The show goes on…

Let me tell you where I am readers. I’m here in the only place I feel safe at the moment… my shed. The first is a group called the “Men’s Shedders Association” But this isn’t just any garden shed, I’m not perched on a lawnmower with my feet on a bag of charcoal. This baby has carpets, curtains and even a coffee maker.

I’ve been self-isolating way before it was trendy. Although I didn’t call it that, I called it “hiding from my kids.”

This shed is quite compact, about six foot long by four foot wide, about the size of a downstairs toilet in the North or a one bed flat in Central London. On the 14th March BC (before Corona) I did my last live Stand up gig. Now I can’t get on stage, so like everyone else, I’ve decided to start working from home. Every week I do my own live stand up gig to a webcam here in the shed for the people on Facebook, it’s essentially a cross between Babestation and B and Q.

In Italy they sang songs from balconies, it was tender, it was beautiful. Here in Nottingham you’ve got a Yorkshireman bellowing punchlines in a wooden bunker at the bottom of his garden.

The response has been amazing, I’ve been on BBC News, Sky News, Five Live, over twenty thousand people have watched the first show as it was streamed live. It seems one man’s pandemic is another man’s career break. Someone even asked me who I’d got to do my PR! What?! PR? I didn’t plan this!? I didn’t think, forget “Live at the Apollo”, I want to be the acceptable face of the Coronavirus!

I think people were looking for a distraction though, which comedy certainly has the power to be.

Doing these jokes now feels a bit like missionary work, I don’t think of myself as a comedian
anymore, I’m basically Bob Geldof with punchlines.

My friends have said, how can you do stand up with no laughter Scott, isn’t it weird? No, I’ve performed in Doncaster, I’ve been here before.

I’ve got one physical audience member in the shed with me, my wife Jemma. Her role is sound engineer, morale officer and when she lays down a draft excluder. She also makes sure I stick to time, by frantically tugging on the leg of my jeans when I start waffling on. We go live every Thursday night and on that day I put a bit of extra effort in. I empty the dishwasher, I cook, I clean the entire house, I deal with the children, the last thing I need is my only audience member turning against me.

Roy and Margaret, my parents, also feature. My dad plays the ukulele and my mum sings. Listening to them do a rendition of The Urban Spaceman with my mum playing the Kazoo, was the first time since this crisis began, that I realized, just what a long haul this would be.

But It’s been amazing to see how my parents have embraced technology. Before the pandemic they were useless. It’s all changed now though. I’ve got my mum inviting me to three-way video conferencing sessions on Zoom, dad is in the spare bedroom, with a headset on, streaming a live vlog to his followers on Twitch. By the end of this pandemic, even your Gran will have a podcast.

“These days feel like a little window into my retirement years and I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good. I’ve got no money, no pension, no social life and the worst thing is, the kids are still at home.”

I’m trying to embrace this downtime, to see it as a moment of reflection a time to take a breath. These days feel like a little window into my retirement years and I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good. I’ve got no money, no pension, no social life and the worst thing is, the kids are still at home.

I’ve felt something these past few days that I haven’t experienced in years. Boredom.

Last Tuesday all I did was griddle some aubergines, that was it, a whole day and that was my only achievement. I needed the toilet, but I decided to hold it in, just so I could have something to look forward to on the Wednesday. I can’t wait for Friday, that’s the day I finally get to top up the bird feeders.

We are trying to ration our food at home now. We are down to our last pack of pasta and our delivery slot is still two weeks away. If things carry on like this I’ll have no choice but to go up into the loft and strip all the fusilli from my daughter’s primary school pictures.

We did a freezer eat down last week, clearing out all those leftovers. It feels very cathartic, but those were some weird meals. It was like Heston Blumenthal was on the pans. On the menu were potato waffles, sweetcorn, falafel and some unknown accompaniment, which I’m now convinced was breast milk. Either that or cod in butter sauce?

But In the midst of this trauma, there are things to celebrate. There is a real sense of community now, people are pulling together. We have a WhatsApp group in Nottingham, where people shop for those who can’t get out. Everyone is very reasonable on there, you have to think about what you ask for. You can’t have people risking their health just to pick you up some fresh peppercorns. “We’re in a state of national emergency Malcolm, I think you might have to accept that your food might be a little less seasoned from now on!”

No one knows what the world will look like when we come out of this. I was watching a video of a concert on YouTube the other night and something didn’t seem right. At first I thought it was the lack of mobile phones, then I realized what it was, people were stood in a crowd! It freaked me out! I wanted to yell at the television! “What are you doing guys, are you insane! you should be 2 metres apart, come on, social distancing! where is your hand santiser, where are your masks! Is this an essential concert?!”

Close contact could soon be a fetish. They’ll be underground cuddling clubs, proximity perverts hanging around in alleyways in long trench coats. “Come in here and stand next to me, go on, breath on my neck, that’s it, touch it, go on, you know you want to, touch my face, shake my hand, let’s go down to the basement for a game of Twister!”

Humour is one of the best tools we have to get through this. Only a fortnight ago, we were laughing about how we were having to greet each other. We touched elbows, we saluted, I even did a fist bump with the pensioner across the road. It was the most gangster thing ever. When all this has blown over we’ve made plans to pimp us his mobility scooter, then go down the old folks home and start dealing Viagra.

But I’m really missing my job. I’ve done shows every weekend for nearly a decade and I feel lost without it. I miss the hen parties and the stag nights, the punters on their phones and the drunken heckles from the shadows. I’ve done gigs where I’ve driven for four hours on a Tuesday night, in torrential rain, to perform to two people and a dog, for no money, at Bobby Wingnuts Cackle Dungeon…..and I even miss those ones now too.

I can’t keep doing jokes to my wife in the shed, it’s not normal. If you carry on like that you won’t have a career, or a wife.

After all, when this is over I think we will all need a laugh. Comedy is going to be in such demand and I can’t wait to be on the frontline, back in that comedy club where I belong.

But until that day comes, I guess this shed will just have to do.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes

SB

Motherhood in a pandemic

WELL. GUYS. What a year we are having. I hope you’re all doing ok, and I really hope you are all reading this at home with the curtains tightly closed in case that creepy neighbour walks past again and waves. If you don’t have one of those, it’s you. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

There are rainbows in windows everywhere, thanking our key workers for their brilliant efforts, and behind each one is a parent who is relieved to have a half an hour activity with their bored offspring. Homeschooling started weeks ago with an enthusiastic bang, parents with well-meaning lesson plans all sat down on that first Monday and smashed through a day of spellings and maths, with some colouring-in for balance. Now, 3 weeks into the lockdown, we rarely know where the kids are and aren’t entirely sure if we’ve fed them today. Lesson plans have been replaced with shrugs and a glass of red. Minecraft is now a STEM activity and Roblox ticks the maths box because, I dunno really, it has numbers in?

“There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this.”

I really thought I’d be fine with homeschooling. Keeping the kid on track, not really teaching but allowing her mind to stay academically active. No. Nope. Not even slightly. Right now she’s sat in a bucket of what I suspect is rainwater, Skyping her best mate on an old phone we’ve agreed she can use and eating what looks like raw frozen chips. I’m indoors watching Bargain Hunt and writing this. We started well, but the Easter Holidays arrived and it felt a bit unfair to force her to do school work, so now every day is a Sunday afternoon and I’m not sure that time exists any more.

There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this. Getting through each day as peacefully as possible is the most we can ask of ourselves. Feel free to learn a new skill, but also feel free not to. It turns out that ‘not having time’ was never the reason I didn’t learn to juggle or learn another language. If you want to clear out your underwear drawer, brilliant. If you want to eat ice lollies for breakfast, also brilliant! Do whatever you and your kids need to and ignore the pressure to do more. This is a pandemic, not The Real Housewives of Beeston.

DL

How has the lockdown affected our universities?

The last few weeks have obviously seen a change in how Universities have been working, or indeed how they have been able to work, but working they have been…

Teaching

In the days leading up to the ‘lockdown,’ much focus was on ensuring that students could continue to access the learning they needed to complete this academic year. The last few weeks of the teaching semester have moved online. We commonly record our lectures anyway, but teaching online is more than just providing an audio file to accompany a set of PowerPoint slides – and it is the important interactive elements of our learning support that led to many staff doing a bit of a crash course in various online platforms towards the end of March.

Universities have also been putting things in place to ensure students can get the marks they need to progress through their degrees, or, most importantly for final-year students, graduate with a degree result that is a fair reflection of their efforts. Graduation ceremonies themselves have been postponed but there’ll be little delay in final year students getting their degrees. Some have even already graduated, as you may have seen recently on BBCs The One Show, some University of Nottingham final-year medical students graduated early this year so they could start supporting NHS work immediately. A heartfelt round of applause to them, in particular, this week along with the final-year student nurses who have signed up for extended placements at this particularly challenging time.

Research

The move to a more virtual world has not stopped research across the University either, although in large parts of it there has been a shift to writing up work rather than doing new experiments, or a (re) new(ed) focus on desk-based work. Most of the University’s laboratories cannot be accessed at the moment, and travel restrictions have also paused some research programmes. Many of us have research networks across the UK and overseas and meeting these colleagues has now become a similar experience to meetings with people in our own department. There’s been a debate for some time in my own academic circles about how much we should be travelling anyway, given short- and longer-term environmental impacts of international travel. The coming months will see an increase in online workshops and conferences and it will be interesting to see how people take to these as an alternative to meeting in person and if behaviours remain changed in a post-COVID-19 world – no doubt someone will be doing some research on that.

Service

Laboratories that have remained open in the University have largely been those that have been working on COVID-19 related work, for example as part of a national effort to understand the genetic code of the virus. Equipment from both Nottingham universities was also loaned, early on in the shutdown, to the national testing effort. About £1 million worth of Nottingham PCR machines are now in the new Lighthouse Laboratories being used for running COVID-19 tests.

What next?

As we settle down into the rest of this academic year with a clear plan of what we are doing (and a big thanks to those colleagues who put in significant shifts to ensure those plans were in place), thoughts also turn to next year. Our big sisters and brothers in the national press have been speculating and reporting on concerns for university finances over the coming months, the sector will likely be hit substantially along with many others. We also wait and see if Freshers’ Weeks in the autumn are likely to be seen as a good idea, or if we’ll still be operating largely virtually for the new academic year. As with us all, we’ll just wait and see on those things and in the meantime keep supporting each other and others as best we can.

Take care.

MJ

Healing a town with shoe-shop chat

An issue that for some time neatly divides a community directly down the middle, cleaving them into two camps that seems intent on destroying all common ground between them. A debate that very rarely gets deep into facts before the ad hominem attacks, insults and threats. A political class that knows divide and conquer is a low but effective technique. A seemingly irreparable division that toxifies all it touches…

Nah, we don’t do Brexit on these pages, we’re talking about the tram. It’s hard to remember how divided things were then. We stuck down an editorial line of not being pro or anti as we could see how divisive it was, but still were accused from both sides of being a propaganda tool for the others. It was a pretty nasty time and was best summed up by the NET Tram Ranting Room on Facebook, an area of much heat and little light. Here, the loudest voices were amplified further over the quiet voices of reason, and dissent was not welcome. It was a hateful, horrible place serving to make the situation increasingly febrile. So well done to unassuming local guys, Jon Speed and Steve Orton who decided to do something about it. They set up a new group and called it ‘Beeston Updated’.

Originally the ‘NET Phase 2 Discussion Room’, its initial idea seemed to be a refuge for disaffected Rant Room defectors who wanted something less substantial than the usual ‘WHY OH WHY OH WHY fodder’. As it started to attract members, a local woman, Kirstie, was invited on board, and then I was hauled in. ‘We’ll probably plateau at around 750 members’ I predicted, maintaining my prognostic aptitude finely – I’m the anti-Nottstradamus, it seems.

As the tramlines came close to completion and the raison d’etre of the group looked set to diminish, we decided to refocus. I’d early done much work in tandem with the Beeston and District Civil Society and Sir/ Professor Martyn Poliakoff, and others, in trying to imagine what the next phase of the Square development should look like. We had run a process of asking a bunch of the finest, freshest minds in urban development together by setting it as a University of Nottingham project, with staggeringly imaginative results, fully costed and studied, presented openly for the public. Not a single councillor bothered visiting the display, and years on the Square is only just getting built on by the dullest set of buildings imaginable.

What would happen if we discussed, en masse, the future of Beeston development? Have a forum to find out what people really want, rather than the useless and skewed public consultations put out by councils? Beeston Updated took a step into the future.

And what a future it has been. Membership began to rocket and to ensure that it was well-served rules put in to allow everyone to talk in an open, positive fashion rather than the usual fate of forums: The Gobshite Takeover. Balancing this with freedom of expression is a developing, complex issue, yet I think it works, despite the aforementioned gobshites misunderstanding that ‘freedom of speech’ is the same as ‘freedom to be listened to’.

Themes, private jokes – the non-existence of shoe shops / public toilets is a perennial favourite, and memes have grown over time, as has a very welcome effect: despite the board’s occasional frivolity and trivialities, it sometimes serves an important purpose.

When the 12-year-old Rylander Owen Jenkins drowned in the Trent attempting to rescue two girls, the news first broke on BU, and the response was overwhelming. People were desperate to be able to offer help, even if it was just in the form of condolence. Owen’s family were inundated with offers of help, and as the tragedy settled into the town’s consciousness ideas were brought forth: Owen’s favourite colour was purple, so the town mobilised to display the colour all over, to show solidarity to Owen’s family. By the time his funeral happened, the streets from Rylands to Wollaton Road were lined with those wishing to pay respect. Out of tragedy, beauty.

There have been numerous such tales since, though few tinged with such tragedy. The deaths of notable local John ‘Fastlane’ Ciutiskis and busker Percy Brown saw the town come together on the group to ensure that they both received dignified send-offs. Pets have been reunited, friends bought back together, many, many small acts of communal goodness enacted. Oxjam, Street Art, and Beeston Carnival are all enhanced by the existence of the group.

It’s not perfect – what community is? It has, at time of writing, 20,394 members, which represents a vast majority of on-line Beestonians. While some of these admittedly are ex-residents of the town and confused Leeds residents perplexed at there being more than one Beeston, I’m delighted my original prediction was out by 2600%. While time and familiarity have been the greatest healers of the social wounds caused by the tram debacle, I am sure Beeston Updated has been a help in getting to understand who we are as a community, and bringing us a little closer.

And for the record, there are SEVEN places where men’s shoes can be purchased within Beeston, for christ sake.

MT

They’re not ageing, they’re transitioning!

As this issue is about community, I want to tell you about two of my favourite communities, both of whom have a spiritual affinity with one another.

The first is a group called the “Men’s Shedders Association.” I recently did a charity fundraising gig for them, my dream is to be the ambassador, the comedy circuits very own Angelina Jolie. I might even adopt one of these stray men and bring them back home to live with me. In a house full of women it would be nice to finally have a wingman for when my wife and I have an argument.

There is a serious reason that this charity was set up. Men’s mental health is a big concern. The statistics on male suicide make for horrific reading. It remains the most common form of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK. Years of being told to “Man up” and the stigma surrounding mental health has made it hard for men to talk about their problems.

Thankfully things are changing and the “Shedders Association” is one initiative set up to help. Men of all ages, young and old can now gather together in sheds all across the country, it’s a bit like an open prison, except that the only vices they have are the ones holding the wood.

It seems like men find it easier to talk when we are these sort of environments. Sawdust are our smelling salts and a Black and Decker Workmate is just another one of the lads. If you have a BBQ you can see how hard men find it to converse. Women will be sat on the patio furniture with a glass of Pimms, the air is alive with their excitable chatter. The men will usually be stood around the flames with a can of lager in hand, just staring in silence. Occasionally one of the older ones will pluck up the courage to speak: “It looks like you need another bag of lava rock on there Keith.”

I have a shed and it’s changed my life. It’s the only room in the house the children haven’t conquered. I like my kids but I love my shed. It’s my place, my own private temple. It’s not hedonism its shedonism! It’s how men bond too. My mates never ask me about my kids, but they will always ask me about that shed. “How is she doing mate?” “Great!” “I’ve got some pictures on my phone” “Oh, she’s beautiful!” “I’m treating her this weekend” “Are you?” “Yeah, a bit of Cuprinol.”

My wife Jemma got me that shed as a surprise when I became a professional comedian. It was somewhere I could concentrate, a private place away from the chaos of family life. At first, I thought it was a lovely gesture, now I’ve realised it’s just a way for her to get me out of the house.

Some of the men in the shedders association are retired. Their wives send them in there, to keep them occupied and stop them from getting lonely. They spend hours making coffee tables, catapults, and tiny models of cathedrals out of matchsticks, whilst their own homes just fall apart. “John I don’t need another bloody spice rack, when are you going to decorate that back bedroom!”

Another community I am fascinated with are the monks. To the onlooker they seem to have the right idea, taking themselves off the grid, seeking something more spiritual and meaningful in a world of panic and fear.

I’ve met a monk. I know this sounds like the start of a joke, “a comedian and a monk walk down a hill”, but it’s true. I was out for a walk on my own one day, in a country park in Gloucestershire. In the grounds, there was this Monastery. As I walked past the entrance, this monk came out of the gate and fell into step with me. He was in white robes, but he’d stuck on a fleece, bobble hat, and walking boots, an undercover monk, a friar with a wire. Some people find god after a moment of despair, this guy looked like he’d found him halfway through plastering a fireplace. It looked like he was on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition and had taken the wrong bearing, for nearly four decades! He said, “are you walking my way?” I thought, my God, he’s trying to recruit me! He got the calling when he was 25, he’d been there 35 years. He’d left his whole family behind to serve god. I told him I’d just turned 40. He said that is the age we start to look for fulfilment within ourselves, we stop chasing and start reflecting. This could be the moment for you, he said. “Now I’m not saying I’d want to abandon my family, I love my wife and children more than anything else in the world, they are everything to me…however…. it’d be nice to be brother Scott just for a weekend.”

I think that’s what these monasteries are full of, tired dads who said they were going to put the bin out one day and just kept going. They didn’t stop until their heads hit the monastery door. The monks find them there in the morning, just laid out on the steps: “We’ve got some more brother Michael and this one is weeping!” “School holidays Brother John always a busy time!” “Five this week alone” They just prize the Ikea bags out of their hands and take them through to the vestry. I think this is a secret fantasy for most men. As they get older you can see their inner monk slowing starting to come out. They aren’t ageing, they’re transitioning! They get the bald head, the potbelly, start spending all day in their dressing gowns, mumbling to themselves, they take a vow of celibacy, often not their choice. They wake up one day and say to their wives, “Susan, I’m going to put my name down for an allotment!”

But if the price of tranquillity is to give up everything you love, I don’t want it. I couldn’t handle the guilt, it would be unbearable. Maybe they aren’t holy these guys, maybe they’re just really selfish. We can’t all abandon our responsibilities just to save ourselves. It can’t be that good in there either. If it was, then why are they all drinking booze?! Not only that, but they are also making it themselves, it’s like Breaking Bad in there, I bought some of their Trappist Ale, its 9%, that’s stronger than special brew!

When you see them doing those chants in their robes, they aren’t praying, they’re hungover, what are they trying to forget! In this world of pressure and chaos, a garden shed is more than just an outbuilding, it’s a place of sanctuary. All you need is the Pope to pop by and bless it then and you’ve got your own Monastery. You can be your own monk by not even leaving your own home!

Speaking of which, I’ll see you all later, I’m off to rub down some plywood.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes

SB

Libtard nonsense

The theme this issue is ‘community’ they said, and that sounded great, until I began wondering exactly what the word means. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the actual definition, my voclab… er… vocable… list of words I know… is pretty good. But what is the Beeston community? Is there one?

Yes, obviously. But is there just one? No, just as obviously.

As I walk down Wollaton Road taking my daughter to school of a morning I see a huge number of people I don’t ever really interact with or know about – people who have different lifestyles, opinions, politics and even languages to mine.

I have my own routines, my circle of friends, people I work with or share hobbies with but how much interaction do I have with these strangers, what do we share?

“We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events…”

And yet we do share something, even with people we don’t know. We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events (as I type the increase in cases of coronavirus is headline news, who knows what it will be like by the time this is published). But tramworks, roadworks, shop closures, cinema building as well as those perennial favourites of shoe shops and public loos probably affect the majority of us in some way or another.

And you, dear reader – I may not know you personally but I imagine there’s a distinct ‘Beestonian’ community too, people who are interested, involved and have a real passion and pride in our town. You may not all agree on the same things of course – as I’ve mentioned previously our street art certainly divides people as does the number of student residences for instance, but I’m quite sure most readers could happily share a conversation and thoughts on our experiences and lives here.

And I like that – a lot. As a middle-aged bloke who’s lived in Beeston almost all of my life (I’ve had brief periods living in Nottingham itself, London and – for a short time – a castle in Cheshire) I love being part of something bigger than just my experience or limited worldview. The people who make up Beeston now come from the town itself and sometimes much further afield, including our annual influx of students too. We have a wide variety of restaurants – Persian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Indian – pretty much global – run by people who know and have a passion for their own cultures and cuisines but a desire to share that with others to add to the diversity, choice, interest and variety on our doorsteps.

And yet there are also those who don’t have as wide a choice as the majority; it would be a particularly inattentive person who hadn’t noticed the increase in the number of people sleeping rough or at least living on the streets in Beeston. There has been some robust discussion on the Beeston Updated Facebook group about the reasons and causes of this – as I mentioned, politics sometimes differ – but from the incredibly expensive houses of Beeston Fields Drive to sleeping bags on the High Road it can certainly be said almost all human life is here.

As a man who plays at being the country’s most famous outlaw, famed for a rather proactive redistribution of wealth, I’m not advocating anything as radical but I hope we can all realise we’re part of something bigger, to see outside our own narrow frame of reference and help each other – even those we don’t know – to live and thrive in our great town, one I truly believe is one of the best and most welcoming in the country.

TP

Everybody panic!

As a nation, we seem to be teetering on the verge of a very middle-class apocalypse, one which is holding eye contact while unflinchingly increasing the price of hand sanitiser between each worried looking person in line at the chemist. An end-of-days parade of wide-eyed, polite folk roaming loose around supermarkets, trying to look nonchalant in their quest to find the last bottle of pineapple scented hand gel. People who wouldn’t WANT to fight, but…

Our daughter’s school has issued warnings and advice, we are singing the prescribed two verses of Happy Birthday while slowly washing our hands, staring forlornly into the bathroom mirror like the ghosts of sad Victorian orphans. My hands are looking like something from Cocoon. We are too British to panic, but we shall tut and huff and encourage our kids to avoid playing with Sneezy Joe at school, all while being grateful that it seems to be happening to other people for now. But, and I don’t say this lightly, kids are filthy. If the end times come soon they shall be heralded not by four horsemen, but by 4 snotty year 2s playing the shared class recorders.

These germ delivery drivers are IN OUR HOUSES and it’s impolite to throw them out when they can’t legally look for alternative accommodation because they are still ‘only 5 mummy, please’.

Short of quarantining them all at Hogwarts or anywhere else which produces smug magical beings while us muggles work our fingers to the bone while they swim in vaults full of gold, we need to take drastic measures. We have to start hosing them down when they get home with the enthusiasm of a gap-year student at an elephant sanctuary.

Spray anti-bac directly into little Jimmy’s eyes, sheep dip the neighbours’ kids in last summer’s paddling pool before they can come inside. Put marigolds on the end of mops and greet them with a long-distance hug when they get home from school. Make them live in a tent in the garden and call it camping, kids love that stuff. Send them on a play date and leave the country while they are out.

Use your heads people, don’t let the kids win.

DL

University of Beestonia: Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015 the United Nations released a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives of all. This ambitious blueprint outlined 17 Goals and a 15-year timeframe in which to achieve them.

Sustainability is a challenging concept but is broadly defined in this context as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. The focus on the SDGs and sustainability in general has opened a wealth of opportunities for scientists. One of the biggest shifts in the UK has been in the nature of the funding landscape, with the introduction of the “Global Challenges Research Fund” in 2015 – a £1.5bn UK Government funding initiative. This has in turn seen many Universities and Research Institutes align their research strategies with the SDGs – for example, the British Geological Survey’s “Geoscience for Sustainable Futures” programme, or the University of Nottingham’s Global Research Theme “Developing Sustainable Societies” and Future Food Beacon of Excellence, which have been discussed previously in this column.

Geoscience, our focus at the BGS, as well as other (and arguably all) science disciplines have a crucial role in underpinning and delivering applied solutions to improve economic and social welfare both at home and overseas. Perhaps the key to achieving the goals is tied up in Goal 17 –Partnerships for the Goals. We can no longer be scientists that sail our own ships, the need for crossdisciplinary working has never been stronger. We also need to work effectively and appropriately with overseas partners – be these academics, government bodies, or local communities – working together to co-design research, and co-produce knowledge to positively impact economic, environmental, and social development at local to global scales.

Achieving the UN-SDGs by 2030 might seem like an insurmountable task, and will be challenging, but does represent an exciting opportunity for scientists both in the UK and overseas to contribute to making positive change at a global scale.

Thanks to Dr. Keely Mills from the British Geological Survey (BGS) for contributing to the column this issue.

Beeston Safari

It occurred to me, sometime last Christmas, that to enter one of the Top Ten Eco Destinations in the World (according to BBC Wildlife Magazine) I didn’t have to do much more than walk a few steps from my house, cross a railway track and push a swing gate open.

I don’t live on the edge of a rainforest in Borneo. I don’t live on the fringe of the Red Desert in Namibia. As you may expect from someone who runs a magazine based in Beeston, my digs aren’t quite so exotic. I live, as many of you reading this will also do, right close to Attenborough Nature Reserve.

It also occurred to me that I didn’t know a great deal about what was within that reserve, or my own back garden for that matter, which felt an awful waste. Sure, I knew my swans from my geese, my starling from my sparrow; and I’d coaxed a few robins to feed from my outstretched palm on occasion. But what else was there? Finding a trap-cam and a bird-book in my Christmas stocking, I decided to put them to use. I would start a safari in Beeston, with the Nature Reserve, the Trent and my own rather overgrown back garden as my focus.

 

The challenge was simple: every day I would find and photograph a new species of life, research exactly what it was and what it did, and put it up on Instagram and Facebook. On the first day, while the outside world tussled with New Year hangovers, I checked my trapcams at dawn and found only curious cats. No matter. I stuck my camera out of the front window and onto the bird feeder, where a grey squirrel performed tail-based acrobatics and thus became my first subject. Next day, collared dove. Third day, the first creature I had no previous idea of, only identifying through a microscope: a planarium flatworm, making its way through the soil. A shiny glass snail – I’d until then assumed there was just two types of snails, garden and pond – with an aphid, coal tit and a common centipede rounding off the first week.

“Nature is an incredible array of stories, histories, etymologies and often bizarre facts.”

With each new species came a desire to not just photograph it, not just know its name, but know why it is unique. Why is a mute swan mute (it’s not)? Why do hoverflies look like wasps? Who the hell was responsible for naming fungus, and were they getting a bit too fond of the more psychedelic versions while at work that day? Nature is an incredible array of stories, histories, etymologies and often bizarre facts. I became addicted to it.

As spring broke through the frozen ground, I became spoiled for choice. Hedgehogs and badgers would regularly visit the trap cam, and the wealth of species that appeared in the nature reserves was heady: I became fascinated by beetles, amazed at the habits of butterflies, enthralled by the impossible flash of a hawker dragonfly in full flight. Rather than have nature as an auxiliary support, there to dip into when needed, I began to become immersed and wilfully lost in it. I could happily spend hours piling through scratching brambles all just to get a grainy shot of a blackcap. Windows were left open and lights left on during the night to lure in fascinating moths. My photography skills vastly improved. My own backyard became my own Serengeti, a joy taken in the minutiae.

It started to get noticed: numerous appearances on Notts TV talking about the safari ensued, and people would send me their own pictures, seemingly inspired by my efforts. The ultimate accolade came in late May, when a hero of mine who radically changed how nature is written about, Robert Macfarlane, crossed paths with me due to a work event. We went for dinner together at Cafe Roya, where he told me he enjoyed my daily pictures. I probably resembled a smug Elephant Hawk Moth right then, as my head swelled
accordingly.

Something more important happened too. I fell back in love with nature, and I once again understood what a balm it is. Immersion into nature takes you somewhere far from the daily stresses, the petty internal debates. By reducing you to just another temporal organism amongst many billions, a transcendence can begin. Understanding more about the creatures we share this patch with lends a greater respect, a deeper empathy and a greater need to look after what we have. To quote Robert Macfarlane “We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.” And right now, we need to bridge that gap between nature and humanity, for it’s sake, for our sake.

This year, I’ve restarted the safari: as I write I’m watching a charm of goldfinch on a feeder, while a cautious female blackbird pecks at an apple left on the floor. Keep up with the safari over on my Instagram: @beestonia.

MT

 

 

Eco Friendly Parenting

The phrase ‘eco-friendly parenting’ summons up images of forest schools and vegan lentil puree and sharing circles where mums hang out in wafty kaftans while beardy dads whittle musical pipes to sell at local craft markets, but I have a very vivid and judgemental imagination. As someone with less free time than I used to, I know how hard it can be to actively do my bit for the environment as well as sort out childcare, work full time and remember which charity your kid needs a pound for at school.

There are, however, a few bits of fairly sensible advice I’ve picked up over the years from people who are far more qualified to bring up a child than I am, so I’m going to shamelessly pass these off as my own and gain your immense admiration and respect.

Buy books. Books hold their value for far longer than the latest LOL doll or surprise bag, and can be passed on to your local charity shop or a mate with a younger child when yours gets bigger. They make great personal gifts, you can get them in the pound shop, and they don’t take up too much space in small bedrooms. Buy reusable water bottles and avoid snacks in single-use plastic containers. Baby-Bels are fun but a block of cheese is cheaper and produces less waste. Same with fruit and biscuits. Buy bulk and cheap where you can, and ignore the tiny protestations of the 3-year-old who wants Transformers yoghurt pots. You are bigger than they are. Be strong. Sit on them if necessary.

“Scour charity shops for stocking fillers and remember that it’s fine to buy second hand.”

Shop local; find smaller gift items on your high street from independent retailers and avoid those big chains who avoid their taxes. You’ll be supporting local individuals rather than billionaires. Check out the website Etsy for some brilliant one-off gifts which are more personal than a Frozen 2 lip balm set. Scour charity shops for stocking fillers and remember that it’s fine to buy second hand.

Above all remind your kids about the great outdoors. Parks are free, and if they grow up loving the outdoors they will grow up to want to protect it. That’s really the best thing you can do, and it costs nothing. Chuck on something narrated by David Attenborough and remind them that we share the world, that it’s not ours. (Skip the bit where the baby seals get eaten alive though, our kid hasn’t slept for 7 weeks and we’re all very tired.)

DL