Monday, 23 November 2020


Might the Queen mention #BLM in her Christmas speech?
From my enforced isolation over this last year, I have been greedily eating up news from a range of sources, and not just the dominant horrors around covid. I’ve been particularly excited by the evolution of things that we can genuinely describe as social movements - and #BLM has consistently blown me away - not least at its illumination of historical injustices. However, as those statues have been tumbled, that call for deeper understanding and accountability of our pasts somehow seems to skirt around the monarchy - and I’m curious as to why that might be? Perhaps we’re not quite ready for the republic just yet, or people are too hooked on their glossy box sets of how the other half live! - the queen’s metal hat certainly offers escapism in a time of lockdown, but what of our
 sceptred isle’s relationship to colonialism, extremes of inequality and racism? Can you imagine if the Queen actually addressed this - and particularly the collective anger/joy and potential thrown up by an acknowledgment of #BLM in her Christmas Day address to the masses! Now that would be probably one of the most significant moments in my life.

I’m not holding my breath - just clinging on to a vague delusion. From support that Elizabeth I gave to Captain John Hawkins, who captured hundreds of people from Africa exchanging them for hides, ginger, and sugar in 1562, to the 21st century the misdemeanours of our sovereigns need taking into account, as human rights activist Peter Tatchell has said "Nothing is stopping them from making a general statement in support of racial equality and inclusion. Their failure to do that speaks volumes about their white privilege mentality." Their historical role in supporting the Black slave trade, or instances of racism from the royal family over the years, seem somehow to be blindly accepted.

As for that recently grey-washed ape* in the Whitehouse who refuses to accept he isn’t the sun-king after all, but just the pinnacle of some individualist, neo-liberal shopping cult that got out of hand - your new hair job does not make you a left bank intellectual. Gravitas is something you can never buy. Still, your last legal man standing, Rudy (fail-fail-Grecian-2000-fail) Giuliani - who’s not appeared in a Federal Court for 28 years - should perhaps go for the gravitas and dignity look too! (Though he did receive an honorary knighthood in 2002 from the Queen - but that’s another story) He ended up looking like another vaudeville-inspired-free-market-pop-up-snake-oil-salesman with his mascara smeared temples dribbling down his gelatinous head. Now - an image of the wonderful Dirk Bogarde as the love-sick, cholera infected Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, sprang straight to mind when I saw the photos of this Grecian legal mobster. Which would I prefer - the pestilence of Thomas Mann’s, 1912 sumptuous Venice, or Capitol Hill and the unfolding horror-farce of the last days of the apprentice? I can’t wait to see the play, the film, the poem that captures these unfolding days of the old norms, where monarchs and elected leaders are held to account. Give it a few years for it all to percolate through…

A few times on this blog, I’ve shared the early work of the artist John Angus who alongside Alison Jones (now Clough) created some wonderful work in 1990/92 as “Celebratory Arts for Primary Health Care”.  Their health promoting collaboration explored lung health and heart health and the hand produced screen-prints were shown in many hospitals and health centres in the West Midlands and Gateshead. 
When I was working as an artist at the Royal Albert Hospital in Lancaster - a Victorian residential institution for adults with learning difficulties - we had a full set of these posters, and Angus and Clough remain something of key figures in this movement.

I was thrilled last week to read about an event over in Leeds, that’s not dissimilar to last year’s event in Manchester - Yardsticks & Dreamscapes: Beyond Measurements in Arts, Health & Social Change across Greater Manchester - seems like only yesterday! But in Leeds there’s an online event happening this Tuesday 24th and tickets are HERE. It’s simply called What is it about art & culture that can make a difference to our health? There are some great people involved and under the banner Beyond Measure is a part of a programme of digital engagement exploring research and evidence in culture and health, organised by the Cultural Institute in collaboration with the very exciting Centre for Cultural Value, and Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network. Superb to see all this exciting work happening in Yorkshire.

Now - bringing me back to those posters - I had an email from 
Geraldine Montgomerie over in Leeds, after a copy of the book Critical Care that I’d written a few years ago. Full of the joys of spring, I threw it in the post and low and behold the very next day, I received a pack of outrageously beautiful Votive Cards, designed to stimulate conversations around health, by way of a thank you! But it’s I that should be doing the thanking! I should also extend my thanks to the artist, not just the giver. Garry Barker draws narratives about the fact he finds the world he lives in a very strange place. He is also getting older and worries a lot about what it is he does. Superb. Click HERE to go to his website. I like this work so much because the cards don’t lay down the rules about how you might use them, they don't shy away from potentially difficult conversations - they stimulate exploration and encourage play, and they are bloody beautiful. 

You have to credit psychobiology/epidemiologist Dr Daisy Fancourt with her very high-profile advocacy for the arts and health agenda. She’s become a strong presence in the research field (much to the chagrin of some mudslinging, great pale apes* - a threatened old guard perhaps?). She had an outing on BBC News Night last week, but alas, I can’t find a link, but here’s something from April 2018 where she extols the potential of Social Prescribing. It’s on Facebook and has had lots of views - and there are some genuinely interesting comments, not just the usual ones in the echo-chamber, but people with constructive crit, who may be open to thinking differently. Although she and I may appear miles apart in our thinking, it's aways thought provoking stuff from Daisy F and delivered with clarity, and you can link to her aspirations around social prescribing by clicking on the image below.

That said - the Social Prescribing agenda is on the ascendance - but will require some serious consideration around the recruitment of this apparent army of link workers, and there are huge issues around what’s on offer to people; what’s the capacity of the local artists and 
cultural providers; how resistant might people be to having culture thrown at them and how the hell is any service of quality going to be funded in a time of even more pernicious period of austerity than we’ve ever known? It's important for anyone reading this to know I am not opposed to Social Prescribing and can see all the benefits - but alas, we also need to look closely at the pitfalls, and make sure this work is carefully thought through and funded adequately.

In my presentation to the delegates of a conference on Social Prescribing at the Whitworth - which sadly Daisy didn't make it to - my provocation A Delicate Ecology (see film link below) amongst other things, explored what 
the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care described as a free social cure. So let’s remind ourselves here: that’s free and it’s a cure. He may well claim to be opposed to big pharma - but I have some doubt as to that - and let’s not forget, it’s the ‘BIG” in pharma that’s the problem, not necessarily the medications that help us through physical and psychological health crises. Herein lies treacherous thinking and dangerous territory on Matt Hancock’s part. Yes, by all means recruit locally savvy link workers - but recruit artists, poets, musicians, dancers, actors - skilled and experienced community creatives (or whatever we might describe these people as) and pay them well, care for their health and respect them - and whatever you do, don’t force the hands of over-stretched medics to be more than they are. Invest in this new health and social care landscape, but don’t offer free cures, because they don't exist and mortality always has a 100% success rate.

But I have an another equally serious itch about rolling out social prescribing - that is planned I hope, with good intent - culture in all its guises isn’t just about making people stupefied, passive and compliant with the status quo - it’s not just about that misunderstood blanket term ‘resilience’. On the contrary, inequalities, poverty, racism and all the divisions that these factors (and many more) contribute to, means that we shouldn’t be doled out soporifics, so we all comply like good little citizens, nudged into a state of blind acceptance of state sanctioned cures. What we know is that the arts can do the polar opposite of this - they galvanise and they divide, they provoke emotions that are off the scale and they have the potential to help us evolve in the most outrageous and wonderful ways. Above all they help us shape our ideas about the world and our place in it and I for one am continuing to learn from #BLM, #ExtinctionRebellion and #MeToo. 

(footnote #11 - ok, it's been a while)
Well the lodger took a holiday over the summer months. I didn’t hear them go out, but then I didn’t hear them sneak back in either. So, to cope with this sneaky and may I say destructive and incredibly boring behaviour, I’m obliged to control the situation with the help of pills and potions - yes, yes, yes, the very same ones that make people millions.

While I have nothing but admiration for all those working in the hospitals that help me with a temporary restraining order on this unwanted guest, I am frustrated to be one of the thousands of people that is slowly becoming a casualty of our ineffectual and shambolic government. Though apparently No 10 seems to be suggesting everything’s back to normal with the NHS! If indeed the lodger takes over completely, in my absence I do hope someone will erect a gibbet on Downing Street or Parliament Square and hold that creature to account. The final part of my ‘treatment’ (oh that it were a treat) is stem-cell transplantation and has been variously, ‘cancelled’, ‘delayed’ and ‘postponed’. If it does indeed happen in January/Feb, (oh so vague for an event so monumental) the eviction will be have been seven months late. 

Former regional director of public health for the South West, Professor Gabriel Scally who is also a key member of @independentSAGE (not the gov’t SAGE group) has some of the most prescient thoughts on the government’s feel-good rush to make Christmas as normal as ever. This week he has spoken on a number of platforms to say with sobering lucidity: ‘There is no point having a merry Christmas then burying friends and family in January.’ @GabrielScally

A lot can happen to body and mind in a short period - seven months alas - is not so short to a mean spirited lodger. That said - I plough on and am still inspired by things outside the dwelling and chomp at the bit to gallivant in the countryside, so much so in fact, that earlier in the year I succumbed to the joys of Instagram in a personal capacity, but which is nevertheless impossible to separate from my work/passion. Kim Kardashian I am not - it's just a gentle exploration of just being in the world and interested in everything. I’m learning. 
You can find my benign and flimsy contribution here - @clivebparkinson 

*Genuine apologies to apes. I do appreciate they are of a more sensitive, peaceable and communal nature  than these repugnant barbarians that I am reverse anthropomorphising!

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