Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Writing is NOT a profession!

This article fucks me off for a bunch of reasons:

1. Loads of professions are full of people doing unpaid work not just writing or creative pursuits. Carers for example. Every public service. Interns. Everywhere people are being exploited.

2. Being creative is not a profession it's a calling. You do it because its who you are. Hopefully you find some way in this crazy world to make money to facilitate making stuff. If you're lucky you get paid to make it. But it isn't just fear that makes people want to share ideas, stories, music, etc... for free. We do so for many reasons.

3. Okay so "free culture" is a myth. Fair point. There are loads of people who make money from all the free going around. That doesn't mean the principals of free art or free information are bad. It means that they are being corrupted, unsurprisingly, by smart people in commerce.

In no way am I defending creative people being exploited, but we aren't the only ones! Nor should we be encouraged to treat our work (the real work we do, not the stuff that pays the bills) like a business. That isn't why we make stuff. We make it for audiences. We make it to share. We make it to touch and interact with other people.

Of course we should be canny. Always try to avoid bastards making money from your work that they don't give to you where possible. But don't take the soul and art destroying ethos of capital into your work. You need to get things done during the time you have on earth! Waiting for someone to pay you means you are not developing your craft and you are missing the point of what you are doing. Be sensible with your product, but always be producing. And remember finding an audience and serving them is much more important than making money. And weirdly the only real way to make money from art is to convince an audience to pay for it. And that will probably involve a period of giving it away for free. This isn't a bad thing.

Art existed before capitalism. Perhaps it has never been unambiguously free; there is always an exchange of some kind. But it isn't an easy fit art into the system. Why we do it, and how we do it, are generally outside that sphere. We have to negotiate with capital to live in the world. But let's remember it's a negotiation. We aren't a workforce we are dreamers. We're here to have and share ideas.

Writing is NOT a profession!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Three Posh Boys

You may be familiar with my podcast series Getting Better Acquainted. It's a weekly show where I have conversations with people I know, from my closest friends and family to someone I might one have met at a party. It's a growing portrait of the lives and interests of people in 2011/2012. It's limits are the sphere of my extended radar, but within those limits it's a very diverse and interesting piece of work. I feel comfortable saying this myself because in many ways the work seems to be making itself and I am it's servant. And also because in championing this show I am really championing the people on it. As one of the taglines I use puts it "there are lots of shows about famous people this one is for the rest of us."

It's available on to download for free through iTunes, or from the Soundcloud account. You can also stream it directly to the internet on the soundcloud account. And  you can stream it directly to your smartphone using the free Stitcher Smart Radio app.

The show has gone to places I didn't expect it to, it's taught me many things I didn't know, and it's not something my past self would have expected me to make. But at the same time looking back I can trace the development of this show in a the stuff I've made before. I just didn't realise where it would lead me.

This week is the third week in what I've come to think of as the GBA Posh Boy Season. My teenage self would've expected the work I'd make in my 30's to be class conscious but he wouldn't have dreamed it'd be challenging the stereotypes we have of posh people. But he hadn't grown up yet and didn't understand that it's always the people part of the statements that matter. The word that comes before; posh, poor, old, black, gay, disabled etc... isn't irrelevant of course, it has an effect on the situation, but the important word is people. We always have that part in common. We are all people.

Since Getting Better Acquainted is a study of the people I'm acquainted the presence of "posh" guests demonstrates that I've already got over some of my inverted snobbery. Arguably, since I'm middle class, that inverted snobbery isn't mine to own anyway. But that snobbery was - is - there because I felt it keenly when growing up. My parents weren't wealthy middle class, my dad was in fact a pensioner for nearly all my life, I went to state schools all over the UK . My dad lived in a working class area of Coventry for some of my formative years. My last and longest school experience was in Cardiff where I went to a well mixed comprehensive school. My best friends there were working class. I worked then, and have continued to work for most of my working life, in working class estates. My dad is a socialist who made documentary films about miners for the coal board. My mum is a socialist, was a nurse and then became a social worker. So I've got a complicated view of class.

 It get's even more complicated if you consider my mums parents who were upper middle class. In fact  my Grandfathers family were pretty much upper class. Whereas his wife came from working class Yorkshire stock, and she was aspirational to the point of betrayal, changing her voice for her new class. Generally speaking as a teenager I had a negative view of the "haves". I was enraged to discover I was related to Sarah Ferguson (The Dutchess of York at the time.) As a teenager I had real guilt about that part of the ancestry. I felt like I was descended from the enemy. But they weren't the enemy. They were just people.

It isn't that I've let the middle/upper classes off the hook. I still believe passionately in the need for a redistribution of wealth. I know that the wealthy and super rich need to stop having all the power and freedom. Many people lack context for those who have different lives than them. We currently have a government who have no real knowledge about the lives of most people in the country, why should we expect to make policy that is in their best interests. Many of us are safe and ignorant inside our bubbles, they just have really small bubbles.

But none of that means that "posh people" are all the same. Or even that they are that wealthy.

Over 3 episodes on GBA I lined up 3 examples of people might be called posh.

 Henry (who went to Harrow).

Richard (who went to a grammar school).

And Radcliffe (who went from public school to a Soho skip and managed to climb halfway back up again).

I suspect none of will live up in anyway to the expectations we have of people who we give that label to. Or at least not in many ways.

Richard was perhaps the first person I considered to be posh that I became friends with, and now he's one of my best friends. He's also probably the least posh of the three examples but for me he really represented a change of view. The sort of change that having a friend or family member who is gay or black or whatever can have on someone with prejudices in those areas. Seeing that Richard was (and is) a great guy altered my understanding.

Henry I discovered to be posher than I'd realised during the course of our conversation, but then I met him through music, and their is no class in the rehearsal room, there is only the notes or beats that you are playing. Music is a great leveller. Also I met him after my prejudice had lessened.

Radcliffe is from a different generation of poshness and has climbed all around the class system, I met him after he'd been through all of that and come to a still place. He may still have the accent but no one can accuse him of not knowing what it is like for people at the bottom, he has been homeless, he has been to prison, he has been a crack addict. I met him through true story telling and he is a man with important experience to share.

All three men acknowledge in some ways the privilege of their backgrounds in these conversations, and in the way they live their lives. That makes a difference I think. That makes it easier for me relate to them and for them to relate to me. But in these three very different conversations the main thing that stands out about all of them to me is their humanity. I like these men.

And it isn't easy and hasn't been easy for them all the time. In fact Radcliffe's story is partly about the disadvantages of privilege and class. If class is partly about confidence, as me and Richard discuss, then his story complicates that idea in an extreme way, whilst at the same time possibly confirming the theory.

We don't live in a classless society. Far from it. But it's really important to keep remembering that it isn't as simple as some diagram of demographics or a strict code of class -ificiation either. We don't fully fit into the system that's grown around us. Henry and Radcliffe weren't typical public school boys. Richard may be the kind of boy your Granny would want you to marry, but he's apologetic about it! There's no such thing as typical. Things are always more interesting and complicated than we think. In fact Henry describes some experiences where as a teenager he was attacked for his class. They are resonate with different examples of teenagers being attacked for things they have no control over.

Class is a hard thing to understand partly because it isn't static. We move around within it. None of the people in these conversations are defined by their class. They are much more than their class. As we all are. That doesn't mean class isn't a problem or doesn't have a massive influence on character. But it isn't everything. And it isn't simple.

I released these episodes in sequence for a reason, because they compliment and contrast each other in rich and interesting ways. And the reason I could programme them as contrasting episodes is that the minds and lives of these three posh boys (or three posh men as they all are now) are so very different from each other.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Stand Up Tragedy: Finale‏

The next Stand Up Tragedy takes place at the Leicester Square Theatre on Monday 4th June. This is the last of the 5 monthly shows that have taken place this year. It's got a great line up and if you've been meaning to come to one this is your last chance for a while. I'm currently looking into taking the show up to the Edinburgh Festival in 2013 but that is some time away.

Stand Up Tragedy is a variety night where people stand up and do tragedy. Every night so far has had a slightly different favour but they've all featured comedy, music, storytelling, and the unexpected. And they've all ended with a sing-a-long. This month we have some brilliant comedians, powerful true story tellers, beautiful music and improvised Greek Tragedy.

You can hear podcasts of previous SUT shows via iTunesStitcher Smart Radio or Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/standuptragedy

From the soundcloud (and the website) you can stream or download them directly without any fuss. Listening to these podcasts or exploring the website should give you an idea of what the nights are about. But they are a lot of fun and people interpret the idea of tragedy in many ways.


Tickets can be bought in advance from the Leicester Square Theatre Box Office. They cost £10 (£8 concessions). The promo code TRAGIC will offset the booking fee. It's better for me if you buy in advance as then I don't pay printing fees, but there should be tickets on the door too, we'll announce via social media if we sell out.

It's a full night of tragedy, starting at 8.30pm and ending around about 10.45pm. Doors open at 8.15pm

These shows have been a lot of fun to run. I really hope to see many of you there, and please spread the word.

 My other podcast Getting Better Acquainted is also really worth your attention. There have been some amazing conversations that have already aired and the ones due to come out are of  an equal quality. This show is one of the best things I have ever done. I've had so many positive responses and the audience is growing. Have a listen if you haven't before. And if you do listen and you like it please tell people about it.

It's available through iTunesStitcher Smart Radio and from it's website: http://www.gettingbetteracquainted.co.uk

I made a 15 minute clip show from the 2011 episodes to send into a competition if you want a flavour of the show: http://soundcloud.com/gettingbetteracquainted/gba-extra-extracts-from-gba

Also I'd like to pick out a few other highlights: On Wednesday and Friday next there will be a very special  GBA two parter where I talk to Radcliffe Royds about his life. He is a man who went to a public school as a child and from there he has gone through richness, addiction, homlessness and rehabilitation. His story is moving, funny, inspiring and remarkable. His is one of many conversations I feel blessed to have been a part of.

GBA isn't just conversations sometimes it has documentary style episodes. These are two recent examples of this:

http://soundcloud.com/gettingbetteracquainted/gba-53-to-the-heart-of-it http://soundcloud.com/gettingbetteracquainted/gba-extra-the-partition

 I have also been further grouping episodes into playlists: www.gettingbetteracquainted.co.uk www.standuptragedy.co.uk

Thanks for you time,


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Why I am giving up voting...

I was all set to write an angry account of why I recently decided not to vote any more. Or rather why I won't be voting until there is a magical combination of  a candidate/party that represents my views and a system that allows them the power to implement their policies. If that ever happens I'll be voting again.

Actually I'll probably vote again if just the first part becomes true. Better that someone who I believe in gets to try and change things. Even if they fail.

Of course if things severely change and the options become the BNP verses the Tories then I'll be voting Conservative and breaking my long standing belief that tactical voting is anti democratic and just maintains the status quo. But if we get to that stage I may have already left the country.

The other thing that would bring me back to voting is a none of the above box. A box that does exist on the ballot papers of some democracies where they offer the option for a vote of no confidence in the system. Look at where we are nationally and globally, can you really claim to have confidence in the system? Maybe you can. That's fine too. I'm sure you have good and intelligent reasons and all that. But can't we put it to a democratic vote and see what most people think?

So where has the angry rant gone?

Well I had a number of Facebook exchanges about it and I've currently used up all my energy for angry ranting. But it isn't just that. Voting is something I was brought up to value. I have followed politics closely since I was a child. In the 1997 election I wasn't old enough to vote but I was old enough to care. I stayed up all night with my dad watching the results, cheering as Portillo lost his seat, drinking whiskey and feeling like a bright new day was coming. Surely things could only get better? The next day I went into my Cardiff Comprehensive school (still drunk) and the teachers were jubilant, there was such a feeling of hope and possibility.

I think it only took a week or so for that to dissipate as Old Labour voters began to understand fully what the New Labour Project was. Not that I was or am Old Labour. When I was 15 I was in the political party Militant Labour. I left when they'd just changed their name to the Socialist Party, but that wasn't why I left. I left because listening to the older members of the party explain things to me I'd come to realise that they weren't anti-capitalist as such. They agreed with a financial system but they seemed to want to replace the market with the state as the thing that controls it.

I am not saying that socialists are Stalinists. Or even that the views of these middle aged working class Cardiffians in the mid 90's represents the pinnacle of socialist theory. Some of my best friends are socialists! In fact my parents are socialists. I was brought up in this tradition. It's sort of my religion. Which makes turning my back on it a bit like turning your back on a religion. Apart from my parents aren't fundamentalist, they accept the complexities and ambiguities of life, and they aren't dogmatic socialists, they aren't even the same kind of socialists. But the people in Militant Labour were dogmatic. And they really believed in the power of the state.

Socialists think that a state can be fair and can be run for the greater good. I'd like that to be the case. But I think that power corrupts and that systems themselves when they are too big and unwieldy will trap people into doing things that are against the greater good. I don't think human nature lends itself to wielding power well, especially when it's through the filter of an abstract and distant system. After all deep down we are just apes who have lost most of their hair.

Systems seek to keep themselves going. This's what happened in Soviet Russia in many ways, Communism never got tried because it mutated into something else before it had a chance to be tested. I fear that Communism can never be tried on a mass scale because it will get distorted on the way up. I'm an anarchist. I think our only hope is to get rid of large scale systems, to try our best to remove the things that see us wrong, hierarchical systems for example, redistribution of wealth and resources for example, have smaller communities who are answerable directly to each other for example, make do with less stuff but with more freedom. I'm against violence as a way of achieving change however; apart from it being a terrible thing in itself, I don't think it's a means to the ends we need. Violence creates violence. Violent revolutions create violent regimes.

I'm pragmatic. I don't think we can pull the system down tomorrow. I'd rather have, for example, Old Labour in power than New Labour despite not standing for either. I do think it's important to push for small changes. Ultimately I'd remove the state but in our current situation, immersed in the present system, I will defend the wellfare state against the ideological attacks it is receiving. Which isn't to say that I don't accept that there are reforms that would be in everyone's best interest.

A member of my extended family said to me the other day, as I pontificated about my views late at night, that I would be Stalin if I ended up in his position. (This person is a rich economist by the way, who is definitely not an anarchist or a communist!). He's right. Most people would be, and I definitely would be, I have plenty of insecurity, frustration, rage and self righteousness boiling in my soul. That's why I think our only hope is to find a situation where there aren't people at the top making decisions. The Occupy Movement and things like that give me more hope than any election promise (or lie as I prefer to call them) ever has. UK Uncut is an example of how you can make your voice heard regardless of whether you vote.

These are the sort of responses you get when you say you won't be voting:

If you don't like any of the options why don't you stand yourself?

If you don't vote then you can't complain.

People died and fought for the vote. How dare you cast such a privilege aside?

You have to vote or X will get in and his policies are much much worse that Ys!

Voting is your responsibility, don't be so irresponsible!

If you really believe that then you should campaign for a none of the above box.

I disagree with most of them, apart from the ones that suggest I should do more, to those I say:  Sorry, I'm a flawed and selfish person, who does some political actions but not enough, and is most of the time just trying to be happy. The 15 year old version of me would have hated this 30 year old version. But then he was pretty self-righteous, even worse than me! I find it hard to attack anyone for not doing enough. The world is pretty overpowering in its size and scale and we are all just tiny insignificant things in relation to the world. In relation to the universe our world itself is minuscule. Rationalisation? Probably.

As for standing for political office I don't have the capital to do so, nor do I have the time. Nor would it make sense for someone who disagrees with power structures to stand for office! I was going to stand on an honesty platform once. Say things like: "Vote for me, if I win I will have no power to affect any real change." Or "I don't really have any answers" Or "I don't know if this will work but let's try it anyway." But that would have just been a publicity stunt/ art project and probably a waste of everyone's time.

What I really don't accept are the arguments that you can't complain/your opinion is invalid if you don't vote. That's nonsense. I've always respected non-voters opinions, or at least considered them as as valid as mine. I would hope people will give me the same respect now I've jumped ship. People make choices and people have lives, dividing us all up by these strange lines of validity is a way of covering up reality, of marginalising people from the debate, often the people most effected by politics.

At the moment I see no real difference between the three main parties. The greens in Brighton either lack the power or deep down the intention, to challenge the dominant "we must cut everyone to shit" policy. (Here are two links to show you what I'm talking about: Link 1 / Link 2) If there is no real difference between your options why should you carry on voting? Voting is only relevant if you have alternatives to vote for! You can disagree with my take on it, that's fine, you can argue/educate me in the ways that the parties are different, but you cannot tell me that I can't moan or object to what I see. Minimising and dismissing dissent is something that happens in dictatorships and if you are advocating democracy by using the tactics of dictatorships you really need to take a good look at yourself.

I'm afraid I just don't believe in voting enough anymore. I don't think it will change anything significantly. I don't think my vote has ever really counted. And if it has then it has led to unintended consequences such as a coalition government that is attacking this country and its people with its policies. That is on my hands because I voted for the Lib Dems because they promised proportional representation and had other policies I approved of. Sure, I generally don't agree with them but I thought I was being pragmatic, going for the least worst option. But I was actually just being naive.

It makes me sad that I feel this way. And I understand why others would choose to vote. I don't judge anyone for their choices. We're all just trying to make sense of things. To do what we feel is best. Or not. Either way everyone is getting through life in whatever way they can. Vote Boris. Vote Ken. Believe that your vote matters. Maybe you're right. Maybe things will get better. Maybe our electoral system is fit for purpose. Maybe one party is mildly better than another. Maybe one party is massively better than another. Maybe the underdog will win the race. Maybe an independent will be able to change things. Who can say. Not me.

But my gut tells me it's all pointless. And I don't want to engage with it anymore. Casting my vote makes me feel dirty. I don't like touching this thing that doesn't seem about choice or ideology. It just maintains the power structure. It just keeps the rich rich. It just keeps on.

I'll carry on my (pathetically rare) activism. Maybe I'll get big enough balls someday to fight consistently for my principals rather than letting making art and trying to enjoy life get in the way. Or maybe the situation will become so dire that I will no longer have a choice. Fight for change or live in tyranny and all that. I'm not saying I'm a good person. I should do more.

But whatever I should do, one thing I won't do, is vote.