Wednesday, 26 May 2010

CreativeCoffee Club (5)

To Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre this morning, for the fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee Club. Today's session is an "open networking" meeting: no speaker, no particular topic. So we have the opportunity to mix and mingle freely in the Screen Lounge cafe bar. There are between 20 and 30 of us today and I'd say that I've probably seen less than half of them before, although I attend virtually every one of these sessions. It's great to see these meetings bringing in so many new people.

Visit CreativeCoffee Club Leicester's Facebook page:

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

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


To Leicester Town Hall at lunchtime for the second meeting of a Task and Finish Group on Improving Standards of Consultation and Engagement across Leicester Strategic Partnership. Among those attending on behalf of bodies involved with the Local Strategic Partnership, there are representatives of the City Council, Leicester City NHS, University Hospitals Leicester (UHL), Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Trust, Leicestershire Constabulary, Voluntary Action Leicester, I'm there on behalf of the Equality and Diversity Partnership (EDP) as well as flying the flag for Council of Faiths of course.

This piece of work is intended to improve the level (and kind) of consultation processes entered into by all the member organisations that comprise the Local Strategic Partnership - well, the public sector organisations at least, since those from the private sector have unanimously declined to take part. In terms of the Voluntary and Community Sector, we're making input as participants in the consultation and engagement processes as well as beneficiaries of the outcomes. Our boards (where we have them) are being invited to sign up to these documents too.

Something different from the first meeting: we started discussing the use of social media for this project, how to apply Facebook, Twitter, blogging ("Hel-lo-oh!") to making it a success. Leicester City Council has a twitter account, but we were told that the most recent tweet was a month ago. The City Council has 30 followers; Council of Faiths has 32! In this context, we discussed future involvement of Citizens' Eye Community News Agency and Leicester on the Map, possibly from the beginning of the public consultation stage.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Café Creatif

Around noon, I attend Café Creatif at the LCB (Leicester Creative Business) Depot, Rutland Street. Smaller and less formal than CreativeCoffee Club (and much more so than Amplified Leicester) which both meet at Phoenix Square, just round the corner in the city's Cultural Quarter.

I speak with Ben Ravilious about the "Leicester on the Map" project he's coordinating, specifically regarding mapping places of worship around the city. This has never been done before, in even a paper format, never mind electronically. I think it would be an exciting, interesting and useful project.

Find out more about LCB Depot:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Meeting at the Tigers, early evening, to discuss the Sikh text in the series currently under development, "Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities". Representatives of all Leicester's gurdwaras have been invited, Head Teachers (or Deputy Heads) of the six primary schools and four secondary schools with the biggest numbers of Sikh pupils in the city and a small number of others identified as stakeholders.

More specifically, the major topic for discussion is the wearing of the kirpan (one type of which is illustrated in the photo above) in Leicester schools and colleges. The steering group (of which I am a member) have gathered advice and information from other local authorities (e.g. Bedford, Birmingham, Redbridge) who have gone through a similar process. We want our text to contain intelligent and definitive guidelines that can be followed in the city. There's an hour-and-a-half of mature, trusting and friendly consultation among around 25 of us and I believe everyone went away happy. One good result was that more people wanted to have a read of the whole text before it is approved for publication. More work for those of us involved in writing and editing it, but it definitely brings a better sense of engagement all round - and that, in itself, is one of the intended results of creating this series of texts.

I'm not going to try and present the content of our discussion here. That would not do justice to the topic or to the quality of contributions that were made round the table. I count myself privileged to be involved in this kind of work with such people.


There's a flag over the door to Pilgrim House, 10 Bishop Street, Town Hall Square: the base for Leicester Council of Faiths. New English Design, who share the building, have just put up this big silver flag with a white "10" rising up from the bottom of it. The row of six windows above the flag belong to the Welcome Centre. I've got the use of all of that virtually all of the time, although my work station is behind the two windows farthest right. By the end of this month I'll have relocated downstairs, to the right of the door, in the office space where the windows are currently covered over with cardboard.

Amplified Leicester: DIY community

To Phoenix Square digital Film and Media Centre for the fortnightly meeting of Amplified Leicester. This morning's presentation is entitled "DIY community", with Katherine Hui (photo above).

In Katherine's own words: "You've got an online community of a few hundred members and regular face to face meetings. Great. Now what? There's an increasing trend in local area communities connecting online and coming together to address local issues. This will look at ways communities can do things for themselves, work together to address local needs and use the collective as leverage to achieve action both on and offline."

Katherine Hui has spent the past two years working for the Social Innovation Camp, getting people to use web and mobile based technology to mobilise social change. She is now working for Do the Green Thing, a web-based public service that inspires people to lead greener lives. Katherine also is very involved in grassroots football and coaches young people for Gunners in Islington.

Oh, and since Amplified Leicester is all about the use of social media - facebook latest: 105 fans!

Read Katherine Hui's blog:

Find out more about Amplified Leicester:

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


An early start at Leicester Cathedral Visitor Centre for Cathedral AM, starting 0730. This bi-monthly networking event brings together people with a special interest in the city centre - living there, working there or otherwise concerned with it. Following a light breakfast, we listen to this morning's guest speaker: Anna Ellis, Manager of the Dawn Centre.

The Dawn Centre is a project for homeless people providing temporary accommodation, support, advice and assistance on health, housing, life skills and education all in one place.

I'm pleased to hear Anna's talk, for two reasons in particular. Firstly, the topic of homeless people has come up at just about each and every one of these meetings I've been to. Because of that, I've prompted Julie-Ann Heath and Barry Naylor (who run Cathedral AM) to get someone from the Dawn Centre to come along and speak. Secondly, I used to spend part of my working week there, teaching adult literacy skills, when I was employed by the City Council on its ReMit and Reach adult education programmes.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

room (for) 101

After posting earlier about trying to get our hundredth "fan" on facebook, I'm glad to say that we've ended the day with 101.

come to The Dark Side (we have cookies)

An invitation to attend the monthly Leicester Pagan Moot this evening at The Dark Side, in Cank Street. The Dark Side is a new cafe in the city centre, which describes itself as Leicester’s first alternative cafe and information centre. It prides itself on having a welcoming, warm and relaxed atmosphere, with friendly, if "rather strange looking" (in their own words) staff. Music is a big part of the alternative identity at The Dark Side, varying from rock to emo, goth to metal. I can personally recommend the coffee and walnut cake. That's Lucie Belikova, who runs the place, outside the cafe in the photo above, cutting the red ribbon for the cafe's official opening.

At Leicester Pagan Moot, all pagan paths are welcomed and treated with fairness and equality. it's an occasion when people can meet and exchange ideas with others who look deep inside for the answers to those awkward questions everyone is dying to ask. The theme for this evening is "Candle Magic". We hear, ask and talk about colour, size, fragrance, their use and significance for different spiritual purposes. The evening ends with a "pathworking" exercise, with Angela Langrick leading a guided meditation using a candle flame.

The Leicester Pagan Alliance is not itself a member of our Council of Faiths. However, our contract as Host Organisation with Leicester Partnership requires us to develop positive working relations with the different communities of religion, faith or belief in the city - not just those who make up our membership. Working with the Pagans doesn't feel like an obligation, I'm glad to say. I've become good friends with a few of them and I won't forget how supportive they were of me in the earliest days I was in this post.

Visit the facebook page for The Dark Side:

Visit the facebook page for Leicester Pagan Moot:


An hour or so this afternoon to put together a 450-word article about the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) for publication in the magazine of One East Midlands. One East Midlands wants to get this out in advance of their "Knowledge, Impact and Success" regional event in Derby on 23 June at which REDP will get to showcase its work.

One East Midlands works to ensure that the voluntary and community sector is actively engaged with key regional bodies and other partners, from across the public, statutory, business and social enterprise sectors. We bring together organisations that support Voluntary and Community Sector groups across the region to influence and shape policy, improve services and provide a point of contact at a regional level. REDP has a good working relationship with One East Midlands as we pursue our specialist service for the Voluntary and Community Sector.

facebook: 99 fans and counting!

I note, with interest, that the Council of Faiths page on Facebook has 99 fans today. I've not been keeping a list of those who have signed up there, but I will make a list of them now because I want to know who will be number 100 so I can congratulate them (though I don't think there'll be a special prize). Facebook doesn't use the word "fan" any more. It just tells you how many people "like" this thing or that. Pity ... I have to say that I got a secret smile out of the thought of the Council of Faiths having "fans".

Visit Leicester Council of Faiths' Facebook page - and sign up if you haven't already done so.Whoah, steady now ... don't all rush at once!!/pages/Leicester/Leicester-Council-of-Faiths/174472676333?ref=ts

Monday, 17 May 2010


Today is Idaho Day: International Day Against Homophobia, an occasion given the imprimatur of the United Nations. All day, the Rainbow Flag is being flown at Leicester Town Hall (photo above) and at County Hall, seat of Leicestershire County Council. At 1300, a two-minute silence is observed in Town Hall Square, with representatives and guests of Leicester LGBT Centre and Trade Sexual Health in memory of Matthew Shepard and all victims of homophobia and transphobia. Dennis Bradley (Community Development Officer at the LGBT Centre) welcomes us and speaks about the significance of the day, before the Town Hall clock strikes one and starts the silent observance.

To mark this day, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to Chief Constables and the Chairs of Local Criminal Justice Boards, Community Safety Partnerships and Primary Care Trusts, providing them with guidance on how they can play their part in tackling homophobic crimes and abuse. The Commission’s letters call on those responsible for tackling abuse to:
  • increase the reporting and recording of homophobic hate crimes
  • take concerted action to monitor and increase the arrest, prosecution and conviction rates and reduce reoffending rates of homophobic hate crime
  • provide better support to victims and
  • ensure frontline staff treat lesbian, gay and bisexual people with dignity and respect.

The Equality Act 2010, which recently received Royal Assent, will place a new obligation on public sector organisations to promote equality, eliminate harassment and foster good relations on the ground of sexual orientation. The Commission will continue to support public bodies in meeting these duties.

Infrastructure Providers Group

At Voluntary Action Leicester this morning, for a meeting of the Infrastructure Providers Group. We don't get very much done today. Most of the conversation is on the threats to this kind of work represented by the forthcoming Emergency Budget. I leave the meeting half an hour early, a first for me.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

the day before Idaho Day

To the Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre in Wellington Street this afternoon, for an open door event in advance of tomorrow's commemoration of Idaho Day (International Day Against Homophobia).

Clare hasn't visited the Centre in the past few years, during which time it's undergone some renovation and redevelopment and I've never seen round the whole building. So I ask Ian Robson - Centre Director and my colleague on the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) - to give us a quick tour of the premises. It's a great place they've got - very impressive indeed. Hard not to feel envious, but I do my best!

We join in the barbecue, but have to leave before a three o'clock showing of "The Laramie Project" on their big, wall-mounted, flatscreen HD TV (what, more envy?!?). I have to say that I didn't particularly fancy seeing this film, which tells the story of the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard (photo above) in Laramie, Wyoming. I tend not to like "issue" stories, which bang the drum for their cause and often forget that they are a movie or play and become hectoring, soapbox rants. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see that this features some of my favourite film and TV actors (among them Dylan Baker, Steve Buscemi, Nestor Carbonell, Michael Emerson, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Joshua Jackson, Laura Linney, Frances Sternhagen). It premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and was first broadcast on HBO in March 2002. I've already asked to borrow it and am looking forward to watching it.

Find out more about Leicester LGBT Centre:

Find out more about Idaho Day:

Find out more about The Laramie Project:

Find out more about Mathew Shepard - his life, death and legacy:

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

A screening of "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920) this evening at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the earliest, most influential and most artistically acclaimed German Expressionist films. The film tells the story of the deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare, and their connection to a string of murders. Critics worldwide have praised the film for its expressionist style, complete with wild, distorted set design including crooked buildings and twisted landscapes. The film also boasts one of the first attempts at a twist ending, something quite new and shocking for its time. This is a genuinely creepy film which delves deep into the mysteries of the abnormal mind ... an uncomfortable journey to say the least. Everyone is suspect and, in the end, we must ask ourselves: "who is really the mad one here?" Subtle and ingenious, we see the world the way an insane person might see it; warped and confused, a nightmarish terrain where nothing makes sense and balance is not to be found. The impact of this film is still being felt and seen today, and for good reason. Caligari has been cited as an influence on film noir, one of the earliest horror films, and a model for directors for many decades. It is a shocking, disturbing masterpiece.

This 90th anniversary celebration has seen a series of screenings at selected venues, beginning 9 Feb in Lincoln, then visiting Warwick, Derby, Stamford, Cardiff, Bradford, Saltburn, Norwich, winding up here in Leicester tonight. The screenings are accompanied by live performance of a new, original (partly improvised) score by Cipher (a duo comprising Theo Travis and Steve Sturt), incorporating hypnotic alto flute, haunting soprano saxophone, dark soundscapes, pulsing beats, deep bass and rich textural landscapes. Cipher have a history of writing scores for sinister films, including Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lodger" and "Blackmail", FW Murnau's "The Last Laugh", and GW Pabst's "Pandora's Box" in their repertoire. Travis explains: "We tend to pick films that are dark to write new music for. It's about capturing the mood of the film with a mixture of improvisation and composition. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the most moody and dramatic films ever made, one that continues to exert a huge influence on film-makers".

At the end of the performance and screening, I nip down the front to congratulate the musicians. I saw Travis playing sax and flute with Gong in Oxford last November, which was my 50th birthday treat. I didn't know he'd be playing here this evening, so that's a bonus for me. He tells me that Sturt is also with Gong now, playing bass. Oh, I love this even more now - getting to chat with two members of Gong, without expecting it!

Find out more about The Cabinet of Dr Caligari:

Find out more about Cipher:

Friday, 14 May 2010


Watching a restored digital print of Stanley Kubrick's sword-and-sandals epic Spartacus (1960) this evening at Phoenix Square. A few odd things about this film. Firstly, it has a musical overture that plays to a blank screen. That might have been commonplace for films of the period, but I haven't seen it (or rather, heard it) before. Secondly, I can hardly remember the last time I saw a film that had a fifteen-minute intermission (I think it might have been 2001: A Space Odyssey when I saw it in Glasgow on its 1978 reissue - another one of Stanley Kubrick's classics, of course).

Spartacus has a lot to say about the impossibility of obtaining and securing freedom and happiness in a society that is based on oppression, where accidents of birth make one person master over another. It says a lot about what choices are left to us in such constraints, and about the redemptive power of love and sacrifice. Anything about ancient Rome can't help but allude to its opposition to (and eventually being overtaken by) primitive Christianity. Indeed, Spartacus has a short opening piece of narration that looks forward to that significant turn of events. But the story is set before the appearance of Christianity and its impact on Rome. It doesn't allow itself that lazy narrative elision into redemptive allusion. Yes, there is crucifixion (and plenty of it) most notably of Spartacus himself. But if we are supposed to see him as a Christlike figure, he is one who kills, who fathers a child without the union being sanctified by the state and one who does not look to a supreme God but who appears to accept the pantheon of gods - domestic and foreign - as being literally true, as much any other part of the world around him. Perhaps it has more to say about communalism, depicting a people's revolt. But even that angle becomes unclear when considered against the inspiration of the individual. there can be no simple answer to whatever "message" we want to take from Spartacus.

Among the Roman nobility, matters of belief seem more straightforward, at least when we take the characters' own words. They disbelief in the gods in private, but venerate them in public because it's a civic necessity and obligation. Among these characters, one of the most troubling (and consequently interesting and satisfying) is Lentulus Batiatus, owner of the gladiator school where Spartacus is trained and where the slave revolt breaks out. Batiatus is played by Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004), whose photo is at the top of this blog entry. And he's the real reason why I thought I'd write this one.

I met Sir Peter once, toward the end of his life. He spoke at a conference of the World Federalist Movement (of which he was President from 1991 till his death). I can't recall now whether this conference was in 2002 or 2003. The Friday night before the conference opened, there was a reception for him at the Bahá'í National Centre in Knighstbridge. Sir Peter spent most of the evening immobile in a large chair in the corner of the downstairs reception room, leaning on his walking stick under his chin, looking fairly content but detached. He didn't stay all that long. there was a respectful atmosphere, but not much interaction with the great man.

The next day, however, he addressed those gathered at the conference venue for between two and three hours without a break - and held us all in rapt attention. No one could be in any doubt that here was one of the great raconteurs who, though frail in is body, was still noble, engaged, powerful and persuasive in spirit. He had us laughing uproariously one moment, then distraught with tears the next. Not the kind of thing that can be captured here by someone of my comparatively weak abilities. You had to be there really - and I'll always be glad I was.


I receive a phone call this morning from a member of staff at the Brandon Mental Health Unit at Leicester General Hospital. She's calling to ask where they could obtain a multi-faith wall calendar. We don't produce one ourselves, though it's one possible project for our 25th anniversary next year. I recommend that she get hold of the calendar produced by Bradford District Faiths Forum.

While I have her ear, I recommend that the Brandon Unit become involved with the East Midlands Network on Spirituality and Mental Health. There's not much active representation from Leicester and Leicestershire on this network and we need to take every opportunity to promote it. She tells me that the unit has a weekly spiritual care team meeting and that she’ll ensure this matter is raised at the next one.

Photo above: an Eid display at the Brandon Unit, made by service users there.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


To Nottingham this afternoon, with Laura Horton (REDP Project Manager) to take part in a Community Engagment Strategy Working Group with East Midlands Ambulance Service. This is the follow up to an earlier meeting on 24 March. A much smaller group this time makes this meeting more manageable, positive and fruitful than the first as we work our way together through the 29-page draft strategy document. Like so many of these documents, the level and style of language may benefit from a little adjustment. For example, a "robust feedback loop and reality checking mechanism" sounds like something you'd find on the console of the TARDIS.

CreativeCoffee Club (4)

To Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre this morning, for the regular fortnightly meeting of CreativeCoffee Club. After 20 minutes or so mixing and mingling in the Screen Lounge cafe bar, we head upstairs to the ETC Training Suite, for a workshop on "Networking Skills" led by Dorothy Warner, Head of Development here. In my post, I've had to live on my wits in terms of networking opportunities. CreativeCoffee Club was the training ground on which I practised the skills I needed to do it well. There are 25 of us in all. We each pick a piece of paper from an envelope. It has half of a movie title on it. Our icebreaker activity is to seek out the person with the other half of our movie title. I pick "Shakespeare", so I'm looking for "In Love". Thankfully, when I do find the person with the other half, it's someone I know, so we can half a laugh out of something that might have brought red faces! I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Mel Gordon for us to match up with "Shakespeare vs Kramer" (or for his other half to match up with mine, giving us "Kramer in Love"). That's not the right Kramer of course (pictured above), but I just couldn't resist it.

Visit CreativeCoffee Club Leicester's Facebook page:!/ccleic
Find out more about Phoenix Square Digital Film & Media Centre:


A meeting this morning with Ida Hilde Mathisen (photo above), a journalist for the Norwegian online news service abcnyheter (ABC News). She's in Leicester to write some articles about integration of different cultures and media reporting on Muslim communities here. I go to the Premier Inn, where she's staying, and chat with her for an hour or so in the hotel lounge. Ida is the fifth major media contact I've dealt with in as many weeks. She's set up some interviews over a three-day period here, which should allow her to gain a decent impression of life in Leicester.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

City of Sanctuary

Full meeting of the Council of Faiths this evening in the Welcome Centre. Guest speaker is Gill Buttery, Development Worker with Leicester City of Sanctuary. City of Sanctuary is a movement to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Its goal is to create a network of towns and cities throughout the country which are proud to be places of safety, and which include people seeking sanctuary fully in the life of their communities.

A City of Sanctuary is a place of safety and welcome for people whose lives are in danger in their own countries. It is a place where:

  • the skills and cultures of people seeking sanctuary are valued, where they are included in local communities and able to contribute to the life of the city.
  • community groups, local government, media, business, schools and colleges have a shared commitment to offering sanctuary, so that it is seen as part of the city’s identity by local people.
  • people seeking sanctuary can easily build relationships with local people as neighbours, friends and colleagues. Through these relationships, local people come to understand the injustices refugees face, and become motivated to support and defend them.

The City of Sanctuary movement began in October 2005 in Sheffield. In September 2007, with the support of the City Council and over 70 local community organisations, Sheffield became the UK’s first official "City of Sanctuary", a city that takes pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety.

A national network of Cities of Sanctuary will demonstrate the desire of people of goodwill throughout the country for a more just and humane approach to people seeking sanctuary in this country.

This is a different kind of meeting from those which the Council of Faiths has held recently; indeed, quite different from any meeting which I've attended in my three years here. Members are invited to take a few minutes to spek on the subject of asylum seekers and refugees from the perspective of their particular faith. Minou Cortazzi (Bahá'í) starts off, then Resham Singh Sandhu (Sikh), John Lally (Christian), Ramesh Majithia (Hindu), Alex Keller (Jewish), Fayyaz Suleman (Muslim), Janette Macdonald (Bahá'í) and our visitor Vinod Chudasama (from Leicester College - and a Hindu). Each one has the opportunity to speak at length and uninterrupted, about what their faith says to them (and through them) on this vital and moving topic. I've tried to quote below a few of the things each one said, but not linked them to any individual or faith. You may like to try and do that, faithful reader, but it's not a competition and there are no prizes on offer for this.

"Founders and central figures of each religion experienced banishment and exile for their principles and teachings."
"They have stood up against oppression and sacrificed themselves for those who could not protect themselves."
"When we come close to people - to 'The Other' - we come closer to feeling what they feel."
"Having a guest in your home is like having a visit from God there.
"Our God-given duty is to serve, heal and educate those from outside our communities, just as we would our own."
"As we become more God-conscious, we have to change our attitude and behaviour toward the poor, the needy and the oppressed."
"Justice is the most important thing in the world and it needs to be brought to the world on a world scale if we want to bring an end to oppression."
Leicester City of Sanctuary has obtained funding from Faiths Action to help strengthen relations with faith communities on issues to do with asylum seekers and refugees.

Find out more about Leicester City of Sanctuary:

Monday, 10 May 2010

National Inter Faith Week lives on

Just had a phone call from the Inter Faith Network UK. They're putting together the final report on National Inter Faith Week 2009 and want to use pictures and text from this blog in their report. You never know when someone will look at older entries in the blog and want to make use of something that might otherwise appear dead and buried. The text and images can have an interesting afterlife. A bit self-referential to mention this here in the very blog itself, but I do like that sort of thing. Very Post-Modernist, innit!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

St Thomas' Choir

My son Harry (9) has passed auditions for The Guild Choir of St Thomas the Apostle (Glen Parva with South Wigston) - more commonly known as St Thomas' Choir. The choir was formed in 1890 and generations of congregations have enjoyed their music ever since. Currently, the Choir has 24 boys and 16 men who go to make up one of the finest church choirs in the country. The Choir often receives invitations to sing all over the country, in venues such as York Minster, Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. That's a photo of the boys (above) dressed to perform on one such occasion. Auditions are held at local primary schools to recruit new members. New boys are usually between 7 to 10 years of age and are called probationers. Harry has been taken on as one of them. I'm so proud of him for this.

Find out more about St Thomas' Choir:

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief

To Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre this afternoon with Harry and Grace, to see "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief". It's a milestone for Harry; first time he'll have seen a movie based on a novel he's read (he's already up to the third book in the Percy Jackson series).

I remember the thrill of hearing and reading the Greek myths when I was a kid and of seeing dramatisations of the stories of Perseus, Hercules and their like. I remember with affection movies like Jason and the Argonauts (1963), featuring the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen. By the time of Clash of the Titans (1981) - the final film to which Harryhausen contributed his trademark animation - I'd rather outgrown this kind of thing (and I have no desire whatsoever to see the 2010 3D remake of Clash of the Titans, which features one of the worst straplines ever put on a movie poster: "Titans will clash!" Oh really? You don't say!)

It seems to me, however, that children discover and consume these stories in a different way now. Whereas in earlier years, children got these stories as something that had happened in a dim and almost-forgotten past, or in an alternate, mythologised world, today's children access them as part of an alternate reality that exists today. They see these gods and monsters of ancient Greece persist in our contemporary world - as if they've never been away, but have simply been biding their time before returning to assert their authority to rule - or wreck - our world.

In "Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief" we see Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, not only in their divine or demonic forms, but also in hoodies, leather jackets and trainers. We identify with their children, demigods born though their matings with mere mortals. There are also significant appearances by minor figures such as Medusa, Persephone, the Minotoaur, the Hydra and assorted centaurs, satyrs and furies. We visit the Underworld, Mount Olympus and the land of the lotus eaters, all of which have their modern counterparts, bringing a nicely ironic touch to the story (the entrance to the Underworld is below the Hollywood sign, Mount Olympus is accessed through an elevator in the Empire State Building and the lotus eaters lure and hold heir victims in a hotel and casino in Las Vegas). There's no recognition (no mention even) of innovations in religion since those times, no engagement with Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Other religions may as well not exist in Percy Jackson's fictional world.

Now, it could be said that it's not a new phenomenon; that such outlets as Marvel and DC comics retooled the ancient gods, heroes, villains and monsters from the 1960s onwards (for instance, with a particular favourite of mine, "The Mighty Thor", which depended on the old Norse myths and legends). But the marketing is more intense, penetrates deeper and into more layers of young lives, the CGI animation leaves less to the imagination.

Mind you, this production and consumption of ancient archetypes isn't just for children. Adults are willing participants too. For example, Neil Gaiman's Hugo and Nebula-Award winning novel, American Gods (2001) and Steven Sherrill's debut novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2003). Even Doctor Who's Weeping Angels (recently voted the scariest monsters in the show's 46-year history - based on only one appearance at the time the poll was taken, Stephen Moffat's "Blink", which also won a Hugo) draw heavily on the archetype of Medusa and the Gorgons.

Find out more about the Percy Jackson books (by Rick Riordan):

Find out more about Neil Gaiman:

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Philosophy in the Pub

To the Swan & Rushes, Infirmary Square, this evening,  for the regular monthly meeting of Philosophy in the Pub (PIPS). Lezley is facilitating and has chosen the stimulus - an article from today's Guardian entitled "This town has been sold to Tesco". Stalwarts Alan, Mike and Harry (all from Secular Society) are here and we're joined by Don, a visitor from Tennessee who's doing some ICT-related work at nearby De Montfort University. Alastair (my firstborn) and I make up the numbers.

Find out more about Philosophy in Pubs all over the country:

Find out more about the Swan and Rushes:


Amplified individuals use social media and the web to enhance their abilities to sense their world, create shared resources and act collaboratively. We meet fortnightly at Phoenix Square Digital Film and Media Centre. This morning, Ash Brown hosts an informal "Tech Surgery" bringing together those who need help with social media and those who can advise them. Folk bring along their laptops, iPhones, Blackberries etc. Tables are devoted to twitter, Facebook, MySpace, You Tube and my favourite (of course) blogging. I get the chance to talk with Ash for a good bit late in the session, when we discuss the affordances, constraints and effectivities (they're E301 words - look 'em up if you're that bothered, faithful reader) associated with different forms of blogging available (principally Wordpress v Blogger).

Content is the most important thing for me. I'm not all that competent with design elements (in fact, I feel pretty backward at all that). I like Blogger and use this format because it allows me to forget about design and just get on with the writing.

Today I've persuaded Alastair (my firstborn) to attend. I've been encouraging him to come to events like this for a while, so he can make some good contacts for more effective deployment of his artistic skills. He's an excellent musician (with a degree in guitarcraft from the Academy of Contemporary Music), a witty writer and MC. I know all parents think their children are the bee's knees, but I'm happy to say that I'm right on the money about him.

I have a chat with Dipika Hindocha, who is volunteering with the Get Inspired 2010 project. She's looking at ways of using the Amplified network to publicise the forthcoming event. Sounds to me like she's got plenty to give back here too.

Monday, 3 May 2010

how amplified are you?

Today I've been sorting out some papers that have been piling up over the past few weeks and months (well, it is Bank Holiday Monday) and came across an interesting questionnaire that I picked up at the Amplified Leicester Showcase (see blog entry, 15 Apr). It's a lighthearted test, developed from one used at The Future of Work Perspectives, presented by the Institute for the Future. If you find the jargon off putting, consider it as being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I've done it; would you like to test yourself, faithful reader? For each topic, grade yourself from 1 (not at all confident) to 3 (highly confident).

The ability to work in large groups, and to organise and collaborate with may people simultaneously.

Knowing how to be persuasive in multiple social contexts and media spaces, and demonstrating awareness that each context and space requires a different persuasive strategy and technique.

Responsiveness to other people's requests for engagement, propensity to reach out to others in a network.

Fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles.

Ease with creating content for immediate public consumption and modification.

The ability to prepare for and handle surprising results and complexity.

Fluency in working with different capitals (e.g. natural, intellectual, social, financial, virtual).

Thinking in terms of higher-level systems, massively multiple cycles, and the very big picture.

Filtering meaningful information, patterns and commonalities from the massively multiple streams of data and advice.

The ability to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best collaborators on a particular task.

What's your score?
21-30 Congratulations, workplace superhero! Your colleagues don't always understand what you're talking about, but never mind. William Shakespeare was right when he wrote, "We are advertis'd by our loving friends." Keep on amplifying. If you're not in demand in the job market yet, you soon will be.

11-20 You're a workplace semi-hero! What's stopping you from reaching the pinnacle? As Clay Shirky said, "When we change the way we communicate, we change society." You're not afraid to experiment but some of the above qualities make you uncomfortable. Identify those weak spots and take more risks.

0-10 How to improve your score: 1. Hang out with amplified people to watch, learn and ask questions; 2. Experiment and don't be afraid to fail; 3. Spend time messing about online; 4. Don't be Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman, who said in 1943, "I think that there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Find out more about Amplified Leicester:

Find out more about the Institute for the Future:

Sunday, 2 May 2010


To East Midlands Conference Centre (photo above) at Nottingham University this afternoon, to drop in for a few hours at Bahá'í National Convention. Today is the Twelfth Day of Ridván, marking the end of the holiest festival period in the Bahá'í calendar. National Convention is always held during this period, not just for the Bahá'ís in the UK but for every national Bahá'í community all over the world.

When I worked for the Bahá'í Publishing Trust in Oakham (between 1987 and 2003), I attended this event every year, often as a delegate for the regional community: Rutland (as I lived in Oakham virtually all that time) combined variously with parts of Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. I remember conventions in Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Llandudno and Southport, among other places. I'd attended National Convention for several years before that, again, often as a delegate for Glasgow and its environs. I would also have attended other national Bahá'í events around the country, representing the Publishing Trust - maybe another two or three per year. After leaving the Bahá'í Publishing Trust in the spring of 2003, I thought I'd take some time away from these events, after fifteen years in suit and tie working in the bookshop. Amazing how time flies; this is the first national Bahá'í event I've done since 2002 (apart from a flying visit to a speak to a special interest group at a national Bahá'í conference held in Warwick University, January 2008).

The East Midlands Conference Centre is an excellent, modern, stylish facility, with the main meeting hall, food, space for exhibitions, displays and the ever-popular bookshop, rooms for children's activities and breakout meetings all under one roof, parking and overnight accommodation on site. I've visited here once before: 19 January, for the first in the series of Involvement Events with the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). I didn't get to see much of the centre that day, though I remember it being very cold inside - not something you could say about it today.

These events always provide evidence of the Bahá'í welcoming - and enjoyment - of diversity. This time, activities for those who aren't delegates include the opportunity to have a go at playing in a gamelan orchestra of Indonesian drums and gongs!

I'm here with Clare, on her first visit to a Bahá'í event. There are around 700 Bahá'ís here in all. We're hardly through the door and have already met half a dozen or more old friends of mine, who greet us warmly: Dickie Fuscoe, Laili Cleasby, Wendi Momen, Shahram and Karin Firoozmand, Marlyn Thoburn, Shiva Nolan, Mahzad Mazloomian, Jackie Mehrabi. They and others offer hugs, kisses and exceptionally kind words of welcome. I get to talk to all of them about my work for the Council of Faiths, leave them with my card and samples of our leaflet on Leicester's Bahá'í community. Some of them ask if I could come out to their communities to give them advice on local inter-faith work.

Half an hour or so is spent in the main hall, before the session breaks up for dinner. Not having seen this for so many years, I'm impressed all over again by how courteous, reflective, good-humoured, positive, collaborative, considered - even stately - the process of Bahá'í consultation can be. I can't help but wish more of my friends and colleagues could see this for themselves, as it's such a distinctive model of discussion and decision-making. As well as consulting together on the main issues that affect the current condition and future progress of the UK Bahá'í community, the 95 delegates have the responsibility to elect the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the UK. Our local delegate is Minou Cortazzi, former Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths.

We don't stay very long (hardly more than three hours) and go back to Leicester before dinner. But it's enough to leave me with the sure and certain feeling that it's been good to reconnect after all this time.

Saturday, 1 May 2010


A few days ago, these images began appearing all over Leicester city centre, as reported on Citizens' Eye. No one claimed responsibility for them and there was no explanation of their meaning. Today the mystery was cleared up. After much speculation, it turns out that they're part of a campaign to get out the youth vote for the General Election. John Coster and Citizens' Eye were in on it all along - well, you've got to create a bit of a buzz for some things! Among the team doing this today is a friend from way back, Bez Kileen (or "The Lovely Bez" as I used to call her). Bez and I worked side-by-side (literally) at the Watershed Youth Centre when I was employed by ReMit (Leicester City Council's education provision for adults with long-term mental health issues). She's a Youth Development Worker in the City Council's Children and Young People's Services. We spent a lot of time disagreeing on each other's musical tastes (for such a right-on, kick-ass, politically engaged and activist woman, she seemed to like an awful lot of middle-of-the-road fluff) but we were united in our adoration of The West Wing. Good to see her again today - though I had to get out of her way and let her get on with her job when a reporter needed to interview her about this youth campaign - and good to see that she's still fighting the good fight! And here she is, caught holding the proverbial smoking gun ...