Category Archives: Milton Keynes

Learning from Cromwell and Co.

Today I went wandering around the current exhibition in Milton Keynes Central Library, Newport Pagnell – Cromwell’s Garrison Town. It was an interesting exhibition which was very old skool in terms of how it was presented and to be honest could have been a bit dull if it hadn’t pressed some particular interest buttons for me.

The exhibition primarily focuses on the history of Newport Pagnell and role it played in the English Civil War(s), but it also touches upon the history of Stony Stratford too. Pictures of Sealed Knot visits to both are included amongst the exhibits. The exhibition illustrates how these two small towns, which are now viewed by some – but not the locals – as being part of Milton Keynes were on opposing sides during the civil war. Stony was held by the Royalists and for most of the time Newport Pagnell was held by the Parliamentarians. Thus, as the exhibition makes clear this area was the front line between Oxford and East Anglia.

I found this borderland idea interesting as it is something which continues into the modern day. MK is hard to categorise in terms of where it lies regionally. We are on the edge of several regions and our life here reflects that. TV wise I get Look East, police coverage is provided by the Thames Valley Force, the main “local” railway company is London Midland.

There was some important non-conformist dissenter history within the exhibition, aswell as literary treasures. There was a chunk of wood which was part of a pulpit Bunyan had preached from and some documentation relating to Rev. John Gibbs who was one of the 17th century dissenters who left the CofE and formed an independent church which is now the URC. This history page on the Newport Pagnell Baptist Church site outlines the way in which other local dissenting congregations can be seen to trace their heritage back to Gibbs and within the exhibition is an article from the Baptist Quarterly dating back to the 1920’s.

I find the whole subject of non-conformist history absolutely fascinating and important, it is an important part of my religious heritage.

In terms of how radical political non-conformity and dissent has always been viewed as dangerous one line in a time line in the exhibition is very telling. In 1649 Levellers were chased through Newport Pagnell and their leaders shot.

One thing I am very aware of is that it is easy to romanticise the situation of the time, particularly as non-conformists who still have that Puritan DNA in us. That would be a mistake, but I do worry that this exhibition focused too much on bland information without going into much depth about what the reality would have been. For example when it says volunteers to go to Ireland were told they weren’t needed – such as simple sentence, but so much more than is immediately obvious is held within it.

As I say an interesting exhibition if you are in to that sort of thing, but possibly not if you’re not a social history/ non-conformity buff. I know space was obviously an issue for this exhibition and I would have liked to see it presented in a larger space. I think that would have made a difference.

Seeing the fingerprint of God “of the City”

This morning I got a phone call from Karl telling me that Zest, the company with whom we’ve booked Bletchley Park as the venue for our civil partnership blessing/ wedding, (delete according to language you prefer), have gone into administration. Seeing as we had not got around to getting wedding insurance sorted and the transaction was too long ago to be recovered under the consumer credit act we appear to have lost our deposit. In terms of the venue booking we are waiting on Bletchley Park getting back to us again to let us know what’s happening – it appears they were taken as much by surprise as we were when Zest went into administration. It has to be said they were very good at responding to our initial enquiry, even if it was to tell us they didn’t have a definitive answer to give yet.

So that was the beginning of the day – and I have to admit I did find myself getting somewhat caught up in my own negativity. However, as I ventured outside for a meeting things began to change. It appeared spring had properly sprung today.

Wandering along the Redways to the town centre I was struck by the beauty and vibrancy of the colours in the nature around me. After the meeting and a quick trip to Sainsbury’s I happened to venture into the cafe in the University Centre for a quick drink. Not a coffee shop I’d actually been in before and more importantly not a gallery I’d properly explored before. I found myself accidentally encountering the most wonderful exhibition.

Of the City, (which I can’t find any links to online), is the current exhibition at UCMK Galleries. It runs until 22nd March and contains a mixed media exhibition with Painting by Andrew Brown, Printmaking by Jason Duggan and Photography by Mat Cross.

The guide to the exhibition describes it as an exhibition in which these three artists from Milton Keynes explore their responses to the urban landscape.

The paintings of Andrew Brown are described by him as ones which “usually begin with a representational approach, but evolve to take on a more poetic or expressive feel.” What was so striking about Brown’s paintings was the vibrancy and contrast of colour within them and the way in which they were able, according to the subject, able to evoke either traffic speeding around the city or slowly making its way along.

My favourite works in this part of the exhibition were Embankment Night which invited me into itself, asking me to go on a journey of urban discovery and London Night. The latter made me feel as though I was walking along one of the main streets in the capital seeing the bus before me, quite amazing.

What I think would work really well with an exhibition of just Brown’s work would be a punk and post-punk soundtrack of works by groups such as The Clash, Blondie, Ramones and The Strokes. New York Lights for example set The Strokes New York City Cops playing in my head.

The photographs of Mat Cross were able to do that thing I really admire in some modern photography of taking the modern, mundane and sometimes apparently ugly and turn it into something of beauty. Say Cheese which had one photo showing a phone box with flowers in the foreground and another with a man wandering through a puddle and Window Dressing which contained a fence with graffiti on it were two examples.

The printmaking of Jason Duggan was something which fascinated me. He used two main techniques dry point and wood relief. The results were incredibly different but equally beautiful. There was one Dry point which particularly grabbed my attention and that was Parisian Waiter. This exquisite print had eyes which followed you around the room and seemed to be wanting to grab you for an intellectual conversation where this man would expound upon art or music.

The wood relief prints which included Stolen Glance, Parisian Lamplight, Parisian Girls, Message and Moulin Rouge all had a contemporary post-punk feel to them and were incredibly vibrant. They again got a sound track playing in my mind but this one was more contemporary, it was the sounds of Razorlight, the Wombats and The Futureheads my mind responded to these pictures with.

As you can tell these pictures definitely grabbed a response for me and I really loved this exhibition. It was sheer joy and whilst the space isn’t anywhere as near as vast as the Tate Modern I found the art engaging with my spirituality on some level. Wandering home in the sunshine seeing the vibrant colours within nature and reflecting on the exhibition I had just wandered around as well as the new life bursting out of the branches and bushes around me I was struck by something wonderful. Within the beauty I’d encountered in town, in the art and nature, (and within one of those people you meet and just know is a person of peace), I had, on a bit of a shit day, been able to get a glimpse of the fingerprint of God within the soul of MK. That glimpse had been significantly strong to enable me to transcend my earlier feelings.

What about Sunday?

What about Sunday? No this isn’t the latest tag line, it’s the current mixed media exhibition by Swiss artists Silvia Bachli and Eric Hattan on at MK Gallery until 31st March. It’s a mixture of individual and collaborative pieces.

As you walk in underneath some foliage which apparently are discarded Christmas trees you get the feeling this is going to be different but has potential.

Moving onto the Cube Gallery is a set of Hattan’s videos which are I think one of the better features of this exhibition. They are part of an installation called Round and Round. There is a guy walking under the underpasses in town and I was struck by how reminiscent this video was of some of Suzanna Raymond’s work which I’ve discussed on here before, (and who currently has work being exhibited at the Creed Street Theatre in Wolverton in an exhibition I hope to, but am not sure I will get to before it closes in a few days time – follow this link to her film Shadows).

Two of the most striking videos which were part of Round and Round were a couple of youngsters kicking a can around and an empty, clear, plastic bag floating about. There is a paradox created between the feelings that there should be more for the kids to be doing, and that the litter shouldn’t be there and the sheer beauty of the images within the films.

This section is accompanied by a soundtrack which sounds like the can being kicked around but which was apparently recorded as Hattan was driving.

There are also some of Bachli’s Dark Drawings alongside. Couldn’t quite work out why they alongside the video installation. This feeling of is this just a random collection of modern art with no clear link between things was a recurring theme throughout this exhibition which didn’t grab me in the same way the previous one – which I reviewed – had.

The art in the Middle Gallery didn’t grab my attention at all. The Long Gallery had more art which left me feeling underwhelmed and thinking a lot of supposedly ‘amateur art’ I’ve seen has been more inspiring.

The one thing which really did get me thinking I think this is great art was the lamppost they had coming out from the bannister of the stairs.  It was a steel lamppost which was bent over as if there had been a major accident in the gallery and the car had been removed but the lamppost remained.

Also part of the exhibition is a Caravan – parked outside the gallery – which has been making me smile as I’ve found myself going past it on various occasions as have the TV screens in the window of the gallery shop.

As for the £8,000 cheque….nah, but then I suspect that it may well be in one of the spaces you don’t get to if you’re there to actually look at the art. This Guardian article suggested the possibility of the ladies toilets – that would be a no I think, (it was the one place I properly did have a good glance round just in case).

In some ways I think it’s sad the money was hidden in this exhibition not the last one. As you can tell I was abit unimpressed with this overall. Art as I’ve said before is subjective – some really grabs you and makes you go wow, some makes you go that’s s**t and then you get some which makes you say “ok….why?” – with the odd exception this didn’t really elicit any of those responses.

Going back to my point about having seen ‘amateur art’ in the past which I have been able to engage with more thoroughly I am looking forward to the Summer Exhibition. There is currently a call going out for work for the MK Calling season, which is looking for artists of all sorts. Going back to the £8,000 cheque – it is apparently some kind of protest against the fact that artists living outside the MK boundary are going to be unable to enter the competition linked to the exhibition call – see this article in the MK Citizen for details of the protest.

As for the What About Sunday? title – I leave that with you. Perhaps it could be a teaser for 29th September 2013?

Discernibly Different

I watched the first half of the debate yesterday afternoon and was struck by how many of the MPs on both sides of the debate were proclaiming their faith.

There was one MP who particularly struck me because his whole approach was discernibly different to the others and that was Toby Perkins MP for Chesterfield. Yes, he happened to be coming from broadly the same position I was on the whole thing,  but it wasn’t that what grabbed my respect. There was something noticeably different in the way he was speaking. There wasn’t the same style of “making a point” which most of the others were doing, he was talking more gently and from a different position.

The first thing he did was to make the point that this was the second reading of the bill and not the final reading. As he said if things were constantly voted out at second reading, before committee got to change some of the detail and correct some of the flaws, nothing would ever get passed. That point is important. Many people were talking as if the bill before them was the final version which they were having to decide upon, it wasn’t. There is now the committee stage and the opportunity for amendments to be tabled.

Then he said something very important about what he believed faith wise in regards to the bill:

As a Christian, I see Christianity as a tremendously generous religion. As I have said previously, I think that Jesus Christ led the way on promoting equalities. There are any number of stories in the Bible that make it absolutely clear that Jesus stuck up for groups that had been oppressed over the years. As a Christian, I feel entirely comfortable voting in favour of this Bill.”

This is important he felt comfortable supporting the bill. We need to remember that there would have been some people voting against who were not comfortable supporting it because of their beliefs, that needs to be respected. Whilst I don’t agree with them I was happy this was a free vote and think we should see more of these votes in parliament, where MPs are allowed to vote according to their beliefs and able to represent their constituents interests without fear of recrimination from the whips. People were being allowed to vote according to conscience, and this was clearer with some than with others.

There was also a personal element to his contribution which he referred to in regard to his mother. I think this may also have influenced the way in which he spoke.

This gives the report of all the contributions to the debate and the ones relating to Toby Perkins speech and the replies he gave when giving way, (not deciding to decline to do so because “it wasn’t in his interest” as one MP did) can be found at 2pm.

In terms of my local MP Mark Lancaster he voted against the bill, which was what was expected, (statement here). I want to reiterate to anybody reading that having met Mr. Lancaster and heard his reasons for voting as he has, that he is certainly not homophobic. He agrees that the inequalities which exist in relation to transgender issues and inequalities between civil partnership and marriage need dealing with but did not feel this was the right way to go about it. Interestingly, depending upon amendments it is possible he may not vote the same way at the final reading – although I suspect he is likely to.

The other MK MP Iain Stewart was always going to vote for the bill with pride as his speech during the debate indicated. It was a speech which shows how at the end of the days enduring, faithful relationships are what people want – whatever you call it. I have to admit having met him a couple of times now I like Iain, finding him much more of the sort of Tory I can warm to to some extent – even though I am unlikely to agree with him on most things -, but I do worry that in his eagerness to support this bill he has not recognised its shortcomings.

My hope is that as we move towards the third reading that the critical, objective (?), eye of the likes of Mark Lancaster may work with the emotional understandings of people like Iain Stewart in order to see a final bill which meets the needs and concerns of the population at large and that it is debated with the sensitivity of people like Toby Perkins.

All that said my main hope is that we might see this and the whole Womens Bishops issue settled once and for all – in a way which brings about equality but also seeks to allow for compromise and where necessary real options for individuals and congregations to opt out (or in) – and that we may may be able to get on with focusing on our response to issues such as poverty. My hope is people may unite around issues such as opposition to the removal of benefit which is proposed under the welfare proposals, particularly for those effected by what has become known as “the bedroom tax” – understanding that people cannot always easily move and be uprooted, particularly if they are living in poverty to start with and around the IF campaign, which Tearfund and others are promoting.

And as ever with anything touching on sexuality or gender identity issues what I have writtenand the opinions given are entirely personal and given in my personal capacity.

Attracting the Visitors

Destination Milton Keynes has produced a great new video  which is informative about the sights of MK, even if the commentary does sound like everything is being said in an ironic way. Now there are a few things missing from the video – the roundabouts and grid system, the skateboarding potential which is directly linked to the Buszy and so I could go on. Not sure if this video will attract the visitors or not.

If not perhaps the lure of hidden loot will do it. There is apparently £8,000 hidden within MK Gallery which has been placed there by an artist. According to the report in the MK Citizen (the local paper) the gallery don’t know anything about it. Think I’m going to keep my eyes extra open when I head to the Gallery tomorrow evening for the film Paper Tiger Reads Paper Tiger Television.