether she should leave. Whatever she does there will be more in-fighting amongst these overgrown toddlers who chuck a tantrum whenever they don't get their own way.
    And they have the absolute gall to accuse other parties of instability, and claim that they are the best ones to lead the country.
    (Wow, this one was a bit of a rant wasn't it?!)

  • We were warned that a vote against the Conservatives was a vote for the Coalition of Chaos, led by a terrorist sympathiser. I said in a previous blog that if this is stability, give me chaos! Well, she was right in a way: people voted against the Conservatives, and it appears we may be getting a chaotic coalition with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party a party against gay rights, against women's rights, climate-change deniers and creationists, founded by a terrorist. 

  • It appears that young people voted in their droves. Previously younger voters felt that politicians don't listen to them so they don't vote: this is a self-fulfilling prophecy as if they don't vote, politicians won't cater to them. They cater to their core voters and their target demographics. Now that young voters are becoming a powerful demographic, politically speaking, politicians will see that they are a force to be reckoned with and will have to factor this into any future plans.

  • In conversations with friends they asked me what I wanted to happen. Obviously my dream would have been for a LibDem majority, but that was never going to happen. So, realistically my best outcome would have been for a 'progressive alliance' between the LibDems, Labour, Greens and SNP. This could still happen - it would be a minority government, still, on a 'confidence and supply' arrangement, but I think this would be a lot more palatable to the majority of the UK than a minority party with the DUP on side.
But we'll see what happens. Since beginning this post three days ago, things haven't become much clearer: Theresa May's advisers have resigned, calls are rising for her to resign with Boris Johnson being touted as the next Prime Minister (we'll see what happens at the 1922 Committee today!), Jeremy Corbyn has said he is prepared to propose an alternative Queen's Speech, the Brexit talks begin next week, leading Brexiteers are back in favour in the cabinet, and across my Facebook I see people planning protests and marches.

One thing is for sure, British Politics: The Soap Opera - Season Two is shaping up to be just as bonkers as last year!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

Theresa May was right. As much as it galls me to even type those words, she was right when she said that this was the most important election. It is. It is a chance for change.

For many people who voted Leave in the referendum it was a protest vote: they felt that their voices were not being heard so they let loose a howl of frustration at years of government austerity that was channelled by a campaign built on lies and emotional manipulation into a misguided anger towards "unelected" bureaucrats in Brussels. Really their anger should have been at our own parliament and problems that have very little, in reality, to do with the machinations of the European Union.

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Now we have a chance to actually make our voices heard. In this country, towards our own leaders, a protest vote for things that can make a positive difference to people in this country.

Theresa May is a disingenuous puppet, propped up on her Iron Throne by the most degenerate press moguls in the world. The reason she has refused to take part in any live debates is because without a carefully scripted response she cannot speak beyond meaningless slogans and patronising platitudes. She says that she has 'debates' every week in PMQ's - yes, because she knows the questions that are going to be asked and her lackeys will have spent the morning deciding what she is going to say in reply.

Macbeth: Act Five, Scene Five

And she's getting scared. Polls are narrowing, and opinion, and patience, is beginning to wane. Her decision to call a snap election is beginning to look like political suicide. Personally I can't understand how anyone could support a party that flip-flops on policy, whose leader has changed her mind multiple times: if she can't be trusted to speak frankly to this country, how does anyone expect that she can deal with representatives from twenty-seven other countries? 

If Theresa May's version of Brexit really is the most important thing to a voter, to the point that they are willing to overlook the crises in every element of public life (the NHS, schools, social care, mental health provision, food banks, inflation, wage-stagnation), to support the most elite of the elites, to bring back fox hunting, to prop up a party that supplies weapons to regimes that support terrorism, that help their friends and treat the rest of the populace with thinly veiled contempt, then I weep for the future of this country.

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I am angry. I am hopeful.

All I can do it use my voice. My vote.
People who feel that their vote doesn't matter; this is your opportunity to matter. To shout. To direct your rage towards those who actually deserve it.
If you don't speak you cannot expect to be heard.