Saturday, 11 December 2010

Girls v Riot Police in London

Girl v police, London, 10/12/10, BBC

I'm a feeling bit cross at the policing of the current protests in UK. In central Brighton Thursday (9 Dec 2010), I was passed by seven or eight police vans with sirens wailing. Someone said "it's the students". I walked down to the clock tower to take a look. A small group of young people was surrounded by a lot of heavy-looking police, who seemed to be manoeuvring around in files and lines enclosing and compressing the group, who were being addressed by a well spoken, young-looking girl. As I approached the students, three riot police stalked toward me, the lead one pushing his unshaven, grimacing helmet-clad face toward mine, staring me out. If he wasn't in a police outfit, I would think he was about to assault me. I said: "What's going on here, mate", in a matey but assertive way. He relaxed an iota. "It's the students," he affirmed, gesturing with his head. "Am I allowed to listen to them?" I said. His eyes hardened again: "You can listen," he said, and moved back to a position in front of a shop overlooking the scene, all the while keeping an eye an me. More police shuffled in behind me. It was scary. Did I want to be enclosed with the students (and any unsocial elements also enclosed)? Or was I going to be a good citizen and go off on my business? I moved about avoiding the police, and listening for a while on the edge of things, but the meeting was already breaking up.

This is all very different to the policing of the 1980s when I was student and joined protests against grant cuts, on the Westminster Bridge. Then, the police were passive and impassive, behind barriers or watching the protest, responding to aggression rather than initiating it. If the hot-heads wanted to, they went to the front and fought with police, leaping over barriers to do so. The peaceful protesters could go home.

This new policy denies the possibility of peaceful protest. Police seem to initiate physical confrontation by "kettling", enclosing and detaining the peaceful together with violent protesters (who, in these times, might be street people or people with 'issues' who have been released into the community from closed care homes). It is no wonder that protesters get scared - or angry. And no wonder that "innocent bystanders" such as the the Prince of Wales, who probably supports the protesters but can't say so, get caught up in violence far from the scene of the protests. If kettling of peaceful protests continue, peaceful protest may disappear and be replaced by hit and run actions of a more angry, direct nature.

What are people protesting about? Our rulers - mostly old men whose education was paid by the state - have decided that young people who have no money must pay up to £9,000 per year for university education. £9,000 a year? A class of ten will be paying £90,000 a year. Average wage in UK is £24,000. University professors now earn over £80,000 a year. So we have a privileged elite deciding to make the poor pay for access to education. Why? Is Britain really so poor it can't to give its citizens an education? We can afford Trident and invasions of Third World countries to secure mineral rights. Meanwhile displays of ostentatious wealth reach ludicrous proportions in diamond brassieres, luxury cars, and the like. As the privileged demand more materialist consumption they need more policing and arms to maintain their position. I can't see how the situation will get better until we end the pursuit of greed, and aim for a simpler Britain and less extravagant standards of living.

My experience in Brighton was really nothing, a squall at the edge of the hurricane. Take a look at what happened to some girls in London yesterday. Scary.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The future Brighton: Motor City or Green City?

City launches public consultation over Local Transport Plan
Brighton & Hove has launched a public consultation to discuss the future of transport. It seems to avoid asking the crucial question: should we to prioritise sustainable transport or not?

Most people say they would would prefer to use fast public transport, but private motor car is simply safer and easier to use in Brighton & Hove. Our streets are clogged with polluting cars, while public transport takes way too long and cycling is unsafe on many routes. We are stuck thinking there is no way ahead. Yet some European cities have shown there is a different way.

We need a policy decision to change things for the better, and we now have the chance. On October 29, the City Council opened a public consultation to discuss its forthcoming "Local Transport Plan". This will close on December 10. The Plan is the strategy document that will define how planners will develop infrastructure for roads, buses, cycling, rail and other ways of getting about for the coming decades.

Sitting on the Fence: Green City or Motor City?
I answered the on-line Plan consultation questionnaire. I found it frustrating. I mean, who needs to be asked: "Should we create safe and attractive streets and places that everyone can enjoy?" Surely everyone's the answer to that is: "Yes!"

The real question that needs to be asked is: "Do you want sustainable transport? Should Brighton & Hove to be a Motor City or a Green City?"

The City needs to make a fundamental decision: should the Plan give priority to sustainable transport, as has been done in other cities? My opinion is we do not want to continue to prioritise motor transport, for reasons of air pollution, personal fitness and safety, let alone climate control and global warming.

We need a bold policy decision to rearrange transport priorities resulting in fast public transport and safe cycling. At present, buses take over an hour to travel a few miles from one end of the city to the other. Cycle routes are crowded out by traffic and children have to cycle to school on the pavement. This needs to change. Priority needs to be given to sustainable transport. This is not rocket science. Look at any number of cities in Germany, Netherlands, Denmark. Cycling is an important component, but the key is fast, reliable public transport.

At present people jump into their cars to make short journeys to the shops, beach, school. When people find their car is less convenient, they will use fast buses, or safe, fast, cycle routes. We can develop tailor made solutions for our city - buses or trams for steep hills, beachfront rail, etc. At this stage, planning is more the key than money, but in later stages investment in pubic transport may help revive the city economy.

But policy half measures and lip service to the vision of sustainable transport are strangling public transport in Brighton at present.

Brighton's claim to being a city of excellent cycling and public transport: lip service
Take a look at Old Shoreham Road by Hove Park during the rush hour. School kids struggling to cycle along "pedestrian only" foot paths while aggressive drivers push and shove their cars along the narrow roadway. Public transport is at a standstill. It takes an hour by bus to travel the few miles from Aldrington to Patcham. Fifteen minutes by car. The solution seems obvious. If everyone uses cycles or public transport, it will be safe and fast to get to work on the bus or bike.

The council is effectively controlled by a Tory minority, and they are pro-motor car. The 2009 public consultation about the Old Shoreham Road Cycle Lane showed the public wanted a cycle lane, but the public also warned the scheme as planned was unsafe. The Council was suggesting that 7,000 school-kids would use the Cycle Lane to get to school, but the lane was simply lines painted on the road amid heavy traffic. Traffic simply ignores these painted lines in most other parts of the city. The public wanted the scheme improved to include protected cycle lanes. This would mean reducing room for motor cars. Cars would have to use the bypass, taking longer to get about the city. Rather than improve the scheme, the Council scrapped it.

You only have to read the text below, from an academic paper, to see why Old Shoreham Road (OSR) scheme could not have succeeded: "separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections" are needed. The paper was from 2007. So why did Brighton planners put together a scheme that would fail because of safety? Was it planned to fail, by a Tory controlled council who need to show lip service to sustainability but don't really believe in it?

Local Transport Plan: opportunity for a real sustainable transport plan
Brighton & Hove should become the city of excellent public transport and safe cycling that it claims to be. Others have blazed the trail for us. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have made public transport fast - the route of choice - and cycling is a safe, convenient and practical way to get around their cities. The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling. In addition to their many pro-bike policies and programmes, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany make driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central cities through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use and parking. Moreover, strict land-use policies foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter and thus more bikeable trips. It is the coordinated implementation of this multi-faceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies that best explains the success of these three countries in promoting cycling. Compare with the marginal status of cycling in the UK and the USA, where only about 1% of trips are by bike.

Sounds to good to be true? I didn't make it up. The paragraph is paraphrased from a 2007 academic paper called "Making cycling irresistible". You can download the paper from

Sustainable transport could become a flagship of policy in Brighton if the council had the vision or the will. Will it alienate motor car users? I think most of them would welcome viable alternatives to car transport, especially if it is promoted properly. Will it cost money? Not necessarily - significant engineering work might be needed on schemes like OSR, but mostly it is a matter of road use policy and planning.

Note: the Local Transport Plan
Brighton & Hove City Council's new Local Transport Plan (LTP) will set out how it proposes to maintain and improve the city’s transport network. It will outline priorities for transport up to 2026 and how to achieve them. Producing an LTP is a legal requirement and must be completed by April 2011.
The plan will include a 15-year, long-term transport strategy and a short term, three-year delivery plan of specific schemes. Brighton & Hove’s plan will be supporting the five national transport goals: supporting economic growth; tackling climate change; promoting equality of opportunity; contributing to better safety, security and health; and improving quality of life.
The Public Consultation was opened 29 October and closes 10 December 2010.
For more information, and to complete the questionaire, go to: More on the Local Transport Plan

Friday, 12 November 2010

Jack's shamanic symbols

I made a new post for Jack's Shamanic Art blog. His latest work uses silver, copper and agate to interpret shamanic ritual. Will do more with the video when I get time. For the moment it uses a slide show, imported into iMovie and slowed down.
Impressive work - click here to see it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Geldof should tell the whole African story

Reality of Ethiopian civil war
On 3 November, the BBC World Service apologised to Bob Geldof for implying that Band Aid money might have been diverted to buy weapons. In my opinion, the apology obscures a kernel of truth that would promote positive debate on the African crisis.

Bob Geldof should own up to the problems of distributing aid money in Africa. Transparency and an accurate portrayal of what is really happening are needed if we can hope to solve the problems. Glossing over the truth preserves a romantic view of the relationship between Africa and Europe that may actually perpetuate bad governments.

The BBC apologised for a series of reports claiming money raised by Live Aid to fight famine in Ethiopia was spent on weapons, saying it had no evidence. The claims prompted a complaint from Band Aid Trustees including Bob Geldof.

An edition of Assignment, broadcast on the World Service last March, initially reported (unspecified) aid money had been diverted by a rebel group to buy guns. That story was followed up online and on programmes including From Our Own Correspondent and the BBC News which went one step further and named Live Aid and Band Aid as the source of the misdirected funds - although they had no further evidence.

The BBC's additional reporting misrepresented the original story by identifying Band Aid. That is a great pity, because the World Service made an important point: cash and other aid provided to African governments, or to opponents of these governments who are involved in armed struggle, inevitably supports arms and war, directly or indirectly. Bob Geldof didn't deny Band Aid supported armed rebel controlled organisations. He simply says the BBC can't prove the money was spent on arms.

Look what happened: the people who were funded by Live Aid and others went on to win the war in Ethiopia, and are now becoming tyrants themselves. This message is valuable: chucking money at starving Africa isn't solving the problem. Famine relief must happen (maybe better managed and administered than Live Aid) but solving the problem involves looking truthfully at it, not glossing over it as Bob Geldof does in dealing with the BBC article.

Bob Geldof says there is no evidence Live Aid money went to fund arms. Because of British libel laws, the BBC has to give in to him because they cannot definitively prove the truth of their claims in court, even though people who worked in Live Aid say it is inevitable that some money was diverted. So the kernel of truth has been obscured: when we support one faction in a civil war, we should take responsibility for the consequences.

Africa has big problems including colonial legacy, African dictators and European arms traders. Live Aid and Live 8 are wasted opportunities, because the media extravaganza should be focussed on revealing the truth about Africa, not wallowing in romantic imagery of gallant Europeans saving starving Africans. If Bob Geldof focussed on revealing the power struggles that are behind destabilised Africa, we would see a disturbing picture of big business and arms dealers and ruthless African dictators taking power by force of arms for the sake of controlling mineral reserves. International business, including business controlled by Europeans, benefits from and interferes in this process. Wars are started and millions die. It is dangerously simplistic to blame the problems on drought or on capitalism as Geldof seems to do. In doing so, he provides cover for the criminal rape of Africa to continue. I hope in future he will focus attention on the reality of African government, e.g. in Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC, and provide more intelligent analysis than he has done so far, lest he be seen as contributing to a cover-up.

Well done to World Service for trying to tackle this issue, shame to BBC for misrepresenting the original reporting in such a way as to render it libellous, and to Geldof for failing to tell us the whole story. Why do they do that?

1. The apology broadcast on the World Service said: "Following a complaint from the Band Aid Trust, the BBC has investigated the programme. The investigation has concluded that the programme's evidence did not relate to money raised by Band Aid and Live Aid. However, the programme gave the impression that large amounts of Band Aid and Live Aid money had been diverted. The BBC wishes to apologise unreservedly to the Band Aid Trust for this misleading and unfair impression. The BBC also wishes to apologise unreservedly to the Band Aid Trust for a number of reports on television, radio and online which went further than the programme itself in stating that millions of pounds raised by Band Aid and Live Aid had been diverted to buy arms. The BBC had no evidence for these statements, and they shouldn't have been broadcast." The corporation also apologised to Geldof after it "unfairly" said he refused to comment on the story because it was too sensitive.

2. According to Wikipedia: Aregawi Berhe, a high-ranking TPLF (rebel) commander living in exile in The Netherlands, told German radio Deutsche Welle that "the rebel movement, TPFL, had received the money under false pretences – through its development arm, the so-called 'Aid Association of Tigray' (MARET). But MARET belonged to the party. So after the aid from donors and aid charities was collected, it was made available through the budget of the party's central committee – for logistics and financing of the resistance."
Wikipedia on TPLF

Friday, 5 November 2010

Shamanic art: Sesothu initiation ceremony

Today I was asked to set up a blog for a friend who wants to promote his exhibition of shamanic art - paintings he made of his experiences at Sesothu initiation ceremonies in South Africa. This is the result:

Friday, 24 September 2010

Martha Rose at Foxtrot, Stanmer Park - Testing Zoom Q3 recorder

I tested my ZOOM Q3 sound recorder at Foxtrot Folk Festival, Stanmer Park, Brighton on Sunday 12 September. I bought the machine for sound recording: it's basically a good microphone with a webcam attached. At £200, I think it's a cost effective solution for video-with-sound intended for websites. The alternatives are: £1,000 professional camcorders, or low cost video cameras where you can't hear what's been said.

The video below is of Martha Rose and Ben Joel performing in the Grotto at Foxtrot 2010. I saved the video in i-phone format so video resolution is reduced, but sound is good considering the mic. is 12 feet from the performers.

The next video is sound as recorded on the Q3, but images compiled from stills and edited into a movie on i-movie.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Vaccination uptake increases in Brighton and Hove despite safety worries of some

· One in five Brightonians think MMR is not safe
· MMR2 vaccine uptake increases to 68% in 2009
· “Opportunistic” vaccination at A & E wards under consideration in Brighton and Hove

More than one in five (22% of people) do not believe MMR vaccination is safe, according to a Brighton and Hove 2009 Citizen’s Panel survey. Despite the safety worries, uptake rates are increasing in a city that has historically resisted vaccination. The information was published in a report compiled by City Council Public Health Specialist Barbara Hardcastle in April 2010. The report said “opportunistic” vaccination at A&E wards was under consideration in Brighton and Hove.

821 people responded to the survey. Of those, 201 had children aged under 18. Of these, 73% said their children had received all the immunisations offered. 6.5% said they had received none of the immunisations offered. 14% said they had received some of the vaccinations offered.

When asked why some or all of the vaccinations had been missed, 22.2% (22 people out of 201) said they “didn’t believe MMR was safe.”

65% felt they had been given enough information about the risks of immunisation, while 81% felt they had been given enough information about the risks of not immunising their child.

The report said MMR uptake had been badly affected by the negative press associated with the now discredited Wakefield paper published in the Lancet in the 1998.

In addition, the report said: “There is also a strong “natural health” movement in Brighton and Hove which is anti-vaccination in general and anti-MMR in particular. “
(More ... )

Folks who choose natural immunity - Magda Taylor

24 March 2010
 An interview with a mother who decided not to vaccinate her children.

One in four children aren’t fully vaccinated against measles in Brighton and Hove. Last year, the NHS issued warnings of an epidemic. Russell Honeyman asked mother-of-two Magda Taylor why people choose not to vaccinate.

According to Department of Health figures, in December 2009, only 76% of Brighton and Hove’s five-year-olds had received the recommended double dose of MMR vaccine. The national average is 82%. This was after the 2008 ‘catch-up’ campaign to get parents to vaccinate their children. Before that only 65% of the city’s five-year-olds had received the double dose of MMR. The NHS warned of a possible measles epidemic. Last year that seemed to be coming true when 69 people were diagnosed with measles. 56 of them were had no record of vaccination, five had one dose of MMR, one had both doses, and the vaccination status of the others was not known. The outbreak didn’t turn into an epidemic. The total of confirmed cases was 69, though the Brighton and Hove PCT estimated that more cases would not have been reported.

Despite the NHS warnings, mother-of-two Magda Taylor questions whether vaccination is an effective way of preventing disease. Magda, 50, lives in Worthing and edits a magazine and website called Informed Parent, which collates information and press reports about vaccination. She has been interested in alternative choices to vaccination since she read a 1991 article, by Andrew Tyler, in the Evening Standard.

Magda grew up on the outskirts of Harrow, in a house that didn’t have medicines in it. “We didn’t even have aspirin,” Magda said. “This was not the result of a belief in a holistic life. My family dealt with illness in a commonsense way.

“With my own children, Ruby and Nancy, I didn’t have any knowledge; I just wanted to be a good mum. I went along with what the doctor told me to do at first, and so my first child had some vaccinations including the first dose of MMR. Then I read the Standard article in 1991 and my second child didn’t get any MMR jabs.

“I don’t think either of them suffered long term complications from the vaccinations they did have, but when I look back on their growth charts, I can see that one stopped thriving after each vaccination. I don’t know if that was related. The other one developed eczema after the early vaccination, although there is no history of eczema in my family.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Eno appeals for arts funding for the health of our society

24 May 2010. Last night, in the Brighton Dome, Brian Eno appealed to government to fund the arts. Without the arts, ran the subtext of Eno's message, our society can’t develop properly.

Eno started out by explaining that he was addressing the proposed cuts in arts funding by the British government. He noted there are no proposals to cut funding to the Trident nuclear missile programme, and said he was not proud of the fact that Britain is the number two arms producer in the world. He said the arts community is failing to sell itself to government as successfully as the arms industry. The arts community is failing to convince government of the importance of the arts.

Eno said we are at a Darwinian moment – at present the arts are considered to be interesting, but not essential to human development. He compared this attitude to the study of nature before Darwin's theory of evolution changed our idea of the place of humans in the world: we discovered that humans are not isolated, but are connected with all life, part of the same evolutionary chain. Now, says Eno, we are going to realise that the arts are connected with human development and healthy society.

He illustrated his point with an overhead projection of screwdrivers. They all had the same business end. The other end was the stylistic end, in many variations. He showed slides of screwdrivers with curved and straight, spotted and pink, and even be-feathered handles. Hairstyles were another example. On one end of the scale, we might think we don't need to cut our hair, or only need the most utilitarian cut, on the other end we see an infinite variety of styles.

The arts, said Eno, are “anything we don't have to do”. But, in both examples of screwdrivers and hair, we can see that the whole does not work without the stylistic part.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Before and after Eno (or how the Apollo space mission affected human consciousness)

Click for Apollo sample
When I invited a young friend to the performance of Brian Eno’s Apollo that opened the Brighton Festival last night (1 May 2010), I wasn’t tremendously surprised that she didn’t know who Brian Eno is. Despite her tender years, my friend is the veteran of countless surreal, early-morning chilled-out after-parties, so I was more confident of the effect of describing Eno as the father of ambient music. That was enough to get her to the Dome.

Ambient music has become a part of modern life, so fundamental to our experience that it is taken for granted, rather like our modern view of man in space. The lonely, beautiful, ever-changing disc of blue – earth viewed from space – has become a commonplace visual icon in our modern human consciousness, just as ambient electronic music has become an unremarkable strand in the aural texture of our lives. But there was a time before; the time before science became integral to our human essence. Eno’s music is the soundtrack to that transition: before and after science.

My companion came away from the concert dazzled. The performance was like taking the pure essence when you’ve been used to the diluted stuff. She stumbled over herself in her praise for Eno. “He is my new master,” she declared, revealing, I thought, an unconscious yearning for direction.

Eno originally produced Apollo as a soundtrack to Al Reinert’s docu-movie about the moon landings. It was a studio recording using electronic equipment that, in the 1980’s, was both experimental and state of the art. Technology has come a long way since then. As Eno pointed out, in a talk before the performance, the computing power applied to the entire Apollo space mission could be fitted into a modern mobile phone.

Last night, live musicians using acoustic instruments – including guitars, cello, drums, violin, wind, brass and pedal steel guitar – performed the sound track to Apollo. They sat beneath a giant screen projection of the hour-long movie, which was culled from six million hours of film footage shot by Nasa on their moon trips (more...)

Friday, 30 April 2010

Green Party complains to BBC about exclusion from televised leaders' election debates

The Green Party has complained to the BBC about their exclusion from last night’s national televised election debate, a senior spokesman for the Green Party said today.

“We will not be making a legal challenge. But we have complained in the strongest terms to the BBC about our exclusion from their third televised debate,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the televised election “is unlikely to affect Brighton Pavilion, our number one target seat, where the Lib Dems will be lucky to save their deposit”.

He said television debates are a good way of engaging the public, but “it is a bad idea to focus the elections on just party leaders, and only three party leaders at that.

“It is not fair on other parties, and it is not fair on voters who can't hear about other parties.

“The televised debates in the present format strongly reinforce the false impression that there are only three parties worth voting for, and this cannot be good for democracy."

Another source close to the Green Party leadership said he could not discuss the details of the complaint, but confirmed the Green Party had complained to the BBC about the leaders’ debate election broadcasts.

He said: “The Green Party’s complaint “in pretty strong terms” is understood to accuse the BBC of denying the voters adequate information on the policies the Green Party is offering – policies the Greens say are demonstrably popular with a large section of the electorate – thus “distorting the picture of what options the voters can actually vote for”.”

Friday, 16 April 2010

Brown amongst the children - election photo opportunities in Brighton

Earlier today, I asked what sort of photo opportunity Brown would present in Brighton, to compete with David Cameron jogging down the seafront on his visit in February. Well, this photo was taken half an hour ago. Brown has chosen the 'fatherly' pose, with children, against Cameron's 'fit for office' cameo.

Here (left) is a photo of Cameron jogging on Brighton Seafront (Sun). The Argus used a similar picture on its front page story about his visit in February. And (right) this is how the Argus portrayed Caroline Lucas, in its website story on the launch of the Green Party manifesto yesterday.

Gordon Brown dining Al Fresco in Brighton

13.35, 16 April, 2010. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah are having lunch with at Al Fresco, a restaurant on Brighton's seafront, at this very moment, a source reports. The source said they are having lunch with Celia Barlow.

"They are on the balcony for all to see," said the source, who reported from the West Pier children's play park, below the restaurant.

Some weeks ago, Tory leader David Cameron visited Brighton and a photo of him jogging along the seafront made the front page of the local Argus newspaper.

The Brighton Argus website reported that Browns left Victoria Station this morning shortly before 11 am. Celia Barlow is the Labour MP for Hove and Portslade constituency, and she has a slim majority to defend against Tory challenger Mike Weatherley. The Labour seat in the central Brighton constituency of Pavilion is also under attack by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who says opinion polls predict Greens will win this seat.

The picture of the Browns boarding at Victoria is from today's Argus.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

How to trapeze in Brighton and Hove

What does it take to become an Aerialist? An aerialist is an acrobat, circus performer or dancer who performs in the air, on a suspended apparatus such as a trapeze, rope, cloud swing, aerial silk or aerial hoop.

Aerial acts look like they need immense physical strength, but most depend more on technique and practice. Students find great satisfaction from mastering basic moves only a few feet off the ground, and they develop strength as they become more ambitious. The sense of empowerment that comes with supporting one's own weight is an appealing aspect of aerial dance.

Like most athletes and dancers, aerialists need “core” abdominal strength for stability and protecting the lower back. Some women think they will not be able to do aerial work because their arms aren't strong enough. Upper-body strength is thought of as a male trait, but many aerial artists practicing in Sussex are female. They find that strength comes quickly through use. Some speed it along doing push-ups and pull-ups, abdominal work such as Pilates and yoga. However, the best way to get strong enough to do aerial work is to do aerial work.

Around Brighton and Hove, aerial classes are found at University of Sussex Falmer campus sports centre (Zu Aerial), Hangleton Community Centre (Circus Project), and Lewes All Saints Centre (contact Zu Aerial)
(This story was supplied by me as a possible sidebar to the Trapeze mum story, but not published).

Happy stories: trapeze mum

I wrote this happy story, about a high flying mum, as an antidote to the frustrations of trying to make sense of the 'hard news' leads I am following. Happy stories can be interesting and informative to read, and fun to write, and bring blessings to all involved! Also, showing other lifestyles can be as effective an agent of change as telling people to live better. I will do more of them.

Trapeze Mum original copy
By Russell Honeyman
March 19, 2010, corr March 23, published March 27

A high-flying Brighton mum returned to her dream job as a trapeze artist and is facing up to the changes brought on by the birth of her first child.

Aerialist Hazel Maddocks gave her last public performance dangling from a rope 20 feet off the ground, two months after her daughter, Mea Maeve, was conceived. Hazel, 35, of Hollingdean, Brighton, gave birth to Mea on July 1, 2009, at home in a water pool.  Eight weeks after the birth, she was back in training. Now, eight months later, she is within 80% of her pre-pregnancy strength. She is teaching aerial performance on trapeze, ropes and silks to children and adults in Lewes and Brighton, and is applying for funding to stage a cabaret and children’s circus show in Lewes.

“I’m still battling to get the balance of being a working mum,” she said. “It’s hard to manage when you’re not living close to your family.”

Hazel is self-employed in her own company, Zu Aerial Dance, and is part of the Firecracker Circus, Lewes.  She gives lessons at the sports centre at Falmer University, and the All Saints Centre in Lewes, where the ropes, silks and bar hang from the high rafters of the converted church. She worked right through her pregnancy, giving lessons, then doing admin, and starting training again after the birth.

Some people might think trapeze is a risky job for a new mum. Hazel said: “My mum does think this job is very risky. But then any physical job is risky. Having a child makes you think about it. It is dangerous, and it’s too easy to become complacent, even experienced people can forget to tighten karabiners (safety clips), or experience equipment failure. But this is what I do and I just try to be mindful always.”

“When you have a child you loose so much of yourself. I need to maintain who I am other than being a mummy. I hope Mea will be inspired by what I’m doing, to do the things she wants to do in life.  I’ve been taking her into the studio since she was eight weeks old. [Laughs]. Who knows maybe she’ll be a banker.”

Hazel trained as a dancer. She re-trained as an aerial artist six years before her pregnancy. “One of the really difficult things was letting my body go,” she said. “I was just starting to get to a professional level, when I noticed my body clock ticking away. It was really scary to let go of my professional standing.

“I’m still missing 10-20% of my abdominal strength. But the good thing is that I managed to teach throughout my pregnancy, that didn’t involve any heavy physical work, so training has become my secure income. The teaching has become a real blessing. It’s great showing people how to do things they thought they could never do.

“I was desperate to become a performer, but teaching has become a comfortable nest. And now I’m less desperate, the performance side is really developing. Since having my baby, I’m getting some of my best work.”

You can learn more about Hazel’s work at or search for Zu Aerial in

529 Words

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Brighton air pollution kills, and the Argus knows why

The Brighton Argus can produce fearless campaigning journalism, as last week's stories on air pollution in Brighton and Hove showed (Wednesday and Thursday 24, 25 March 2010).

Wednesday's front page headline was "Choking To Death". The story is about air quality levels in Brighton being responsible for over 1,200 deaths annually. The culprits were named as stationary traffic, heavy vehicles and ocean going ships which throng the shipping channel just off Brighton's coast.

The Argus must also be credited with a fearless sense of humour.  Thursday's centre spread feature gave detail to the 1,200 deaths said to result from air pollution. Enclosed within the spread was a 16 page motoring supplement, filled with advertisements for new cars. I did chuckle, grimly.

The Tory-controlled Brighton and Hove Council was blamed for refusing to ban trucks and lorries from the city centre. This was excellent timing because Thursday afternoon was the date of the Council's Environment Cabinet meeting, so it will be fascinating to find out whether a ban on lorries in the city centre will result.

Link to 'Choking to Death' web version.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Hot lead for Brighton Festival: So you want to contact Brian Eno?

I picked up a copy of Brighton Festival's 2010 programme at Lewes station on Friday. I was impressed to see reclusive musician and artist Brian Eno as Festival Director.

In my salad days, the late 70s and 80s, I loved Eno's range, from lyrical-poignant songs like 'Here he comes' to dance chants such as 'Kings lead hat'. Plus he was mates with, and collaborated with people like David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the days of 'Speed of Life', and David Byrne in the days of 'My life in the Bush of Ghosts'. Mystic fire indeed.

So, I thought, let's follow the main lead. The man is coming to Brighton. Get an interview. How to start? With Google of course!

I asked Google "How to contact Brian Eno?" I got an answer, not the answer I was looking for, but it is a good answer and made me laugh. Well worth a visit, click the link:

"why contacting Brian Eno may not be a good idea"

There will be a chance to see Eno in person when he appears at the Brighton Dome on the 23 May, to present "This is an illustrated talk".

The Festival runs from 1-23 May, and features the 1970's short film 'Berlin Horse', with a sound track by Eno, his digital-audio painting '77 Million Paintings', and a live arrangement of his album 'Apollo'. I'm going to try to see all those. I will also be at the Children's street festival (1 May), and I'll try to see AfroBeat on 14 May, with Tony Allen and Seun Kuti. Brian Eno says Tony Allen is "the greatest living drummer in the world today".
For more information and booking: click here for the Brighton Festival website

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Gang fight in Hove park

Saturday 13 March 2010. Parents with toddlers found themselves trapped by a gang fight in a family park in Hove on Saturday afternoon.

A youth was hurt in the fight when two gangs met in a state of high excitement in Stoneham Park. The park is a popular play space for families and children. A parent, who was with children in the toddler section of the park, said she felt trapped by the gang and shouted at them to leave the area where babies were playing.

The parent said that the fight appeared to be prearranged. One gang of around five came from the direction of Aldrington station, and one gang of about thirty mixed male and female youth came from the direction of Portland Road. They initially met in the toddler section of the park. One of the parents said she could hear them discussing who was going to fight whom.

She said: "I told them not to fight there because there were babies there. I shouted "Not in the baby park. Go over there!" There was no way we could move; we couldn't get out of the park. We were just trying to protect the children from seeing what was going on."

The youths moved off a little way, and the fight took place outside the football enclosure in full view of the toddlers and their parents. The fight was brief, because one of the youths punched the other so savagely that he fell to the floor and lay there for some seconds. He was dazed when he struggled to his feet, with blood on his face. The youths then ran off. The hurt boy was having difficulty keeping up and he was helped by some other youths.

One of the parents called the police, who arrived around half an hour later.

Stoneham Park was once the territory of teen delinquents, but has been reclaimed by the local residents association, the Poets Corner Residents Society.

The parent said the incident had made her feel uneasy taking her child to the local park.

Another parent said: "Some say it is 'normal' for teen kids to have fights. But if that's true, can't they do it in a boxing ring instead?"


369 words

England's South East tops extinct species charts

11 March 2010. Almost 500 plants and animals have become extinct in England since 1800, most of them in the South East, according to a report issued today.

The report was issued by Natural England, the government’s advisor on the environment. Entitled “Lost life: England’s lost and threatened species” it documents for the first time 492 species lost from England since 1800. Of these, over 100 invertebrates have been lost from the South East of England.

12% of land mammals, 22% of amphibians and 24% of native butterflies have been lost, though most of these still occur in other countries. In addition to these losses, many more species are threatened and need help.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England Chief Executive, said: “Today this variety of life is under pressure from human activities as never before. As a result, many of our native species, from the iconic red squirrel to the much less familiar bearded stonewort, are in a fight for survival.”

Most of the species recorded as lost have been invertebrates (animals without a backbone such as butterflies), and the greatest invertebrate loss has been in South East England. Losses have also been significant in the South West (mainly from Dorset) and the East of England region (primarily from Fenland and Broadland).

There are two main reasons why the greatest losses have been in the South East. Firstly, there are more invertebrate species living in the South East because it is closer to continental Europe, it is warmer and drier than many other parts of the country, and it has a soft geology and a good range of protected woodlands and parklands. Secondly, invertebrates have been well recorded in this area since Victorian times, so the probability of detecting loss is much greater than in other regions.

The report said: “The agents of loss are not precisely known but, typically, habitat loss and damage and hunting have been the principal causes.”

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Brighton cycle lane scheme scrapped - good decision, bad reasons

The Old Shoreham Road (OSR) Cycle Lane Scheme was scrapped last week. The scheme promised to deliver an important cycle lane linking Brighton, Hove and Portslade. But the Tory controlled Council Cabinet for the Environment scrapped it, giving no reasons and offering no replacement.

Last year I wrote about the scheme (2 Nov 2009). I quoted Green Councillor Ian Davey saying it was "next to useless" for its intended purpose: getting 7,000 school children to cycle to school every day. He was right to say that. The unprotected and broken lanes in the midst of heavy traffic would have meant the scheme was either going to cause casualties, or would have been a waste of £600,000. The money would be better spent on a smaller, more effective scheme, than wasted on window dressing or lip service.

Thirteen children and 141 adults were killed or seriously injured on the city's streets in 2008-9, and cycle casualities rose by 6.8% in Brighton and Hove last spring.

Ideally, the OSR Cycle Lane Scheme should have been extended to provide safe cycling. The scheme was part of Brighton's status as a 'Cycling City'. It is also in line with Government policy to get children to cycle to school. Every morning we can see children attempting to do this, and they end up cycling along the pavements, which is against city bylaws. If we are going to achieve our objectives, serious transport planning has to be undertaken, not lip service.

The Conservative Party in control of the Council Cabinet is pro-motor car compared to the other parties. They lost control of the Council when they lost a by election ward last year. But they retain control of the Council Cabinets due to the constitution. The Tories did not initiate the Cycle Lane scheme; it was a Labour policy in place when they squeezed into power in 2007. In my opinion the inadequacy of the cycle lane scheme was due to the Conservative controlled council's lack of serious interest in sustainable transport in the city. It was a half-measure doomed to failure.

Sustainable transport and safe cycling schemes are possible; look at Copenhagen and Amsterdam. The reason this one failed is because the Council didn't plan it properly, and that is ultimately due to lack of political will.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Signs of recovery for the British media industry detected by Press Gazette Editor

There are signs of recovery in the recession-hit British media industry, Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford told journalism students at Journalist Works training centre in Brighton, February 11, 2010.
2009 was "the worst year in the history of the British media industry." Up to 2,000 jobs had been lost in the recession, when advertising revenues fell. Earlier this month, The Manchester Evening News was sold for £7m, when only a few years ago it was making £30m a year.
But the worst may be over, Ponsford said. New news services are emerging and need staff to produce them. The old guard has been sacked, and new journalists with new media skills are in demand, although they have to be flexible and "may need to do a bit of ducking and diving before landing that staff job".
As evidence for a revivial of the UK media industry, he pointed to start-ups in online news, such as the which employs 10 journalists, and start-ups in print media, such the Cleethorpes Chronicle newspaper, with a circulation of 11,000.
He also encouraged students to be persistent if they had a dream job, pointing to his partner's success in travel writing, which materialised after years of determination.
Mr Ponsford also gave some tips for journalists on their first work placement, from which I offer my own top seven:
1. Be punctual
2. Keep organised, dated notebooks and archive them for at least two years
3. Keep a good diary of upcoming events so you can suggest stories in advance
4. Set up RSS feeds or use Google Reader to stay on top of the news daily
5. Keep your sources confidential and if they want to talk "off the record" clarify what they mean
6. Start a niche blog in a subject you are interested in, and publicise it
7. Keep it simple.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Opinion: Tony Blair may be 'honourable' but was he honest?

In an apparently emotional outburst on television today, Alistair Campbell declared that Tony Blair is a "totally honourable man". That's not the same as being totally honest.

I watched the internet video of Mr Blair answering the Iraq Chilcot Inquiry on January 29. He seems charismatic, intelligent, and a wonderful orator: cool and composed in public debate. He seems honourable: prepared to deliver on a difficult promise and stick to allies through thick and thin. A remarkable man, and no wonder that he held the world in thrall to his words when he was Britain's Prime Minister.

In 2003, Mr Blair told us that the intelligence report of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was 'beyond doubt'. Now he says this was only what he believed. In 2003, he told us that Iraq could deploy WMD "within 45 minutes". Now he says that he only referred to battlefield weapons. The press assumed he meant that WMD were an immediate threat to the world. Mr Blair didn't correct that impression at the time.

His oratory persuaded Parliament that there was no more time for patient persuasion. Parliament voted for war. Hundreds of thousands are dead as a result. Mr Blair convinced us on a matter of honour, when he, and we, should have given patient persuasion, international consensus, and honesty, a little more time.

Did Blair intend his words to emphasise the immediacy of the danger to the world?

According to the Oxford dictionary, honour means "knowing and doing what is morally right". Honesty means "free of deceit". 

Tony Blair is an honourable man: he was true to his beliefs, and he lived up to his promise to support the American military intervention. But we needed more than honour, we needed honesty as well. We needed to know that there was room for doubt, and time to check the facts.

Link to video: Iraq Inquiry: Mr Blair defending 45 minute claim
Link to BBC story: Mr Campbell defends Blair