Lincoln Drill Hall

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Refugee crisis - what crisis?

Perhaps there has always been a refugee crisis somewhere in the world; somewhere so bad that made people like you and me flee for our lives?

We see it with Burma, in the Yemen, but also in Europe. Not that that makes it any worse or indeed better. It is part of the natural order of civilisation; the more powerful oppress the less powerful, so much so sometimes that they have no choice but to up sticks and leave home behind.

They leave Syria and Afghanistan for the Greek Island of Lesvos even when they know both the danger of getting there in the first place and the hell that awaits. Some thought they were lucky to be able to move on to continental Europe until they arrived in Calais. It is simply no good politicians saying that better conditions would only encourage more to come. As if people would actually decide to stay in a war zone? Men, women and child will always flee for their lives if they have too. Civilised nations must always be prepared to offer safety.

The news today out of Lesvos is so horrific. It is of the camp where Maggie and I worked nearly two years ago now. We thought it was bad then; it was nothing in comparison to now.

Civilised and wealthy nations simply have to man up to stop this inhuman treatment; it could after all so easily be any one of us next time.

We must never allow our leaders to forget. The new film Human Flow should help.

Big Give Christmas Challenge

What does Lincoln Drill Hall mean to you?

A place for fabulous Panto?

A place for comedy or great music?

A place for provoking theatre?

The place where children and young people gain confidence through performance?

The place where people with disabilities can come and have fun?

Or, perhaps, its history?

That it was given to the city, for the use of the Lincolnshire volunteers, by the great Lincoln engineer Joseph Ruston who insisted that there should be a kitchen there to provide soup for the poor of the city?

The venue for the massively popular dances in the forties and fifties?

The place where the Rolling Stones performed before their first Top of the Pops?

You can make a big difference to help it continue to be there for the city.

The Lincoln Arts Trust has been entrusted with the running and care of Lincoln Drill Hall. This Christmas we are delighted to have been chosen as part of The Big Give Christmas Challenge (https://www.lincolndrillhall.com/big-give-christmas-challenge-2017/).

Earlier in the year, I and a number of businesses and other key supporters pledged a total of £3,750 to the campaign.  In order to unlock our pledges, the Trust needs to raise the same amount again in a one-week challenge that runs from Midday on the 28th November to Midday on the 5 December 2017.  Each pound donated in that week will unlock a pound of pledges and we are determined to raise the full £3,7500 to give us a fundraising total of £7,500.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Thanks to a generous Arts Council England scheme called Catalyst Evolve we will then be able to take that £7,500 and double it again, meaning a total fundraising income of £15,000.  In reality each pound is worth £4 to us and every penny will be invested in ensuring that we have a huge impact upon young people across the city, giving them chances to take part in the arts.  People like Scarlett who joined our youth theatre and, by the time she went to University, had programmed events on our main stage and served as a trustee:

‘Thank you so much for being such a huge part of my life and helping to make me who I am today.  From a Fishtank (youth theatre) member to a trustee, this building has helped me grow in ways I cannot even express.’

I urge you to join our campaign and to consider donating £10. This will turn into £40 and have a massive benefit for the charity as we aim to continue changing lives, changing place and changing perceptions.

https://www.lincolndrillhall.com/big-give-christmas-challenge-2017



Saturday, 11 November 2017

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats.

2015 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the time I played a very young looking Bishop of Ely in Shakespeare’s Henry V. This line from the first Act has stayed with me over the last fifty years but its resonance has changed. The valiant dead we honour today and indeed sang about in our hymns. This time of year when we remember All Saints and, in All Souls, those whom we love but see no longer, we do awake the remembrance. These days though we have many reminders as in my childhood when wounded servicemen were quite common sights; so too in the 21st century with casualties from Afganistan and Iraq. What has changed is the imperative to renew their feats.

Something seems to have changed, whether in me or more widely. The bellicose reaction of George W Bush to the twin towers is replaced by the way the west now looks on as Syria destroys herself.
A question that perhaps I never expected to ask is whether we can be sufficiently valiant to say no to renewing their deeds. This is not that we don’t honour; it is that we do. It is about politicians being brave enough to say to the electorate, force will not work; our sons and daughters will lose their lives along with the sons and daughters of those whom we oppose, and nothing will change. This is not something that would command universal support and equally it is not the focus of what we are doing today. I am simply reminded by the death of Senator George McGovern who stood against Nixon over the Vietnam war. He came to politics from a distinguished service career and he said after losing the election that if his standing had brought peace one day closer it would have been worth it.

The reading we heard from St Mark’s gospel is about Jesus calling his first disciples. These men followed quite oblivious to their destination, their route or the hazards they may encounter en route. Those whom we honour today may have found themselves in not dissimilar situations. I remember my Uncle, who with my father fought in the first world war, telling me of the jubilation in the streets following the declaration of war. He then fell quiet.

The same is shown in a film I have watched more than almost any, Richard Attenborough’s a Bridge too Far. This is a crazy thing to do; it is an horrific film, showing as it does in graphic detail the consequences of an overly ambitious decision by a great war leader, Field Marshall Montgomery. There is one sequence in the film that always sticks in my mind. Somewhere in then free France, a hall is filled with British army officers chattering nervously; there is an overwhelming air of expectation. We see why as General Sir Brian Horrocks enters; a huge round of applause and this lauded general takes the stage to his obvious delight. He tells his assembled officers what lies in store. It is an ambitious plan. He tells them, it not the easiest party we have been too, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. He goes on with a joked allusion to Henry V at Agincourt. It is perhaps quintessential fiction, but may well be based on truth. The inspiring speech, necessarily skirting round the fears of what the reality might be and we know he has fears since only a little later he discloses them; you didn’t actually believe all that rubbish?

It is inappropriate to draw on the hype of war movies when we are here to remember those who sacrificed actual lives in two world wars and later conflicts, inappropriate but perhaps revealing.
Our reading was from the very start of St Marks gospel, the shortest of the four accounts of Jesus’ life and one where no word is wasted. Jesus made no great speeches to encourage Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, simply the request. So why did they? Was he charismatic as, by all accounts, Horrocks was? Was it just an attractive young man with fresh exciting ideas that made sound men leave all to follow him? They had no idea of what was to come.

I am reminded of another film, that of Churchill in the year preceding the second world war, the Gathering Storm. Churchill is talking about the young civil servant who at great personal risk fed him the secret information that enabled him to bring parliament to appreciate the danger that was mounting in Nazi Germany. He said of the young man and of bravery, ‘it is one thing to undertake a dangerous task blind to its dangers, it is true bravery where fully aware of the dangers that the task is undertaken.

This brings us to the essence of remembrance. Who could have watched the Paralympics without a sense of awe at how these people had overcome the difficulties they live with. It all started with those young men at Stoke Mandeville inspired to take up the life that had so nearly forfeited. They, I believe, may have done what they did in the full knowledge of what lay in store. True bravery for which we give thanks.

This all begs a massive question: if they knew so too did their leaders: Churchill, Bush and Blair. Sometimes it feels with this latter group, the politicians, that they don’t truly think through the consequences of their demands. The demand is massive; can the end possibly justify it? It is the oldest question in the world, but perhaps one that is now at last being asked. We sit in agony as we see Syria destroying herself. We should send the troops in, is the kneejerk reaction that cost so many lives in Iraq and Afganistaan. Perhaps the world is learning however painful it may be.
That though is not our focus today. We remember, we give thanks too for those many, I fear probably like me, who were not so obviously brave, but rather were scared and died in fear. For them too we give thanks, but also for those caught up in the cross fire, the innocent victim, as if any victim was ever anything else. Those whose young lives were stolen from them. All these we honour and give thanks.

But what of Jesus and his call? Do we take a reality check and ignore it? Or for the sake of those whom we remember, respond to it in the faith that by doing so we make the world more like the heaven for which we pray.      

Monday, 30 October 2017

Calais Children

The film Calais Children - a case to answer is a terrible indictment. I would like to say on the British government and that would be entirely true, most particularly the Home Office from top to bottom.

However, and there always is an however. We allow the problem of refugees to disappear from view. It is both too big and too small. Too small because we are talking about a few thousand children who are entitled to come to the UK. Too big because it is difficult to imagine how mass migrations of people seeking a better life either could be stopped or argued against.

The film focuses on the Dubs amendment which caused the British government to promise a place of safety to child refugees particularly those caught in the Calais Jungle.

The film tells the stories of individual children: how they are in near constant danger from adults, authorities and weather. It tells of the cynical approach adopted by Home Office officials and the Home Secretary's refusal to treat numbers as people.

This is the link to the film's website. Please take a look at this trailer

If you want to do something albeit small and you live in Lincoln, please contribute to the CompassionateLincoln collection for both refugees and those homeless closer to home.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Frequency 2017

I'll admit it; however hard I tried I couldn't 'get' Frequency. Until this year.

A couple of years ago, I was given Arduino by my children and made some circuits to see how analogue signals could be translated into digital. It kind of worked. Talking to friends around the city though, I still found myself agreeing that it was all flashing lights and sound.

Until this year; until I saw Daz Disley's Blooms and Bloom (at Lincoln University). He had produced images of space and time from flowers. He could have done it much like cartoons used to be made. Instead he harnessed the power of Boolean logic to translate one into the other.

It is all 01, 01.

Or rather it is capturing the world as we see it in a parallel binary world of millions of tiny spots. These spots, this data whether it be of image, sound or temperature, can then be worked at will.

For me this was shown in the Empire Soldiers virtual reality piece (at the Drill Hall) which took a story from the world and, with a combination of live and virtual performance, translated it into an immersive experience which communicated in a deeply effective way the story.

There is so much more. Log Book in the cathedral; Worldless in the Drill Hall cellar. Deep Data Prototype at Posterngate reminded me of Victorian scientific instruments many, possibly most, of which were beautiful in their own right. Science and Art meets.

What is most exciting is that they now have funding for the next two festivals and so can now plan to reach even further. The Festival has been recognised by no less than the New Scientist

You can visit this year's Festival website






Friday, 6 October 2017

Who was this man, William Smith Williams, who discovered Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte described him as pale, mild, stooping man of about fifty.

We know, or can infer, that his schooling brought him into contact with boys, including Keats, who would go on to careers as significant thinkers and writers. We know that his social group included or was close to some of the most exciting thinking of his time: people such as Ruskin, Thackeray and Elizabeth Gaskell.

He grew up close to theatre land and both had a great love of theatre and a deep knowledge of it. He had a love of painting, Turner in particular; he wrote on the place of Art in Design. He worked for many years for a ground breaking Lithographer, Charles Hullmandel and he wrote on the techniques and impact of Lithography.

Yet, his emergence into the public view was from a position as a book keeper, and it would seem not a very good book keeper.

But who really was William Smith Williams?

The book I am researching sets out to trace whence he came and whither he went to paint a picture of this incredibly creative time in our history which included the groundbreaking shift in the English novel that was Jane Eyre.
WSW's tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery

Monday, 2 October 2017

Lincoln Book Festival 2017 - a personal reflection

The Mona Lisa and the Pre-Raphaelites; Victorian Body Parts and The mysterious Mr Black and the Rooks; Powerful Queens and Medieval Saints; the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor Myth; Historical Romance, the Fascinating story of The Huntingfield Paintress, and Gothic Revival at Scott's St Nicholas Newport. All this and the wonderful gothic flash fiction pieces and local history.

We have drunk deep and drunk very well.

High points? They all were.

If you click on the links you will be taken to some great pieces by Young Journalist, Ellen Lavelle.

Some 350 people wrote a gothic story in exactly 50 words; well most of them did. As I said, in some cases literacy was ahead of numeracy. The quality was high in each of the three classes: Primary, Secondary and Adult. As well as hearing the winners of our competition we heard wonderful pieces by the students of First Story. Well done to all concerned, not least the hard working English teachers and First Story's Writer in Residence, Kerry Drewery.

I move quickly to Dianne Setterfield

Dianne spoke very openly about her gothic novels and what gothic means to her. Two short quotes I will keep with me:

"Death is the counterpoint that enables us to take joy in life"

"I've got no time for Scooby Doo and the ghosts that turn out to be the janitor in disguise"

With Dianne, and Romance writers Janice Preston and Jenni Fletcher,  my understanding of gothic and romantic fiction and how they relate to each other has advanced leaps and bounds: subtle intermeshed depths.

“Romance would not be so enduringly popular if us writers failed to display the freedom and equality of women today”

I unashamedly relish David Starkey's irreverence, and how great to see teenage boys queueing to take a selfie with him. He dug back into medieval England to find the thin line of legitimacy for the tudor dynasty but then exploded it all as a carefully crafted myth.

“The myth is there from the very beginning, they didn’t just win at Bosworth, they won the ideas”

Kirsty Stonell-Walker's stories of the Pre-Raphaelite women, set alongside Kathryn Hughes entertaining survey of Victorian body parts, helped me to see much more clearly a hugely creative time in our history.

Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood , strong women talking of strong Queens has to be a winner with comments like:

"I'm an Elizabeth Girl all the way - Take your side, Mary or Bess!

"It could never be said that these queens were mere cyphers"

Janina Ramirez held her audience in the palm of her hand as she unpacked saints and sainthood. On my bookshelf are the six volumes of Butlers Lives of the Saints. Yet I walk the coast of Northumberland and Cornwall and feel beneath my feet the prints of saints who have gone long before. I now see that sainthood digs much deeper than two millennia; our saints go back to our very beginnings.

The penultimate event was a morning on Local history revealing yet again the riches of Lincolnshire.

Topping and tailing the festival week were Martin Kemp's fascinating insights into who the Mona Lisa actually was, and the Fascinating story of The Huntingfield Paintress by Pamela Holmes.

Gilbert Scott's St Nicholas Newport was the perfect place to finish with an afternoon on Gothic Revival.