Reigning in the Freedom to Travel


According to the BBC News site: “Governments around the world are hurrying to contain the spread of a new swine flu virus after outbreaks were reported in Mexico, the US and Canada.

But when your residents and the residents of other countries have the right to come and go as they please, taking out third party insurance on the dangers that may exist, how much direct action can you really take to contain these risks?

The evolution of commuting from a brisk walk down the road to, what is for some people, a several hundred mile daily round trip means that the butterly sneezing in China really can pass its cold on to England.

Foot and Mouth, SARS, Bird flu and now Swine flu… all of these have caused varying degrees of panic and hysteria. And yet once their immediate dangers have passed all returns to business as usual. Nowhere in the aftermath do people ask the question: “Should we curb our freedom to travel?”

The impact of Climate Change and widespread consumption of oil and petrol has been the main motivator for anti-aircraft activists thus far. But what about health experts, should they be joining this ongoing battle to discourage people from flying so freely?

No doubt in the next few days, and perhaps even weeks, we will see frightened and panicked people wearing masks and submitting to full body sheep-dips at airports to curtail the risk of contracting Swine flu. We may even see a few people postpone their travel plans to a later, less dangerous time. It is less likely that our freedom to travel will be questioned, because the current rhetoric of freedom is hedonistic and not socially responsible.

We are free to court danger ourselves, but are we free to pass that danger on to others?


I Dreamed a Dream


Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent

At the Puccini’s on Platform 1 this morning the guy at the coffee machine (for that is probably his full name) was pointing out Susan Boyle on the muted television. Tonight at midnight, as I did my last minute browsing, I remembered the gist of the story and put “britain’s got talent 2009” into Google. Susan was the first hit.

For the uninitiated, watch the video. Here is a woman described as a 48 year-old church worker who has never been kissed: 3 things that should make her technically inhuman in our over-sexed, irreligious and ageist television-watching demographic.

She walked out with her bumbling eccentricities, including a very embarrassing hip-wiggle reminiscent of Rod Stewart circa 1987. Simon raised an eyebrow, audience members pulled faces against her very audacity at standing on the hallowed stage and the music started….

I’m afraid to admit that tears came to my eyes. Her singing was not perfect, but that’s clutching at very pernickity straws. She sang with the timbre and clarity that some recording artists would kill for – once the fog of self-absorption and cocaine had subsided a little. She sang beautifully.

Apart from the fact I only knew about her because of the station-side coffee shop, what has this to do with commuting? I suppose the tendency to judge so much by appearances. I might find myself between a young skinny white blonde on her blackberry and a tall elegant black guy with a gym kit and a briefcase. I would assume the former perhaps an ambitious PR shark orĀ  a ditzy advertising receptionist; the latter is probably a lawyer, or even a civil servant/PPC for the constituency I’ve just left. If Susan Boyle were sitting next to me, I would think a host of things about her – church worker probably chief among them in my experience – but not that she had the voice of a West End star.

How many assumptions do we make on a daily basis for no other reason than experience, bigotry and lack of imagination? And how utterly fantastic when those expectations are shattered by talent and wonder?

On a walk with God (and others)


jesus' arrestSecond station of the cross on the Easter Path

This Good Friday I and my family went on the Easter Path in Brighton organised by Beyond Church. A range of churches and shops around the city each had a station of the cross displayed in their window. As a group we meandered through the streets and crowds, pausing at each station to hear words from Rev Martin Poole and the bible.

Being England the weather was inclement, but the drizzle I felt added to the experience: a small crowd walking together to try a new way of exploring faith, art and Easter.

It reminded me of some ideas I pondered last month about the nature of travel in Jesus’ day. We walked as a group finding new people to talk with as we went, losing people and waiting for those delayed on their way. We were outside in fresh air and in unsafe territory. At one point a young guy shouted at us – congregated around a beautiful drawing of Jesus in the window of the Chapel Royal – that “this is a pavement you know!”

It was a wonderful experience because it wasn’t choreographed to perfection or sanitised by safe surroundings. The stations were often hidden among the debris of a typical shop window, but occupying their own space and conveying messages that were incongruous with the rest of the displays.

I think the most interesting example of this incongruity was the one in the window of Wesley Owen: a stark and arresting black shroud with Jesus’ face impressed upon it in white, next to a collection of kitsch models and Christian paraphernalia and a whole table of “my first” Easter books, with happy shining Jesuses and bouncy pastel-coloured bunnies.

I am so glad I walked this path with my family, with friends and with strangers. The images, the ideas, the conversations and the chance to walk in worship has given food for thought.

Music is the food of life


Clip from Danny Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire

The montage is a favourite film device. It explains away the long periods of waiting, training, growing, sleeping (delete as appropriate) that take an inconveniently long time for the purposes of story-telling. More often than not these montages are framed by music, which keeps up the pace and conceals the sound editing between one scene and the next.

In real life, however, the long periods that halt a story in its tracks are our main action sequences. Biographies will jump from experience to turning point to landmark moment with nary a reference to the weeks, months and years in between in which very little seemed to happen.

Perhaps this is why so many of us stick our headphones in our ears and drown out the mundanity of the every day with musical accompaniment. In a fast-paced world where fifteen minutes of fame has shrivelled to seven and twitter-feeds spread the news faster than clunky television crews and clunkier papers, our hours in waiting or – dare I say – commuting, are too slow and too quiet to bear…

We feed our need for pace and meaning with music, at the price of interaction and a better understanding of peace.