When happiness is threatened …

This post might be just a little bit too left-field. But it’s worth a shot. It’s worth seeing whether it resonates or – to use a current buzzword from work – ‘chimes’ with anyone.

I’ve spent the last ten days or so thinking about happiness and the pursuit of happiness. This has been in part because of the brilliant weekend I spent up in Newcastle, seeing how radio producers work, how radio presenters speak, how lecturers write and how audiences interact. The process has – as you might expect – been an incredibly enriching process.

You might even say it’s made me ‘happy’. I’ve ended up feeling like I’ve grown to fill the space I want to occupy. It’s as though the process of listening and responding has helped me fulfill my potential. It’s a process which promotes good feeling. That. Is Important.

So, given that backdrop – a surprisingly positive one, now I come to read it back – you might think it surprising I’m feeling a bit blue in the video below. You shouldn’t worry. What you see is pretty normal for me, as it happens. This is the “half-past ten” thought process in action. What’s unfortunate is that this was recorded at half past seven.

Hey ho. No matter. What I’m really interested in here is what happens, how we react and how we manage those moments when we feel as though the happiness we’ve acquired is at risk. Do we roll over and say “Yeah, whatever, happiness is cyclical – accept it.” Or do we embark on a way of protecting ourselves? Do we protest like the students outside Millbank this afternoon? And if we protest, what is the best to do rail against that perceived injustice?

:: The picture included in this blog post is was published by Flickr User by Jim Rafferty and is used here under licence.

Free Thinking Festival 2010: Human Aquarium

Here’s a little thing from the fringes of the Free Thinking Festival this year. If you don’t want to read what’s below, skip to their interview here.

Human Aquarium is … well .. what is it exactly? It’s a box. That’s what it is. A box packed full of computer and projection equipment with two people sat inside looking out through a perspex screen to a bemused looking crowd the other side.

One of the pair – Guy Schofield (below) – operates the ‘machinery’. The other – Robyn Taylor (above) – sings a long drawn out melody into a microphone.

There’s a technical chappy too – that’s John Shearer (below). He, like me, looks on at the assembled crowd who in turn look on the whole thing with a mixture of bemusement and excitement.

Unlike me, however, he does from time to time touch the perspex screen while Robyn and Guy perform inside their box amid temperatures approaching a stifling 40 degrees. No wonder their sets extend only to 20 minutes a time. By touching the perspex screen John like any member of the audience helps create the performance. The fingers on the perspex influences the computer-generated sounds. I don’t know how exactly, but it does. And, in a space like Sage, Gateshead it’s quite a wondrous thing to experience. Not least because the sight of it draws you and others in. And as soon as that happens you’re entranced.

One night only at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival. No matter though. I talked to them for ten minutes about their work. And what a smashing bunch they are too.

And there’s even some hastily shot video of their performance too.

:: Follow Human Aquarium on Twitter
:: Find out more about the lovely performers on the Human Aquarium website

Free Thinking Festival 2010: Getting Excited

It’s Free Thinking time on BBC Radio 3. A weekend of people thinking, speaking and discussion and debate up in Newcastle. Can’t wait. Some will be broadcast live on Radio 3 (and even those little tykes on BBC Radio 5 Live). I’m especially looking forward to the Radio 3 drama being recorded in front of a live audience on Saturday night.

Find out more at the Free Thinking website. Or if you don’t want the public service take it on it, you could also concentrate your attention on this marvellously modest (and frightfully adept) commentator featured below who I understand will be there in Newcastle, blogging, tweeting and audiobooing too. How lovely.

Free Thinking Festival: 24 Weeks / Marchant


I spoke to writer Tony Marchant, director Kate Rowland and cast a few hours before Saturday’s performance and recording  of specially commissioned Radio 3 Free Thinking Drama, 24 Weeks. Watch video interview here.

Listen to the drama on the BBC iPlayer here from 1 hour 17 minutes and 30 seconds in. 


One of the lasting memories of this year’s Free Thinking Festival for me at least will undoubtedly be the time I spent in the company of the production team for Radio 3’s Free Thinking drama “24 Weeks”.

Written by Tony Marchant – his first radio drama – the play tackles the issues surrounding abortion and specifically the 24 week debate. The gritty subject material certainly fits in with Radio 3’s committment to challenging drama but interestingly, this production was to be recorded in front of an audience. What would be the impact of this on the actors and the resulting recording?

The opportunity to sit in on some of the rehearsals proved interesting. I was especially taken by the speed at which the production was put together. The video interviews with Marchant, director Kate Rowland and the cast reveal the almost 36 hour turn around and how the actors were experiencing their first radio drama recording in front of an audience. 

Most striking was the quality of the performances I saw in rehearsal. The play is essentially a two-hander between a married couple – Sarah and Robert. There are various points where raw emotion between the couple powers through as they confront their feelings about Sarah’s pregnancy. 

It was these scenes which prompted an entirely unexpected emotional response in me. Seeing an actor cry on stage in the way that Sean Gallagher (Robert) did during rehearsals resulted in one reaction for me: I cried too. 

The fact that I continued snivelling when the actors finished rehearsing said much for their obvious ability at grappling with the parts. All this after only a day of familiarising themselves with the script.

I did wonder whether my appreciation for the production was skewed because I had access to the production team and cast. It was only when I heard the entire performance back on the radio a night later that I realised my view wasn’t biassed. 

“24 Weeks” was gripping drama and earth-shatteringly executed by it’s stellar cast. OK, so I’m biassed a bit. But I did hear it and I cried that time too.