Saturday, 7 November 2020

Reasons to #Write the #Times

I'm told that more people are taking up writing than ever before. This is not surprising given we are living through #unprecedented times. I write to make sense of the world and my place in it; to aid my mental health and as a way to #focus and meditate; and to take myself away from what I am going through and to put myself somewhere else, somewhere 'other.' Writing, I am convinced, makes one more empathetic, it is a way of imagining oneself as other, whatever form that #otherness might take. 

Writing steadies me and helps me keep charting my own course. Writing comes from the deep well of the imagination where our core selves reside, which is why it is sometimes hard to 'go there' but this is the place of authenticity and truth. Writing is a brave act, not a self-indulgent one, though I believe it leads to self-improvement.

As more of us take up writing, for reasons stemming from the personal to the professional, it can only have a positive effect and what is good for the individual, radiates good to the #community. Writing is also an act of gratitude. We write because we can because we are gloriously able to create. It's a life-affirming act in and of itself. We record our trials and tribulations, our sorrows, but also our #joys and our #triumphs. It's good to share.

Writing now will help you to take stock, manage your thoughts, and make sense of this strange world that we find ourselves inhabiting. You will also be keeping a record for the future: for the future you to look back on, and for your grandchildren or anyone else, who is going to be fortunate enough then, to look at the gems you scatter now.

Writing during these seasons of lockdown will help us feel less isolated, less alone, less of an enforced individual, and more of a group. Human beings are made for relationships. Writing gives us confidence and connection, and since we often write with an audience in mind, we will naturally seek one out. So seek out a reading, writing community to cheer you on.

Finally, writing is magical. You flick a switch and if you trust it, it's like turning on a tap. There is no muse required, just a childlike desire to explore and to build from there if you wish to. Just step out and see the rainbow, I encourage you to write during this time, even if this takes the form of #scribbling in a journal. You'll thank you for it. Now is the write time.


Starting to Write is a 4-week course for £37.50
14 November 2020 on Zoom at 11-12 pm
Subscription Courses www.emilybarroso.co.uk

Sunday, 25 October 2020

#Hansford&Sons #emergingartistplatform - Money for Nothing?

The online art market is exploding, and as it does so, individuals eager to part artists with their money are popping up quicker than you can say Eduardo Paolozzi – which most of them can’t. Like any artist who has only been painting with intent since 2018, apart from occasional painting bursts in the kitchen, I have been gratified by having been followed by art magazines and galleries via Instagram, and have had my work picked up for a Dutch website. I have also had a number of online organisations suggest I pay them to repost work on their websites, most of these are badly written, unprofessional and riddled with exclamation marks – a sure sign of what lies beneath, as it were; so when Lauren ‘S’, contacted me to say she loved my work and would I contact her, initially I was sceptical, but given I have not yet got round to getting my own website made,  the option of having my work up on a working website seemed an attractive option.

Hey Emily-Jane

I hope you’re ok!

I really loved your work on your page 😍 - so amazing!

I’d love to offer you a place on our Emerging Artist Platform 🎉

I work for Hansford and Sons Fine Art and I’d love you to be part of our team

If you’re interested let me know (I hope you are) and I can send more info! ☺️

Lauren

I looked at the Hansford & Sons Fine Art website, they did indeed appear to be art experts. I asked for more info…

Great! Here’s a little more info for you- It’s so exciting! ☺️What we do is create a page for you on our website (we have 20k unique visitors a month, not to mention our regular buyers) You can never have too much exposure, right? As well as this, we also offer artists the chance to exhibit at many of our exhibitions around the world and virtually. Also, coverage and promotions on all of our social media platforms! It’s really great at the moment ☺️ If you’re interested (which I hope you are) or would like anymore info then I can send you everything you need to know over email including how I can sign you up ☺️

Lauren

I Googled Hansford & Sons and found a ‘gallery’ in Great Portland St. Quelle Impressive! I know the Gt Portland St area well. Gt Portland St tube was my local station for 30 years, and I didn’t know about virtual offices until I began to find out more about Hansford & Sons. I asked for a phone meeting with Lauren, and though I was unsure about how much experience of the art world she had, she was enthusiastic, and so, emojis with heart eyes and the exclamation marks aside, I signed up, and opted for the £49.99 option rather than the £29.99 one, though I realised afterwards that given the uncertainty around the exhibition opportunities for both, the only difference was that I had the opportunity for unlimited uploads, and the commission if I sold anything, would be less - 15% rather than 20%. Incidentally, the artists I’ve spoken to were only charged £29.99, not £49.99.  I have since been sent a screenshot from another artist who recently paid £29.99 for the same commission (15%), so as it turned out I'd had been better off, by £20.00. And I'd be feeling a little less ripped off.

From 

Lauren’s email to me:

There are 2 annual payment options for our services: 

Basic: £29.99 - This will include exhibition opportunities, 5 new uploads per month and 20% commission on artwork sales.

Premium: £49.99 - This will include solo, group and virtual exhibition opportunities, Unlimited uploads, 15% commission on artwork sales.

Before we paid, my husband suggested I contact two friends who buy fine art to look at the company, in particular, my friend who had worked for a fine art shipping company, but unfortunately, I did not get round to that. I should have asked for terms and conditions since none were apparent on the website and Lauren did not provide me with any. I have since asked them on more than one occasion for them, and have yet to receive any. My first warning bell came when I paid my money to an ‘accounts team’ and received no confirmation of payment. I then heard nothing until I contacted Lauren to find out what was happening, whereupon I received a message saying that she had received notification from ‘the accounts team’ that my payment had been made. My page went up just under two weeks later, which is a lot quicker than some of the artists I've spoken to have experienced. Several of them have waited months from payment to page being up. They only seem to action anything if you trigger them - more on triggers, of which there are plenty, later.

At first sight, I was pleased with the way my page looked on the EAP platform, though they had not included some of the information I’d sent: key information that singles you out from the many artists (100s? 1000s?) they are quite possibly signing up, such as my exhibitions and social media details, so that people could look into me off-site. Also one of my paintings was upside down and despite my requests, they did not correct it – or update my details. Further, they had left work I’d sent off with no explanation as to why. I did not hear back from Lauren S or Deeksha H as to why this was when I messaged them. Not responding was, I felt, unprofessional. Deeksha H who put up my work on the EAP website, and made some initial changes, informed me that I could not post unlimited work as they had said when they took my cash, but could submit 5 pieces a week. Despite this being different to what I was told, as outlined above, I was unlikely to submit more work than that, so I was prepared to let it go. As it turned out, I did not actually get to submit any more work, and the first, limited set of work that I initially sent to Lauren to send on to Deeksha H, remained partially there, as did the upside-down painting. I tried, over several weeks, after painstakingly photographing and adding the necessary text for the images, to get the work that was left off up, and the first set of work corrected. I was also told to get further work to 'uploads' before the Wednesday of each week, but I was unable, over a two week period to get an email response from uploads, and seemingly, neither was Lauren when she sent work on for me. The fact that I was unable over two consecutive Wednesdays to get any response from 'uploads' much less any further uploads up at all, didn't bode well for any future transactions.

Had I received a generic message stating they were experiencing delays or some such communication, I would have perhaps been fine, instead I was told by Lauren that they were experiencing 'internet troubles' in ‘their area’- in London?  I’d also looked at some of the work being put up at the actual gallery in Stoney Stratford, Milton-Keynes and at some of the virtual exhibitions that they were putting up. I formed the opinion that some of the work was not really ready to be exhibited. I’d already had enough of EAP’s unprofessionalism and, after talking to another artist, who'd had a worse experience than me, I asked for a refund. Unsurprisingly, nothing much happened. Lauren stated she was ‘on vacation,’ though she seemed to be busy ‘putting up exhibitions’ and so on.  I was told that my refund request would be sent to the director, Jazz Jade and to contact her myself as well. Then the work I had sent went up (though my painting remained upside down and the key information about me remained off) despite my request to cancel my association with them. If this was how they handled my work, how would they handle any potential sales were my work ever be found on their website, amongst the many hundreds of works, unless I directed traffic there? I searched for 10 minutes the one day and found nothing.

During my brief association with them, I was unhappy with the whole Hansford & Sons operation. I would question their art expertise; they do not have an actual gallery in London but Stony the crows, there is a physical gallery Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes that features rolling exhibitions as well as solo virtual exhibitions. These seem to be run on a pot-luck basis. An artist who has shown there told me her work looked fine, though the prices were put up incorrectly. There is a virtual office with a messaging service and phone numbers that were never answered when I rang them. Another artist who exhibited at the Stony Stratford gallery had, as we say in Zimbabwe, one hell of a job trying to get his artwork back. After having difficulty making contact with them, he eventually managed to arrange a courier to go to the gallery to collect his work. In the message stream, I have seen between him and EAP he is advised that if “he needs help finding a cheap courier to let them know.” He duly arranged his own courier, but then spent a protracted period of time trying to engage them in sending his work. He did not hear from them until eventually, Jazz Jade told him that she wasn’t ignoring him, she’d had her bag stolen and that she had “only that day managed to get a new iPhone with a sim card in order to contact him.” I would have thought that any arts business would have a database of clients and not be reliant on one mobile phone's sim card? When his work arrived it was battered and torn, having only been wrapped thinly in bubble wrap with no cardboard. He took several photographs of the damage to his work and also the inadequate packing materials the gallery had used and I include them below.


When he complained, asking why his work had been sent as it was, he was told that he ‘had not paid for cardboard,' and that it was the courier’s fault and to contact them. They also showed him a contract that he says he had never seen nor signed, that they say they gave him at his exhibition. He is currently pursuing a claim through Trading Standards. Unsurprisingly, the artist is very upset and said that galleries usually have plenty of wrapping materials and that it was basic common sense not to send anything valuable with such poor protection. In my last communication with him, he told me that he remains disappointed, and cannot believe they are trying to get away with what they have done.


Hansford & Sons claim to be able to restore artwork, but they haven't offered to help him in any way shape or form. His paintings are now in very bad shape as you can see. He is still trying to get the company to respond to his messages and his requests for compensation. 

Meanwhile, after weeks of failing to contact Jazz Jade, regarding my refund request, I warned her that I was going to take action if they would not communicate with me regarding my refund. At the deadline I had given before I began action against them, I reported them and began contacting other artists to tell them of my disappointment. I also added the links to the howsmydealing website https://howsmydealing.com/2020/07/20/the-emerging-artist-platform/ (a website that catalogues the experiences that some artists have had with galleries and art businesses, including EAP) and to the professional bodies that deal with any possible illegal activities. Jazz Jade then became much more communicative than she had been previously. She sent me 3 lengthy provocative audio messages making comments about my children, my age, my work, and how she speculated I spent my time and what she was going to do. She said I would be hearing from her lawyers, for, what she claimed was, ‘defamation of character,’ if I did not stop telling other people about my experiences with EAP. I told Jazz Jade that I would not be silenced and repeated my request for a refund. The audio messages were deleted before I could play them to my husband that evening, but I have quite a few written messages in a similar vein in my possession. Take this one for example regarding the money I’d paid them to be on their site for the ten days I was up before I requested a refund. 

Wed, 7 Oct, 15:56  

 to me

“Darling your £50 wouldn’t even pay for my dog food... let alone my petrol. I have made great things happen for many artists and I’m so Jolly because despite your claims I will continue to do so! 

Make sure you fill out that form, that’s what you need to do try and get that £50 quid.” 

Good Luck! 

Here is the refund page to which she refers, which I filled out in detail, I included details of all the audio and written abuse I had received.www.emergingartistplatform.com/account-actions 

After giving my reasons for requesting a refund, I was told this by Jazz Jade: 

“Thank you for your comments but I do not need to take advise (her Misspelling) for a clearly begrudging individual. Your evidently desirous of the opportunities other artists on the platform have and this envy is causing you to be deliberately uncooperative.”

Of course, were I desirous of these ‘opportunities,’ I would have stuck around for longer than 10 days (not taking into account time between paying and actually being up on the platform). 

Jazz Jade

Apart from her interesting approach to business, Jazz Jade seems to have several personas. She advertises herself by turns as ‘the CEO’ ‘CHAIRWOMAN’, ‘ART APPRAISALS’ & ‘HEAD OF EMERGING ARTIST PLATFORM.’ She is also known as The Director of Hansford & Sons. Those capital letters are from the Hansford&Sons site, but the addresses given for Hansford & Sons in the capital of the UK appear to be postal or 'virtual offices, and, as I mentioned, any London gallery does not seem to exist. The Great Portland Street address looks to be a postal address. Her style of communicating to artists that EAP scout and whose work they appear to enthuse over and advertise that they want to help is unusual: “Did you think I was going to make you Pickarso,” she said to me on one of the audio messages. On her Instagram page (Missartcurator) Jazz Jade posts photograph after photograph of fine art, with comments such as:

missartcurator

“Stunning artwork unique piece from” #rogerhilton 

“This #sculpture is beautiful unique piece by” #albertogiacometti

“Astonishing piece of artwork from the great artist of all time #pablopicasso 

“Fantastic work from” #sandrabotticelli 

Botticelli might turn in his 510-year-old grave. May I suggest the nom de plume, Missrepresentor?



Hansford & Sons Website

I took a closer look at Hansford & Sons, the people they say work for them and their social media sites. The text on the H&S site is inconsistent, and some of it is identical to that on other art sites. The badly and error-ridden text littered with exclamation marks appears to be theirs. The rest gives a misleading impression, for example, if you click on ‘artists’ you will see people like Peter Blake, Barbara Hepworth and John Hoyland advertised to look as though they represent these artists, or at least, that they are in fact, bona fide, experts. But anyone would be bonkers to imagine the young women that work for Jazz Jade represent these world-class, famous artists. Their 'headquarters in Bloomsbury Way,' is shared with 820 other companies, given they are virtual offices that anyone can inexpensively hire. Here is what they claim about themselves:

They do have an extensive history of identifying emerging art pieces that appears to be getting more and more extensive and widespread as the volume of artists who have their details on their Instagram pages reveals. It is the manner of the identification procedure that I would question. They claim to have an ethos too, that in my opinion and experience, exceeds any realm of possibility.


They do indeed keep abreast of things, in terms of having identical wording to other Fine Art websites, that they attribute to themselves. Take this for instance, a page with identical wording to one on Momart’s website: 

And from Momart's website page: https://www.momart.com/services/art-storage I contacted Momart, who thanked me and said that they will be taking action.

Though they cannot manage any form of communication, they claim to be able to manage and catalogue art collections.


The video of the team (as in accounts, finance etc.,) could, I suspect, have been taken from stock photos. A number of people search the internet for new subscribers, apparently from their bedrooms. I researched all the staff there, and the only one that can be actualised is Jazz Jade. Matt exists, though he does not appear to work for the company anymore. Lauren, Misha, Ginny and Sarah et al, do not appear as members of ‘the team,’ though they apparently are, and have appeared at Hansford & Sons’ gallery in Middleton Stoney. Photographs on the Hansford & Sons website also look to having been taken from a stock photo library or other websites. I found the 'framing' section, to be particularly interesting. 

As for the #emergingartistwebsite, this is what they say about themselves: 



I believe that anyone who is prepared to pay the subscription fee can sign up. There is no handpicking. I believe the reason EAP ‘take care of promotion and sales’ is so that potential clients do not make contact with artists, for reasons that some artists are discovering.


An artist on the howsmydealingwebsite https://howsmydealing.com/2020/07/20/the-emerging-artist-platform/#comment-27801 wrote how they only discovered they had sold work when the person who said they had bought their art from EAP/H&S tracked them down to ask where the work they bought was. I’ve spoken to an artist who is many hundreds of pounds out of pocket. There are no testimonials on their website from happy customers, nor artists who have actually sold work, only subscribers who perhaps hope to be featured in the Stony Stratford gallery and notably, not one of them speaks of having actually sold any work. None of the many artists I have spoken to in connection with the platform have sold work and been paid for it. I know two of the artists on that Testimonial page. One is taking action against them. Another has expressed dismay at what he has since found out. Another artist friend was asked for a testimonial, she has since asked for her page to be taken down. These appear to have gone up since I joined; a system of damage control? 

Lucian Hector

Another person linked to Hansford & Sons according to information registered to at Companies House, is Lucian Hector, who is named as company director. Lucian Hector appears to have been involved with a number of companies. The bank I paid my subscription to is in Luxembourg. They also claim to know insurers in Switzerland. Why Switzerland? There are lots of ‘Independent Partners.’


Two of Lucian Hector’s former companies have been dissolved. Did the companies owe money? There was a business called Trust No One, which was registered to an address in Chiswick High Road. Another is called Power to Art, registered to an address in Woking which seems to be the only actual address - to a flat in Woking. On LinkedIn, Lucian Hector says he was educated in the Virgin Islands and has a Minor in Fine Art. This quote is also from his Linked In page: ‘'Others Have Seen What It Is And Asked Why. I Have Seen What It Could Be And Asked Why Not” - Pablo Picasso. He also happens to have the same name as the famous artist, Lucian Hector Jonas. Apparently, he also had links with a company called Mr Reem in Montpelier St in London. I wonder if the gallery in Stoney Stratford is in good financial order?



My hunch is that Lucian Hector, Jazz Jade and no surnames and co. are trying to get as many artists as possible to pay subscription fees. I wonder about the emergingartisplatform's "20k unique visitors a month, not to mention our regular buyers," that Lauren told me about. There is a section on their website for Middle Eastern Investors. “We Believe Opening Up This Side of The Art Market and Making Middle Eastern Cultures Aware That There Is Money To Be Made By Investing Into Post War Modern British Art.” But there is money there, and they want some of it, though I doubt they’ll be seeing much of it despite their 'deep understanding they has carved out,' (sic.) People with the kind of cash they hope for would go straight to Christie’s, for example, unless they’re daft, which I think not. But then I don’t claim to be an expert despite having actually studied art

Hansford & Sons don't, in my opinion, live up to their claim to be experts. I’ve been in touch with multiple artists who have grievances with EAP. There are artists whose clients did not receive work they paid for and artists who were not paid for work sold. I did finally discover an artist who lives near the Milton Keynes gallery, who has sold work after exhibiting there, and been paid for work sold. I asked her if she has proof as to whether the clients actually received her work. She did not reply. It’s easier for unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of artists living abroad or further away. When artists have tried to get recompense they are likely to get the same reaction I did. Indeed an artist that is owed money was also told, as I was, that she would be done 'for defamation of character,' after a number of false accusations were made about them (the artist). An artist I know has been left suffering from anxiety and stress and another wept when they saw the condition of returned work. Given the £30/£50 per subscription, not many would take their cases to court. Others are in a far worse boat than me as I think I have illustrated. It seems immoral to me, and quite possibly illegal. Hansford & Sons (who the deuce are the ‘sons’? Answer: There are none; daughters would have been a better noun,) are canny in that they have a small gallery in a nondescript part of England and they provide a ‘service’ of sorts. I received a sympathetic email from Trading Standards, so they are aware of them, as are the police, but I will update them now that I have received an update on my refund from them, (see below) but given this is deemed a ‘business to business’ transaction there is not much that can be done in my, comparatively mild case, though no-one enjoys spending money and getting nothing for that money, and being treated as I have outlined to boot. These are Jazz Jade's responses to my refund request:

"Your refund request has been denied. You will be receiving an email shortly explaining the reasons for our decision, so kindly pass that on to ‘trading standards’. Best Wishes" (No name as to who sent this but I’m guessing Jazz sent it). 

Late last Saturday night, I received a list of reasons as to why my refund was being denied. I was told my reasons for requesting a refund were all 'false or sophistry' though I simply outlined my experience for which I have all the emails and messages. Various untrue accusations were made about me as well as threats. Other artists have received similar responses and accusations when making complaints. Just to be clear, I have not bullied any staff, unless politely requesting a refund is considering bullying.

PLEASE NOTE

This decision is final and if ANY of our team members receive any form of contact from you we will be reporting you to the police for harassment. Bullying of our staff WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

Yours Sincerely

Julian 

EAP (All capital letters are EAPs; my guess is 'Julian' is another of Jazz Jade's personas)

Many subscribers come from abroad, where it is harder to seek recompense or refunds for stolen work or fees not paid to artists and clients. From what I understand, some artists in the UK aren’t having much luck either retrieving refunds or getting paid for work sold. However, if enough affected artists report Hansford & Sons/EAP to the police via Action Fraud, and to other relevant professional bodies, they might eventually be compelled to act. I wrote this to expose Hansford & Sons for who I feel they really are and because I have been in contact with artists who are very upset about it indeed. I hope other artists might be saved the stress I've suffered during this experience and all the time it has taken up. Artists abroad who think they have representation via experts from London should investigate further. A fine idea they may well be getting about the UK art market.

Sadly, art scams are becoming more and more prolific. An artist friend whom I met researching Hansford & Sons has experienced dubious operations in London, Portugal and the USA. Her advice is to always check the fine print EAP, I have not seen any. Never pay to display, particularly when commissions, sometimes as much as 30% are on top. Never send work anywhere unless money has cleared in the bank.  Also beware of 'vanity galleries,' or publications that offer to advertise you; they are looking for you to pay for advertising space. Agora and Vogue amongst them. My advice? Bide your time, hone your craft and wait until you are ready to show - be clear-eyed about where you are, and about the art market in general. If you’re asked to pay, stay away. Can you imagine any legitimate gallery in London asking you to pay a fee to show your work? Meanwhile, as artists, we need to spread the word. The fact that Hansford & Sons/EAP repost work on Instagram and have ‘virtual galleries’ and a gallery in Milton Keynes, may well be enough for some artists desperate to get a foothold in a saturated market, but artists, do you want people who misrepresent themselves to represent you?

Please see this site for more information: https://howsmydealing.com/2020/07/20/the-emerging-artist-platform/

confidential.com

If you have been affected by any art scams please contact:

Action Fraud 

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

Metropolitan Police

https://www.met.police.uk/ro/report/ocr/af/how-to-report-a-crime/

Insolvency Service 

https://www.insolvencydirect.bis.gov.uk/externalonlineforms/CompanyComplaint.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3YGXu5A4g3YpECtpYRpmTQQQ7PvpVqfYIODOQ5RdpJOsAog4jiOU6BzdA

Court Action can be taken here: https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money

I can be contacted here: www.emilybarroso.com

Twitter @emilybarroso1

Instagram for more updates on art news @emilyjanehillman




 






Saturday, 8 August 2020

Humanism Schism

I've had my letter from the government detailing that I can ease up on shielding. One of the highlights of recent days was Lidl opening, a five-minute cycle ride from here. Lidl have wide aisles and hand sanitising facilities in place, yet despite Welsh Government stating that people advice to maintain a 2 metre distance, most shoppers in Lidl on the two occasions I have been there, are not even trying to maintain distance. They amble along, sometimes in groups, reaching over people and ignoring the radio pleas from the Lidl speakers, asking them politely to maintain distance. On the roads, crowds of tourists amble along, often (in my experience) refusing to give way to cyclists despite polite requests or bell ringing. Motorists often put foot instead of giving way, and I often see people texting on phones in vehicles and on a number of occasions, texting as they cycle - I kid you not. Local forums where pedestrianisation has been posited quickly become ugly, with business owners and their cohorts swiftly forming an angry braying mob.

On social media, tribes attack other tribes. Beaches, pathways and the local green, are vast dog toilets. Most dog owners clean up but there are daily missile attacks. Imagine if humans let their small ones poop all over the place? Drivers belch out pollution and take up too much room on the road, not heeding the rules for cyclists. I find the SUV drivers particularly unyielding. Outside our town walls, 'boy-racers,' some barely 17, I assume, but with the appearance of boys much younger, race on the A55 and any roads that are clear - thankfully not usually within our town walls, they'd never get up the speed. We moved from London to a UNESCO world heritage site, with amazing castle, despite its brutal history. I am sorry to say that too many are treating the environment around here brutally. So many selfish people clawing for themselves, their families, their dogs, with nary a thought that they are running roughshod over people, historic buildings, animals, mountains and sea. 

Why are people so selfish? I have one answer. They are their own gods. If you don't believe in God, you don't believe in consequences for actions. You believe you have the power to make your own way, your own standards. In short, you are a law unto yourself. The above is an example of what that looks like. Humanists, for instance, posit that humans should not look to the bible or a holy book or God to run their lives. They can do that for themselves. Idealistically, they suggest looking after the planet for instance and treating each other well. Hilariously, one humanist philosopher has written a lofty and self-consciously stylised alternative to the bible. As with most copies, the original is better, and, in my experience, if followed, is life changing, and works. It shines up and puts the God-given moral compass into action. The problem with humans 'doing it for themselves’ is that some of us behave as I have outlined above, and worse. Some of us try to do well and some of us try to muddle through, dodgy compasses unplugged from the life-source, charting their own careening course.

 

Saturday, 18 July 2020

The Dangers of Small Town Life

It’s been two months. Remiss of me not to check in. Hello! Or Helo, as it is in Welsh. Croeso (You’re welcome). I’ve been working hard at learning Welsh, whilst relearning Spanish, which I learnt as a small kid when we lived in Spain. As a child I was tri-lingual, given my father was Portuguese, which for youngsters is as easy as getting on a tricycle, so given my former glory, I’ve taken Duolingo at it’s word (duo=2), sorry to patronise. I think it also stands for too much. It’s been a humbling experience – not as easy as riding a bike. I recognise that if you move to another country, and contrary to common belief, Wales really is another country, then learning the lingo is the way to go; though most English-speaking folk don’t learn it, which really is a bit colonial, and only feeds the annoyance of many Welsh speakers whose ancestors have endured English colonisation since Ed the conqueror, who built the castle, here in Conwy.

Here in Conwy, the locals are having a spat about the high street potentially being pedestrianised over the summer due to Covid19. Feeings have been running higher than Lance Armstrong in/on? The Tour de France. Attitudes have been harder than his butt. I’m for, and on local forums, I’ve politely stated my case, only to have it used as a handbag (handhag?) to hit me on the head. I’ve encountered derision, scorn, red-faced or hand-shrugging emojis, playground nastiness, sarcasm and sexism. Hate not debate seems to be the ethos, this is how strong the against forum is. The pros are nicer and more pro, obvs! (wink emoji). 

Back to LA (not the place, the bloke and on to cycling dopes). In another message stream, on a local forum, people have been going wild at the notion that cyclists are allowed to use Marine Walk, where folk like to meander with their pets – fair enough right? But ‘right’ on these forums, means fascistic. There were angry emojis apace, when bike racks were spotted on Marine Walk. Following a comment that cyclists should ‘just be polite,’ I was blocked on the site for asking what being polite as a cyclist looked like. My question was: “Should we ring our bells, get off our bikes or shout out ‘excuse me?” I genuinely wanted to know so that community feeling between cyclists and leggers could be improved. In response the person who ran the site demanded where I lived with two question marks and blocked me from the convo, if you could call it that. Sometimes I miss London still (crying emoji). Small town life is wonderful, thanks to the setting, but as to characterisation and plot…

The streets, and the paths that people in Conwy must share – on foot – on bikes – but mostly in cars, are narrow, sadly, like the minds of some of the people (insert crying with laughter/shocked emoji here), and I believe, cannot sustain the continued battering and disdain of people determined to continue to pollute the streets (over 400 vehicles a day endlessly stopping and starting - farting great blasts of sea, land and lung pollutants that erodes historic buildings. We need to think outside of ourselves for solutions, to the pollution of mind, heart, land and community. We are all parts of a communal whole.

Friday, 15 May 2020

A 40th on Lockdown


My husband recently turned 40. Given lockdown, I gave his birthday much thought. It seemed so...significant, in more ways than that four, coupled with that zero signified. Need I remind us that we are living in deeply significant times. Life and death times. We are always living in life and death times, it's just that we kid ourselves that we are not. Encased in our sludgy-jelly soft bodies, we, (the human collective) mostly go blithely on our way as if we have any control over whether we live or die. This threat, (and for most of us it really is just a threat), looms large through our media and other dystopian cultural commentaries. Though the streets are silent(er), there is a babble out there. Some have responded by frantically making videos, others (mild hypocrisy alert) are digitally commenting all the time. Others are weighing up the meaning of life, and death; some are quietly, or loudly, freaking out. Having sorted out the meaning of life: God/Love. Simple/Not Simple, I got on to planning my husband's birthday.

Our car packed up just before lockdown and I am one of the ones who can't flip to furlogh, so cash levels are jokey. So what to do for this significant man, this significant day? The kids and I decided on a 3-day extravaganza, Mexican Fiesta - we all like Mexican, and a dash of Tequila never goes amiss. The kids agreed to do a performance and unanimously agreed that this should be La Cucaracha, perhaps inspired by life - the cockroaches that we have had to put down in the alleyway between our house and the restaurant we live in close proximity to. Armed with lyrics fearfully close to our hearts, we set to (best way to dispel our own fears is by singing and laughing at them, no?) And no sooner had my husband took off on his bike with his large backpack and bicycle to do our weekly shop some five miles away, we got to work with on the crazy.

By the time the man of the moment returned, the children had turned 2m flat cardboard packaging into a giant tortilla that my middle son wore, complete with coloured paper cheese, tomato and lettuce, and oval cut-out for his head. Scraps of cardboard were made into hats that were hastily spraypainted outside. The kids huddled in the courtyard learning lyrics and I painted Cape-Town in acrylics (my beloved's birthplace). That night I baked his birthday cake and iced and decorated it while our soon-to-be Mexicanised man was in the shower - this included slapping the buttercream that I had made all over the place and drawing 40 on the cake with an icing pen. Happily, I can knock out signage pretty accurately on the one-off, but he wouldn't have cared - it's the taste that counts. Cards were made and lovingly described. Following a tip-off from another Emily, I asked some of Simon's friends to make videos of memories. 


The actual fiesta was wonderful. The sun shone, we walked in stunning Conwy; the kids' performance was hysterical - they came down singing la Cucaracha as I carried in the cake, ponchos and hats on, heavy eyebrows and moustaches pencilled in, my daughter playing guitar, my little son bashing a tambourine and the middle one staggering around as a giant tortilla, as my daughter sang and my sons mumbled and bawled out la Cucaracha; the videos were heart-warming; the painting was loved and exclaimed over, and the surprising messages others sent - amongst the cards and the many moving messages sent electronically, there was a genuinely funny joke and a hilarious poem from one of our German friends; there were parcels on the doorstep that kept appearing. We ate fabulous food and drank tequila and had a noisy Marvel Movie Festival. We were well, we were together. We toasted life. He said it was the best one yet.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The Power of Critical Thinking

After seeing yet another Facebook platitude with some random statistics from an unknown source, with its subliminal messages (yes, plural) and fearmongering, I'm reminded how important it is that we all think for ourselves and mind the gap, between what is stated and what is unsaid, unresearched, unscientific or otherwise engendered. If only critical thinking was taught in schools. From primary school. I remember being so disappointed a number of years back now, when my eldest son was progressing to years 11/12, and his school decided not to do the International Baccalaureate. Their Critical Thinking module seemed critical then. Academic hoop jumping does not help us think. Now, more than ever, we need to read widely, and behind the numbers, as much as we can, and not just accept and repost things at face value. Those of us that can decode statistics. I look at them and get my husband, a doctor of sciences to decode them, so I am not saying we all need to be statisticians, but there are websites that explain things if we can be bothered to look at sources.

I no longer comment on 'political' posts on Facebook. I don't see the point. People will keep posting what they want to believe, however erroneous the source material, but for those of us who are in any way serious about the truth, I think we should overcome our desires to be 'right' or 'right-on' and think first before we post/repost, after all, there are so many mechanisms of control at play - in and out of the press, do we really want to be their mini-puppets of mind control? Where I mostly find Facebook unhelpful, Twitter is handier in terms of people commenting at the source, and I have found it to be a helpful means of acquiring information at the source - mind the trolls though, they really are lemmings. We really must consider before hopping on board - why are people repeating this? Is it true? Might there be an agenda? What subtle messages lie behind this statement/text?

The government is getting quite a bashing from 'people who know better.' I feel a bit sorry for them (the bashed and the bashees.)  These are unprecedented times. Wouldn't it be more helpful if we drew together despite our differences to actually make a difference as so many are doing with words of encouragement and offering to but shopping for people and so on? Of course, we need an opposition government to hold our government to account, but couldn't they, given the times, just think a little more critically before criticising? I was stunned by the tribal hatred that came out against the PM when he was in hospital. Don't people stop to think that there was a man, a partner (of a woman with child), brother son? Whatever our political allegiances, let's think before we 'speak.' The internet is fraught with hazards. And often just fraught with so much postulating and talk that would not take place face to face.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On Homeschooling: A response to a BBC Article from a home educating parent

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52151411

This is my response to the above BBC link.

No, you should increase your expectations but not in the way that you seem to think. My main concern is for children whose parents are less well off and for whom going to school is a lifeline, and for many a decent meal too. My son went to state schools in London in affluent and less affluent areas, so I understand the diversity of the school system. Many of his friends went to private schools, so I have seen children emerge from a variety of schooling systems.

I understand the concerns of parents, but for those of us who home educate, I can’t help feeling bemused by this article given whom it appears to address. I really don’t mean to sound smug but my children are all well above what is expected of them at their ages, academically, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in terms of emotional intelligence and confidence, and we do not usually do more than 2 hours a day of formal input, from me or my husband. Mine range from 7 - soon to be 11. However, my children are 'schooled' for most of their waking hours. The elder two read prolifically: literature, but also comics, National Geographic and any books about animals and small creatures, prehistoric or not - my 8-year-old knows far more than me about the natural world than I have learned in 5 decades. My youngest who reads as well but is more gripped by numbers builds Lego that is 16+, not because he is bright, though he is, but because he has the time to do so and nob one has tod him he can't. As such, they do all sorts of things they wouldn't be able to do at school, not least due to the time constraints of overstretched teachers, including Computer Programming, sewing, and sculpting, building wooden cars vehicles with power tools and mountain climbing and hiking.

Outside our home, they all attend classes at the local climbing wall, swimming pool and theatre school. the boys do athletics; my daughter attends Brownies, a cooking club and a gaming group. At other times of the day, we engage in discussions and debates with them on a variety of topics from History, Society, Culture, Science, Spirituality, and Ethics to Lady Gaga and Sia. The opinions of young children are particularly fresh and insightful. There is so much to learn from their fresh experience of life. I bore them with my back catalogue of music and play classical music (good for the brain and creativity) when we are painting or drawing. My daughter practises Welsh songs and ABBA for her singing tutor (I join in there, sometimes: "Oh, Mum!"). They learn Welsh or practice times tables and spelling on their i-pads; we tell stories, discuss current affairs in the car, look for critters on walks and cycle rides.

We spend hours on Lego and whacky games, some educational ones that we make up using whatever's to hand - dice, dominoes, chalkboard at the moment. And we do lots of art and singing. They have time to do all of the above. This is the difference. This is what's on offer. It's what seemed best to us, and our circumstances. Yours are likely different and your kids may be in a school where their needs are best met. I've no doubt about how we are (imperfectly, I'm sure; but best we feel) meeting our children's diverse needs. Don't panic in the interim, there is much on offer for those that this article points up.

This is a snapshot of how we do things at the moment. We prefer to say 'home educating' rather than 'homeschooling' as we don't currently use curriculum materials, some homeschooling parents follow an academic curriculum. I make sure they are equal to or above what is expected at their ages but I don't get hung up about it. When my youngest didn't automatically start reading at the young ages of the other two, I let him continue with Lego and numbers until he naturally began seeing words. My husband encouraged me to leave him be until he was ready and able to catch on fast with confidence. He's still quicker at maths than me, but happily, my husband paid more attention in that department than I did, otherwise, I'd be swotting for every lesson, not so much for primary maths but for secondary, my husband has already begun algebra with my ten-year-old. When I do need to swot, I enjoy it. It's a learning opportunity for me. I also consult what I call The Book of Vorderman when my memory fuzzes.

I don’t see anyone asking the homeschooling/educating community for advice, but here’s some: If you’re worrying don’t, chances your children will catch up. We do not spend hours a day schooling, though our kids attend a lot of outside activities, clubs, and classes such as theatre school. Trust your children and use this time to have quality time with them. Do creative activities with them and address their emotional needs. If you have a garden do crazy family games or engage in bonkers combined singing and PE activities as we do. Focus on them and their other needs. I understand this wasn’t planned or a life choice, but nevertheless, it is an opportunity. Do something visionary and mind-expanding with them. Do it differently.