I Am Thomas at the Lyceum Theatre

Tonight I went to see I Am Thomas at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.  Writen by Told by and Idiot with song lyrics by Simon Armitage.  The play is about Thomas Aitkenhead, the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy.  Aitkenhead was indicted in 1696 and hung in 1697.

I was looking forward to this play as the 1600s in Scotland is one of my favourite historical periods.  It was bloody and brutal, both physically and psychologically.  It was characterised by extreams, fanaticism, inflexibility and religion.  One of my direct ancestors was executed without trial as a terrorist during this period.  But I have more than a distant genetic connection to the Killing Times and surrounding troubles. I believe that it is this period that did the most to shape the Scottish psyche and character, it probably really was the worst of Scotland.  Having grown-up with strict fanatical Presbyterian/Calvinist parents it has also in many ways shaped and informed who I am.  It is a period rich with drama, conflict and many intriguing characters – all of which can illuminate and tell us something about the state of Scotland today.

Thomas Aitkenhead, only 19 when he committed his crime, was also judged by the older, more experienced Lord Advocate, James Stewart.  Stewart himself had been a political rebel in his youth, having to flee Scotland for Europe to escape arrest for writing a political pamphlet.  It could be expected that the interplay between these two men, as well as Thomas’s own journey from believer to doubter would prove fertile ground for dramatic tension.

I Am Thomas however failed to live up to the promise of conflict and character this story could so richly mine.  There were confusing time lines, in which it appears Thomas commits his blasphemy at an open mic in 1970s?  Stewart, an interesting figure himself, is given the historically inaccurate background of being husband and son to the Wigtown martyrs.  Instead of gaining knowledge and insight into historical events we watch Stewart’s fake family drown twice, and the most underwhelming courtroom scene that I believe has ever existed.

The play is also littered with lazy cultural references, some of which make no sense or bare little relation to action on stage.  Stage action is explained poorly by the hackneyed technique of football punditry and  scattered through with vague references to Scottish kitsch.  Given the kitsch bares no relation to the historical event one has to wonder if it is a way of signposting “This is happening in Scotland.  It’s very Scottish you know.  It’s Scotland, by the way.”

The point at the end “I am Thomas” i.e. we are all Thomas, was overly laboured and lacked any subtlety.  The audience were bludgeoned over the head with it to the point of boredom.  An act that was then followed by the mildly offensive statement “Je suis Thomas”.  It is a shame when a play does not assume its audience are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions, and instead seeks to control their approach entirely.

While attention had been given to try and present this story in a fresh and innovative way it was undermined by immaturity and lack of development.  The actors themselves delivered fine performances, and special mention has to go to John Pfumojena who has truly one of the most sublime voices I have ever heard.

 

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Review: Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

From the start Yoon Ha Lee’s début collection of short stories Conservation of Shadows is strikingly inventive.  Lee mines her knowledge of maths and her Korean-American heritage and hits a rich vein of narrative mingling myth and science, art and the military, creativity and destruction. There is a freshness to her stories, partly because they do not rely heavily on Eurocentric events or westernised cultures as their base and inspiration. Her view of the world, of time, history and the universes she creates is vast and at times unnerving.

Similarly Lee blurs boundaries between thing often assumed to be solid.  In some worlds the most life threatening thing there are words, written or spoken.  The arts are not just creative, but also agencies of destruction, magic, order and chaos – although what is politically considered order or chaos is, as always, open to interpretation.

Lees stories are also brim full of women.  Women who act.  None of them are the “strong woman” that can often be written into genre, where strong is wrongly assumed to mean violent.  Instead they are women who often think deeply and act decisively.

There is a slight unevenness in Conservation.  Several of the stories were so stunning I felt compelled to re-read them immediately.  While some came up against the perennial problem of short stories – the ending.  These stories fell a little flat, and did not quite live up to the promise of the set up.  A promise which leaves expectations high due to Lee’s stunning imaginary worlds.

The book also contains notes on the stories.  In them we gain a glimpse of Lee’s light and playful personality, someone who finds joy in details and the perversity of humanities behaviour and ideas, all tempered by a keen and inquiring intelligence.  Lee is an easy person to like.

Lee has also published a book of flash fiction, and this year has a novel due.  So far she is one of the freshest voices in science fiction – to the extent that her work is both inspirational and terrifying.  I’m looking forward to being awed by her again.

No Meat March. Week 3, the limited edition

Last week was week three of No Meat March.  It was at this point that the novelty had worn off, and I was starting to bump up against the reality of vegetarianism.  The reality isn’t that bad, I’ve been enjoying cooking at home, my culinary horizons have been expanding – but it’s when it comes to eating out that having a different food requirement can become difficult.

People are now much more aware of differing moral choice and health limits around food.  Living in a city like Edinburgh there are places where those who’s dietary needs are out of the norm can eat.

I spent week three discovering that when eating out some places only have one vegetarian “option”.  Let’s be clear, one is not an option.  For there to be options you need to have more than one thing to chose from.  If there is only one vegetarian or vegan option, it’s not on option, its a limitation.

Review: Flowy app

I had become a bit concerned recently that my daughter has been experiencing some anxiety.  Of course all children experience some worry.  Being afraid of the dark is a common one, I can remember hiding under my bed sheets utterly terrified.

However after having a conversation earlier in the month it became clear to me that she wasn’t necessarily developing the best coping mechanisms.  I’m a big believer that we can not avoid the unpleasant in life, or our own feelings, it is how we deal with them that really needs to be the focus.  Unfortunately many of us have grown up in a society which did not promote healthy approaches to mental health.  A heavy emphasis on avoidance as a coping mechanism can lead to people avoiding things that are actually enriching and becoming more isolated in their lives. The earlier we can help young people learn healthy coping mechanism, the more it will help them in the rest of their lives.

Being a mediator myself I started trying to teach my eight year-old meditation.  Of course, this was excruciating for her.  Sitting, or lying still is just not something she can deal with for more than half a minute, unless there is food or the TV is on.  I tried a guided meditation and instead of sharing inner peace with my daughter I got annoyed she wasn’t taking it seriously, and learned a lesson myself about expectations and goals.

Trying to work out how to deal with this I realised that the foundation for meditation is always the breath, and if I was going to teach my daughter I needed to focus on this first and foremost.  Every night at bed time we now breath together and try to sync our breathing.  Even this simple step has it’s challenges.  If someone doesn’t know how to breath from their stomach just describing how to do it isn’t enough, what they really need to learn is the feeling of doing it.

Chatting with people at my office, The Melting Pot, about this one of them mentioned Flowy, and app designed for people who have panic attacks.  The essence of the app is that it retrains your breathing as well as helping to track your symptoms so you can learn more about your own experience of anxiety.  Clinical trials showed Flowy helped people reduce their symptoms within 90 seconds of starting to play.

The breathing is retrained by simple games.  Currently Milla and I are a magic ship being blown across the sea collecting treasure as we go, sometime we turn into a whale.  We normally play this for a few minutes every day on our commute too and from school.  So far Milla has really enjoyed it.

It is more mentally engaging that meditation, and more interesting than listening to her mother talking about lying on a nice relaxing beach.  It’s a challenge which has goals that can be easily meet.  While meditation is also challenging it has goals which are much more abstract.  As a young person yet to understand the difficulty and benefit of patience my daughter needs rewards that are more concrete than “inner peace”.

For me Flowy is a great example of how the gamification of health can work really well. Especially for people who maybe have not yet developed the deep knowledge of self most of us need to recognise and adapt our unhealthy behaviour.

 

 

No Meat March. Week two, all about mince.

So maybe I was a bit hasty in my last No Meat March post to say that turning vegetarian was a breeze, because this last week has been way more challenging.

For the first couple of months of 2016 I hadn’t done much aerobic exercise, I was physical  exhausted from moving house and I caught a bad, lingering cold.  My only exercise was walking, Tai Chi and yoga.  Until last week when I felt well enough to start running again.

My first run back was quite short, just 2.5k but it went really smoothly and felt positive so I was pretty pleased with myself.  Until the next day.  I could not stop fantasising about mince.  Whatever I was doing it kept on popping into my head.  It got to the point where during my lunch break I looked furtively at pictures of lasagna on-line.

It was then it suddenly hit me.  The veggie diet I had eaten during the first week was fine for a lifestyle of light exercise.  I checked out some websites on running and vegetarian diets and realised that as I am running I needed to adjust and add more protein if I hoped to focus on anything other than lasagne. I’m not overly into running, I have no designs on marathons, but I like the way that afterwards I sleep so well and feel good in my own body.  It’s something I want to continue doing and build a more regular routine.

I headed down to my nearest Holland & Barrett and picked up a packed of Granose meat free mince.  The mince is a dried soy product, and needs to be covered in boiling water before being drained and used pretty much the way normal mince is.

As I looked at the pinkish mush in the bowl slowly hydrating I thought about how unappetising it looked.  Then it also struck me that the only reason I find minced up cow flesh appetising is because I have been conditioned by society to do so.  I made a bolognaise, and while it was a little on the bland side some smoked paprika and chilli helped it out marvellously.

Over the weekend I’ve also been using a lot more lentils and beans, a scattering in a salad isn’t enough to replace the protein I would normally get from meat.  I’m about to go out for a run later today and I’m reasonably sure now I’ve made the adjustments this one won’t result in such a lack of focus.

If you are a runner and you’re thinking about going veggie there are several useful sites and articles.

Runners world 

No Meat Athlete

4 nutritional priorities as a vegetarian runner

 

Munch Together: Eating out, while eating in.

Munch Together is a totally new concept in dining, eating out while also eating in.  Munch works much in the same way as Air BnB, you’ll be eating in a strangers home, but a stranger who has actively wanted to invite you and cook for you.  To start set up a profile on the Munch Together site, and tell people a little about yourself.  You then search through Munch’s in your area, all of which have menu’s, and chose whatever one fits you and your culinary preferences best.

Munch Together fonder Mo Abushaaban set up Munch with the aim of ending the Palestinian Israeli conflict – I enjoy it when people are highly ambitious for good!  Originally from Gaza, Mo see’s sharing food together as a way of breaking down boundaries, of building up understanding and relationships and resolving conflict.  Food is a universal, and the simple act of sharing it is also a way of sharing ourselves, our lives, of caring for others whether stranger of friend.

I chose to go the the inaugural Munch which was a Mexican feast for 12.  I paid £11 and was sent a guide for guests and the details of your host.  The guide answers questions about cancellations and refunds but also sets out some ground rules and boundaries for etiquette.  The day before I also got a reminder email – and the Munch emails are nice, they can’t stop telling you how great you are!

The inaugural event was success, with a brilliant atmosphere, and delicious food – catering for both vegetarians and gluten intolerance.  The first ten or so minutes felt a little awkward, however everyone knew that they were going to meet a bunch of strangers and very quickly the atmosphere warmed up.  I didn’t talk to every guest, but I met a fair few new people, and found out about interesting Phds, swapped falafel and bath bomb recipes, talked about my work,  dinner party disasters, discussed how annoying overly positive people are and everyone’s experience of the Aurora Borealis.  It was delicious, friendly, informal and fun.    Much thanks goes to Ilana for opening up her home to us and being such a warm host.

Munch is an especially good idea for those who may be travelling and would like a real taste of the local area, those who are new to an area and looking to meet people, anyone who just wants someone else to cook but not pay restaurant charges.  Or you could be like me, a extrovert who enjoys meeting new people but is bizarrely surrounded by introvert friends who don’t.

I’m definitely planning to go to another Munch, and a little further down the line I might host one myself.  Talking to Mo about his future plans, he doesn’t just want to solve international conflicts, he’s also said that if in five years there hasn’t been a wedding of two people who’ve meet at Munch he’ll be very disappointed.  That kind of encapsulates what Munch and Mo are all about.  It’s about love.

DIY bath bombs

For mothers day this year my daughter and I made bath bombs.  I found these really easy to make.  Of course once you have the basics down you can adapt them with pretty much any smell, colour or additives (you will never get that glitter out your bath!) that you want.

Ingredients

100g citric acid

300g bicarbonate of soda

1tsp sweet almond oil

1tsp rosehip oil

Food colouring

Essential oils of your choice

Water

Step one

Mix all the oils and food colouring in a bowl.  There is no need to specifically use sweet almond oil or rosehip oil.  I added them for their skin moisturising properties.

Step two

In a separate large bowl mix the citric acid and bicarbonate of soda.  The bicab will be a little clumpy so it’s best to use the same kind of motion you’d use for rubbing butter and flour together when baking.

Step three

Start adding the oil/colour mix a little bit at a time, and gradually mixing in with your hands.

Step four

The next step is to add the water, and this is where it gets tricky.  Add too much water and the bicarb and citric acid will react together and you’ll have all the fizz in your bowl and none in the bath.  The best way to get round this is to use a spray bottle.  Spray in a small amount, and then mix.  Carry on until your mixture is still dry, but will clump together with a little pressure from your hands.

Step five

Now you can put your mix into your moulds.  I used silicone heart shaped cup cake moulds.

Step six

Leave to dry.  In my airing cupboard they dried in 24 hours.

Step seven

Add to your bath and relax.