Art and Life and All The Things

Street Art in Le Panier

I’ve just come home from a trip to Marseille(s). Read some great books, explored and binged on art and sea. Lots of ideas were buzzing around my head, and I sort of exploded my thoughts out onto paper from time to time – this turned into two blogs for here. Et voilà the first. I’ve just started reading Jostein Gaarder’s adorable book, Sophie’s World, about a girl in Norway who receives mysterious letters about the great philosophical questions of life. She is asked:

Who are you?


Where does the world come from?

In other words… why and how are we here? Ever preoccupied with the airy-fairy of life, sometimes I think about these things too.

Maybe you can relate.

1. Stumbling upon Poetry

Sometimes, walking down the street, or falling into a café for a caffeine boost, or meandering from A to B on the agenda for the day, your eyes and mind get caught. There are words and ideas waiting for us everywhere – more than ever before in the age of information saturation.

On the average high street or commute or school run, in my experience anyway, the likelihood is that these lines and links will be in advertising space. There is a grabbing sensation, like being uncomfortably swept to one side and demanded your age for market research, pressed to buy a copy of the Watch Tower or hand over your contact details to an overworked student collecting names for an enormous charity (another time for discussion over charity vs social justice models of sorting out the big stuff) – or to buy a fake designer watch (what happened to those guys you always see parodied in cartoons with trench coats lined with fake watches?)

Anyhow. Welcome to 2016, the height of the age of information. And our greatest asset, the greatest power play that occurs, I think is only for money on the face of it, in the daily game of monopoly now, our paper notes and little plastic properties are on some level symbols of the play for our attention. Who and what gets it? Who wants it? Where do we want it to go?

Our attention is the tool of our intention,  and we only get to master Defence Against the Dark Arts when we are at the helm of our own attention span. A mind is a weathered old ship to wear the storm.

So, back to the commute, the morning/evening routine hubbub – we keep control how?

I think we narrow our attention: keep focus on A then B then C. Shower, shit, shave, breakfast, go. List; email; act; make a spreadsheet. And if we let our eyes and our minds wander, and make space for the unpredictable? We make ourselves vulnerable. And there is a whole lot of stuff to pull at us: see advertising, facebook, product porn, yes – but also, possibility.

Exploring the streets and sights of Marseille again, yes there are billboards and money-jockeys (what is it that’s so amusing about adding the word ‘jockey’ as a suffix?), but in the space between, ready to be caught sight of, to ask for our thoughts, there is graffiti on the walls, poetry on the pavement, a sea of the possible, and galleries and music and art, and the sounds of the waves crashing against the coast.

Yesterday in Aix, we tried to visit an art centre; turned out it was 14 euros to enter (and not such a great exchange rate right now…) so we ducked out into the international bookshop across the street. Good space and place are sometimes to be stumbled upon and not sought out.

It was full of beautiful, wonderfully curated pages, and an invitation to drink coffee and chill. Roaming at my leisure (boyfriend rolls eyes and settles into chair) I stumbled upon a 1 euro book of poems by Christina Rossetti – The Goblin Market. Loved. In it she plays with the tensions between the safety and comfort of the known and familiar – and the danger and possibility of the unknown; innocence and experience, all those romantic classic themes. But fun. Discovered my new favourite poem about a frog: A Frog’s Fate. Go read it, I heartily recommend.

So where am I going with this? We need space. To explore our own ideas, and to be invited into discussion with those of others (long live the independent bookshop and library and gallery for maintaining this space; let’s use and protect them – fiercely, like an amazon.) Though sometimes viewed as a stronghold of traditional values, privilege and the ‘in crowd’, art (all the forms of play; things we don’t have to do) and music and design, the beautiful world outside and in the space between the private and the corporate is where our minds and our hearts grow. So I have an agenda to live well in the 21st century. And that is to try not to stumble on my smartphone or a purchase, or to be told what to think or to care about; rather to discuss it; to explore and play with it. It is an agenda to stumble upon poetry, and to find space and time to make it so.



I have had these words up on my wall on a page torn from an old catalogue – I realise now for three years and four different homes.


In sync with this, Helen Keller’s quote always rings true for me:

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

And remembering to stay an explorer is definitely an important ingredient, I think, in the process of living courageously, adventurously. (Please bear with my whimsy; it has some kind of sense). When you are wee, life is all about the mad adventures you can have playing in your back garden. The idea of adulthood is exciting, desirable but somehow so solid and concrete. I remember thinking that being “an adult” is about being an authority. Things have changed, growing up is either over-rated or else something very different to how I conceived of it when I was playing unicorns in my back garden and having pea fights in the kitchen; or later sitting my Mum down at age 12 and telling her it was time to start letting go – now I’m ‘all grown up’.

‘Growing up’ has become about learning how to stay true to the adventure; retaining the exploring, care-free eye of being a kid. And reconciling the relationship between responsibility and autonomy, sensible consideration and giggles.

For a while I thought this meant constantly moving, being in a different place, having itchy feet, seeing that big wide magic madness of a world out there.

Yet… now I’m getting on (I am 25, I have travelled about a bit, have a couple of years of teaching under my belt, and a whole fun heap of debt – plus some greys), I have, very happily and gratefully I might add, returned back to the place ‘from whence I came’ and moved in with my other half. Like many friends and fellow mid-twenty somethings. Although as many of us are still journeying and seeing what new places hold – and I am inspired by friends who have done the ‘home’ thing for a while and are jetting off to start new lives across the globe. (It’s like pouring water on the shoots of yourself and watching your mind explode out like a flower grenade.) But what about moving home? Choosing the familiar instead of the great unknown. Settling? A word that used to scare me. Now I’m not so sure the concept even exists.

The only certainty is change, and home is different now. And I am excited to be exploring it with different eyes. Talking to people, and questioning myself about how this whole exploring thing works, I have come upon a few constants which help direct the explorer’s spider sense to fresh sights, smells and souls. Those things that make the unfamiliar familiar, and unveil the unchartered territory behind the well trodden path. Doorways open.

An Explorer’s Guide to Home and Away

  1. Find water and green. The river, the sea, a lake, a pond. These are the places we connect and get wild. See David Bond’s ‘Project Wild Thing’ (, Stephen Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works’ and beyond for the benefits of being out in green, wet, muddy space and if licking a frog is too much for you, a wee walk, run or cycle is usually a good start for a new adventure.
  2. Source food and drink. A good pub and a cute cafe are always a good start. When I was in Spain it was about finding the line of tapas bars that did the best veggie dishes and rioja; here it’s more about the good vibes, music and beer. But good conversation and new ideas cannot but follow from good spaces to eat, drink and be.
  3. The magic number – scout out your tribe. Great people are an essential to any wonderful place. They bring it and each other alive with their histories and their differences. There are friends everywhere. Open the door, holler, make some food, play some music: find each other.
  4. Read voraciously. My kindle used to ‘screensave’ with ‘the book should be a ball of light in one’s hand’ (Ezra Pound); well chosen, I feel. Reading changes the lens and the aperture of our experience of space and time. It shifts the street, the local pub, the run down abandoned warehouse on the corner into gold dust by helping us imagine the world through different people’s stories and by different rules.
  5. Get into the art of the place. Brian Eno says ‘art is anything we do not have to do’ (slightly misquoted, I think, but see his fabulous John Peel Lecture on how art is our life-force! And also Amanda Palmer who expresses and demonstrates this well in her book ‘The Art of Asking’) and yet I would argue, art is something we all have to do together to survive. We need to share, to explore ourselves, others and the world around us. He also says: “Children learn through play, adults play through art” and this is the gateway to very important things: learning, connecting and creating; creating ourselves and creating the future. We all have a different art (or play) form that makes us tick: sport, fashion, hairdressing, painting, music, theatre, film, trainspotting, playing Pokemon Go… I won’t go on. But whatever it is, go find it, go find where other people are doing it, and play your heart away. Then follow the breadcrumb trails you find on the way. You will stumble upon the world.

Agree? Disagree? Perhaps you have your own top exploration ideas? I’d love to know them. Zap them in.

And but of course, another perfect quote from ‘that weird film you like with David Bowie and unicorns’ as a good friend described it. (Just to clarify these are two different films; go find them, I urge you.)

“But there aren’t any doorways or openings or anything; it just goes on and on!

That’s ‘cause you ain’t lookin’ right. There’s openings all along this path. There’s one right there.’


No such thing as black and white

“Things aren’t always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted.” – Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

For someone who normally has very little to do with social media, I was not able to keep my brain off it this weekend. Sad and resentful and furious and scared; feelings I had staring at my EU cartoon map on the wall of my classroom wanting to – very nearly throwing a tantrum in front of my form on Friday morning (managed thankfully to pull myself together and remember to be a responsible balanced adult); seeing family; visiting the First World War memorial poppy display at Lincoln Castle on Sunday. Sad and surreal.

Why and how would we throw away the legacy of a united Europe? Though the true nature of what the referendum has simultaneously unveiled and catalysed is still unfolding, and yet to be fully understood, I have some thoughts about the way the vote turned out and some ideas for where next. It’s just my little drop in the ocean, but something I just need to say right now.

Test to Protest

So I voted Remain, emphatically. So did many of my friends; a phenomenon nicely summed up by my friend, Gilby as the ‘echo chamber’.


But I think I get Leave. It seems pretty clear that Brexit was a protest vote about the way things have been unfolding in this country. For a long time now, the voices of the people across the UK have not been fully explored or heard by those making the big decisions; by this I mean asked, talked with in ways that are engaging, non-directive and qualitative: what do you think? What do we think? What’s important to us right now? And why?

My criticism of our politics is that too often it tries to either prescribe views to the public (a problematic blanket term in itself for the plethora of individuals and communities that make up this country), or outright tries to tell them what they should think, and the public have to select the nearest fit. To me, that is not true qualitative democracy and it does not acknowledge people’s agency and their capability to have some authority and insight in the mechanisms of their own lives and communities. For me, our systems also don’t look to engage people to come together on a local basis and share and debate ideas which affect them locally and nationally in real terms. We are told: you should care about your family, your job, and your shopping trolley. Oh and maybe a holiday now and again – if you care about anything bigger, the economy’s worth your time: spend and make some more money”; just look at the remain leaflet the government distributed to the public. Greater questions have been left to the ‘professionals’ to deal with; those issues are someone else’s remit.

For me, these problems have been inherent in the zeitgeist of Britain’s political intellect; they speak to people’s personal beliefs and sense of disempowerment about how much knowledge or influence they have over the way this country operates. I would note, that I don’t necessarily think it is the intentions or the aims of the individuals acting in government that are at the heart of this issue; I think they don’t see it, but the system and its inherent socio-political biases and assumptions which do need problematising.

So for me, our political landscape has done anything but enable open well-informed conversation which reflects the nuanced and challenging lived experiences of the British public. It is of course easy enough to brush us as a nation of politically uninformed bigots and xenophobes (or half that and half privileged and/or optimists and economic realists). And there have without question been very harrowing instances of intolerance in the wake of this, which undoubtedly need addressing; every member of our melting pot needs support right now; and we have to find ways to talk about and dispel the fear; the safety pin campaign and other movements are heartening.


When it comes down to it though, for those voters who weren’t just confused and now regretting it, this was a vote of feeling, against an establishment which has serially undermined, oversimplified and patronised. What I am seeing now, I think, is that this vote was never really about Europe. And while yes, there is an argument that ignorance is self-inflicted, that really is but a fragment of the story.

The Postcode Patchwork

We are getting report after report of the divided state of the nation; ongoing indicators of political and economic chaos / general confusion; and an onslaught of political debate; who needs Game of Thrones? But we have a choice whether to buy into divided Britain, or whether to take this as a wake-up call, to come out of our comfort zones, and get talking, supporting and sorting this shit out.

Looking at the stats published on politico, as much as I can understand the need to analyse and deal with the generation divide, what seems as interesting is the regional. I am a Teach First participant, and along with many friends, I’ve spent the last two years getting a sharp insight into the ingrained inequality and chaos of an education system trying desperately to deal with the society wide injustices which boil down to decisions directly impacting the often underprivileged (and/or contextually varied) many being made by the standardizing, centrally-dictated policy of the privileged few.

It’s complicated, and messy, but again and again in reading and experience, I keep hitting the fact that if we want a happy, socially just society, we need a system which listens and enables rather than which undermines and dictates. And for this to happen, we need to become more active and open in our communities. For me, a top-down London centred lens on policy and planning has led us down a deeply unfair and ineffective path. We have been desperately needing the reclaiming of regional agency; we just hadn’t realised this was how the message would come through. Where our political agenda serves only the aim of growing GDP, it misses the point. It is not simply how much money we have in the pot which is the issue, it is how effectively we are employing and deploying our resources to enable people across the country to live informed, engaged and happy lives. In response to this disillusionment, I look at loved ones, colleagues, friends, and I see people shutting the door on society to look after their own. And our problems just keep exacerbating. And an unhappy, misinformed electorate need a scapegoat. Europe and the immigrants? Fine. Whatever will cause the most stink for the people at the top.

The Spirit Level

I would say the landscape in education is a good barometer for the landscape across the country. The picture? Gross inequality, competition culture, and neoliberal values simplifying people into numbers. Planning for a lesson on prejudice and equality to my year 9s last week (oh the irony in a school in the middle of an enforced ‘restructure’), I came across “The Spirit Level”, a report collating data across the major wealthier countries of the world and examining the relationship between income inequality across the population and social problems. The relationship between measures for these shows a clear correlation. Big gap between poorest and richest? Wellbeing and health and social problems eat your heart out. Following in the footsteps of the USA, the UK picture does not look good. I was reminded of a documentary by Robert Reich called “Inequality for All” which draws very similar arguments about issues with the US economy.

I encourage anyone who’s interested to visit the page and check out the slides on the website. The data is getting old now (2009) but I wouldn’t suggest things have improved a great deal since then.

Where do we go from here?

So, we have voted out of an international union which stood for equal opportunities and rights, and which streamed funding into areas where it lacked from our own government (perhaps masking issues which needed addressing long ago) and we are left with a disintegrated government who simply have not had their ear to the ground. I guess the feeling is, if the government are more interested in looking after international interests, than looking at the picture at home, then cut off the link and force our eyes inwards.

Many of the British public felt their vote wouldn’t count for anything. But the thing is, it did. Brexit will not solve our homemade problems. But maybe it has woken us up to them. So we can make change. So what now? Do we cave into fear culture? One thing I’ve learned from the classroom: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It may be overused, but I think it’s time to buy into the “be in the world what you want to see in the world” line. Where do we go from here? Here’s my ten pence piece (to quote your blog, Tim, if you happen to read this).

If we have an election coming our way, then for me, any legitimate campaign needs to recognize the need to address the underlying social issues at the heart of this vote. For me, our leaders, and our people, need to work together now. Competition time is over. I have no interest in standing back as politicians and the media spend their time invested in one-upping each other rather than actually doing their job.

We have an opportunity to look our problems in the face, and propose genuine solutions, rather than blaming and finger pointing. I for one would like to see any negotiations for Brexit include an opportunity for those of us who wanted to remain a part of Europe to be able to apply to maintain their EU citizenship. I know I am not alone in feeling I’m not going to be giving up my citizenship without a fight.

But equally, and more importantly, we need to look at the reasons why many people in this country have no time or use for their EU citizen status, because life is about getting from one moment to the next, one pay check to the next, and we should be asking what can be done to alleviate the injustice of the fact that it is even possible for 15 British people to have 4 billion to lose between them when so many others are struggling to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads?

So I am listening to music and thinking. Thinking it’s time to talk and know each other, to address the imbalances;  the unvoiced. Any campaign now needs to take care and to listen. That is the government that I will vote for. A listening one. And to be heard? We need to rise up. Speak out. Stop. And talk to each other. We need to open our doors and look at ourselves and others in the face. We need to forget Thatcher’s “no such thing as society” rhetoric and give a shit about people outside our family as well as in it. This is the age of information sharing, let’s ride the shift to share the responsibility for our communities and our futures. I won’t believe we can’t make a difference.

And for anyone sick of all the political chat, well done for reading this far. Needing the fun injecting back into things? …I can highly recommend reruns of Pokemon Indigo on Netflix 😉 Peace.


Europe, you’ve got my vote.

This is going to be a blog about voice and democracy and figuring out how to help us all to live happy, fulfilled lives in this chaotic wonder of a world.

Now though, I am passionate and/or riled about one thing in particular: Europe. If anyone is uncertain and looking for some insight into what others are thinking regarding remain, here are my views.

I believe deeply and with no uncertainty that right now, voting remain in the EU is the right thing to do. I am sharing this and my reasons why because I feel an emotional and ethical commitment to the values and history behind the (admittedly flawed) EU, and hope that my reasoning for this may be helpful to friends, loved ones, and anyone else that might find this some support in sorting out their own point of view. This is not a balanced, referenced essay; see other sources for that. This is my considered, emotional view.

I also feel that, in spite of arguments about trade and economy, it needs to be said that it is okay to reason from an ethical position. I support the remain campaign because the EU keeps us together in spite of our differences; it says that we stand together instead of standing apart. And I worry deeply, that if we leave, what we are saying is, that we denounce our responsibility and our involvement in the world and the community that we created together in the wake of centuries of internal dispute and colonialism.

The EU is not perfect. But I would rather belong to and have a voice inside of an imperfect community, than seek a solution through refusal to participate in a community at all. We are a social animal; so we embrace society, warts and all, or we reject ourselves. I am proud to be British. But I am as proud if not prouder to be European. That may sound bizarre to some. But visiting the Caen Memorial in Normandy this Easter holiday with our wonderful students from Scunthorpe, and seeing with them, in overview, the strange and terrifying history of the 20th century through the lens of the world prior to and post Second World War, I cannot but agree that a united Europe is a stronger, happier Europe, and that Britain is best placed as a part of it. Here are my own reasons:

  • I feel an immense sense of gratitude and connectedness to the cultures we share across the EU. I would not be the person I am today without the experiences I have had involving people I have met, study I have engaged in and work abroad in France and Melilla, Spain. There are millions of us who do – or have or will – live, learn and work across the EU in their lifetime. For me, my jobs – now and in the past, my skillset, my entire worldview and my confidence in the power of people to fight for equal opportunities for everyone to live a happy fulfilled life, and justice in spite of a deeply unjust and unstable world, stem from the experiences I have had thanks to the freedoms I enjoy as an EU citizen. I want the young people I teach to have the same opportunities. They deserve to feature in this argument. As much as, if not more than the ecomomy does, at that. And I find it frustrating that many of those who will be most affected by this referendum are too young to have a say.
  • The EU convention of human rights was founded on values that run through our shared histories, not least the Magna Carta. Being British is wrapped up inextricably in being European – and more than that, being citizens of the world. We are living inside a culture that believes (against the evidence I would add) that people get where they are through merit and that it is down to the individual where life takes them. The evidence points to the fact that this is just not true. We get places in communities. I’m all for local representation, but the UK is lagging behind in working towards equality and promoting social justice. The opportunities that my parents’ generations had as young people have been completely undermined thanks to nearly three decades of neoliberalist, Thatcherite single-minded, capitalist and individualist rhetoric (strong language, but read the lit). We are so used to hearing it we don’t even know it when we see it. Look around you. How fair is England? If we want to start improving democracy, we need to look to better examples than our own.
  • Having lived in Melilla, Spain, on one side of a fence that separates those who belong to the EU and those that do not, I have seen how much people will put on the line for access to the rights and freedom of movement that we take for granted. This situation has only intensified in the last two years. It is not fair and I think we have a responsibility to help ; but I am conscious of how lucky I am that my membership to such a strong international community gives me easy freedom of movement, education and experience. I support a future that sees those rights and opportunities extended to all. I know on which side of the fence I would rather live.
  • Diversity makes us stronger; community makes us stronger; standing together makes us stronger. If there are issues with democratic representation across the EU (which may, I would point out, be helped by us voting in more representatives who are engaged with the concept of EU representation), then studying our education system, I have even greater concerns for the institutionalized undermining of democratic representation within the UK. Staying within the EU gives us opportunities to learn from each other, share practice and promote strong vision and research which is constantly informed by further discussion; a united system enables us to do this without facing constant barriers. Acknowledging our democratic right, we have a choice about whether or not to engage and connect with our neighbours, to belong to a community together or not; for me there is no question. I choose to vote for Europe.

Our beliefs and emotions about this are rooted in our own experiences, but one thing is certain, to quote punk rock band, Muncie girls frontwoman this weekend, this is f*ing important and we should be talking about it, though we have been educated to gulp shyly and feel awkward and uncomfortable about getting political. We should be getting our views out there, and we do need to swallow our discomfort at talking politics and start getting loud about what is important to us. Democracy is dead if we don’t.