Tuesday, 29 September 2009

778 - Gregory Bateson and the Long Professional Game

From the 1999 foreword, by his daughter, Mary Catherine, to Gregory Bateson's 'Steps To An Ecology Of Mind' (Chicago University Press):

It was not clear, even to Gregory, that his disparate, elegantly crafted and argued essays, the "steps" of this title, were about a single subject. But by the time he began to assemble the articles for this book, he was able to characterize that subject, the destination of forty years of exploration, as "an ecology of mind". The remaining decade of his career was spent describing and refining his understanding of that destination and trying to pass it on....

Until the publication of Steps, Gregory must have given the impression, even to his strongest admirers, of taking up and then abandoning a series of different disciplines; sometimes, indeed, he must have felt he had failed in discipline after discipline. Lacking a clear professional identity, he lacked a comfortable professional base and a secure income. He had also become an outsider in other ways. Having been deeply committed to the necessity of defeating Germany and its allies at the beginning of World War II, he had become convinced of the dangers of good intentions. The efforts to oppose the pathologies of Nazism and fascism, which grew out of the distortions of Versailles, had in turn created new pathologies that were played out in the McCarty era and the Cold War, and continue into the twenty-first century. In his postwar work on psychiatry and interpersonal communication, too, he began to see that efforts to heal could themselves be pathogenic. His was , for many years, a lonely and discouraging journey, characterized by a distinctive way of thinking rather than a specific concrete subject matter. It is no accident that a group of the father-daughter conversations he called "metalogues"... stand at the beginning of this volume: Daughter is uncorrupted by academic labeling and becomes Father's excuse to approach profound issues outside of their boundaries...
(pp. viii-ix)

Gregory Bateson has been adopted by Neuro Linguistic Programmers as a key influence, because he tutored the co-founders of this controversial movement, but one can see from the content of his essays that his own interests extended far beyond the modelling of human minds which inspired NLP, into anthropology, politics, ecology, communications theory and cybernetics. What I get from the above synopsis of his working life is how it bore fruit only after forty years of groundwork, how it eschewed labels, and how it rings true even now. It's hopeful and inspiring.

Perhaps in twenty, thirty, forty years time, when Storying is recognised as a phenomenon - artform, expression of personal identity, whatever - there'll be room for a footnote about early slogging in Whitley Bay.

Anyway, you've got to admit that Bateson's battling against the odds, as told above, makes a good story...

Monday, 28 September 2009

779 - Wasting Space And Childcare

Someone asked me recently how I knew I wasn't being a total waste of space. I think his concern was that I'm not earning currency. If I'm not earning, how can I be contributing, to my marriage, and to the public good?

This seems to be at, or near, the heart of the recent ruling by Ofsted that two police officers, who have entered into an informal arrangement whereby each cares for the other's child when the other is engaged in shift work, are somehow doing something illegal.

The story is well covered by the BBC, and is also to do with registration and child protection, but I want to leave that to one side. About the financial aspects of the case, Ofsted says the following:

"Reward is not just a case of money changing hands. The supply of services or goods and, in some circumstances, reciprocal arrangements can also constitute reward. Generally, mothers who look after each other's children are not providing childminding for which registration is required, as exemptions apply to them, for example because the care is for less than two hours or it takes place on less than 14 days in a year. Where such arrangements are regular and for longer periods, then registration is usually required."

The general consensus by children's charities and government ministers is that this is a failed ruling. Their advice is to continue with childminding arrangements until the mess is sorted out. They are recognising that to a significant extent, the work that keeps Britain going - indeed, that in this instance allows two people to earn money - exists outside our formal economic structures.

In other words, it is an example of wild money.

Britain runs on wild money. Banking and business are formalised, and their money is tame - pegged internationally and bound into institutions. But surrounding the official economy is a much larger unofficial one. Eight hours a day a woman may work for cash, but that leaves sixteen hours in the company of others, many of whom are looking out for her. Some of that care she (or he) may pay for in cash, but much is rewarded in kind. This extends far beyond the immediate family, into friendship networks, village communities, groups with shared interests, nationally and even internationally. When the formal economy crashed last year, what sustained us while the pieces were picked up? The informal economy, in which the formal economy is couched.

It works small as well as large scale. That guy who picked up the scarf you dropped today? You'll never meet him again, much less reciprocate (though the smile was appreciated!). But it did cost him to stoop and pick the garment up. That was work. Also work was the vigilance with which he had been reading the street in advance, which enabled him to spot the dropped item, and link it to a retreating figure, and be prepared to bother to contemplate running after you with it.

More sustained (of course), more nearly formalised, is the childminding entered into by the police officers, the charitable work, the concerted engagement with a local community.

I am hearted by the response of the Government minister, who has asked for Ofsted's ruling to be reviewed. Though there is one niggle.

That's that the mistake was made in the first place. It suggests, like the question of my friend, that many people are getting muddled about what the worth of our official currency actually is. I don't mean worth in pounds and pence, I mean, what it is actually for.

Several movements are gaining huge ground in the UK which rely on money being wild. The Transition Towns project, for example, is reliant on local goodwill and the unpaid graft of, let's be honest, the kind of people (like me) who are not that concerned with shareholders or the bottom line. If Transition Towns create for the UK the kind of resilience which enables the country to withstand the vagaries of resource depletion, even without climate change on top, would it not be foolish to undervalue what they have achieved? Conversely, if legislation and institutional expectation limit such movements before they get the chance to achieve anything, would it not be foolish to describe such limitations as anything but valueless and destructive?

If we've learnt anything from the past two years, surely it is that it is time to set our monetary systems free?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

780 - Memory and Storytelling - Quotes

Two, from Jay Griffiths (Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time, 1999), then Frank Kermode (Palaces of Memory, 2001), linking the creation of stories and the recollection of events in complementary ways:

The Diana-story, like all great stories, was structured in time itself, to make a meaningful pattern out of casual time. Born in full summer, married in full summer, died in full summer.... At the day's noon, she was on top of the world, more alive than ever, and at its midnight she was dying, underground, in a tunnel.... Like all subjects of great myths and fables, Diana never chose her meaning; she was the silence at her own storytime.... George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, said of Diana that she 'combined the ordinary and the extraordinary'. And that was what happened to time, that week. The ordinary time of usual life met the extraordinary time of myth.... The mythic moment is where the profane present meets a sacred eternity.
(pp. 42-4)

As [Barrett J.] Mandel expresses it, the author [of an autobiography] is saying to the reader: 'My life was as this tale I am telling.' This is a satisfying formula, and it implies a claim that in this form... it will have power to indicate landmarks and confer meaning on what would otherwise be mnemonic trifles.
(p. 10)

What interests me is what these insights have to offer to the intentional storyer, the man or woman who sets out to introduce a story element into their life from here on in. Both are about what it takes to create a story out of life-events after they have happened. Griffiths and Kermode suggest that a winnowing is necessary: what is remembered is what it takes to convey a (probably pre-selected) narrative meaning to a life, 'making meaningful pattern out of casual time', 'indicating landmarks and conferring meaning on... trifles'. The rest is allowed to become background, through forgetting and the passing of time.

Griffiths also suggests that the application of meaning lifts an event out of ordinary and into mythic time. You could turn that into an equation: by the application of mythic time, an event might become meaningful. How then to reverse engineer the winnowing process? Storying must either be about pre-selecting the events one enters into, or achieving a sense of meaning that embraces everything that might randomly occur to one, so that no winnowing need occur, or some combination of the two.

781 - ...And You My Star

For E; the inscription reads:

A star for you
and you my star

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

782 - Winston Churchill

On Saturday, in Lacock with friends (Whitley to Newcastle, Newcastle to Bristol, up and left a bit), we met a man who claims to be the son of the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill.

He's a potter, David McDowell. I googled "Lacock" and "Pottery" and "Churchill" and found a holiday diary, the writers of which spent longer with him, and were given a fuller version of the story than we were.

The man is small and fiery, like a kiln on legs. He pinned E with his eyes all the while he was talking with us. The gist of it is that his father's mother was seduced by Churchill while the man was on a visit to Ireland. She was a household servant.

David has a book in which he gathers stories related to his own from the visitors to his pottery. I was able to tell him about Marie-Louise.

When we first came to Newcastle, we lived in Gosforth, across the way from an elderly Austrian woman. One day she told us a story about herself. She'd come to Britain to become the tutor of a young woman who wanted to learn her language. The woman had recently married a politician and was rattling around his stately home, so the appointment was as much about providing companionship as education. They were of similar age.

One night Marie-Louise couldn't sleep. She got up to visit the library, and on the balcony overlooking the entrance hall she paused. The home had been used as the location of some important political negotiation the day before. Downstairs, looking up at her, was Winston Churchill. He mounted the staircase, and, passing her, surveyed her deliberately from top to bottom and back again, before pointedly declaring (surely not in a leery voice), "You're a fine-looking girl."

Marie-Louise told us she felt like a horse the way he coldy assessed her. She didn't have a high opinion of the man after that, not at all.

Prime Ministers. Don't cha just love 'em?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

783 - Derren Brown; Multiplicity; Storying

I've just found a quote in Derren Brown's book which puts a slant on Rita Carter's ideas about identity formation, and helps me to begin to understand how controlled character formation might contribute to the art of Storying.

Here's the (longish) quote:

It takes little reflection to see that our self images are arbitrary, and far more likely to be born out of our insecurities than our strengths. And what exactly is a self-image? Far from being abstract, let's take it for what it is: the image you make in your head of yourself when you picture who you are. You might have an over-riding self-image you refer to most of the time, and plenty of other ways of seeing yourself that are specific to certain situations: at home, meeting people, at work and so on.... You've probably left [them] to create themselves, and a lot of unhelpful bits of information have got stuck in there. Should you bother to change what's in those pictures?

The fact is that spending a few minutes playing with the content and look of those pictures can lead to worthwhile and even dramatic changes in your life. The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour. It's rather straightforward. People who are able to give up smoking overnight, for example, are very likely to be the ones who decide to see themselves as a non-smoker, and then behave in that new and exciting way, not worrying if they occasionally slip up; rather than the people who merely 'try not to smoke' and set up a stressful challenge that presupposes eventual failure.

Decide on a self-image you would like. Picture a version of yourself that is realistic but exciting. It's pointless imagining a super-hero version of yourself which is completely unattainable, but be sure to make it something that really appeals. Now, in the same way that you can look at a person and tell them they ooze confidence, make sure that this image of you radiates the qualities you would like to have more of. Design this self-image, and make it detailed. See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you.... Wallow in it....

Some thoughts:

1. This passage (part of a section on the uses of hypnosis and suggestibility) covers similar ground to Rita Carter, who approaches the same ideas from a neurological perspective. For example, Brown writes about an 'over-riding image... and plenty of others'; Carter speaks of major and minor personalities.

2. I'd first want to remove value judgements about helpful and unhelpful information, but think Brown's imaginative approach is accurate and useful. So is Carter's, but her focus is more systematic, using personality tests. The two approaches complement each other, and can be used to inform one another.

3. Brown makes links between image and action explicit: 'The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour'; 'See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you...'. This is helpful in my own attempts to explore how, in the art of Storying, character and plot interact fluidly.

4. A reminder: Storying, as I define it, is an artform whereby one casts oneself, and others if they consent, in a realtime, real-life story of variable duration, just because one can. Whereas other forms of art require crossing a threshhold related to equipment, previous experience, validation by others, and a shared terminology, Storying, because it takes place entirely in the imagination, singulalry or shared, is freed from all these. This means it is political. It is perhaps particularly a challenge to people who require us to define our identities for the sake of the State, or simply our relations with others. In a nutshell, it is about being proactively and positively a Billy Liar.

5. Certain aspects of Brown's and Carter's work presume that any change is made for all time. In the case of Storying, this would certainly be true were the story to be of a lifetime's duration. But if the story is shorter - a five-minute event, even - image changes could still be made in the manner described by Brown. This might give more scope for freedom - there'd be less need to create a 'completely attainable' self image (though again, here we are in the realm of value judgements). Why not, when Storying, create a Superhero self-image? What makes a Super super is his or her embodiment of an ideal - courage, goodness, kindness, steel. Since Plato, at the very least, we've recognised the necessity of ideals. So I'd quibble about Brown's view that they are unattainable (whilst acknowledging that they are!).

This book's value is its practicality. A snotty and patronising review by Hilary Mantel (who is accurate, but misses the point) notwithstanding, it is certainly feeding my ideas. As does Hilary Mantel herself, in her brilliant novel Beyond Black, but that's another post, another day....

784 - How Do You Draw a Pink Wind?

This is another illustration drawn for our friend Marianne. She's pulling together a book of poems for children which she wants to publish on Lulu. The poem is called 'The Pink Wind From The Orb of Ore'.

E met Marianne at Pax Lodge, a Girlguiding 'World Centre' in London where Marianne was working as maintenance manager. We didn't know at the time that she had another life as a singer/poet, although I'm fairly sure there was a guitar in the corner of her basement den, alongside the broken whiteboards, only-for-cold-weather heaters, tools, Christmas decorations, and odd items Guiding History memorabilia.

Marianne sang as Marian Segal in folk clubs in the Sixties, and was lead singer/ songwriter of a critically acclaimed folk rock-trio, Jade, in 1970-71. She's enjoying renewed interest in the Noughties: reunion gigs and the release of old and fresh material - a Jade album after thirty years in 2007.

Monday, 14 September 2009

785 - Transition Towns Revisited

[The blog's heading for a year old, so I'm getting all Janus-headed. The 'J' is of course kind of important here.]

So 201 posts ago I was pondering about Transition Towns. Could Whitley Bay become one? They're communities (towns, villages, cities, even an island or two) who come together to start addressing our long-term addiction to oil. Norwich is one, Totnes another. In fact, Totnes is where it started. Their latest initiative is an 'Energy Descent Plan', by which they'll coordinate their drop in energy usage over the next twenty or so years, so that, for example, energy shortages and oil price spikes don't spring any nasty surprises on them.

As the joint-owner of a patch of concrete, I'm particularly inspired by land-share schemes, whereby people who are not cultivating their gardens allow others without garden space to tend it for them, and the produce from the land is split. There are as many ideas as there are people creatively involved. Lewes, in the South East, developed its own currency, to encourage people to keep their money local (Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade please take note!). And best of all, though individuals retain their political convictions, the movement itself is deliberately non-partisan.

Who's organising this? Although increasingly councils have been getting involved (Lewes, Norwich and the towns around North Norfolk, for example), the impetus has always been bottom-up. Individuals getting together. Last Wednesday the local Transition groups hosted a meeting at the Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle, where a documentary about the movement was shown. I learned there that North Tyneside is in the process of forming its own group.

If you are interested, you could join the Transition Towns WIKI, which is what I'm off to do right now.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

786 - Derren Brown Quote

I missed the show last night, where he correctly predicted the lottery numbers, and will miss tomorrow's, where he explains how he achieved his act. But I've been reading Derren Brown's 2006 book, Tricks of the Mind, where he makes clear his theory that the magic in a performance occurs after the performance itself, in our increasingly contorted attempts to reconstruct just exactly what happened.

So for my money, the performance is still continuing, and whatever explanation is given on Friday will, at least in part, take into account whatever everyone is saying about Wednesday's show here and now. Perhaps he has several explanations up his sleeve, and will choose to reveal the one, or ones, that have maximum impact on the day....

As he, like me, was a naive Christian at university, and as he, like me, still appreciates the 'still small voice of loveliness' (Tricks of the Mind, p. 8) at the heart of humanity, but is, like me, prepared to ditch absolutely everything that religion has to offer, I've got an awful lot of time for him. He'd probably agree that the way he has structured his performance this week bears more than passing resemblance to the Christian story, which has its people in a 'not yet' phase of believing, after the Christ event and before Judgement Day - in other words, at a point in time where the magic is still being elaborated in the mind of the witnessing community.

But I didn't come online in order to write that, just to record a quote from his book that I particularly like and will want to return to. It's this (pp. 116-7):

It is a shame that mnemonics are not taught in schools. The Renaissance replaced the love of the imaginary with a love of reason, and the art of memory, which had become associated too often with magic, began to die out. Later, during the Victorian period, science and information become paramount, and education became about rote learning and unimaginative repetition. As important as these shifts were towards embracing reason over superstition, they have meant we now have to rediscover memory techniques for ourselves. There is also a notion held by many teachers that education should be about understanding and reasoning rather than memorization, and that the latter is a poor substitute for the former. While that may be true when viewed from some angles, it does not take into account the fact that for a student the ability to memorize information is of essential importance, and the majority of students seem to value it at least as importantly as what might be seen as the 'higher' faculties. Especially in the case of younger children, learning such systems can clearly be an enormous confidence-booster and can make preparation for tests much more enjoyable.

I think this insight applies to storying as much as to memory skills. It's about the role of the imagination at the heart of what makes us tick, to which our current society plays lip-service, but not much more...

Hence the rarity of events like last night's on the telly. But maybe things are changing?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

787 - Giant Spider

In our back yard. For scale [!] the hole in the door at the foot of the photo fits a large ginger cat.

Shortly after this was taken, the spider was seen to leap nimbly onto the bolt, draw the lock back, swing the door open and, after hauling the wheelie bins round for a bit, open the garage door from the inside, step outside, and devour a parked 4X4...

Friday, 4 September 2009

788 - Gary McKinnon - Home Office Reply

I posted about Gary Mckinnon late in July. I also contacted the Home Office, and earlier this month received a very long and considered reply to my email. See what you make of it (I need to reflect on it before I comment):

Mr Steve Lancaster

Reference: T14011/9

27 August 2009

Dear Mr Lancaster,

Thank you for your e-mail of 31 July about a request from the USA for the extradition of Gary McKinnon.

It may be worth setting out first a brief summary of Mr McKinnon’s alleged offences. He stands accused in the United States of computer offences allegedly committed between February 2001 and March 2002. These involve the unauthorised access from his home computer in London - or “hacking” into some 97 US Army, Navy and NASA computers concerned with national defence, security and naval munitions supplies. Mr McKinnon is alleged to have deleted data, including vital operating system files – causing, amongst other things, the shutting down of the US Military District of Washington’s entire network of over 2000 computers and the rendering inoperable of certain computer systems at a critical period following 11 September 2001. The USA alleges that the conduct was both calculated and intentional; and it states the cost of necessary systems repairs as being $700,000. During interviews under caution, Mr McKinnon admitted responsibility for certain of his alleged actions (although not that he had actually caused damage). He stated that his targets were high level US Army, Navy and Air Force computers and that his ultimate goal was to gain access to the US military classified information network. He also admitted leaving a note on one army computer reading:
“US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days . . . It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year . . . I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels . . .”
The case has been, of course, the subject of much Parliamentary, press and public interest. Many have formed a sincerely held view that Mr McKinnon should not be extradited. We take careful heed, of course, of all the points which have been urged on his behalf. But it is also necessary to make a number of other points both about the case and more generally. First, that in the scheme of the 2003 Extradition Act, the Home Secretary has an important but limited decision-making role. Indeed, the ‘Act’ provides – and the courts have affirmed - that he must order extradition unless one of four conditions is met. (None of those conditions, I should say, arose when we first considered Mr McKinnon’s case in July 2006). Second, that the United Kingdom has important international obligations towards its many extradition partners. It takes those obligations seriously and, within what the law permits, regards it as its duty to render maximum assistance. We expect no less in return from the UK’s extradition partners. It is a very rare event for a UK request to the USA to be turned down and never at all in over five years. Third, that the US request for Mr McKinnon’s extradition had already been the subject of very rigorous judicial scrutiny before, last August, there was a supervening diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome – a matter currently before the courts.

Judicial scrutiny of the case to date can be summarised as follows. Mr McKinnon was arrested here for extradition purposes in June 2005. There followed a hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court where, in an attempt to defeat the US request for his extradition, Mr McKinnon and those acting for him sought to raise certain statutory barriers to surrender. (Those are all set out in the Extradition Act 2003). In May 2006, however, the District Judge concluded that none of those safeguards applied and, in the ordinary way, he accordingly sent the case to us for a decision as to surrender.

At that stage, Mr McKinnon had an opportunity to make representations to Ministers directly against his surrender – but, as above, only on certain limited grounds set out in the ‘Act’. And where, as in this case, such representations are found not to be applicable or not to be made out, the law requires the Home Secretary to order surrender. That decision was reached in Mr McKinnon’s case in July 2006.

As was his right, Mr McKinnon then appealed to the High Court, both against the Judge’s decision of May 2006 and that of the Home Secretary in July 2006. The High Court dismissed those appeals in April 2007. Mr McKinnon then took his case to the House of Lords which, in July 2008, also dismissed his appeal. Mr McKinnon then made an application to the European Court of Human Rights which in August 2008 rejected the application.

In this way, you will see that the case had withstood the closest possible judicial scrutiny before a supervening diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was brought to our attention. Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s limited role in the process and the late stage in the case at which Asperger’s Syndrome was diagnosed, you will understand that extradition may not take place if to extradite would be incompatible with a person’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In these exceptional circumstances, it was therefore agreed to consider fresh representations, including on grounds of Mr McKinnon’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, as to whether the order for Mr McKinnon’s surrender to the USA should be upheld. Notwithstanding what has been reported in some quarters, that is not to say that we were able to approach the case with a broad, residual or general discretion: the correct legal consideration was whether to proceed with extradition was compatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights. If extradition is not compatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights extradition would have to be halted, but if extradition is compatible with the ECHR there is a legal duty to extradite and to act in any other way would be unlawful. The decision as to the effect extradition would have on Mr McKinnon’s human rights was not a decision to be taken lightly; but, after examining all of the material and evidence relied upon, we concluded in October 2008 that the material and evidence relied upon against Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the USA did not engage his rights under the ECHR. Accordingly, there was an obligation under the Extradition Act 2003 to give effect to the order for extradition.

As was their entitlement, however, those acting for Mr McKinnon then sought and obtained the permission of the High Court for a judicial review of that further decision.

During May, Mr McKinnon also lodged a further application for judicial review, this time against a CPS decision in February 2009 not to bring a prosecution against him in the UK.

Following hearings of both matters (which included a careful weighing of all the evidence as to Mr McKinnon’s Asperger’s Syndrome), the High Court delivered its judgment on 31 July. They found that extradition would not contravene his human rights and that accordingly there was a statutory duty to proceed with extradition. Contrary to misleading reporting in some quarters of the press, the High Court specifically rejected the suggestion that there was any discretion which could be exercised to halt extradition. In view of the High Court’s conclusions it would (subject of course to any successful challenge to their decision) be unlawful to seek to halt extradition.

In the other matter, the High Court refused Mr McKinnon permission to mount a judicial review challenge to the decision not to institute criminal proceedings in this country. The High Court considered that the US was the better place for prosecution. The Court also considered that the challenge to the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) not to institute proceedings in the UK was ‘unarguable’. They also expressed the view that the challenge to the DPP’s decision was really a collateral challenge to the extradition process and that this was a ‘wholly unacceptable state of affairs’.

Mr McKinnon’s lawyers have given notice of their intention to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court (as the House of Lords is soon to become). I do not therefore propose to say more at this stage about the facts of the particular case – other than to hope that this background may be of some assistance not only in clarifying the Home Secretary’s role in the extradition process but also in demonstrating that those acting for Mr McKinnon continue to avail themselves before the courts of every opportunity to contest extradition. In this way, it may clearly be seen that the final outcome of the case and the UK’s treaty obligations are being subjected to the closest attention and to the greatest possible procedural fairness.

If Mr McKinnon is extradited and is subsequently found guilty and receives a prison sentence in the United States, it would be open to him to apply to serve that sentence in the United Kingdom. The application would require the consent of both the American and British Governments. The British Consulate in the United States would explain to Mr McKinnon, at his request, how to apply for the transfer.

Yours sincerely,

Miss C Johnson

Thursday, 3 September 2009

789 - Liturgy (2): Psychogeography

On Cheltenham Racecourse I had a chance to put a question to Iain Sinclair. He's (tangentially, at least) a practitioner of psychogeography. In his books (Edge of the Orison; London Orbital; Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire) he explores the experience of walking through various landscapes, mythmaking with the architecture, people and histories he finds there.

He spoke about the devastation inflicted, unwittingly perhaps, on the poet John Clare, who, unable to acclimatise to London's literary life, sought to return to his labouring family home, only to find that enclosure of the commons had, in the name of progress, privatised the landscape he used to wander freely and which had given him belonging and a muse. Doubly disenfranchised, he spent the latter years of his life in an asylum.

Such enclosure currently finds its echo in the Millenium Dome (a space enclosed with nothing in it) and, now, in the site of the 2012 Olympic Village, where you are being photographed as you approach, but where you have no power to photograph back, on pain of the confiscation of your camera. The site is empty, and the architecture to be built on it modern and uniform, but the crushed stone and life-space confiscated from its previous residents was once rich and full.

Sinclair's talk was powerful, and I, and perhaps others after, asked him how, in the midst of cultural obliteration, one might make a proactive stand for cultural rejuvenation. He writes books. What else could one do?

He gave an interesting answer: "Keep moving. Keep finding new projects."

I cannot help but think that this is the way that Whitley Bay will grow: for its people, and those who come to it, to keep moving, keep on walking, keep dreaming, pushing, and pressing our projects to completion.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

790 - Liturgy

Back from a week in a tent on Cheltenham Racecourse.