Tag Archives: current affairs


I could claim this was a New Feature for the blog, but really it’s just five scraps of unrelated minutiae that anyone with a greater grip on trendy ephemera would stick on tumblr. Just take it as evidence of what a DPhil does to your brain.*

1. Tomorrow my housemate and I are in formal hall for the advent of Ms Vanessa Redgrave. We are on High Table, which may in fact be a sort of  children’s High Table due to the numbers booking in. Like a large family wedding. If Brasenose were marrying a famous actress. And Andrew and I were flower girls. In any case: I am very excited about the Vanessa Redgrave events and YOU SHOULD BE TOO. There are FOUR events over the next two days, in Oxford, they are all free and booking is HERE.

2. This is beauty and truth.

I have never seen a hipster who looked like they were capable of either having fun or reading a Sayers novel. I bet a hipster would never go and see Noises Off (I am going on Saturday!).

3. Ian Charleson = my new obsession. Please listen to him singing Guys & Dolls. It’s just audio, no pictures, so you can go and get on with what you’re doing while slowly sinking into dehydration-induced blindness (the blog that keeps on giving).

4. I have just remembered that last night, while very tired but unable to sleep, I wrote and illustrated a four-page children’s book called Josephine And The Marvellous Moustache. It’s about a little girl called Josephine and her moustache, which is marvellous, and possibly sentient, and they go to Paris together and she takes on her moustache on a date to the opera, where she and her facial hair are envied by a collection of poorly-drawn men who ALL resemble W. H. Kendal. Who says you need to be asleep to dream. My God, and to think I could have legally been a parent for the past eight years, now. I’m not fit to look after daffodils. Addendum: when I started this point with “I have just remembered that last night” I BET you didn’t think it would involve sobriety, kid’s lit, and facial hair. I BET.

5. I am off to do some doodling and sleeping. Based on last night’s adventures I can only assume I’m about to create Bearded Narnia.

*I’d appreciate it if everyone who knew me before the DPhil just KEPT QUIET on this one.

Petition to allow Anglican clergy to bless civil partnerships in church

David and Jonathan

Cheery and not even slightly suggestive image of Jonathan with David, the latter sporting gorgeous must-have-this-season dead!Goliath accessory. Found in St. Giles's Cathedral, Edinburgh, photo by Lawrence OP.

Provided in the comments to my previous post, “Born This Way” and the Sanctity of (all) Marriage was a link to the following petition:

Petition to allow Anglican clergy to bless civil partnerships in church.

In December 2011, it became legally possible for civil partnerships to be blessed in houses of worship. Currently, Anglican clergy are not allowed to do this, but a growing number seek to do so openly and without threat to their careers. A letter to this effect was printed in The Times, and signed by over 120 clergy from across the Diocese of London.

For me, this is only an interim step – I want to see gay marriage within the Church of England, during my lifetime. That is, gay couples being married to each other using a recognisably Christian marriage service, inside Anglican churches, by current Anglican priests, then signing marriage certificates and having the option to use marital titles (e.g. husband/wife) if they so choose, with the same religious, social and legal standing as heterosexual couples, without

a) it making the blindest bit of difference whether either or both parties are ordained ministers, priests, or Rowan Williams himself,

b) anyone feeling entitled or obliged to question whether the couple are in a sexual relationship, because it is neither a problem nor anyone else‘s business, or

c) the celebrant, assistant, or clergy in the congregation having to worry about the ramifications for their present and future careers.

This is a long way from what the Diocese of London is asking today. However, I truly believe that the success of this petition would be the first step to achieving everything I’ve described. So, if you sympathise, please sign here.

Oxford has No Confidence in Willetts

Just stopping by to express my delight that, today, Oxford passed a vote of no confidence in the universities and science Minister, David Willetts. The majority was 283-5. I am so proud of the “dons’ parliament”.

Rape and anti-rape

Once again, I’d like to know why anti-rape advice focuses on women changing their behaviour, not men. I’m not saying that “don’t walk alone at night in unsafe places” isn’t advice that might stop SOME women being raped.

But if that advice is given – from schools up – I want it to be followed by the spoken phrase “because some men are absolute sick bastards”, not the unspoken “because if you do, you deserve it”.

Best way to stop women being raped by men? MEN: DON’T RAPE WOMEN. If men STOP RAPING WOMEN, there will be no women BEING RAPED BY MEN. Essentially, women are raped because SOME MEN CHOOSE TO RAPE THEM. Not because of short skirts or routes home.

We have to be careful what we wear and where we go, not because there’s anything inherently or morally wrong with certain clothes or certain addresses, for god’s sake. We have to be careful because of some men being rapists. PLENTY OF MEN are not. However, NO WOMEN deserve to be raped.

Again, MEN: DON’T RAPE WOMEN. The best and indeed ONLY piece of anti-rape advice which, IF FOLLOWED, is GUARANTEED to reduce rape-against-women figures to almost nothing. INDEED, following this advice makes a dramatic drop in rape figures LITERALLY INEVITABLE.

Anyway, as you were.

Arts Council Cuts: the Midlands and beyond

I’ve followed the Arts Council England cuts today with deep sadness and anger. Our society – not the Big Society, but the place(s) we really live – is under threat, and in this time of economic attack from our coalition overlords, the arts’ position is especially contested. There are lots of issues here, most of which I don’t feel qualified to speak on, but I did want to discuss the following.

The myth of the press officer class

Quentin Letts scoffed at the sufferings of what he calls the “press officer class”, i.e. those in arts admin (some of which could, perhaps, be more accurately known as arts bureaucracy). I have no animus against arts administrators whatsoever, and I hope that as few administrative roles as possible are lost. But what I hate most about Letts’s argument is the way it elides all the other people who work in the arts. At least if you’re an administrator or other office-based professional, you have transferrable skills! God knows there are few enough administrative and management posts available at the moment, and it’s appalling when people have to take skills and wage cuts, but for many people in theatre, that kind of transition just won’t be possible. If you’ve spent twenty years as a followspot operator, how many other roles can you step into? Stage carpenters are stage carpenters. A career in automation (formerly known as “flying”) doesn’t allow you to move between different kinds of organisation in the same way as a background in development or HR. These technicians are also incredibly skilled professionals. What will happen to them?

Creatives, technicians, and artisans don’t have the same prominence or vocality in the anti-cuts movement as doctors and teachers, and for good reason. But there’s a new body of workers who’ll be badly affected by these cuts, and Letts’s argument ignores them completely.

Audiences and young people: a manifesto

I am lucky: I’ve seen a lot of theatre because my parents were willing and able to make theatregoing a priority throughout my life. I also had inspired, discriminating and proactive teachers. A few weeks ago, the RSC (who have themselves taken a 15% hit) opened a Facebook discussion on why it was so important for young people to see theatre. I’d like to say that theatre is important because not only because it enriches our cultural lives, our imaginations and our intellects along with the rest of the arts, but also because it builds tribes, encourages acceptance, and creates communities with dignity. When a young person becomes involved with theatre, in any capacity, it changes how they see themselves, and how they see the world. Theatre prioritises the development of physical, mental and emotional stamina, of confidence, of self-worth and the capacity to take risks. Theatre offers to chance to step into a different kind of life, where people are valued in new ways, and where personal and professional relationships are based on immediacy, intimacy and trust. Unlike almost everything else in popular entertainment, theatre demands that people come together in the same room and listen to each other. Theatre demands that audience and performers treat each other with respect and generosity. When you make theatre, you have the unbelievable privilege of making your thoughts come alive around you, of creating a private world that then becomes gloriously, unbelievably public. Around the world, wherever there have been struggles for freedom, dignity and equality, theatre has been there somewhere. The defining figure in British culture, for better or worse, is not a statesman, a musician, a sportsman or a surgeon, but a playwright. On personal level, theatre has, again and again, created and changed the course of my life. When you take theatre – performance, stagecraft, design, text, activism – away from young people, you are denying them the chance to be the best they can be.

The Midlands

A ROUGH GUIDE TO THE CUTS: if you have “Birmingham” in your title, get stuffed. Foursight Birmingham: 100% funding lost. Birmingham Repertory: 11% cut. Birmingham Royal Ballet: 15% cut. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: 11% cut. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group: 11% cut. Big Brum: 11% cut. Also in and around Birmingham; the Ikon Gallery and the Midlands Art Centre will each lose 11% of their funding, while Ixia (visual arts) loses 15.2%. Another big loser in the West Midlands is Multistory, which loses over 43% of its funding. Recent work by Multistory involved developing original work by primary school children in Coventry. Simultaneously, the Coventry Belgrade is losing 14.9% of its funding, meaning that pretty soon the only thing in Coventry will have to offer is IKEA. Oh, and the West Midlands disability arts user-led organisation DASH loses 38% of its funding. Of course. Nationally, two other major, brilliant companies with investment in disability arts are DV8 (whom I was privileged to see as a sixth-former) and Zinc. DV8’s losing 11.7%, Zinc’s losing 100%. Yes, you did just read that – the Arts Council are cutting all funding for the largest disabled-led arts organisation in England. That must be the most disgusting thing I’ve read all day.

In the East Midlands, the Theatre Writing Partnership loses 100% of its funding. God forbid that Leicestershire, for example, should produce another playwright like Joe Orton or Sarah Kane. Leicester Theatre Trust are losing 11% of their funding, as are the Nottingham Playhouse. Two East Midlands companies who made unsuccessful applications for funding are the participatory community theatre company Hanby & Barrett, and Metro Boulot Dodo.

Warwick Arts Centre, responsible for all the experimental theatre I saw before uni, loses 11%. The Royal Shakespeare Company loses 15%. I love the RSC beyond all reason and am partisan to the point of incoherence in its favour, so I find this… painful. I have faith that they can take it, nevertheless.

Whichever way you look at it, the Midlands has suffered horribly today: we’ll feel the repercussions for years. It’s not just the arts, of course – I heard today (from my mother, who taught me feminism and liberalism and exactly why you never ever vote Tory – I only wish everyone else’s mothers had done the same) about some of the other services being axed in the West Midlands. Dudley Council closes Meals on Wheels next week, meaning that 120 Stourbridge pensioners will no longer receive a cooked meal each day (total saving: £32,000). The voluntary organisation Birmingham Tribunal, which provides a free welfare benefits legal advice for the city, is also shutting soon. But it’s another, depressing, regressive nail in the UK’s coffin, helping to push our society and its citizens further into unemployment and suffering. Forget the cultural value if you can, or even if it doesn’t matter to you: so many jobs and families will be threatened by these cuts. Even if you think the arts are elitist (although how anyone could think Clean Break, the theatre company working with women in prisons, is elitist… they’re taking an 11% cut), recognise that this is yet another sector in which workers are being threatened.

What next?

I have no answers. I urge everyone who can to focus on supporting their local arts organisations and services, and to keep voicing their displeasure. I offer my deepest sympathies to all the organisations mentioned in this post, and indeed to all who’ve been adversely affected by the decisions today. If anyone reading this is affiliated with an organisation attempting an appeal or looking for fundraising in the light of the Arts Council’s choices, please comment: I’d be delighted to add your links to this post.

Japan Nuclear Update – British Embassy

This was posted on facebook, and linked by a fellow Orielensis, Richard Jones. It’s both comprehensive and lucid (unlike some of the TV reports, which I’ve been struggling to follow). The author is Paul Atkinson (seen left). I hope it offers information and reassurance; I’d also be interested to hear alternative views.

By Paul Atkinson on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 9:55am

I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:

* In case of a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples’ health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.

* The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.

* The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children – for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).

* The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.

* If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors’ cores cool down.

* Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.

* This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.

* The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons – structural damage or possible new quakes – but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.

* Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.

The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.

Let’s hope the experts are right!

Leaked: the email Ruth Padel used to tell journalist about Walcott’s past

Poor woman does not take a good photo. (c) Press Association.

Poor woman does not take a good photo. (c) Press Association.

Here is the text of the email Ruth Padel (who resigned as Oxford’s Professor of Poetry yesterday) sent to Olivia Cole, ensuring the press knew about the past of her then-rival, Derek Walcott.

“Hi Olivia,

“ON the CHair, there is still no other nomination except (so extraordinarily) Derek W and me. But thye close on 29th April so another or others may well turnup…

“THere is aupposed to be a book called The Lecherous Professor, which has 6 pages on Derek Walcott’s two cases of sexual harassment, which might provide interestigfn copy on what Oxford wants from its professors.. ALl best, Ruth.”

Published by the Torygraph among other papers, Padel’s (incredibly badly-spelt) email – which she denied sending – doesn’t mention the ‘student concerns’ she claimed prompted her to tip off the press (as opposed, one assumes, to the University itself).

At a press conference today, Padel spoke of her ‘relief’ at quitting, and called the emails she sent ‘naive and silly’. However, she still denies having done anything wrong. Unsurprisingly, she has ruled out the possibility of standing for reelection – can you imagine if she tried to run again?!

Meanwhile in Oxford, students finishing English Finals at the Exam Schools (where the election was held earlier this month) were filmed emerging from their exams by media cameras; University staff supervising the event said the footage would be used as part of the coverage of Padel’s resignation.

Ruth Padel resigns as Oxford’s Poetry Professor

(c) Chris Moses.

(c) Chris Moses.

Ruth Padel has resigned as the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the Guardian reports. Although details are currently scarce, it seems very likely she withdrew after it emerged that she privately alerted journalists to the (proven) allegations of sexual harassment against her former rival, Derek Walcott. Walcott withdrew from the race before the election, leading to Padel’s election.

This does not mean Padel was involved in the anonymous packages sent to male and female members of the English Faculty at Oxford, alerting them to Walcott’s past.

Padel was elected on 21 May 2009, claiming the Walcott situation was “nothing to do with” her. However, yesterday on 24 May, the Guardian reported that, despite claiming that “neither [my campaign managers] nor I mentioned Walcott’s harassment record and had nothing to do with any behind-doors operation”, she was emailing journalists as early as April to tip them off; Padel admitted to these emails, in yet another email, this time to the Guardian. The original news of the smear emails broke in the Sunday Times; as a result of these and other reports, Padel lost the support of prominent supporters including Lord Bragg and Sir Jeremy Isaacs. The language of the emails is, at best, highly disingenuous:

“Some [of my] supporters add that what he does for students can be found in a book called The Lecherous Professor, reporting one of his two recorded cases of sexual harassment and that Obama is rumoured to have turned him down for his inauguration poem because of the sexual record. But I don’t think that’s fair.”

Padel then helpfully directs her correspondents to the internet, where they can find out more.

The Oxford University Poetry Society is bound to be pleased; Secretary Eloise Stonborough, after all, organised the open letter which went to the Times, calling for Padel’s withdrawal and the reopening of nominations. And, in fact, as I look over facebook, there’s quite a bit of celebration (inc references to the ‘sinister teddy hall cabal’)… not to mention speculation about the new candidates. Tony Harrison‘s my man.

I would have really loved to have supported Padel – and plenty of people I respect did choose to do so. I would, all things being equal, definitely have preferred a woman to win. Talking to female academics convinced me that supporting Walcott wasn’t an unfeminist move, and I did, in any case, prefer his poetry (I would never have endorsed him for a teaching position). I thought before the election that Padel should have withdrawn; I now feel I wasted my sympathy on her, since she emailed journalists and then lied about it. I’m not sorry she’s gone.