Live blog

After live blogging the last four years of amazing TEDxExeter talks, I’m having a year off this year for good(ish) behaviour. Instead of having to hear and process the talks intellectually, so I can get something down that makes sense and represents the content, I’m looking forward to having the space to experience them emotionally and spiritually.

We have the livestream during the event, so hundreds of people across the world will be tuning in to TEDxExeter, but I know that some have appreciated having the live blogs to refer back to in the hiatus before the videos are published. My apologies. I hope it will make the wait all the more worthwhile.

They think it’s all over… it is now!

So that’s it.

There’s breaking news from the Cool Earth stand in the Great Hall, where delegates have saved 17 acres or 4,200 trees. We are looking for homes for the “Before I die…” boards which have also been in the Great Hall.

Claire is thanking the signers, who have worked incredibly hard. And there are many other thanks all round – design, photography, filming, production of postboxes, musician in the Great Hall, the Northcott, film crew, transcribers and translators, and especially volunteers – big clap!! And then I and the rest of the team had to pop down to the stage. The final big clap is due to Claire, our amazing organiser.

Thank you to everyone who came to the event, and who made it what it is. We hope the livestream viewers enjoyed it as much as we did, and we would be interested in hearing about your experiences.

Harry Baker performance

HarryBaker2015_portait

HarryBaker2015_portaitFinally, we welcome Harry back. He starts with a haiku: “Went to Chinatown / There were too many bright lights / Asked them to dimsum.”

His first poem is dedicated to the pun-tastic Jason Doner Van in Bristol, and is about his first week at university and pole-dancing. Like last year, it’s impossible to blog. Yes, I’m a cop-out!

He grew up in London, and one of the best things about growing up in London is that everywhere else seems relatively friendly! He is studying in Bristol, which is also relatively close to the beach. So the next poem is called Weston-Super-Nightmare, about a university trip there in February.

He’s tired of telling people who ask that he is studying Maths and German, and then mumbling about doing something to do with poetry next. So now he wants to shout loud about how he will be doing something he loves and being adventurous with it, and like everyone today will be trying to make the world a little better. Because why not?

TED Talk – Andrew Solomon

The final TED Talk, from Andrew Solomon, summarises many of our themes today. He is looking at how we can not so much find meaning as forge meaning in events. He survived his childhood of bullying for being gay through avoidance and endurance, and found these were important.

‘Forge meaning, build identity’ became his mantra. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still be mad as hell! It doesn’t make what is wrong right, but what is wrong precious. Identity politics applied, say, to gay people should help build both the identity of those people, and the understanding and embracing of that identity by others.

In his relationship, he has learnt not to focus on the reduction of pain, but the presence of joy. And he has learnt to look not for future bliss and joy, but joy in the present, however painful it is. And then to invite the world to share your joy.

Peter Randall-Page talk

PeterRandallPage_portrait

PeterRandallPage_portraitPeter Randall-Page is next up. He very kindly allowed us to display some of his artwork on the stage this year.

He is speaking on theme and variation, commonly associated with music, but he is applying it to nature. It is ubiquitous but hardly noticed.

At 6, the Natural History Museum sent him a box of fossils. He was dyslexic, so learnt through means other than words. He found lots of patterns. Patterns in nature are generally created through opposing processes, and there is a limited book of patterns, which could be understood as driving the evolutionary process itself. Without an organising principle, what would randomness look like?

He is showing some wonderful images on screen. The latest are the Giant’s Causeway and a hornets nest. Both have hexagonal packing. Neither are perfect because geometry only exists in human imaginations. And yet we intuitively understand this. We enjoy the dangerous unpredictability of variation, and the common underlying theme.

Variation is not a singularity. In art it implies playfulness and expression. So Peter work often uses sequences in his work – e.g. images of walnut kernels – to build up expressions of qualities through comparison. As an aside, we seem to respond to bilateral symmetry, probably because our bodies are symmetrical.

The shape of pine cones and pineapples is to do with efficient packing, relating to the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio, and is very pleasing to the eye. Peter used this principle in his work ‘Seed’ for the Eden Project.

The underlying principles of the microscopic pattern generated by two chemicals that don’t mix reminded Peter of playful improvisational music. The phenomenon produces the camouflage patterns on zebra and mackerel. The resulting artwork – a combination of painted canvas and boulders – Peter called Rocks in my Bed, after the song by Duke Ellington.

Variation also implies an element of chance. So Peter often uses the random, e.g. a weathered boulder, and a structuring principle, e.g. an overlaid geometric net. Compare with fish-net tights, which help us to see and appreciate the form of the leg more clearly!

Fundamentally, Peter is interested in what makes us tick, and subconsciously tries to bring it out. He shows a piece using a random boulder and a continuous line – ref Paul Klee ‘taking a line for a walk’. Another is based on the Platonic solids, sculptured from a chaotic material.

Back to spirals, and an image of a galaxy, illustrating the different scales of theme and variation. We need both: theme without variation is monotonous; variation without theme is chaotic. Together they can create beauty in nature, music and art.

Kieron Kirkland talk

Kieron_portrait

Kieron_portraitKieron is back on the stage, and has just confounded us with another trick. We are [at least, I am] asking how. Kieron says we should ask why.

He is taking us back in our imaginations to Christmas past and the magic of Santa filling our stocking. Now he takes us back further to 19th century Algeria and a duel between a Frenchman and a local chieftain. The chieftain shoots first, and the Frenchman catches the bullet between his teeth. Then the Frenchman shoots at a wall, and blood oozes from it.

The secret of every magic trick is to create a unwilling suspension of disbelief. Why should we believe? If a magician just loses money, we get annoyed. If he (or she) sprinkles it with wiffle dust and makes it disappear we are more impressed. But good magicians will change the way we see the world, and the greatest how we see ourselves. It’s not about changing perceptions about things, but about why things happen.

For Kieron it started with finding out about the stories of 1st century St Thomas in India: how he trumped local magicians, explained the why, and told them how God’s power was also available to them.

Who had the power in the 1920s and 1930s? There were many alive/dead tricks, whereby magicians could pick who was which from a list of names. Magicians also passed on messages from dead people, and they were believed. Why? Because people were desperate to speak to their loved ones who had died during World War I.

On to Uri Geller… if you could choose a super-power, would it be spoon-bending?! But the why here is unexplored human potential. If spoon-bending is possible for one man, what are the implications for the rest of us? Today we have Derren Brown, who is playing back to us what science has uncovered recently about the mysteries of the human mind.

In a world where technology has become so complex it’s almost magical, Kieron wants us to think how magicians think. Magical whys don’t just exist. Become aware of them.

Michelle Ryan talk

MichelleRyan_portrait

MichelleRyan_portraitIn the fourth session, we come back to ourselves. Michelle is describing how the opportunities for women have made incredible strides, but they [we!] continue to be under-represented in various sectors (surgery, science) and roles (senior management). Try googling CEO images, and you’ll find the first 80 are of men and the 81st is Barbie. [I found one woman at #50, but the point still stands.]

Some argue that women choose not to go into particular roles or sectors, often because of the hours required and the sacrifices that need to be made. Many women say this, and many do opt out before they hit the glass ceiling.

We need to look at these decisions, but also at what underlies these decisions. Why are women less ambitious? Is there something innate about the desire for a work-life balance that women might have? Michelle is presenting some recent research that may shed some light.

So first, are women less ambitious? At the beginning, no, but ambition erodes over time, for students, police officers and surgeons in training. Is it because of the biological clock? Probably not – students are in their late teens, police in their mid-20s and surgeons in their mid-30s. It is more likely to be exposure to male-dominated environments, and perceptions that those who have become successful ahead of them are very different from them. So they will have a lower possibility of success. Are women saying: that thing over there that you say I can’t have, I want it anyway? Or are they saying: I’m not interested anyway?

How one feels about the workplace is at least as important as the issue of time. Surgery involves long and unpredictable hours, being called out in the middle of the night. But so do nursing and midwifery, professions dominated by women.

Feeling similar to those who have been successful before you reinforces identity, that who you have to be at work is similar to who you are at home. It also makes you feel you can be successful in the future, and therefore that any sacrifices you make could be worth it.

One of the biggest differences between men and women in middle-management is that women are much less willing to make sacrifices, because they don’t expect those sacrifices to be rewarded or that the workplace be meritocratic.

The implications are first, that work-life balance is not just an issue for women. All types of people might feel that they don’t belong. So we have an explanation that work-life balance is about identity. Second, working part-time and from home are touted as solutions to work-life balance, but may ironically exacerbate this identity problem.

So we need to encourage the imagination and the view that success is possible.

Sara Hyde talk

SaraHyde_portrait

SaraHyde_portraitSara also has a background in theatre. She starts with, acts rather than tells, the story of Katie: a beautiful small baby, neglected; moved into foster care, moved again and again; at 12 babysits and is raped by the father, and then all his friends; she runs away, and gets involved in crack and crime; at 18 she stabs an old woman; she’s had juvenile sentences, now it’s adult prison.

What does justice look like for Katie? How many people do we know that have been to prison? Why is it that the answer is lots for some and none for others?

Who ends up in our prisons? Other human beings. Sara is sharing statistics of the men and women behind bars. For example, how many have been abused or suffered depression, or attempted suicide.

Katie was not a sick fish as a baby, but grew up in unhealthy water. We need to change the water.

In recent years, the ratio of prison officers to prisoners has fallen. There is overcrowding. We are moving towards the US model of commercialised prison, but we can’t afford it. The National Audit Office says that there is no correlation between crime rates and numbers in prison.

Is there another way? 97% of people in prison say they desire not to reoffend, but 58% do. At HMP Grendon, a therapeutic prison, the rate is closer to 20%. This is due to focusing on relationships, giving time and place for human beings to relate to other human beings, and having a relational approach to justice.

We do still need prisons, especially for perpetrators of violent crimes. But what does relational justice look like? The principles include: a person’s acts may be bad, but they are still human; we all mess up; we need space to practise life; a prisoner may become a tax-paying citizen in the future; people are not commodities; prison is not an industry; what if people who sent others to prison were accountable for them; inequality means people don’t get equal chances.

On the ground, this means: reduce the prison population; use community sentences; reduce prison sizes; high staff ratios; use restorative justice, de-othering the victim and de-monstering the perpetrator; train and pay officers properly.

It is more effective to reduce crime by reducing drug use and providing mental health care than to put people in prison. HMP Grendon costs more per prisoner, but the lower reoffending rates means that it saves overall.

So where might Katie be now? What can we do, human to human, before we find Katie in a prison cell?

Jenny Sealey talk

JennySealey_portrait

JennySealey_portraitJenny became deaf (with speech) at aged 7. Her mother said she could do whatever she wanted. Her careers officer said she could become a librarian! With Graeae, she works with some extraordinary deaf and disabled artists. She is showing a video of some of them as she continues to speak.

Disabled people are dependent on Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund. The first is one of the government’s best kept secrets. It helps disabled people into the workforce, so they can fulfil roles with equality, and come off benefits and pay taxes. The latter does what it says. But in 2012 Esther McVey announced out of the blue that it will be closed and passed to local authorities in June 2015. The pot is £23m, and per person the cost of £346 compares very favourably with the cost of care in residential homes [several thousand]. Jenny argues the closure breaches human rights.

When working on the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Stephen Hawking said don’t look at your toes, look at the stars. He and many other deaf and disabled people (Beethoven, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo) have contributed enormously to civilisation. They needed and received support. Jenny is running through a list of people who are struggling with accessing government support so they can fulfil their potential.

For example, a graduate in business studies had Access to Work for 6 hours a day, then when moved to another job was only given 3 hours a week, and had to leave the job… which also means that two signers lost their employment too.

Disability does not occur because someone has done something wrong. Yet disabled people are vilified and in some countries treated as beggars. It amazes some that there are disabled people on the stage. Many decisions seem to be the result of lack of empathy and understanding. For example, how do blind people use tablets with smooth screens? The Paralympics were glorious. Following it, Channel 4 asked Jenny to put some of her people forward to Undateables, which she found sickening.

So Jenny asks us to familiarise ourselves with Access to Work, and with the issues, and help disabled people in their efforts to give their great contributions to society.

Kieron Kirkland performance

Kieron_portrait2

Kieron_portrait2Now for something completely different…

Kieron asks us to think of a card. A member of the audience says Queen of Hearts. Wrong… it’s a birthday card, produced with a flourish from Kieron’s back pocket! The audience member says he will be 37 next birthday, and Kieron has invited him onto the red dot to read his birthday card… Happy 37th, and remember the Queen of Hearts because it will be important to you during the year.

Now five people are invited on to the dot to have their minds read. Kieron has unveiled his lie detector, a mechanical monkey. The five are randomly picking out Star Wars characters, and the monkey will detect who has Darth Vader.

It’s tempting to give up blogging now. I’m laughing too much! Two have just said “I have Darth Vader”, and the monkey clapped, and Kieron correctly guessed that both were lying. A third one has gone down. The last two caused problems, or the monkey is malfunctioning, but Kieron worked out who had Darth Vader in the end.

He’ll be speaking later. I’m looking forward to it.