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24 hours of inspiration

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Only six days to go.   Then, for considerably more than 24 straight hours, I’ll be not only awake, but busy setting up ticket and book stalls and coordinating volunteers, interviewing a friend and colleague about her desert island choice of records on our pop-up radio station, and then at 17.00 on Thursday 19 April welcoming audiences to the first talk of the 24 hour marathon.  And then I’ll be buzzing around, keeping an eye on everything, looking after our speakers, MCs and volunteers, taking a few photos, tweeting, listening to as many of the talks as I can and listening into the radio when I can, changing into my PJs at around 11.30, giving a talk myself at 2.00 am on Friday 20 April, introducing the Goth slot at 3.00 am, changing back into daywear at around 6.00 am, doing a radio show with Mike about places and music that mean something to us at 11.00 am, and then, after Tony Ryan brings the talk programme to a close, saying some possibly incoherent, unavoidably emotional words to thank everyone for their contributions, and to send our audiences, speakers and volunteers safely on their way home.  My family will scoop me up, pop me in a taxi and get me home, where I will almost certainly be asleep over a pint of beer by around 8.00 pm.

It does regularly occur to me during the course of this event that it is pretty incredible.  During the night shift especially.  It might seem a bit like one of those anxiety dreams – you’re in a lecture theatre in a University (a fairly normal setting, for many of us), but it’s 2.00 in the morning, and you’re in your jimjams.  But unlike those dreams, it’s not uncomfortable, far from it, because you’re not the only one – many of the volunteers will have slipped into panda onesies or whatever, and the speakers, however eminent, have all been advised of the dress code, however they choose to interpret it.

24 Hour Goth Slot

But it’s not just the uncanny nature of the night shift, it’s the whole event. It’s the fact that each year I send out invitations to colleagues at all levels asking them to give a half hour talk on any topic they like, at some point over a 24 hour period, accessible to non-specialist audiences.  And before I know it, the programme is full, and I’m turning people away.   Some people come back, year after year, but usually around half of the speakers  are new to the event.  And each year we recruit student volunteers from across the University and all around the world, who throw themselves into the event with enthusiasm and creativity and energy.  Each year people offer more than we’ve asked of them, wanting to be involved.

 

Initially this was down to the Tim factor.  That first year, our student volunteers had all been taught by him, and inspired by him, and they all loved him and missed him terribly.  Most of the speakers had worked with him – one flew over from Lausanne, another came up from Oxford, just to be part of it.  It was inevitably, at least in part, a memorial to someone who had played a vital role in the University, in the Physics department, and in the academic life of generations of students.  Obviously, five years on, the undergrads at least never knew Tim and the majority of speakers probably didn’t either.  But his story still touches people and in any case, almost all of us have our own cancer stories.

Almost all of us have lost someone who we loved, someone who inspired us.  Each year I think not only of Tim and Victoria, but of my mum and her mum who I never knew, of Jos and Dorrie and Anne.  I think of the survivors too, of Lorna and Sarah and Linda and Bev, amongst others.  Each year names are added to the list.  This year I will think of Maryam having treatment in the US for ovarian cancer, Jennie about to go into round 2 of chemo for acute myeloid leukaemia.  I think of Jonathan and of Sheena.

Tim’s story is of course not just a story about cancer.  It’s the story of a teacher who connected with his students, who encouraged and inspired them, who made complicated ideas accessible and who was passionate about not only teaching but learning as a lifelong activity.  And that’s the other reason why this event goes on, from strength to strength.  Because the University is a place dedicated to teaching and learning, full of people who are passionate about teaching and learning.  Because we get a buzz out of encountering stuff we don’t know, didn’t know might be interesting, didn’t know we might be able to at least begin to understand.

24 hours of inspiration.

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If you’re in the neighbourhood, do pop in.  For however much time you can spare, for as long as you like.  It’s not just talks, there’s 24 hour boardgaming too, if that’s your thing.  And live music too.

And if you’re not in the neighbourhood, you can listen in to Radio Inspire, which will be broadcasting a mix of music, interviews, spoken word, quizzes, and more music throughout the event.

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Everything we raise, through selling tickets and cups of tea and buns, goes to this year’s two charities, Rotherham Hospice and Impact Living.  What we do in that 24 hours makes a difference to the charities we support and this year it will help to provide end of life care in people’s homes, and to support vulnerable young people with cancer.

Come along if you can, listen in when you can – and if you can, please donate.

 

 

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It’s just another New Year’s Eve/Nothing changes on New Year’s Day…

… but that never stops us hoping that some things will change, making plans and resolutions, wishing and wondering.

Another tough year for so many of us, for so many people around the world.  Another year of preventable tragedy, of hatred fanned into violence, of brutal terrorist murders, of desperate poverty alongside profligate consumption.  Easy to despair, easy to give up.

I’d rather hang on to hope, and faith in humanity.  So rather than reiterating all of the evils and the horrors that this year has brought, and that we fear for in the next, I’ll remind myself that women are speaking up as they have never done before about sexual violence and harassment.  That the resistance is making its presence felt, here and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

In the face of lies we have to keep speaking and showing truth.  In the face of hate we have to keep speaking and showing love.  In the face of the horrors that seem to happen daily – in Kabul, in Las Vegas, in Manchester, in Mogadishu – we have to keep speaking and showing faith.

Keep on keeping on.

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

Sheenagh Pugh – Sometimes

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day

E B White

Theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man…

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars

Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

We are building up a new world.
Do not sit idly by.
Do not remain neutral.
Do not rely on this broadcast alone.
We are only as strong as our signal.
There is a war going on for your mind.
If you are thinking, you are winning.
Flobots – We are Winning
The simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable.  So just be kind.
Caitlin Moran – How to Build a Girl
If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
Joss Whedon – Angel
Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never, ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish. and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. … Laugh hard, run fast, be kind.
The 12th Doctor, Twice Upon a Time

Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

Bertrand Russell, Face to Face interview, 1959

 

 

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Migration Matters

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Migration Matters Festival 2017 is a five-day theatre and arts festival taking place in Sheffield during Refugee Week (20-24 June).  Its aim is to celebrate diversity, and recognise the positive impact migration has on the city.

Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and it is a city that remains rich with diversity and interconnecting cultures. This year’s festival seeks to celebrate this history and culture with a vibrant and inclusive series of events.

Screen-Shot-2017-03-22-at-13.37.46Opening on the 20th June,  Migration Matters Festival will run alongside the annual Refugee Week celebrated across the UK.

The festival takes place across a series of city centre venues, uniting Sheffield’s communities and cultures.

The 2017 line up features established companies, emerging artists, community arts groups and charitable organisations. It’s a rich and soulful programme that brings the diverse and global mix of Sheffield’s communities together with artists from all over the world in a celebration of food, culture and performance.

Check out the full programme – there’s truly something for everyone!

All events are Pay-What-You-Decide though you are recommended to reserve tickets for high profile events – follow the link and search for Migration Matters to see everything that’s on offer.

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From Sheffield to Zaatari – 24 hours of inspiration

Inspiration for Life

We started this year’s 24 Hour Inspire with a celebration of the city of Sheffield.  City of beer, art and music – and all three were on offer over the course of the event (albeit the beer only in very restrained quantities).  This remarkable and moving video summed it up:

Straight into Sheffield music, from the Vivacity choir.

vivacityWe crossed all sorts of boundaries – those between the academic disciplines, for a start.  ‘Unweaving the rainbow’ brought together scientists exploring colour in physics and biology with a contemporary artist and with poets – and audiences could also explore an abstract virtual reality colour environment, and make their own contributions to a colour wheel.

We heard from a physicist at Durham University, talking about his family history in Poland, during the Nazi occupation, and from a physicist here at Sheffield, talking about Elizabethan/Jacobean revenge tragedy.

All in all, there were 45…

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International Women’s Day 2017

20th century women – three generations in my family exploring what it means to be a woman.  My mum, who believed that it was for men to lead and inspire, but who led and inspired, nonetheless, despite herself.  I grew up wondering why I was so crap at being a girl (the endless Christmas and birthday gifts of cookery books and embroidery sets and dolls, all rebuking me for my ineptitude and lack of interest), but finding a way to be the kind of woman I wanted to be without the trappings that irritated and puzzled me.   My daughter managing to be so good at being a girl (all that pink, the Barbies and Bratz, the make-up and handbags) and being a fierce and clever and brave woman at the same time.

I thought of us all whilst watching the film 20th Century Women.  Annette Bening’s Dorothea was my age in the film, but Mum’s generation.  Dorothea died in 1999, five years after my Mum.  Their lives and experiences were so very different but there was something about her – the fact that she gathered around her people who needed shelter, nurture, companionship, the way she invited anyone she encountered to come to dinner, her desire and real effort to understand what mattered to her son and the younger women who were part of her life.

I managed not to weep, until the very end.  When Jamie says that he can’t explain his mother to his son, that’s when it got me.  Because I would have loved to see my Mum, watching my children grow up, and to see them turning to her for the love and pride and support that would have always been theirs.  And all I can do is to tell them about her.

If the women in 20th Century Women are all white, straight and comfortably situated, the young women in Girlhood (Bande de filles) certainly are not.  They inhabit the banlieue, their home lives are chaotic, their choices limited (by economics, by expectations).  The opening sequence is possibly the most powerful cinematic expression of the challenges so many young women face that I can recall – a girls’ American football team on the pitch, physically powerful and fearless, jubilant in victory, they pour out of the stadium a babble of raised voices, laughter, solidarity and shared experience.  And then they approach the apartment blocks, with the young men almost seeming to be on guard there, in ones and twos, and their voices are quietened.  One by one they slip away from the group and into their own lives.  But whilst the film gives us no cosy reassurances about what they face, it gives us along the way other moments of joyous girlhood – for example as they dance and pose and mime (in shoplifted frocks) in a hotel room to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’:

So shine bright tonight,
You and I
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye,
So alive
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond
Shining bright like a diamond
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky

And they do shine, they are so alive, they are beautiful.

We’re half the world.  We’re all races and religions, all shapes and sizes, all political persuasions. We have disabilities and we have none, we are healthy and we suffer pain and indignity, we are independent and we need help to get by. We have money to burn and nothing at all.  We are mothers and we are daughters and sisters, we are friends and wives and lovers.  We are gay, straight, bi, trans, and every variant or combination of the above.   We are feminists, and we are ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ and we are most decidedly not feminists.  We believe in our right to choose, and we believe that women’s fertility should be controlled by the state, by the church, by men.  We wear pussy hats, and ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.

I can’t speak for Women.  I’m middle aged (at least…), straight, cis-gendered, without disabilities, white, university educated, comfortably off.   I am as baffled and dismayed by what many other women believe and fight for as I am about what many men believe and fight for.  I can’t claim to have experienced direct discrimination, I’ve never experienced sexual violence or domestic violence.  Everyday sexism, yes, of course, over the years I’ve clocked up a fair number of examples of that, in the workplace, on public transport, on the streets.  But the fact that, say, FGM doesn’t affect me or mine doesn’t mean I don’t give a damn about it, or that I shouldn’t campaign about it.  The fact that my career has encountered no overt obstacles due to my  gender, that I live in a society with laws to protect my rights to equal pay and equal treatment, doesn’t mean I have nothing to say about the women around the world for whom this is not true.  I can’t speak for Women, but I can and do and will speak about the experiences, the threats, the challenges, the obstacles that so many women share (even if I haven’t and don’t).

I check my privilege, I acknowledge it, but it doesn’t have to limit what or who I care about.  And I know that in most countries, most of the time, women have to face a whole lot of extra crap that men don’t – they share the burdens of poverty, persecution and oppression, natural and man-made hazards and disasters but with the additional burdens that arise from the way they are viewed in too many societies, by too many men.  That their choices are deemed irrelevant, their aspirations ridiculous, their personal integrity always violable.  Whether these oppressions are enforced by law or merely by convention, they do oppress, and it takes immense courage to challenge them.

To all those who do, thank you.

And to my Mum, who would never have called herself a feminist, but who inspired me in that aspect of my life, as in so many others,  thank you.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/08/feminist-battle-women-activists-campaigns

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/08/feminist-stickers-china-backash-women-activists

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/mar/08/im-proud-of-my-sin-the-criminal-stars-of-iranian-tv-promoting-womens-rights

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The 24 Hour Inspire 2017

This year will be our fifth 24 Hour Inspire.  I would never have believed, if anyone had told me back in 2012 when we were planning the first one, that we could achieve anything like this.  We really had no idea what we were doing, and it’s thanks to the support of colleagues at the University who did know what they were doing when it came to events management that the first lecture marathon went so smoothly, and gave us the confidence to carry on.

The basic format hasn’t changed – 24 hours of talks on everything under the sun, all pitched at non-specialist audiences.  Each year there’s more in the way of fringe activities – art, poetry, music and more – and we have a pop-up radio station broadcasting throughout.

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Of course, most people won’t do the full 24 hours.   If you’re in the vicinity, dip in and out, come for just one talk, or as many as you wish.  If you’re not, listen in to the radio station (there’s a taster here: https://www.mixcloud.com/24HrInspire/24-hour-inspire-warm-up/)

As you’ll hear in the podcast, the 24 Hour Inspire is supporting the University’s We are International campaign.

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It’s at the heart of what a University is about – the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and expertise, regardless of borders and nationalities and across all of the barriers of language, religion and politics.   Our speakers, the MCs who will introduce them, the volunteers who will sell the tickets and the coffee, come from all over the world.  And many of those who are from the UK have spent part of their working lives overseas.

Not only that, but some of our talks reflect those international values – Paul Collini’s lecture on TB in the 21st century is based on work he undertook in Ghana.  Kate Shaw, who did her doctorate in Sheffield, is now based in Italy and works for Physics without Boundaries, and will be talking about their work in Nepal.  And whilst we start with a celebration of Sheffield (city of art, beer and music), our closing talk will take us to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Over the last few years, this event has raised significant funds for a number of cancer charities.  This year the beneficiaries will be Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and Teenage Cancer Trust.  Most of the funds are raised on the day, through sales of wristbands and refreshments, but you can also donate by texting INSP24 £10 (or whatever you wish to donate) to 70070.

It’s been called ‘the Glastonbury of lecturing’…

wristband

and it’s a joy.  If you can, be there.  If not, do follow what we’re doing on social media, and on Radio Inspire (broadcasting from around 15.00 on 30 March), help us raise lots of funds for our chosen charities .

Be inspired.

 

 

 

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2016 – what the actual??

It’s been a funny old year.  Not so much of the ha ha, either.  Is there anything to be said that hasn’t already been said, better probably?  I doubt it, but I can’t write about the books, films and other cultural pleasures of the year without acknowledging the seismic changes and alarming portents that it has presented.

Reasons to be Miserable:

Daesh initiated or inspired terrorist attacks clocked up more deaths and more terrible injuries than the mind can encompass.  As always, most of these were Muslims, in Muslim countries, although our news media inevitably foregrounds the attacks in France, Belgium and the USA.  As appalling as those murders were, on my very rough calculations, Iraq was the worst hit, with over 450 deaths, followed by Pakistan.  I tweeted the names of the dead from Brussels, Nice and Orlando, but will never know the names of most of those murdered in Kabul, Istanbul, Jakarta, Baghdad, Ouagadougou, Quetta, Grand Bassam or Aden.

According to the UNHCR, the number of migrants dying whilst crossing the Mediterranean reached 3800, a record. Fewer are making that journey, but they are making it via the more perilous routes and in flimsier boats. Worldwide, over 65 million people are forcibly displaced, over 21 million are refugees, and 10 million stateless.    The vast majority of those displaced are hosted in neighbouring countries in Africa or the Middle East. Six per cent are in Europe.   Over half of the world’s refugees came from just three countries – Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

With regard to Syria, anything I say here may be outdated before I press Publish, but there can be no doubt that we are seeing one of the greatest tragedies of our times unfold, and that war crimes are happening there which will be remembered with shame and horror.

 

I’ve been told to shut up about Brexit, that the people have spoken and they’ve said we must leave Europe and that’s that.  As if democracy means that once the votes are counted, those whose views did not prevail must be silent or be regarded as traitors, as if, had the vote gone the way everyone (including Farage and Johnson) expected it to, they would have shut up and let ‘the will of the people’ prevail.  Firstly, whilst a majority of those who voted said we should leave Europe, that is all they said.  They were not asked and so they did not vote on whether we should leave the single market, what should happen about immigration controls, what trade agreements should be in place outside the EU, what would happen to EU citizens based in the UK or vice versa, what would happen to those employment and wider human rights and other legal provisions currently under the EU umbrella.  And so on.  All of that has now to be negotiated and worked out, and that’s a job for Parliament.  How else could it possibly happen?  If anyone thinks they understand how the EU works and thus what are the implications of hard or soft Brexit, they need to read Ian Dunt’s book – Brexit- What the Hell Happens Now? Dunt isn’t talking about the arguments pro or con Brexit, but about what could happen now, what the options are, what the most likely consequences of each option are, and so on.

The US election outcome was described to me by an American colleague recently as ‘somewhere between a mess and a catastrophe’.   I am (for once) holding back from comment – I know how deeply this is felt by US friends, some of whom are now seeing fault lines in their families and friendships as some support what others find inexplicable and irrational.  We’ve seen a bit of that here since June. A left-wing Brexiter said to me recently that his view was that the EU was so compromised and corrupted that we had to break it in order to fix it.  My fear is that some things that get broken simply can’t be mended.  Something of the same feeling seems to have prevailed in the US – and that’s one of the reasons why the arguments against Trump failed to stop him winning.

trump-obama

This is the year when I’ve felt closest to despair, for all the above reasons, and because the Labour Party, which I’d thought was my natural home politically, has been so ineffectual in opposition.  I took the hard decision to resign my membership – I doubt that I will join another party, perhaps I have to accept that there is not, and never will be, a political party to which I could sign up without caveats and qualms.  In that case I have to be led by my principles and values and be willing to back, vote for, work with those politicians and activists who seem closest to them, whether they be Labour, Green, Lib Dem, Women’s Equality or any combination of the above.

 

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On the other hand…

The Hillsborough inquests returned their verdict, and concluded that planning errors, failures of senior managers, commanding officers and club officials, and the design of the stadium, all contributed to the disaster.  The behaviour of fans did not.  Thus the tireless, dignified campaign fought by the families, survivors and their supporters, was finally vindicated, fully and unequivocally.  Read Phil Scraton’s Hillsborough – The Truth, updated in light of the inquest verdict, and Adrian Tempany’s account of that day and what followed, and his excellent book exploring the broader picture in contemporary football, And the Sun Shines Now.

Too early to say whether Standing Rock will turn out to be a victory for the Native American and other environmental protestors – but it was truly remarkable to see the army veterans who had joined them on the site asking for and receiving forgiveness for the long history of oppression and genocide against the indigenous peoples.

Too early to say, too, whether Gambia has taken a historic step towards democracy, or wheher the defeated dictator will be successful in his attempts to overthrown the result of the election.  (Meantime in Ghana another peaceful general election brings about a change of government ).

Too early to say whether hard right parties in Europe will prevail, or whether the tide will turn against them before people go to the ballot, but at least the Austrian electorate rejected the Freedom Party’s presidential candidate in favour of a former leader of the Greens.

 

If 2016 leads us to expect the worst (after two nights spent sitting up waiting for election results which delivered the outcome we feared most, against the predictions of the pundits), then we have to remember that this does not mean that the die is irrevocably cast.

So, reasons to be anxious, reasons to be angry, reasons to be sad – but not reasons to lose all hope.

I’ve tried, throughout this hard year, to hold on to my own brand of faith. It’s not been easy, and it won’t be easy.

In all of this, though, I have found joy in family and friends, in working for Inspiration for Life and in our extraordinary 24 Hour Inspire, in books and film and music and theatre and opera and TV, in my PhD research, in walking in the lovely countryside on our doorstep.  I’m bloody lucky, and I do know it.

If I’m going to sum up, somehow, what I want to say about 2016, I think I will leave it to Patti Smith, singing Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain, at the Nobel Prize ceremony.  She stumbled, apologised, and began again.  In her performance, and in Dylan’s song, there is humanity and hope.

 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

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