View from the horizon

Frida Kahlo using a bed easel

 It’s not because I find it difficult to get up in the morning (far from it, I’m a light sleeper) but I have spent the last week mostly horizontally. It hasn’t been some extreme, surreal experiment or supreme laziness either; I have to confess it’s not been by choice or much fun. You see, I have hurt my back again. A pinched sciatic nerve here on my lower left back has rendered my in a twilight-supine zone. My usual solution is a 40 minute visit to the chiropractor but alas, this time, I am reliant on pain killers and rest.

Unlike Dali, Yoko Ono, Matisse and the ever resourceful Frida Kahlo (as pictured) who managed to overcome physical and metaphysical barriers in their creative moments, I have been mostly able to read on an iPad in between drifting off into slumber. These snatches of life gleaned from extraordinary moments in the day have meant frequent reading (and re-reading) of online news and an attempt to understand some of the global events taking place. Whereas Kahlo’s extended horizontal periods led to her great explorations of culture and personal identity, I have mostly followed the story of the migrant children in the USA.

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Critics from across the political spectrum attacked President Trump’s now-reversed policy of separating children from parents who are being detained for illegally entering the United States. The separations occurred when, under a “zero tolerance” immigration policy, adults are arrested for crossing the border illegally. As children cannot be held in an adult jail, they are currently held separately. At one point this week, it was reported that small infants would be sent to ‘tender age’ shelters, leading the news anchor herself to sob uncontrollably. This horrific practice led to former first ladies (Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton) calling for rapid changes to the law to undo this cruel procedure and the current first lady, Melania Trump appealing to ‘both sides’ (heard that somewhere before). Bizarrely, we had alt-right mouthpiece, Coulter imply the migrant children were actors, saying:

“These child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now, do not fall for it, Mr President,” – Ann Coulter, Fox News

And apologist Laura Ingraham saying the detainment cages were just ‘summer camps’ anyhow. Not sure I would like to go to this Butlins…

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Farcical also that the approved US customs photo shows accompanied children which has not been the practice. It took 48 hours for Trump to perform a U-turn on the policy, apparently as his daughter Ivanka implored him to do so. Pressure from senators, public figures and six American airlines who had told the Trump administration not to use their aircraft to transport child migrants who have been separated from their parents also might have played a small role. After all, if Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and United airlines all said the policy contravened their values and they would not fly migrant children or allow the Trump regime to fly to Florida to golf at the weekend… oh, yeah he probably would just use Airforce 1.

Last word on this from Harry Leslie Smith, 95 year-old WWII veteran:


Eight artists who made masterpieces in bed, Huck magazine, 24.11.15

Trump migrant separation policy: Children ‘in cages’ in Texas, BBC News, 18.6.18


Child separations: Trump faces extreme backlash from public and his own party, The Guardian, 19.6.18

Ann Coulter tells Trump that immigrant children are ‘child actors’, in …, The Independent, 19.6.18

Fox News Host Laura Ingraham Faces Backlash for Calling Immigrant Detention Centers ‘Summer Camps’, TV Line, 19.6.18

I’m nearly 100 years old, I saw the 1945 refugee crisis firsthand – and I need people to listen to my warning, The Independent, 20.6.18

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow cries on air as she reports migrant children being sent to ‘tender age’ shelters, The Independent, 20.6.18

The Story behind the Trump ‘Time’ Welcome to America Cover, Time magazine, 21.6.18

Trump backs down on migrant family separations policy, BBC News, 21.6.18



Image credit: See Mitch Joel

I had a serious rethink about social media at the end of last month that coincided with half term. The other major deadline at the end of May was compliance with the GDPR data law. If you’re not sure about this new EU regulation, you need to be as:

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) seeks to create a harmonised data protection law framework across the EU and aims to give back to data subjects, control of their personal data, whilst imposing strict rules on those hosting and processing this data, anywhere in the world.

If you have any kind of digital web presence, such as a blog, feedback form or comments box, you will need some sort of compliance with this regulation.

Also, many of the original ‘friends/followers’ I discovered on social media about 10 years ago were becoming less active in each domain, some choosing to suspend or leave altogether. Whilst I missed their contact, I also was effected by the Facebook-trust meltdown and the exposure that social media is making all of our lives less private and we’ve never been more manipulated by tech companies. Leon (@eyebeams) is a tech enthusiast I have had several real and virtual contacts with since 2006 and he tweeted:

So these little triggers led to a drastic action; I deleted all my social media. Everything.

No Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, Blogger,  You Tube, Path, Wikipedia, PBwiki, Pinterest, Tripadvisor or any other social media. I deleted without backing up and said I wouldn’t return. If you’re wondering why Facebook isn’t on my list, this is because I never really got into it. Most of the others I have used since 2005 ish and kept prett much active in all.

My off-grid/dark ops period lasted about 5 days.

Why? Mainly because I used all of these tools intensively as a teacher and as soon as the half term holiday was over, I couldn’t find my resources any longer. I needed Pinterest first as an essential tool for an art teacher. Luckily it restored almost immediately. Twitter too was and is a source for my ‘community of practice’ and I was shocked on re-entry to find 0 friends and 0 followers. A panicked search found that not everyone had left or hidden away like me and they were still there to contribute, scowl, laugh and cry. I then rebooted Tumblr as the place where I post newspaper articles to read later. WordPress (including this personal blog) had gone decisively unfortunately and seemed never to return without the help of the WordPress tech team who helped me undo my mistake. Since my social media reboot, I have also found that some of the videos I made as skills demos were only to be found on You Tube and Vimeo and there is no way of retrieving deleted video. Frantically, I have searched every usb and external hard drive to reinstate the useful stuff (some I fear lost forever).

Instagram and Flickr I will not rush to; perhaps a long period away before I recreate these if I ever do. After all, my personal content is mine and perhaps I don’t wish to give away all of my create data.

i hope you find this rebooted personal blog as useful as I have even if you’re coming across it for the first time or revisiting for a much used art lesson. Part of my rethinking is to focus on what the blog is for and about. For this I now include a brand new tag line:

art education, creative tech and ecology

I hope you enjoy it as much as me!

My POV is more important than yours

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 16.22.39This is a blog post about framing reality and facts as if up for debate. I don’t know if it is a phenomenon of social media or the abundance of available facts at our fingertips in the age of the Internet and streaming videos but facts seem to be insignificant these days in comparison to personal opinion. On many social media platforms we are encouraged to ‘shout from the rooftops’ our point of view (POV), opinion or angle like a newspaper editorial intended for a microseconds viewing. Indeed, microblogging on Twitter or even this blog encourages me to have my say on a topic and when it’s out there, its there forever. However personal reflection may be intended, it comes into greyer territory when presented as fact or truth about a topic and this presented on the Internet has the added danger of justifying someone else’s bent opinion.

Here is a few examples:

1 The Trump White House memorandum on federal climate science

The memo presented three options without endorsing any of them: conducting a “red team/blue team” exercise to “highlight uncertainties in climate science”; more formally reviewing the science under the Administrative Procedure Act; or deciding to just “ignore, and not seek to characterize or question, the science being conducted by Federal agencies and outside entities.”

In a leaked internal memo from last week, the White House considered ‘debating’ established climate science, casting doubt on scientists’ conclusions, or just ignoring them. Accepting any findings of scientific experts is not an option they’re willing to consider, preferring instead to ignore reality. Why? Because the Trump administration has no plans to cut carbon pollution and has been taking every possible step to undo established climate policies and increase pollution from the coal and oil industries, prioritising short-term corporate profits above all else.

2 In central Birmingham this weekend there was the UK’s first Flat Earth convention, a weekend of lectures and workshops designed to provide believers with opportunities to engage with others who subscribe to the same hypothesis: that the Earth is not a globe, as most of us think, but some kind of plane, with edges. Around 200 people have paid to attend. The American community is big and brash and filled with personalities vying for public influence. There, Flat Earthers have secured airtime on almost every major television network, sometimes primetime slots, and the movement has been lent credibility by celebrity support. Much can be found in You Tube presentations where each presenter denounces conventional science as flawed, if not entirely fabricated, and offers alternative hypotheses. Contrary to thousands of years of accepted science whereas  Aristotle claimed the world was a sphere some time around 350BC, we now have the likes of rapper, BoB and ex-cricketer and TV personality, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff to admire for their flat as a pancake crackpotism.

3 Anything in favour of Brexit.


In education, we might use a dramatic approach like Mantle of the Expert¹ which is based on the premise that treating children as responsible experts increases their engagement and confidence. It is meant as dramatic-inquiry, where students research and find their opinions based on fact. More recently, this has led to confrontations with students who question historical facts (“that’s just your opinion”) or your own expertise as a teacher (“I think I deserve a better mark” – see my last post about how this is being facilitated by the Department for Education). However, we are being bombarded with denialism and alternative-fact propaganda or exist only within our echo chamber or self-filtered social media bubbles. Read Matthew D’Ancona’s Post Truth² or Tom Nichols’ Death of Expertise where he expresses the concern that the average citizen’s base knowledge is so low it has crashed through the floor of “uninformed”, passed “misinformed” on the way down, and is now plummeting to “aggressively wrong”.  He says that people don’t just believe “dumb things”, but actively resist any new information that might threaten these beliefs. In summary, he cautions us all to be more discriminating – to check sources scrupulously for veracity and for political motivations.

This blog (and any tweets I might post) are meant just to reflect on my thoughts and not represent truth in the wider sense. Anyone who stumbles on a something I have written should really look up the issues for themselves and make up their own minds (I might even read about it by way of a conversation opener).

Further reading:

Book Review Tom Nichols’ Death of Expertise the, July 6, 2017
3 ways to break out of your social media bubble, Mozilla blog, March 19, 2018
Finally, a bus that tells the harsh truth about Brexit, iNews, Tuesday February 20th 2018

¹ The Mantle of the Expert explained

² Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew D’Ancona

Is the Earth flat? Meet the people questioning science, The Guardian, Sun 27 May 2018

Trump administration refuses to consider that 97% of climate scientists could be right, The Guardian, Tue 29 May 2018

Modern life is rubbish* – Part 6: Fur

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

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“Leading the pack, of course, was the Duchess of Cornwall, who unlike the virtue-signalling younger royals, is far too wise and sensible to care what anyone thinks of her, hence presumably her smart tweed suit finished with a fur-trimmed hat” via DailyMail 16.3.18

Why is it that society never seems to learn? Just when you think an ethical argument is won, it rebounds and smacks you round the chops. Be it Fascist politics (argument won circa 1945) currently on the resurgence in Italy, via populist movements throughout Europe and arguable the USA (see here) or the use of animal fur in fashion.

I hate to use examples from the right-wing press or even link to their webpages but seeing is believing and the Sarah Vine article linked to in the photo above is truly unbelievable. You have to read it for yourself and see the celebrities in their furry animal skins. It is an intentionally provocative piece but what is most shocking is that the author is the spouse of Michael Gove, the controversialist government Environment Secretary.

I thought this was an argument won many, many years ago. In fact about 20 years ago, few designers would dare to use it. The National Geographic² magazine claims that fur is back in fashion as:

Animal skins are being embraced by designers amid a push to make the lives and deaths of captive creatures more humane.

This cinema-infomercial was originally commissioned by Greenpeace and I remember it’s striking visual message well from the 1980s: (WARNING: Graphic/disturbing content)

The tag line that: “It takes forty dumb b***hes to make a fur coat but only one to wear it” still sticks in my head. Many of the top luxury, fashion brands shun fur; recently Versace announced they would no longer support the fur trade which should have been the last word on the matter. They would be joining Gucci (2017), Armani (2016), Michael Kors (2017), Tom Ford (2018) and of course early adopters like Calvin Klein (1994), Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood (all ceased fur use in 2007) and Stella McCartney (2001).

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Celebrity Katie Price wears pink (mink, fox, rabbit and racoon) via Mirror online16.3.18

So what the hell has changed and why the celebrity endorsements? I have self-confessed pet-loving kids in my class this winter wearing obscene Canada Goose snow jackets featuring coyote fur trim. I asked one child if she had a pet dog… I had to stop myself from going further (other than an audible “yuck” but I wanted to know if she would ‘wear’ her dog’s skin). The truth is, it’s all about marketing and complacency. Celebs wearing products endorse their use (possibly get paid to promote a designer or brand) and naiive, impressionable and wannabe trendy youngsters and should-know betters (genuine celebs like Meg Ryan, Drake and Daniel Craig) extend their use and profits. The rest of us are complacent by not being firm enough about our opposition because the Nine Shocking Facts about Fur are still as relevant and globally true today as they were 20 years ago. There was an outraged response last November when retailers (ASOS, Missguided, House of Fraser) were found to be selling real fur labelled wrongly as faux-fur/polyester on the high street. So why aren’t we equally outraged by this latest example of real fur fashion?

…we shouldn’t be complacent. Since banning fur farming here, the UK has imported at least £650m worth of fur. The majority of this fur is from farms overseas where the animal suffering is just as bad, if not worse, than the cruelty we deemed unacceptable in this country. It makes our government’s claim of having “some of the best animal welfare standards in the world’ ring rather hollow when it transpires that, in the case of the fur trade, we’ve simply outsourced our animal cruelty to countries like China, Poland and Canada. ~ The Independent 24.11.17

Maybe we are being too sensitive to shock people out of their complacency:

Modern technology hasn’t made the lives and deaths of fur-bred animals more humane at all. Fashion and textiles technologists are genuinely looking for alternatives not just for fur but also leather, wool, feather down, mohair, angora and silk. Animals are not ethically (at any rate) a commodity to be used to wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.  Shame on these so-called celebrity endorsements for taking society back a step or three and their resurgence of this unsustainable, cruel and archaic practice!

Further: Do More

Read Animals used for fur – via Peta.

Read Fur in fashion’s past and faux fur in its future – via Fashionista.





Top 5: Eco-documentary movies

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We live in a predominantly visual society.  I have posters in my art room with a wide variety of visual arts information; arts related jobs, an infographic that illustrates the contribution of the visual arts to the UK economy and all the soft skills that can develop through studying visual arts. Yet, kids still say things like ‘what good is art in the world, generally?’ There is such a push on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), you’d assume that the future can only be shaped by certain school subjects. I find myself pointing out that the products of STEM subject innovation are interdependent on visual input; the difference between a car assembly robot and WALL-E for example. They watch so much video online through social media, much of it devoid of intelligent thought, I suggest they just turn it off (all of it) for maybe an hour to see if their imaginations can be enlivened.

So, to get them thinking visually, I point out that their frequent viewing of You Tube or Netflix should involve something thought-provoking and well-made visually; not necessarily about art or photography or even popular movies. So I suggest an ecology-themed documentary instead! I considerate it part of their wider-education in visual culture. To prepare for an hour without visual stimulation (such as WWF Earth Hour next Saturday),  here’s my Top 5 eco-documentaries:

1 Earthlings

2 Before The Flood

3 Cowspiracy

4 An Inconvenient Truth

5 BlackFish

Hope you enjoyed this little list, and you’re encouraged to make your own Top 5 list. Meanwhile: Support Earth Hour by switching-off between 8.30 and 9.30pm on Saturday 24th March, 2018. Just text EARTH to 70123 to donate £3 this #EarthHourUK.




The Ebb and Flow of Plastic Waste


Video: Independent Newspaper/Caroline Power Photography

The PM this week announced a 25 year plan for the UK to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042¹. Plastic waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. Much was made of supermarkets stocking plastic-free aisles (and interviews with retailers complaining about damaged food and odours; the primary functions of the plastic trays and coatings).

“In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.” – Theresa May

Can we really be prepared to wait 25 years for legislation and compulsory action? The shocking video from The Independent (see above), BBC’s Blue Planet II and environmental studies featured elsewhere illustrate a vast sea of plastic pollution but what about the hidden plastics buried in land fill sites? A manufacturer on Radio 4’s Today programme was challenged on his production of single-use plastic; his response was “We’ve tried to make biodegradable products. They don’t look as good and they’re expensive.”

So it is a consumer and economics issue? Do we really need to pay more or are we bothered by blue rather than black plastic trays protecting our giant Italian pears? If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building (source: National Geographic²).

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cc Ben Kerckx

You may be interested in the attempt by my family and I to live plastic-lite for a month (read about it here). We attempted the plastic challenge (encouraged by the Marine Conservation Society #plasticchallenge) for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. You may be interested in trying something similar, so here is my advice…

Product Alternative Source
Multiple use shopping bags Jute shoppers Unicef – includes funding for 2 measles vaccinations for children per bag
Plastic for loose vegetables Paper bags Amazon – various sizes about 40p each
Plastic toothbrush Bamboo toothbrush Ethical superstore UK – eg. medium bamboo
Single-use water bottle Washable/reusable multi-use bottle Three value 1L Tritan bottles from Amazon
Toilet rolls/packaging Recycled paper and compatible plastic packaging (no, not reusable paper!) This was difficult to source but Suma produce this which can be acquired through Amazon
Storage for berries, meats and cheeses Glass, metal and other jars and boxes Often jars/metal storage comes with a plastic lid which you would take to loose produce sections, deli counters or traditional butchers. These have a BPA free lid and use a small amount of plastic but are reusable and washable.

Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:

  1. Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
  2. Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
  3. Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
  4. Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.

This problem isn’t simply going to disappear. We cannot wait 25 years for legislation to force retailers and manufacturers as change is only one decision away.

Further reading

¹The Independent – Theresa May vows to eliminate UK’s plastic waste by 2042, 10th January 2018

²National Geographic – 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled, 19th July, 2017

BBC News – UK faces build-up of plastic waste, 1st January 2018

BBC News – What are supermarkets doing to fight plastic? 14th January 2018

Five Things (2017)


Five things achieved this year:

  1. #PlasticChallenge: a month of plastic-lite living (June)
  2. Hiking
  3. Mindfulness apps
  4. Draughtsmanship teaching
  5. Hacktivism

1 My family and I attempted the #plasticchallenge for the whole month of June buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. In addition, in preparation is the end of May, we replaced our plastic shopping bags with jute (natural materials) and our own paper grocery bags for loose items. This was based on the Marine Conservation Society “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. Plastics pollution is a massive issue, see my original blog post from May and the results of the plastic-lite living from the July.

2 Hiking has re-inspired me this year.

Hope-Castleton-Mam Tor
Due to a back injury toward the end of 2015, I decided to walk every day for at least 40 minutes. Sometimes I go for an hour or two near home and occasionally somewhere a bit more challenging (Peak District, Derbyshire in photo). I feel healthier, can think clearer, take some photos and even encourage my daughter to get outside more.

3 I became interested in meditation at university and have continued to practice when I could find the time ever since. I went to classes in Nottingham when I lived there and used a (FWBO) metta-bhavana audio tape for years! I went on to use this online audio sometimes which is similar. Throughout 2016, my school undertook street-yoga activities with Year 7s. Although I realised these 5-minute Mindfulness exercises were yet another edu-fad that would disappear without the funding, I was one of the few teachers to keep it up all year! In the summer, I started playing around with some of the iOS apps and this reemergence of mindfulness practice has been one of my top 5 achievements this year.

4 Any art teachers involved in the teaching of the new 1-9 GCSE Art & Design will know there is a new emphasis on drawing in all it’s forms. That includes in the Photography endorsement. The implication for this ‘new emphasis’ is that drawing was a measure of rigour. Consequently, much of my teaching at GCSE has had a focus on drawing and this has inspired me to go back to pencil, pen & ink and eventually invest in an Apple Pencil. I am still getting to grips with the digital pencil’s possibilities!

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“Flotsam & Jetsam”, refugees from southern Mediterranean

5 I have been a bit more reticent on Twitter this year, partly due to their failure to kick a certain White House resident off their media platform (reasons they haven’t outlined here). I have got involved with a bit more ‘hacktivism’ though, not so much in the proper definition of the term…

Hacktivism is the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose.

… more in terms of using my social media account for a positive, socially motivated purpose. As you can read above regarding the Marine Conservation Society’s #plasticchallenge, social behaviour and even legislation can be changed with group online activity. A high profile campaign like this, followed by amazing BBC footage in Blue Planet II might change single-use plastic forever. This has global consequences (see Boston). Via Greenpeace campaigns I have lobbied VW (electric vehicles, Bluemotion Diesel) and Coca-Cola (single-use plastic bottle waste) this year but also used my profile to contact Costa cafes (vegan snack options), Asda (vegan non-dairy cheeses/pizza), Greggs/Asda/Sainsburys/Tesco (vegan “to go’ options) and manufacturer Quorn (further vegan options; in fact why put egg in some Quorn products at all?). Some hilarious responses from automated replies to panicky customer services teams who casually respond as if you are making an alien request then realise that they’re talking to 2000-ish customers in their fastest growing sector. Try it; here’s a sample email

Dear <insert supermarket name> customer services team,

I’m getting in touch to say how fantastic it would be if you produced more vegan-friendly on-the-go lunch options.

Veganism is one of the fastest growing movements, with over half a million vegans in the UK. This is on the rise, with no signs of stopping.

In a recent poll, 91% of vegans said they struggled to find vegan food when out and about. This can be quite frustrating when you’re looking to buy something for lunch and the vegetarian option has a tiny amount of milk or egg in.

And it’s not just vegans who buy vegan food – it is also popular amongst vegetarians, meat reducers, people conscious of their health, people of certain religious faiths, and people trying to improve their environmental impact.

That means there’s a lot to be gained by improving your range – and nothing to lose!

Best wishes