Monday 31 December 2012

Father Christmas and why we lie

File:Old Father Christmas Image.jpg
 Book illustration, pen drawing
Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle
1855 Mark Forrester
In the last week Freya, our four year old, has asked, 'what holds the earth in space?', and 'who makes the things we don't?'  They're exciting and tough questions and not ones we can give an answer that Freya will be satisfied with, but at least she hasn't yet asked straight out, does 'Father Christmas exist?'

In our house we have believers, non-believers and everything in between for both Father Christmas and God.  We try to respect each other without denigrating, humiliating or generally annoying each other, but chatting about the existence of an omnipotent being does not require lying.  In the past we've parried the Santa question, avoiding any kind of direct question, but it gets more uncomfortable for me and gets more complicated with a range of different levels of  'belief''.  I guess it goes back to the old addage 'what tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive', and this has to be one of the oldest lies.  It gets worse as I watch our older siblings, learning from us adults, lying to their siblings, taunting them a little, exerting their superiority, having 'fun' with them.

Dorothy Roe's  is very clear about lying in her latest book, 'Why we lie':

'When we lie to others sooner or later our lies become apparent, and trust is destroyed'

I can't help agreeing, and remember the feeling as a seven year old when my parents finally told me they were separating.  I was more angry with my sisters than my parents for not telling me something I already suspected.

Isn't Father Christmas a harmless white lie?  I have met a couple of adults who recall bitterly the moment Santa was exposed.  I've also talked to disappointed children when finding out the truth, but is the 'magic of Christmas' in jeopardy if we give in to the Santa spoilers?

A primary school got into a fix when it exposed Santa:

The London Standard went on quoting disgruntled parents for whom the magic of christmas had been ruined:

'What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth?'

What I think this story exposes is that this school, and we as a whole, are teaching our children to lie, and that lying in certain circumstances is not just acceptable, but expected - that lying is a social skill.

I can see that we use lies, as adults and children, all the time.  I also have to agree with Dorothy Roe that most lies, white or otherwise, land us in more trouble rather than less.

But it is with relief that I haven't yet had to explain what really happens to the magic reindeer food our school gave to Freya, at least for a bit longer...

Useful links:

Why we lie; The source of our disasters,  Dorothy Roe (2011: Fourth Estate)

Friday 7 December 2012

Mythical Forest theme for Paganel Archives


It was time to present the ideas for our archive room, and we were not disappointed by the scope of ideas, vision and hard work of our archive team, developing how the archives and the archive room will be used.  Margaret Rees from the Rep has been working with our Archive team for 5 weeks to develop thoughts and ideas, using a range of team design techniques to develop a series of themed model rooms, from Myths and Legends to Underwater (very Lemony Snickett - I'll  have to ask if any have read A Series of Unfortunate events).  We are combining the themes and ideas in a 'Mythical Forest theme', with castles, monsters, soft floor seating, and multimedia tree, among the many great ideas the group came up with.

The term has been very busy and exciting in the Archives room itself, with archives training for the first five weeks with Birmingham Archives team, and the start of a weekly 'Archives Club' - an after-school club additional to all our archives plans, born out of enthusiasm of our Archive team and again supported by Birmingham Archives team, interviewing more and more fabulous people connected with the school and local area.

Next we will visit the Crescent Theatre to see exactly how lighting and props can be used to effect mood and create a truly fantastic atmosphere in our Archive room.  Over christmas some of the work will be carried out in our room, ready for the Easter term, where again our team will help decorate and finish our room.

In January we have plans to explore 'Make do and Mend' as part of a sustainability and recycling theme.  We will be visiting Sellywood House, a local old people's home to interview residents, reviewing archive material alongside interviews and doing our own'making and mending', based on the interviews and material we will find.

It really is very exciting to see real plans for our archive room take shape, and the enthusiasm and dedication of so many people to make a proper repository archive, and most importantly to develop archives representative of Paganel school

Monday 26 November 2012

Highbury Trust Consultation

Tonight sees a consultation on for (another) Trust, and perhaps a critical meeting at Queensbridge School.  This time it's the Highbury Trust, a large space formally the Chamberlain estate between Kings Heath and Moseley.  Here's the concept plan, and more info.

I worry that signing over large parts of our assets to be managed for many years (in case of golf clubs, 25yr freehold) means we, through the City Council, have less say in what the organisations that take them over do with (technically still) our assets.  It leaves the door wide open for abuse, and reduction in access to what we own.

But that's not to say there are people out there who are willing to put time and energy to ensure our assets are put to good use - below an open letter from Laura Watts from Dens of Equality:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing on behalf of Dens of Equality, a community inclusion development agency which supports a range of projects for children and families across Birmingham. With regard to the current consultation we have a longstanding relationship with Uffculme School children through our play outreach projects run in the school and notably Parks for Play the local charity we support. Parks for Play delivers an array of play services in the constituency from large, free parks- based holiday playschemes, fruit and flower garden parks based projects, children's Saturdays clubs prioritising children with additional needs and Playwell, the first and only specialist after school play care in Birmingham run from Uffculme school. Playwell has benefited from productive partnership work bringing school and play practitioners together and enabling families with disabled children to start and stay in employment. 
The key point I would like to make is that children at Uffculme, like most children thrive on being educated in amply spacious surroundings. They have endured three years, particularly the new teenagers, of totally inappropriate prison style Portakabin accommodation whilst the building they were due to renovate on goodwill has been deteriorating at a pace savagely raising renovation costs. 
Children with autism are extremely likely to face extensive social isolation, an experience with massive consequences which we fail to recognise alongside the many indexes of deprivation. These children and young people do not need or deserve additional obstacles to impede their pursuit of well being .It should also be acknowledged that if Uffculme is sited at Chamberlain the Parks for Play charity is likely to commit to a programme of long term fundraising for neighbouring areas of the park, particularly in terms of access and to the benefit of the wider community. 
A measure of our community is how well we treat our more vulnerable citizens and in this instance those of us who have stood back or impeded the progress of this development have cause for individual and shared shame.

Friday 9 November 2012

The early majority

This week I have presented at and attended more extra thingies (forums, surgeries, debates) than perhaps I should - there's quite a backlog of stuff I didn't do, and here I am writing a blog.  Oops.

It has been a mind expanding and twit expanding experience.  One completely new concept to me (probably something pretty basic to you social sciencie types) is the 'early majority'.  It was only mentioned in passing at The ESRC acting local thinking global event I'd been representing HGA at, but led me to consider how it applied across other areas of my life.

At the ESRC event we were discussing car culture, train stations, anti-social youths and how, more generally to influence people to change their habits and make social change.  It was a challenge to, I think, a somewhat fatalist attitude, that you can only work 'with' market forces rather than attempting to change them.

Moving on to the digital surgery, the next evening, a good number of students had come out, or stayed out at Campus to meet up and discuss their use of ipads, tablets and mobile devices.  In some ways it was frustrating to see the university as a whole is clearly at the 'early adopters' stage, and we were looking at the 'chasm' of barriers to make more effective and systematic use of these devices.  But there was awareness of the problem, plenty of suggestions how we can go ahead, both as a group, and actions we can take to make it easier for students to use their own devices, apple or other.

The next evening I had off - Nikki was working in Kingstanding interviewing young folk, so still had discussion around how to change adult attitudes to young people late into the night - again huge challenges, and frustrating to change attitudes to young people - are we still at early adopters?

Next evening was Teachmeet, which I had been looking forward to, and maybe foolishly put myself forward for a presentation I knew I probably wouldn't have time to adequately prepare - note to self, even if presentation is short, doesn't necessarily mean less time to prepare.  Again we were looking at the barriers to effective use of ipads, and some of the fantastic examples of uses across education.  there was one particularly impressive presentation by  Finham Park students who were training their teachers to use ipads.  I'm going to suggest this to our students on our iLearn ning - I'm sure could develop something interesting on these lines at University.   Thanks also to @danielharvey9 for organising a great event.

I suspect I'm placing myself into 'early adopters' role, even if I'm looking to early majority, when really I fit in all of them for a whole range of issues, or for the same issue across the many different communities of which I am a part.  And sometimes things don't go past 'early adopter'  -  I've definitely put a mental block on that one.  But if you were to put yourself in a social sciencie box, wouldn't you rather be 'an early adopter' too?

Tonight?  That's our office social.

Useful links:

Friday 26 October 2012

Birmingham Beards

As Movember approaching I've been looking at exotic whiskers and found some inspiration in Birmingham Archives.

Here's a few of my favourite Brummie beards from history from Birmingham 'Faces & Places' Volume 5. Those Victorians sure were out and proud when comes to facial hair.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Good Writing

I'm no expert on academic writing.  I'm even less of an expert on medical stuff, but in the last month I've been spending the time I'm not playing with my kids, to help develop on-line writing resources for students at University of Birmingham Med school to encourage academic writing.

My experience of academic writing began with Sigmund Freud.  While I was working at Brooklands Hospital, I'd spend my lunch break reading paper after paper - it's good stuff, and as he covers issues as diverse as  creativitymedicinal use of cocaine and, of course, family relationships.  It's good mainly because it's readable.  You don't need to be a doctor to understand it - Freud is amusing, playful, conversational and maybe a little mischievous.  He knew how to write a story, isn't afraid to be opinionated, or indeed 'subjective', and most importantly knows how to construct a good argument around his findings.  This does not fit into Gillet, Aveyard et al, Levin, and many University guidelines on what 'academic writing' should be, but the influence of Freud, the audience he has reached cannot be denied, and must be, in large part, to his writing -  he lectured extensively, and also wrote letters documenting at least part of dialogues with Jung and others, but his published material reached a much wider audience.  

Over one hundred years ago publishing was very different, and the options to promote your scientific findings far more limited.  Academic journals, the monograph, and monographic series were an important means of reaching an audience, and a valuable means to find out about quite specialist subjects.  They represented a 'who's who' of important people within a discipline.  

In the last ten years we have witnessed an explosion of writers using the internet to publish, while at the same time more traditional peer review academic journals, on-line  and paper, have declined.  More and more people are writing, just not for the same academic journals and monographs that previously were so important.  Doug BelshawStanley Chodorow and Gideon Burton are three of the many 'education technologists' and others who go further, suggesting 'we are gathered here around the comatose body' of this form of academic writing.

Wikis, including wikipedia, blogs, discussion forums of all kinds, are all promoting writing from a wider number of people, some of which is every bit as 'good' as any academic journal.  You don't have to wait months to see if you will be published.  You won't be beholden to experts within your field, who may have considerable vested interests in either delaying or promoting your essay.  You will get valuable feedback from people who read your stuff.  As a research tool you will be contributing to a far more significant shared knowledge than any journal, and as your reputation (hopefully) grows, so will your readership.

You don't have to be an expert to write.  The more you write, the more feedback from your readers, the better your writing.  Peer review academic journals may not always be the best for this, but if that's what you want, writing in other media will make it more likely you'll get the invitations to write for peer review journals anyhow!

Useful links:

Other academic writing aids:

And (in case you were wondering) my own limited contribution to published writing

Thursday 26 July 2012

Torch relay lights my fire

Today I'm watching the last of the torch relay live an event I've been following ever since it's dramatic arrival at Lands End, through to Birmingham and on, finally now, to London.

I've been involved, on behalf of Hall Green Arts, in supporting two major events in parks in our constituency, and attended a handful of the tens of thousands of Torch relay planning meetings across the UK to coordinate certainly the largest single event I've ever been a part of.

Logistically it is truly incredible - to organise a rolling road block across the 8000 miles it journeyed over 2 months.  Then there's the promotion, marketing, coordinating other events around it, bad weather, the sponsors, safety and security issues...

There have been celebrities, there have been dramatic stunts, all around the raw simplicity and symbolsm of a torch relay.  But that's not what I find most exciting,

As Bruce Forsyth, one of the last torch bearers, put it:

      You can't beat a big crowd getting excited

It's the way it has brought so many people together, to celebrate the olympics.  Whatever that means to each of us, it's likely to be the closest many of us get to it.

Useful links

Saturday 21 July 2012

No Child hurt this time

As I met with local parents, local councillor Martin Straker-Welds and Garry Dalton from BCC responsible for road improvements, this Wednesday at 3:40, a coach reversed up the school drive, onto the pavement, parking neatly blocking the pedestrian access to the school.

There was no way he could have seen behind him, it forced children leaving the school into the road, and demonstrated perfectly why the entrance is so dangerous.  But then this is nothing new (see previous post).  It was a depressing, but familiar sight for all of us - we all fell silent for a moment, watching the coach, while small children played with the temporary road blocks, moving them around to make scootering across the school entrance easier.

Jago's hand, a month after, stitches nearly gone.
I was there because my child has been hit by a bus (the No.11) and survived.  He fell into the road and only had a glancing blow.  He was saved by his bike helmet, but still has the scars across his hand.

I want to see more general improvements in our area to make things safer for children, to prevent tragedies like Hope's death recently.

But this meeting was about a very particular situation, and certainly highlighted for me, what I thought was an important question:

Who is responsible?  What would happen if a child had been hit by this coach, or a car had hit a child forced into the road?  Would it be the parent who had let go of the child's hand?  Would it be the driver who had hit the child?  How's about the council who had not adequately prevented cars reversing up the service road?  Or maybe the school who had not adequately made the entrance to the school safe?  At Wheelers Lane there is also Balfour Beaty who effectively own the strip of no-man's land outside the school - shouldn't htey have done something?  There is also a couple of school neighbours who in consultations seem to see access to the frontage of their houses as more important than safety of the children.

Maybe I had got it wrong.  We should really be looking at who is willing to take responsibility to make things better.  Who is going to keep shining a light on the obvious dangers, and make the changes we need?

Useful Links:

Local campaign for safer roads in Kings Heath started

Kings Heath Neighbourhood forum and Transition Initiative

Wheelers Lane Safe route to school campaign

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Field Exhibition at Evergreen

I brought along a few friends to Evergreen.  Residents enjoyed seeing 'Field for the Olympics' puppets made  by other groups - Freya enjoyed showing residents her puppet.

Monday 18 June 2012

Olympic football

Our second puppet we couldn't decide on a name.  Rachel (Williams), Birmingham City and England striker was suggested - the puppet also has a striking resemblance to a younger Rio Ferdinand.  Might he make a come back in the Olympic Team, along with David Beckham? Name suggestions in comments please.  Here's some images, and that wonderful header by Rachel Williams to beat Chelsea.

Rio Ferdinand
Puppet made by residents

Either way, fun was had by all

Equality in Football at the Olympics?

David Beckham is grabbing the headlines once again with rumours Stuart Pearce will choose him to captain our Olympic team - much of the media attention is as always drawn to the men's game.  But hold on, who's this standing next to Stuart Pearce at press conferences?  A few papers have started to notice our women's team, and one woman in particular - perhaps one 
of the most successful women in football (and equally as accomplished as Stuart Pearce).

The British Women's team will be serious contenders at the Olympics - one I'm sure many from my home, Birmingham, will be watching closely.  The England squad already has 6 Birmingham City Players, and with recent success at the FA cup, likey to figure in the Olympics too.
Equality on the football pitch may yet be a while off.  Birmingham City won The FA Women’s Cup for the first-ever time after beating Chelsea in The Final after a penalty shoot-out, receiving a total of £5,000 from the FA cup prize fund, compared to £1,800,000 for the men's FA cup winners last year.

Monday 11 June 2012

Field for the Olympics

This is the first workshop in making puppets for 'Field for the Olympics'.  In the build up to the Olympics Hall Green Arts will be visiting a range of settings (schools, parks, community centres) in Birmingham to make puppets depicting real or imaginary Olympic sports.  All the puppets will be brought together to form a fantastic collaborative community art work in the garden of Kings Heath Community Centre in time for the start of Olympics.  Christine, the Olympic swimmer:

Sunday 10 June 2012

Water - it's all about recycling

Waiting with the Team from Birmingham Archives and Heritage for sixty children from Paganel Primary, I pray that the coach is on time - there's a lot to do in a day.  Next month we have a trip to the seaside with sixty more children from Paganel - getting the timing right makes a big difference.

I'm with Richard Albutt, Nikki Thorpe, Nicola Gauld from archives.  We have pencils, clipboards, cameras, and an extensive collection of archive images of the canals around Gas Street and Chamberlain Square which the team has researched and printed ready for the day.  The School have already had access to a Tide~ watery resource pack, used in previous years - archive images and stories relating to the building of the Elan Valley reservoirs which now provide Birmingham with its water.

My first activity is a quick check to see what the children know about water, and what it is used for:

Half the group go with Richard, Nikki and Nicola around Gas Street.  The city trail idea is borrowed from Andy Green and Connecting Histories, and our trail may be recycled itself at some point.  Walking along the canal we spot references to James Brindley, it's maker in 1767 - the first canal in Birmingham going to Wolverhampton.  We use the archive images to spot what has changed, what is the same.  Richard provides expert commentary down to Gas Street, the first street in Birmingham's to have street lighting.

All sixty children go on to visit the sealife centre, a stop for shopping and lunch then the walk to Chamberlain Square.  We had calculated the amount of walking on googlemap, but realise now, we were pushing this group to walk so far.

We arrive at Children's Lives exhibition a little late, but still with time to visit this amazing exhibition examining the lives of children from the 18th century to the present day - it is the first major exhibition on childhood to be held in Birmingham, and although aimed at older children and adults, it's enjoyed by our children, particularly the replica fireplace for budding chimney sweeps. For many of the children this is the first time in an exhibition of this kind, or indeed in BMAG. Some children say it was their first visit to town.

Our last stop, in Chamberlain Square is a significant watery stop. With Joseph Priestley (discoverer of carbonated water), James Watt (father of Steam power) looking down from their plinths, we join a brass replica Thomas Atwood below Chamberlain's impressive fountain. Again emphasising the importance of water in our city, and the way it has empowered us, the people of Birmingham, and made our city. We briefly look up and around the square, with the help of more archive images, before we do our last activity - rubbings from the ground, and all around:

Fitting that the children are drawn to take rubbings of the drains - another reminder of our watery dependence.

My own nine-year old walks in as I'm scanning the images of the rubbings.  I explain the rubbings were copies from artwork, stone and fittings in Chamberlain Square, and now I am using the drawings to make a collage.

"That's like recycling", he says.

Useful links:

Monday 28 May 2012

Painting finished, planning future

Painting is finished.  We also took photos for Jubilee, and made plans for olympic puppets, and pressed flower bookmarks over coming weeks.

Saturday 26 May 2012


For Near Neighbours evaluation event. 'Stories of Encounters' we asked everyone to look closely into a stranger's eyes.  It was part of a grouping game, initially dividing everyone into three groups of people based on eye colour.  We then made three groups of people based on fashion, music, and the last one done in silence - food.  Basically it was an exploration of prejudice - prejudice we all have, often based on visual clues.  It  brought up some interesting insights into why and how we form groups:

Reflected in comments throughout
Flash mob - Gathering of the Unions, 1832 over 100,000, no mobile in sight
the day, we all form groups based on who we feel comfortable with, and where we feel welcome.

In forming and developing networks (like I've been trying to do for Hall Green Arts Forum), particularly where people identify themselves by their different beliefs, that spirit of welcoming, and of feeling comfortable can make a network - Teachmeet Brum and Social Media Surgeries are excellent recent examples locally of how to run a network to meet up, share ideas and learn from each other:

TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology. (Wikipedia)

Podnosh recently won a 'Big Society Award' from David Cameron for their innovative approach to supporting local community and voluntary sector organisations in using social media using locally based surgeries.

How comfortable you feel or welcome you are is mostly determined by the spirit of the group and of individuals in it, but I'd say it helps if the format can reflect and support that.  Both Teachmeet and Podnosh use digital stuff very effectively, but I think they also make good choices in the format to attract new people and develop the network.  They avoid some of the pitfalls of using traditional meetings and conference format for networking:
  • Agendas give the chair control over what is discussed (and no one else) and there's never enough time for the interesting 'Any Other Business' bit at the end.
  • Presenting from the front - traditional meetings and conferences can actively encourage competitive spirit between people to dominate the limited time the chair (or speaker) allows them.
  • Traditional meeting and conference format reinforce heirarchy - a top down approach to knowledge.
  • The closed door - a meeting behind an anonymous door is never going to attract new people.  Add to that the awkward late arrival, uncomfortable search for a chair, and then you sit on someone's handbag.
It's not to say there is never a place for traditional meetings or conferences, but I think their role in attracting people and developing a network is pretty limited.  Does Seth Godin's analogy about parking meters apply here?  Were meetings and conferences more essential for disseminating information in the past?  I go to conferences and meetings as much to meet people as to listen to the presentations, but meetings and conferences just aren't designed for that, so I make the most of the coffee breaks and lunchtime to catch people I want to talk to.

New technology might be influencing, but is not making change.  Emails, texts, blogs, facebook, youtube are ways to share information quickly, but I don't think the purpose of meetings and conferences has completely changed - it doesn't require new tech for a networking event.  Many conferences include workshops, effective use of postit notes, extended debate, and aspects of Open Space technology, which predates the social media revolution by some 20 years.

I've got to thank Nick Booth and Steve Philp, not just for introducing me to social media, but to opening up the possibility of making meetings better (and to apologise for nicking their ideas).  Look out for Hall Green's Art Surgeries - next one is Picnic in the Park, Friday 22nd June, and 'Artsmeet' sometime soon!

Sunday 20 May 2012

Drones on your doorstep

Thanks John, Marylin, Margaret and Mike:

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are a recent development of military technology. First used in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, they have become much
more sophisticated and are used by both British and American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Yemen and other countries. They became notorious during the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, when drones were in the air above the city, people not knowing when there would be a sudden strike.

There are two basic types of drones. First, drones are used for surveillance, where they can stay in the air for many days, and secondly, they are used for attack on targeted individuals. Drones may be as small as a bird or as large as a small aeroplane. The drones are launched on the battlefield, but then their flight and action is controlled from a US air base near Los Vegas in Nevada.

Drones are used to carry out extra-judicial killings, and are quite clearly illegal in terms of the rules of warfare. They make war easier, since there is no risk to the personnel, who sit in comfortable chairs thousands of miles away. Their operations are secret, since governments say that to release details of their operations would be to aid terrorists. The truth is that they are a terrible form of computer game, played for

There is a factory in the West Midlands that makes the engines for drones. It is the UAV engine factory in the village of Shenstone near Lichfield. The factory is owned by an Israeli armaments company and supplies both the Israeli and the UK governments.

On Friday 11 May, Marilyn and I, together with Margaret Healey Pollett and Mike Cross, all members of All Saints Church and representing the Social Justice Action Group of the church, took part in a vigil to protest against these horrible weapons. We were part of a crowd of nearly fifty including three children. People had come from Redditch, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Oxford and other places, and included Christians and Muslims.

For a whole hour we stood outside the factory, mostly in silence, offering prayers to the God of peace and justice. We understand that the people working in the factory need the work, but we believe that the drone is a form of distorted military science, and skilful people can find other work which builds up humanity instead of destroying it.

After the vigil we moved to the nearby Methodist Church for a discussion, and many of us stayed for a public meeting in the evening, addressed by the well-known peace activist, Christopher Cole.

Drones will proliferate unless people like you and me are prepared to say “Not in my name”. There will be more vigils against the drones, and we hope that the fifty will grow to be five hundred. Will you be one of them?

John M Hull
16th May 2012

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