Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shun the frumious bureaucrat!

After such a positive and happy previous post about the joys of poetry recitals it is sad, but not entirely surprising, that this time I feel forced to report that there are those out there that clearly don't share my enthusiasm. Or at least cant rise above their own petty bureaucracy to embrace the joy of spoken word.

Apparently a poetry group meeting in the Royal Standard pub in Ely have been forced to suspend their meetings as the local council - East Cambridgeshire District Council - have decided that whilst the pub has a license for music this does not allow it run spoken word events.

This raises a number of points not least the idea that you can have a license to put poetry to music but this does not allow for you to speak the same lyrics unaccompanied. The absurdity of this position is clearly lost on the spokesman for the council who tries to defend the idea.

On a broader issue, from my perspective, is the question of why you should need a license for a spoken word event for anyway. Stealth tax perhaps?

More details of this case can be found here.

There are times when you have to fear that a country run by such small minded nongs really has gone to the dogs. I'm off to the pub for a beer to drown my despairing disbelief, but I wont make a joke with the landlord or anyone else at the bar because they may not have a comedy license.

One small note of good cheer, I did notice from the article that the poetry group was getting some Lottery Funding- huzzah!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poetry please

I have always loved poetry, even the stuff that doesn't rhyme! Learning poems by heart and being able to recite them out loud was something that we would do at junior school and the practice was part of the schools annual Eisteddfod. It was good for memory, good to develop confidence of public speaking and, for the more dramatically oriented, an opportunity for an early performance.

Whist I cant claim to have a huge back catalogue committed to memory there are still a few that stick with me and it is fun to be able to trot them out as a bit of a party piece. They have served me well at various Poems and Pints nights where an impromptu recitation has been rewarded with a drop of something from the bar. Interestingly enough when I suggested to a group of friends this was something everyone should be able to do, recite a poem that is, I did get some rather blank looks and I fear it was another of those opportunities for them to reinforce their view that perhaps I am a bit odd! On reflection most of these friends were considerably younger than me and we, as group, had just ridden a long way across Cuba on push bikes, so perhaps it was not a typical sample.

So imagine my surprise and happiness when I discovered that the BBC were running a competition called Off By Heart for school children aimed at introducing them to the joys of poetry memorized and recited out loud. The wonderful selection of poems has some enduring classics, The Way Through The Woods - Kipling, The Listeners - de la Mare amongst others that I recall from school, and some more contemporary stuff from the likes of Benjamin Zephania. Championed by the wonderfully named Daisy Goodwin this is surely one of those initiatives that is so welcome, so sensible ye and so entirely obvious it rather makes you wonder how it ever needs to be revived at all.

The BBC have the ability to shoot themselves in the foot sometimes and to be sure it is not the institution that it once was and thsi is to theri proudest week, but on this occasion I applaud them, and Daisy of course!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Remembering Not to Forget

Here at TESCAPE we believe that the amount of material that can benefit from being lifted from the page through spoken word is broad and rich. So I was particularly pleased to come across an initiative by the National Archives to produce a series of podcasts that commemorate the armistice of 1918 that ended the First World War. It is right that we remember the anniversary of such an important event that brought to a close such a grim period, and giving voice to the words that detail some of the human stories of that war has a particular power.

The podcasts are relatively short and so far have covered some diary and reportage pieces detailing the reality of being part of a fighting unit in the maneuvering and skirmishing of the conflict and draw upon the materials held at the Archives in Kew . But one of the most interesting, for me, was the very first pod which is a fascinating account of correspondence (the letters being read) between a war widow and the ministry, in her efforts to get an up lift to her pension and allowance. In between the starchy language and letter writing style of the time there is a desperate human story, a tragedy that seems to be made more so by the apparently mundane circumstances of the officers death ( if death can ever be mundane) in a conflict so renown for its brutality and senseless waste.

This initiative is a wonderfully evocative and appropriate way of helping to remember not to forget by bringing a human voice to a subject that can seem increasingly distant. I for one will continue to subscribe and wear my poppy with pride as we remember the sacrifices made by so many some 90 years ago.

The series is available as an RSS feed here, and I would strongly recommend it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Empire and Silence

I had the good fortune of seeing collection of short films that captured the magic of the 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition. They were shown collectively at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), and the cinema was packed. The films had no dialogue with the exception of the last which was a contemporary film that explained a little about a project completed by the Glasgow School of Art to recreate the Exhibition in 3D using virtual reality software. The accompanying score to the films was suitaby jolly, and as a fan of that type of modernist architecture the experience was wonderful. The vision and ambition of the scheme demonstrated a confidence and purpose that seems so lacking today - rememerb the Millenium Dome. The results of this self confidence n 1938 was dazzling. It was also gratifying to watch an event that used the word Empire without the necessity to caveat it with some politically correct apology. Perhaps it had something to do with the average age of the audience, ensuring that some could remember the benevolent aspect of the commonwealth not having been subjected to the sort of revisionist education that seems very prevalent now. Not everything emanating from that era of empire was necessarily bad and we would do well to remember that. Some of the aspiration, confidence and values would be of use today it seems to me.

The concluding discussion where two architects debated the merits and ambition of the Exhibition with contributions from the audience, some of whom had attended the event, was again insightful and balanced.

The evening cost £1 and the quality of the films, mostly amateur, reminded me how a mix of ambition, quality and the willing enthusiasm of contributors generated a fabulous event in 1938 and 2008. It also reminded me that the GFT alone is one good reason for living in Glasgow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


There has been a good deal of debate about the theory of evolution and the ideas of intelligent design and the literal interpretations of creationism. It has led to people stepping down from roles, and a good deal of fiery exchange but, to be honest, it is not something that really exercises me.

However, I have discovered something that comes from Darwin that really does. I seems that on the excellent Darwin Online site there is available for download a spoken word version of Darwin's Beagle Diary. It is five episodes as heard on BBC Radio 4's Book 0f the week back in 2006. Already started to listen and it is great. This just the sort of material that TESCAPE will be bringing to you, so in the interests of letting you know about the best why not visit the Darwin Online site and take advantage of this great offer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Poets and Mystery

Much excitement in the last couple of days with the discovery and release of recordings of Agatha Christie discussing some of her work, and an announcement that recordings of a selection of the United States most important 20th Century poets are to be released.

The sound quality of the recordings, from what I have heard, is not of the highest standard, but there is such magic in hearing their voices that it makes any quality issues entirely secondary. Hearing how the poet felt their work should be performed, and understanding a little better the thinking of one of the most succesful writers are just two examples of how spoken word can add to the enjoyment of the written word. There is a richness in that transaction, yet at the same time the spoken word has an intimacy that video fails to capture. At the risk of using a tired cliche from the arena of knowledge management, I can say more than I write, and I know more than I can say.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It still matters - in cricket anyway

I am one of those lucky people who take it for granted that it is entirely possible to listen to a radio commentary of a five day game of cricket and never be bored. Its because I have had the immense privilege of being able to listen to Test Match Special (TMS) on BBC radio. I almost envy those who have not discovered the wonders of TMS because what a wondrous awakening they have available to them. For me there is little to compare to the joy of waking up at, say, 3am, on a cold winters morn getting a pot of tea and snuggling back down beneath the warm bed covers listening very quietly to a commentary of an England winter tour delivered by the masterful TMS team.

Now TMS is an institution, and it is not a trifling matter to amend or meddle with an institution and woe betide anyone that does. Now it seems that TMS has a new producer or some such and as is often the way of things, he has decided to make changes - notably bringing in some new commentators, and losing some others. Some of these have not been well received, and to be fair the excuses for these changes offered in the blog, have been fairly roundly exposed as little more than vacuous management speak. But the thing I find gratifying is the way people are not resisting change of itself, they are saying that the change must be for the better and that some of the new voices are simply not up to the job. Now its interesting that it is not the voice itself, although that does clearly matter, but it is the quality and depth of insight an analysis that the contributors can bring that is important and what concerns the listeners most (along with some issues about conflict of interest and ethics - also important values).

To me it is once again a reminder that, in a world of multimedia, wide screen freeze and replay TV, there are people out there that truly value spoken word and the quality of the material they are listening to, and still take the time to fight to preserve it.

It is things like this that reassure me that TESCAPE does have a ready audience, I only hope that when TESCAPE has been operating as long as TMS has been, that we can still retain such passionate and discerning followers.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The gentle rain

For the last few days it has rained, and rained some more. My mother, who clearly resides in a less rainy area, was happily telling me abut all of the wonderful homegrown vegetables she had served at dinner that evening. I was tempted to say I had eaten a fish caught in my own back yard.

Whilst the rain, in what is supposed to be summer, can be very disappointing, rain at night is welcome. It saves me watering the garden and feeling guilty about using potable water in that way, but most importantly it sounds so delicious. It sooths and calms and comforts and gently wraps you into sleep. It was whilst experiencing that delight once again that I was reminded exactly why I founded TESCAPE. The sound of a human voice can have exactly that same soothing calming effect. It can do so many other things a well, intrigue, inspire, indoctrinate. But just as your mother may have read a bed time story to you, or maybe stroked your feverish forehead telling a story and saying all would be well, the power of eh human voice to comfort endures throughout life. So in praise of that magnificent quality, TESCAPE will continue to generate quality spoken word for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcome to my new blog.

Just received my new Asus Eee - what a fantastic little piece of kit, and running Linux too. This is what I call mobile computing.