Category Archives: In My Life

What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

AKA: why are there suddenly refugees everywhere, and when are they going to go away? (Hint: never)

This is a summary of the notes I took on the first day of the effect.org “Hacking the Refugee Crisis” expedition in Athens. More on that in a bit, but first…

Crisis, What Crisis?

Today, globally, there are 65 million displaced people. More than ever before.

Refugees have always existed. In the past, a country would go to war; people would be displaced; they’d spend a year or two as refugees; and eventually return home.

Today though, the problem is chronic. Global warming and permanent instability means displaced people no longer have homes to return to. Folks are born and grow up as refugees.
Continue reading What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

Vibrant Sheffield

I recently attended Grant Thornton’s Sheffield “Vibrant Economy” Live Lab at the Millennium Galleries.

This day-long workshop was intended to “bring together key leaders and influencers … to co-create a visionary identity for Sheffield and the wider city region”, posing the question “How can Sheffield become the innovation and creativity capital of Europe?”

It’s easy to by cynical (many of my friends are) about a swish event, laid on by a big financial consultancy firm, around a woolly, warm, fuzzy-sounding topic. But I like to approach things with an open mind. I have heard good things about Sacha Romanovitch, Grant Thornton’s new CEO, and the kind of right-thinking policies she’s implementing. I was sure it would at least be an interesting day.

It was. And it was inspiring. It generated reams of ideas — good, bad, intermediate, and plain silly — for the betterment of Sheffield. And, coming to it fresh from Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle/Gateshead, my mind was fully fired-up for some brainstorming and refining of big audacious plans.
Continue reading Vibrant Sheffield

Sheffugees

This weekend I attended a “Sheffield refugee hackathon” organised by the folks at Yoomee. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, having never been to a hackathon before, and being unsure how well the fairly specific set of application-development skills I’ve been using over the last few years would generalise to building something that could be of benefit to refugees and asylum-seekers, but it was a great experience and I’m really looking forward to the next one (which should be happening in around 6 weeks time).
Continue reading Sheffugees

Just Giving

No doubt you’ve noticed me spamming you these last few days with links to my charity fundraising page. This will be the last time, please read it…

If you’re anything like me, you may well be thinking “yeah, yeah, doing something that you enjoy & would probably have done anyway, then claiming some noble cause for it. I’m not falling for that”.

In a way, you’d be right. This has been an amazing experience for me, and one that I’m really glad to have had. And I could probably have found ways to raise the money that would involve me having slightly less fun.

But the end result has been that, through persuading and cajoling and haranguing, I (or rather you) have raised almost £1700 for one amazing charity. And that’s ALL for the charity: this isn’t one of those jollies where the cost of the trip comes out of the amount raised; I have paid my way in hotel bills and ferry fares, and right down to the energy bars & support van costs.

I URGE you to take a quick look at my chosen charity, and the amazing work they do – including running the UKs only refuge for young people under 16, by visiting their website at safeatlast.org.UK

And, if you can afford anything more to support this valuable work, even if it’s only a quid, then please help me end this weekend with a bang by donating on my justgiving page, or by texting “DANS95 £1″ to 70070. You know, we’re not all that far off raising £2000 together right now…

www.justgiving.com/dansumption2

(Please share, if you feel so inclined)

No Riot Here

Last night, I went for a cycle ride around the inner suburbs of Sheffield. On the way, I started tweeting about the everyday scenes I was seeing, and the fact that there were no riots, using the #noRiotsHere hashtag (I plucked the hashtag out of thin air: it turns out one of two people had used it earlier in the day, although not in Sheffield). You can see a collection of my evening’s cycling/noRiotHere tweets on Storify. Soon, other people started joining in, and by the time I got home #noRiotHere was trending in Sheffield.

A few people accused me of “trolling for riots” – most did it humorously, one or two seemed genuinely confused about what I was doing. So I’ll try to account for myself here…

First and foremost, I was going for a bike ride. It’s something I’ve done a lot recently (especially since getting my new bike), generally heading West from our house into the Peak District, the hills and moors around Strines and Bradfield. I’d already been considering taking a more urban ride, exploring some of the parts of Sheffield I hardly know, and I was running out of country lanes within easy cycling distance.

But I think what really galvanised me was the steady stream of rumours I’d been reading about incipient riots in Sheffield. As I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook, and a majority of them are in Sheffield, I’d seen endless rumour and counter-rumour – in particular about civil disorder starting up on London Road. The excellent South Yorkshire Police twitter feed had been quashing these rumours all day, but I felt that some people would feel more reassured if they heard that someone they know had been there and reported back that all was peaceful.

And so I set off in the direction of London Road. My initial plan had just been to go there, check out the area, and then return home, but as I got closer my head started whirling with memories of other “riot-prone” areas people had been tweeting earlier, and as I felt like I could handle a much longer cycle ride, I decided to roam further afield. The idea for “#noRiotHere” literally came to me as I was cycling along (as is true of so many good ideas). I didn’t just want to give people the bare fact of “no riot here”, I wanted to emphasise the fact that normal things were going on, that people could and ought to make an evening of it, walk in the evening sunshine, go to the pub, treat it as a normal evening and not hide behind closed curtains. And so I started to tweet one mundane but beautiful thing that I saw in each suburb I passed through (admittedly I eventually started to tire of the mundane but beautiful, and resorted to the slightly comical instead).

I realised, of course, that to anyone outside Sheffield reading my updates, I could come across as insufferably smug; I thought (with apologies to all in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and elsewhere) that this was a price worth paying. Civic pride breeds more civic pride, and I thought it better to try instilling some of this before riots started. Last night’s #steelcitynotstealcity/#steelnotsteal hashtags did the same thing. To be honest, I thought there was already enough pride in this wonderful city to prevent people from smashing it up (particularly while the city’s youth are still basking in the memory of the incredible and inclusive Tramlines festival). But how to know what other people think? This week I’ve heard, via Twitter and Radio 5 Live, many cries of confusion and disbelief from residents of the riot-hit cities; how are we to know until something kicks off whether our civic pride that “Sheffield is different” is justified or just hubris?

And finally, I wasn’t trolling for riots, and was 95% certain I wouldn’t find any, but I was prepared – at least inasmuch as I had a fast bike, a mobile phone, and my wits about me. If I had stumbled on some disorder, I would have informed the police if necessary, informed Twitter whether necessary or not (it’d be stupid to deny that I’d feel the slightest bit smug for sharing the news before anyone else, massively outweighed of course by sadness at unrest in my home city), and a small part of me hopes that I might have been able to mobilise a public tut-mob early enough to shame potential rioters into going home. A stupidly vain fantasy, of course, but I think we should all be defined by our stupidly vein fantasies.

As it turned out, I had a lovely cycle ride, got to see parts of this beautiful city which are normally hidden to me (including the most amazing view from Gleadless), had a bit of fun along the way, and spawned an idea which was proudly reported on Radio Sheffield this morning. Sorry to be smug (and fingers crossed that this isn’t hubris), but it was a good night for Sheffield.

Desert Island Disco

A few weeks ago, Cherry Red Promotions very kindly asked me to play my Desert Island Discs at their monthly Desert Island Disco at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. Here are the tracks I picked, in the order in which I played ‘em. Lizzie also produced a little booklet, handed out on the night, and the following descriptions appeared in it:

1: The Lake of Puppies – Largelife
I got married to this song! “To have and to hold, the stuff in my hands, and if my hands are small, all that I hold must be even smaller…. Be it a large or a small world, nothing is larger than life.”

2: Cardiacs – Manhoo
Cardiacs are the one constant in my life: I could have filled this entire list with their songs. Manhoo is perfect pop, something the Beatles would have written if they’d still been on-form in the mid-90s. I like to think of it as the final word on all the Blur/Oasis nonsense going on at the time.

3: Material – Disappearing
As a student bass player, I had four heroes: first Lemmy, then JJ Burnel, Chris Squire, and finally Bill Laswell. Laswell introduced me to a world of music I had no idea existed (after 20 consecutive listens to Last Exit’s Noise of Trouble, I suddenly “got” free noise). He made me realise I didn’t need heroes any more. This is one of his funkiest tracks, which also introduced me to the sax of Henry Threadgill and guitar of Sonny Sharrock, both of whom also deserve to be on my desert island.

4: The Fuzztones – 1-2-5
Makes me feel like a teenager again.

5: Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society – When We Return
A beautiful, mysterious beginning and ending, joined by the most insane-yet-somehow-logical magical manic middle mess. The world’s greatest drummer keeps time while Vernon Reid rocks his fucking socks off. If I could just keep one of the eight, it would be this.

6: Claude Debussy – Claire de Lune
It feels like these five minutes describe an entire lifetime: from the first tentative movements of a baby, through increasing confidence and experience, to a noble, wise and peaceful death. When you bury me, please do it to this piano piece.

7: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – Tribe
…and when I come back as a zombie, I’d like to hear this pumping out at a few hundred decibels. Immense! Terrifying! German!

8: Ooberman – Blossoms Falling (accoustic version)
Sunday morning lie-ins. True love. Warm, fuzzy perfection. Love you Gill!

Book:Viriconium Nights by M John Harrison
Reading this, during a lost-weekend in Amsterdam, changed my life. Made me realise stories don’t need endings, fantasies aren’t real, and some people waste a lifetime trying to get to the other side of the looking-glass. I think I grew up that weekend. This book contains nothing but language and imagery; but I could lose myself forever in it.
Buy Viriconium by M John Harrison on Amazon

Luxury: an oojamaflip
One thing I’m forever searching for, so I probably ought to have one handy on my desert island.

Of course, eight records is never enough. I brought a few extra, in the hope that there’d be some spare time at the end, and indeed there was – I managed to slip in a whole side of the Cramps’ Off The Bone. But what really limited me was not being able to play many very long tracks. Here’s a couple which have just as much right to be included as the other eight:

9: Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus – Hope A Hope A
One of the most sublime orchestrations ever created – who else but Henry Threadgill would replace the bass with two tubas, and back up battling electric guitars with a trombone and a french horn. I saw this live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with my friend Ed: probably the best gig I’ve ever been to.

10: Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
When I was around 19, I decided to “get into” classical music. So I picked a CD at random from my Dad’s collection. Boy, was I surprised. It knocked me off my feet, punkier than the punkiest punk I’d ever heard. It was The Rite of Spring, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (still the most violent version of this music I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard many). However, for my desert island I think I’d pick Fazil Say’s four-handed piano version: surprisingly, just as rich and dischordant as the orchestral version, at times more so.

Finally, one of the other desert islanders picked a Blur track for his list, and explained that he’d listened almost exclusively to classical music until Blur awakened him to the possibilities of popular music. I hadn’t though about this beforehand, but Blur did something very similar for me: from around 1990 to 1995, I listened only to jazz, improvised music and other forms of avant-garde noiseism. I considered myself above crass pop songs. Then by chance I saw a Blur video, Sunday Sunday, on a late night TV show, and I was surprised by the intelligence and beauty of it. From then on, I never looked down on pop music, and my tasted expanded to include a bit of everything. So I really owe a place in this list to Blur, and of all their tracks I think the one I’d pick is the oh-so-beautiful Tender.

Postscript: I’m loving the SEO Smart Links WordPress plugin, if only because its automatically-generated links remind me of stuff I wrote ages ago and have forgotten. Case in point: Check out the “Henry Threadgill” and “When We Return” links above.

2008: Life

In part one of my “2008 and thereabouts” retrospective, I talked about what I’d been up to work-wise. Now I’m going to focus on my personal and family life. I find this side of things a little harder to talk about, and recall, if only because for most of the year, I spent five days per week at work (usually in London, away from my family) and the other two days recuperating. But here goes…

Continue reading 2008: Life