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June 4 2013 – Dangerous Ideas

I went to Camden to a’ Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous Times’ event.  The great and the good of’ the left’,what remains of it were there, along with people like me – eager for a dangerous idea.  I must say that they weren’t mostly, dangerous ideas I mean.  They were mostly reiterations of the known, not even ideas, but the known problem/s.  Tax avoidance, the bedroom tax, the cuts in general and particular, privatisation and war.  Plus every other ill we are all too familiar with. Like the speeches one hears on demos I wanted to shout “I know, I know about all this, that’s why I bought a ticket, that’s why I’m here” (but, of course, I didn’t, and I had a lovely chat with Tony Benn.)

Just as I was about to give up David Harvey got up to offer his thoughts and said enough to get me thinking, and, intentionally or not, put me on track for a ‘dangerous idea’.  At some point he was talking about technology and automation, and all of a sudden I started thinking about driverless tube trains and  self-service checkouts and so on, and the reality that all these innovations will, of course, create an increase in unemployment and be reiststed by what little remains of the unions and/but, I thought, what if we returned to the vision we were presented with in the 60’s, when these ideas of automation were first posited and we were assured a future of ever increasing leisure, not the current situation of working harder and harder for less and less reward – spiritually or materially.  The people ‘in charge’ seem to come from a mind set which suggests that leisure will persuade the majority of the population to become useless wasters, but the truth is, as we all know, that human beings like to work, want to work, they want to work at something worthwhile, so in our increased ‘leisure’ time, we could go to work to do the things that need doing – it begins with looking after children, the elderly and vulnerable, providing everyone with a decent home, growing our food, keeping things tidy, making and creating things.  You can add to this list, the only criteria for which is that the activity must do zero harm to llfe on earth.  Due to all the automation everyone is paid a basic citizens wage, which is deposited in a citizens bank – a facility which is communally owned and charged with refusing ‘credit’ to any of the citizens.

Of course I haven’t worked out the details of any of this yet, and its all unashamedly utopian, but I mainly wrote this to thank David Harvey and the organisers of ‘Dangerous Ideas’ for planting one, sufficiently robust, to haul me out of my torpor on  to my blog.  More to follow I hope.

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PHOENIX -26/04/2013 A visitor

I think some of you may have been following the travels of my friend Earthian, if not, I encourage you to take a look: (http://earthianblog.wordpress.com/). I met Earthian in the early days of Occupy at St. Paul’s, Earthian quickly took charge of the tents, and would organise where they were placed and keep an eye out for their condition.  Occupiers,, were not, generally speaking, notable for their good housekeeping, a fact that Earthian deplored, frequently bemoaning the discovery of a heap of wet blankets or a crumpled tent in need of re-rigging. Full of fun and good humour his serious side was exemplified by his announcement, at the first anniversary event at St. Paul’s, that he intended to embark on a peace mission to the middle East, without ID, passport or money.  The blog I have recommended is an account of this journey.

Earlier this week Earthian rang me, back in England he wanted to meet up, and we arranged for this to be yesterday at the project.  We spent a wonderful few hours.  The stories of this journey are extraordinary, as are the quantity of “kindly persons” that populate these accounts.

Of course, if you know Earthian, this is unsurprising, he is a one man disarmament campaign.  He is thinking about writing an account of his travels,that will expand on his blog, which was written in difficult circumstances, and pulled together my good friend Em, who was also at the project yesterday for this little reunion, and we are both hoping to help him.

On the wall of the project is a photograph of Earthian tending a fire when he was camping with the Nomads, a group that formed after the eviction of St Paul’s and who set up small, short-term encampments in various locations in east London. The Phoenix project felt like a completely new context in which to place this unusual character but here he is:

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Phoenix – World Book Night 23/04/2013

As far as I know World Book Night is a Uk event, but the title World Book Night is very apt, given my experience.  I was giving away copies of Jeanette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” her superb memoir.  I was also offering copies of my own book “At the Eleventh Hour”.  There is a strange parallel in these works, though I wouldn’t presume on Jeanette Winterson’s sublime gift with words.  Nonetheless her memories of her strict, bizarre, evangelical background and my Roman Catholic childhood are less estranged than might be imagined. What I most liked about her work was her hard come by understanding that religious practice enabled her to appreciate something she calls ‘real time’ compared with’ linear time’.  The big religious festivals – Christmas, Easter, Passover and so on, acting as punctuation marks to the quotidian.  Also her heightened awareness of the meaning of love, hard won, through the contradictory messages conveyed on a young, open mind by a vengeful Old Testament deity.  A wonderful read, I still have copies to give away, since, despite the recession, it seems that people are not eager to accept gifts – not gifts of books anyway.  

I was struck by the fact that, with a couple of exceptions, those that did venture in were all from elsewhere – mostly Eastern Europe, though my first visitor was from Eritrea – a poet and pianist.  He then met the next visitor who was from Lithuania.  She spoke eloquently about home and the meaning of home and it struck me that London is a city of refugees of one sort and another, all hoping to find a sense of belonging.  A task which seemed quite daunting as a stream of traffic passed by the door – wide open for the first time on a balmy Spring evening.

An interesting episode occurred around the matter of donations.  Some friends had dropped by, and were helping with greeting people, and offering the wine and nibbles, we had made available.  They asked whether they might donate and were told “No,no, it’s all free”.  A little while later, I was in conversation with a man who was expressing an interest in my book, he asked if I would like some money, I said cheerfully, “Oh yes, I always like money!” He popped £20 in the pot, bless him, and after he left a conversation with my friends ensued along the lines of the Phoenix not being ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ .  I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to understand these contradictions about money.  Clearly the Phoenix can’t survive without the generous gifts of money for which I am so grateful, so a conversation has to take place which enables this reality to be stated.  Most people are very uncertain about how to convey the donations ethos, we are in such a state about money all the time it’s no wonder advanced capitalism is so successful.  

Still, there are always random piano players who seem happy to provide music as a gift.Image

Phoenix 16/04/2013

I went via St. Paul’s on my way to Tate Modern today, around lunchtime, the day before ‘the funeral’ (i”m not being coy, I just don’t have anything to add to the cacophony which has surrounded the death of Margaret Thatcher), I can only suppose that in these secular days we resort to some atavistic need when confronted with the reality of death.  Anyway, thousands of well dressed people were pouring out of the cathedral and I was momentarily confused.  I’d seen a huge number of BBC outside broadcast vans parked down the side and there were lots of police, some on horseback, but nothing to indicate that I had lost a day.  I glanced at an order of service booklet that a guest was holding to discover that this was a memorial service for the Test match special commentator, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, whose voice I remember well, and whose passing, some time ago, I noted.  The attendants seemed like a pleasant crowd of people and I thought about the juxtaposition of this event and the one due to take place tomorrow, a thought, I conjectured, which would have also occurred to them.  I hoped that, as it seemed, everyone was there because they wanted to be, and that it was no more or less than acknowledging the life of this person who had in turn contributed to our national life by commenting onthe game of cricket – that quintessentially English pastime – with knowledge and enthusiasm.  I went on to the Tate, in the teeth of a gale over the Millennium `bridge.

On my return a completely different scene revealed itself.  On the steps some sort of rehearsal for tomorrow was taking place – there were some old soldiers, some young soldiers and some policemen all practicing something on the steps, at the very front was this bizarre tableau of a City of London policeman and two ‘bridesmaids’,surrounded by photographers.  There was no way to make any meaning of it (I, of course, asked), but everyone just seemed to be photographing it.   What it might be about didn’t seem to be of interest to anyone but me. The idea seemed to be to take pictures and enjoy the image ‘the spectacle’.

I think we’re supposed to be wearing red tomorrow – as some sort of gesture.  I’m happy to go along with that, though in my heart it doesn’t feel very adequate or revolutionary! Image.  Anyway here’s the picture

Phoenix opening 11/04/2013

OphelieOphelie beginsopening1opening 4opening 3opening 2occupy photosdoorThat it has taken me a week to write this up gives you a clue.  One of two things were a possible explanation for this delay – it had been so overwhelmingly busy and successful that I was in need of a protracted rest to recover. Or………..it was very quiet and hard to define what direction the project should take.

It was the latter.  I know we’re well known for being weather obsessed in England, but it really was a dreadfully cold day, with a constant theme of blustery snow showers interspersed with bright sunshine.  Mostly people scurried past under umbrellas, and my fantasies of an open door and cool jazz drifting out to a busy street were just that – a fantasy.  A couple of brave souls ventured in, expressed an interest and left their details, but it really wasn’t the lively, enthusiastic scene I had imagined.

The whole thing was rescued by friends from the Occupy movement, who came with delicious food, and good energy, and who restored my faith in its potential.  We agreed on the importance of spaces that are open to the local community, so that people can come together and discuss things, but also have the opportunity, then and there, to take creative action to express those concerns, to which end it is clear that I need to make a bigger effort to make contact with the local community by making more flyers and leaflets and generally make the project more visible.

As those of you familiar with the Phoenix in Glastonbury know, the project was a 24/7 experiment which I was happy to undertake.  Really enjoying almost every moment of it, my less than robust health alone makes that impossible for the London project, so I will be hoping to find some people willing to help the Phoenix become itself.  Of course I could make it much simpler by agreeing to sell things, but I’m not willing to do that.  The whole ethos resides in the idea that nothing is for sale, that creativity will not be commodified.  Take that away and the Phoenix is just another art space, not that an art space is a ‘bad’ thing and not that artists don’t have to earn a ilving, of course they do and their skills should, I think, be acknowledged in financial terms as well as applause, but not by placing a specific value on the work, which ultimately leads to creativity as investment, which is the apogee of advanced capitalism and how Rolling Stones tickets sell out in 5 minutes whilst some talented 20-something musician glumly stacks shelves in a supermarket, still living at home, always broke, and being denounced on a daily basis by the politicians who brought this plight into being.

Somewhere like the Phoenix aims to provide this person with a place to share their talent, and film makers, writers, poets, knitters, clothes makers, gardeners and cooks and all the other people who transform their materials from the mundane to the remarkable.

  

Phoenix 09/03/2013

Dylan (Darth Vadar for the day, if not forever) had a great, boisterous party.  The children seemed to enjoy participating in creating a fabulous animal, ably facilitated by Tor Freeman, on a busman’s holiday, (Tor works as a childrens’ book illustrator.)  They created a parrot/turtle/dinosaur creature .drawingdarth vadardylans birthday tea 2

Phoenix 08/03/2003

Dylan is having his birthday party at the ‘new’ Phoenix this afternoon and, in between family life I’m trying to get the building ready to open at Easter weekend and to regularly update this blog so that everyone can find out what’s going on.  Like everything else a blog is a discipline and I need to revive the habit, meanwhile here’s a pic. of Ben, Tina (Jack in the background) working on the floor of the downstairs workshop.Image