The day after tomorrow…

Julian Simpson in his most recent newsletter:

“And we have to remember that there is an “other side” to this, an overmorrow where we step back out into the world and the shops are open, and the cafes and bars and museums and galleries, and we can see our friends and family and put our lives back together. It’s going to be different, I think, but there’s a chance there may be benefits in the long term, if we can learn from this quiet time and find the upside to a planet given a moment to take a breath and regenerate. We have had a glimpse of what happens to nature when human beings just stop for a bit, and that at least seems to be a valuable thing to observe and learn from.”

I dearly hope that he is right.

Considering the state of the planet; levels of social inequality; and the spread of populist and isolationist ideologies, we need a seismic shift in values and policy.

It won’t come from our leaders on their own; it has to come from each and every one of us.

We must open our eyes and see!

As I walked to work1 along the sea front this morning, with the sun shining down, I could not help but think of this passage from Nick Cave on the beauty that we too often miss…

“If there is sadness in Ghosteen, perhaps it is the recognition that we are often blind to the splendour of the world and indifferent to its attendant wonder. Perhaps the sadness is the recognition that the world is indeed beautiful, that it spins within the palm of our own hands and its beauty is available to all, if only we had eyes to see.”

~ Cave, Nick, The Red Hand Files2 (2019)

If anything good comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic, I hope it is this. I hope that we emerge with a renewed appreciation for each other and the world around us. Society has been consumed for too long by capitalist and commercial ideologies – resulting in a moral decline – that has contributed to the creation of an inequitable, fractured society and a broken planet.

We must not allow ourselves to be blind to the beauty of the world any longer. We must open our eyes and see!

  1. I’m Vice Principal of a Secondary School, and we were opening for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.[]
  2. The Red Hand Files‘ started in September 2018. Nick Cave responds to questions from fans. The results are deeply intimate and thought provoking.[]

Playlists and Podcasts

I’m joining the heard (spiritually not physically) and sharing some playlists and podcasts to help you survive these strange and challenging times.

My playlists…

Currents is a regularly updated mix of music that has grabbed my attention, alongside a few tracks that seem to stick around for good.

Running, Clanging and Banging is my original running and workout mix. Over 200 tracks of uptempo rock, heavy metal, rap, dance and pop. Use it to work out at home or if you live near lots of open space and can get outside (responsibly), let this mix propel you.

For long morning runs, I started to lean more towards chilled out sounds. Running at First Light evolved out of this having tried running to the Marconi Union album: ‘Weightless’. The way the ambient sounds drifted into the background allowing me to focus more on my form and breathing had a massive impact on my running. The playlist is also great for yoga and meditation, as well as a good candidate for those of you who require calm, quiet focus, to get work done from home.

Electric Miles is my favourite playlist; exploring, arguably Miles Davis’ greatest and most experimental period. Starting with the epic 33 minute ‘Circle in the Round’; the playlist traverses five prolific years from 1968 to 1972, taking in such archetypal examples of Jazz Fusion as ‘In a Silent Way’ and ‘Bitches Brew’. Make some coffee, turn the lights down low, and lose yourself with Miles.

Sticking with Jazz, In a Silent Way is a contemplative mix of late night jazz to be enjoyed over dinner or with a glass of wine on a spring evening.

Finally, (A) Spoonful of Disney is perfect for the young at heart; sing along with and lighten the mood in these dark, sobering times.

You can find all of my playlists on Spotify.

Other people’s playlists…

One of the features of Spotify that I have enjoyed the most since I signed up is the rich network of music fans and artists who create and share playlists. Here are some playlists made by others that hit the spot.

I’ve been a fan of Merlin Mann for some time. Most people know him as the Inbox Zero guy. That seems like such a long time ago! He is, now, better known for his many podcasts, one of which I have listed below. He is a prolific music fan and the playlist: Merlin’s World of Music covers an extensive range of musical genres from the 60s through to the 00s. While there are a number of well known tracks, a significant portion of the playlist is made up of deep cuts and lesser known tunes.

I’m also a huge fan of electronic music; particularly that of Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin. This playlist by Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber highlights Richard David James’ piano playing. This is another good pick if you need to find focus when working from home. Also, if you love the 80s, Schreiber’s Poolside ’86 mix is ab-fab!

In hist most recent newsletter, Austin Kleon shared a fantastic series of “epic yearly survey playlists” by Fluxblog. We started with 1979 (the year I was born) on Friday. We are now part way through 1980. They are beautifully curated, seamlessly transitioning between moods and genres.

And some podcasts…

When I discovered the podcast Strong Songs, I was blown away. Kirk Hamilton’s analysis of the ‘strong songs’ he breaks down is deep and intricate. As a musician himself, he directs each track, exploring the nuances of melody, timing, key changes, musicianship and lyricism. To get started, I recommend the following episodes:

There is also a Spotify playlist of the songs from season one of the podcast.

The next two podcasts feature the Labour politician Ed Miliband and radio presenter Geoff Lloyd. The first, Reasons to be Cheerful is a ‘podcast about ideas’. Started in September 2017, the podcast explores a diverse range of ideas that could help us tackle the biggest problems facing the world today. Their guests include experts, campaigners, academics and politicians from across the globe. It is thought provoking and a fantastic way to stay informed.

In addition to this, Ed and Geoff recently launched a spin-off show: Cheerful Book Club. Each week they interview an author about their writing and their lives.

Finally, Back to Work with Dan Benjamin and the aforementioned Merlin Mann is the original productivity podcast. I have listened to every single episode since the show launched in January 2011. Their chemistry is fantastic, and the podcast has remained fresh, covering topics as broad as project management, smart-home devices and parenting. You can jump right in or if you want to dip into the back catalogue, I recommend episodes #1, #5, #7 and #9 which introduce some of the long running themes and bits that have become an integral part of the show.

I hope that you find something in here that helps you navigate the coming weeks as we continue to face up to the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay strong!

I’m standing “on the side of the egg”!

2020 seems to have begun where 2019 left off; already charged with sorrow, anger and uncertainty. Leaders, systems and structures are failing us, we must therefore rely on each other…

“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . . We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us — create who we are. It is we who created the system.”

~ Murakami, Haruki, Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2009

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei RALast Saturday, Jennifer and I went to see Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy. We got there about thirty minutes before the doors were due to open, affording us time to look at and sit amongst his Tree sculptures that now fill the Royal Academy’s courtyard. The piece offers a calm and somewhat uncomplicated introduction to his work. One that is in stark contrast to many of the pieces currently housed inside the Royal Academy’s walls.

The doors opened at 10:00am. We collected our tickets and headed straight into the show. Each room offered a specific insight into Ai’s life and work – celebrating his use of found materials; his creative originality in blending the old with the new; and putting front and centre his will to challenge the establishment that has for so long sought to suppress his views.

Ai Weiwei Bikes

Walking out and mulling what we had observed over lunch, it was evident that Ai’s work had profoundly affected the both of us. Each piece was a statement and a question. Through wood, iron, porcelain, marble, and many other materials Ai made us question our place in the world.

In particular we were both struck by his piece ‘Straight’. Constructed from reclaimed rebar from the damaged school buildings, following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the piece is a powerful symbol. Weighing in at 150 tonnes it is a poignant reminder of the strength and solidarity of the Sichuan people following the massacre. It is a also testament to Ai’s own endeavours to seek answers for the parents and families of the children killed due to the poor construction of the school buildings.

Ai Weiwei Straight

This was the tip of the iceberg. Not one piece in the exhibition is superficial – to be taken at face value. Each room implores you to engage with Ai’s story. And it is a deeply meaningful one; fraught with the scars of persecution.

Photos: CC. Jennifer Michie.