The fight to save Northern England’s historic mills

Interior of Dalton Mills in Keighley, Bradford — ©Historic England

The history of the textile mills of the north of England is one that must not be lost. It is a story too precious to forget. It is the story of industrial revolution, of a way of life that defined and indeed oppressed many people, it highlighted the disparity between privilege and poverty which led to the some of the most important reform of the last few centuries. The poor were given a voice, the privileged few demonstrated their gluttony and the resulting legislation is the reason why today we see injustice and say, “this isn’t right, they can’t do that”. It’s because someone once spoke up and said, “I’m going to speak up now so that people don’t have to in the future” and died hoping they were right and that future generations would continue demanding that their rights be honoured.

As always, with history, this isn’t just an old building. It represents, like a toy from your youth, like a family heirloom, like a recipe, a part of who we are — all of us — why we are what we are today and where we can look for answers about how to change tomorrow. Letting these relics get erased is a sure way to insult the advancements of previous generations and doom ourselves to face the same challenges again, ignorant of our past. Tyrants never forget history. In fact, they use history to see how much farther they can push the envelope. Tragically, the rest of us never seem to care to remember the fight of those that came before. Because we think we’re unique. We think everything happens to us and has never happened before. We think ‘this is different’. We think we’re modern and ‘those people, well those people lived in the past’. Except it’s not different. At it’s core, the human experience is the same. Time and time again. And you live in the present, knowing far more and with more at your disposal than they in the past had, which begs the question: what’s your excuse for forgetting the past?

Textile mills and other such historic relics aren’t just old buildings that cost money to maintain. They are tombstones that mark something and someone important. Their effects and their stories offer lessons that stretch far beyond England and matter to us all. And any effort to let them stand proudly and command their skyline should be applauded and supported.

For more information on what can be done to help save the mills of the north of England, visit:
https://www.historicengland.org.uk/get-involved/protect/mills-of-the-north/

Bowlly. Two years later.

It was two years ago this week that we brought Bowlly home. Just weeks before, he had been rescued from living on the street in Paris near Palais Garnier, chained to a chair, helping beg for money that was probably never used to feed him or care for him properly. If the terrified and defensive emotional state we received him in is any indication, he was surely, as the woman who rescued him described, living life as a function and an object, not as an animal.

And yet, given the right behavioural nurturing and healthy food, one of the benefits animals have over us is that they can be rehabilitated to a point where they don’t retain the memory of their past in the same way that humans do. Removing the conditions that have caused pain and fear in the past is usually enough to make an animal regain confidence. Though Bowlly isn’t, of course, capable of this level of introspection, I do think where he is today is a way of remembering to remain positive. And so this song posted below, sung by the man he was named after (due to both of them having light, trilled voices and a similar sharply parted ‘hairstyle’) has come to be for us a sort of anthem for him and his way of being so rambunctiously joyful today despite having spent his first three years in such deplorably horrible circumstances. Historically, the song is an anthem of its era. A 1930s popular song from a musical of the same name expressing a commonly felt sentiment of its British Depression times and while generally upbeat, there’s a bitter sweetness to its tender longing. But that’s for another blog post…

It was a relatively difficult few months last summer in the events leading up to us leaving France and all its associated annoyances and challenges, some of which still linger today like a crackle in one’s breathing from a weeks old chest infection. Bowlly in our lives helps us in ways he’ll never understand, keeping us positive by remembering that nothing we’ve gone through is as bad as what he went through and to remember that one can not change what has happened, nor can one always design the options one is given. But one can choose how one reacts.

Now when we hear this song we think of our Bowlly and how despite what he went through, he’s happy today nevertheless due to our efforts and the efforts of friends in two countries who have met him who probably don’t realise how much their understanding and gentle touch have helped him come out of his shell. The only way we can thank him for what we’ve learned observing him over the last two years is to make sure he lives like a star. A small in stature, unassuming star, like his namesake.

“I’m looking on the bright side, though today’s all care and strife.
I can wear a grin, keeping up my chin, looking on the bright side of life.”

The Ramses II Discovery and Colossal Egos

In what might be one of the most fascinating historical discoveries in the world since the British discovery of Bronze Age settlements in East Anglia last year, an artifact was unearthed this week in Cairo. The Colossus or large statue of Ramses II who ruled 3000 years ago was found near where his temple once stood. He was one of the most powerful rulers in Egypt, reigning for 66 years. Needless to say, they didn’t talk about term limits in those days.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that this statue is likely older than anything around you at this very moment wherever you happen to be sitting, it’s fascinating if a bit challenging to get one’s head around the fact that this statue was buried all this time without being spotted. Buried, in fact, in roughly the same spot as the entire world that belonged to those people 3000 years ago, known today only to Ancient Egyptian History enthusiasts, historians, and archaeologists. What exactly of whatever that man thought of himself, of his prominence, of his importance, or indeed of his reign of power, matters today other than as a period in history?

Ramses II, to the Greeks, was known as Ozymandias. In romantic English poet Percy Shelley’s poem of the same name, a man finds a statue of the famed pharaoh, and sees a pedestal on the statue that reads,

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

However, the man says in response to this boastful declaration,

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Timely, I thought, that this statue of the powerful ruler immortalised in Shelley’s poem should be unearthed from relative obscurity despite all his prowess and magnitude, at our current moment in history when we seem surrounded by several leaders (apparent or actual) claiming their eminence, and yet seemingly oblivious to their own arrogance in thinking they’ll ever matter to anyone in the future. They might consider, if they’re not too enamoured by their self-proclaimed brilliance, whether they’ll leave behind anything more than a failed attempt to transcend and a pile of rubble.

Incidentally… on Brexit (again), and changing the channel.

People online are losing their marbles because of the shocking revelation (to them) that Brexit might not happen.
Again. British Parliament…does not…have to act…in accordance…with any referendum voting in England, such as Brexit.
They’ve never had to. Yes, really. Wikipedia could have told you that. I told you that in a previous post, not that I’m Edward R Murrow or anything.
“So, like, if that’s true, then why was everyone freaking out?..”
Because ignorance and fear mongering, when taken in equal doses, can move mountains.
Here’s a real doozy for you to keep in your back pocket for a rainy day…
The President of the US has…no…legislative…power. He or she can suggest and proclaim things all he or she wants but Congress calls the shots, makes the shots, approves the shots and even determines what shots get taken and when. As a related side-note, there are a lot of people in this world that need to watch “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. It should be curriculum in all public schools in the US.
Follow Obama’s presidency. I don’t mean follow him on Twitter ‘liking’ things his PR people post pretending to be him or sharing cool pictures of him with fun celebrities, I mean really look over his 8 year presidency, you know, the job he was actually elected for. The total tonnage of things he proposed that got rejected or flat out ignored (ignorantly, in my opinion) could stop a team of wild horses in its tracks.
“Wait..so, like, why don’t we have more [insert your political party of preference] in Congress??…”
I don’t know, you’d have to ask the staggering sixty — six-zero — percent of Americans that don’t bother turning up to vote during the mid-term elections for their Representatives or Senators or in most cases bother even learning their names.
“Then why does the media obsess over the Presidential election?”
Now, that is a perfectly good question… The answer is: they do so for the same reason everyone obsessively takes pictures (and shares pictures) of a toddler who doesn’t even know he’s the son of a completely powerless Prince of England, it sells like hotcakes and makes shitloads of money in advertising and media sales.
Read. We all do it when we’re little, we read everything put in front of us without bias. We learn what the Very Hungry Caterpillar does, what the letter ‘P’ stands for, which animal roars and which one barks, what stuff is soft and which is prickly. But then when we’re adults we stop reading and just look for things that agree with how we already think. A child never said, “well I think the Very Hungry Caterpillar is just extremely greedy and proof that if you give people things for free, they take advantage of the system and become leeches sucking the government out of every penny its worth.” The child is just happy knowing that the caterpillar one day turns into a butterfly. Sorry for the spoiler.
Question things. The internet is there, practically free. Inform yourself, and not just with sources that are in line with your own political views.
Listen. Truly listen to what the people on all the other sides are saying (well, if you’re in the US, what the only other side are saying). I promise you, they love their country as much as you do. You will have that, at least, in common. You do not have to agree on how that love is expressed. And that is good.
All of this to simply say, you can react to the things that happen the way you want to react, and not how the media is coaxing you to react if you learn some basic facts about what’s going on in a given story. But you have to read. Read the news like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, directly and for nothing more than what it’s worth. And ignore all those people giving you opinion packaged as “news”. They want to tell you why they think the caterpillar’s eating, what it’s motivations are, and always — always — miss the point of the story because they don’t care whether you know the point, they just want you to not change the channel.
Change the channel.

Change of season and of place

Without some kind of explanation, some fragment of information, the sudden onslaught of photos and talk coming from me about places, history, food and culture of a different city will seem bizarre, so without taking too much of your time, I simply wanted to communicate that we’ve moved from Paris to Quebec City. I requested a renewal for the visa many of you know I was in Paris on and after ten months of deliberation which involved us renewing our extension four times, the Prefecture de Police in Paris decided not to grant me three more years. The details of why, what they said, what their reasoning was and so forth are quite frankly things I am, at least for the time being, done with talking about. We’ve been living this and the leaving France part (which we were given only thirty days to do) for two months now and its weight physically and emotionally have more than overstayed their welcome.

I’ve moved more than once before from one place to another place farther away and the logistics and planning are something I’m ok with, and that my wife and I are quite good at. As long as we get to choose where we’re going, we can be happy enjoying that place together with our feline companion. What I’m not as good at, despite my efforts, is accepting someone telling me I can no longer have the privilege, the honour, and the sincere joy of sitting next to and enjoying the company of people who mean a great deal to me. As it is best expressed in French, “ca me manquera”, which suggests literally “that will be missing from me”. There will perhaps be a blog post at some point reflecting on this partly forced, partly desired move but there are an extraordinary number of things I wanted to start sharing daily as I did in Paris without having to stop and explain what I was doing in Canada repeatedly. So I thought this rather self-indulgent, possibly self-important post was the best way to start. If, which I’d completely understand, Paris related posts were your reason for following me to begin with, don’t feel bad about clicking unfollow or unlike on whatever social media platform you follow me on. It happened with people when I left New York, I expect it to again.

Will the French government’s decision about the visa renewal stop me from completing the screenplay I had started writing in Paris? Not even for one fraction of a second. Can I tell the story I was going to tell in Paris here in Quebec City? As with every other place I’ve filmed and written in, the place will surely find its way into the film as a central character and anyway, as one of my favourite filmmakers David Lean said, “I’m first and foremost interested in the story, the characters”. Except that in my case, not being David Lean or even a passable imitation or shadow of him, I’ll just keep writing the only thing I know how which is characters and making things happen to them and hoping that I stumble across an unintentionally interesting story. The new film will simply be in Canada, where the journey began. Or perhaps, more appropriately in several ways, in la Nouvelle France.

Thanks for reading and following along. A bientot.

Why I’m leaving my Facebook Page and where to find me…

If social media isn’t..social, then I don’t know what the point is. A few years ago, everyone doing some kind of creative work was told they needed a Facebook Page to be taken seriously. The problem with Facebook’s Pages is that if you don’t pay for exposure, if you don’t post several times a day in order to increase your visibility, and if you don’t do things to engage your audience to come back to your page, your posts simply disappear into a void and don’t show up even on your followers’ feeds. Buying your audience is great if you’re Coca Cola… but let’s say you’re not. Let’s say you’re just a writer and independent filmmaker and you don’t want to be a brand. Let’s say you want to be human and connect with people who are interesting contacts and with others that you already know that want to be supportive of you and your work. Unless you already have several hundred or thousand followers, Facebook’s algorithms make your posts invisible unless you’re willing to be constantly selling yourself.

By using my Facebook Page, I’ve had people who know me miss out on blog posts I’ve written, important news I’ve shared, and videos I’ve shot. I’ve had people who don’t know me but who I’ve met once or twice try to share something with me, invite me to interesting events, or even just share my work with others and not be able to find me because I have a Facebook Page and not a profile. I don’t maintain a constant outpouring of automatically released “content” online to keep my readers “engaged” because I write and shoot blog posts and videos when I feel like it. And if you know me, you know that that’s why I do it, because it’s when I want. I don’t do it at a steady rate to collect followers. Plus, there’s life. But I don’t want the things I shoot and write and share to fall on deaf ears just because I’m not promoting myself the way Facebook wants me to. While I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal life on Facebook, there are too many interesting people online to not be connecting with and sharing what I do with even if I don’t make a film every year or write a blog post every month. So, from now on you’ll find me over on my personal profile. While I will be using it to share writing and videos, I won’t spam you repeatedly with updates, I promise. But I think it’s a more genuine place to follow what I’m doing and communicate with you rather than AT you, if you’re interested in joining me. I’ve seen several other people in various fields with far larger communities than mine doing the same. My profile is here.

A bientot, see you soon.

Phil

Do you have a Facebook Page for your creative endeavours? Has your use of it changed over the years and if you keep both a personal profile AND a Page, how do you differentiate the things you post on either?

Incidentally… on the aftermath of the referendum.

brexit
In Baseball, from time to time, a pitcher and catcher can’t understand each other’s non verbal communication through all the hand signals and the crowd noise and they take a time-out, a relatively common request to the umpire, and have a mini-conference on the field. Every time the visiting team does it, the home team’s supporters boo them for taking the relatively insignificant pause. The booing doesn’t bother most sports fans and it’s taken as regular heckling but I’ve always found it extremely unsportsmanlike and childish. It’s interesting to note, that baseball fans, the kind that really get into the game and boo at these moments tout “the human element” as being one of the most beautiful parts of the game. There’s not a lot that’s more human than two people taking a minute to clarify themselves to each other. The umpire asks them to finish up their chat and the game resumes. But then the very next inning, if the same happens to the home team’s pitcher and catcher, and they have trouble communicating and have a mini-conference, no one says a word and it’s perfectly acceptable for them to do so. The number of ways in which baseball, both the game and the spectator sport, mirrors social behaviour in society could fill a multi volume book series, but that is for another day. It’s quite common in sports and in life for people to be appalled by what the other side is doing when it’s very likely they’d not complain about their side doing the same.

 

I totally support everyone who is upset with the UK ‘Leave’ vote. I would have voted ‘Remain’ if I was English, let me make that clear in no uncertain terms. The internet has been swamped with talk of the final vote’s narrow margin of victory as a reason to not accept it and indeed in some  cases even as reason to reverse it. But I have to say, I do wonder if ‘Remain’ supporters would be as appalled by the 4 per cent difference in the final vote if the result had gone in their favour and the ‘Remain’ side had won. I think they’d have taken it (wishing surely that it had been higher) but I think they’d be very good about ignoring their 4 per cent margin of victory and would be silencing any attempt by the ‘Leave’ supporters to argue the percentage.

 

When two sides agree to the rules of a certain “game” and nobody offers any conditional rules and the game goes ahead as planned, isn’t it too late for people to come back later and discredit what the final score was? Didn’t everyone involved know that it could have ultimately gone even as close as 51% to 49%, or surely even 50.2% to 49.8% which is still a majority outcome? Like the home baseball team supporters that boo when the opposing team has a time-out, but not when their own team does, shouldn’t the rules of the game be accepted as the rules of the game for everyone and if you want that conditional rule applied that the visitors can’t take a timeout or the final vote needs to be by a minimum amount to count, shouldn’t that be established beforehand? Does the loser of a vote by 4 per cent care that it was 4 per cent only because they lost and isn’t that just down to the rules of the game? The legislation behind the referendum didn’t say that the winning side needed to get a minimum percentage. Perhaps more importantly, neither did it say that Parliament, the only governing body allowed to set laws in the United Kingdom, had to act in accordance with the final vote. The referendum just asked the question and Parliament is within its rights to ignore the answer; no matter what the answer and no matter what the margin of victory. Right now, this is truly much ado about nothing.

 

However, something that is not at all nothing, but rather a very frightening something, is the horrifying and unspeakable racism that has reared its ugly head since the ‘Leave’ side won. And that is the real issue in all this that is not getting enough attention. Not where Boris Johnson is, not what Angela Merkel thinks, not what the promises were. What matters is not how much the ‘Leave’ side won by but the unimaginably ugly intolerance and ignorance that has slowly emerged from under the surface of a nation not many people expected it from. The behaviour of people in supposedly civilised society has been disgusting and the discussion over the political and economic repercussions of the vote seem shallow compared to the discussion that isn’t being had about how a nation that was bombed by the most extreme forces of intolerance 75 years ago can possibly have citizens demonstrating today the same kind of anger towards its own fellow citizens rather than at the politicians who created this situation in the first place.

The stars have lost their glitter…

I was just talking to friends last night over dinner about how much the New York we loved was dying when we lived there, how that inspired my short film, how the city isn’t even capable of acknowledging its own declining culture and then someone I know told me today that the Ziegfeld Theatre, late 20th century New York movie history at its most luxurious, is closing. To which I can only sigh in sadness.
ziegfeld_theatre
Again, another movie venue that can’t pay its rent in Manhattan. I’d say “end of an era”, but the sad truth is that era died a long time ago. As I did last night with these friends, I continue to remind Parisians who think Paris has lost too much of what it once was that it’s all perspective and that old Paris is very much alive and well, albeit a bit beaten up in places. Old New York has practically vanished, and that truly is an enormous shame.
As is often the case, Ira Gershwin can be counted on for having the best words for most situations:
“The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter”

Sweet Sue

SusieSusie, you’ve rendered your otherwise long-winded, annoyingly talky owner rather silent with an achingly heavy heart and a tightly knotted throat.

We gave you perches on windows and beyond those windows we gave you Manhattan and Paris and inside those windows all the things worth living for (…namely prosciutto, comté, and Cumberland sausage). Funny how many people knew you over your 18 years, especially those you met in your short time here in Paris.

So long, ma petite puce. I’ll play the song for you, once again…

Incidentally… on animal conservation

bears

Being from Canada, it embarrasses me and frankly sickens me that a Canadian conservation officer was just suspended without pay for NOT killing two healthy, harmless, and still nursing bear cubs because the Ministry of Environment allowed their mother to be killed (and not tranquilized) for repeatedly eating out of someone’s fridge. That’s right, Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant was suspended because he chose NOT to kill the eight week old cubs, but rather to take them to a vet and Wildlife Recover Centre. You’ve replaced THEIR natural habitat with a house, noise, a giant white box full of fresh food and enticed them with smelly, rotting garbage outside in metal cans and then you get mad because these bears show up on your front porch? And for trying to get food for their young because they’ve got nowhere left to hunt anymore, you kill them instead of relocating them? And we’re supposed to be the country that takes animal rights seriously? You know what, you don’t like bears going through your garbage and your fridge?.. don’t live in a forest!

The Oxford English Dictionary (I think we can all agree that they know a thing or two about language) defines conservation as: “Preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment and of wildlife”, not “destruction of any wildlife that comes near my frozen pizza”. Preserving wildlife. Protecting wildlife. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant deserves a medal, not a suspension. And the philistine cretins who suspended him should be smacked with animal cruelty charges. As for those people who got their fridge broken into, you wanna get that “nice house in the woods” and “live surrounded by nature” away from the big city and from all that crime and pollution, well then accept what that entails. These baby bears are now motherless and if you know anything about raising wildlife in captivity (which you should quite frankly, just a little, it’s the least we can do for systematically destroying our planet’s wildlife) you’ll know that it will be a long, difficult road being nursed by humans in the slight hope that maybe they can one day be released to survive on their own in the wild and continue to populate the species. All because someone’s fridge got raided by a bear for crying out loud. We’re pathetic creatures and my country should know better, because yeah, we do nature better than pretty much anyone else. At least I was raised to think we did.

There is a petition to have the officer reinstated, if you’re interested in signing: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-environment-mary-polak-reinstate-conservation-officer-bryce-casavant

The link to the story: http://t.co/mpzZldrowU