Friday, 30 April 2010


An invitation this evening to the Late Lounge (under The Quarter Restaurant and Bar, Halford Street) to celebrate John Coster's birthday. Those connected with Leicester and Leicestershire will know John as the prime mover behind Citizens' Eye Community News Agency. Here's a bit from the website of Citizens' Eye, saying what they do:
The Citizens’ Eye Community News Agency website has been established to enable community people in Leicester and Leicestershire to become "Citizen Reporters" and provide a news gathering platform for current and relevant news to the third sector.
We aim to provide a professional media outlet for community groups to promote their events and share best practice amongst their peers.
We aim to present the stories and photographs received in a professional and unbiased way, and to accurately represent all communities.
In our portrayal of the people and locations reported, we shall strive to dispel much of the ignorance that erodes community cohesion.

As a gift, I buy John a copy of William Morris's Useful Work Versus Useless Toil. I think that's appropriate, since John's birthday (I don't know the precise date) is only a few days away from Workers' Memorial Day (28 Apr), which was observed in Town Hall Square and covered by Citizens' Eye.

Always nice to get so many of the positive, active and creative (and amusing) people in Leicester under one roof. I'm glad of the chance to have a sit-down with Gill Buttery, Development Worker with Leicester City of Sanctuary. It still amazes me, the number of people I've worked with over the past three years or so, but still barely know. Thanks for the time and the chat, Gill. Only sorry that I have to leave after just an hour or so and miss Steve Beverley's stint as DJ.


I don't normally copy things from those I follow on Twitter onto this blog. That would be such a lazy way to fill it, and I'm lazy enough - I wouldn't want to encourage myself. However, today the "maverick" American film maker and painter (and most other things you could name) David Lynch tweeted the following, which I thought nice and succinct (hey, it's Twitter!) and eminently quotable here:
The world is filled with diversity and there really is beauty in all of it.
I'm definitely going to keep that quote and want to find other ways of using it.

my management group

This morning I'm meeting with my Management Group. We decamp to Coffee Republic in Granby Street, as I've absent-mindedly double booked with the regular last-Friday-of-the-month hiring of the Welcome Centre by Leicestershire Active Retirement Association (LARA). Campaigning and related activities for the General Election next week affect attendance by other members, but we're still able to have a wide-ranging, lively and fruitful meeting. Among other topics, we discuss relocation of my office space, more systematic and coordinated responses to media enquiries, tentative arrangements for National Inter Faith Week in November and the viability of commissioning a book celebrating the Council of Faiths' 25th anniversary in 2011. Watch this space for updates on these topics and more!

Mr Clegg comes to town

Walking my usual route to work this morning, I'm surprised to see a big crowd - make that a very big crowd outside the Newark Houses Museum and even more surprised to see the Lib Dem's election battlebus parked there. There's a host of TV cameras, boom mikes etc among a sea of photographers. Party leader Nick Clegg emerges, making his way among cheers and squeals to the middle of the square outside the new Hugh Aston Building, climbs onto a soapbox and starts speaking to the crowd. His microphone doesn't work so we can't hear a word he says at the back of the crowd but no one seems to mind - and no one seems to leave either (mind you, the matter of microphones on political walkabouts is something of a hot topic today). The first few rows of people around Clegg cheer now and again and there's a jolly atmosphere - even from those holding up "Vote Labour" placards (and there is one large placard bearing the legend, "I agree with Nick", of course).

Now, faithful reader, don't take this to mean that either I, or Leicester Council of Faiths, supports or endorses Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrats. The Council of Faiths is an apolitical organisation and that's the end of it. I'll post a picture and article about the leaders of other political parties - or any other notable figure - whom I see on my travels around town or elsewhere (e.g. Eddie Izzard campaigning for Labour in Leicester - see blog entry, Sat 24 Apr). And this on the day after I made a point about avoiding watching the TV debate between the party leaders because I was at a dinner party.

The iPhone has no zoom, unfortunately. I climbed up onto a railing (whoa ... risky, for me!) to try and get a decent picture, but you'll have to make do with a crowd shot. Pretty impressive crowd though - for Leicester. You'll just have to take my word for it that it's that Nick Clegg off the telly in the middle of it all.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

guess who's coming to dinner

To Scalford Hall, Melton Mowbray, this evening for dinner and networking at a residential conference for the East Midlands Network for Global Perspectives in Schools (EMNGPS). Delegates are attending from a variety of organisations across the East Midlands (and some from further afield) working to promote global citizenship in various forms with schools, teachers and pupils. Organisations represented at this event include:

  • Brocks Hill Primary School
  • CfBT Education Trust
  • Coaching for Hope
  • Derbyshire County Council
  • East Midlands Network for Global Perspectives in Schools
  • Education for Sustainable Development Schools Working Group
  • Global Education Derby
  • Global Education LeicesterShire
  • The Discovery Centre
  • Leicester Botanical Gardens
  • Leicester Masaya Link Group
  • Leicestershire County Council
  • Lifeworlds Learning
  • Northamptonshire County Council
  • Nottingham City
  • Skillshare International
  • Studentforce for Sustainability
  • University of Leicester

Despite the fact that EMNGPS has performed very well (indeed, the East Midlands has arguably been the most successful of all English regions in promoting the global dimension in schools), the Department for International Development has pulled funding from its national network halfway through a ten-year funding stream. Another tranche of funding has become available, but it's not in a form that could allow the work to continue in its present form. Many of the people and groups here at this event have banded together to put in a collective bid for new funding - we eagerly await the outcome of that bid.

Many of the people here are leading figures in fields of primary, secondary, further and higher education across the East Midlands - and they are the type of people who are minded to favour issues of equality, diversity and human rights. So this is a fruitful environment for me to promote the work of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP), especially as it relates to young people - an area for which I currently have special responsibility. Although EMNGPS itself is living on borrowed time, these individuals and (most of) the institutions they represent won't disappear and could be drawn on in a variety of ways to support REDP's mission.

Dinner was very nice; almost everyone took their desserts into the TV lounge to watch the third and final election debate. I was having none of that though and didn't get up from the table. But I couldn't resist peeping at Twitter every so often to see some of the wry, amusing or despairing postings about the debate there.

Find out more about the East Midlands Network for Global Perspectives in Schools:

Find out more about Scalford Hall Management Training Centre and Hotel:

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


At Abbey Community Primary School, Belgrave, this afternoon for a meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education).

Peter Greaves, deputy head of Dovelands Primary School addresses us on how to improve the experience of school parties visiting places of worship (or "centres", so that we can include other venues, such as Secular Hall). Such visits are taking on increasing significance in the context of pupils and students learning outside the classroom and of schools' responsibility to promote community cohesion. He offered a few principles that could be observed by the school and the place of worship before, during and after arranged visits.
For the place of worship
Good communication - contact details
A "clued-up" person who can make knowledgeable arrangements - time, facilities, available adults etc
Should say what they can offer, not ask the school to say what they want

For the school
A clear age-appropriate focus for the visit - why is the school group visiting?
Clear timings
A pre-visit by a member of staff (identified as the single most important thing on this list)

For both
Confirm all arrangements in writing, with a telephone call the day before

For the place of worship
Sticking to arrangements and focus
Being ready
Somewhere to put stuff (coats, lunchboxes etc)
Well-stocked toilets!
Enough leaders
Keep communicating any concern to teachers/leaders

For the school
Keep communicating any concern to staff in the place of worship

For the school
Notes of thanks and examples of work and photos

For both
Any feedback that would help to make future visits better

We also consider three significant difficulties on this topic. Firstly, the environment within a place of worship is normally set up for adult users and visitors. This may mean that some material (e.g. images of historical conflict between faiths and cultures) may be difficult for children to see or for adults to explain to them.

Secondly, we hear anecdotal evidence that some (unspecified) places of worship don't allow wheelchair users access to certain parts of their sites, because of concern about dirt on their wheels. This will have to be addressed (by SACRE?) to ensure that places of worship abide by legislation.

Thirdly, we discuss the common difficulties of persuading or reassuring parents (of all religions and denominations) to allow their children to visit places of worship of faiths other than their own. Schools need to make it clear that the classes will visit a place of worship for all faith communities as part of a cycle of education that is as inclusive as possible and doesn't favour any particular religion(s) over any other(s).

Jill Carr, Secretary of SACRE, gives a brief report on progress with the new series of information booklets, entitled "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester". The Muslim text is just about finished. The Sikh text is in advanced draft form. The Hindu text is just getting to the draft stage. The Christian text hasn't been started yet. A meeting with the Presidents of Leicester's seven gurdwaras has been called at Leicester Tigers next month (see blog, Wednesday 19 May) to discuss issues raised in the Sikh text, particularly the wearing of the Kirpan (dagger) by Sikh pupils, students and staff in schools.

Under Any Other Business, our Chair brings to our attention Celebrating RE - a month-long celebration of religious education in England and Wales in March 2011. It strikes me that this is something Leicester Council of Faiths might be able to accommodate in its 25th anniversary year.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Dark Days

First meeting of the Leicester Documentary Club at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre early this evening. The Leicester Documentary Club is for enthusiasts of documentaries in Leicester. The intention at present is that we'll meet every other month to watch documentaries from across the world. These viewings will be followed by a social evening. There's 15 or so of us at this inaugural session. We meet in the Screen Lounge cafe, then proceed into the smallest of the Phoenix's three screening rooms.

Here's an extract from the Wikipedia entry for the film we're watching this evening.

"Dark Days" (2000) is a documentary made by Marc Singer, a British filmmaker. The film follows a group of people living in an abandoned section of the New York City underground railway system, more precisely the area of the so called Freedom Tunnel.

When he relocated from London to Manhattan, Marc Singer was struck by the number of homeless people he had seen throughout the city. Singer had befriended a good number of New York's homeless and later, after hearing of people living underground in abandoned tunnel systems, he met and became close to a group of people living in The Freedom Tunnel community stretching north from Penn Station past Harlem. After living with them for a number of months, he decided to create a documentary in order to help them financially. Singer had never been a filmmaker before, and saw the production of Dark Days as a means of gaining better accommodation for the residents of the tunnel.

The film's crew consisted of the subjects themselves, who rigged up makeshift lighting and steadicam dollies, and learned to use a 16mm camera with black-and-white Kodak film. The post-production process took years, as financial difficulties created delays, as did Singer's insistence of creative control to protect the tunnel residents.
During filming, Amtrak announced they would be forcibly evicting the homeless living in the tunnels. This announcement, plus the police presence backing the decision, prompted Singer and photographer Margaret Morton to go to the Coalition for the Homeless for help. Eventually, Singer and Morton managed to secure housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the film's subjects, which enabled them to move out of the tunnels and into their own apartments.
The film features music by DJ Shadow, including excerpts from Endtroducing... as well as his album with U.N.K.L.E. Melissa Neidich was the editor of the film. Cinevision, a New York City camera shop, supplied Singer with cameras for the two-and-a-half years of filming. When Singer ran out of money for film, Kodak supplied free damaged film for the project.

Dark Days was released in 2000, and was nominated for several film festival awards. The film won many of these, including the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary/Non-fiction film at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Senior Programmer's Pick at the SXSW Film Festival Awards, and three Sundance Film Festival awards in 2000: the Audience Award for best documentary, the cinematography award for documentary, and the Freedom of Expression Award.

After the film, we have a relatively structured discussion of some of the most striking points of the film in the screening room, for half an hour or so, then adjourn to the Screen Lounge Cafe to continue discussion in a more sociable environment. I get the chance to talk about what might be termed some of the more spiritual dimensions of the film with a small group of film-makers amongst our group.

Find out more about Phoenix Square Digital Film & Media Centre:

Visit the Facebook page of the Leicester Documentary Club:!/group.php?gid=104523019580511&ref=ts

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Spotted on Leicester's High Street this afternoon: comic, actor and marathon runner extraordinaire, Eddie Izzard. He was taking part in a city centre walkabout in support of Labour Party candidates in the General Election, Liz Kendall and Keith Vaz. Many people stopped to talk to him about politics, the general election - and marathons.

In the recent BBC TV adaptation of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, Eddie Izzard's character (Torrence) assumes power by force of arms in a post-apocalyptic Britain - hence the apposite photo above!

The battery had run out on my iPhone, so I couldn't get any photos of the man himself in Leicester. But I must say, he had on the most fabulous blue suit!


I take Harry and Grace to the Cultural Quarter today, for an afternoon of family activities to celebrate St George's Day. The full and proper name for this part of town is St George's Cultural Quarter, appropriately enough!

The fun takes place mostly in Orton Square, outside Curve - and it's a lovely sunny day for it. It's odd to think of these celebrations taking place in Orton Square, since Joe Orton (Leicester's most famous modern playwright and a scandalous figure in and beyond his own lifetime) was one of those characters who helped form my own idiosyncratic notion of what the English and Englishness were all about, observed through my personal telescope, growing up north of the border. I saw Orton's What the Butler Saw at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow in 1976: and what an eye-opener that was at the age of 16. It's a symbol of how times have changed that Joe Orton would have a public spot in his home town named after him. Good for Leicester!

Now, look at these ladies in the photo below. I don't remember there being twin dragons in the story of St George! And doesn't it change the tone a little for the dragon(s) to be female? Didn't St George rescue a damsel in distress from the dragon?

It's a bright and happy occasion today, full of imaginative ways for the kids to find out more about the country's Patron Saint and appreciate the myths, legends, true stories and tall tales that breathe life into what it means to be English - in the past, in the present and in the future. And after all the protests I make for the Scottish side of Marry and Grace's  heritage, they were born here and their mum's English. Oh, hang on - she's half Welsh ... does that mean that they should be shouting for the dragon too? Maybe even just a little bit?

Friday, 23 April 2010


In the Creative Writing group this afternoon at Network for Change on London Road (photo above), we take as our topic St George's Day and what it means to have - and to be - a patron saint. We talk about St George - who he was or might have been, where we think he came from, what we've heard he did, and what we believe about him. Wt discuss other sorts of positions in our society (e.g. Poet Laureate, Astronomer Royal) that help us see the nature and significance of a patron saint. We make a list of the sort of qualities we think a patron saint should have, then suggest people alive today or recently departed, who might be able to fill the role of a new patron saint for England, if the position suddenly became open. Some of the names are predictable, some surprising: Trevor Bayliss, Joe Bugner, Shami Chakrabati, John Cleese, Princess Diana, Malcolm McLaren, Katie Price (Jordan). We discuss the difference between appointing a patron saint and electing a new Head of State (which seems to be what some of the group members are thinking of). then they get a quarter of an hour to write the sanctifying myth for the new patron saint of their choice. One of the members of the group chooses Jade Goody. I asked their permission to reproduce that piece of writing here. Bear in mind, faithful reader, that this was written in one go, without corrections and that I've made no changes to the original.
In an era where the majority of English people have very little and aspire to find the fast track to having it all, the culture of the celebrity has talent or being able to do something well isn't as important as being able to fight for what you've got and pay for what you've done wrong.
To be famous without deserving fame could be said to be vulgar and negative but the English still struggle with a rigid class structure. Some are born with privilege, some aren't. Those who triumph over this injustice inspire aspirational worship.
As well as the rigid class structure in 21st century England we still have a rigid race problem.
Jade Goody exhibited cliched western racism and ignorance and she paid for it via eastern laws of karma. It all came back on her, she suffered publicly and died a martyr.Also it is still a woman's role to provide for her children. Her sacrificial public death allowed her to make money for her boys made her celebrity status for nothing justifiable. She took it all on the chin and made money from her own death to provide for her boys.
Kind of like the way Thatcher only became powerful and popular through the Falklands War. She was doing what she was doing in defence of "our boys".
Jade Goody was white, matriarchal, heroic in death and strong enough to be wrong in public and pay her karmic debt. Like the best traditions of the British army.

Impressive, I hope you'll agree. I was particularly taken with the clash of east and west in this piece and the role of karma (which, I have to admit, I'd never associated with this story before).


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Stephenson (1781-1848). Did the English ever give a more significant gift to the rest of the world than the railways?


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Sir Alec Guiness (1914-2000) as spymaster George Smiley in BBC TV's 1979 adaptation of John le Carre's novels.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Sanders (1906-72), actor. Sanders was born in St Petersburg, Russia of English parents. While he was a child the family returned to Britain with the advent of the Russian Revolution. His most famous movie role was as Simon Templar - "The Saint". How much more appropriate could we get today? Sanders was honoured with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - for Motion Pictures at 1636 Vine St, and for Television at 7007 Hollywood Blvd. Appropriate, again, since the Leicester Walk of Fame is being dedicated this weekend.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Brian Murphy (b. 1933) as George and Yootha Joyce (1927-80) as Mildred. George and Mildred was a British sitcom produced by Thames Television that aired from 1976 to 1979. It was a spin-off from Man About the House (1973-76) and starred Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce as an ill-matched married couple, George and Mildred Roper.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George from Rainbow, the children's TV show that ran twice a week at lunchtime for 20 years from 1972-92.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one representing something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Georgie Porgie.
Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Orwell (1903-50). Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in eastern India, the son of a British colonial civil servant. As a journalist and author, he wrote two of the most famous novels of the 20th century Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Michael (b. Kyriacos Panayiotou - in Greek: Γεώργιος Κυριάκος Παναγιώτου - 1963), two-time Grammy award-winning songwriter and singer.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Kranky from Roald Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine (shown above as he appears in the classic illustrations by Quentin Blake).


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Herbert (1593-1633), leading figure of the group that has come to be known to history as the Metaphysical Poets. He was born in Wales, but there wasn't as much of a distinction of those things in those days - and it's his distinctive and enduring contribution to English poetry, in a tradition that was effectively cut short by the titanic political struggles of the mid-seventeenth century and the cultural earthquake attendant on it.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Harrison MBE (1943-2001). Some of these Georges need no justification.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Handel was a Baroque composer famous for his operas, oratorios, and concertos. Handel was born in Germany and received critical musical training in Italy before settling in London and becoming a naturalised British subject. His works include Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks. He's the only adopted Englishman I'm allowing on this list.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Formby OBE (1904-61). Need I say more?


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George from Enid Blyton's Famous Five. George is actually a girl who wants so desperately to be a boy she crops her hair and struts about doing boy things. She hates it when people call her by her correct name, Georgina.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Georgie Fame (b. Clive Powell, 1943), rhythm and blues and jazz singer and keyboard player. Fame's version of the song "Yeh Yeh", released January 1965, spent two weeks at number one on the UK singles chart. "Get Away", released July 1966, was also a number one hit single. Fame's greatest chart success was "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967, which was a number one hit in the United Kingdom, and No.7 in the United States. Both "Yeh Yeh" and "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" each sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.

Highly appropriate to have Georgie Fame here, since, as well as being the weekend-long St George's Day Festival, this weekend also sees the unveiling of the Leicester Walk of Fame in the city's Cultural Quarter.

blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another

Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Eliot (Mary Ann - or Marian - Evans, 1819-80), author of eight novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72) and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and well known for their realism and psychological insight. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works were taken seriously.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Davies (b. 1941) founder of the fashion chain, Next - and later, of George at Asda.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Leicester Muslims feel "right at home"
Most Muslims who live in Leicester feel at home in the city, a new study has found.
Muslims in Leicester is the most detailed report on Muslim life in the city to date, and comes after researchers spent months questioning 300 people in Evington, Spinney Hills and Stoneygate.
The report, released yesterday, found the majority of Muslims possessed a strong British identity and a sense of belonging to the city.
Aamenah Mulla, 11, told the Leicester Mercury yesterday: "I really like it here. I feel part of the city."
The report by the Open Society Institute praised Leicester's vibrant faith communities and strong political participation by ethnic minorities – 17 of the city's 54 councillors are from an ethnic minority background.
It also praised the depiction of and reporting on Muslims by local media, including the Leicester Mercury, which it said was more positive than in the national press.
Co-author Nazia Hussain said: "Other cities in Europe have much to learn from Leicester. This city serves as a powerful example of how ethnic and cultural diversity can be managed well and, in fact, turned into an asset."
But he said key bodies, such as the city council, needed to keep working hard to encourage integration, and that Leicestershire police should recruit more Muslim officers.
Leicester was chosen for the study because of its high Muslim population. Of the 280,000 people on the 2001 census, 30,000 were Muslim.
Leicester will soon become the first city to have more non-whites than whites.
The findings of the study were backed by Muslim residents of Highfields.
Resident Farida Patel, 26, said: "There's a real community spirit in Leicester and I don't think life is the same elsewhere, from visiting Muslims living in Birmingham and London.
"We all feel part of the city. There are no problems with the police and the Leicester Mercury is brilliant at encouraging Muslims to participate. I've got high hopes for the future."
Mohammad Ismail, 24, said: "Leicester is a good place because here we are free to offer prayers and wear Muslim clothes. I don't think discrimination is a problem here."
The report looked at the way businesses, organisations and authorities worked to engage with the Muslim community.
It highlighted Jobcentre Plus's outings for employers to mosques and temples and the roadshow for new Highcross shops and restaurants that visited all of Leicester's communities to recruit staff.
Sheila Lock, chief executive of Leicester City Council, said: "The diversity in Leicester is one of our greatest assets."
Chief Inspector Bill Knopp, of Leicestershire police's community safety bureau, said the force hopes to increase recruitment of minority officers once its recruitment freeze ends.
The study used statistical research and interviews.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Cole (b. 1925) as Arthur Daley in the Euston Films TV series, Minder (1979-84). Cole played an earlier iteration of a similar character, the spiv, Flash Harry, in Belles of St Trinian's (1954) and Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957), The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960) and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966). Incidentally, "Spiv" is the only word in common English usage that ends with the letter "v".


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one representing something quintessentially English.

Pictured above (circled): George Cohen MBE (b. 1939) England and Fulham fooballer, who played right back in the 1966 World Cup-winning side.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Dennis Waterman (b. 1948) as Detective Sergeant George Carter in Euston Films TV series, The Sweeney (1975-78).


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: Boy George (b. George O'Dowd, 1961) singer with Culture Club, who had their first hit single, Karma Chameleon, in 1981.


Some iconic English "Georges" (fact or fiction, past or present, living or dead) for St George's Day. Each one represents something quintessentially English.

Pictured above: George Alagiah (b. 1955) presenter of the BBC Six O'Clock News. He first started on the programme in January 2003. He also presents World News Today on BBC World News, the BBC's international news channel.


A weekend of celebrations to mark St George's Day in Leicester kicks off today - one of the biggest celebrations of England's patron saint Leicester has seen, with live music, dance and poetry performances planned on a stage in Orton Square. There are also city tours, food and drink plus family activities.

The fun begins at 1100 today, when Leicester Market hosts a battle between St George and the dragon, with a second performance at noon. In the evening, there's a festival of English beers at the Criterion pub, in Millstone Lane, and, at 7.30pm, a St George's Day service at St Mary de Castro Church.

The Lord Mayor of Leicester, Councillor Roger Blackmore, said: "It's one of Leicester's great strengths that we celebrate all kinds of festivals in all kinds of communities. I think it's right and appropriate that St George is prominent among them".

Couldn't agree more with the words of the Lord Mayor. Just a few weeks ago, while being interviewed live at the crack of dawn on BBC World Service, I was asked to respond to a recorded insert of three young white women recorded at a bingo session, saying that there's nothing for the white community in Leicester, that they're forgotten and neglected in favour of more recent arrivals and incomers. A weekend such as this shows up such a comment as being quite untrue.

As well as the Cultural Quarter family events and entertainment throughout Saturday, Jewry Wall Museum will have activities from 11am to 4pm.

On Sunday, at 2.55pm, more than 1,000 Cubs and Scouts will parade through the city centre to Leicester Cathedral. On the same day, a festival of arts and crafts takes place at Leicester Market.

Byron Chatburn, head of Leicestershire Scouts, said: "It's fantastic that we have 1,000 young people out and about over the St George's Day weekend celebrating what it means to them to be a Scout. "It's very important at this time of year to reflect on the past twelve months and look forward to the next twelve."

I hope I'm not being particularly perverse here, but the photo of St George slaying the dragon at the top of this post is not from Leicester. It's a statue that stands outside the Italian Chapel on the little island of Lamb Holm in the Okrney Islands, a spot I've visited twice in the past 25 years. As you might imagine, faithful reader, I take a special interest in iconic Georges and this is my favourite representation of St George and his scaly nemesis.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

equality & diversity in focus

To the NSPCC National Training Centre, Beaumont Leys, for a free interactive one-day seminar for local authority practitioners entitled, "Equality & Diversity in Focus". This is sponsored by the East Midlands Improvement & Efficiency Partnership (EMIEP).

Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships were set up in each of the nine English regions, following the publication of the National Improvement and Efficiency Strategy in December 2008 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG). The East Midlands Improvement & Efficiency Partnership (EMIEP) exists to bring lasting improvements to the East Midlands area and has a budget of c. £34 million (2008/11) to do exactly that. The EMIEP involves 46 councils and 5 fire and rescue authorities from the region and aims to:

  • Promote the achievements of East Midlands authorities;
  • Identify and share best practice from other Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships;
  • Commission and provide tools, training and development;
  • Address individual and collective improvement priorities;
  • Stimulate and promote innovation and new ways of working;
  • Share opportunities to support improvement and efficiency and;
  • Offer help to councils and services in difficulty.

As usual, this one of those events that I'm attending both for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) and the Council of Faiths. There are more than 30 delegates from across the East Midlands and beyond (from Borough, City and County Councils in Blaby, Charnwood, Derbyshire, East Northamprtonshire, Gedling, Harborough, High Peak, Leicester, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough). The following sessions are being offered today:

  • "Equalities Law", an expert presentation by Sarah Michaels (Partner, Employment Department) a leading solicitor from Bevan Brittan LLP, covering recent equality case law updates and a brief overview of the Equalities Bill.
  • "Accessing and Presenting Equalities and Diversity Data", a specialist presentation by Raja Farooq (Account Manager, Local Government) from Experian Public Sector on how to resource and present equalities and diversity data.
  • "Equality and Human Rights" (by Jay Vyas, Regional Manager, and Patrick Devine, Regional Adviser, Equality and Human Rights Commission), an update presentation on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national and regional priorities for 2010-2011.
  • "Case study presentations", a carousel-style session with examples highlighting areas of good practice from the region, presented by Dave Bennett Equalities & Diversity Policy Officer, High Peak Borough Council; Marie Chapman Community Support Officer, Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service; and Sheila Brelivet, Data Analyst, Northamptonshire Area Procurement Service.
  • "Interactive workshop session on Equality Impact Assessments" facilitated by Irene Kszyk (Head of Equalities, Leicester City Council) and Lynne Woodward (Head of Diversity, Leicestershire Constabulary).

I have to say that, sitting round the table in our group, working on the task regarding Equality Impact Assessments, I had something of a lightbulb moment. This was the first time I've discussed this topic along with other practitioners and many things became clear to me that had been rather hazy and indistinct before. If I had to identify one thing I gained form attending today, this would be it: a clearer understanding of the purpose and use of Equality Impact Assessments.

In the spirit of Amplifed Leicester, I spent much of today tweeting the session titles and main points - from my personal twitter account (@GeorgeMB) then retweeting them from Leicester Council of Faiths' twitter account (@counciloffaiths), linked to updates on my Facebook. Having tweeted all day on equality, diversity and human rights with no response from anyone out there, I tweeted "coffee break!" mid-afternoon and one person posted that they liked this!

Find out more about the East Midlands Improvement and Efficiency Partnership:

get (more) inspired!

Another meeting early this evening with friends from the "Get Inspired 2010" project. I'm glad to be with Ramila Chauhan and Manish Thakrar at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre.


On the front page of "The Week", the Leicester Mercury's entertainment supplement included with the paper every Thursday, there's a striking photo of the Make It Nice Brothers - one of whom may be better known to you, faithful reader, as Naim Cortazzi. This lead article is promoting the Mercury's very own Summer Sundae Fringe Showcase festival. Rather than have you strain your eyes unnecessarilly, here's the text:
Presented in conjunction with the lovely people at Pineapster, the gig will feature some of the biggest acts in Leicester at the moment – (drum roll please) Charlie and the Martyrs, Autohype, Jersey Budd, Fatal Star and Uncle Frank. [...] here we give you The Make It Nice Brothers, aka Uncle Frank Benbini and Na'im "Blue Steel" Cortazzi, the duo who make up both Uncle Frank and Fatal Star.
There's talk of DJs, skits and the entire Leicester Riders basketball team coming down to support the set.
"It's going to be a special night," said Na'im. "Uncle Frank is... well, how to explain it. It's like a theatrical Benny Hill meets Barry White.
"We're bringing down our friends from the Riders, as well, to give us a bit of support and we've got a DJ, Boy Kid Cloud, so we're going to do it Run DMC style. It's going to be a party.
"We've got a specially penned song just for the night, about the Leicester music scene."
For anyone who doesn't know, the pair have been performing in the two acts for several years.
Na'im fronts Fatal Star and Frank takes the reins for Uncle Frank. "There's too much talent there to restrict it to just one thing," laughs Na'im.
"But for this show we'll put it all together. It'll make sense when you see it live, I think.
"Music for us was never about being popstars or being famous. It's truly an expression of our souls."
More laughter.
"I know that sounds pretentious but we do love it. We'll never stop."
Music has been a big part of their lives for a long time, and the pair met while in other bands about 10 years ago.
As well as his partnership with Na'im, Frank is also busy touring the world with his other band (you may have heard of them, Fun Lovin' Criminals? He plays drums.) "They're really good guys," says Na'im. "They look after their own."

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


At New Walk Museum and Art Gallery this evening, for a meeting sponsored by the Creative Learning Network. This is an event for artists, teachers, youth workers, extended schools co-ordinators, Creative Agents, Early Years Providers, Creative Practitioners, cultural organisations and all who are interested in developing creative work with children and young people in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. The Creative Learning Network event is an opportunity to:

  • network across sectors working with children and young people;
  • share experiences with other professionals;
  • learn about and inform the professional development opportunities in your sector;
  • meet people you might want to work with in the future.

The main premise behind these events is to bring people together who are interested in developing the creativity of young people (whether they are teachers, artists etc) for a fun productive event. I meet some very interesting and imaginative people and am able to speak to them from the perspectives of the Council of Faiths, the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) and from that of my own position as a Creative Practitioner, teaching Creative Writing.

Amplified Leicester: is privacy dead?

At Phoenix Square this morning, for the first session of Amplified Leicester in its new, expanded, public format. Josie Fraser (photo above) speaks to the topic, "Is Privacy Dead?" I arrive late. There seems to be an inverse law in operation governing my timekeeping in relation to how much I want to be at something.

Josie describes herself as a UK-based social and educational technologist working as an independent consultant. Her focus is on social networks, software and media, digital literacies, online communities and identities. She helps people communicate and helps them manage risk.

One of the distinctive qualities of an Amplified event is that its success can be partly gauged by how many people are fiddling with their mobiles, handhelds and laptops while the speaker is on. Whereas at most events, you'd be asked to turn off your phones, here you're expected not only to have them on, but be paying attention to them. As long as you can assume that people are live-blogging or tweeting about the event they're at, of course, rather than ordering the boxed set of Battlestar Galactica on blu-ray off Amazon.

This morning Josie discusses the management of online identity with special reference to social media. By turns alarming and amusing, her presentation leaves us all amazed at what some people see fit to put online about themselves!

At last I discover why my Foursquare check-ins are no longer appearing on Facebook. It seems that Foursquare has proved so popular that Facebook is developing its own geolocation app - which may be launched this very day.

For the first time this morning, I meet Keith Perch, Editor of the Leicester Mercury. When I introduce myself, he asks me why we haven't met before. And wouldn't you know it, I don't have a single one of my Council of Faiths business cards on me. I give him one for REDP though. He gives me his, asks me to drop him an email and says we should arrange a sitdown together.

Find out more about Josie Fraser and what she does (she has 5,923 followers on twitter!):

Find out more about Amplified Leicester:

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


One of my contemporary heroes is appearing in Leicester this evening. Jon Ronson is speaking at the monthly meeting of Skeptics in the Pub, at The Park in Hotel Street.

For anyone who doesn't know the man or his work, Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary film maker. His books, Them: Adventures With Extremists and The Men Who Stare At Goats have been international bestsellers. The latter has been made into a "major motion picture" (don't all films describe themselves thus?) starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. He's also the author of two collections of his columns and essays, OutOf The Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness and What I do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness. He's written the popular "Human Zoo" and "Out of the Ordinary" columns for the Guardian Weekend, to which he still contributes features. He currently writes and presents the twice-Sony nominated BBC Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson On.... Jon has made a number of films for Channel 4 including the acclaimed five part series Secret Rulers of the World and the multi award-winning Tottenham Ayatollah. His most recent documentaries are Reverend Death (Channel 4), Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (More4) and Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson Journey to the Other Side (Radio 4). In the US, he is a contributor to Public Radio International's This American Life. (Much of this information has been pinched from Jon's own website).

Throughout the day, I've been following Jon's tweets in advance of this evening's meeting:
jonronson Off to Leicester for Skeptics in the Pub even though my nose and mouth feel like a million tiny ants have dug holes in them.
jonronson All I can say, Leicester Skeptics, is don't expect me to be in the least bit funny or interesting. I'm really ill. See you in a bit!
jonronson Just arrived at Leicester station. Don't know what to do or where to go. Skeptics: help.
jonronson Oh God. I am ill and unmet at Leicester station and my gums hurt and I want to go to bed.
jonronson Am met and alive and in zizzi.

I've seen Jon Ronson once before in Leicester, in autumn 2006 at Phoenix Arts. A whole Friday evening was devoted to documentaries and discussion related to conspiracy theories (main themes being the supposed faking of the moon landings and the "truth" behind 9/11). The programme started at 1715; I left just before midnight and it looked like it could have gone on all night. It may well have done for all I know. Jon was light, engaging and funny. He's not so much interested in conspiracy theories as he is in the people who devote themselves to conspiracy theories - whether they're trying to push them, debunk them, or are at the centre of them. Come to that, it's best to say that he's interested in people. And he's self-deprecating to the nth degree. I envy his insight and admire his writing. I'd been able to ask him a question from the audience that night, spoke briefly with him at the interval and prevailed upon him to sign several of his books (I'm such a fanboy!)

If he's still unfamiliar to you, faithful reader, consider him the thinking man's Louis Theroux - a topic which itself contributes to Jon's schtick, as the following recent tweet attests:
jonronson As some know, I've always thought of me and Louis as conjoined twins, in that for one of us to grow stronger the other must die.

Though, to be fair, he also tweeted this right after:
jonronson Actually, Louis is really getting brilliant."

So, back to the present: I'm otherwise engaged for most of this evening at two consecutive meetings of the Council of Faiths. Those meetings wrap up around nine and I dash the few hundred yards from the Welcome Centre down to The Park, just in time to hear the last bit of the Q&A. When the "formal" part of the presentation finishes, I push my way through to say hello to Jon, remind him of our meeting last time he came to Leicester (which he says he remembers - bless him), tell him I've been reading his tweets, muse on our mystery sore throats being induced by the descent of dust from the Icelandic volcanic ashcloud and get him to sign a copy of What I Do (the only book of his I owned which was as yet still unsigned). I'm glad I get to do that, at least. Later that evening, one last tweet from Jon:
jonronson Thanks to all the Leicester sceptics for being so fab.

All's well that ends well.