Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sonia Delaunay Exhibition Review

Sometimes you have to visit an exhibition more than once to fully appreciate it and I found this to be the case for the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate Modern.

There were two reasons I think this is one of those exhibitions which requires a revisit:

1)      The sheer vivid colour within this large retrospective can be overpowering at times

2)      There is so much detail which can be missed on first viewing because this is a large exhibition.

One of the benefits of having Tate Membership is that it is possible to make those multiple visits. For those unaware of Delaunay and her work (as I was before my first visit) she was, according to the exhibition guide, “one of the pioneers of abstraction and a central figure of the Paris avant-garde.”

The work here spans from the first decade of the 20th century to the 1970’s and contains painting, drawing and textiles. Wandering through the twelve rooms I was particularly drawn by those works which combined text and colour as well as the textiles.

Some of the text in the work is obvious and some is not. For example the prose in Electric Prisms was initially easy to miss whilst the cover design for the catalogue of the Stockholm exhibition was not. What they had in common was that both displayed her interest in graphic design.

The exhibition guide is worth reading more closely than many because it reminds you of the tumultuous events of the early 20th century and the contradictions they produced. The artist opened a hop in Madrid in 1918 following family funding being stopped due to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The fashion she produced was worn by the rich and beautiful when many others were suffering from destitution. This included a beautiful coat designed for Gloria Swanston which is displayed.

My favourite rooms were in the middle of the exhibition. Room 6 is the fashion and textiles room and this was my favourite although room 7 Poetry and theatre came a close second.

The most entrancing piece in room 7 is the “surie vent (on the wind)” curtain poem with text by Philippe Soupcarlt.  

Amid the abstraction and fashion Room 9 Paris 1937 contains vast canvasses celebrating modernism in bright and vivid colour. These are murals which were shown in the Palace of the Air at the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Modern Life.

The exhibition is one which I would say is best enjoyed when the gallery is quieter and you can wander and linger as you wish. I found visiting just after 3pm on a Tuesday ideal.

Would I recommend this exhibition? Certainly, if you are in London at any point to the 9th August. If you are making a special trip I would you visit from 3rd June onwards when you will also be able to catch the Agnes Martin exhibition.

Westminster Faith Debates Women Bishops event - Review

“Women Bishops – what difference does it make?” This was the question asked by the Westminster Faith Debates event at St. James’ Piccadilly last night and discussed by a multi-faith panel. The podcast will soon be available on their website.

The free event was jointly chaired by prominent sociologist of religion Professor Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University who is also Director of Westminster Faith Debates and Adam Dinham of Goldsmiths who is Director of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit. They introduced the event before Katharine Jefferts Schori the Presiding Bishop of the Episocpal Church of the United States gave her key note address.

She has been a bishop since 2006 and spoke of the gifts that women bring to the episcopate. In doing this she went back to the familiar Genesis 1: 28- 31 and spoke about how it illustrated we were made to share. She outlined her understanding of the role of a bishop was to listen and guide those they had authority over.

A key theme she developed was the diversity of both men and women and how a variety of bishops were able to show the “otherness of God” because not all were white, male and Oxbridge educated. Bishops represent a variety of roles and experiences and are able to follow Jesus model of being engaged in “true conversation” with others through spending time with them. She argued that this is easier for those who are socially located in the right place, and that was often women.

She was the first speaker to argue that women and men are needed who can lead from below and from the margins in order to bring voice to and action against injustices and oppressive practices.

The next panellist was Lucy Winkett Rector of St James’. She made the point it is not a given that it will make any difference because it depends upon (i) how women use the role and (ii) the number of bishops who are women. She argued it is not enough for women to be women they need to be signs and midwives for new reflections using their “ungovernable energy”.

The first non-Christian speaker was Saleah Islam the Director of the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre who has had a leadership role for the last two decades in the centre which works with Sunni’s (and those of all faiths and none). She spoke of how fear of change is an issue in all faiths but they are working hard to challenge patriarchal non-Islamic practices. By this one presumes they meant practices such as FGM which it needs to be underlined are also non-Christian practices (because they are not just practiced by Islamic communities).
Next came Hilary Cotton who is chair of WATCH (Women and the Church). She held up the iconic tea towel many of us own which says “A women’s role is in the house…..the House of Bishops”. She told us the organisations new strapline is “Just getting started”. In terms of how it would make a difference she said only if we move on from paternalism. Her final test would be how does it help women in their everyday lives and can it succeed against the vested interests in the CofE?

Something else she bought up which was developed by LauraJanner-Klausner (Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism) was the issue of inclusive language. This perhaps reflects the different priorities of those who have grown through different waves of feminism.

One of the most interesting speakers on the panel was Helene Mobius who is the Pagan Federation Prison Ministry Manager. She also looked at language but at the way in which words which were intended to be good have been demonised and continue to be demonised. She focused on crone and witch as terms which originally meant elder and wise but have been used to condemn and commit violence against women. For generations pagans have had to defend themselves against false accusations. She also spoke about the way in which we have to move beyond divides between men and women and on to a more symbiotic approach.

There was a first question time at this point and Woodhead asked if they thought it would change liturgy, for instance introducing menopause liturgy. Mobius explained that this was already seen as a right of passage within paganism whilst Cotton explained such liturgies were being written in the 1980’s. Schori also said that some groups already develop local rituals. For me I this summed up a lot of what was going on in this debate. There was an underlying differences in approaches and understandings between those located in late modernity who took a more institutional approach and those who took a more post-modern difference based view of the world.

It was clear though that most of the speakers were routed in way or another in second wave feminism. There was one exception and that was Kate Bottley, who in addition to being CofE vicar and FE Chaplain is a contributor to Channel Four programme Gogglebox.

She was a welcome breath of fresh air and burst into life when a question was asked about whether women will morph into men. She spoke of the way in which she has had to fight to hold on to her own identity keeping her long hair, makeup and high heels. What was being said here wasn’t about appearance exclusively; it reflected the desire of third wave feminists to be able to keep their femininity and authenticity. Lucy Winkett pointed out that in understanding the difference between women and approaches it was important to grasp the generational differences which existed. She said perhaps the most important thing of the evening, “women can be diverse but it is difficult if you have to unify to come from a position of exclusion. They now need to be allowed to fragment.”

Other questions touched on how to achieve wider inclusion and the two track system the CofE has introduced with the headship bishop. Then there was the second half of the panel discussion.

Nissa Basbaum is the Dean of the Diocese of Kootenay in British Columbia, Canada. She spoke of the Canadian experience and the way in which in some ways women bishops had been a bit of a non-issue except because bishops are elected rather than chosen in the way the British system works it became easier for women to be excluded whilst appearing to be inclusive. This was echoed by Schori talking of the American situation.

Bharti Tailor was up next she is Executive Director of the Hindu Forum of Europe. She spoke of the balance in her religion between masculine and feminine and of the systematic exclusion of Hinduism which appears to exist in the UK. She said it was easier for women to gain access but then they had to make sure they kept access.

Then it was Kate Bottley who said it as it was after talking about her childhood and finding herself automatically excluded from doing well in pissing competitions. She argued that women could now go for it and weren’t excluded and could be obedient to their calls whatever they were. But she made the point that it wouldn’t make a lot of difference outside of the church because many people don’t even know what a bishop is. What was really exciting about Bottley’s approach is that it was based in engaging with real people in a missional way which wasn’t academic or poncey it was simply real. I want to be clear here I am not knocking academia or fresh expressions but Bottley’s voice is fresh clear and she really gets real people not through research but through simply living it.

The final panellist was Janner-Klausner who sang from Psalm 23 with the gender altered. She explained the impact of a women’s voice and said women bishop’s is about silencing gender segregation which is also a part of some branches of Judaism. After outlining what 40 years of women rabbi’s in Reform Judaism has achieved she ended by getting us to sing together another extract of the Psalm she began with.

There was then another question session. In this session there was reference to other marginalised groups and other churches, (specifically the Catholic Church) and the role of the media. Within the answers the Rabbi made the point we need to keep an eye on the counter movement of fundamentalism and the need for diversity to include those who find change difficulty.

My overall view of this debate was it was interesting and useful but in some ways limited due to time. It did not touch on the impact of this decision in moving towards and away from working with other denominations. Although I understand that this may be because of how this was part of the debate running up to the vote which they wanted to avoid. I would certainly recommend these debates to people as a great way to hear really good speakers engage in what is truly a public space.

I was most disturbed it did continue to look at gender in binary terms and take traditional views of male and female as a given. Listening to the debate it highlighted to me how we need to include the voices of T and gender queer people in discussions like this rather than marginalising them to debates on sexuality.  

Karl was unsuccessful in being able to ask his question, because of they ran out of time to take more questions. The question he wanted to ask was, “When he started to go through gender reassignment he went through a (mercifully short!) phase of trying to be hyper masculine before realising that wasn’t really him and he was bing a prat. Eventually, he worked out there’s no one way to be a guy. So he wondered will having women bishops bring more freedom for men, as well as women, to be themselves and where do gender non-conforming people fit into the picture? (He did get his picture taken with Bishop Schori though which he was very happy about).

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Margate Mini-Break / Provincial Punk Review

Back in January when we were on retreat somebody introduced me to Leonie Dawson’s Life and Biz Workbook.  It happened to be somebody I have respect for who suggested that I might it useful to help guide me through this year of change and so when we got home I ordered it. I haven’t really used the Biz part, but I have found the Life part has really helped me both refocus and dream again. Most importantly it has encouraged me to actually do something with my dreams rather than just throw them into the impossible box……and that’s what led Karl and I to take a mini-break in Margate.

Let me explain. One of the exercises in the book is to make a list of things to do in 2015 which can “be silly, fun, joyful, big, creative….a culmination of all your goals, or totally new ones”. For me the list has contained a mix of spiritual, practical and fun things which I would like to do this year. One of the things on my list is go to the sea side at least twice and another is to go to the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate. This past weekend I made one of my trips to the coast, getting to meet up with old friends and enjoy the Grayson Perry exhibition Provincial Punk whilst I was down there as well as catching a CCCU exhibition at the Pie Factory.
After making a last minute decision to go for it on Thursday evening we arrived in Thanet on Friday night. After spending the evening with friends we got to the Turner Contemporary bright and early on Saturday, the opening day of the Perry exhibition which runs until September 13th . As we made our way upstairs by this space which overlooks the sea we found ourselves in a room full of pottery which was decorated by collaged images in many cases. As you look at the pots and their decoration, which as with a lot of Perry’s work mixes social comment, history and cultural icons, I would argue there are a couple of reactions the first is to take it earnestly and the second is simply to laugh at the humour in it and enjoy. Karl and I went for the latter, although there might have been a bit of the former creeping in. It is accessible and fun and that is something that some of us appreciate about Perry’s work. Going round art galleries is often an earnest affair a bit like going round a library where there are expected reactions it seems you are meant to give. Yet, at it’s very best art can make you want to laugh as much as it makes you want to scream or cry and this is what this exhibition does.

Going round the Perry exhibition was fun on one level because there were so many little bits you could identify with (such as on one etched map where there were so many identity groups mentioned you couldn’t fail to fall into at least one group). It also had a lot to say too though about all sorts of things and that’s the point about Perry’s work the more you look the more you are actually made to think. It might seem obvious and full of statements but the detail leads you on your own journey of thoughts and at time memories.

As I’ve already indicated one of the  great things about Grayson Perry’s work is that it is so accessible. As with the recent exhibition at the National Gallery (a couple of works from which were included in this one) this one was free to access. In terms of what this meant in practice as we wandered round is that there were more kids around. One small person was being led along beside a tapestry with their parent helping them identify which brands they knew named on there. Another was sat down in front of one of the tapestries discussing about what they thought the pictures on there were. As we were walking out a couple came in with their Morrison’s bag something we’ve never seen at the TateModern so this art might be, according to the Guardian journalist, too obvious but what it does is allow kids and parents to engage with it on one level whilst adults can take it in on another. I’d take that any day over stuff which is so obscure you can’t engage with it.

Before we left the gallery we noticed Grayson Perry himself wandering about, the artist’s presence is something I also haven’t seen too often at the Tate. That said not everything is different about this gallery. Just like the Tate it is possible to get a really tasty scone with jam and cream to wash down with a pot of Earl Grey. It made an enjoyable morning snack in Margate.

We also enjoyed the CCCU exhibition The Presence of Absence on at the Pie Factory until 26th May. It was showcasing the work of second year photography students. The work seemed to fit the location it was being shown in well. I particularly enjoyed Hayley Lindridge-Morgan’s Lucky which was part of her “Reconciliation” series. It had was a series of portraits of people with their treasures and was accompanied by a sound commentary of the subjects talking about their items.

Lisa Beer’s A which was shots of women at work in male dominated occupations fitted well with the worn industrial setting. The blurb outlined how her work has looked at sexism, feminism and equality. The images were striking and empowering and I would be interested in seeing more of her work in due course. Alicia Mellon’s Degeneration was cleverly framed within a disguarded old door and she is another emerging artist I would be interested in seeing more of in the future.

Both gallery’s are part of the emerging Margate which MaryPortas sought to help regenerate as is The Greedy Cow where we a really tasty lunch. I am not sure how much the regeneration will work as at the moment it seems to be a gentrification occurring working out from one small corner of town but it was good to visit. The place which seemed most to exemplify the old and the new Margate was the Pilgrim Hospice bookshop located in the old Lloyds Bank building. The charity shops are a fixture in Thanet’s seaside towns but this had a bit more class than your average. Karl was thrilled it provided both ties and books whilst I was more than happy to have picked up a signed copy of Portas’ Shop Girl a Memoir for a bargain price.
The Margate Museum outlined what might be holding back part of the regeneration though. This building was very much located in a past age. Run by some hardworking and clearly enthusiastic volunteers it was clear that this was based around the island mentality of why change the way we always do things. It would be great if this museum could somehow hook up with the gallery which is a stones-throw away and become invigorated with new life.

So is Margate the place for a mini-break? Well, to be honest probably not…..but it is worth a visit. If you wanted to go for the mini-break option I would recommend you stay in Canterbury and take a day trip out to explore what Margate, Broadstairs and maybe Herne Bay and Whitstable have to offer whilst you’re there. If in Canterbury I’d recommend Boho on the High Street as a place to eat….absolutely wonderful café with a lovely garden area.
If anybody is interested in knowing more about the workbook which sort of prompted the adventure please see the Leonie Dawson You Tube Clip below:

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Up and Coming in the LGBT world

Recently I listened to a podcast on the Methodist website from a couple who run the Lincolnshire Parents of LGBT children support group. They were speaking about the journey they have gone on and how it has inspired them to support others. Listening to it was encouraging for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was inspiring to hear their story and how that being faced with personal challenges had led them into being able to support others. Secondly, it was good to hear how the support that Two:23 and the group it runs for parents together with Diverse Church is developing into inspiring regional groups such as this and finally it was great to have another example of the Methodist Church seriously engaging with trans.

The support now being provided for parents through Lincs Parents, Eklektos and Diverse Church Parents - part of the wider Two:23 and Diverse Church family, which, to the observer such as myself, continues to grow in ways which seem to confirm God’s blessing is something I think is incredibly important. It is important to note that these ministries are seen as something positive which are being offered in addition to groups like Fflag not in competition to or in replacement to them.

It also prompted me to think about how it was probably time I did an overview of what’s going on at the moment because as ever the sands have been shifting in the Christian LGBT area.

One of the most significant changes over recent months has been Jayne Ozanne taking over at the helm of Accepting Evangelicals. Jayne is somebody who has previously been part of the Archbishop’s Advisory Council which I understand from those who can translate Anglican structures and processes for me (i.e. Karl) is quite an important group. For those unfamiliar with her the interview she did with Ruth Gledhill in February is worth a watch. Readers in Kent may be interested to know she is speaking at an event in Whitstable on 6th June which was covered in an article in the local newspaper.

Keeping on the Anglican theme the facilitated conversations are underway now and there seemed to be mixed responses to them emerging from participants. Rose Grigg talked of her experience in quite positive terms on her blog. Thinking Anglicans have posted Erika Baker’s reflections which have also been positive talking of “hope”. Canon JeremyPemberton however has not been so positive in his reflection. Whilst he recognises how well the sessions have been organised and led he writes a piece which highlights the reality of the situation when some from the conservative evangelical position refuse to attend and how he found the experience to be “demeaning and infuriating”. The Changing Attitude website is a good place to look to keep informed on what is coming out of these meetings from a LGBT perspective.

Of course it is not just the Anglicans who are having important conversations at the moment in one form or another they are taking place in most of the Protestant denominations at the moment.

This week the Church of Scotland meets in Edinburgh and their General Assembly will be making important decisions regarding ministers in Civil Partnerships and in marriages which are between two people of the same sex as reported in this BBC article.

The URC has been seeking to come to a consensus and has been facilitating discussions within local congregations and more widely within the organisation about congregations being able to decide whether to conduct same sex marriage. The results of these discussions show the the division on the matter in that congregation is split between roughly two thirds being in favour of congregations being able to choose for themselves and one third against. The denomination’s council met this month and has voted to pass a resolution from a working party recognising the ongoing division on this matter and taking the discussions on at local synod level for a final decision to be made at the General Assembly in 2016 rather than recalling an emergency meeting on this issue in June according to the papers which the denomination publishes on line.

The Methodists are continuing their discussions on the matter and their discussions are due to go to conference in 2016 also. Within the denomination Outcome is the group who campaign on behalf of LGBTQI people and they continue to positively move forward in their work. They are holding their annual general meeting on 30th May in Manchester and amongst the speakers on that day entitled ““An Inclusive Church: This year, Next year, Sometime, Never” will be Vice President of Conference Mrs. Gill Dascombe. They are also holding a fringe meeting at Methodist Conference in Southport on Monday 29th July. The meeting on 30th May will be important because they are also announcing their strategy and a resource to explain it to others.

The Baptists Fresh Streams Network has put up a range of resources on their website. Also within this denomination Affirming Baptists, the group working to support LGBT Baptists and their allies, is continuing to grow and develop their work. They have a bright updated website which is advertising an event on 18th July Continuing the Conversation which is aimed primarily at those within the denomination and is “an opportunity to hear and share about engaging pastorally and in gospel mission with those in same-sex partnerships”.

Many of the groups mentioned above together with others will be part of the Christians at Pride group who are aiming to provide a positive Christian witness as part of the Pride in London celebrations next month, which will include more groups than ever. (This does provide some issues personally because Karl will be there with Santander who have been proactively developing their LGBT network and along with Facebook and others are amongst the new groups have registered to be on the parade this year and so I have to decide whether to go along with him or be part of this group). There has also been a call via face book for supportive clergy to come along wearing their clerical collars in order to counter the view many of the public, particularly within the LGBT community that the church and clergy are all anti-LGBT. If you are coming along on June 27th to that event please try and wear purple.

On the subject of clergy who can legitimately wear purple lots of the time Bishop Alan Wilson recently spoke at the LGBT Fellowship Hulland East Riding. The Bishop of Buckingham was also one of the speakers at the recent Oasis Open Church event on Sexuality which Ekklesia reports was a positive event. Another one of the speakers at that event was Vicky Beeching who was also a speaker at the GCN conference in the USA earlier this year and her talk is available online. She has also been appointed as an advisor on LGBT issues and religion to the United Nations. It is important, though, as we think about these speakers and praise their efforts not to question where we think issues of integrity may exist and a good place to find some of these questions is on the God Loves Women website where the writer has raised some important and interesting questions.
Bishop Alan is also due to be the speaker at Two:23’s next meeting on 13th June. Podcasts from recent speakers at Two:23 including youth worker Jo Dolby who spoke movingly and Greenbelt Festival regular Dave Tomlinson are also available on their website.
The LGBT Fellowship have also had LGCM’s Tracey Byrne and Stonewall’s Ruth Hunt as speakers at an event previously. Ruth Hunt is the keynote speaker at this years LGCM annual general meeting and national gathering which is happening in Nottingham on 6th June. Stonewall is also moving forward in the development of incorporating the T into their work and is currently appointing a trans advisory group in order to help them do this. The Quaker LGBT+ group QLGF are also taking on board the T and their website advises on October 31st they will be holding an event which will be focused around listening to the experience of trans and gender variant people.

The work of Catholic LGBT group Quest continues to grow and is encouraging to see that in the past week they have celebrated mass with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Apparently this is not the first time that Cardinal Nichols will have met with LGBT Catholics but it is the first time that it will have been publically announced and so that is encouraging.

A final interesting developments, more generally to note, are that Inclusive Church has published two more books in their series on inclusion and by definition exclusion. Today in Guildford they are launching their Ethnicity and Gender books which go with those already published on sexuality, poverty, disability and mental health. All are published by Darton, Longman and Todd.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Abigail's Party, Stantonbury Theatre, Review

We’ve been to see The Play's The Thing Theatre Company’s production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party at the Stantonbury Theatre in Milton Keynes.

The play is set in the mid 1970’s in a lounge in suburbia. Beverly (played by Dawn Murphy) is hosting a dinner party for her new neighbours Tony (Liam Tims) and Angela (Heather Johnson) and established neighbour, divorcee Susan (Kerry Willison-Parry) whilst Susan’s teenage daughter Abigail is having a party down the road. The play illustrates that whilst the expectation may be that Abigail’s party will be the one in which those attending get out of control that in their own way the adults will also be breaking social expectations.

As with most of Leigh’s work this is a play which mixes satire and sharp social commentary with the darker side of life.

It was a very well acted production with a very strong cast. Initially I was worried that Murphy’s portrayal of Beverly was going to be almost a parody of Alison Steadman’s initial playing of the character as she imitated the voice which as younger person I was familiar with as being that belonging to Pam in Gavin and Stacy. However, it was the voice which belonged with the character and added to rather than detracted from the production. This was the voice of aspiration and the voice of the part of England which two years after this play is set was to put Thatcher into power.

Willison-Parry’s understated Susan was the strongest performance for me. Whilst in many ways being a background character there was a very strong stage presence from her.

Liam Tims might have seemed to have an easy part with the almost mono-syllabic Tony but it was clearly not the case. He acted it very well, using his body language and slouch to say far more than a more developed dialogue would have done.

Angela was convincingly played by Heather Johnson as was Laurence by Andy Watkins. They, as all the actors played the parts with the right amount of passion and humour without over playing their roles.
It was interesting to be transported back to the time of my youth when the décor and social norms were so different. In many ways it was a world away whilst also being so familiar to me. The results of the 1969 Divorce Act were still working their way through as the discussions of the empty shell marriages of their parents in Act One showed. The play also highlighted how there were different attitudes to domestic violence, which Karl who was too young to have known the 1970’s was shocked at. It is not that domestic violence does not exist now, rather it is thanks to the work of the feminist movement it is now far less accepted.
It was a play I was glad I had gone to see as I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well produced and directed by Rosemary Hill, a leading arts figure in Milton Keynes, who founded The Play's The Thing Theatre Company in 2008 and she made sure it kept true to the spirit of the original play.

My one regret was that the audience enjoying this production was so small, the theatre being less than half filled. There were a small group in there in 70’s dress and with a Tupperware container full of cheese and pineapple on sticks going for the full retro experience but all, whether in costume or not, seemed to enjoy it. If you get the chance to book and go along and see this play which runs at Stantonbury Theatre until Saturday (when there is a matinee in addition to the evening performance) I would highly recommend it. This really is a fine production which is well worth the money.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Reginald D. Hunter - Milton Keynes Theatre Show Reviewed

Last night Reginald D. Hunter played to an almost capacity audience at Milton Keynes Theatre on the fifth night of his The Man Who Attempted to do as Much as Such tour. The almost exclusively white audience heard this intelligent black American comedian who has been based in the UK for a decade and a half now launch into an intelligent yet challenging set which mixed identity politics with sex and swearing.

At the beginning of the show Hunter acknowledged that part of the audience would be new to his work, drawn by the recent successful documentary series on BBC2 Sounds of the South where he went on a musical journey through the Deep South. He apologised in advance if that part of the audience were offended, but stayed true to himself and it appeared he did not seek to self-moderate in light of the more diverse following he now has. He also made clear that because it was so early in this tour which has around 40 dates in the UK between now and the end of June, before moving on to other parts of Europe he had not loosened up yet.

The theme running through the first half of his show but which was diminished in the second half was based around the distain he had for the British tax man who was asking for 52% of his earnings. It was a topic which was good as far as it went but after a while became just a little bit wearing.

During that first half, which was apparently cut short due to Hunter facing some eye problems, one of the most interesting bits of the show which began to emerge was the way in which he would drop in public information without it appearing as such. There was a small but important bit of the show when he talked about the signs of prostate cancer and the need for blokes to get medical help if they saw blood in the toilet. It was a really small bit which was wrapped in moving humour but the point was it was there.

A dominant theme in the set which started to emerge in the first half and grew in the second was Hunter’s response to contemporary feminism. This was intelligent and thought provoking and in the second half of the show he spelt out very clearly about how to understand it you have to listen to all that he says and not focus on specific words. He does use c**t and pussy liberally within the set primarily using the former as an insult and the latter with regard to that part of a woman’s genitalia. Yet in his use of them he seems to be disempowering them, showing that they are simply words like any other. The way this is underlined is by the way he also uses nigger in a similar way. Thus, I would argue his use of these terms is not problematic but rather in not treating them in a taboo way he is actually empowering women and others. 

With regard to the key thrust of the material around contemporary feminism it was making clear that feminism is a justice issue related to the giving of women true power by giving them respect and authority. He spoke out against the strand of feminism which is separatist and seeks to apparently empower women by disempowering and emasculating men. He likened it to the strand of the black civil rights movement which sought to separate itself from whites and not acknowledge that without some white allies the struggle would not have achieved what it has.

I think in his reading of the past he was overly generous to both first and second wave feminism which he argued did not have any of the current problems. Both these movements had splits between those who were and weren’t advocating a form of political separatism. The point is the material was intelligent and he was making some important yet sometimes challenging points regarding the place of allies and respect for them.

This material was mixed in with giving men a sex education lesson on how to make love with women rather than make love to them. It was interesting and I hope that some of what he was saying was not lost on the men who made up at least 50% of the audience.

There was a nervousness at points in this show and it was clear that Hunter was still picking up what worked and what didn’t amongst his new material as well as still familiarising himself with some of it. He also hasn’t got the hang of the timings yet as was shown in the second half when he had to check how many minutes in he was and by implication how much longer he had to perform for. I would like to see the show towards the end of the tour when he has really settled in to see how it differs then when he is far more relaxed.

Overall was it worth the somewhat high ticket price for the show? Yes, it was a challenging yet intelligent show which was making some important points. Some were subtle and some were more crude but the point was they were about things which need discussing. As a Christian I did find some of his material very difficult but also helpful because it made me think about a challenging aspect of the teachings of the church. As part of the LGBT community and a woman did I find some of the language he was using unsettling? Of course, however, that was the point as anyone familiar with Shakespeare will be aware. The fool’s role is to unsettle us by being the one who sees it clearly and calls us on those things which we need to think more deeply about. That’s what Hunter was doing.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Keeping the Choices Rita Had - Voting Against the 20+% cuts

The other evening I watched Educating Rita staring Julie Walters and Michael Caine. It’s a film which is somewhat dated now, being set in the early 1980’s but the central theme of the film remains as relevant then as it did at the time adult education provides people with choices and opportunities.

The relevance of that opportunity for Further and Higher Education institutions such as the Open University to act as a second chance giving those opportunities is, I would argue, more important for us to hold on to and fight for than it has ever been. It’s why on Tuesday at the election hustings I asked the candidates for Milton Keynes North the following question:

Whilst I appreciate the commitment all the parties are making to apprenticeships I am concerned that for other courses there is going to be a funding cut of over 20% in Further Education next year. What are their opinions and commitments on ensuring that  FE courses which provide an important second chance to many students are properly funded and ensuring that Further Education is not reduced to a purely vocational option for younger learners?”

The answers were interesting although only one candidate directly answered the question.

The first answer came from Mark Lancaster the Tory candidate. He started by saying that in the current situation we all had to take our share of the cuts and when the economy improved reinvestment would take place. This shows a naivety on the part of Lancaster. If you cut funding by over one fifth for something in the educational context not only does it have a knock on impact for the whole sector which provides that type of course but it also will lead to the cutting of courses, Once a course has been cut it is highly unlikely that it will be reinstated. Additionally, changing the funding formulas increases the cost for adult students paying for these courses. This all acts to reduce choice for learners who want to advance themselves, often facing some of the similar barriers to the ones illustrated in the film.

The second point Lancaster made related to the problems there had been in the past in setting 50% targets for higher education. I think he is right with this, but it is part of the overall problem with education at the moment. The marketisation of education which has been part of the New Right ideology promoted by the Conservative Party since the 1980’s and to a lesser state by “New” Labour since the mid 1990’s has focused too much on targets and models and lost sight of the learner and their individual stories.

My husband works validating models and knows a lot about the limitations of models and software programmes. He makes the point that if we look at the financial crisis and the roots it had in his sector they were related to relying too highly on the models and losing sight of the bigger, human, picture. I believe that the Conservative Party are encouraging a culture where this dependency on models and targets is actually being increased and not decreased. Funding cuts mixed with the data focused approach of Ofsted mean that colleges have to be much focused on the models and what they are suggesting when considering which courses to keep but also when looking at which students to give opportunities to.

The Green candidate Jenny Marklew and  TUSC challenger Katie Simpson spoke well against austerity. I was unimpressed by both UKIP’s David Reilly who seemed to have no grasp of the situation and Independent David Mortimer who seemed to have stood simply to have a platform for developing his campaign on fathers rights whilst throwing in the odd uninformed comment regarding immigration.

The one proper answer I got to my question came from Labour candidate Emily Darlington who not only addressed my question by referring to the impact of the cuts on MK College and the OU but also went further to call for the reinstatement of EMA for young people.

I was in total agreement with her answer because unlike her Conservative counterpart she seems to have grasped this point that education funding is about providing choices to people and in particular choices regarding employment and housing.

I am not saying all the changes we have seen since Rita’s time are wrong. It is right and proper that tutors such as Frank would no longer be able to stay in post in the way he was for much of the film. However, equally it is wrong that we are removing choices to people like Rita.

People familiar with the film might argue that the type of patriarchal working class household shown in the film no longer exists as we have seen a feminisation of the workforce and that she would have many more choices now anyway.

I beg to differ. I have taught in FE for fifteen years, nine of those teaching Access students as well as A Level students, including in some of the most deprived areas of the country. I know the background stories and challenges which many face, a number of which are linked to patriarchal expectations. Thus, this is both a class and a gender issue. Additionally because of the problems many young LGBT people face which may mean they have to come out of education for a while, (LGBT young people are much more likely to become NEETS or face housing issues) it is also an issue that connects with the LGBT community.

Additionally from a personal point of view I know the difference of what Emily was talking about makes.

I did my A Levels at evening classes at Suffolk College. Now Suffolk New College, somewhere which has had to cut it’s A Level provision. As a result of that second chance I was able to fly and gain postgraduate as well as graduate qualifications and go on to teaching.

My daughter did her A Levels at the local FE college in Durham, where we lived then, having become a school refuser almost due to bullying. The fact she wasn’t forced into the vocational route meant she was able to go on and do an Applied Theology degree which she is due to graduate from in June. Whilst on her A Level course her EMA was used to provide her bus fare to college and occasionally our electricity (as I was working part time and finishing off my M Litt).

The point is she now has choices and so do I because of the academic courses which were available in FE. I have seen many adult students flourish on Access courses, something these cuts may in the long run negatively impact.

So the choice is clear if we want to ensure the Rita’s of this world are given the choices they deserve we need to vote against the slashing of this part of the education budget which is not ring fenced and protected.
For more info on the fight against FE funding see the UCU website.