Chris Mead


posted: 03 Aug 2008

Well, I've finally done it.... I've quit my 'temporary' job! Yes, I am about to launch myself, like a confused minke whale, onto the silty shores of the full-time job-hunt. It worked for Wide (after the better part of a year), so I'm convinced the brazen terror of a dwindling bank account should be a good incentive to write more than two applications a month...
So, I'm going to treat this as a job. Get up early, get cracking, investigate contacts, telephone, cold call, smear attractive posters of myself across the lobbies of any development or lobbying organisation I can locate, call in all my favours. I'm even going to set myself targets- instead of 2 applications a month, I'll have at least two interviews. I might even go for training as to how not to frighten interview panels and yet provide a good soupçon of character. Mmmhmmm.

I really can't fail- 2007 is going to have to up the ante: another year in limbo (employment wise) would not be good for my soul...

Only 5 days til Christmas One!

posted: 03 Aug 2008

I'm so excited, I could widdle!

Alright- maybe not that excited. But still- I think it'll be pretty darn good... Wide's friends are all really amazing, wonderful people (except for one of them*) and they seem to have untrammelled fun of the sort that is highly contagious. Some of the things that they plan to do are a little confusing to me. For example: Stair Council. What is this? Is it simply, as first appears, a council on the stairs? I hope it's not like a real council meeting. They are exceptionally boring and bureaucratic- not really PARTAY! stylee.

The other reason I am glad about the existence of Christmas One is that, for much of the run up to Christmas 'proper' (ie, the 25th), I will be completely by myself, in my giant, old, creaky, freaky, chilly, drafty, other thingy house. Not good, especially at night (I worry about situations) seeing as the one time that I did hear noises downstairs and call 999, it turned out there was actually someone down there. It is beside the point that 'the intruder' was my cousin O'Fish, who was in fact a colleague of the 12 strong police team who attempted to storm the house about five minutes later (luckily it wasn't a wasted trip as he was able to run upstairs and give back a uniform shirt the sergeant had leant him). The real point is that now, when I hear creaky, clattery noises at night, I have a much harder job convincing myself that it's just the central heating.... I was fine living in a flat- but its very big trying to fill a five bedroomed house all by yourself, unless a passing serial killer conveniently dismembered you- but I really don't like the way that train of thought is heading, so I'll put that back in the box for later, when I've finally switched off the light and persuaded myself that yes, I did lock the back door.

This all told, the invasion of my humble abode by a goodly portion of brilliantly talented, affable, vivacious human beings (not that one I mentioned earlier **) will go a long way towards pulling me back from the brink of nervous insanity. Even if it only lasts a weekend.

Happy nearly Christmas everyone!

[**not a joke. ***]
[***oooo, now I'm just messin' with your mind!]


posted: 03 Aug 2008

This lady works very hard.

And has interesting tastes in millinery...

Video killed the text format star

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Here's the link for those of you reading from an rss feed.

Cruising for a bruising....

posted: 03 Aug 2008


Wide and I are about to head off into the roiling cauldron of Israel and the OPTs, in less than a week. 2006 was, quite rightly, designated a year of crisis for the region by UK governmental reports and the media alike. And over the past few days, a further addition to the already pitiable situation of the OPTs has re-surfaced; the very real prospect of an inter factional civil meltdown of the two Palestinian political parties- Hamas and Fateh. Hopefully the talks brokered by Egypt will diffuse the situation; but it's difficult to know exactly how much use either party will be in easing the suffering of other Palestinian civilians.

As an organisation, the governing body has the right to administer education, health care, environmental protection and other essential civil functions. And yet, whoever rolls out on top of this scrum (democratically elected or not), they may not be able to carry out even these most basic of duties- tax revenues for this being currently withheld by the occupying power. So the doctors, policemen, teachers and dustbin men have not received a salary since March 2006. Amazingly, the strikes and closures only started a few months ago.

How does a nation function when it has no legitimate source of income? When the goodwill of its citizens inevitably runs out, who will step up act as the banker? What allegiances will be made? Who else will the state become beholden to? Who, exactly, is the current financial stranglehold targeted at- and do they really have the power to make it stop?

It's a far cry from the countries I visited when I was younger.

I remember Israel/Palestine through a series of flashbulb memories. The view between my father's arms as he swung me over his shoulders, walking down the Via Dolorosa away from a heated bartering session. The stinging sensation of foolhardily entering the Dead Sea with fresh grazes down my legs, and the acrid, unspeakable taste of the water. The coolness of the Church of the Nativity and its damp darkness after the heat of the sun outside. The unmistakable perfume of oranges in the dappled orchards, and the tanned, dusty width of the roads on the crossing to Jordan.

It seems that as we get older, more and more of the layers of comfort are stripped away from our worlds. We become aware of the political maps of areas, a painful palimpsest over natural beauty or architectural splendour. Here is your workplace-where you cannot work. This road is where the school run feels like a gauntlet. Here are the fields that your family can no longer farm. On that hill, someone was killed.

I think the next fortnight will be, for me, a negotiation: internally, with my own idealism, memories and guilt- and externally, with people whose opinions challenge mine- some times diametrically. I'm glad Wide will be with me- so at least I know I'll win some of the arguments!
-my secret strangulation method works every time....

The reason why I got my bike fixed

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Now I'm a mild mannered kind of fellow. I wouldn't say boo to a goose. Unless the goose had specifically asked me to (perhaps to cure a fit of hiccups). But if there was going to be one thing, one insidious, pointless, idiotic cultural tic that would one day see me snap like an atrophied elastic band, grab the nearest blunt/sharp/radioactive object and start swinging away like Babe Ruth in a cloud of bees, it's this - people on public transport who play their music through mobile phone speakers.

Where do I start? How do I begin to vent this tumour of pent-up hatred, this blood-boiling, gut-churning tidal wave of vitriol I have backed up inside me? What do I want to say to you, denizen of the back seat, ensconced inside your tattered hoodie, pustulant boils flung carelessly across your face with the lackadaisical air I have no doubt is applied to every area of your worthless, irritating life?

Well firstly I want to say, get some semblance of musical appreciation. If we have to listen to your music, if it truly is our sad lot in life to watch you play the moronic DJ to your toxic-looking mate in the seat opposite you, then at least let that music be vibrant or thoughtful or experimental or life-affirming. What we don't want to hear is querulous, mewling cretins spewing the musical equivalent of the Ebola virus over our quivering ear holes. We'd rather not listen to the preschool ramblings of a bigoted, closed-minded, no talent, bottom feeding Nazi Media Whore just because it has a semi-rhythmic beat behind it, thank you very much.

Of course such considerations are rendered null and void because you're playing the aforementioned musical aberration on POSSIBLY THE SINGLE WORST AUDIO PLAYBACK DEVICE IN THE UNIVERSE. When I was 4 years old I had a plastic record player made by Tomy that had better fidelity than that carcinogenic box of wires you clutch in your grubby paw. Seriously, dude, it sounds like a group of crickets are conducting a rave in a match box. And just because you're mindlessly bobbing your head along to the white noise like a life-sized meat marionette whose operator is having a seizure, it doesn't mean we're suddenly going to recognise it as music.

You dead-eyed, unthinking, arrogant, attention-seeking, TURBO GIT.

Thank-you. That's put off the stroke for another few years I reckon.

Not myself

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Skip back a few years and I�"m working in the cinema. The trendy end of London, customers in Gucci and artful smart but casual, casual but casual, dragged through a hedge backwards and sprayed silver but casual. But for us it�"s all the same, the whispered impact of cardboard against stale popcorn, the watered down Coke with 60% ice (minimum) and the sensation of not really being there at all. Cogs in a machine, we twist and turn as the hot dogs roll up and down the heated plate behind us and we mouth along to the RomCom trailer for the fifteenth time. And I write poems and hide them in people�"s napkins, fill the backs of frozen food logs with black biro sketches, snatch kisses from ushers in fire safety emergency drills; hiding beneath my navy blue cap and yellow T-shirt the colour of nacho cheese. My badge says ��Hi my name is Ahmed�".

Fast forward and it�"s stock taking night at the music store and the door is barred and the lights are bright and I�"m sailing between the aisles looking for the magic spot to put Moby�"s Play. I have Bill Hicks on the PA system and I�"m smiling to myself and laughing out loud a bit which is unusual. Around me everything is imploring me to buy anything, tokens, stickers, posters proclaiming discounts, free gifts savings, BOGOF, membership deals. But I�"m broke and I�"m rimy eyed and desperate for change. There�"s a Persian girl with thick eye make-up, a pretty face, a mono-brow and a deep monotone voice to match. She�"s obsessed with Nick Drake and she dances now through the shop to music that plays only in her head. And I look at her a split second too long and she notices and holds my stare a moment longer in solidarity. I still have Moby in my hand and I�"m standing in Easy Listening.

Earlier today I�"m told the play is cancelled due to a bomb scare. The roads are deserted in the centre of town and the policeman and I stand in the middle of Broad Street with blue tape stretched between us. I�"m so angry, I�"ve been looking forward to it for weeks. But this is our world now, for whatever reason this set of people are trying to blow my set of people up. I can�"t believe it, that such a theoretical conflict could have a physical impact on my life. I�"m so bitterly disappointed. Then on the way home I hear on the latest NewsPod � real bombs in Baghdad, detonated in a busy market, they�"re still finding body parts. Then I�"m disgusted with myself.

I can paint the past in nostalgic hues. The world was different then. Bigger, safer, softer. No one categorically wanted me dead. The weatherman said that at four o�"clock this morning, in two hours time, it will start to snow and it won�"t stop for a very long time.

We�"ll all wake up tomorrow and we won�"t recognise where we are.


The weathermen are clever.

Review of Blood Diamond

posted: 03 Aug 2008

'People back home wouldn�"t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone their hand.'

In the 80s you could get away with heroes dancing unscathed thorough fire fights, dispatching bad guys one handed with semi-automatic weapons and driving vehicles off buildings for a laugh. Nowadays audience have begun to demand a little realism with their action. Bullets tear out chunks where previously they made tidy holes, violence shatters limbs and lives and people rarely get up and walk away. This new found lust for realism even extends to character motivations and has implications for the political arena in which a film is set, thus we have Bond villains who�"d rather make a bit of money than destroy the world, government spies in the pocket of the oil industry in Syriana and now we have Edward Zwick�"s Blood Diamond. In younger, simpler times, Leo DeCaprio�"s Danny Archer would have been a gimlet eyed charmer, a smuggler with a quick tongue, quicker fists and a nice line in self-deprecating one liners. Solomon Vandy, the African fisherman who finds the eponymous rock that kicks off the plot, would have been played by an upcoming black comedian fresh from the set of Saturday Night Live. The two would bicker hilariously for a bit, get into a few scrapes with disgruntled mercenaries and eventually escape Sierra Leone with the diamond and a pair of colour coded beauties who�"d lost most of their clothes in the excitement. No more however, instead we get a fascinating performance of dignity and fury from Djimon Hounsou as Vandy, a fallible, unstable protagonist of questionable virtue in Archer and a script which uses the chase movie structure to ask uncomfortable questions about Western civilisation�"s casual ravishment of the African continent. Yes there�"s still guns, car chases and things going Bang! in exciting ways but mindless escapism this is not. If anything the opposite is true � here is a film that forces you to think rather more than you�"re comfortable with. A message movie in genre clothing that despite the glossy trappings has something valuable to shout above the noise of its explosions.

Making sense of it all

posted: 03 Aug 2008

We're back! Truth to tell we've been back almost a week now but Israel doesn't leave your consciousness easily and I still feel too conflicted to state anything categorically. Actually that's not strictly true (you see I can't even state I can't state anything categorically categorically) - there is one bald statement I'm pretty sure of - it was a trip that I'll never forget.

The holy land is a mess of contradictions, factions, violent reactions, victims and bullies, peacemakers and prophets. A powder keg of a country guarded by kids with machine guns. How can a place so inspiring be fractured so utterly by hatred? Why is it that something special must be carved up into bloody chunks so that everyone can have their piece rather than sharing the whole? That's simplistic and misguided and misses the point but every argument I come up with, every theoretical construct I create to explain to myself the situation seems woefully incomplete and naive. There is faith here, and when there is faith there is no need for doubt or fear or the merest hint of a whisper that you might not be right. And there is faith here, faith that a solution can be found, that the children of Abraham can live together side by side, that ultimately grace will prevail through the haze of flying shrapnel, criss-crossed by concrete slabs and coils of barbed wire. I sit before you and I feel humbled and powerless and inspired and nauseas, from the green slopes of the Galilee to the bulls-eye dead centre of the quarters of Old Jerusalem, there's work to be done and no clear way of doing it.

I can't finish this post, I can't decide whether to end on a positive or a negative. A note of succour or the grim status quo. Neither is wholly appropriate, one breeds apathy, the other denies hope. Perhaps it's best to leave it incomplete. Because it's by no means finished ...

For Gwen & Stephen

posted: 03 Aug 2008

there are lovers whose eyes are silent reflective pools
for them love is a draft, a long cool drink, a thing of tranquility
they swim in its shallows, it soothes their skin, its touch is heaven
distilled in sweet nectar that pours from their lips
these lovers find in each other peace

there are lovers who�"s eyes are flaming brands
for such as these love is a blaze, consuming warm flesh
as sparks fly from between their teeth, they flicker and bend and
blend together, spit and break and rush to embrace again
these lovers find in each other passion

there are lovers whose eyes are secret buried places
for their love is pregnant with possibility, precious and fresh and new
they are rooted to each other, twining together hand in hand and heart
to heart they grow heavy with fruit, strong and firm, bursting with life
these lovers find in each other sustenance

there are lovers whose eyes are studded with stars
for they know love to be vast, all encompassing, breath taking
they feel the gentle caress that fills every inch of their being they
dance on the swell and the ebb of the breeze, arms flung to the horizon
these lovers find in each other eternity

and there are lovers whose eyes are fixed only on each other
in them are oceans, infernos, tranquil gardens and thunder
they are the promise of life in all its fullness, scattering love like
rose petals and bright confetti, they are a blessing to all who know them
these lovers find in each other


Freeform wonderings

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Sometimes I meet someone and I think �SI wish I was going to get the chance to know you��. There are people out there � cool people, funny people, talented people, beautiful people � they�"re like a great idea just before you fall asleep or a postcard from a stranger delivered to you accidentally. They provide a moment of exhilaration or inspiration that you know you won�"t hold on to, that will never be part of your life. A stolen experience from someone else�"s diary, a perfect view from a speeding train that aligns momentarily- window frame, angle, perspective, light, something caught in the amber of memory that existed for you for that second but can never be recreated. You know that kind of meeting? A half smile across a crowded tube train from the cute girl with the pierced nose. An overheard joke told with precision and perfect comedy timing. A poem filled with clarity and deeply felt. I�"ve met artists who I�"d love to chat to for hours, writers who don�"t know that I�"m even worth speaking to, friends of a friend who pass the time of day, plant seeds of potential and vanish. I now realise -- too late, too late -- you can�"t know everyone, feel everything, mean something to every single somebody. You have to pick your life like a bouquet, one flower, one experience, one friend at a time � surround yourself with colour and diversity and remember to celebrate the people you do have the privilege to know well, the places that feel safe and familiar, the experiences and instances that unfolded around you and you alone. And when another exotic life drifts past your eyes, a wind swept blossom of exquisite, unknowable beauty, don�"t give chase or crane your neck to see where it falls, know that you are also something special, fluttering on the periphery of someone else�"s world and that someone somewhere is yearning to know you too.

What I did at work today

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Here's a link for those of you reading this on Facebook.

Comfortable friends

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Sometimes science gets it right. It�"s the smell of the memory that comes back first. The image is over-exposed and strangely tilted in my mind, as if some vast projector behind my eyes has buckled somehow and swept the image half off the screen. But the smell is as sweet and as distinctive as it was that morning, that soft January dawn we tumbled out of the manse door and struck out together to see the sunrise.

We were city folk, unused to the lazy burr of the countryside, scents compact and pungent - lavender, poinsettia and the scarlet long stem roses that bordered the peace garden at the end of the drive - ambushed our nostrils with bullish sensitivity. We were unused to the landscape and equally unused to each other, unused to the freedom we found in each other�"s company. There were six of us -- or seven or five the image is still faded, water-damaged and treacherous -- a gaggle of loose limbs, high voices and wide smiles. We laughed a lot, I remember that and hugged even more, giddy with the ease, the sheer length of time we could hold each other without judgement or rebuke. Exciting times where nothing was pinned down or uncovered or investigated but haltingly. We didn�"t know anything for sure yet, it was all up for grabs, it was still all to play for. Empty country roads, shuttered cottage windows and the sky like pulled velvet above us. Light on the horizon, we danced and jumped and balanced on crumbling stone walls as we made our way towards the park.

Helen let out that laugh, god I remember that laugh, like a dying animal that was inexplicably happy about its fate. Beside her Nic smiled and I wanted to go and hold her hand but the gesture would have seemed uncomfortable and forced and anyway Jon and I were soon racing through the dust of the car park towards the wooden adventure playground, quietly rotting into a public safety liability in one corner of the park. And there we hung upside down and watched the inverted sun drip slowly from the fields down into the sky. It was January the first, the world was new and so were we, I think Elisabeth started singing, I think Nic quoted Auden or Larkin, I know Jon got attacked by an inquisitive horse.

Because that�"s what that morning�"s become now, a 10 second anecdote, a nostalgic laugh about the sudden appearance of a hungry equine. But I remember more, I remember the hope and the wonder, I remember the heat in my cheeks and the utter certainty that this moment was sacred and untouchable ...

I remember the long stem roses that bordered the peace garden ...

An oak tree

posted: 03 Aug 2008

I saw a play tonight. This is what it was about ⬦

A man loses his daughter in a car accident. Nothing now is what it is. It's like he's in a play - but he doesn't know the words or the moves. The man who was driving the car is a stage hypnotist. Since the accident, he's lost the power of suggestion. His act's a disaster. For him, everything now is exactly what it is. For the first time since the accident, these two men meet. They meet when the father volunteers for the hypnotist's act. And, this time, he really doesn't know the words or the moves...

And here�"s the thing about this play. The actor playing the father has only met the actor playing the hypnotist one hour previously. He has never seen a script. He doesn�"t know anything more about the show than the audience. He discovers it as he goes along - reading from clipboards, fed lines via an ear piece or obeying whispered instructions from the other actor (who also devised and wrote the piece).

It�"s raw theatre. As in the moment as it�"s possible to be. Like dancing on a knife edge blindfolded in front of a paying crowd. It�"s impossible to describe really which makes it doubly annoying that I�"m compelled to try. Even the initial conversation between the two actors ��out of character�" is scripted with the guest answering simple questions like ��Are you nervous?�" by reading ��yes ⬦ a little�" off a clipboard.

��Don�"t be�" comes the grinning response.

But this isn�"t wilfully bizarre theatre for its own sake. The form fits the message, the hesitant and lost actor at its centre able to conjure the broken and bleary world his character inhabits by drawing on the powerfully theatrical device of the play�"s central conceit. He is bound to the audience as we discover together just what his life has become. He clings to the actor playing the hypnotist, relying on him for suggestion and encouragement - what to say, where to move, how to look, what to feel - a form of lucid voluntary hypnosis in its own right. More than anything I�"ve seen in recent years, this play dances in the twilight place that exists between actor and character, contracting and relaxing that delicate membrane that allows a fictional creation to stand centre stage and the player to stand one atom further back. Stanislavski thought of this tension, this interplay between performer and performance as armour, breastplate and visor to be strapped on before every curtain up. For Meyerhold it was the handful of strings to tug the marionette. Here it is arguably the power of suggestion, the ability for objects in the mind to become fully realised on stage just because we will them to be. A tree becomes a child. An actor becomes a character. A script becomes a cry from the heart. What is hypnosis but the outward manifestation of internalised creativity? What is theatre, for that matter? When an actor steps on stage he creates a character out of thin air, he makes you believe on some level that there is a person in the room who isn�"t actually there.

As the play progresses the scripted ��out of character�" moments blend with the narrative ��in character�" voices until every level on which you�"re watching - the play, the concept, the hypnosis act, the father�"s fractured inner life, the technical feats required to pull it all off - seem to come to the same conclusion. That we create the world around us, that reality is in the eye of the beholder.

But, of course, that�"s just my opinion.

It was a memorable night and a fascinating piece of theatre. I�"ll leave you with this - near the end, the guest actor turns to his co-star and reads the following from his clipboard:

��You�"re very good in this. It�"s very well written.�"

��Thanks�" comes the carefully considered throw-away reply.


The Silent Majority

posted: 03 Aug 2008

�SHamas!�� �SYou terrorists! You should be ashamed of yourselves!�� These were some of the angry cries thrown at myself and the other black-clad women who stood silently in the rain, in the centre of Jerusalem, protesting against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The women surrounding me were not Palestinians, or even Arab Israelis. They were staunchly religious Israeli Jews, who believe that what their country does in their name is wrong; and have kept weekly silent vigils of protest against the occupation since 1988.

In the ongoing conflict it becomes all too easy to focus on the injustices experienced by one side, and view the other as a tyrannical monster. The mantra I kept hearing during my trip was �Swhen both sides are ��right,�" how can there be compromise?�� Of course, the conflict is anything but black and white, and from a foreign perspective, the pot-holed roadmap to peace and its depressing history can leave little room for sympathy.

But what must not be forgotten is that there are voices on both sides desperately working for greater peace and understanding. Galia Golan of Peace Now, Israel�"s oldest peace movement, says polls show �Sa vast majority of Israelis (80%) agree with the idea of a two-state solution, a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel, and are willing to see a withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.�� However, this silent majority is often publicly undercut by the forceful opinions of the few who do not accept this: and often, the same citizens who are desperate for peace do not believe the ��other side�" shares that goal.

To combat this, groups have sprung up attempting to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis, and actively demonstrate that not all Israelis are silent collaborators in injustice, challenging their government in the courts and on the ground. For some, their strong Zionist beliefs motivate them to do so: a concept that may sound strange to us, but is better explained by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the director of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), who I met in Jerusalem, fresh from a days work harvesting olives alongside Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, protecting them from settlers.

�SThe way to be pro-Israel is to work for a better Israel, and the real Zionism is to work for an Israel that is not only physically strong but morally strong,�� he said. �SThere is a false equation that if you voice any criticism of Israel you are de-legitimising Israel at some level. I believe the opposite.�� Rabbi Ascherman�"s words are bolstered by a lifetime of action on behalf of the Palestinian people by himself and other Israeli Rabbis, whose organisation has stood against government bulldozers intent on destroying Arab homes, challenging them with religious and international law alike, and facing arrest for doing so.

For me, the work that RHR and other organisations like theirs do is valuable on many levels. Visiting Bethlehem, a town that has been turned into a virtual prison by the encircling ��security�" wall, I experienced the deep sense of isolation felt by those living there. The director of a Christian Arab school confided �SWhen the wall went up, we didn�"t hear from our partners in Israeli schools. It was like they�"d forgotten we existed.�" One of the more insidious aspects of the Wall, the intifada and wars before its erection is the wedge it has driven between neighbours. Arab and Jewish populations are divided not only physically, but economically and emotionally, though decades of misunderstanding and conflict.

And this is why the presence of people like Rabbi Ascherman is so essential to give this area a shot at a lasting peace. Years ago, Arik was arrested when he ran to help a terrified 13 year old boy who had been tied to the front of a jeep by Israeli security forces as a human shield against stone throwers. He was beaten by the sergeant, and handcuffed to the jeep next to the boy, where he talked to him, reassuring him that everything would be ok. Later when the boy was asked about what had happened, he recounted the event, but finished: ��⬦and then a tall Jewish man in a kippah came and saved me!�" It is this recognition of the humanity of the ��others�", this common identification as people, not forces, that will provide the understanding needed for the foundations of peace.

Hand in Hand

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Israel today is a state of contradictions. Its people hail from nations across the globe: (Ethiopia, Russia, and Canada to name a few) and yet, 20% of its citizens live in virtual segregation. These are Israel�"s Arab citizens: crucially, not citizens of Palestine, but a distinct group: with a complex, politically charged identity of their own. Arab Israelis (to use the most common definition) often live in separate villages closely adjoining Jewish areas, throughout the state of Israel. Tensions between the two communities are rife: as are accusations of institutionalized inequality. Most adult Israelis cannot speak or understand Arabic, and Arab children only begin to learn Hebrew at secondary school, meaning communication is limited and often one-sided.

It is rare for members of one community to mix with the other: and, as seen throughout history, this deepens the lack of understanding between the two. Adults, secure in their own identities, can indoctrinate their children with ingrained prejudice, whether it is active (enrolling them in a segregated school), or passive avoidance (driving to the next town to buy a pint of milk rather than using the shop in the next neighbourhood). With education in Israel almost entirely segregated, drastic action needed to be taken to break the cycle of estrangement.

In 1997, Lee Gordon and Amin Khalaf, two teachers, founded the Hand in Hand Centre for Jewish-Arab Education was founded to build peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel by developing bilingual, multi-cultural schools. Secondary schools were built in Jerusalem and in the Galilee, and a third school was opened in the Wadi Ara, a predominately Arab area. Classes were initially small, with only 45 students: but this has increased to over 750, with each school over-subscribed. Each school has two Heads, one Arab, one Jewish; and each classroom is co-taught by Jewish and Arab teachers. Classes have an equal number of Arab and Jewish children, who are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic.

More importantly, Hand-in-hand schools, located in Arab areas, mean that communities are beginning to interact; from smaller activities like Jewish parents using the local grocer when they drop their kids off at school, to more meaningful ventures like jointly-run after-school groups and vocal Parent�"s Associations. A shared interest in their children�"s future and a desire to build community support for the schools - through investment of funds, public recognition, and government accreditation, has welded Arab and Jewish parents into active, committed community units, working together in unprecedented ways. And their voices are being heard: The Dovrat Commission, convened in 1995 to revamp public education in Israel, noted in its report the importance of establishing regional bilingual schools in Israel as a test case for the wide-scale proliferation of such schools in the future.

As any parent knows- schools are not only centres of education, but socialisation. Interacting with different groups fundamentally changes your perspective on life. The children at Hand-in-Hand schools can not only read shop signs, product information and newspapers in both national languages (something their parents can not), removing barriers to communication, but they also have a unique opportunity to find out what other groups experience. For example, the school has produced a diary of all the religious festivals, public holidays, and historical events of the calendar year, and the meanings behind them. This means families can begin to understand why Yom Ha�"atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), a day of celebration in Jewish culture, is called al-Nakba (The Catastrophe) amongst Arab populations (many of whom had lost relatives to deportation or conflict, or lost land and property), and is often accompanied by civil unrest.

Teachers lead guided discussion of these events to help children understand each other. Children are encouraged to talk about their feelings towards suicide bombings, riots and arrests, and to think about how they would resolve conflicts. As one little boy of 7 put it, after walking to school past a bus explosion a few roads away from his school ��If the Jews and Arabs can�"t sit down together and talk about the land fairly, then nobody should have it.�" The playground logic of this is poignant, but it signifies a growing hope for dialogue amongst the younger generation, who will eventually inherit the problems of their parents: but with a fresh battery of skills and understanding to overcome them.

Another beginning ...

posted: 03 Aug 2008

When you get right out into the country it gets really hard to see. We�"re so used to city glow painting our horizons amber. But if you walk far enough in the right direction you can slip into an altogether deeper darker specimen of night.

This was one of those times. I knew I was holding my hand up in front of my face but there was no visual evidence to corroborate this story. I was alone, singular in a way that one can only attain when you�"re not even sure you have a body anymore. I was 18 and newly single and I�"d left home for the first time. I thumbed the play button on my brand new portable CD player and music erupted in the space between my ears. A new album, Stunt by the Barenaked Ladies. I remember following that country road as the world began to coalesce around me, as hedges and verges leapt out from the darkness stenciled in twilight.

You get to know yourself better as you get older and you forget there was a time when you and yourself were virtually strangers. Who were you going to be? What were you going to believe in? I remember being surprised when opinions sprung fully realised from my lips, stunned by the vehemence of my thoughts on the matter. I was in flux in that country lane, as ephemeral and shifting as my silver-lined surroundings.

I�"ve been writing this blog for almost three years now. I write down what I can remember about what it�"s like to be me. I write because I might forget it and because writing feels good when I�"ve written (though rarely when I�"m writing). I write because I want to get better and so from now on, every day, I�"ll put aside half an hour and I�"ll just write and see what I have to say for myself.

And tonight my time is up.

In these stones, horizons sing

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Let me put this bluntly. There�"s no way to sugar coat it, I�"m a geek. A card carrying, statistic spouting, pedant spluttering member of the cultural elite. In fact I�"m not just one kind of geek, I�"m legion. I�"m a computer geek and a theatre geek and a movie buff geek and a comics geek but more than anything else, oh so very much more, I�"m a Doctor Who geek. Yes, from 1989 onwards I�"ve been in the thrall of the timelord and I can�"t think of a programme that�"s had a more positive effect on my life. While other young boys had heroes who kicked balls into far off nets or slaughtered hundreds of enemy soldiers with a belt-fed machine gun, my hero defeated evil with little more than a bag of jelly babies and an off the wall sense of humour.

This may sound silly but I can actually remember making the decision to be more like the Doctor, to clown around and let people underestimate me, to attack any new situation with a mixture of childish enthusiasm and deep thought. I don�"t think it�"s too far-fetched to say that the man I am today owes a lot to the values instilled in me then. I still abhor violence, I still love traveling and meeting people, I even sometimes still walk with my hands clasped behind my back (although admittedly this did look very odd when I was 9 years old, I kept overbalancing and falling on my head).

Anyway, all of this is preamble to the fact that today saw myself and the Bannerman rocketing down the M5 toward Cardiff, the current home of the Dr Who production team. The sun was blazing, the windows were open and the conversation was lively and interesting. It was the perfect Bank Holiday weekend activity, a spontaneous road trip to a new city on a sparkling spring day.

Cardiff Bay is a truly amazing place, a real patchwork of architectural styles and eras, all crowding around the oval of the bay itself. Some of the buildings are simply beautiful, all cool grays and burnished bronze in the afternoon sun. I couldn�"t quite escape the feeling I�"d walked onto a set, what with so many of them having featured in the good Doctor�"s adventures over the past two years. In an act of almost breathtaking geekiness, I even got my picture taken where the TARDIS was last seen landing.

There I am, all pleased with myself. What a content little wally I am.

Ha, but what a day. I�"ve even written about it verbatim on the blog. And I almost never do that. It�"s just that today I�"ve seen Cybermen and Daleks, jumped over benches and laughed a lot about nothing in particular. It was such a liberating, surprising day and I didn�"t even know it was going to happen.

I�"ve stood where one of my heroes has stood and it made me smile.

Why I do what I do

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Return to the Forbidden Planet

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Check your life support systems, strap on your rocket boots and prepare for the most gleefully exuberant theatrical experience of your Earth-bound lives. Join Captain Tempest and the crew of the starship ��Albatross�" as they encounter DEVASTATING meteor storms, battle EVIL scientists and REVERSE THE POLARITY of the neutron flow to a truly alarming degree.

SEE a robot man play hot rock ��n�" roll on a space guitar!
HEAR the roar of a planet-sized beastie with more teeth than brain cells!
SMELL the unmistakable tang of plasma beams and peppermint bubble gum!
FEEL the unrequited love of a lowly cook for an intergalactic cheerleader!
TASTE the excitement as life goes crazy for a group of star cadets trapped in a tin can, billions of miles from home!

With influences ranging from early 60�"s Sci-fi Americana to Shakespeare, classic rock ��n�" roll to Star Wars, this musical extravaganza is a life-affirming trip into the unknown delivered at warp speed by a cast of talented young actors and musicians from all over the country. Using diverse theatrical and cinematic techniques including puppetry, projection, model work and computer animation, they will bring this incredible production to life in just ONE WEEK. That�"s right, an entire show conceived, rehearsed and performed in the time it takes most companies to decide on a colour scheme.

GASP! FAINT! SCREAM! Faith, hope & gaffertape are back with their most ambitious and explosive show EVER.

In space, no one can hear you ROCK OUT!

4th - 5th August 2007 @ 7.30pm, Abington Avenue URC, Northampton

The Threepenny Opera

posted: 03 Aug 2008

The first rule of fightclub ...

posted: 03 Aug 2008

A long, long night at the theatre

posted: 03 Aug 2008

Ah, the technical rehearsal, that phenomenon known throughout the theatrical world as an experience akin to pulling your own teeth out with a rusty set of salad tongs while being mauled by a rabid yet surprisingly amorous grizzly bear. I�"ve been to many a tech in my lifetime, both professional and amateur, in capacities that range from centre stage luvvie to the guy that makes sure there�"s enough weak tea in the prop whiskey bottle. Without exception it�"s the same story- the cast, who�"ve had the play to themselves for the entire rehearsal period, resent the appearance of a black-clad army who have suddenly emerged from the shadows and started telling them what to do; while the crew seem to be of the opinion that the show would run much more smoothly without the unnecessary addition of all those morons in fancy dress. Consequently, the whole process moves at a snail�"s pace, tempers rise to heights far above the fly gallery and the whole thing descends into a furore of hissy fits and dark words muttered into boom mics.

But I have a secret. A guilty pleasure I only admit to myself in private moments of introspection.

I love technical rehearsals.

I love the camaraderie that develops among the actors as we�"re made to wait 45 minutes in the wings with no explanation or apology as far above our heads a single par can is refocussed stage right to limited aesthetic effect. I love sniggering into my headphones when a member of the chorus gets the dance wrong and head-butts a piece of the set. I adore the little games we invent to amuse ourselves, the stupid jokes that are only funny because it�"s 2am and if we weren�"t laughing we�"d be seriously considering ending it all by throwing ourselves into the orchestra pit.

People group together in the face of adversity. It�"s a fact of life. So even though we all know in a week�"s time that we�"ll be a cohesive company, even though come Saturday we�"ll doubtless be sharing the plaudits of a job well done as a unified whole; this evening, for one night only, it�"s us vs. them. It�"s childish, it�"s silly, it�"s cathartic and it�"s brilliant.

I�"m as happy as a pig in muck at techs, I love every minute of them. They�"re frustrating and time consuming and utterly inefficient but when you suffer through something together it brings you closer and if you�"re luckily, when you reach the end of the whole ridiculous process, when you�"ve forged your friendships in the fires of hell and even gained a grudging respect for the enemy, what you�"ve got at that moment is the best reward of all.

You�"ve got yourself a show.

Life's a bitch

posted: 03 Aug 2008

I can still feel the blood pounding in the back of my head. My hands have been balled up into fists for so long I�"m finding it difficult to type and I have a series of crescent shaped marks in the soft flesh of my palm left by my own fingernails. My eyes are bloodshot, my jaw is cramping and my teeth have been ground down to powder.

I wouldn�"t like me when I�"m angry.

This morning I had the ��pleasure�" of sharing my commute to work with three young actors from Birmingham�"s esteemed School of Acting. These charming individuals spent the entire 20 minute bus ride complaining loudly in identical, theatrical automaton voices about every single other person on their acting course. No stone was left unturned in their seemingly eternal quest to root out every glitch, every weakness, every wrong inflection and mispronunciation in their colleagues�" performances.

�SDid you see Rachel�"s attempt at Juliet in her showcase? You know some people just can�"t cope with classical texts, I don�"t know what they were thinking giving it to her. It�"s such a gift of a role and she does nothing with it.��

This kind of talk went on for the duration of my time on the bus. Discussed clearly and unashamedly for everyone to hear. Each of their friends were considered in turn before being summarily dismissed; picked apart and dissected using the blunt tools of a theatrical vocabulary cannibalised from A-level Theatre Studies set texts and applied with all the finesse of Neanderthal man learning to cross-stitch. What utterly contemptible morons. Not once did they turn the dim spotlight of their 2-watt critical facilities on themselves. In fact, as far as they were concerned, and by some astronomical coincidence, we, the humble bus-riding travellers of Birmingham, were luckily enough to be sharing our morning commute with the only three perfect exponents of theatrical technique that the BSA had ever seen. Even within the group a vile game of one-upmanship was being played out, with passing allusions to their own genius dropped in among the general vitriol, poison and unthinking crap they were spouting. All topped off with the pathetic caveat ��Of course I love the girl but⬦�" as if this would make the whole insidious conversation any more palatable.

I hate this aspect of theatre. I hate the bitchiness, the insecurity, the need to beat down others to make yourself feel talented. What�"s the point? Surely theatre is a collaborative art form which benefits immeasurably from a tight, supportive company intent on making each other look good? It�"s moments like this that make me thank God that I didn�"t follow my youthful dreams and fight tooth and nail to act professionally. Those idiots on the bus haven�"t even finished their training and they�"re already well schooled in the cowardly art of two-facedness. Do drama schools now teach Bitching as a module alongside Stage Combat and Lecoq?

And I have to say it makes me doubly grateful for how lucky I�"ve been with amateur companies like the Crescent. The one-upmanship is still undoubtedly there but its tempered by an atmosphere of encouragement, support and a general ineffable joy in being able to practise the art of theatre. Perhaps as acting becomes a job that joy fades and all that is left are the harsh comments and bruised egos.

Of course there�"s a twist in the tail and it�"s one that I�"m aware means I lose the moral high ground forever. Because by another astronomical coincidence I�"d seen that trio of actors before. At a series of showcases at the Crescent Theatre of all places.

And they were shit.

Performance montage

posted: 03 Aug 2008