Saturday, 29 December 2012


After the roar and the kerfuffle of all that near excess of Christmas, quiet reflection is no bad thing.
And the rain has just stopped.

Is this family gossip  any use? As a new Tweeter I first followed loads of other people's personal chat but soon got bored with it.
The key points:

1. Yellow plastic gloves make ace penguin feet as I discovered in our 4 year old grand-daughter Rowan's North Pole Party.

Photo. Dan Fox

2. For Christmas dinner, instead of the usual, we spit roasted a small (11 kilo pig.) A lot of work, organising, purchasing, erecting a tent, marinating the meat, maintaining a fire, lifting, carving and afterwards, loads of grease cleaning. However with all the action, well  laced with laughter, cider, mulled wine and more laughter it was a perfect ( as they say) bonding lasso. Recommended

3.The lesson seems to be when in chaos go for maximum chaos. As our own tribe of 9 piled into our quite small Beach House we added a new cat , two gerbils and a budgerigar ( none of them ours ) We survived the exquistite flow.

4. Amongst all the cards and Chrissmassy electronica that dropped in were  three wonderful essays from Edinburgh playwright Jo Clifford's diary. Check out her "Christmas letter to the Pope" "On being asked to buy madeira cake for the jubilee" and "Lucy: light on a mountain"

Her writing is measured, a joy to behold  and highly pertinent. She writes: "In my own work I consistently try to be unfashionably hopeful; I see each play as a little act of resistance against the despair industry of the media that so endlessly tries to disempower us."

Certainly. So be it.  Amen even. Please pass on.

Happy New Year 2013 to all our readers.

John and Sue.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Word from Ratatosk

Here at out Beach House it is a very wet Thursday, North East gales and rain are plummeting
round our stalwart outside Christmas Tree, driving the baubles to ground.

Doomy Mayan end of the world stuff is currently stirring paranoia which is all good for commodity alibis and the sales of mulled wine and stronger alcohol

In the Norse myth of Yggdrasil the world is held up by a huge ash tree. As our wooden Beach house is supported on four big ash trees, in the time of DieBack we have to take this disaster stuff a bit seriously.
In the Nordic system Ratatosk the squirrel runs up and down between a dragon in the basement of roots and an eagle in the top most branches.

Here we have our "own"  squirrel that leaps along our verandah nicking the nuts we put out for blue tits. He is a grey squirrel quite irritated  that Lake District hotels collect a pound sterling per head from  bed an breakfast visitors in order to kill his tribe and save the reds. So he knows thing or two about paranoia. However in between spreading gossip and rather nasty rumours between  dragon and the eagle territories he  did communicate briefly..... more or less to say, don't let the rain wash off the slap, keep up the make believe as long as you can and don't let the buzzards pull you down. OK?
Ratatosk at work.


Monday, 10 December 2012


One of the causes dear to our hearts  -  Quaker Social Action - in the East End of London, has just won the Guardian Charity Award 2012 for Down to Earth, their project to work against funeral poverty, by beating almost 1000 entries. 

The honour is given for QSA's work with bereaved families preventing them from paying over the odds for a funeral and so avoiding  ending up deeper in debt and despair. When the loss of a loved one is made worse by the dread of paying to give them a good send off, the anxiety, grief and guilt is devastating. This project makes a meaningful funeral affordable, enabling grieving relatives to say goodbye without debt or regret. In just 2 years it has saved its clients over £100,000 in funeral expenses.

They achieve this by using trained mentors within the community to guide people at these difficult times. Shaun Powell, Manager of Down to Earth got in touch on the announcement of the award:

'We'd like to take this chance to thank Dead Good Guides as long term friends of the project for your support over the last couple of years and look forward to our future work together. Individuals such as yourselves who are dedicated to enabling equality of access to compassionate end of life care and meaningful, cost effective funerals for people with little money to spend.

We held a ceremony to recognise the members of the community supported by mentors - a real gift from yourselves via your books Engineers of the Imagination and  The Dead Good Funerals Book.
A good ceremony hath more value than precious rubies !  

Wednesday 12th December  12~12~12   John Fox and Sue Gill are running a Dead Good Funerals workshop at Manchester Museum from 2.30 - 4.30, entry fee £8. Why not come along?   


Sunday, 9 December 2012


Blast Furness, Ulverston's community street band, which has been motoring for over 12 years, had fun at yet another Dicken's Market. This one in Stockport yesterday. Three surprises: 

1. An old drunk was so impressed with our playing he insisted we collect money and threw his hat into our circle to receive the loot. Eventually three cold hours late we found him to return the hat. By then he was sober and shivering (and bald). As we were being paid a fee we gave the extra cash to charity.

2. Playing loudly under a railway arch we suddenly to discovered that a packed together gang of 50 urchins in grey smocks and hats (average age 10) had crept up behind us with fabulous disco dancing to our tunes. Three of them, we named  the Stockport Stompers, stayed with us all afternoon.

3. Finally, at the end of the afternoon, as we were playing "The Saints Go Marching In." 
the leader of a Salvation Army Band joined in, on cornet, Swopping his uniform hat for Sues' red top hat, laced with long feathers, we all played together in an unforgettable and  joyous moment. 

All unpredictable. And you could never invent it. Which is one reason why we do it, I guess.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


made in art curates 12~12~12 in Manchester

 - a single day of humanity 10am to 10pm

various venues across the city

urbanism, architecture, music, walking, stopping and talking,

eating and love, funerals and an exchange of DNA to make ONE

 with artist Rebecca Cunningham who is coming over from Australia.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

12~12~12 HUMANITY event in Manchester

Just a week to go and we shall be in the 

Natural History Discovery Centre of Manchester Museum 

Come along 2.30 to 4.30pm and Design your own Funeral - fee £8 in the surroundings of their taxidermy collection in the company of stuffed ferrets, owls,
a goat in a sweater, a snarling tiger and an elegant flamingo.
Who is the endangered species here?  

                                  Birkrigg Stone Circle South Cumbria

Sunday, 2 December 2012



This is just to say how much we enjoyed the lecture you gave on Wednesday for Graphic Arts & Design students at Leeds Met, it was incredibly interesting and entertaining. It made a refreshing change to hear from people who have managed to sustain an alternative creative practice with a political edge throughout their career!

A few of us are definitely curious to see your house in Morecambe!

We have attached the photograph of the two of you by your lecture poster.

Best Wishes
Vikkie and Sian (third years who designed the poster)  
                                                                                                               We say:
It was a brilliant studio with loads of equipment including metal letterpress letters and presses and equipment for etching, woodcutting, lino printing and silkscreen

We also collected a useful quote:

"The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

12-12-12 Plan Your Own Funeral. Manchester.

As part of Michael Mayhew's Humanity Festival in Manchester on 12 December  2012 we are facilitating a workshop  to Plan Your Own Funeral. Manchester Museum 2.30-4-30pm.
40 places only. £8.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

JOHN FOX DIARY. The Downpour.

Today in a brief interval between rains,we have been building a levee. Only a little one but sufficient to divert the rain water river pouring down our lane from flooding the Beach and out to sea. Needs must. The land slide from the hedge, which was blocking the lane, had to be cleared. So 20 wheelbarrows later we have a clay and stone dam. Eventually Bernard our farmer, the boss  of the disappearing hedge, appeared with a massive bucket loader tractor and usefully removed the 200 or so wheelbarrow loads which remained.

I shovelled soil with Trevor our neighbour. He has a property in Florida. Just down the road from him in the USA are shanty towns. Sounds like the ones in the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild."  To reduce the rising water levels, in the film, stranded hut dwellers bomb the dominant corporate levee with a crocodile skin stuffed with dynamite. Maybe they were premature. As Bob Dylan sings "If it keeps on raining the levee's gonna break" ( anyway).  In comparison with those huge (post Katrina) global shiftings our domestic efforts at Baycliff are of course a mere piddle in the big ocean of it all. We are so lucky. But this downpour does provides a salutary focus.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Weather Eye.

Any climate change deniers left out there should read this week's New Scientist  (17th November 2012). The evidence is coming down our lane. For twelve hours rain has been pelting on our roof.  Swinestead Lane is churning with frothy brown vinegar and the beach below is submerged under half an acre of quagmire. We can't drive out because the hedge on the side of the lane has slid down in a two ton thump of mud. Need to get a digger in.

A change  though to be talking to neighbours and listening to flood warnings on local radio while the big news is about bomb blasts in far away places.

And on yesterday's delayed trains as we escaped from water locked Taunton jam packed carriages buzzed with jolly conversations. Our companion, a submarine engineer from Barrow in Furness had spent  months under the Arctic icecap, responsible for the hundreds of valves controlling air and water purification for 100 men. When he was 5 his dad and older brother died climbing on Mt Blanc.

Monday, 19 November 2012

They are coming from the far north ...

Signing up is going well.

They will be coming from the far north of Scotland, from Somerset, from London
and all points between, beating a path to Ulverston for the Rites of Passage
Midsummer workshop.  

Only 7 places left  ...... 

Mid Monday morning in Barrow in Furness. Its raining and cold outside but warm and cosy inside Signal Films HQ where we are doing IT training. All this  echoes with blasts from the past. Hence the Queen Victoria hoarding illustration which was originally located  outside the then Vickers Shipyard for our Town Hall Tattoo 25 years ago, when we (Welfare State International) were maintaining a seven year residency in the town. Then Signal Films didn't exist and there was very little Arts  provision of any kind. Fortunately Arts facilities have increased. Signal Films are in a nicely converted building next to the equally nicely refurbished Duke of Edinburgh on Abbey Road . All feels positive despite the November rain. Signal Films are a dynamic outfit and they have piles of excellent chocolate biscuits.
And we can blog this to the whole world for what  it is worth!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

 MIDSUMMER SCHOOL 21-24 June 2013 


Learn more about the process of creating secular 
ceremonies to mark milestones in our lives

Another booking today - only 8 places left ......   www. 


Sue Gill                         ONE LAST TIME

The last time I saw Lol Coxhill a sax player we had worked with for years in the 1970's and 80's, he was part of The Dedication Orchestra, a mighty jazz band on stage at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre. Despite his track record as an improvising genius, he secretly confessed to us in the interval his fear of getting 'found out' because he was not so good at sight reading a score as some of the other legendary players. His twinkly secret added a delight to the 2nd half. 

We were not to know that this would be the last time we'd see Lol. A few years later, after 8 ghastly months in hospital, he died just before his 80th birthday. We only heard the news of his illness a couple of weeks before his death. We never visited. 

Another legend, Ritsaert Ten Cate, founder of The Mickery in Amsterdam, international elder to the performing arts movement, was given a diagnosis of a terminal illness. The news prompted countless friends, disciples, colleagues to ask his partner if they could see him one last time. 'But you have seen him one last time' was her firm reply. He was clear about how he wished to navigate his last journey. In solitude he made a sculptural shrine/ark, filmed himself reducing it to ashes and posted it on YouTube as his last public artwork. 

What is our impulse when we make these requests for a last visit? To say those things we have never said - how much this person has meant to me, taught me? To share memories? To say goodbye? Or is it rather to calm our own fears of death by seeking comfort from the dying person that we will manage without them? To take inspiration from how they are coping with dying? 

If we do not make it to the deathbed, how do we respond to the news that our friend has died? Guilt usually. Regret? Relief? Surely any half decent friend would want to make one last visit.

The understanding comes all of a sudden. Memories of times together become all the stronger because now they carry the status of the last time, never to be repeated.  In a recent secular funeral I lead, I used an adapted quote from Brian Patten's poem   'So Many Different Lengths of Time' : 

A woman lives for as long as we carry her inside us, 
for as long as we carry the harvest of her dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a woman lives.  

The question is: how do we make out farewells, or, does the nature of a farewell make us the person we are?  Make us better able to cope the next time the phone rings and our world has shrunk another bit smaller.     

Last times came up in our Rites of Passage Autumn School last month. There, a couple of participants brought to mind personal 'last times' that they only became aware of with hindsight - last time breastfeeding a small daughter who decided of her own accord she was no longer interested, last time reading bedtime stories to children as part of family rituals. A door closes behind us. Intimations of our own mortality. First times come up too, in our enquiry into rites of passage. These are usually much more juicy!   
A rare sight these days. A white Yacht has just crossed back and forth across the Bay. Once there would have been a constant flow of similar small ships, the white vans of their day, ferrying goods to villages before the Coast Road came to pass. Shrimpers too, before horses, carts and then tractors took over the fishing.  If you look in St Cuthberts Church at Aldingham  on a back right hand pew you will find two small graffti penknife- carved boats accurately scratched by bored children. Great how the scratchings of yesterday become the valued souvenirs of today.

Blogging from the Beach at Baycliff. The next tide always carries some washed up thing. On Friday came a sheep already  bloated. Now bruised black, with ochre ravines  and frothing with maggots. Always a handy maggot under the surface. A serious deterrent to dogwalkers and their spaniels who in the presence of a smelly carcass are suddenly given to cuddling each other.

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