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Decoding the New (s) / Medway Free Skool

This was my first workshop as part of Medway Free Skool, which came about after several conversations with Phil Kane re community education and in particular horizontal learning and anarchist free skool / university projects. Phil had been put in touch with the people from AntiUniversity Now, who were look for people interested in running activites, workshops and experiments between the 9th and 12th June. Most of the activities happen in London and we thought it would be fun to add a bit of a Medway Fringe.

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On Thursday Phil put together Local Culture – A Symposium, which took place at Poco Loco, involving some beers, games, speed debating and interesting conversations about culture and cultural activities in the towns.

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Continuing frustration with the quality of journalism, and in particular the tendancy for sensationalised media that stirs up hatred, rather than reporting the facts to constructively inform people inspired me to put something together to examine this problem, this Decoding the New(s)

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I didn’t want it to be just another stodgy lecture and debate about the subject, especially as some of the inevitable conclusions, when facing the monolithic power of corporate news, can be quite depressing. Instead, I wanted to leave people feeling a bit more empowered to deal with all the pressures and negativity. I split the workshop between an open discussion, looking at stories picked from the days papers and a pleasantly disrespecful bit of cut up art / ad busting. Taking the headlines apart and rearranging them to undermine and change the original meanings. This is nothing new, but its always a lot of fun and the results can be quite cathartic.

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I arrived at Rochester Library somewhat nervous of what to expect. Being a new thing, Medway Free Skool isn’t massively well known, and despite a lot of interest, the Facebook event and a couple of Eventbrite bookings, I realised there was a high chance of me spending my afternoon on my own reading the papers. Fortunately, I love libraries and would have been completely ok with this. As it turned out I was soon joined by my first two participants, who had booked on Eventbrite. We dove straight into discussing some of the days stories and the inevitable subjects of bias, omission and the predjudices of various publications.

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It is impossible to read a paper at the moment without wading through the whole Brexit thing, with what seems to have become a competition to see who can write the most offensive or fear mongering article. It was interesting to see the efforts the Mail went to in order to bring a story about football violence in Marseilles round to Brexit, but at least they seemed to condemn it. The Sun seemed postively chipper about what they made sound like a nice little a punch up in the park with their headline ‘Biere we go’.  Their background imagary of St George’s flags and people enjoying themselves almost seemed to celebrate the clashes.

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During one of these conversations we were joined by a library member who only approached because he was after a copy of the Times. We offered for him to join us, but he declined, preferring a private read. However, after a few minutes of listening in, he was clearly gripped and joined us at the table for the rest of the event. This is the real sucess of holding events in public places like libraries, people outside your normal networks get to find out and join the conversation and as we weren’t exactly quiet, plenty more will have heard our conversations, which may have been good or bad for them. Personally, I welcome the livelier approach libraries are taking, but do recognise the need for quiet spaces sometimes.

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One thing that has caused me a lot of reflection this weekend (especially after attending other events with AntiUniversity) is my position leading workshops like this as a white, British, straight male, who lives a fairly middle class lifestyle, despite pretty much working class roots. I haven’t felt this more keenly than at the Strike! magazine party on Saturday night, with posters declaring white, middle class men ruin 1000% of everything, accompanied by performances backing this up. The simplistic instinct is to complain about this, because its not how I feel. I recognise the priviliges I have been born with and see the harm that has been caused, but I also see the harm and stupidity of arguing the ‘but we aren’t all like that’ case. Reflecting on my own potential for real and cultural violence isn’t meant to be fun, more a reminder to keep my priviliges in check.

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I also highlight this because all the other Decoding the New(s) participants were from ethnic minority backgrounds, and I would prefer to recognise this difference, rather than pretend to be colourblind and not think about my own advantages and predjudices. In this instance, difference opened up conversation, we discussed experiences of Ramadan, with all its struggles, its positivity as a discipline and mark of faith, as well as covering the media and subjects like the relationship between immigration and Brexit. We talked about the demonisation of Islam in western culture and particularly how this is effecting young Muslims in Britain, how incidents and negative issues are increasingly generalised to a whole religion and culture, especially when a scapegoat is needed. In the case of the child sexual exploitation cases in Rotherham, for instance, it is worth asking to what degree clearly un-Islamic acts might be more associated with mysogynistic gang cultures than the religion of disseffected young men from deprived communities. Race or religion corellating more with deprivation as a result of inequality than belief systems.

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We also talked about the tendancy to homogenise groups of people, applying the same characteristics to all members of a race or religion, despite how a brief examination of the diversity of opinion within our own communities shows how ridiculous this is. This being as true whether it’s white people assuming all Muslims support ISIS or Muslims assuming all Jews are Zionists. The main result of all this is hatred and division. When the mainstream media works so hard at achieving this, its only sensible to question their motives and what they (as large businesses) get for their trouble.

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The internet has a key role in how we receive news and opinions. It enables wider and more international conversations than ever before possible. Yet the act of communicating online can also dehumanise and political or philosophical debate can quickly fall into name calling and abuse. When put in a room together people have far greater potential for listening and respectful communication; it is much easier to consider someones feelings when you can see what is happening on their face. I think this is the beauty and power of events like this. As consumers, on social media we talk in our closed groups, confirming our existing beliefs, bias and predjudice, but when people with no other connection are brought together they create new possibilities to listen, learn and understand and maybe even make change.

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After all the serious conversation, we got down to the fun of destroying the headlines and making our own. Everyone took a different approach, whether continuing with analysis, cutting up and using individual words or juxterposing larger chunks of text with contrasting or ridiculous images. I had wondered whether this approach would work or if it might be too odd, but it turned into something quite exciting, full of laughter and occupying us all for the remaining 3 hours!

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Medway Free Skool hopes to continue running events throughout the year. I will definitely be running some more, but more importantly we are looking for others who would be interested in putting together an experiment, workshop, activity or similar that we would happily help promote and organise. If enough people get involved this has the potential to be something quite special and benefit anyone who gets involved. The main criteria are that any events should attempt to be inclusive, celebrate participative approaches to education and run in line with anti-discriminatory practice. Activities could be anything from serious philosophical or political debate to radical hat making or the science of cheese, you don’t have to be an expert teacher, just have an interest in sharing your passion or starting a conversation. Contact us on the Facebook page or email: roy_smith@hotmail.co.uk to express interest.

Rant #140415 ‘The Real People’

  
He says he’s working for ‘the real’ people.
Well that’s me fucked then.
I am a robot,
a symbiant,
a withered apparition,
the collective expression of other people’s ideas,
jammed into a man shaped hole and trapped there.
I am the product of a system,
and he would not like to meet me.
There might be discussion,
or disagreement,
I might offend his religious devotion to a set of ideas,
to the principles of his private club,
set up for ‘the real people’,
the ones who agree,
who play nice,
who appreciate his practiced smile.
They flock around and their saviour,
scrape and bow,
until something changes,
and they are not ‘real people’,
or he finds himself less ‘real’,
exposing the lizard within,
hidden inhumanity tends to frighten the electorate,
so best keep that skin suit zipped mate,
and don’t look too deeply into their eyes,
or they may see the monster inside.
I am happy in my tin,
insulated,
distant,
immune to the disease of ‘the real people’.
I am no longer flesh and bone, waiting to be ground,
I see,
I think,
I feel,
but I will never be ‘real’.

Welcome to the investigation

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Strange things have been happening in Rochester. Unexplained lights in the sky, bizarre disappearances and what is that odd sound? The Bureau for Unexplained Crisis, Knowledge and Extraterrestrial-ism or B.U.C.K.E.T. is set to investigate on the 6th October from 2-6pm.

We are raising funds for the investigation using an unusual site called indiegogo.  It’s important we get the right tools to locate the alien disturbances (or at least to make them from semi convincing items we can lay our hands on).

Keep your eyes on the skies and ask yourself, what do you believe?

Visit the http://www.rochesterskywatcher.wordpress.com for up to date information.

Making Noise

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Had a great weekend listening to and making a bit of noise, as part of Tea’s MY Noise festival. Highlights for me were an energetic performance from Bear vs Manero at Motherboy’s Singerpora Lounge gig and Damo Suzuki’s sometime jarring, sometimes soothing, always facinating improvised vocals with Hand of Stabs, followed by a 25min conversation with the man himself, covering everything from the harshness of the Japanese penal system to the illuminati and airplane travel.

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On Sunday, we made it too ‘My Favourite Noise’ at Sun Pier House, learning about an interesting new music app, experiencing the mini accordian and I getting to play my Bleeptronic 5000 through Matt’s array of tape echo, reverb and distortion pedals. All this resparked a love for messing around with sound that has been kicking around since Uni and various s-deck experiments with mssrs Birch, Dale and Maine, exploring messed up samples of Roy Dotrice reading Watership Down, combined with PSOne Tekken, double bass and a loads of echo. Later that evening I had the pleasure to join in with The Black Palace Orchestra at the Deaf Cat, adding various bleep based patterns. Noise jaming like this was fantastic, the sound moving between melodic hums and building through to frenetic dissonance. At points I found it hard to take myself out of the mix and wondered whether my patterns complimented or distracted from the general sound, but figure this is part of the point with noise. Fortunately Matt was adding plenty of FX; filtering, editing and manipulating everthing I produced. I was absorbed in the sound and playing with the intensity and patterns, trying to respond in someway to what I was hearing. I may have wandered, but loved every minute. Anyway, will be keeping my eyes open for some new toys, as not sure I’m quite done with making noise just yet.

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Turn up and tune in

I went along to a conversation event today about the the Medway and Swale Creative People and Places bid.  One of the discussions was about engaging people in the local creative opportunities outside of the usual suspects, those already interested or involved.  This is a familiar problem.  I’ve been working as a youth and community worker for the past 11 years, there are always groups of people willing and ready to get involved, whilst some who might benefit the most can need a bit more encouragement.  Some people will always complain about poor publicity or lack of information, but I think this is sometimes a distraction.  Another problem can be geography, lack of transport or that some places seem to have a monopoly on things like creative activities, whilst others have little going on.  Some places have more resources to attract activity and others might have acquired a reputation that puts people off.  Some people will travel quite far from where they live to get to something interesting, but ignore things closer to their doorstep.  This can seem a bit like a tube map, where some journeys are connected by a direct route, but may take longer than a quick walk and others can seem complicated, but save loads of time.  Maybe tracing the routes people think and move around a place could help understand how to better communicate opportunities and involve more people in fun stuff.  Rather than sending out blanket publicity or creating endless directories of resources, it might be better to look at existing ways people find out or get involved with other things.  Most of my time as a youth work was spent as a detached worker (working with young people in parks, bus shelters, shopping centres and other places they already chose to meet).  Some wouldn’t have come to a purpose built youth club and others would have liked to, but due to where they lived, didn’t have the opportunity.  My role was to develop projects with young people, where they met and based on their ideas, needs and situation.  A few would tell us where to go, but the majority spent time with us, getting involved to a varied degree and working with us regularly.  Perhaps some creative opportunities could be happen in places where people already meet or pass through, involving people in everyday creative experiences, rather than expecting them to attend an event or show.  Poetry workshops outside of Tescos or pottery classes at the pub might seem unusual, but they might be one way of involving people who wouldn’t normally get involved.

Those who are confident and interested will usually seek out activities that interest them or create them for themselves.  Some might lack this confidence or have had bad experiences of being part of something or joining in.  In the case of creative activities, people may feel they lack ability or that an activity is only for a privileged or gifted few.  Like many, they may have simply got out of the habit of joining in to taking part in something.

Through youth work, I have noticed young people stepping back from activities or things they have previously enjoyed due to the judgement or peers and worrying too much about what people think about them.  I really wanted to learn how to play the guitar when I was 12, but the same stupid concerns about the reaction of others (not helped by watching them visiting that reaction on plenty of others) put me off until much later.  I learnt to hide any sign of interest, excitement or effort for fear of judgement and social isolation.  By the end of secondary school, I had almost blended in with the rest of the drones.  Ironically, a big part of fitting in with other people was developing a resistance to joining in or getting involved.  Of course, most of the drones were hiding something more interesting, and a few had the confidence to stand up and be themselves, whilst others were so unpopular that it didn’t matter either way.  Fortunately, I snapped out of it, but I wonder what it would have been like not to have had to?  I wonder how many people never snap out of it, either choosing not to or lacking the choice?  At the meeting, one person said the great thing about the arts is that people can switch on at any time.

A bit about GEEK2013, Margate and social gaming…

GhostI’ve always had a soft spot for playing games, whether board, computer gaming or a bit of D&D in my teens.  They can bring people together, get your brain working or slow it down.  They can give a sense of achievement or maybe just help you relax.

Saturday I was down in Margate for the Geek2013 (Game Expo East Kent) reliving some retro (electronic) gaming nostalgia.  I even started to think I was a bit good at Street Fighter 2, until I realised the cabinet’s seriously rubbish player one joystick was giving me a massive advantage.  It was great to see a whole set up of BBC Micros, playing a bit of POD and Granny’s Garden.  A guy in his late teens walked past me whilst I was playing the brilliant Elite, commenting to a friend, with what may have been awe: ‘wow, he knows how to play it – thats one of the most important games ever made.’  I agree with him about Elite, one of my earliest gaming memories, but sadly my control of the ship was limited to moving around erratically and being shot to pieces by space pirates.

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Other highlights were a comfy session of N64 Goldeneye,  playing on a wooden 1950s pinball machine and rediscovering Micro Machines on the Mega Drive.  During a much needed VDU break, me and Nikki took part in brilliant ‘Mission Unmentionable’.  A mixture of live role play, treasure hunt and exploration.  Sadly, only a few people found the game this year, perhaps making this an even more exclusive experience.  We followed a variety of clues, meeting some very suspicious characters spread across the town.  The actors really drew us into the fantastically silly plot, making for an immersive and satisfying experience.  Taking us from some lesser known parts of town, to out of the way landmarks, such as the Shell Grotto, the game was a hidden gem in the Geek Fringe.  After braving the freezing weather to save Margate from the menace of Honey Dew and the Melon Heads (a great band name BTW) we got a chance to meet up with its creator @elliemjones and one of the actors @sometallactor in the Lighthouse Bar.  This came a as a slight shock, as the last time we had seen @sometallactor had been after his dramatic collapse in an old prison cell, allowing us time to prise a combination locked suitcase from his cold dead hands.  Fortunately revived, we chatted enthusiastically about the day and the fun of social gaming.  I couldn’t help thinking about how something similar might work in Rochester, and may well have a go at putting something together for Summer (anyone interested let me know!).  I think the low number of participants may have been down to a combination of cold weather and slightly lost publicity (there was so much going on that many may have missed Mission Unmentionable in the programme, or possible not understood enough to make a decision about taking part.  It may have benefited from a bit more web presence, blog, SNS links or a dedicate web page, offering a bit more explanation and promotion.  Either way, we had a great time and hope to see more of this type of thing.

Nikki found the Melon Art

I was sad to have missed the RootExperience’s Play Series who were running workshops on using smart phones every day applications to play and create digital games and treasure hunts.  Think this might be a good mix, and I hope to book a place on one of their spring workshops.  Think the mix of live acting and social media could help create some really fun games.

Anyway, back to work in a bit, after my second early Monday session at coFWD.  The idea is loosely based on a blog I read about the habits of writers, which suggested that some of us do better in the early mornings.  That never having been true for me, I decided to give it a go.  I have always had a problem fitting in all the things I want to do, so hope by dragging myself out of bed and down to Rochester for 6 or 7am, on Monday mornings, I’ll carve out extra time and get more writing done.   Last week, I got here for 6am, but by going to bed early on Sunday, I failed entirely to sleep and felt like crap.  This week I tried a little less, had some sleep and got here for 7pm.  Feeling a lot better today and think I’ve done a little better for it.  I was only slightly disturbed by the strange noises from the basement.  If I keep it up, I might get some more short stories done!  Let me know if you are interested in joining me for early morning coworking, the odd noises might be a little less worrying if there were two or three of us ;->

Scared of the ghosts...

Late night, early morning

Lights firing inside my head,


perhaps, afraid one day they will go out.


I follow her constant breathing, with envy at each effortless sigh,


hoping soon my mind will wander or be distracted by morpheus touch.


I turn, torturing myself,


shifting weight.


Processing, clearing, exploring yesterday and the day ahead.


I hope for rest, but a pretension lives on,


where this malady is some inspirational disease.


I fear it is a curse.