Best of December 2010


UCU Rally Victoria Embankment Dec 2010

This has been both a troubling and a perversely rewarding period for everyone committed to the idea of education, including Higher Education, as a public good.

Despite our collective efforts, devastating cuts in education funding are being implemented at community and local authority levels, and in HE. And, as we know only too well, the government’s  bid to treble university tuition fees was passed in both the Commons (9 Dec) and the  Lords (15 Dec).

But what can’t be dismissed is the scale of collective political ACTIVATION that has arisen on the part of students, academics, school children, community activists, and a minority of politicians. We haven’t seen anything like it in the UK for years. Our task in 2011 will be to keep this momentum going with the right kind of productive, non-violent energy. Because we can no longer ignore the extent to which market-led values are undermining education’s highest aims and ends: to provide — as nothing else can — the necessarily open-ended and (provisionally) unregulated spaces in which learning can be properly advanced, and, above all, in which we can commit to the challenges of free thought, free speech, and the often uncomfortable critique that these generate.

It was precisely such a free space for speech, thought and critique that the police closed down on the 9th and the 15th, through the strategy of kettling. On the 15th, this prevented the majority of NUS and UCU (University and College Union) members, held in Parliament Square, from reaching and supporting the official rally taking place— so near, but yet so far away — on Victoria Embankment.


Dapper, Forest Hill, London

The retail world usually immerses us in the new and the mass produced. And I enjoy the latest, gleaming thing as much as the next person. But I like uniqueness better. Including the way in which, through use, love, accident, and amendment, those new, mass produced things gradually acquire the qualities that mark them out as mine.

Which is why another great retail pleasure is browsing in, and if you’re lucky, buying from,  good  second hand, vintage, and charity shops, those eclectic havens of out-of-dateness, where even what were once the most ordinary mass market objects have become one-of-a-kind. Because of the parts they’ve played in the lives of  unknown others. And because of their own stubborn capacity to survive  obsolescence.

A great place to browse and buy second hand, a personal favorite,  is the newly opened DAPPER on Dartmouth Road, just minutes from South East London’s Forest Hill BR and London Overground station.

Dapper, Forest Hill, London, interior

There is a small but varied range of well chosen items, and a constant turnaround, which means that there is always something new and wonderful to discover. I’ve found beautiful pieces of mid-20th century furniture here, including two stylish G-Plan side tables, and a stunning coffee table, which was renovated for me by the shop’s owner, Douglas Watson. All at incredible value for money.

Coffee Table 1Coffee Table 2












John Kiser Interview

OF GODS AND MEN (Des Hommes et des Dieux) directed by Xavier Beauvois, and winner of the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. This extraordinary, understated, devastating film dramatizes the lives of French monks in the Cistercian monastery of Tibhirine, Algeria, where they live in a mutually harmonious and respectful relationship with the largely Muslim local population. But Islamic extremism is on the increase and decisions must be made whether to remain, or retreat to physical safety in France.

Retelling real events, here individual struggles for spiritual integrity and the realities of political violence intersect. In the end, it’s a perspective on what true counter-culturalism may be all about.  One of several underlying themes is the freedom, particularly the freedom from fear, that emerges from the biblical paradox that “if you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me (that is, Christ), you will find it.” A book recounting this story is also available: The Monks of Tibhirine by John Kiser.



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