Monday, 16 March 2015

Arts for All, by Kate Massey-Chase

Wednesday 25th February marked 50 years since Jennie Lee’s white paper: A Policy for the Arts - First Steps. Lee was the arts minister in the 1964 Labour government of Harold Wilson, and it was the first (and is so far the only!) white paper that had been written on the arts. In it, she argues that the arts must occupy a central place in British life and be part of everyday life for children and adults, be embedded in our education system, recognised as an important industry, widely accessible, properly funded, and valued by society. 
So, 50 years have passed. How far have we come? Mid February saw the publication of Warwick Commission’s report on The Future of Cultural Value, which - although demonstrating that the arts are a significant contributor to the economy - also shows that arts and culture are being ‘systematically removed from the UK education system’. Under our current government, the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has said that ‘Arts subjects limit career choices’; we’ve watched Arts subjects being devalued, undermined and squeezed out of the curriculum, and at the same time provision outside of formal education reduced and dismantled due to funding cuts (from a regime of austerity which consistently harms the younger generation). As Paul Collard, Chief Executive at Creative Culture and Education, recently said:

‘What is clear now is that young people, especially those in the less affluent areas, are not getting any opportunities at all, because arts... access for young people has been swept away. And it will only get worse.’
Cheerful reading. So, what shall we do? Make some noise! Make some art! DO SOMETHING! That was the call of Devoted and Disgruntled, spear-headed by Stella Duffy. With a twitter handle #ArtsPolicy50 ready to go viral (which, YAY, on 25/02/15 it DID!), the mission was clear: mark the anniversary; let people know why you think it’s important; make a fuss.

I think it’s important, so I celebrated, discussed and responded with two groups I was working with that week: a group of adults in recovery from various forms of addiction, who I do Creative Writing with at The Living Room, and a group of young migrant/refugee teenagers in South London, who I do Drama with for Attic Theatre Company.  

With my group at The Living Room, I decided to challenge both them and myself, and worked with them to write a group villanelle. A villanelle is a poetic form that is supposed to be one of the very hardest to write, and I thought this would not only give my group a lift, knowing how capable and talented they are, once we had written one, but 

would also be a nice way of demonstrating that a community group, gathered together for the purpose of recovery (rather than because they had chosen to attend an arts-based class) could be damn creative, that the arts could be of value to ANY community. And they did bloody well, so I’m going to let their work provide all the evidence I need....

Arts for All

We feel as if we’re up against the wall,
This generation is under duress.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all.

So we shall answer our heart’s secret call
With a tight grip or with a sweet caress.
We feel as if we’re up against the wall.

We know we’re got the gumption and the gall
The talent, deep inside us, to impress.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all. 

It’s not as if the order’s very tall,
We’re tired of giving more and getting less.
We feel as if we’re up against the wall

From Cornish coast up to remote Rockall
We will push for proper, fair access.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all. 

Inside our schools and every village hall.
Fifty year’s since Jennie Lee’s address,
We feel as if we’re up against the wall.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all. 

Before they left, many of them said they had felt ‘lifted’ by the experience, that they were ‘proud’ of what they’d achieved, that they felt ‘lighter’, ‘invigorated’, that they’d had ‘fun’. Arts for all. It does matter. 

Then on the day itself, I ran our Drama group with my colleague, Rob Lehmann, at SCOLA, with the young migrants. Many of the students have very little English, and come from all across the globe. Some have come from war-torn countries, some have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most are in foster care. All agreed the arts are a fundamental part of their lives. We we had some fun, took some photos, and celebrated the importance of the arts in all of their lives. 

The Center Cannot Hold: My journey through madness. Review by Michael Trifourkis

Most people associate schizophrenia with a life of misery, isolation and suffering. Yet as Elyn Saks narrates her journey through madness, the reader becomes aware that here is no ordinary person. She showed that with determination, courage, academic discipline and a loving relationship that this awful illness need not be so permanently debilitating.

Elyn describes her terrible symptoms in great detail and with brutal honesty. Her turbulent behaviour and outrageous dialogue with her talk therapist Mrs. Jones stands out vividly and yet despite illness Elyn achieved a master’s degree at Oxford. Later, despite psychosis, she became a law professor after studying at Yale. She famously said that her brain was her best friend but also her worst enemy.

Elyn Saks writes with precision and passion avoiding academic or medical jargon, making the book easy to read. The reader is gripped by how she endured her constant setbacks, due to her hatred of taking medication. Finally, she accepted the undeniable fact that she had a mental illness and that changed everything for her. 

In a world where there is so much stigma, Elyn continues to stress that “illness of any kind need not define an individual”. Her candid and brave autobiography has made her a celebrity and has given hope to fellow sufferers. 


One may call it serendipity, but at a recent gathering I struck up a conversation with an woman who coaches individuals who want to reach life goals. Apart from the fantastic conversation we had, she left me with a great recommendation, which came in the form of a book called Somebody Should Have Told Us, about the ‘three principles’.

Now the three principles are Mind, Consciousness & Thought, and these principles are interconnected. But it is the thought principle which has really been my gateway into these ideas. By ‘principles’, Pransky is referring to something which is an indisputable fact about our human nature. Much like the theory of gravity, it is an undisputable fact of our existence. The three principles are therefore not questionable, but simply how lfe is.

Now rather than hijack the book paragraph by paragraph, likely bemusing myself and you the reader in the process, I will tell it how I see it.
 Thought! We think. Of course we do. But this might seem a little different when we begin to recognise that our entire reality is made up of our thoughts. We generally think that the outside world happens to us, and effects us, and we then feel a certain way. For example, the weather may be bad, therefore I feel low; the crazy car driver cut me up, therefore I feel angry; I was fired unreasonably from my job, so I feel depressed; my addiction to drugs has hounded me all my life, therefore I am filled with guilt and shame.

This can be said to be an outside-inside world. What happens on the outside, effects us in the inside. The three principles rather sees our experience as an inside-outside experience, not as an outside-inside experience. Therefore what happens on the inside creates our experience.

So what does this mean in concrete terms? Well, let’s take the above examples and review them in light of the Principles. In an inside-outside world, yes, the weather may be bad, and yes, I may be feeling low – But note: It’s my own thinking which is making me feel bad, NOT the weather. Yes, the crazy car driver cut me up, and yes, I feel angry – But note: It’s my own thinking which is making me feel angry, NOT the errant car driver.
Yes, I was fired unreasonably from my job, therefore I feel depressed – But note: It’s my own thinking which is making me feel depressed, NOT being fired.

Yes, my addiction to drugs has hounded me all my life, I am filled with guilt and shame – But note: It’s my own thinking which is making me feel the guilt and shame, NOT the drugs.

So you may say, of course I feel angry, the driver cut me up, what else am I suppose to think? Well, actually, there are any number of ways of thinking about this event. And it is down to you, which way you choose to think about the event. Let’s say the Dalai Lama was driving the car, and he was cut up, would he feel angry? Well likely he would feel something completely different. He may choose to feel happy, or he may regard the other driver as a novice and so understand it; he may pity the driver as someone unable to control his emotions, etc.

 In fact there are thousands of ways of thinking about these event, or any other event which happens out there. How we choose to filter this information, by our thinking about it in certain ways, determines how we feel.

 Underpinning every negative feeling is a negative thought. There can be no feeling, which doesn’t have a thought hidden beneath it. The way we think, determines how we feel. Therefore, if we are feeling negative, we can be sure that there are negative thoughts lingering behind the feeling. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly, we aren’t even aware that they’ve happened. Why am I feeling this way? I haven’t been thinking negative thoughts. Well, yes you have. Why? Because there can be no feeling without a thought first generating it.

We are, what we think. Our thinking creates our experience of the world. So this is a revelation. If you can see it. Not everyone can. It may take time. If we know that our thinking can create a negative experience of the world for us, we can also know that by choosing to think good thoughts, we can create a fantastic experience of the world for ourselves!

Well, that’s the book and its basic theory. How does this translate into realtime? I guess that’s for you to discover - or not.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1929-1945) Review by Maura Sartori

The book is about a young Jewish girl whose diary of her time hiding from the Nazis entranced the world.

Anne and her family were forced to leave home, when the situation in Germany had become intolerable, and they fled to Amsterdam when Hitler came to power. It was a happy time for Anne at the start; she loved her school and her home life on the Merwedeplein. But the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and Hitler’s invasion of Holland in 1940 forced Anne and her family to go into hiding in a Secret Annexe. Sadly they were betrayed and were sent to the concentration camps, were Annie died on an illness.

I thought that Anne Frank and her family were very brave and that her father was right to publish her diary, for she was a very good writer.

Inspirational Quotes from Anne Frank:

‘Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl?’
‘Whoever is happy will make others happy too’
‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’
‘We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.’
‘In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.’
‘Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!’
‘The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.’
‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’
‘I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.’

Skin Like Butter, Theatre Review by Kate Massey-Chase

The Thelmas’ mission statement reads:

As a result of the gender imbalance in British theatre, The Thelmas are taking matters into their own hands, promoting and supporting rising female talent. They are passionate about seeing more work commissioned that is written by women, for women, and their work reflects this. 

Thus they have brought to the stage an excellent new play by Leah Cowan, Skin Like Butter, which details the story of a young man trying to seek refuge in the UK. The stories and characters in the play were all developed from first-hand accounts, lending an authenticity to the piece, which carefully navigated the terrain between harrowing detail, personal narrative and political comment, with a refreshing dose of humour, prudently used.

Clever and sensitive direction from Madelaine Moore, brought the script to life, and John Omole gave an intense and energetic performance as the lead character, Jerome. Cowan’s writing is poetic and biting, and this play presents a well-drawn collection of characters, from the comedy double-act of hopeless immigration officers, to an infuriating woman in the Home Office, to Jerome’s fiercely independent, itinerant girlfriend. 

This play raises important questions, not just about the stories that we tell about ourselves, but also how we tell them. In Skin Like Butter, Jerome is increasingly encouraged to ‘play the system’, despite his protestations that ‘this isn’t a game’. Without ever preaching or presenting easy answers, Cowan poses multiple questions about the systems in our society, and not only how we respond to those in need, but also how we attempt control the narratives of those dilemmas. 

Stigma by Dev

Wikipedia describes it as: “the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society. Stigma may then be affixed to such a person, by the greater society, who differs from their cultural norms.” To put it into simpler terms, it is when people or society disapproves of you or your behaviour on the grounds that it is different from the norm.

Stigma can be found anywhere – in the office, at home, with friends, in public places. When it comes to mental health, it seems that there is a lack of knowledge when it comes to this area. Time to Change is a charity trying to combat this stigma, and their website mentions that “the research also showed that the way family, friends, neighbors and colleagues behave can have a big impact on the lives of people with mental health problems.” In some cases, it causes negative reprisals from friends, family and people you may work with, not to mention the public. People may find it difficult to speak to you; they might leave you alone or leave you out to one side, speak down to you as if you were a child, or just leave you when it comes to making decisions.

This is all very well and good to mention, but there is also another important form of stigma called ‘self stigma’. Personally, I think this causes more damage to a person with mental health problem, on top of their existing problems. A Stigma Shout survey that was carried out showed that almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives (source: Time to Change).

At the end of February 2013, the Mental Health Discrimination Act became law. The Act repeals or amends three laws that have previously prevented people with experience of mental health problems from taking, or continuing to hold, public office. This makes it easier people with mental health problems to bring in some positive changes within the government.

Challenging stigma can have a positive effect, as it means the person who you are explaining what you are really like to, beyond the label that they may have given you, will become more informed and hopefully treat you and others better in the future. 

Folie a Deux: An experience of one-to-one therapy, by Mickey Christian

This is an account by Rosie Alexander, a British woman, of her difficult and traumatic journey through a course of psychotherapy in Paris. This was where she lived and worked at the time. Pursuing a goal to become ‘more self-confident, assertive, less anxious and guilt-ridden’, she at first tried various therapists of mixed ability or competence. Finally she settled on one, Luc, and there her travails began. 
Many of us have entered into psychotherapy treatments; or have thought about it; or are involved in one right now. Whatever the dilemma, it’s always a rocky road; we can only hope or pray for a reasonably contented outcome at the end of it, out of the tunnel. 

Writing with clarity and precision, Ms. Alexander describes her imperceptibly swift descent into unbearable dependence, obsession and unrequited lust for this man. This was exacerbated by their having to meet at his home for the sessions, as he has no separate facilities. Inevitably she picks up on traces and signs of his private life there. These include glimpses into his bathroom and bedroom, etc. and then of course his current girlfriend in person. This propels her further into a vortex of jealously, rage, frustrated sexual desire and despair. 

The hapless author had fallen into a massive and helpless state of erotic transference for the therapist. However tempting it may be to think Ms. Alexander as possibly too critical and analytical for her own good, she didn’t deserve this. An emotional car-crash. Despite only having her version of events, it is abundantly clear that the therapist Luc bears his own measure of responsibility for this debacle. As with many practitioners of his trade, he remained rigidly attached to his own particular ideology and doctrine. The treatment must be correct, even if the patient suffers an ocean of pain in the cause of personal enlightenment. Often casual or cavalier in his attitude and behaviour, he neglected to alter or monitor the ever-fading boundaries between himself and his client.

This book is informative, revealing, often amusing and frequently very explicit in its narrative. Ms Alexander’s written English is flawless and immaculately eloquent. One wonders, though, how natural her spoken French was, and whether she may have fared better back home with a British therapist. Many people do benefit psychotherapy, but evidently an unknown number become the casualties of therapy.

C'mon Baby Light My... Livingroom!

Looking out of our front room window, I have to remind myself each and every day that I am truly blessed. A hazy, indistinct horizon extends for miles, dare I hazard a guess and say 2-300 hundred miles? It’s almost impossible to tell in fact, as it changes by the clarity (or not) of the sky each day. This expanse of sky, this blanket of light, really does make up for the horrendously small living space our family has to contend with. But the outside, brings its own space into our living environment.

Let’s be clear, there is no room to swing a cat where we live, no room for an extra set of drawers, no room for an additional sofa, no room for a spare toaster! But what a skyline can do is give an incredible ‘sense’ of space to one’s living environment.
 Granted, not everyone is as fortunate to have such a skyline. But then not everyone would want to live on the 8th floor of a tiny apartment in a block of flats either. But the importance of light in one’s living space cannot be over estimated. Even the smallest window spaces can emit a wonderful spirit-enhancing light. But it’s all too easy to forget. Quite soon these light portals (a fancy name for windows) become overgrown with the weeds of home living: curtains, flowerpots, photoframes, bits of furniture, all clogging up this opportunity for essential light. Given that we spend an inordinate amount of time in buildings, and particularly with the advent of home offices, it seems evermore important to receive those much needed D vitamin light rays.

We can all feel a little low in the winter months, darkness coming at 4-5 in the evening, also darkness in parts of our journey to work. But oh how we need our light. Imagine a poor plant kept in a darkened cupboard. How could it possibly be expected to thrive? It would become limp and listless in no time, eventually meeting its demise. We are no different.

Now we have SAD lamps. But these are poor substitutes in my opinion for the real thing. Granted they can fill in the gaps when there is no other opportunity. SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is thought to be caused by lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin due to decreasing daylight and dropping temperatures. Light treatment, where the patient is exposed to a special lamp for a certain amount of hours per day for two weeks, is effective in some cases. But I think a good window can work just as well.

So before logging on to your Ebay account and considering the latest state of the art SAD lamp, I would suggest looking a little closer to home. When was the last time you washed your windows? Grime can build up, eventually suppressing light. Also grimy curtains can suppress light coming in! Windows should be sparkling clean, free from obstructions, and preferable close to one’s seating, or office desk. Yes, I am beginning to sound like that lady from the TV who goes around people’s houses giving unwanted cleaning advice. Anyway, rather than buy a SAD lamp, maybe begin with Mr Sheen, or perhaps a new set of curtains – or preferable none at all. Consider the layout of your living space, look for the optimum method for getting light into your home, and soak up those feelgood rays.

Book Review by John Dawson

‘A View from the Bridge’ is a play by Arthur Miller and was first staged in America in 1955. The story is set in an Italian American neighbourhood, the small Brooklyn community of Red Hook, near Brooklyn Bridge, back in 1950’s New York. The story itself is somewhat of a tragedy. Arthur Miller attempts to show what life was like in the docks of Brooklyn, focusing on the life of a family who live there. 

The book starts of with a couple: Eddie Carbone and his wife Beatrice, and their niece, Catherine. Eddie, the main character, works as a poor longshoreman in the docks of Brooklyn. Catherine is learning to be a stenographer (someone who types what people say). Catherine, being an Independent Woman, decides against Eddie’s wishes to quit studying and start work. The story continues to unfold when Beatrice announces that her two cousins, brothers Marco and Rodolpho, have arrived safely in New York but as illegal immigrants.

The story takes another twist as Rodolpho and Catherine start dating, much to Eddie’s dislike. Both men start to have different ideas about which way their lives will go. Eddie, due to his protective nature, has worries that Rodolpho, with his talent in singing and acting, is planning to marry his niece so that he can gain citizenship. This leads him to send them to live in the flat above with other illegal immigrants. Eddie goes on to take some big steps that lead to a tragic end.

I remember the book of this play years ago for an assignment. The book and its storyline has remained one of my favourite books. The Arthur Miller makes a very good job of the story and you find yourself entangled in the lives of the characters.

Book Review by Michael Trifourkis

Foundation is the first part of a classic trilogy written by Isaac Asimov.
A great mathematician, Hari Seldon, an expert in psychohistory, predicts that the vast Julactic Empire, consisting of a million worlds will collapse into barbarism. He sets up a foundation to preserve as much knowledge as possible to shorten the coming Dark Age.

However, there is an ulterior motive for setting up the Foundation. Psychohistorical solutions can only be achieved if the participants are ignorant of the overall plan. 

Some critics have said that the plot develops only in conversation and there is very little action or descriptive colour and the dialogue is at best functional. Also, the style of writing is unpoetical but as Asimov intended, it is clear and to the point.
The novel has no female characters and is therefore uncluttered by romantic relationships.

The characters are unpretentious with nothing martial about them. Results are achieved peacefully when a predicted crisis occurs, as Mayor Salvor Hardin says:
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. 

There are many twists and turns to the plot that makes this timeless novel a compelling and exciting read. The foundation trilogy, with Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, is for me, prophetic science fiction at its very best.

Liver for Life

“Drink does damage you can’t see.”
These words, from a government-issued health warning, echoed around my skull as I trudged out of the doctor’s surgery. 
Drink does damage you can’t see. It’s true, you know. On the outside, I didn’t look too bad; my skin wasn’t yellow or shrivelled. Inside, however, one of my major organs was in a sorry state. My liver was inflamed, and certain enzyme levels were six times too high.
“Some parts can recover,” my GP had said. “But for other parts, unfortunately, the damage will have been done. You need to cut out alcohol, and try to bring those enzyme levels to as close to normal as possible.”
“As close to normal as possible” implies she doesn’t think they’ll ever be normal again, I thought, despairing.
There were only two options for me. One: Give up on life, continue to drink thirty units a day, die like George Best. Two: Recover, embrace life and try to achieve my potential, albeit with a clapped-out vital organ. 
After some deliberation, I decided on the latter.
“This is your final wake-up call,” sang an inner voice, “so answer it, because there won’t be another one after this.” 
As was usual for after a bender, I’d been “weaning off” alcohol by drinking beer instead of spirits, decreasing the amount by one unit each day. I’d drunk a pint of lager that morning to get me out of bed, and I could have drunk more upon my return from the surgery. But by some miracle, I chose not to. I was panicking about my liver. 
Once home, I Googled “foods good for liver” and made lists entitled Eat and Don’t Eat. One doesn’t need a degree in Nutrition to create a liver-friendly diet, just a bit of common sense. My Eat list basically comprised fruit, veg and salad, with a few types of nut; my Don’t Eats were anything fatty or salty.
I cut out cheese, crisps and ice-cream. I replaced pork products with Quorn equivalents, and swapped semi-skimmed milk for skimmed. I also introduced a daily concoction of vitamins. This included Milk Thistle tablets, which are known to benefit the liver. 
Getting back into a regular, diurnal sleep pattern took almost a week and required Zopiclone. Once that was sorted, I started going to the gym again. (Alcohol had sent my exercise habits out of the window, along with my sanity.)
Five weeks of this monkish lifestyle later, I had my GP on the phone to discuss the latest blood test and ultrasound.
“Well, I don’t know what you’ve been doing,” she said, “but you’ve reversed a lot of the damage. Your enzyme levels are back to what they should be, and your liver is a normal size. There’s some evidence of fatty infiltration, though. You’ll need to keep eating well and exercising, to make sure that doesn’t get any worse.”
And there was me, a few weeks before, practically making arrangements for my own funeral! I felt relieved, but I couldn’t get complacent. See, after fatty liver disease (which is probably what I had), the next step toward the demise of this vital organ is hepatitis. After hepatitis comes cirrhosis. And if a liver becomes cirrhotic, then it really is time to make funeral arrangements. I’ve seen pictures of cirrhotic livers. Compared to the healthy liver, which is smooth and pink, the cirrhotic liver is dark brown, shrunken and wrinkled, like something from a coral reef. 
I still treat this as my final wake-up call. I’ve had plenty of other warnings in the past, which I ignored. There have been times when I drenched a laptop in Newcastle Brown Ale, melted a microwave, and of course, lost friends.
Replacement laptops and microwaves can be purchased, and new friends can be made. But you only get one liver. And unless you’re lucky enough to receive a successful transplant, this one liver cannot be replaced. So that is why I am still taking great care of mine.