Cutting the Youth of Tomorrow

For those who are not already aware, Devon Youth Service is one of the few remaining council run youth service provisions in the country, and is facing a death blow:

This is a joke. Actually – it’s the blackest kind of schadenfreude, that creeps after the Coalition’s not-so-subtle privatisation of NHS and Post Office. The motivations for these acts been highly questionable, with suspect financial involvement. The austerity regime is also highly questionable, and literally cutting the throats of the youth service to make savings that barely make a dent in the bonuses of the financial sector simply compounds error after error.

This is significant for several reasons.


1. There is (conveniently for some) no restriction on calling a provision a youth service. There is a great professional gulf between council based provision and community sourced or Church based provision. I have personally experienced the training and professionalism of the former, and the well-meaning but often inexperienced or idealistically biased efforts of the latter. A young person, isolated and confused, is liable to receive a very different welcome from each. The council based provisions are reinforced by strict practical and ethical guidelines.

2. In the youth service it is the real LIVES of future adults at stake. I have been witness to cases of rape, poverty, abuse, self-harm, cycles of violence, and loneliness which the Youth Service is dedicated to resolve. Don’t just see the numbers on the balance sheet – see the countless lives which are improved or saved by the youth service. Ask yourself whether this 3rd round of cuts to an impossibly stretched provision is an appropriate reflection of how much we value future generations. Also consider how much in resources is liable to be spent on future policing, legalities, rehabilitation and prison services.

3. The youth services have suffered greatly from a difficulty in justifying the good they do, because every life they improve or save does NOT make the media headlines. Preventative services are often easy prey. Do you recall the last time a youth service was nationally acclaimed for their achievements? It’s certainly not because there are none. Recently, extra bureaucratic measures have been imposed, ostensibly to facilitate quality control, but in reality only serving to overwork already overworked staff, and set them up to fail. Even the Youth Centres which have excelled themselves have seemingly nothing to gain from this paperwork.

4. The youth service is publically misunderstood. There was once a time, years ago, when youth services were run by well meaning volunteers and were effectively convenient creches. This has changed dramatically, and yet I have recently experienced leading government officials walking blithely into sessions without warning (violating safety policies), telling us how to do our jobs, and talking to young people (if at all) as if they were a different species. We are not youth enforcement officers. We do not mind-control young people into behaving. We do not exist to entertain young people and keep them off the streets. We do listen, and treat young people like young adults, help them to make informed choices and learn about the amazing world they stand to inherit, good and bad, and support them through the turbulent transition into adulthood. We help them become responsible adults. You may even have met one or two of them yourself, if you are fortunate.

5. I never used the youth service when I was young, but there were times when it would have helped. The youth service is not a plaster for broken families. Your family, I hope, will never need their services. Young people’s lives deserve a quality safety net, not a grimace and a pamphlet from an overworked school nurse.

6. Don’t believe for a moment that the years of experience within the youth service can be replicated adequately by outsourcing. Don’t just take my word for it. Go down to your local Council-based Youth Centre and ask them what they do and how it is going. If there is one left. Tragically, the greatest testament to the worth of the youth service is the voices of the young people they serve, and nobody seems to be listening.


Cloud Atlas


I saw Cloud Atlas recently.  Twice.  I have read a bunch of reviews for it, which are pretty middling, describing it as many things. Dodgy prosthetics.  Trite moralising.  Overly long.  Disjointed.  Ambitious failure.  Feel free to chart these out yourself…

I agree that it was ambitious, and I agree that it failed to reach the mainstream, but I was very impressed.  A lot happens in the 2-3 hours of the film, and even more goes on behind the scenes.  The cinematography was lovely, and the music too.  My take: We are witnessing the lives and interactions of a group of souls across several generations.  In addition, certain souls remain typecast in fairly constant roles, whereas other seem to change and develop.  See the table below (from the Wiki):

Actor “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” (1849) “Letters from Zedelghem” (1936) “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” (1973) “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” (2012) “An Orison of Sonmi~451” (2144) “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” (2321)
Tom Hanks Dr. Henry Goose Hotel Manager Isaac Sachs Dermot Hoggins Cavendish Look-a-like Actor Zachry
Halle Berry Native Woman Jocasta Ayrs Luisa Rey Indian Party Guest Ovid Meronym
Jim Broadbent Captain Molyneux Vyvyan Ayrs N/A Timothy Cavendish Korean Musician Prescient 2
Hugo Weaving Haskell Moore Tadeusz Kesselring Bill Smoke Nurse Noakes Boardman Mephi Old Georgie
Jim Sturgess Adam Ewing Poor Hotel Guest Megan’s Dad Highlander Hae-Joo Chang Adam / Zachry Brother-in-Law
Doona Bae Tilda Ewing N/A Megan’s Mom, Mexican Woman N/A Sonmi~451, Sonmi~351, Sonmi Prostitute N/A
Ben Whishaw Cabin Boy Robert Frobisher Store Clerk Georgette N/A Tribesman
James D’Arcy N/A Young Rufus Sixsmith Old Rufus Sixsmith Nurse James Archivist N/A
Zhou Xun N/A N/A Talbot / Hotel Manager N/A Yoona~939 Rose
Keith David Kupaka N/A Joe Napier N/A An-kor Apis Prescient
David Gyasi Autua N/A Lester Rey N/A N/A Duophysite
Susan Sarandon Madame Horrox N/A N/A Older Ursula Yosouf Suleiman Abbess
Hugh Grant Rev. Giles Horrox Hotel Heavy Lloyd Hooks Denholme Cavendish Seer Rhee Kona Chief

Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving play characters bound to order and consistency, the former as some kind of profiteer who works the system to his advantage, the latter as the defender of the status quo.  Weaving’s Nurse Noakes was exquisite! By contrast:

Tom Hanks starts off greedy, then works his way towards happiness at the end.

Halle Berry is questing for truth, becoming increasingly empowered towards the end.

Jim Sturgess starts off struggling to develop a moral backbone, and towards the end is increasingly empowered in defence of his ideals.

Doona Bae starts off as Jim Sturgess’ love, meekly sharing his moral sensibilities, and is elevated to godhood at the end.

There are lots of stories here, and the interactions between them merit exploration too.  I know the prosthetics may be distracting, but they serve to identify the souls by a similarity of appearance.  Alternative devices may have been more subtle, but I suspect would have made the identification nigh impossible for people.

I have a soft spot for the words of Sonmi – very simple but elegant language, food for the soul.  To those who described the meaning as some wishy washy tale of cosmic interconnectedness, I’d say that a shallow man sees his own reflection in the deepest of ponds.

‘Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.’ – Sonmi-451

It’s the little things…

Apologies – I have not posted for a while and this is more of an observation, but my website, my rules :-p

The other day I bought a DVD from a charity shop. If you must know, it was the film for Joss Whedon’s Firefly series: Serenity. It has been sat on my desk for months now, but not forgotten. It’s status is somewhat peculiar – it’s a promise. In my mind I mean to watch it, or rewatch it as I have seen it all before(!), but I’m not sure if I’m ever going to do so. It persists on the edge of my awareness as a motivational reward, something to look forward to, but I honestly can’t say if it’s ever going to happen.

I think it is important to remain sensitive to these little tricks of the mind, and hopefully make sure they work for you rather than against. The reason I mention this is because I was recently introduced to an anime series called xxxHolic which is based around a Japanese student plagued by visions of the spirit world who finds his way drawn to a magical shop where wishes are granted. The owner, Yuuko, takes him on as a part-time ?slave? in exchange for helping him. Frankly, she spends most of her time drinking, so she might just be a crazy alcoholic, but there are a lot of discussions based around superstition, myths and psychology. Some things are a little dubious, but there are a lot of interesting observations in there. One episode that springs to mind is about a lady who seems to keep sabotaging her life with bad choices, but it emphasises that one needs to accept good things in to your life just as much as bad things. For instance, this lady in the story did not destroy her life, but would not actually accept good ‘luck’ – she rejected it through suspicion, guilt, and the inability to see herself as ‘worthy’ of good things.

This episode was quite clearly not about the supernatural, and yet most or all of the others can be read similarly, teaching about quirks and traits of the human mind and experience although the story couches them in the language of magic and spirits. Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (ref: see wiki). I would also remind the reader that we often forget just how ‘magical’ technology and science – and the mind – can be.

I recommend paying attention to the little things in life that matter, whether they be gifts, handshakes, smiles or whatever, and try to cultivate a sensitivity for them. If it helps, try couching them in a language you understand, which is why I often resort to using the language of magic and the supernatural myself to explain and remember things. In my Aikido practice there is much discussion about ‘Qi’, a pretty abstract concept initially which has very magical effects given the power of Aikido when applied to the human body. However, as you progress in the martial art you start to appreciate just why such abstract and ‘magical’ language is used: Because it fits.

A word from our sponsor…

I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen Academicals’ recently, and recalled this particular excerpt where the daunting Patrician – getting a litle tipsy – recounts a personal childhood experience:

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. ‘I have told this to a few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.’

This mini-tale called to mind a personal experience when gorge-walking with a group of youths somewhere in Devon. The party came across a sheltered rock pool between turbulant waterfalls, in which we were greeted by a lone duckling. It chirped without fear and swam right up to us. As we passed through the pool it followed us with uncertain paddling and bobbing, the ripples of our passing threatening to drown it at any moment. Then, after we had traversed the pool, and helped one another to clamber up the next obstacle, it watched us leave, spinning in circles and attempting to follow. Of course the water kept throwing it back each time it tried, in vain, to come with us. We stood atop the waterfall, catching our breath, and discussed the situation. The duckling had likely become separated from its mother and been swept downstream to this place where it was effectively trapped. We could not help it for fear of our human scent rendering it alien to its own kind anyway. All in all it was a particularly heartbreaking moment and when asked what was likely to happen to it I was pretty frank about its minimal chance of survival.

As we pass through life our roles change, sometimes we are gods holding powers of life and death in our hands, and sometimes we are victims of forces that threaten to devour us. Some feel trapped in roles they feel compelled to play, through love, fear, notions of duty and myriad other reasons that twist and twine into bonds. I wonder, if those bonds were severed, what kind of god would you make? In whose image would you attempt to craft the world, and according to what principles? The Patrician speaks of becoming the moral superior of a supreme being, but given the status quo I do not feel that is remotely difficult. The difficulty may rest in retaining your notions of morality as you become a god. Power transfigures the best of us, and the result may be scarcely recognisable…

Interview with an Antichrist

Most of us will be familiar with the idea of the Antichrist from popular culture and films. In Monty-Python terms, if Jesus is a very naughty boy, the Antichrist is very naughty indeed! There seems to be some confusion over the nature of the Antichrist however, with some suggesting it is a metaphorical reference to the sin in every man. If we supposed that the Antichrist was indeed a man (or woman), what might he be like? What might motivate him? What makes him fit for the job? Does he ever have doubts? Does he like ice-cream?

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Riders – Part 2

Sam simply stared. She lay on her back, spreadeagled, looking at the stars. Her bed was glowing softly in a blue-white light. The rest of her room had gone, leaving just her, her bed, and the vast starlit blackness. No breeze, sound, or heartbeat served to give any indication of time. In fact, the soundless vacuum denied every attempt to cough or speak.  If Sam had the slightest interest in astronomy she may have noticed, or failed to notice, the missing constellations regularly adorning the night sky on earth. As it was, it all served to heighten the sense of detachment and strangeness of the moment. Her fingers twined uselessly in her sheets as her mind recoiled from the void stretching like a pit before her.  It recalled childhood fantasies of falling upwards into the deep blue sky whilst lying supine on a summer’s day, alone in a grassy field with nothing but dandelions and pebbles for purchase.

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What are Schools For?

Prompted by ideas about social changes effected by digital communication and the Internet, what do we need to learn in schools? There are several online resources with this very question up for discussion, and rightly so. The Internet, as a wonder of the modern world, is utterly deserving of its capital letter.

Youth work has emphasis on voluntary engagement with young people, but schooling has conventionally been compulsory. Why is this? I can see schooling as teaching young people things they need to know, accepting that young people are not necessarily in a position to decide what is important, and so we conduct a form of indoctrination while they are in this fledgling state. The nature of this indoctrination varies, depending on the society. Later in their development we seek to teach them about choice and responsibility, helping them on the path to becoming active members of society.

The question arising from the context of improved digital communication and Internet access is this:

What do young people need to learn, and what can they simply access via the Internet?

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