Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year blog! Looking back at 6 months of meanderings and the privileges of sharing

Happy New Year blog! You are just over 6 months have 4! (count em) 4 official followers! Some people have RSS’d you!! You’ve had over 3500 hits in the past 6 months!!!

As is the way at this time of year – it’s often useful to look back at events and experiences of the last 6 or 12 months, weigh up and contemplate successes and failures and have some kind of plan for 2012.  Since beginning this blog I’ve had discussions with people, received feedback and begun to read the blogs of others.

So here are my thoughts on blogging so far.

The aim.

It’s hard to know if I should currently count my blog as a ‘success’….. doing so would possibly imply that it had some kind of aim.. and I’m not sure what the aim of it was to start with to be honest. I wanted a place just to put down thoughts to myself which perhaps others could share, reflect comment on…. to show things I make, create, write… to share photos I’ve taken and to attempt to document both my intellectual and artistic journey. I also occasionally use it for thoughts around my academic work.  I guess what I’ve struggled to do is to refine it down to one single thing which I think in terms of  blog ‘effectiveness’  (i.e communicating a single message) is traditionally not thought of as a good thing – but in terms of personal benefit I think it is. The blog is not just about my passions or my work or wholly biographical, wholly evidence based or wholly arts based. It is a combination of these things, because I am a combination of these things. I found it incredibly hard to define myself through one single activity or discipline or pursuit, and I rather think that perhaps similar to twitter this diversity, I would argue is a good thing.

As humans we are inherently habitual creatures and as Bourdieu writes, our experiences of everyday life and our place in the social settings/structures within which we are situated often lead us to ways of acting or ways of being which encourage us to replicate learned behaviour. Perhaps the continual stream of diverse subjects/topics coupled with a conflicting  a lack of narrative (i.e mainly individual and unrelated blog posts) encourage not only small bites of knowledge dissemination or thinking points, and dialogue across disciplines,  but also in addition (as is the way with this blog) combining art with this – will encourage the followers to interpret and reflect on their own experience in order to succumb to the often common modern human reflex which is to ‘order ‘ or to ‘make sense’ of everything. Again I view this as a positive thing. All to often in life we are taught to expect the linear neat ‘story’ this is demonstrated through our telling of history to the simple childhood fairytale. Its is an uncomfortable truth however that this is never really the case.

Whilst mostly blog posts have no specific narrative the one story that currently does emerge throughout is my story, as I am the sole creator of this blog. My story is inevitably told then perhaps covertly by demonstrating the topics I am interested in and more overtly by the inclusion of an element of biographical material, this which needs on to my next thinking point….

To share or not to share – that is no longer a question…

Blogs spring up for all sorts of reasons and I guess like twitter its entirely up to the individual how little or how much they disclose, or what level or personal topics they cover.  At first I approached the blog with an intention of the ‘I’ remaining more removed from my writing. However unexpectedly as I began to write it seems that it became easier for me to express things… I also made another significant discovery. The word press site management functions enable me to see the search terms that people entered into google to arrive at my blog and I was really surprised as to the things that were coming up – a lot of the time they were related to productions, artists, theorists that I had mentioned but often they were more personal:

  • My PhD supervisor shouts at me
  • PhD student expectations
  • PhD first year unhappy
  • PhD I feel alone
  • The body

There were a number of others, but I realised how the internet could be used to create meaning. As well as providing an element of personal catharsis I began to realise the potential of the internet to act as a type of virtual support for people who were experiencing the same/similar things whether positive or negative. By revealing the truth about our lives and revealing our authentic selves and to remove as far as possible the conscious effort to ‘self present’ ourselves.. the possibility that stigma around certain experiences may be removed, and perhaps in a most idealistic sense – support could be given even if no interaction between reader/blogger ever occurs.  I noticed that as my posts became more honest and I revealed deeper things so did others. So they benefitted as well – in a way. Also I find the roots of my internet meanderings often come down to some basic philosophical things – life, death, love, family, food, sex, leisure – this perhaps reflects my own values and past/current experiences. Also my research – concerned with the experience of ageing often highlights these basic things. As we grow older and our worlds shrink, our bodies change and we approach the end of life inherently we appreciate and see things differently. The basic principles are often the most important and I guess so far my feelings around the issues brought to my attention all add up to the simpler and most fundamental things in life. It’s difficult and it becomes almost meaningless to attempt an over intellectualisation of the theory/issues/context surrounding the humanistic experience of ageing particularly when published in the blogsphere. I want it to be accessible. Not aimed at academics but to somehow use a language that speaks to everyone.

The future of this blog

So what’s in store for 2012? I guess for me and for the blog? I currently have 76 posts pending covering ideas for research, art, creativity, ageing, biography and other ideas. I hope to have a greater focus on my photography work and on my research which I hope will be of interest. I still have a number of reflection around courses I’ve attended and productions to write up which I hope to get done before I go back to work. I guess next year you can expect more of the same but with new stuff too – telling my story and the story of others. I expect that at times you will find it beautiful, uncomfortable, interesting, confusing and hopefully inspiring and thought provoking too. I currently plan to maintain this blog until September 2013. Then after that perhaps will act as documentary evidence of a transitionary time for me. Anyhow, whatever happens I hope somehow you get something out of it, even if you don’t always agree with it.

So, I’ll sign off now, I don’t think I will get a chance to post tomorrow so I guess from me I have to say ‘Happy New Year’ and thanks for following and commenting.. .. maybe on New Years eve you are off out to do something exciting…. maybe you are staying in and rejoicing in domestic bliss.. maybe you’re going to drink a bottle of Jack Daniels and wish the whole fucking pantomime would go away.. whatever happens I will see you on the other side…and maybe.. just maybe.. 2012 is going to be our year…


The Bullet & The Base Trombone/ The Morpeth Carol at Bristol Ferment

Suddenly its winter and I realise that I still have a lot of performances from this year to write up. It was the promise of  current production of The Morpeth Carol (Bristol Old Vic showing until the 17th of December)  that prompted me to remember the jungles and the battlefields of  the WIP showing of The Bullet and the Base Trombone  back in July as part of Bristol Ferment. The months have flown, although the memory of the performance is still clear in my head and I’ve been contemplating it for quite some time.  It was a lesson in the power of sound.. (so much so that I was wandering around rock pools in Wales with a Dictaphone last summer) but most significantly in the power of  imagination.

As usual I try and approach these things with an open mind – and I’ve given up trying to predict what could possibly be presented during this type of theatre and just try and go with whatever it is.  Suffice to say that the Bullet and the Base Trombone was my first sound based performance so I was excited in discovering what that actually meant.

As the performance began I am the first to admit that I was completely confused as to how much of this was actually real – I mean it sounded so real. And the story well – these things do happen don’t they? There are lands that colonist conquered with their silly wigs and western ideologies, and well we see conflict on the news today all the time, right?

The sparcity of the stage made the experience more atmospheric. It was like my mind had room to construct the scene (although I did spend the first five minutes staring at the equipment compulsively thinking ‘I wonder what that button does?)   A story told by a man alone on a stage surrounded by people.  The story of an orchestra or those behind the music.

Can you see them standing there?

The man told us of music. Of the construction of music. Of how the notes were geographical, like islands in his mind. I don’t read music. But I can see the islands too.

The man told us of an orchestra. Of the people and the lives behind the music. And there was a jungle and a bird. A beautiful beautiful bird that sang so hauntingly and sadly.   A jungle with people who knew their environment so well. The orchestra were on a mission – to play music all around the world – but the world they stumbled into was one devoid of music and full of conflict. People with guns. No birds sang here. I don’t remember what happened really. How the players strayed so close to the conflict zone, how they were discovered, how the girl with the cello was held at gun point. ‘Play’ the child had said to her. The children watched and listened fascinated– until eventually as they grew bored she was shot in the ankle and left for dead. Maybe the bird sang again after that, maybe the women crawled to shelter, maybe some of the orchestra were reunited… but what of the others?

‘That’s all I’ve got folks’ said the man, swiftly disappearing into the shadows.


We sat for a moment. Quietly stunned.

Well. After that ferment experience I was properly self-prepped for the potential of my own internal response to another sound based performance.  What the previous show had taught me is to listen, but perhaps importantly that I could still apply my imagination.  I’m not sure grown ups do this very often. Children, yes, but grown ups? What did I imagine?

  • I’d imagine I can deliver that for you on time.
  • I’d imagine you’ll receive the invoice in a week or so.
  • I’d imagine the computer will be fixed soon.
  • I’d imagine that all those pizza delivery leaflets will eventually block the access to my front door

The Morpeth Carol was a different kind of story… but one where I still could exercise my imagination.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin..

A small intimate studio. Anybody fancy a Christmas cuddle? Five performers, five scripts, five desk lamps. Some crunchy snow-gravel.

So. Er.. Are they just going to read it then?

Once again I soon learnt that taking away the traditional trappings of the theatre suddenly made my ears work better.  Sometimes I get a flinching moment of anxiety… but where is all the stuff? You mean it’s just us and them? So we listened…. And we looked…. And they looked back.

It was like a bedtime story – well one where all the reindeers died anyhow. A Northern town, a small child who saw everything, a grown child, a man as old as life itself. A drunk mother, a father that wasn’t much good at anything. I squirmed at the violent bits. Felt that apathy of those working in retail. The universe worked in unequal and inexplicable ways, but as the old man once said – the specific workings of the universe were not really that important.

Snow crunched, the wind howled, sirens wailed. The story unfolded rapidly and all drawing toward an inevitable Christmas conclusion….

Or was it?

A poignant, sincerely performed and clever production subtly questioning the meanings of Christmas, tradition, class, race, family and gifts.

Shame on me for being such a bloody humbug this year.

Sleepdogs and Bristol Ferment present The Morpeth Carol  which runs at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until December the 17th 2011.

A certified clown!! the end of clowning part I

Today was officially the end of clown school.  Luckily I could make the lesson and I’m so glad I did.  It’s all a bit emotional for us clowns tonight. We have made such good friends and learnt so much about ourselves.  I will do a proper write up on my progress this year  just as soon as I have had some chance to reflect.For now here is my official certificate and feedback from the rest of my troupe as to how the other clowns viewed me or my memorable moments. I’m really looking forward to next term – getting up early to sign up at the folk house was a good ideas as all the places went within 24 hours! Four of my current troupe will joining a range of other stage II clowns next term. New playmates and it’s a mix of ‘professionals’ ’emergers’ and hobbyists!!!  Am I becoming clown dependent? ;-0

So thank you clowns and thank you Holly..for fun, trust, laughter, love, seeing and healing.

Tales of Christmas past #1 The Invisible Christmas

The building looked different to how I’d seen it previously.. that is before the guests had arrived.  The hall was large and it was the only area that both guests and volunteers had access to. In the corner a TV blared. Groups of tables and chairs were set out, next to areas for clothing distribution and a hatch were guests were given hot drinks and food.  Bowls of crisps, sweets and biscuits were everywhere. This felt slightly odd.  Creating a party atmosphere was perhaps well intended but seemed a little disingenuous to the reality of the circumstances.

Regardless of the training sessions I’d attended I felt apprehension.  The situation, we had been warned, could be unpredictable.  Violence sometimes occurred but this was usually outside and between guests. The biggest threat was overdose. The year before a guest had died at the shelter on New Years Eve. Although beds were checked every 15 mins the wheezing ‘or death rattle’ had not been identified in time.  Most guests I’d been told, had been philosophical about this. ‘He had died with a warm meal inside him in a safe bed surrounded by his mates’.  ‘God bless’ they wrote in the art workshop the next day.

I was working front of house – so this meant companionship, tea fetching and board games although my first official task was toilet duty.  Drugs and alcohol were not permitted but addiction, I witnessed, was a relentless master.  Toilet checks were performed under the neon lights every 15 minutes for substance use, overdose or other illicit activity. There was no real bother on any of my shifts.

The volunteers were plenty. They outnumbered the guests on some evenings and encompassed a wide range of people. Food was donated generously, was in excess at times and of top quality. Some of Bristol’s best chefs were doing shifts in the kitchen. Three meals a day were given out, sweets crisps and biscuits in-between and the shelter tried to ensure that no one was turned away from the 50 beds available. Most guests moved in and stayed for the two week Christmas period. This was usually the most stable place they had been for the entire year normally moving on every night.

The guests were of all ages, and came from all walks of life. Some were local residents who were alone at Christmas and wanted company.  Some were ‘hidden homeless’ – who survived by kipping on mates sofas and gave their usual hosts a break over the festive period.  Most though were homeless the year through and stuck in unbreakable cycles of addiction, unemployment, mental health illness and prostitution.

It was a Christmas bubble. We all knew that the situation wasn’t real. That nothing would change. But for those two weeks of the year, life was made more bearable for the guests.  Jokes were exchanged, games were lost and won.  Second hand clothes were traded.  Tea was drunk and songs were sung.

It was difficult to see how some of the guests had ended up there.  Clever, funny, personable, educated.  Others illustrated the miserable and mostly hopeless reality of those living in the grip of addiction.  Missing person cards were handed out to us at the beginning of the shift in the hope that amongst the guests a specific friend or loved one could be identified. Occasionally people were recognised, but often they didn’t want to be found ‘Give them the message I’m alrite’  They would say.

Nicholas was seventeen. He had problems with his family and at school and had been crashing on mate’s sofas for over a year.  The first thing I noticed about him was how clever he was. If he was engaged in something he was really bright. He would win at nearly all the games he played and would teach others. He was extremely patient at my totally inability to pick up a lot of the games we played.   Nicholas didn’t have an obvious class A or alcohol addiction (although I’m not medically qualified to make any kind of assessment especially given it was only three shifts I volunteered). He talked about wanting to go to college and said he spent most of his time smoking weed.  I saw so much potential there.  Don’t drop anchor here, I thought.

Edward and Rosa seemed to be a couple –  both alcoholics. They were in their forties would have once been well dressed had it not been for the dirt and tatter of their clothes.  I found them the most difficult to sit with.  He would insult her constantly, both to her face in front of other people. A consistent barrage of verbal abuse.  She had swollen ulcers on her hands and feet – infected track marks. She seemed indifferent to the constant degradation.

Alan scared me. He was very tall, he may have been in the forces once. He observed the room and stood apart from everyone. He was always watching. Always looking for an opportunity, assessing the power relationships and dynamics in the room.  Street life teaches you a different set of survival skills. There was something intimidating which overwhelmed me yet in a flash it was gone and he was crying like a baby.

Ricardo was from Brazil. I spent my first evening almost exclusively with him.  He was in his twenties. He was a rent boy – and extremely distressed.  I held his hands as he cried for hours. He told me stories of life on the streets, of rape. Of concerns over HIV and the stigma amongst homeless communities about homosexuality.  He had been a dancer. He delighted at dressing up and ransacked the clothing piles for fuchsia fur coats and sequin handbags which quickly got traded for cigarettes and other favours.  The only thing I could do was be with him and see him and hear him for who he was and what he had been through.. He cried so many tears that night.  I really felt that I had helped.  The next day I was happy to see him again and bounced over to catch up on how he was doing. He didn’t remember me.

It was a year ago I volunteered.  I know I helped but ultimately found it hard to feel good about my contribution. The shelter was over staffed – some shifts even had waiting lists. Food flowed as did the goodwill to almost obscene amounts…what a lot of Christmas spirit…  But where are we the rest of the year I wondered? The shelter struggles to find staff outside of Christmas.  Sure. A brief respite from the trauma and danger of life on the street, but the ‘guests’ in reality were lost.   This was a bitter pill to swallow.  The experience stayed with me but it was a good lesson.  Anyone can be homeless. Anyone can be the victim of abuse or suffer mental illness or become an addict. And it happens all year round.  I decided that it’s more important to contribute in a way which were sustainable and longer term. But I guess most of us didn’t get around to being that altruistic yet.

There are other stories from the shelter of course, but its Christmas and there is shopping to be done and I guess you won’t have much time to read them all.. I’m lucky that I get to choose not to be at the shelter this year. I’ll never forget my experience. I’d like to think that the same ‘guests’ will make it through to 2012 but then ….I will never know.

Copyright © Franko B 2011

Photo taken by artist Franko B – the rest of the collection is well worth seeing: