Midsummer Madness…

SO I am a month into an amazing new job. Lucky me totally landed on my feet as lecturer in digital science communication at The University of Salford. I am hired by the School of Environment and Life Sciences under the auspices of the brilliant Prof Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication and Future Media. But i didn’t get there on my own – have a few people to thank for helping me make that next move  – you know who you are – thank you thank you thank you.
The joys of curating DocFest Exchange a public strand at Sheffield International DocFest in June, got me into full on cultural exchange mode with 24 cross-disciplinary talks inspired by independent documentaries and alternative reality projects.
Difficult to choose favourites but i simply loved the movie Snow Monkey, a multi-protagonist plot following the exploits of street kids growing up in Afghanistan who, on encountering filmmaker George Gittoes, swap their violent ways for filmmaking.
In spite of the rain, another highlight included hosting a packed out in conversation between long time collaborators Mark Herbert and Shane Meadows under the DocFest Exchange tent and, when i knew i was doing the DocFest gig – my dream pairing for a talk were the visionary Anna Higgs, Creative Director of Nowness and the brilliant Ingrid Kopp, senior consultant at TFI.
I decided to take a short break between finishing DocFest and starting at Salford, something i neglected to do when i began my last new thing. Ahead of the madness that was Brexit, I spent a couple of weeks pottering in the allotment, swimming in the sea, walking through fields and chilling in Berlin ahead of a live performance of the soundtrack of our film Nature’s Switch, which played Shuffle Festival. Shuffle was fab – totally chilled – as the festival crew set up, breakfast was served and the public welcomed in – a mix of artists, local residents and art lovers.
Sadly a friend of mine, Jaya Graves, died this summer – she was a poet, an activist and a buddhist – i met her 8 years ago at Manchester Museum – i was heading up a community-university project and being a bit of a rebel and she was on a community advisory panel being a bit of a rebel. When you were with her, she had this amazing ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the universe.
When i went to her funeral i met so many other people who could vouch for this incredible all encompassing attentive presence. She also gave the best hugs and had a wonderful mischievous laugh. She campaigned for nuclear disarmament, to get Southern Voices from the Global South heard and raised money for the survivors of the Bhopal chemical disaster, the homeless and the Nepal earthquake.
A wonderful thing is that Open Voice, the community choir that i am a member of sang to Jaya whilst she was in hospital and also at her bedside before she died and again at her funeral. I finally realised what funerals are all about – they are not about the dead but the living – to embrace and keep alive the values of the person who has gone. Her presence lived on in her poems, the stories people told about her and the way in which people came together to celebrate her life. Its in these moments that you consider how you move forward in life – what you carry into tomorrow and what you leave behind. One thing i will take with me is that Jaya said… ‘we have enough in common as human beings to use our differences creatively… diversity is a point of continual quest and excitement’.
What’s brilliant about going to Salford, is they told me – ‘keep doing what you do, just involve the students’. In time this will be formalised as a postgraduate course. Indeed, not even a month in and with The European City of Science casting its spell across much of Greater Manchester i jumped head on into Team Scicomm Salford Science adventures – from the launch of a science app that uses the same technology as Pokemon Go to reveal science stories, objects and fly throughs as you walk around Manchester, to the ESOF young reporters programme to The Allotment of The Future, on which, with our FarmLab, social enterprise hat on i produced a pop up urban Mushroom Farm and #DIYmushrooms experiment to get the public growing Oyster mushrooms on freshly discarded coffee grounds from the Grindsmith’s coffee trike. Bar the distance the mushroom spawn had travelled, we literally created a supply chain of a few metres.
From mushrooms to the mad times we live in… what a crazy summer… the rise of the right, brexit, horrific murders, terror acts popping up around the world and global climate change looming larger – in spite of all of that, i feel a sense of hope and of being in the right place at the right time.
The crazy beautiful project that i initiated and dreamed up with Danielle George, to crowdsource a recycled Robot Orchestra, had it’s moment in the spotlight at the opening ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum. As luck would have it, Sir Mark Wolpert, the chief scientific advisor who i’d briefly met on his climate related tour, introduced the orchestra and read out what we’d said about it – ‘a collaborative endeavour to foster care for the planet through making music‘. A recycled tram light kept time for the human players and a robot known as Graphene made from a discarded industrial control unit, used to power production lines connected to a meccano toy, kept time for all the musical robots. One of the Siemens graduates told me he’d learned more in nine months on the project than he would in five years – it was pure problem solving and innovation all the way.
Ending on frivalry, with the launch of Pokemon Go, technologies like augmented reality, mean i can forge ways ahead with Lost Cats Legacy, a project that will truly put the past to bed. Off to check on my mushrooms…

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