Sir Ken Robinson: when Herbert meets Ken, what an afterlife that will be.

Sir Ken Robinson’s recent death has prompted much reflection and sadness across the world from artists, teachers, thinkers and politicians alike.  He’s been a hugely influential figure for so many of us who have been cultivating the arts and cultural education estate over the last 50 years, and it’s impossible to overturn any stone in the garden, rearrange the shrubbery or repave the patio without noticing the impact and influence that Ken, now one of the Great Gardeners in the sky, would have had on that contribution to our educational horticulture.

Many of us owe a huge debt to him for the wisdom, generosity of spirit and sheer good humour he has showed us whilst tending the estate.

My own testimony to him goes back to when I was studying for my PhD at the University of Hull, when I met him at a teachers conference in Stockport in August 2006 to talk about his history in art education: where he started, what he continued and where it was heading.

Whilst he had a long history of advocating for arts education, it was perhaps his work as Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) with its publication of All Our Futures Creativity, Culture and Education in 1999 and the subsequent development and implementation of the Creative Partnerships programme in 2002, when many of us felt the full magnetic force of what a Ken Robinson vision of what a creative education could look like.

Whilst you can trace a direct genealogical lineage from his book, Learning Through Drama with Maggie Tate in 1977, to  the Gulbenkian Foundation’s The Arts in Schools report in 1982, no-one could have reasonably foreseen the marked change of trajectory that Ken would go on to take between 1982 and 1999 with the publication of All Our Futures.

 His strategy was to re-configure artists in schools projects into a more ambitious programme of creativity and cultural development in which creativity was disconnected from an arts education agenda and placed within the wider context of creativity, teaching and learning. This may sound oddly familiar to those of us who are following the recent Durham Commission’s work into Creativity and Education and their visions for quietly rearranging Ken’s horticultural revolutionary idealism, but I’ll let that pass for the moment.

From initially arguing in 1982 that a repositioning of arts education in schools was essential to contributing to  a holistic, humanistic education, Ken found himself arguing in 1997 for a programme which, in reducing the significance of the arts and the artist in creativity and cultural education, was purposefully designed to appeal to government ministers who were anxious to ensure that the programme could not be interpreted as being the result of successful lobbying by an articulate arts constituency.

In an interview with me, Ken referred to a complex political context shaping the work of NACCCE and its production of All Our Futures:

I read this paper to him (David Blunkett)…  he said we would like to do this…  I was saying why don’t we get a group together to advise you   on what would be involved in a systematic  approach to creativity  in the school system given how important this is… but he didn’t want to go down in history as Gradgrind…. he wasn’t comfortable with the Chris Woodhead thing…  it was cramping his style … he said Chris (Smith) was very interested in this too …  you tell us how this might work… who would you like on the group… So that’s how it came about…. I put the proposal together to make it happen…  it just seemed to me that there was a historic opportunity here ….  my own personal line of thinking  has been…  a continuing opening of the agenda further out… my interest began in drama… but I always felt that drama was part of a bigger picture … so it became arts in schools…  but all the things I’d been writing about personally…  had always persuaded me that there were powerful synergies between the disciplines… but also if you look at what was happening in the theory of science … and especially the  cognitive sciences and theories of mental representation and  meaning making, you don’t have to look around long to  see synergies between  science technology  and the arts  – I also knew … that  the people who worked in science and maths were just as pissed off about what was happening in their disciplines…  they were feeling boxed in by these strategies and so on….  as soon as (Tony) Blair started to talk about creativity, I thought this was great…. but you can’t talk about the arts for long without saying creativity and culture, not really…  I also knew that….  if we’d gone to David Blunkett or Blair then in 97, and said this won’t do, you’re marginalising the arts again, we need a big arts initiative, I know they would have said not just now, we’re doing the economy…. we’ve got so much on, go and talk to Chris (Smith)…  I knew instinctively this just wasn’t the way to go – creativity was a  portal for all of us to go through…. so I didn’t write a paper about the arts, I wrote  a  paper on creativity… this was just the right thing to do politically because…   this was what they were concerned about:  what they didn’t know was what to do about it….  and they didn’t know what they were throwing away in the process – they were killing arts programmes all over the country at the time…. It seemed a much better strategy rather than saying…. you’ve got a problem, you’re killing the arts… more than that, it was an opportunity to get around the same table not just artists  but scientists, business leaders, economists….  that then is irresistible; if you show this is actually a  common argument  and a big argument and that the arts  are four square with the sciences and technology….  creativity seemed to be the portal  we could all go through…we could all get that… people got the economic argument…   it was a way of recasting it… so in a way….  All Our Futures is in its own way the arts in schools projected onto a much bigger canvas…

You can hear that interview here.  It’s not broadcast quality but his insights and humour shine through – and they tell us a lot about what Ken was faced with in attempting to revolutionise our educational landscape.

Ken’s allusion to creativity as a portal through which disparate educational and disciplines might step, in order to counteract the effects of an ever-prescriptive national curriculum and increasing performativity driven managerialism in is as relevant today as it was back in 1999, and even earlier.

Both All Our Futures and The Arts In Schools  trace their lineage to Half Our Future, a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published in 1963 and chaired by John Newsom, which, in its turn pays homage to the work of Herbert Read and his 1957 conference report for the Joint Council for Education through Art, Humanity, Technology and Education where H.J.  Blackham concluded:

 We believe that neither the contribution of the arts to general education, nor the place of general education in the national life has yet been properly recognised, and we want to form a body of enlightened opinion drawn from all walks of life which will bring general public opinion to share our conviction and see our vision of the role of the arts in general and the role of general education in the life of our industrial mass society.

 Remember that this was in 1957, not 2020. And if you want to dig up the lawns even more, you can find the work of Caldwell Cook  with The Play Way – perhaps the first book on drama in education  – arguing in much the same vein at the height of the first world war in 1917:

A social revolution of some kind will be necessary in England after the declaration of peace on the continent; for even supposing some fair principle is established by force of arms, it has still to be wrought into a living practice by right education and good government.  For many of us the greater war is  yet to come.

The creativity and cultural education agenda isn’t new and its call to action continues to reverberate across the decades.  We might ask ourselves why we need to keep making those calls to action and why there seems to be a permanent deafness to its rhetorical powers.

During my studies, I captured my understanding of Ken’s work in a paper entitled ‘When Herbert Met Ken: the 100 Languages of Creativity’.  It’s central conceit is that of a thought experiment written in the spirit of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties in which some contemporary thinkers on creativity and culture – ie Ken Robinson and many others, in particular Sir Herbert Read – are brought together to examine the impact that Ken’s work has had.  You can read the paper here.

Whilst they never did actually meet, if there is to be an afterlife then at least Ken will be able to meet Herbert and have it out with him, fully reassess the impact that their work, and the work of those before and after them have had and plan for something better.

Their new visionary cultural landscapes may not be something we will see in our lifetimes, but landscape artists and gardeners move in mysterious ways so you can be sure that we will continue to feel the effects of Sir Ken’s work into the next century and beyond.

Poetry on the Hoof: The (rail) road to Barra

ALL TOGETHER NOW LADS!

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you want from a
Wind farm blade.

We’re all going on a beer hunt lads!
From hanging town, brief encounters,
To Holke hang out, submariner sheds,
We’re getting our names up in those causeway lights!

HEYSHAM HIGH HOPES

Spot the jogging bishop with a mitre on a Sunday!
We’re talking rhubarb triangle with legs to spare,
A mammoth onion off the old green road.

They’ll split the atom here Bob in the years to come,
There’ll be lock downs, sirens,
Ever Ready for us, the pervasive threat.

Heysham 1, Heysham 2
It’ll be a football score Bob
In the years to come, when we get home.

One goes down, the other goes up
Two little boys Bob, that’s what they’re like,
Seismically protected to Gas Mark 7.

But there’s no more time for:
Haff netting salmon
in the skinny dipping Lune;

No more time for:
Sticking toffee pud
Up the old girls duff.

Cos we’re heading out to Barra,
Prepping for the Somme,
And all her sail in her.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you need from a
Wind farm blade.

ARNSIDE’S HUNTER GATHERERS

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
A very long way indeed Bob,
You’ll be needing your khaki trousers ,
and a hat to shield you from the blaze.

Hats with fascinators fascinating,
Travel hunters hunting and
Heath and safety instructing:
Don’t forget your shorts.

Don’t forget your sun cream.
Don’t forget to write son,
We’ve got your Grand-dad round at Christmas
He’ll want to see you standing

Arnsider,
Tamesider,
Wearsider,
Humbersider;

Bloody Merseysiders, Scouse not English?
(Always kicking off in their socks and shades,
A disgrace to king and country,
Just who are they trying to kid Brian?)

Scouse lads! Manx lads!
We’re all in this together lads
Cockney lads! Toon lads!
Even Maccam lads can walk on the Kents Bank waters!

Climbing over ledges,
Diving down in gorges,
Geo-physical, geo-logical,
Geo-temporal, neo-natal.

Head line shock,
Culture block.
Road up ahead,
Detour to the Humphrey Head.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you earn from a
Wind farm blade.

FURNESS FEARS

Grange over the sands,
Wind over the waters,
Steam over the causeway,
Fog on the time and we lose our way;
Lights up ahead and we shield our eyes
From the light on the horizon.

Don’t be daft Bob,
It’s just the moon on the river,
No need to stress, no need to sweat,
It’s just another brick in a wall.
No dark lions in the wardrobe,
No more air girls on the dole.

Ulverston oh Ulverston,
I still see your home fires burning,
I still see your water wheels turning,
I still hear your sea winds blowin’,
I still see the dark coal glowin’,
I was 21 when I left Ulverston.

Last wolf in England,
First turn on the left,
Water catches fire,
The air stops breathing,
But we dig deep down for leading lights
Tractors turning, gas flame burning, submarine yearning.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you covet ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

BARROW IN FURNACE

Cor strike a light!
Blow me down!
If ever I cross this side of town
I’m dead, I’m gone,
A shadow of my former self.

The nuclear dump,
The ever present hump,
Of the guy in the trench,
Standing doubled over the stench
Of the lads in the earth
And the girls in the air,
Waving, waving farewell, adieu, auf wiedersehen,
To their boys on a train sliding into town.

Pink Shap granite, Pink Shap granite
Archaeological dig in bullet rich sand;
Turbine, turbine,
Slicing up the seas in a frenzied fit of
Fission, fusion,
Grasping the cushion of a nuclear safety net of
Caste iron furnace, caste iron furnace,
Grenades to launch ten thousand ships to pieces.

It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding,
Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task, but I’ll be back by Christmas”
We’re all in this together Bob,
It was like this way back when Bob,
Digging our trenches into the heat of the night.

Guiding lights in Barrow lands.
Trig towers point to trig points in the ground.
Landing lights in the estuary guide boats by.
Staging posts act as half way stops mid river.
Help us navigate this wilderness.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade
Everything you ever loved ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

Give Us This Day: a Toast to GB Cafe, Nottingham

GB in name, Great Breakfasts and more besides in nature.

The concept of Great Britain or GB in these Brexit fuelled times can be a particularly contentious one for many people, opening up as it does questions of nationality, culture and identity. There’s nothing quite like debates about food and who eats what and why and when. What we don’t eat exercises us as much as what we do.

The beauty of the GB cafe in Sneinton Market is its tolerance for a wide selection of tastes. It has a diverse offer of meals at some very satisfying prices and in an atmosphere which is warm and welcoming, if not a little heavy on the GB theme. Big pictures of London are all very well in London, but in Nottingham it would be great to see something a bit more of a Nottingham focus – which isn’t about Robin Hood.

But it’s a real find down in the up and coming Sneinton Market area and something to visit at any time of day.

Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to GB Cafe in Nottingham.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here

Give Us This Day: a Toast to Toast at Gray’s in Leicester

What’s for breakfast?
Tea and toast? Well…
Fry up? Er…
Organic muesli and yoghurt? Hmm.. not sure.

All of the above plus lavish helpings of the most idiosyncratic contemporary music around complete with references to Delia Derbyshire, Kevin Coyne, Flaming Lips and all points bezerk? Ah yes, that’s for me, definitely.

If you’re one of those people who need an aural fix in the morning alongside their habitual brew, then Gray’s is for you. Snuck in off one of the main precinct streets in the City of Leicester, right in the heart of its cultural quarter, Gray’s is open from 8.30 and is guaranteed to open up your sound and taste buds from the off and get you in the swing for the day.

It’s a heartening change to the diet of greasy spoons and predictable chains that are scattered through the rest of the city and consequently is one of those businesses which defines Leicester’s character. And you get a decent bacon barm into the bargain.

My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to Toast at Gray’s in Leicester.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here

Stories on W(h)alls: Erika Fuchs Haus, Museum für Comic und Sprachkunst, Schwarzenbach.

“This is a fictional country isn’t it?”
“No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet.”

My mum, daughter and I had just arrived in Schwarzenbach to visit the Erika Fuchs Haus, named after my god mother and my mum’s aunt, Erika Fuchs, who used to send me ten Deutsche Marks annually for my birthday which was quite a tidy sum for a youngster back then.

In those days I was completely oblivious to her work and much more inclined to follow The Beano. But I was rapidly brought up to speed some 50 years later when being introduced to the museum by its head, Dr. Alexandra Hentschel, and private collector, Gerhard Severin.

After being introduced to a multimedia history of comic stories and graphic novels in a darkened studio, a side door opens and a bright green gallery of the country of Entenhausen and all the Disney characters greets you in a sunny, shiny green lively reveal which made us all go ‘wow’ in unison.

Gerhard showed us an interactive map of Entenhausen which looked simultaneously plausible and impossible and which prompted my question of whether or not Entenhausen was fictional. His response of “No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet” struck me as the perfect riposte to those of us who struggle with whether stories are fictions, whether fictions are facts, whether facts are fictions, and all those impossible questions about what constitutes real worlds, unreal worlds, truths and falsehoods.

It’s also a great antidote to those who tell you, in these post-Brexit times of ‘There is No Alternative‘ in the UK, that there is a very real, viable and tangible alternative: we just don’t know where it is yet.

 

As well as enjoying the museum we were also fortunate to encounter the stories of the stained glass windows in the restaurant of our accommodation, the Hotel Strauss in Hof.  They provided a comic contrast to Erika’s work, simultaneously conjuring up the work of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and playing against the religious symbolism of the Whall windows I’ve been visiting across the UK.

Many personal and family stories revealed themselves over the following days and helped place various pieces of the missing family jigsaw into the relevant slots in the bigger picture: whether they are actually truth or fiction is an ongoing question which will require a few more visits to Schwarzenbach and its homage to the work of my mysterious god mother and Great Aunt, Dr. Erika Fuchs neé Petri.

Tony Hippolyte: The Black 007 – James Blonde, Licenced to Spill

I met Tony back in 1993 when he came up to Liverpool from London to reignite his acting and directing career in the theatre. I was struck immediately by his energy and passion for his work. I hadn’t seen him in Absolute Beginners, or fully understood the iconic status he had as a result of his appearance in that film, but when I saw him on stage in front of me, there was no doubt that we had a truly original talent here which needed to find the right channels to express itself.

We worked together first on a new play I had written for part of a new theatre writing season at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre back in 1993. It was called Hunting the Dead Daughter and was a macabre story about a young girl being rejected by her father to such an extent that she was born old and regressed to the womb at her death. It was heavy duty stuff and Tony played the role of the demonic father with a frightening intensity. He showed me how good actors don’t just read text, they wrestle it off the page and scare it into physical existence: and if he had heard me say that, he would have shouted out that out-size Tony-laugh in a way only he could.  HA! he would have shouted. HA!

After that project – directed by Clare McColgan incidentally, who went on to be CEO of the Liverpool Capital of Culture – we kept in touch and toyed with many ideas about some further collaboration but it wasn’t until some friends and I had set up a new film company, Latent Productions, that Tony really came into his own.

Together, years before Idris Elba was on the scene, we proposed that the next James Bond should be a black man; and that the best black man to play him would of course be Tony Hippolyte.

There was only one problem with this proposition: none of us had a clue about how to get Tony in front of the casting agents. And even if we had, we thought it was unlikely that Tony would have got a look in.

But undeterred, we soldiered on with the idea until he hit upon the brilliant idea that the project would be a cartoon and that he would provide the voice of the new, black James Bond: or as Tony put it: “The Black 007 – James Blonde, Licenced to Spill”.

Before too long, he had invented a crazy new James Blonde world with his usual manic energy. He saw Blonde living in an International Garden Centre who would, every morning, leap off his bed with abandon and karate chop his way to breakfast, clicking his fingers every step of the way. Rather than the traditional Vodka Martini, Tony’s James Blonde was a committed Kristall drinker: which probably accounted for the crazy characters that inhabited this world.

They included Q (the sssssttutttering professor); Bloch (the bald baddy about to let forth a plague of mechanical gnats which would defoliate Europe unless his mad demands were satisfied) and of course the ‘Blonde girl’ called Honey (named not because of her blonde hair, charming personality or physical attributes – but because she tended to stick to people, like glue, often outstaying her welcome into the bargain.)

fester

Bloch: a villain from James Blonde 007: Licensed to Thrill (thanks to Tony Ealey)

And Tony being Tony, he quickly came up with some memorable ‘James Blonde’ quotes which we were convinced would soon make it into popular culture. Quotes like:

“Why do you roll a dice if you didn’t wanna bet?”

“I’ve never met an institution that never looked after itself”

“She loves me. It’s just a matter of time.”

“I taught myself to survive and don’t you forget it.”

And many, many more.

Sadly, Tony’s Black 007 never made it beyond the idea stage and a few scribbled notes on the backs of fag packets and their virtual equivalent.  Tony and I went our separate ways: him to Skelmersdale, and me eventually to Nottingham: and now it looks like he’ll be taken to rest at his final resting place in St Lucia (hence the photo at the top of this text), whilst I move onto my next chapter in Leicester.

But I’ll never forget his enthusiasm, talent and energy: it provided me with some unforgettable times in Liverpool and who knows? Perhaps some-one out there might like to breath some life into the work one of our original thinkers and actors: Tony Hippolyte, the Black 007. James Blonde, Licenced to Spill.

RIP Tony Hippolyte, 12 May 1958 – 17 May 2016

Coming Closer to Home: weeding out cultural stereotypes.

“Look what I’ve got!” Eamon triumphantly pulled out a glass sugar dispenser from the inside of his voluminous flak jacket. “It’s from the hotel!” His acquisition was met with near-universal approval in the packed minibus of 15 young trainees and not so young tutors.  Anything that could be liberated from the German hotel was fair game it seemed and if this meant the relocation of a sugar dispenser to a new home in Liverpool, then so be it. This was just one more way of settling the score,  after their national football team had beaten us at penalties in the World Cup the previous year.

The approval was not quite universal though as a few of us in the minibus thought that the liberation of a sugar bowl by a young Scouser (particularly a young Scouser who has just been on a week’s cultural programme which involved  arguing that stereotypes were terrible things, and that he, along with many others of us in the minibus, had had enough of being stereotyped as bin robbers) just reinforced the stereotyping he had been vociferously campaigning against all week.

Thankfully, the irony was not lost on anyone and the journey continued soberly through to Belgium where we found ourselves driving the wrong way around the Belgian Grand Prix Race track in Spa Francorchamps before our map reader realised he’d been holding the map upside down and soon put us back on the right track for Antwerp.

Eamon offered his immediate apologies and did the right thing when he got home by posting the sugar dispenser back to the hotel from whence it came with a profuse apology.

Stereotypes are a kind of cultural weed: easily established and infuriatingly difficult to get rid of. They not only affect our own preconceptions of how ‘the other’ behaves, but also shape how others’ preconceptions of us reinforces our own ignorance.

Our minibus trip from Liverpool to Trier may not have fully transformed those young people’s perceptions of ‘the other’, they did at least get a glimpse of how ‘the other’ looked at them.  And one hotel at least got its sugar dispenser returned.

Coming Closer to Home: after the communism…

I’ve often wondered whether EU funded adult education projects are not just about their alleged subject matter – but much more about sharing languages across our difficult and contentious continent.

A few years ago July we participated in an EU funded programme, Forests for All. As well as taking a day trip around the Mersey Forest (starting at Wirral Waters where there were no forests at all and ending up in Delamere Forest where there was plenty to look up to), many participants also massively improved their language skills, testified to best perhaps by the teacher, Alina, from Romania.

We asked her to write a short story in her own words about her experiences on the project and this is what she wrote.

This is not just a story. It is a part of my life. In high school I’ve studied the Russian language for 4 years. Our country back then was dominated by the communism and Ceausescu forced the students from most of the schools to study this language instead of English.

After the communism, the English language appeared everywhere: on TV, on the radio, in the cinema… I was fascinated by this new sound and I learned it all by myself from movies and especially from music.

For 20 years, I have never spoken English, never! I was able to understand it, but I haven’t had the courage to actually say a word. I tried to learn it from books, but I never passed the second lesson; I preferred to learn it only from what I heard.

In this project, in October 2011, it was the first time when I spoke English in public. I can’t explain where my courage came from. For me and mostly for my Romanian colleagues, it was a big surprise, one of the biggest of my life.

You, all my partners from this project, you didn’t laugh, you have encouraged me. I know I make a lot of mistakes, my accent is wrong, but you never stopped me and this means a lot to me.

Thank you for your patience, for listening to me; I’ve learned a lot from you and each one of you is important to me perhaps only for a word or for a joke or for a new expression. You’ve been my English teachers, the best I could have had.

When Nick asked me to write this story, I was terrified! I don’t know if it’s correct, but it is my real story, a story from the bottom of my heart and it could be the story of any Romanian girl who found from nowhere the trust in her own forces and mind.

There’s more of these stories to hear about in the months coming up to the UK Brexit referendum.  Please feel free to share them here.

Coming Closer to Home: The EU ‘Jolly’.

“It’s like you’ve got to get to know each other at 60mph!” Monica wryly observed as we all piled into a minibus at midnight at Vilnius Airport. We were truly a motley crew: Brits, Portuguese, Greeks all gathering for an EU funded Adult Learning Project in the Creative Arts with a couple of stray Estonian old farm ladies who looked like they’d taken the wrong bus in Tallinn and now had found themselves in an international minibus which was tentatively negotiating the ice and the slush out of the airport.

But Monica was right: by the time the minibus had driven us out of the airport and towards our destination in what felt like Outer Mongolia ( even if it was Inner Lithuania), we had all become best mates ever, swapping stories of family, football, long kept secrets we never thought we would ever tell anyone, and remarking on how beautiful Lithuania looked in the black of night when the conversation showed signs of flagging.

EU mobilities – which is what we were all examples of on that icy Vilnius night, albeit semi-comatose examples – are strange phenomena. You fly hundreds of miles, get driven to some town miles from any international airport at the wrong time of day; arrive in a hotel after the bar has shut and all the local restaurants have closed for the foreseeable future; check into a room which hasn’t been occupied in the foreseeable past; struggle to find any broadband connection and only then realise you’ve forgotten your international plug adapter. So you settle back for 20 minutes of Eastern European TV before the bling and razzamatazz of Polish sausage adverts starts to get tiresome.

You observe at 3am after two hours of no sleep that you were, in the parlance of those back in the office, ‘on a jolly’ so you may as well try and damn well jolly yourself up before the first formal session starts just after the crack of dawn (which is some 7 hours away given that we are in the northern most reaches of the northern hemisphere at this point in time).

‘Being on a jolly‘ according to those back in the office consists of dry martinis in the hotel bar at 6pm before a luxurious 3 course dinner with erudite, witty, charming, intelligent, attractive and sophisticated colleagues who were fascinated in you, fascinating to be with and whose fascinators never stopped fascinating all week long, come rain or hail, sleet or snow. In actual fact you’d be lucky to find a kindred spirit who was equally unfascinated by the porridge the hotel would serve up at breakfast – and they’d be lucky to find you dressed in anything more fascinating than what you had set off in from the UK just 24 hours earlier.

That’s another aspect of the EU mobility: time doesn’t merely stop. It stretches, shrinks and distorts in ways Einstein could never have foreseen. What happened yesterday seems like it happened a month ago; what happened just five minutes ago gives you an eery sense of deja vue; and plans for the day after tomorrow when we’re all due to go on a social trip to an obscure European forest may as well be planned for the turn of the century.

Our planning faculties desert us in those early hours of the mobility and it’s all we can do to find our bedroom after breakfast, never mind consider the challenges of getting on another minibus with our new found stranger-friends over two days into the future.  That’s 48 hours away! 2880 minutes! 172,800 seconds! A whole life time of generations! Best get my laptop switched on and look like I have some important emails to attend to before the work starts in earnest.

And we are all very earnest, our gang of stranger-friends whose new found friendships have been forged across the Byelorussian plains of Lithuania.  We had probably travelled along the same tracks that the Cossacks would have ridden hell for leather over from Russia, riding roughshod over farmers, labourers and land workers up to their knees in shit dealing with the latest manifesto from the commissar and the scientists of the Ukraine, driving on to commit various atrocities before hammering it back to St Petersburg, horses snorting, their large heavy bear coats steaming with the exertion and pulling their spoils along behind them in ramshackle sleds, desperate to get back over the borders before the Poles could catch up with them and exert their bloody  revenge. Those Europeans certainly knew how to invade and annex their neighbours property, land and chattels in fascinating ways.

Whilst bouncing along in a decrepit minibus with 12 stranger-friends didn’t quite have the romanticism that marauding Cossacks did, we were comfortable in our knowledge that our kind of European mobility is less about pillaging strangers and more about turning them into longer term friends who have one thing in common: none of us could sleep the night before and we all got bored with the adverts for Polish meatloaf.