Lincoln Drill Hall

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Titus Andronicus - an Elizabethan play

The RSC's production at the Barbican of Shakespeare's most bloody play is a triumph. It has only a short while still to run, so hurry.

I first encountered Titus on my Humanities Degree when we were looking at Classical influence and, of course, the story in Ovid's Metamophoses of Philomel. I saw and was stunned by the film Titus starring Anthony Hopkins.

It is a play about revenge, but also about what happens when we slavishly adhere to customs. It is set in a Rome that is crumbling, with leaders squabbling over primacy.

It was written in an England where there was worry of who might succeed Elizabeth. The memories of the bloody revenge between Catholics and Protestants were very fresh in the minds of all.

We watch it in an England where leadership is in doubt, where factions argue viciously about the rights of wrongs of being part of the EU - David Starkey famously described Henry VIII as the first Brexiteer. Perhaps we watch it when we are becoming anxious about who might succeed Elizabeth?

The production is very strong. With so much blood it is so easy to fall into farce. It didn't; there were much needed funny parts, but for the majority of the time we were left to struggle with the agony the characters were enduring. The personification of evil in Aaron is interesting. He is 'not one of us'.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Blue Passports - has it come to that?

An old friend, who has lived in Australia for many years, posted a passionate piece about taking back control, about not allowing ourselves to be ruled by unelected men in Brussels. This friend is probably one of the brightest people I know. He read History at Cambridge and can talk knowledgeably about anything.

What he doesn't know is that we have changed.

When I was a little boy growing up in the shadow of the war with my former soldier father, I made my own blue passport. I copied meticulously the words of Her Britannic Majesty.

Now, many years later in the small provincial city where I live, my fellow countrymen and women are from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also Spain, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland. My friend who only visits occasionally wouldn't know that. He couldn't; it is ordinary life. I admit not for everyone, but I do believe for many and how much more so in larger cosmopolitan cities.

To want your blue passport back is like wanting empire back, wanting black and white television, wanting failing sports teams. They have all gone.

What we now have is something so much better, enriched by different cultures.

I am now first and foremost a European. I will always proudly be both British and English. None are mutually exclusive.

I don't want to go back.

I still have my old blue passport. It is in my drawer with my toy soldiers and the school reports my mum kept, and that is where it should remain.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

It began with Iron and Steel

I had never realise why the EU began with The Iron and Steel Community.

I should have done. I've been writing about it for four years now, with War on Wheels on WW2 and Ordnance on Equipping the Army for the Great War. Iron, Steel and Coal are the sinews of war. By putting the industries of the former waring nations together, the risk of war was massively reduced. So too the capacity for building a lasting and prosperous peace.

I am indebted to Bill Hayes on Facebook for drawing my attention to a short video, by historian David Reynolds, that explains it all.

My researches took me to the mid nineteenth century when Britain, France and Germany had each developed massive arms industries which only grew more powerful through the demands made on them by two World Wars.

It also reminded me of a piece I wrote eighteen months ago and which I had forgotten had been published in the Lincolnshire Echo.

May our leaders watch and learn.
Devastation in France - 1918

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Guardian - thank you

The Guardian has done a remarkable job this year in two particular ways. It has kept the plight of refugees in view and it has not faltered on its opposition to Brexit.

Alongside this editor in chief, Katherine Viner, wrote a thought provoking essay on what journalism is in the digital era. In this she made no attempt to paper over those places where we might think the Guardian slipped up or indeed worse. It showed the Guardian warts and all but with e true vision that can sustain this nation.

Refugees are I am sure a pain not least to the Greeks on the Island of Lesvos or to the French in Calais and Paris. Pain they may be, but human they are also. I remain ashamed that it took a spell working with them on Lesvos for me to realise that there but for the grace of God, or chance, go all of us. They are each our brother and sister. They may seem unimportant in the blaring sound of Trump, the lunacy of Brexit or indeed our own daily cares. The Guardian stands up and reminds us that they are there and matter.

It was the writer of the new testament letter to James who reminded, presumably James, that faith without works is nothing. We could paraphrase and say words without works.

Today, as I write, Guardian journalists are waiting to take calls and donations for the Christmas Appeal which is for those without homes and those who had fled their homes.

Thank you.

Sunday, 26 November 2017


Apparently it IS our problem: our productivity is stagnant. The amount 'produced' by each worker is not growing and so there isn't the money to pay people more.

Hold on. As Ian Jack says in today's Guardian, only 10% of our economy is in manufacturing where workers produce things; the remainder is all about services, people doing things for other people.

I can understand productivity in manufacturing, where the use of machines can enable a worker to produce more. The Guardian Magazine article on robots helped me to understand the application of productivity to distribution centres.

Where I struggle is how productivity relates to the rest of the economy i.e. most of it. Let's take some examples.

Ian Jack talks of Baristas. Does increasing productivity mean that a machine will serve me my coffee?

There is much talk of the care sector. Are we to be looked after by machines, rather than people? The same might be said at the other end of life; are children in nurseries to be minded by machines? Of course not. Indeed if we are to improve the quality of care, we should have more rather than fewer carers.

The creative industries are said to be economically important. As a writer of non-fiction, I can vouch for productivity improved by using Google for research and my lap top for writing. But what of those whose work is what it is, because it is made by hand: Maggie's hand blown glass. What of musicians, what of actors and other who delight audiences? What of writers?

We can all see productivity savings in retail with DIY checkouts. As the Guardian leader says, one fifth of Amazon's employees are robots. I guess larger rubbish and recycling bins are examples of productivity.

Again, quoting the Guardian leader, millions of clerical jobs are now done by machines. This image from the Army Centre for Mechanisation at Chilwell in WW2, says a lot.

I would like to understand just what better productivity produces. Is it good for the many young people who now deliver parcels for their living? Another Guardian article by Sam Knight, on the billions of sandwiches we eat, highlighted the need for robot sandwich makers when we leave the EU since, apparently, the native British worker doesn't want to.

To my mind the question is bigger, and is much more about 'what is work on a post industrial society' and the related question of how the national cake should be shared out. Robert Peston touches on this and much more in his new book, WTF The question of a universal income needs to be explored. We are heading for a society of a mix of a small amount of high paid highly skilled work and low paid work that can't be done by robots.

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. it just gets worse and worse.

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?

A place when we can meet and belong?

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 (

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.