Sunday, 15 May 2016

Just Like Honey?

This week I have been pre-occupied by bees. On Wednesday I went to a mesmeric live performance of Be: One at Sonos Studios in Shoreditch. This is part of a Wolfgang Buttress project  which seems to have developed far beyond what he even imagined at its inception - indeed at the Q&A that preceded the performance he seemed barely able to comprehend that a project he started with bee expert Dr Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University has led to a booking at Glastonbury  this year and culminates (or maybe it will develop even further, who knows!) with an installation of The Hive at Kew Gardens this summer.
Be One at Sonos Studios, 11 May 2016
The performance itself was magnificent - I bought the album earlier in the year via the brilliant crew at Caught by the River (CBTR) website and the album can be purchased via that link. CBTR was formed by Heavenly's Jeff Barrett and his friends, and to me the man is a touchstone for quality and has barely put a foot wrong over a distinguished career  - Be One is no exception. The album is a beauty, an intensely moving and immersive attempt to harness 40,000 bees, with their very specific communication modes including their 'begging signals', 'tooting' and 'quacking'. Their sound is amplified and complemented by some superb musicians including members of Spiritualised in what Buttress calls 'a dialogue between bee and human'.
Coincidentally, on a research visit to South Africa last year, along with my colleague Steve Greenfield, I was taken to a hive outside Potchefstroom near Johannesburg. Again this was a fascinating experience, and the rituals surrounding beekeeping, and the sound of the bees  as we opened the hive, was amazing. This got me thinking about keeping bees myself, and I couldn't fail to notice the higher levels of bee awareness that were emerging, see the work of the Honey Club for example. Some more research revealed that bees had been introduced to Regent Street for the first time by the Crown Estates in 2009 and this got me thinking about my University, the University of Westminster and perhaps one of the crown jewels of Regent Street, and bees.
As an urban Polytechnic, it appears we have never taught classes on beekeeping. This perhaps  is one of the few practically oriented courses we have not taught, as a view of our history would indicate. Those wishing to delve more deeply into this should look no further than the excellent series of publications published as part of the University History Project. Only this week our esteemable archivists tweeted that Vidal Sassoon studied hairdressing at our predecessor, the Regent Street Polytechnic.  We have apparently experimented with keeping bees at the University, but sadly it appears our efforts up at our Chiswick Sports Ground were met with vandalism and, so far, despite some interest in placing hives on flat roofs and spaces at our various buildings in the West End and beyond, we have had little success. I'm hoping that we can further explore the possibility of using the otherwise overlooked rooftop at Westminster Law School for this and will report back if this comes to fruition. One of my favourite photos of the Law School actually involves students pictured on the roof performing gymnastics, sometime around 1929, an activity now precluded by health and safety considerations, see below.

For now though, whilst this has got me thinking about bees in song and bees in popular culture (the more 1980s popular music literate will have picked up on the reference in the title to this blog) I'll sign off with an excerpt from an earlier performance of Be: One, a link to the whole album on spotify,spotify:artist:06kHjoBIuDUNyFBNBMoAC2 and, with a sense of circularity, the video for Just Like Honey.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Do you believe in magic? The re-emergence of the Regent Street Cinema

This month marked the long awaited rebirth of our wonderful cinema,  now renamed the Regent Street Cinema. For a long time for staff at the University it was known as The Old Cinema, and has had various names over the years, as will be clear when the book about this, The Magic Screen, is published in June 2015.  I was lucky enough to be involved with the book, and also have had some small involvement with the Cinema over the years in various guises, see for example some previous blog posts here and our exhibition Classified.  The last few years have seen things really develop apace - a lot of the credit for this must go to our Vice Chancellor - not only has he seen the Cinema as an important project in its own right but has really seen fit to celebrate our heritage, including fully supporting the Archive and our excellent archivists. This was something which had previously been under-acknowledged and utilised and they do some brilliant work -  see for example their excellent online exhibition on World War One and the Polytechnic and recent exhibition of gig posters. They have of course also been heavily involved in the Cinema redevelopment. The Cinema itself is a beauty ands hopefully lots of people will come to visit it. Obviously opening a single screen cinema in the West End, and one that whilst it is a commercial cinema also is heavily linked into the University's educational ethos, which undoubtedly makes it a challenge to programme. That said, the initial programme has been superb - eclectic and imaginative in equal measure, and credit must go to the cinema director, Shira MacLeod for this.

The opening night saw the premiere of Lambert and Stamp for example, with Terence Stamp giving a Q&A and in the days since the programme has constantly surprised. I was lucky enough to Chair a Q&A on excellent new film Bypass. Its a hard hitting and great film, and provoked a vehement discussion. There is certainly a political element to it, and the team behind it were very keen to ensure it was released before the election. As it happened we screened this a week after the election, and the Q&A commenced almost exactly a week after the polls had closed.

Bypass; theatrical poster
We were privileged to have Samm Haillay, the Producer; David Procter, the Director of Photography, and Noel McLaughlin, a media academic and massive supporter of the film in attendance, and the first question, based upon this post election scenario, elicited some passionate audience responses. In fact, we did not have much time for any of the other questions I had prepared (including some classics on genre bending, finance and a discussion of Director Duane Hopkin's father's statement that 'academics don't live in the real world, they are either mentally or sexually frustrated' that I was going to put to David and Noel, the 2 academics on the panel) and as much of the discussion was taken up with audience and panel thoughts on how the film fitted into this and some debate around who the audience for the film was and whether it could reach further. The consensus was that it was an important and passionate film that deserved, and needed, to be seen. The point was also made that it was beautifully shot and it was a privilege to have David in attendance although time constraints meant we could not drill down on this during the Q&A, but luckily we eventually found somewhere to carry on the discussion afterwards, nothwithstanding the big queue at the Social.

I'll post on the Cinema again as its journey continues, and really hope that as many people as possible get to visit this historic space and see some of the brilliant films we are screening. Also, try and catch Bypass  - whilst I read it as a film about hope, Samm wanted it to be seen as a call to arms, and reflecting on it again I can see this as a clarion call and a touchstone for a different sort of hope. I'll end this as the film does, with the quite marvellous Soldier On by Richard Hawley and with a thought for the late Chris Collins, to whom the film is dedicated.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

We are, astronomical, fans of alcohol: World War One and the deadly foe of drink

‘You are, astronomical, fans of alcohol’ 
(British Sea Power: Waving Flags)

1916 poster (courtesy IWM). Campaigns such as this helped reduce
alcohol consumption during World War One

Alcohol is deeply embedded in British culture and there have been numerous state, and other, responses to its control and regulation. However, as Philip Kolvin has noted in a key text in licensing law, ‘over the last half millennium, the political response to our national trait has been ever changing and contradictory’. Currently the provision of alcohol is largely governed by the Licensing Act 2003, but during World War One alcohol became a hot political topic. In particular, a key Government concern was that the war effort might be hampered by the abuse of alcohol. Shortly before War broke out the Licensing Act 1908 had in fact sought to regulate alcohol consumption but was not without its critics and large scale protests.  David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been a key figure in support of the 1908 Act, saw drink as particular problem once the war commenced;

‘We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink’ David Lloyd George quoted in Beer, The Story of the Pint
Lloyd George had actually started a campaign for people to take the pledge during the War, something that even King George V acceded to, stating that no alcohol would be consumed in the Royal household until the war was over.  Voluntary measures such as this were deemed to be insufficient however and a series of regulatory measures were enacted, these included the reduction in licensing hours and introduction of no-treating orders. The Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act 1914 received its royal assent at the end of August 1914. There had been many attempts at reducing drinking hours before 1914 but these really took root during World War One with the 1914 Act drastically curtailed drinking hours, allowing public houses to be open for a maximum of six hours per day and introducing a compulsory afternoon break in the areas of the country where it was operationalised. These restrictions largely persisted until passing of the Licensing Act 1988 first began the process of loosening these restrictions.

Another measure the Government introduced was the No Treating Order, introduced in October 1915. This meant that any drink ordered had to be paid for by the person to be supplied with the drink – effectively it was an ‘anti-round buying’ measure. The tradition of buying drinks for a group in rounds was a well established and popular one, although the Spectator felt this measure would ‘free hundreds of thousands of men from an expensive and senseless social tyranny’! The Government adopted other measures too, including the establishment of a central Liquor Control board with wide powers to regulate supply of liquor and trying to buy up a number of local breweries and constantly extending amounts of duty payable and attempting price control. These measures often were met with resentment, and sometimes satire as witnessed by Ernie Mayne the popular music hall performer, recording the song ‘Lloyd George’s Beer’, as can be heard here.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of blogs about the effect of World War 1 on law and popular culture, following a previous blog on the Polytechnic, law, popular culture and WW1, and one on thankful villages. Future ones will include pieces on censorship, court martials, spiritualism and intellectual property amongst other things, and if any readers have any ideas or would like to write a guest post, please get in touch. With luck, we will collate these and draw upon them and later provide the basis for some future developments at the Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Law, poetry and popular culture - to instruct and delight

Some months ago I blogged about poetry - in particular how poetry could be used to help stroke victims and included some recollections about my dad, who suffered two strokes. In that blog I talked about the fantastic work that Mancunian wordsmith Mike Garry does in this area. I returned to some of Mike's other work in a later post for my other blog Tickets of Distinction, entitled 'Manic on the Streets of Manchester',  which included some mid 1990s photos of yours truly among tales of Anthony H Wilson, the Manic Street Preachers and The Hacienda. I had been discussing various ideas with Mike during 2014, and in  December 2014 we were delighted to announce that Mike had agreed to join our Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture as a Writer in Residence.

First and foremost we are really excited to have an artist of Mike's calibre agreeing to come and work with us - we think this is the first time a Law School in the UK has created a link of this type (although would be interested to hear about others), and are really looking forward to seeing how this develops. Initial plans include work with Creative Writing students, some work with the archives, and we hope to announce the first of some public events run out of the Law School soon, but we have lots of ideas as to how this might develop.

When we first mooted Mike joining the Centre we started to look at the history of poetry at the University of Westminster, and also the link between law and poetry. Gibbons wrote, uncontroversially, that law is inconceivable without language, and Rachel Cohen for our own Entertainment and Sports Law Journal wrote, in a piece about incomprehensibility in music contracts, that despite Gibbon's claim; ' language has long been criticised for its idiosyncratic ambiguity'. This is a fair point - as a law student on a left leaning persuasion I came to law seeing it as a form of bourgeois mystification so Cohen's point certainly resonated with me. Even today much of what lawyers do is based around the ambiguities of language and nuances of interpretation. I started to do a little digging around law and poetry. I was aware from my work on Law and Film of some interest in this from the Law and literature movement, and a quick search through back issues of the journal Law and Literature sees reference made to Ovid, Larkin and Shelley (Percy not Pete) among others. I was more interested, however, in the power of poetry outside of the law rather than the approaches that appeared to have been taken in Law and Literature. During my (at this stage admittedly fairly basic) research I found this really nice  piece by Frank Pommersheim, a US Scholar, on 'Poetry, Law, & Poetry: Some Notes Towards a Unified Theory'. There were a few things in here that I really liked. He talks about how 'Poetry and law are both reports on human experience; reports from different angles with different means'. He goes on to set the two up as a series of binary oppositions...

'poetry is your mother; law your father'

'poetry wounds; law kills'

'poetry is blood, law is water'

'One brings union, the other disunion'

Now these are provocative and contestable statements and ones that, perhaps, Mike's work with us will cast some light upon. More importantly than that however, I think Mike's work with us will help us appreciate the scope, and power, of words. In terms of the University of Westminster's poetry pedigree - its fair to say its impressive and Mike's addition to our ranks only adds to this. The ever dependable Anna McNally in the Archives found lots of details of the history of poetry at Westminster for me. Ezra Pound apparently gave a series of lectures at the Polytechnic between 1909 and 1910, and the Archives hold a number of prospectuses along with other related documents on this. Other notable poets with links to the University include David Gascoyne, Menghistu Lemma, George Barker and Clive Sansom. My personal favourite that Anna referred me to is Louise Bagley who, whilst not specifically a poet,  was appointed Head of the School of Elocution at the Polytechnic, as we then were, in 1913. Even the idea of elocution seems faintly anachronistic today, but Louise Bagley was apparently a pioneer in 'the difficult art of expression through the medium of the voice'. She had a brilliant idea for a  course of 24 lectures in 1917 entitled 'Poets and Poetry of Today', the fee for which was 8/6 for the whole course or 1s for a single lecture! I love this idea, and we are hoping Mike will do something similar in terms of poetry for the public as part of his role, although we would hope to make this free and open access.

Anyway, Louise Bagley appears to have been extraordinarily well thought of. As her obituary in the Polytechnic magazine in August 1926 noted; 'Let those who try to follow in her footsteps  see to it that her work does not die, but lives'. In some small way the arrival of Mike Garry, a poet who acknowledges and celebrates the power of the word, helps ensure that her work and ethos does not die, but is reflected in the activities of the University in the twenty first century, and we are excited about the journey ahead.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Law, Popular Culture and World War One

In my recent post on Thankful Villages I mentioned the relationship between the law, World War One and popular culture. In fact  the entry of the United Kingdom to World War One on 4 August 1914 presaged a number of legal responses. In particular, four days after the War began the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 received its Royal Assent. The original Act  was very short and was amended a number of times during the War, including twice before 1914 was out. Indeed, the first amendment came barely two weeks after its commencement with the Defence of the Realm Act (No 2) 1914  and a series of other legislative provisions followed in its wake.

The powers conferred were wide ranging, the poster below, to be displayed at train stations across the land, illustrates the breadth of coverage here. 
Source: National Archive

Powers afforded to the Government included taking possession of land, requiring the removal of persons and property from specified areas and various controlling measures, including increased stop and search powers that all seem consistent with a state being at war. Some more seemingly bizarre powers included the need for a permit to keep homing pigeons and the outlawing of whistling, although these two had their specific rationales as to how they aided the war effort.

In terms of the intersection of the law with popular culture, a marked effect can be seen during the War. I will post again about some of these specific issues, but they include concerns around alcohol and censorship, but we also see the impact on areas such as sport, spiritualism and even intellectual property too.  As I say I’ll blog about these in due course, perhaps with some guest blogs from members of the Law School who have an interest in these areas. We also hope to develop this in a number of ways via the activities of the Centre of Law Society and Popular Culture and details will appear of these here in due course.

Finally I mentioned previously about the role of the University of Westminster in terms of  World War One. In 1914 we were known as the Regent Street Polytechnic, and our involvement was multi faceted, playing important roles both on and off the battlefield. On the Western Front members of the Poly were fighting for King and Country as members of the Polytechnic’s own Territorial Force regiment. At home the Poly played a vital role in recruiting, training, accommodating and rehabilitating soldiers, and fundraising in an endeavour to help the war effort and the aftermath. More details can be found via the online exhibition The Polytechnic and World War One, written by staff in our excellent Archives, and  well worth a read. For my next post I will look at the legal regulation of alcohol in World War One, any any other suggestions are most welcome. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Reasons to be thankful - Part 1

Rodney Stoke, a Thankful Village, painted by Darren Hayman
I recently became aware of the phrase  'thankful villages', and was surprised the concept had previously passed me by. Its a really evocative concept and phrase, apparently coined by the journalist Arthur Mee, to denote villages in England and Wales from which all members of the armed forces returned during World War One. I became aware of them via some work Darren Hayman is currently undertaking. I love lots of Darren's work, and recently commissioned him to paint our dog Tilly who sadly passed away during 2014. and was really pleased with the result;

Darren has been visiting thankful villages and painting these too, and given the interest in World War One for members of our Centre, I did a bit of digging about these thankful, or blessed villages. Mee apparently originally identified 32 such villages in his book Enchanted Land, but some excellent detective work by Thorpe, Morris and Morgan on the Hellfire Corner website suggested in 2014 that there were in fact 54 such settlements. It appears in fact that many villages were not keen to draw attention to themselves in this way and kept a low profile, certainly some of the memorials are very low key. A piece by Christopher Middleton in the Telegraph notes the tension between celebrating survival and lamenting death, noting a very simple memorial in St Mary's Churchyard at Middleton on the Hill in Herefordshire - a lantern with an inscription including the following observation 'At evening, it shall be light'. You can see some of Darren's pictures of these Thankful Villages  if you follow him on twitter, and maybe try #ThankfulVillages as a search. As the various events and initiatives marking the Great War develop, certainly it seems these villages will become more high profile, notwithstanding the unease and ambivalence that sometimes exists about 'celebrating' them. We hope to run an event soon looking at the impact of World  War One on law and popular culture, and will post details here if we do. As a sort of precursor, we are showing the film Paths of Glory in February 2015 as part of our Film Matters series, and our Archivists have produced an excellent online exhibition of the Polytechnic and World War One (before becoming the University of Westminster, we were previously known as the Regent Street Polytechnic and Polytechnic of Central London amongst other guises).  Hopefully we will have more developments to report on soon, but in the meantime here is a short BBC video, and have a look at some of the links above.  

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Sport, South Africa and Education

Our view at Newlands for South Africa vs Australia
Whilst I have not blogged here for a while, I have been busy elsewhere with other blog postings such as this one on the Disobedient Objects exhibition for The Justice Gap, but a recent trip to South Africa  has prompted me to write again. This was the third time I have visited South Africa, all as part of ongoing research that Steve Greenfield and I are involved with, in conjunction with colleagues at the Education and Human Rights in Diversity Unit (Edu-HRight) at North-West University. As usual, the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and useful, although not without its thought provoking moments.

The research we have been involved with has revolved primarily around the roles of sports coaches and organisers, including those in Schools, and looks at a variety of issues surrounding this including the vexed problem of liability and the fear of litigation. We published a piece about one aspect of this in the Journal of Juridical Science in 2011 and are currently working on a number of new ideas. This trip was a pretty packed one. It began with very fruitful meetings with, amongst others, Marius Franken, the man who trains referees for the South African Rugby Union and Pierre Viviers, a Medical Doctor from the University of Stellenbosch who is heavily involved with medical issues affecting South African rugby. This was followed immediately with a session delivering a workshop to around 75 coaches and educators in Stellenbosch that went down very well.  This was the second joint workshop we had delivered, this one in the Cape following one previously delivered in North West Province in 2012. The Cape is a fantastically beautiful area, but some of the issues that still exist were starkly evident on the door to the school...
We took in a trip to the South African Rugby Museum the next day. This is down by the beautiful Waterfront area  and as you would expect in a country as mad about sport as South Arica, and particularly its rugby, it provided a very impressive and thorough take on the history and development of South African rugby.

To its credit, it also tackled full on some of the more contentious issues around sport in South Africa, and particularly the effect upon sport of the apartheid regime. The history and background to the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign, something that Steve Greenfield and I had written about in the past - see Enough is Enough. Race Cricket and Protest in the UK, was covered along with details of the broader sporting boycotts. The museum visit was a great hors d'oeuvre before a trip to Newlands to see South Africa take on Australia for a game far tighter than the close scoreline would suggest. 

Upon leaving Cape Town we visited NWU at Potchefstroom, delivering some guest lectures at a sports colloquium arranged for B.Ed students training to be physical education teachers, and attending a very promising meeting with James Stoffberg,  the Vice President of SARU, about how our research might be of use to them. Hopefully we will be able to report on some exciting developments here in due course. Our hosts JP Rossouw and Kassie Karstens looked after us superbly as always, and the Sports Village where we stayed in Potchefstroom was superbly equipped. This was the training base for the Spanish team during the World Cup in 2010 and we were delighted to discover that the room we stayed in was in fact used by Javi Martinez during that time - something we tweeted about and, amazingly, he retweeted this! So all in all a busy and fruitful trip, lots of useful work done and lots of promise for the future.