Saturday, 26 July 2014

Karl's Trans Survivial Guide

Just a short post to signpost you to my partner Karl's blog. He has been reflecting on his experience of transitioning and put together a trans survival guide. Whilst it will be particularly useful for those thinking about female to male transitioning or gender discomfort issues it also provides an excellent resource for others who wish to understand more about the process involved of transitioning.

Another Day Festivating in MK

Jaipur Kawa Brass Band

This Indian Brass Band from Rajasthan were on as part of the free family section of the International Festival yesterday.  They are a troop of musicians, a juggler and a dancer - so not exactly the type of brass you find at the Miners Gala.

They started to wander around but as the crowd grew around them at their first stop on a grassy bank it was clear they were going to be performing in the one spot. It really worked as a performance space. The juggler was also an expert of the spinning top which was fun to watch.

If you want to catch them they're playing Festival Central at 12pm on Sunday and then are off to do a couple of performances at the World Picnic later in the day.

Alton Wahlberg

Alton, who is also known as The Bearded Busker and has an excellent You Tube channel was playing his humour filled set in The Stables acoustic tent, a beautiful Arabic influenced structure with a breathtaking interior.

He opened with The World Will Spin, a beautiful tune which gently flowed over you. This was followed by Questions which was inspired by the questions kids ask their parents. I loved this song, it was clever and funny as was Live for Today, (which was less kid friendly in places).

24 Years was a moving song which was really moving, describing an elderly marathon runner who had been running for charity since his wife had died.

He also did some comedy covers of Informer, Gangster Paradise and Prince of Bel Air theme tune which worked well and sounded great.

Afterwards the people I was chatting with all agreed he was absolutely excellent and we had loved this set. Another triumph in this tent which provides excellent music for free during the festival.

Seth Lakeman

Seth Lakeman was one of the festival sell out gigs and he and his band didn't disappoint. He was playing the Spiegeltent which is a beautiful structure on the outside and a bit like a village hall on the inside. Fold up wooden chairs, which are on occasion a bit wobbly surround trestle tables with thick cloths on them. This environment worked for him to a large extent, but it did restrict dancing.

I have to admit I have a certain indifference to some of Seth's music until he picks up the fiddle and something magical happens. Last night the first half of the set was dominated by the non-fiddle stuff but it was much stronger than when I'd heard him before. The reason for the improvement was the addition of Lisbee Stainton, who recently played a great solo gig The Stables. The two look and sound great together and working together seems to bring out the best in each performer, loved them as a duo.

The point the real magic started for me was when Seth played The Shores of Normandy, which for me was the highlight of the set. For anybody who didn't watch the coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings, Seth accompanied the veteran who wrote this song at the anniversary remembrance event. He was asked to carry on playing it and so has incorporated it into his set. It is an amazing song, a true lament which is spine tingling and tear jerking.....a modern Psalm.

From that point he worked up to the faster stuff, culminating the main part of the gig with Kitty Jay. I loved this faster stuff.....he and the band were excellent.

Friday, 25 July 2014

More Festivating at IFMK and MK Fringe Festival

Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds

This was my MK International Festival treat. I've wanted to see the Shepherds, who fuse my two favourite types of music, for years but never quite managed it. On Monday evening I wasn't disappointed as I heard the poetry of punk sung to music played on folk instruments.

To put this in context I am part of the generation which grew up on the Comic Strip....that bit too young for both Python and Not the Nine O'Clock News. Adrian Edmondson was one of my comedy heroes as a teenager. To see him singing my favourite songs was amazing, quality wouldn't have really mattered, although I was glad the quality was excellent. Edmondson and the two other musicians with him were really good players.

There were a few particularly strong songs in the set, which wasn't exclusively punk...The Smiths, Madness and Motorhead all crept in. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, White Riot, Rise and Girlfriend in a Coma all stood out for me. There was moving moment was when he announced Ace of Spades was Rik Mayall's favourite song, before playing it.

Lucie Lom: Les Reveurs (The Dreamers)

Ok, I've talked about these figures before. They have been moving around MK though & I wanted to talk about the way they worked in different contexts. In the Fred Roche Gardens they were most artistic. They seemed least out of place there, in the shadow of the dome of the Church of Christ the Cornerstone. It is in some ways a lost part of MK and they were almost like the ghosts of men who originally devised this new town whose dreams and visions have probably been fulfilled and destroyed in equal measure in the MK of today.

In the artificial atmosphere of the shopping centre they had less character, just confusing the kids as to whether they were living statues or not.

Ray Lee: Chorus

I encountered the large tripods in the Fred Roche Gardens where they looked like something out of one of those late '70's/ early '80's sci fi programmes which often included some future after nuclear war.

The ambient sounds coming out filled the gardens, spilling out on to Midsummer Boulevard. The office workers taking their usual route too and from the shopping centre for lunch had a mixture of mild amusement and WTF looks on their faces. This was the sensible reaction.

Yet the local glitterartsy who seemed to be out in force in the early summer sunshine had their usual earnest looks and polite smiles.

Me, I laid on the grass listening hoping in vain the bass beats would come in and the tempo would increase, which of course I knew they never would. Rather the intense sounds continued to merge like some kind of early '90's chill out room for those who would have been prog rock fans if born a decade earlier.


Pup tents with artists plying their trade alongside local charities, including the Red Cross (whose tent is pictured below) and activists. This was a real community arts event, as all the Fringe events have tended to be. However, the site in the City Square, was like a sun trap and it was too hot to stay around for long.

Hilarie Bowman had the advantage you could sit under a tree and watch her short performance on climate change which was seeking to educate people about the fee and dividend campaign.


Rob Winn, the local Venture FX guy, was part of the LoveMK Volunteer Collective who were producing a World Vision child friendly space and giving out copies of Is it Morning by Deborah Fielding and illustrated by Toria Macleod which went out with Greenbelt tickets one year.

Extremely talented local artist Suzanna Raymond, whose photography and film I have enjoyed at MK Gallery exhibitions and events in the past was there with her Invisible Sketch project which invited people to draw their journeys.

The Actors Tent were in the amphitheatre doing a version of Whose Line is It Anyway. I have to say if it had been a bit cooler I may have enjoyed it more. They were a talented group of young local actors doing their best in difficult weather.
Festival of Nations

The Festival of Nations was the final MK Fringe event and involved a range of artists inside and outside of the Arts Central building.

Once I finally got in and up to the third floor, which is a mission in itself with the signing in and out involved where everybody has to stand around one book I caught the second half of the Harmanics set. This was a great set of traditional folk songs. I particularly enjoyed their rendition of Scarborough Fayre.

It was really good to see the place buzzing and lots of people from different ethnic backgrounds buzzing about.

During the time I was in there they had a couple of storytelling sets which showed why it is an art form. I underline this point having seen an email with a request from John Lewis in Milton Keynes recently which was asking for volunteers to come in and do storytelling slots over the summer. This email made me so angry because as I say telling is an art form done by professionals such as Theresa Kelleher and Red Phoenix who were giving great sets at Arts Central for the Festival or John Row who wasn't there but you may have seen at Glastonbury, Guildfest or Cambridge Festivals amongst other places. At the very least John Lewis should have been employing young actors such as those from the Actors Tent if they wanted more of the reading out of books and dressing up type of variation on the theme. The email and practice underlines how this apparently ethical business often still has a long way to go. (Anyway rant over and back to the festival).

The whole Festival of Nations was a testament to the hard work of a group of people including Chinwe Osaghae who was one of the key organisers. Chinwe is a poet, playwright, artistic lifecoach and a whole lot more and is one of the people based in Arts Central. Karen Kodish is also based in this arts hub. She is a professional photographer who was running around a lot during the event and I look forward to seeing some of the work she produces.

My favourite exhibit in the accompanying art exhibition was Melanie Watts Street Art from Valparaiso which was almost animation cartoon like in style but mixed the traditional with the modern in a clever way.

Tunde Jegede in the Pentalum

The Pentalum produced by Architects of Air and made in Nottingham is amazing. It is like a huge inflatable which you go and walk about inside, through a range of amazing shapes and colours. It has several domes which are connected. It's located in the shopping centre. At £4 a go for wander round I'd recommend it.

I went in during the week and felt it was a special space which is probably best described as walking about inside the Tardis and that I really wanted the chance to chill in it at a point there weren't loads of kids getting excited and to hear some music in it.  That's how I found myself getting a ticket to listen to a kora and cello player when I don't really do classical music. Now it turns outs I really like the sound of the kora which is a 21 string instrument and can bear the cello when I have pretty shapes and colours to distract me and there is space I can wander around in when my attention goes.

Tunde Jegede's music was I have to admit beautiful and whilst I sat in a pod a little bit removed from the main dome he was in I could see real music lovers were absolutely captivated watching him play. I recognised one or two of the people in the audience as people who I know have a really professional knowledge and know what's outstanding, they were lapping it up.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Festivating in MK Day 2

Yesterday was too hot in MK and so little festivating was done by this blogger. I did happen upon the following during a wander through town though. They are part of the main Milton Keynes International Festival which launched yesterday.

SKRYF with words by Jackie Kay

The mechanical sandwriter was doing it's stuff down near the station. It is part of a project where phrases will be left around the town. It's an interesting idea and fun, if some what slow, to watch emerging.

Lucie Lom: Les Reveurs (The Dreamers)
These figures are great and it was fun to watch people go up to them trying to work out if they were human statues. They really appear to have caught people's attention.

I really liked them and thought they had something of the Nye Bevan about them in terms of the 1950's style their clothing has.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Festivating in MK Day 1

Today saw the start of Milton Keynes Festival Fringe; a week long event which runs partly concurrently with the Milton KeynesInternational Festival 2014 which begins tomorrow. During these two festivals I am going to be doing some brief reviews of what I've experienced each day.

Upper Room by Deborah Last

Upper Room is an installation of colourful, yet not overpowering, body prints over beautifully drawn pictures of the anatomy, some external, some internal, some quite full skeletons, some partial representations. It mixes the visual art with interviews recorded with participants about how they feel about their bodies and how they felt about the body printing process.

The interviews are played in a way which means they overlap each other and I found myself moving from one to another as snatches caught my interest.  

This feminist exhibition in the main library in Milton Keynes from now until 24th July 10am - 4pm explores notions of beauty and self-worth amongst women, some of whom have faith and some of whom don't. It seeks to explore femininity and faith - be that faith in an external force or faith in oneself. I found it fascinating to hear the answers given which indicated this was a liberating process for many participants.

Breathing Room by Anna Berry

The Breathing Room in the Shopping Centre is a fascinating piece from Anna Berry. It contains what can best be described as trees of paper cones made from reclaimed paper which has come from commercial outlets in the centre and outside charities, not for profit groups and political parties. These trees breathe in and out making a wonderful sound as they do so.

I am not sure of the science between this but it is a wonderful sight to behold which initially doesn't look that magnificent but as you stand there it grabs you and feel yourself drawn in. The sound of the paper breathing which can best be described as a cross between the sound of the sea and the sound of the forest is soothing and gentle.

Standing opposite John Lewis, just up from Next and adjacent to an empty shop where they are displaying plans for the extension of the shopping centre this installation looks wonderfully out of place and eccentric. In the mist of the generic stores designed to make us spend is something free to make us breathe and help us be.

To me it highlights what Milton Keynes misses in its centre, independent quirky shops which give a city life and the chance to breathe with individuality. This installation is open from 11-4pm daily. As with the previous exhibition it is free to view.

Pristine in Blue

This production by Neil Beardsmore and put on by The Play's The Thing Theatre Company is on at 7:30pm each evening until Saturday at Arts Central, above the main railway station in Milton Keynes. The studio in this venue wasn't ideal, especially in the heat. The audience were having to fan themselves with the programme sheets and the view of the stage was for many of us restricted.

That said the play itself was well worth the £8 entry. It is an examination in part of the anti-capitalist movement and how social movements operate and are policed. The other main theme is love and the nature of love and commitment.

The way in which patriarchy plays out in left wing politics on occasions is well examined as are aspects of what it means to be of mixed heritage in contemporary society.

The writing, as I heard somebody say on the way out, reminded them of John Osborne's Don't Look Back in Anger and I can see why. This was the story in part of an angry young man.

The young cast of three: Sheetal Kappor, Shaun Cowlishaw and David Hemsted were excellent and were warmly applauded at the end of the show.

If you get the chance to see it I would highly recommend this show to you, but I would say take a bottle of drink in with you and a fan if you have one.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Acts and Omissions Reviewed

An ecclesiastical equivalent of the Archers written for the type of people who spend August Bank Holiday tweeting about the depth of the mud at Greenbelt. That's the short summary of Acts and Omissions, the new novel, by Catherine Fox.

The book follows Bishop Paul and a number of other clergy in the fictional diocese of Lindchester over the course of a year; 2013. Amongst these clergy are the warm and gentle Dominic and the practical and compassionate Wendy. These characters have a parish ministry and the portrait of them painted by the writer displays real affection. The church hierarchy are described in a way which veers between the touching and the barbed. This perhaps reflects the authors own experience as the wife of the dean of Liverpool's Anglican cathedral.

The book is, as I said, fiction but there is something of the ethnographic about it. In her description of the clergy, their spouses, family, friends and co-workers as well as in her geographical descriptions there is well observed real life which creeps in. The skill Fox has is to weave different snapshots of the world around her into a imaginative whole.

One example of how Fox turns the very real into the fictional could be seen when Jane, an abrasive, yet caring and indeed loveable academic finds herself in a sports hall acting as chief invigilator. As somebody who has done invigilation at the Maiden Castle Sports Hall in Durham for university exams I pictured exactly the scene she was describing.

The overall effect is that whilst aspects of Lindchester can be identified with particular places a fictional, yet familiar diocese is very believably created. Thus, Lindchester becomes as believable as Ambridge.

The narrative itself is fast moving and because of the large number of characters there is only a limited insight into each you can get. Yet the windows into their lives and souls we do get are clear and detailed.

Being set in 2013 the same sex marriage debate cannot be avoided and is a key sub-theme within the book. Whilst being careful not to give the plot away I would say if you expect your own view on the debate to be vindicated or don't want to think about this issue in its widest context this book probably isn't for you. The strength of this part of the plot is that it looks at the debate in a way which is sensitive to the complexities of a variety of positions. However, there are still times when the author sets up discussion of the taboo areas of conversation amongst Christian including bisexuality and then steps away.

I don't want to give the impression that sexuality is the key theme of the book, it is only one part of the story. Other sub-plots include clergy relationships with their parishioners, empty nest syndrome, separation and single parenthood along with bullying and loneliness.

These themes may not seem that cheery but this is not a depressing book. Yes, it is moving in places but it is also a full on laugh out loud book where you find yourself thinking, and sometimes verbally saying, "OMG, did she actually just say that."

My one criticism is that in appealing to her core group of readers, who have followed this in blog form prior to publication, she decides to get cheap laughs at the expense of evangelicals. In doing this, at times, she moves away from the well written prose and clever humour than shines through the majority of this book.

In my introduction I indicated that the core readership will be Christians, particularly of the type who go to Greenbelt. They will understand the in jokes which are there within the text. Yet I don't think that it can't be enjoyed by those outside of the church. Anybody who enjoyed Joanna Trollope's book The Choir would find this an interesting book to read, looking at similar but different aspects of cathedral life a couple of decades on.

If you read this and enjoy it as much as I did, not wanting to wait until June 2015 for the sequel you can follow 2014 in Lindchester on Fox's blog.

I look forward to discussing the book with the West EndUnited Book Group in Wolverton on Thursday 23rd October and finding out what they think of this novel. All are welcome.

Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox is published by SPCK.

ISBN: 978-0-281-07234-7

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Speaking Up for Jeremy to help Mrs Jones

There was a certain irony picking up my copy of Third Way from the doormat and finding an article about hospital chaplaincy by Terence Handley MacMath entitled "Taking care for all in good faith" within it. Just minutes earlier to reading this article I had been reading a Changing Attitude article issuing a plea from Laurence Cunnington, hospital chaplain Jeremy Pemberton's husband, asking for people to contact various figures in the CofE with regard to the latest developments in this case where his licence giving Permission to Officiate has been revoked following his marriage.

The Changing Attitude article gives the latest developments in Jeremy's case explaining how he had recently been successful in gaining promotion to a new job as Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services in a larger hospital nearer to home. However, to take up his new role he needs to receive a licence from the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, normally a routine matter. In this case it is far from routine because following the guidance given from the House of Bishops saying that Church of England priests are forbidden from entering same sex marriages the Bishop is refusing to issue a licence.

Cunnington makes the point very clearly that all has changed from the past, when permission was given, is that he has married. Previously a licence was given by a bishop who knew he was living with his partner. Indeed the guidance given by the House of Bishops suggests a licence would have been issued if it had been a Civil Partnership rather than a marriage he they had entered into. He also refers to the fact that this is a role where Pemberton will be employed by and paid by the NHS rather than the CofE.

At the moment I want to avoid a discussion of discipline and doctrine and instead refer back to the MacMath article. Within it there is a moving section which talks about the way in which "a healthcare chaplain's daily work involves encounters with people who have actively avoided the Church, often for years." It gives the fictional example of "Mrs Jones" and her experience of rejection over a baptism issue. It goes on to talk about the way healthcare chaplains have to be able to "absorb the anger that many people carry after an encounter with the Church, or with individuals within it" and how that "is a vocation of healing in itself."

Later in the article it talks about being able to make fruitful relationships with others and the importance of this within this sector.  This comes immediately prior to talking about the way in which chaplains will have "studied ethics in some depth".

To have been successful in this ministry and to have gained promotion Pemberton must have shown himself to be gifted in this environment. He is obviously able to connect with both patients and staff and to undertake careful study of ethics as well as come across as a team player. He will have put forward a positive view of the Church to people at their point of need.

Yet he now faces becoming rejected by the Church, just like our fictional Mrs. Jones because of rigidity over a piece of doctrine it is acknowledged there is a wide variety of opinion on.

As we pause I want to think about what this case is doing. Whilst it might be satisfying some in the Church it is probably reinforcing Mrs Jones prejudices as she reads about it in her local paper....where no doubt it will at some point emerge. It is also showing the NHS that the Church talks about inclusion and diversity, but is only prepared to play by their own rules....not those by which everybody else is agreed on. At a time when, as the MacMath article reminds us, there is debate about funding and Chaplaincy posts are being lost I am sure this debacle cannot be helpful.

I do understand though that central to this case are matters of doctrine and discipline. But so too are matters of compassion and justice. It was interesting watching the debate on Marriage and Civil Partnerships streamed from Methodist Conference recently, which is still available to watch.  Conference passed this resolution, which effectively means the Pemberton case would not arise within the Methodist Church in this country:

"The Conference resolves that, whilst recognising that the 1993 Resolutions on Human Sexuality would still apply to all relationships, the ruling regarding those entering civil partnerships, namely that there is no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Church, ordained or lay, from entering into or remaining within such a relationship, should also extend to those entering into legally contracted same sex marriages."

Within the debate around this resolution there were two contributions which were particularly striking. One was from a delegate who referred to the way in which voting for this resolution would put doctrine and discipline at odds with one another. The other was from a Presbyter who talked about the way in which, if this resolution weren't passed, she could be faced with a stark choice between ministry or marriage and how that is an unfair position to put anybody in.

Methodism chose to go the way of compassion and flexibility the Church of England has chosen to go the way of rules and rigidity.

I make this point because much is made within the debates on marriage and LGBT issues about partner churches, or those we seek to work in closer cooperation with. In Chaplaincy particularly ecumenicalism is a core element and in this post Jeremy would no doubt be working with partners from a range of denominations some of whom could legitimately be in relationships such as his without sanction. Yet, in holding fast to this position and taking this action, which need not have necessarily been taken - as chaplaincy with its different terms of employment from the NHS  has often had a slightly different approach taken towards it to Parish ministry as I understand it - the CofE is further defining itself away from a denominations it says it wants to move forward with.

Laurence Cunnington's post ends with a call for people to take up their pens to call for a change of heart on the part of the Bishop and an issuing of the licence.

I reproduce it here because I think it is important and I ask you to consider taking the action requested by Jeremy's husband:

"What I am asking

Some of you may think what Jeremy has done is wrong and that he is paying the penalty for that. You are entitled to your opinion and I ask you to do nothing. Those of you who agree with me, I would ask that you consider doing one or more of the following in order to show support and perhaps result in the acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham changing his mind and issuing Jeremy with some form of a licence. When writing, it may carry more weight if you mention that you are a Christian/member of the Church of England if you are.

You could write, expressing your views to:

The Right Revd Richard Inwood
Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham
Jubilee House
NG25 0JH

I am not clear whether this latest decision was as a result of consultation with the Archbishop of York but, in any event, I would ask that you copy your correspondence to him at:

The Most Revd & Right Hon Dr John Sentamu
Archbishop of York
Bishopthorpe Palace
YO23 2GE

The Acting Dean of Southwell Minster, Nigel Coates, is extremely supportive, for which Jeremy and I are most grateful. You may also wish to contact him to express your support at:

The Revd Canon Nigel Coates
Acting Dean of Southwell Minster
Minster Centre
Church Street
NG25 0HD