Monday, July 20, 2015

Royal College of Art Graduate Exhibition 2015

My office is right opposite the Royal College of Art's Kensington campus so I went down to the recent graduate exhibitions they held there. The work put out by the students in Global Innovation Design (MA) was amazing and made me feel optimistic about the future. Here are the five ideas I felt compelled to write down.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Katherine Anne Porter

In one of those lucky moments where one's mind is unsure of what it wants but is so open to suggestions it knows it will find it, I stumbled upon a collection of short stories by American writer Katherine Anne Porter at the library.

I like short stories and I like female writers who work in that form: Lydia Davies, Loorie Moore, Alice Munroe, Tove Jansson etc. so it all felt very serendipitous. And the book was in that fantastic Penguin Classics series, with its black and white covers and great overall look that make you pass for a hipster at a local swish cafe on Saturday mornings.

Porter was born in 1890, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, and wrote one novel (Ship of Fools - apparently it is famous but I'd never heard of it until researching this post) and 27 stories. From the first story in this book, Maria Concepcion, I was taken. Characters were defined sharply , the sense of place and time was evoked powerfully, and the ending opened the story up completely. As I was reading it,it was like the story grew and grew , encompassing so much more.

In The Jilting of Granny Weatherall, Porter writes about the slow death of Ms Weatherall from the point of view of the dying woman (The Death of Ivan Ilyich will come to mind, obviously). We go in and out of Granny's consciousness and reality. At one point she listens to her doctor, and the next she is off on the trail of an old memory. One returns often - that of the jilting of the title. I don't think I'll give too much away by writing down the almost perfect ending:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the value of dance in schools

On Friday I went to City Hall for the launch of the Dance element of the London Curriculum (a set of resources relating curriculum subjects to our city and enabling teachers to use London and all it has to offer in their classes). The sun was shining bright, there were short speeches, well-behaved kids and we got to learn a call-and-response African dance.

One speech was truly inspiring. It was made by Jamie Brownhill, headteacher of Central Foundation Boys School in Old Street. He talked about a dance project run at his school by Sadler's Wells (a dance venue) and Wayne McGregor Random Dance (a dance company). On Monday mornings (not the best time slot, he admitted, but he thought it set up the kids for the week and was probably their most valuable learning session of that week), a group of GCSE Drama boys would have two hours of dance with members of Random dance, and worked towards putting on a short performance on the Sadler's Wells stage. They also got to attend a couple of shows at the theatre.

Mr Brownhill was evangelic about the value of the project to his students and his school and listed the following benefits of the project:
- the students developed their creativity, by doing something they would have never done otherwise
- they saw the value of working as a team, and got the sense of what it is to achieve something together as a group
- they developed a better understanding of the similarities and differences between cultures, by learning different styles of dance and working with international artists
- the project was an opportunity for students to see excellence, by working in world-class dancers and seeing world-class shows at Sadler's Wells, and experience what it takes to achieve it, by performing on that stage
- because they had a clear final objective (to perform on a big stage), they got a clear pay off for their hard work and commitment. He hoped that, when later in life they may face a challenge, they would think back to this time as an example of what they can achieve and overcome.

His final plea was not just that such projects should happen in all schools. It was that, when implemented, they be compulsory. "If, at the start, I'd asked those boys to voluntary join this class, only 2 or 3 would have done it, if that. But at the end, when I asked all of them if they wanted to do it again, they all said yes! It is essential that all students engage with those opportunities, and not a self-selected group".

My write-up of his speech doesn't do justice to Mr Brownhill's warmth and enthusiasm: give him a TED talk slot instead.

More about the project on the Central Foundation school website.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 6 Jul 2015

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

A World Without Work (The Atlantic)
I have moments when I freak out about the future, mainly how I will earn a living. I often wonder what will be left for people to do once all the cashiers are automated and especially self-driving cars become reality and who knows what else. This article goes into the importance of work for self-worth and social cohesion and re-assured me a little bit. Maybe the end result won't be widespread poverty but actually fulfillment, as we'll learn to spend less and have more time to find our calling.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds (Vanity Fair)
I have felt bad for the Greek people ever since the crisis hit: they've had it rough. But then I read this 2010 article, that goes through the unbelievable level of clientelism, corruption and tax evasion that plagued the country in the preceding years. I am sorry for those that stayed honest during that time, while others filled their pockets. It's a long read, but worth it. This piece about an hospital in the third largest Greek town, Patras, covers the same topic, really. A friend of mine just came back from holidaying in Greece and told me she paid less at the restaurant because she didn't need a receipt: habits are hard to change!

Obituary of Tama the cat, Japanese station master
I love how some obituaries manage to make you smile and in love with life, even though they are about someone who just died. Quirks and other charming details bubble up to the surface of often eventful lives. this obit is about a cat, believed to bring luck, who reversed the fortunes of the railway company that owned the station where she had decided to live. They dressed her up at the station master, they turned her into a cartoon slapped on merchandise, they even made the station look like the face of a feline. So bonkers it made me sad I never got to meet her.

A cosmic and atomic voyage