Future Shock!: The Story Of 2000 A.D.

I’m a fan of documentaries on creatives and the creative process, especially those rare feature-length documentaries on comics and cartooning. I recently enjoyed the excellent new one on the cartoonists of The New Yorker.

Now it’s super to hear about a new feature-length documentary on one of the greatest British weekly comics, the science-fiction comic 2000 A.D.. Future Shock!: The Story Of 2000 A.D. interviews almost all the important creators, bar Alan Moore (who’s presumably still grumping about the publisher’s rights-grabs from artists and writers, as was standard industry practice back then).


I quit reading 2000 A.D. circa 1983, and gave away a near-complete collection in paper, though I kept up with a couple of the better strips when they became collected as graphic novels. Thankfully the issues can, of course, now be had digitally for reading on a tablet.

Graven images

I had thought that news stories about ridiculous photograph bans in public places were a thing of the past. But now it seems that Birmingham City Council wants to ban photography of public gravestones… “Council bans amateur historians from taking photos of heritage graves”.

The Council obviously doesn’t have a clue about the UK law on photography in public places. My guess is that it’s just a knee-jerk ‘data protection’ response, probably based on the very dubious folk-beliefs about ‘data protection’ that seem to float around in public-sector offices.

Tolkien and mid Staffordshire

Opening 6th March 2016, the Cannock Chase Museum exhibition J.R.R. Tolkien & Staffordshire 1915-1918: A Literary Landscape surveys the influence of the middle part of Staffordshire on Tolkien…

“The Great War years were a formative period in the development of Tolkien’s work on the mythology, languages, history and geography of what would become middle-earth. References in some of his writings relate to Staffordshire: Great Haywood, Shugborough Hall, Gypsy Green near Penkridge and Cannock Chase. Influences can be traced in his creative work, in particular his contemporary poetry and also The Book of Lost Tales, which was a forerunner to The Silmarillion.”

In his later years he also had a connection with North Staffordshire. Being an Oxford lecturer, from the mid 1950s through to the 1970s he spent many of his long academic holidays with his son — who lived at 104 Hartshill Road, at the top end of Stoke town in Stoke-on-Trent. Fascinating to imagine that Tolkien might have been quite familiar with alighting from the Oxford train at Stoke station (there’s still a direct two hour service today) with his trusty bicycle, bicycling from the station through Stoke town, and up the lower slopes of Hartshill.

Edge Question 2016 – in Kindle .mobi format

The annual Edge Question compilation is out today, asking 194 leading thinkers and do-ers: “What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news, and what makes it important?”


The combined answers run to the length of two novels. There’s no official ebook version, and Instapaper is going to choke on 133,000 words. So, as usual, I’ve taken the liberty of producing a conversion to .mobi (Kindle ereader). This is unofficial and unabridged, a straight conversion with fluid text (no hard line-wrapping) and the retention of italics and other formatting. The thumbnail portraits and HTML links back to edge.org are retained, but I didn’t have the patience to put in a 194-author linked table-of-contents.

Edge Question 2016 in Kindle .mobi format.

It’s easily converted to .epub or any other format you prefer, by the free Calibre ebook conversion software.



Bunker junkered

Wonderful news… “Birmingham Central Library: Demolition work begins”. Good riddance to the hideous old bunker.

Bone records

An exhibition on until 19th December 2015 at the Horse Hospital in London, Bone Music 1946-1964. It shows and documents the old bootleg home-made records of socialist Russia.

The records were widespread and made out of old X-ray plates. From the late 1940s music-lovers in Russia defied total and often murderous censorship of music, and used back-bedroom lathes and old x-ray plates to make crude bootleg records of forbidden music. Given what was happening in the gulag camps and psychiatric ‘hospitals’ all over Russia at that time, the symbolism of the imagery on the records became a grim reminder of the murderous nature of socialism and the risks that the record collectors took.



There’s also a new book, X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone.

The details on postgraduate Masters loans

Keele University has just posted new details on the government’s forthcoming Masters degree loans scheme. Looking at this news, and also at the government’s consultation PDF linked to by Keele, the details of the scheme now appear to be as follows:—

* A £10,000 loan to pay for a one-year full-time taught Masters degree, on the same payback terms as the undergraduate loan. At current prices £10k should leave most students with a clear £6k to help with living costs + travel fares, to cover a Sept-June course period.

* Students can choose a postgraduate degree in any subject. But I’m guessing that a few over-subscribed / prestigious / desirable / accommodation-cramped courses may find ways to cap classroom numbers, perhaps especially where a course’s lucrative overseas students are a significant income stream for the university? Some courses might, for instance, only accept loan-eligible students with a first-class degree? Just my guesses.

* The good news is that under 60s will be eligible. This was set to be age 30, but this has been raised. But the bad news is that… “Individuals who already have a postgraduate Masters qualification … will not be eligible for the new Masters loan.” A great opportunity lost there, I’d say, to re-train those over-50s who were cast aside by the recession. There should have been a 20 year limit, allowing those who earned a Masters before 1996 to take another.

* The government’s consultation PDF says… “Effectively, eligible postgraduate Masters courses will be full-time, at Level 7, typically involving 180 credits of which 150 are at Level 7, and culminate in a Masters qualification.” though they also say part-time courses would be eligible. So I guess it’s down to what they mean by “Effectively”. Also eligible will be “distance learning” courses, potentially useful for a recent graduate who is living back at home in a rural or coastal area, far from a university.

* There will be no means test for the student, and the loan will be paid directly to the student in three tranches.

* There’s to be no bar on earning alongside the course. But payment of each loan tranche will be dependent on the university confirming class attendance and submission of the coursework.

* Covers “the 2016/17 academic year”, so the first students will start late September 2016 and go though to June 2017. But note that the Masters loans scheme is set to run for at least three years, so it seems there’s no rush.

* The loan will bear a 3% interest rate. Repayments would start April 2019, for those graduating June 2017 and who are by then earning more than £21k a year. Remaining loan will be written off after 30 years.

Centre for Printing History and Culture

A new Centre for Printing History and Culture, likely to be of interest to those who know their paste-up from their blow-up…

“The Centre for Printing History and Culture, a joint initiative between Birmingham City University (BCU) and the University of Birmingham, was launched […] on Wednesday 25 November. The Centre consists of academics, curators, librarians and printers from across the region and seeks to encourage research into all aspects and periods of printing history and culture, as well as education and training into the art and practice of printing.”

Boy and Bicycle

“Boy and Bicycle” 1965, 27 minutes. Ridley Scott’s first film…

The BFI also now has the film for free, possibly in a better print from the 16mm original, but I couldn’t get their player working (uses Flash?).

Robot cats!

The long-awaited robot cat is available, albeit in an early and rather basic form. It needs to have programmable gestures, by the look of it, to expand the range of actions. Also the different purr types and meows. Though doubtless various toy-hacking nerds are working on that…


Not quite as cool as…


The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement – measures on arts and cultural industries

Some notes on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement today, in terms of new measures likely to affect the arts and creative industries:-

* The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will be extended for another year.

* Apprenticeship funding will be increased and expanded, there will be a total of “3 million apprentices” by 2020.

* “Every employer will receive a £15,000 allowance to offset” the apprenticeship Training Levy. Businesses with wage bills of less than £3m per year will not pay the Training Levy at all.

* “I am increasing the cash that will go to the Arts Council” (but there will be the expected 20% cuts in the “administration” budget at the Department for Culture).

* “We’ll keep free museum entry”.

* The government will be exploring “a new tax credit” for museum exhibitions. (Presumably for major touring exhibitions, so as to get around the EU rules?)

* Housing benefit payments will be temporarily stopped if someone leaves the UK for more than a month. (I guess this might possibly affect some touring musicians and actors, who are working for peanuts on tour – in expectation of a future profits share-out?)

* Help for museums… “we’ll help the British Museum, the Science Museum, and the V&A move their collections out of storage and on display”. New funding for military museums, also.

* “we’re increasing the funding for the BBC World Service”.

* The above culture and museum boosts are being “achieved without raiding the Big Lottery Fund as some feared”.

* Local councils will be able to keep 100% of sales of property assets… “Local government is sitting on property worth quarter of a trillion pounds. So we’re going to let councils spend 100% of the receipts from the assets they sell to improve their local services.” (I guess this might have an impact on arts/cultural use of old buildings?)

* Business innovation grants will start to become loans. (So, get them now).

* “We’re going to permanently exempt our Energy Intensive Industries like steel and chemicals” from global warming taxes. (I presume this also includes North Staffordshire’s potteries?)

* “Core adult skills funding for F.E. colleges – we will instead protect it in cash terms” (So… it’s protected, but funds won’t rise with inflation??)

* All “part-time students will be able to receive maintenance loans”. (A potential impact on the viability of arts/cultural courses at colleges?)

* On student loans, the government will “extend loans to all postgraduates”. (So, still no mention of barring arts students from getting postgrad loans – they’ll be available for all)

* The UK’s university research councils, which direct research funding and often very wastefully, are to be reformed. (Possible impact on the Arts and Humanities Research Council?).

* National Citizen Service is to be expanded to 300,000 places by 2020. (Possible impact on the availability of project volunteers?)

* The government will “re-orientate” the massive Overseas Aid budget to “help those in the fragile and failing states on Europe’s borders.” (Possible impact on arts organisations and universities involved with the British Council and in overseas partnerships?)

The Edge is where The Centre is

A book of essays and observations on the West Midlands’ film Penda’s Fen, The Edge is where The Centre is, in a new revised and expanded second edition.


Birmingham Science Fiction Group

Birmingham Science Fiction Group, with a focus on literary science-fiction…


Cat pubs

Cat pubs, hopefully soon to become as a much of a trend as cat cafes…

“Bristol’s Bag o’ Nails pub has over a dozen cats roaming around the establishment and they are all happy to join you for a convivial pint.”


Perhaps one could make a temporary ‘cat pub’, if a group all brought their cat along to a pub, for an afternoon? They’d all have to be fairly placid laid-back cats, though.

The online shop, or not

Do you ever fill up your online shopping cart with goodies, only to then abandon the site without buying them? You’re not alone. While the people of the West Midlands are the most prolific gift-givers in the UK at 2015 (an average of 17 Xmas presents, given to more than eight family & friends), we’re also notorious in the industry for our very high levels of online ‘shopping cart abandonment’. Retail Times has a news item today on how Stoke-on-Trent’s Emma Bridgewater pottery has mitigated this problem via an e-commerce plug-in, and has thus boosted online sales by 10%.

On a quick scoot around the web, I see that some of the many reasons for abandoning an online shop are:

* Your site provides no “Wish List” option, so people use the cart for that.
* They need to consult someone else before pressing ‘purchase’.
* They’re shopping on a mobile on a work commute, but will make the purchase via a desktop PC when they get home or at the weekend.
* They’re walking round a real shop, and using your cart to tally up and compare prices.
* They find that your cart doesn’t take PayPal.
* They find that you want to add silly amounts for shipping.
* They find you want to use what looks like a business courier for delivery to a residential address (endless hassle with missed deliveries).
* Their ad-blocker / anti-virus / browser security settings interfere with loading the final payment process.
* Your cart won’t let them get the items delivered to a work address, since it’s different from the one that the payment method knows about.
* The log-in on your cart ‘times out’ before the buyer can complete their order.

‘We’ll keep a pipeline in the valleys…’

The Birmingham Post, on how a giant 60-year scheme laboured from 1893 to 1953 to bring only the purest Welsh mountain water to the people of Birmingham, myself included at that time. I always vaguely knew that the water came from the Welsh mountains, and it certainly tasted good gulping it down as a child, but never really knew the details of its conveyance until now.


Visit the British Museum using Google Streetview

You can walk through British Museum, using Google Streetview

“Built over 15 months with the help of a Google employee with a camera on wheels … completed by the Google Cultural Institute after hours, with special lightbulbs being installed to ensure the lighting remained the same through the galleries.”




The Design Economy

A new report from the Design Council, The Design Economy (only the executive summary is free)…

* Worth £71.7bn GVA to the UK in 2013.
* Provided 7.3% of exports in 2013.
* Increased in size by 27.9% during the great recession of 2009-2013.
* Design employs approx. 580,000 people directly in the UK, with a possible further 1 million non-design jobs clustering around it.
* 78% of designers are male.

There’s also some regional data, though it basically states the obvious: London and the South East dominate activity, the rest of us “have potential”.

Irish Studies South

The new open access journal Irish Studies South opens well, with a large special issue on poet Seamus Heaney


Birmingham’s new Cultural Strategy 2015-2019

Birmingham’s new Cultural Strategy 2015-2019 is now open for public consultation. Stripped of Council-speak it might be boiled down to…

* integrate culture with new developments and the city’s big infrastructure / transport projects.

* integrate culture with the more mundane and everyday type of public services.

* promote the Jewellery Quarter as a centre for contemporary making.

* a “Birmingham Prize” – a major international cultural prize.

* “explore the potential” for bringing back production of film and television.

* continue the usual support for small creative industries firms, including low-cost starter workspace.

* closer links with universities, diminish the local skills gap, create an “online skills hub for employers”.

* offer creative industries workshops and summer schools for “young people from diverse communities”.

* support residents to design their own cultural provision, and improve their access to news of opportunities.

* small festivals in city districts, with local business sponsorship and international links.

* better and more creative use of media to reach residents.

* encourage arts and cultural organisations to boost their income generation, rather than rely on grants.

* lobby nationally, to ensure that the West Midlands gets a fair share of cultural funding.

* give kids a structured ‘ladder of culture’ up which to climb, to develop their cultural lives.

* high quality creative careers advice, and also give the most talented kids work-experience and industry mentors.

* better links between schools and local arts organisations.