Edinburgh 2017

Even at 70, the Edinburgh Festival just seems to keep getting bigger. Every time I go I think surely the expansion cannot continue but it does.

One big reason for that is that I should have said festivals rather than festival: the Edinburgh International Festival began in 1947 and continues to offer a programme at the highbrow end of the spectrum; the Fringe was started the same year by eight acts who were not allowed to take part but is now far bigger than the main event; the Book Festival is a relative youngster at 34; and the Free Festival began in 2004 as an alternative to the Fringe’s market economy. That’s not including the Film Festival and the Politics Festival, which used to be in August as well but have now moved to different times in the year.*

A second reason is that there can be few other cities in the world that have so many buildings that can be transformed into good venues. On top of the full-time theatres and concert halls and back rooms of pubs, there are countless university buildings, churches, chapels and halls and university buildings that can be used.

The irony is that the legacy of centuries of Edinburgh’s devotion to learning and Protestantism is an endless selection of places to buy an over-priced pint while toasting a statue of John Knox.

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Is the customer always right?

Originally published on October 24 on my blog for Inside Housing 

Whether we are talking about benefits or housing, a new Ken Loach film and a BBC documentary expose a system that’s failing. In the face of growing demand and shrinking provision, the safety net has gaping holes. Rising homelessness and the queues at foodbanks are the symbols of this. The basics of life – shelter, food and warmth – can no longer be taken for granted.

Seen from the outside this is obvious and so are the answers. Return to provision based on need. Build more social housing. Abandon the divisive rhetoric of strivers and scroungers. Follow the founding principles of the welfare state.

Most people working on the inside will agree with this. But they also have to work within the system as it is and they know that there is little chance of real political change any time soon. This dual reality is perhaps most obvious in the social/business divide within housing associations but it exists right across the public and voluntary sectors too.

Watching I, Daniel Blake and No Place to Call Home over the last few days, these divides were obvious. One is a documentary, the other a film, but both would claim to be revealing truths about life when the safety net fails. But they also beg a less obvious question for people working within the system: how do you know when you’ve crossed the line between doing your best in an impossible situation and making that situation worse? One answer, I’d suggest, lies in the language we use.

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Concerned eyebrows

Originally posted on August 26 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Housing protests burst on to the stage at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

One of the best shows I saw on the Fringe was E15, a play devised from verbatim accounts of what’s happened since 29 single mothers were told they would be evicted from the Focus E15 hostel in Newham in October 2013.

For a mainstream audience it shows the extremes of the housing crisis in a borough where severe homelessness and deprivation co-exist with the post-Olympics boom. It’s also the inspirational story of a group of people who in their own words knew nothing about politics and protesting but who refused to be marginalised.

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Whose benefit?

You know the formula by now: take a provocative premise, add three claimants selected to provoke different reactions, stir in the reaction on twitter, then stand back and watch the viewing figures mount up.

As with How to Get a Council House, Benefits Britain 1949 suffers from all the faults that are seemingly hard-wired into Channel 4 reality shows. The opening episodes showed them both at their worst (see me on HTGACH and Frances Ryan on BB49) but with time they evolved into something that went beyond the format and the premise.

I’ve just caught up with the second episode of Benefits Britain 1949 and if you haven’t seen it I recommend a viewing in conjunction with the third and final episode of How to Get a Council House because they neatly bookend the whole debate about social housing and its place in the welfare state.

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RIP Neil Armstrong

I was nine years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon and uttered the immortal words that he didn’t quite get right.

At the time the landing seemed most memorable because we got the day off school to watch it. In retrospect, of course, it was almost the end of term anyway so the teachers were probably glad to pack us all off into a room to watch TV.

Re-watching it now the main thing that strikes me is how blurry and black and white it looks but it was a completely different story then. It’s important to remember that hardly anyone had a colour TV and live TV of any kind was pretty primitive, so it did not seem that way at the time. The whole thing with the beeps on the soundtrack etched its way so far into the national consciousness that we would be doing them on the school playground for months afterwards.

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Council Housed and Violent

Has anyone watched the video for ill Manors yet? Or heard the song on the radio? If not, you should.

If you need enlightening, ill Manors is the new single from the rap and soul star Plan B that is officially released next Monday ahead of a film of the same name that is due out soon.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.