I am a biographer working now on the story of British manufacturing. These are my thoughts on this subject and a number of other topics including my role as chair of the Lincoln Book Festival and former chair of Lincoln Drill Hall. My other blogs http://williamsmithwilliams.co.uk talk about my biography of the man who discovered Charlotte Brontë, and http://www.philwilliamswriter.co.uk about my books on how the army was supplied in the world wars, Dunkirk to D Day, Ordnance and War on Wheels
On the anniversary of some women first exercising their right
to vote, I was privileged to see two pieces of drama Made in Lincoln
The first, The World at their Feet, I had seen before at
Lincoln Drill Hall in November. This evening we saw the final scene without
props or theatre lighting. Maggie and I were moved to tears, as we had been
first time round. It was the combination of a story that mattered, great
writing, great direction and great acting. This was a performance by a
community theatre company, The Lincoln Mystery Players of a piece written and
directed in Lincoln. It was so powerful. I have no doubt at all that the writer
Stephen Gillard, director Sam Miles and a number of the players are heading for
The second, The Forgotten Suffragette, I am ashamed to say I
didn't hear first time round when it was broadcast on BBC Radio Lincolnshire.
It was acted by Phoebe Wall-Palmer and Rachel Baynton, ably supported by
theatre students and the incomparable Simon Hollingsworth. This fine piece of
writing was also Made in Lincoln by Proto-type Theater working with the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre. If World at her Feet
moved my emotions, the Forgotten Suffragette set my mind racing.
It matters that those setting out on a career have a place to perform and hone their art. It made me think more deeply about my
role as chair of the Lincoln Arts Trust, whose activity is the promotion of
arts and culture principally through the care and running of Lincoln Drill
Hall. It made me ask, 'what really matters?' Is it popular professional
performance that plays to full houses, or do I need to dig a little deeper?
This last year I have witnessed full houses, not least the
wonderful talk given to an audience ranging in age from eight to eighty by
Michael Morpurgo as part of the Lincoln Book Festival and, of course, the BBCProms and the Soldier's Tale. I have also been swept away by Les Miserables
performed by Jamie Marcus Productions with no cast member over the age of
nineteen. I have seen new work, where we paid what we thought. I can't wait to
see the Panto, also by Jamie and Julie Marcus and produced with such high
performance values with actors who know their craft.
Yet, when I do dig deeper, I find that the Panto reaches far
more people than anything else and, through it, young people have their first
taste of theatre which can result in a lifelong love. Our CEO Chris Kirkwood
has written further on this.
Many young people find their own skills in our Fishtank
Theatre Group, now also being run at the YMCA on Tritton Road. Some take part
on the New Youth Theatre who take over the Hall for a week of performances each
year. We have our monthly disco run by and enjoyed by people with disabilities.
Saturday lunchtime is where people come to meet and eat whilst listening to
talented musicians. Three times a year, Saturday is also when Compassionate
Lincoln hold their Big Soup in support of community initiatives. There is the community performances, as well as World at her Feet, pieces by Common Ground Theatre , performances by the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra and the acclaimed Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival with their monthly concerts at the Hall.
In truth there is so much that matters.
Michael Morpurgo with Charlie Partridge - photography by Phil Crow
"Welcome to this evening's Prom at Lincoln Drill Hall"
Never in a million years did I imagine ever saying those words, yet on the evening of 4 August 2018, I did to a full house. But why Lincoln Drill Hall?
Introducing the broadcast afternoon performance, BBC Proms Director, David Pickard, explained that it came about through serendipity. The whole Proms season was commemorating the centenary of the end of WW1, David had always wanted to perform the Stravinsky's The Soldiers Tale and, following Hull last year, wanted to find a venue outside London. Lincoln Drill Hall fitted the bill perfectly as a well regarded arts centre with a flexible performance space and with a strong military history.
Petroc Trelawny, introducing the piece, explained that Stravinsky had collaborated with CF Ramuz to produce The Soldier's Tale inspired by Russian folk tales telling of a runaway soldier who sells his violin to the devil in exchange for a book that can predict his future.
It was the 4th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment for whom the Drill Hall was home. They were territorials, young men from a whole variety of walks of life, who came here to be available to serve King and Country. This Hall saw them drill, it saw them muster, it saw some return wounded.
In late July 1914 they were at their annual camp in Bridlington. It was there that the order came for them to return to the Drill Hall. They arrived on the morning of 4 August 1914 but were then sent home to await orders.
I am sure there was euphoria here that morning 104 years ago. Then in the afternoon there would have been silence…
We would love it if you could join us at Lincoln Drill Hall on Sunday 8 July at 7pm at the launch of an exhibition of work by Lincolnshire makers interpreting what one hundred years of some women getting the vote means to them. We will be joined by performance poet Gemma Baker.
You are invited to join us for lunch (soup of course!) and hear pitches from local people with big ideas for making a difference in our community.
The formula is simple: 5 x 5 x 5 - Buy a £5 ticket - Hear pitches of no-more than 5 minutes in length - Dig a bit deeper with 5 questions from the audience. Once all the pitches have been made, lunch will be served and audience members can discuss the ideas they’ve heard - which one will make the most impact? which is the most exciting? which do we want to support the most? Then we vote! The winning pitch will receive all the ticket money from today’s event to turn their idea into a reality.
“When local people invest in the enthusiasm of others, making a positive difference becomes so much easier.” - Steve Kemp, CompassionateLincoln.
The Big Soup is organised by CompassionateLincoln - a campaign to encourage community-led action in response to the challenges our city faces: https://vimeo.com/171755688
If you have a project for which you would like support please e-mail email@example.com
The Big Soup will be held at Lincoln Drill Hall on 16 June. If you would like to come along and vote, follow this link to tickets.
The Windrush generation, people with disabilities seeking benefits - actually anyone seeking benefits, people seeking asylum - they are all being met by an atmosphere heavy with nastiness.
Women going back to work part time after maternity leave find themselves discriminated against, often being required to do a full time job in their four days - or else nastiness.
People without homes having no option but to sleep on the streets, or else nastiness.
Where has this come from? Weren't we once a nation of warm hearted people?
Perhaps that is remembered through rose tinted spectacles, but surely something has changed.
If we look at each of the examples I have cited, they all have in common one base cause - the need to save money. Governments have gone to the electorate vowing to contain public expenditure, to save money. Ministers have instructed their senior civil servants, who in turn have passed the instruction down the line, each with underlying threats of nastiness. It is a massive abuse of power of a kind that Magna Carta has being fighting against for 800 years.
Saving money is essentially a negative activity and this negativity has seeped through to all parts of our society.
Older members of the indigenous population complain that their street or town is not what it was; there are now voices speaking different languages, skins of different colours - note: never people. They have cried out to politicians who have rushed to their aid with promises of reduced numbers.
How do you reduce numbers, but by setting targets expressed in numbers - it's obvious. Nastiness then follows as the targets crack the whip.
Some politicians reach for a simple solution: tax the rich, tax the evil corporations. It would go a small part of the way, but it could never bridge the gap. Corporations are of course owned by pension schemes, that is by us.
There is a solution, all of us paying more tax. We are after all the place where the blame should lie. We wanted less immigration, we wanted to pay less tax. We have made our bed of nails. The trouble is that it is others who have to sleep in it.
The 'Odeon' on Alderney from which the wartime army of occupation exercised their nastiness
Simon Jenkins rightly argues for our church buildings to be used for the broader benefit of local communities. The buildings could continue to to have part set aside for worship. However, he also suggests that they should come into public ownership, possibly paid for by local taxation.
I ask him to pause for thought.
I spent some twenty years working for the church, or do I mean Church, in one way or another. I got to know its organisation at local, diocesan and national levels. I met very many people who were striving to keep the Church, or do I mean church, going?
I found, over the years, many instances where church buildings were being used by local communities for concerts and plays. I found some in use as meeting places. I know of one certainly in use as the village post office.
Medieval churches are now generally sound buildings, but not always warm or dry. Adaption is often needed and that costs money. I say that the structures are generally sound and that is true for now because of the efforts made by congregations and dioceses aided by English Heritage and Lottery funding amongst others. It is only true for now, since maintenance has to be on going.
There is thus a significant cost attached to open and indeed closed churches, as Jenkins recognises.
A key question is how to pay.
In villages, my experience is that voluntary groups of Friends are very successful in attracting financial support from villagers who never go near the church for worship; it is their church. To interfere with this, by imposing local authority ownership or control, would I am sure be a strong disincentive. People like to give, but are not so keen on being taxed. Just witness the outcry caused by chancel repair liabilities.
The model that I have found works well in many size and type of community, but not everywhere.
Simon Jenkins is right to re-ignite this debate. At the very least we need to consider having an imperative placed on Dioceses to enable community use of church buildings.
I have a very old friend who is a committed Brexiteer and who has lived in Australia for the last forty years. I posted recently about my enthusiasm for the latest Churchill film, Darkest Hour. He responded with this comment:
I could not help comparing the courage of Churchill and the nation in facing up to an enemy from the east with the weak responses to Euro blackmail in the Brexit negotiations.
Whilst watching the film the thought occurred to me: what would Churchill be doing now. As another friend said when I mentioned it to him, the choice of precedents from a career of more than sixty years is enormous; you can almost take your pick. So, I pondered further.
In the Second World War Churchill was the arch populist, but that had not always been the case. Up until Dunkirk I would say that public opinion favoured Chamberlain and his efforts to secure peace. The memory of the carnage of the trenches was far too vivid for any sane person to want war. I suspect that very few favoured Hitler, although some wealthy people and others holding right wing views probably did. So, I think that Churchill was in a very lonely place seeing that something wholly undesirable was inevitable.
In order to swing the argument in his favour, he employed undeniably populist techniques by his brilliant use of simple language and imagery. He continued to do this until the war was finally won.
In peacetime, he was strongly in favour of a union of European nations. He did not favour the United Kingdom being a part, but, I suspect, because he was still much wedded to Empire.
I truly don't know what he would have done now. He was not a successful peacetime Prime Minister and so not the first choice as a negotiator. He might have toughed up to the Commission. However, certainly in his later years there is evidence that he would look for a roundabout route to securing his aims. It would have involved his oratory skills, but also his nose for the unexpected route through a problem.
So, I say to my friend, we would probably benefit from him now, not to tough up but to have a little vision on our route and destination.
I was lucky enough to be a student during the banking crisis which meant I had time to read about it, research it and indeed to write about it.
I remember my anger at reckless and greedy bankers. I remember too the calm reflection that pointed the finger at me, at us. Bankers may have been reckless and greedy, but we, as members of pension schemes, wanted our pensions. If we had savings, we wanted a return.
The reality though was that high returns were a thing of the past. Chinese surpluses had provided all the cash the western world needed and interest rates could be rock bottom. It didn't matter.
We have now lived through ten years of rock bottom interest rates. From time to time amazing investments appear, only to disappear. Ironically for British investors Brexit provided a shot in the arm: a weaker pound meant that the non sterling earnings of global British companies were worth more overnight. Returns have been good and will remain so, unless we decide to invest in the UK economy which, what any one says, is suffering.
As a nation we can no longer pay our way. Look at the evidence:
The NHS needs billions more just to stand still.
University lecturers want decent pensions; actually everybody does. The reality is that the investment returns simply aren't there to provide them.
We are desperately short of housing, yet houses have never been more valuable.
Government outsourcing was meant to be a panacea. Now outsourcing companies are losing money and going bust.
High Street names failing to survive
Labour wants to take over banking so that banks lend to businesses rather than providing mortgages on over priced residential property or providing ever increasing credit card debt. This is laudable but it ignores what banks have become. They are global. They make a good slice of their money from trading currency and securities and this profit provides much needed tax revenue. There is no longer the bank manager in his sober grey suit. The world has moved on.
Any government seeking to address the economic issues facing this country needs to take the country as it is, not as it was in the 1950s. It needs to recognise that it can only effect change if it works with like minded governments of like minded nations. It can do nothing alone.
The scene of the 'march of shock' following the referendum result.
The RSC's production at the Barbican of Shakespeare's most bloody play is a triumph. It has only a short while still to run, so hurry.
I first encountered Titus on my Humanities Degree when we were looking at Classical influence and, of course, the story in Ovid's Metamophoses of Philomel. I saw and was stunned by the film Titus starring Anthony Hopkins.
It is a play about revenge, but also about what happens when we slavishly adhere to customs. It is set in a Rome that is crumbling, with leaders squabbling over primacy.
It was written in an England where there was worry of who might succeed Elizabeth. The memories of the bloody revenge between Catholics and Protestants were very fresh in the minds of all.
We watch it in an England where leadership is in doubt, where factions argue viciously about the rights of wrongs of being part of the EU - David Starkey famously described Henry VIII as the first Brexiteer. Perhaps we watch it when we are becoming anxious about who might succeed Elizabeth?
The production is very strong. With so much blood it is so easy to fall into farce. It didn't; there were much needed funny parts, but for the majority of the time we were left to struggle with the agony the characters were enduring. The personification of evil in Aaron is interesting. He is 'not one of us'.