Monday, 9 March 2015

The Getting Better Acquainted Podcast Turns 200

Getting Better Acquainted is a weekly podcast where we join Dave Pickering on his journey to get better acquainted with the people he knows from his closest friends and family to someone he once met at a party. It’s partly an oral history project, partly an autobiography through conversation, and partly a collection of opinions and experiences recounted by an ever-growing latticework of people. There are lots of shows about famous people; this is a show about the rest of us.
GBA was nominated for a 2012 Radio Production Award, and has aired regularly on Resonance 104.4 FM. It has been recommended by Time Out, was featured on the Radio 5 Live podcast special, Helen and Olly's Required Listening, and has recently been picked out as a podcast to listen to in the guardian.
The #GBA200 season will celebrate 200 episodes of Getting Better Acquainted with a week of daily episodes where the script is switched and the people I know interview me. It's taking place from the 16th-20th of March. The guest hosts are Helen ZaltzmanChella QuintSophia Walker and James McKayJen Adamthwaite and Charley Harrison. During this week we'll learn what Getting Better Acquainted might be like if it was made by someone else, and whether I'm a consistent character or not; we'll explore and celebrate how combinations of people and places create wildly different conversations.

I'll also be re-sharing and discussing the first 200 episodes of GBA on the show's twitter feed, using the hashtag #GBA200. If you want to join in the celebrations by sharing your favourite episodes, you would be very welcome to do so!
WHAT: Getting Better Acquainted 200    (#GBA200)
WHERE: Itunes and other places that podcasts are found
WHEN: Daily from 16th to the 20th of March 2015

Some of the past 200 episodes to listen out for:
#GBA100 gives you a good idea of the first 100 episodes.
Despite not being a show about famous people, GBA has hosted some guests you might know of, including: Michael Fenton StevensKevin AllisonHelen and OllyBec HillBen TargetReni Eddo-LodgeMusa OkwongaThe Focus e15 MothersMike Jackson and Jonathan Blake from Pride, Neil DennyJanet VarneyKarl JamesChris GoodeDarren Hayman and Alice Bell.
But probably the best episodes of the show are with people you won’t have heard of. Examples include: OwainSamRadcliffeToni and Aunty MargaretThe Family Season 2013 is a collection of conversations that look at family, intergenerational relationships and so much more.

About Dave Pickering:

Dave Pickering is currently a freelance storyteller. His drama series Numbers, written for RethinkDaily, was nominated for the Sony Radio Awards in 2009. He runs a live night and podcast called 
Stand Up Tragedy. He co-wrote and produced the Cbeebies Radio Series, Ministry of Stories featuring Jenni Murray. He is a part of the Spark London team, hosting their Hackney true storytelling Open Mic. He has run workshops on podcasting both independently and for Pod Acadamy, and given talks about podcasting (for example this one for In The Dark). He writes and produce music. He writes for the page, the screen, the stage and for himself, and is currently working on his first solo show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Before he went freelance, he worked for the library service, first as a Library assistant and later as an Early Years Library Outreach Worker, a job he did for 5 years until it was cut in 2014.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Round Up of 2014

One thing I haven't done well at this year is writing this blog. When I have put thumb to screen it's been to bash out thoughts over on my bashing out thoughts blog. Thoughts like these:


Bonfire Night 

Why I signed the petition against #SamaritansRadar 

Word Hack

This blog is for finished polished things and the problem has been I haven't had time to finish and polish extra things on top of all the others things I've been doing.  I hope to improve on that next year.

This is what my year has sounded like:

I began 2014 full of uncertainty. I knew I was going to lose the dayjob I loved at the end of March and my decision to "go freelance" felt a little bit like jumping out of a plane without checking if you have a parachute in your backpack or not. I spent the first few months of 2014 oscillating between anxiety and depression.

Despite all of that I released the Open EP which is a collection of my most personal songs produced by 5 different producers.

In March as my job came to an end I began documenting it on social media. That led to a blogpost about My Week of Goodbyes  which tries to demonstrate the value of my old job and public services in general through the gifts and wishes I was given by the children and parents I worked with. I also began my freelance career delivering a podcasting workshop with Pod Academy and the RSA with a group of people in recovery.

When my job finished my financial future and also at that moment my accommodation were in both in jeopardy so said fuck it and took my first actual holiday for a long time and went to Amsterdam with my partner Jen. Whilst we were away I released the Open Episodes on my Getting Better Acquainted podcasts:

Personally and publicly my 2014 has been about opening up and coming out about both my mental health issues and relationship choices. It has been nerve wracking but also filled with people giving me support, love and solidarity.

I began freelancing in earnest from mid April. I made myself a website for my freelance services, got a load of new business cards and began trying to explain to the people I gave them to what I actually mean when I call myself a Storyteller! One of the first things I did with my free lance was take one last tilt at the cuts and the loss of my job by pitching my story to Comment is Free. They asked me to rewrite my blog in their style and this was the result: If it was a 'tough choice' to cut my job, then come and tell the children why

Then I took on a podcast project with Living Streets producing 4 podcasts for them and training their staff to make podcasts. This work also resulted in myself and my comrade-in-audio-arms Jo Barratt doing some audio training with Mind. This was the first of two collaborations I have had with Mind this year.

I've done a lot of gigs this year, most of them put on by me, but my 2 favourites that were put on by other people are:

1. Geek Showoff which is an offshoot of Science Showoff:

I've done this night twice and it is brilliant to have finally found a stage where people will let me over-enthuse about The Moomins and confess my crush on the Goddess Athena.

2. Risk! Live in London

This was a collaboration between the US podcast Risk! and Spark London which happened at the Hackney Attic on the 4th of July. I told a longform true story. In many ways signing up to tell this story was what made this year a year about opening up. This story was the pebble that caused my honesty avalanche. It is also one of the things I've done on stage that I'm the most proud of. And thankfully it was recorded as a podcast.

From December 2013 to October 2014 Stand Up Tragedy put on monthly themed shows in London, alternating between the Dogstar in Brixton and the Hackney Attic. We covered so many kinds of tragedy and preserved it all in audio amber. Tragic Christmas (a fundraiser for Arts Emergency), Tragic Beginnings, Tragic Love, Tragic Heroes, Tragic Martyrs, Tragic History and Greek Tragedy takes us to June. In July and August we broke the pattern, first by doing Tragic Misadventures as a crossover night with Kit Lovelace's Romantic Misadventure at the Black Heart in July and then by doing an hour of tragedy a night at the Banshee Labyrinth as part of the PBH Free Fringe in August. Then we returned to London with two final triumphant shows, our  Tragic Friends Edinburgh reunion show in September and October's Tragic Horror. People who have performed on the SUT stage this year include Sara Pascoe, Rob Auton, Andy Zaltzman, Eddie Pepitone and an unexpected but very welcome  performance from Stewart Lee on the last day of our Edinburgh run.

Whilst up in Edinburgh I also recorded 5 live GBA episodes:

When I returned from Edinburgh I released another collection of songs onto the internet. 2014 has been very sparse for me in terms of actually playing music and writing songs but it has been a year when music projects begun some time ago have finally reached completion. And so The Reactionaries second album Bouncy, Poppy Songs About Death is now available at all good bandcamps:

We even did some publicity for it in this story behind the album episode of GBA.

You might think with all this going on I wasn't actually finding paid work but somehow I was. From editing podcasts for BAFTA, running workshops and hosting nights with Spark London to live tweeting and social media engagement as part of the glorious community theatre project Storylines which Ampersand Media are running monthly at the Deptford Lounge.

I also managed to find some time to go and support what the Focus E15 Mothers were doing in Stratford. I visited their occupation a few times, volunteered for a day at their social centre helping out in general and running a Toddler Rhyme Time. I also attended demos and matches in solidarity with them. When I was volunteering I also recorded a documentary for Getting Better Acquainted. Visiting the occupation also led to me meeting various heroes of mine and recording conversations with them:

Despite my fears at the start of the year I have managed to continue to put Getting Better Acquainted out weekly and there have been so many amazing conversations that it is really hard to select the highlights in terms of the "best" episodes. But in terms of people you might have heard of I recorded conversations with Musa Okwonga and Neil Denny.

I have been hosting the Hackney branch of Spark London for over 2 years now. In 2014 the audiences have grown and the atmosphere at the Hackney Attic on the 2nd Monday of the month has been consistently wonderful. There hasn't been a month where the stories haven't blown me away. As well as running this night and leading and supporting storytelling workshops I've also filled hosting duties at a couple of our Brixton open mics, one of our Spark Encore's and at a very special night that took place at the beginning of December where Spark teamed up with Mind Haringey for a night of stories about Mental Health.

In September I found out that my Arts Council funding bid had been successful and from October to last weekend I've been working with Enfield Council and a group of volunteers to devise, script, direct and produce Candlelit Tours set in Forty Hall in 1643. The project was challenging and very rewarding and I am very proud of the final piece.

It's funny looking back. 2014 has been a really hard year for me but it certainly isn't a year when I haven't done anything and so far my backpack has actually turned out to have a parachute in it. I have managed to make a living as a freelancer for 6 months. I have taken Stand Up Tragedy up to Edinburgh on the Free Fringe for a full run and managed to more or less break even. I have moved house (well Jen actually moved house as I was inconveniently in Edinburgh!) The first three months of the year may have been dark times but I managed to have some light times too.

Speaking of light times and dark times I have now basically gone through the year  up to the (Christmas) present. Stand Up Tragedy and Getting Better Acquainted both have Christmas specials that focus on the more complicated elements of the season. But they are made and given with love. Please share them around this Christmas:

Coming up in 2015:

I will be putting together a one man show currently titled What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity: a personal journey through gender and I'm intending to take it to Edinburgh in Aug 2015.

The #GBA200 season will celebrate 200 episode of Getting Better Acquainted in 10 weeks time with a full week of daily episodes where the script is switched and the people I know interview me.

I will be putting out my regular podcasts and running the monthly Hackney Spark London night on the 2nd Monday of the month. The next Hackney Attic Spark London open mic will actually be on the 5th Jan due to a one off change to the schedule. The theme of the night will be Heat.

A new addition to my regular gigs will be doing the social media and documentation of  Storylines. The next one is on the 9th of January.

Stand Up Tragedy will be doing 4 London shows: Tragic Winter (Feb 28th), Tragic Spring (April 25th), Tragic Summer and Tragic Autumn and I will be taking SUT back up to the Edinburgh festival for a full run,

I will be looking for freelance opportunities. If you have any drop me a line: goosefat101 [at] gmail [dotcom]

And I am always up for performing live so feel free to ask me to do that.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

O brave new tweet
That has such content in't!

What a piece of work is my tweet! 
How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! 
In form and moving how express and admirable!

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty feed from day to day,
To the last retweet of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted tweets
The way to dusty death. 
Out, out, brief twitterhandle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor tweeter,
That struts and frets his hour upon the feed,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tweet typed by an idiot,
 full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

O, reason not the feed! Our basest twitters
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs, 
Tweet's life's as cheap as beast's.

Now is the winter of our discon-tweet
Made glorious summer by this prime content.
And all the subtweets that lowered upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

If these twitters have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but retweeted here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle meme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you @ us, we will mend.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Week of Goodbyes‏

Goodbye No. 8

I'm so relieved the goodbyes are over.


For the last 5 years, I've worked as an Early Years Library Outreach Worker, delivering story and song times to children under 5 in children's centres across the London Borough of Enfield on behalf of the library service. On the 5th of April 2014, the team of 5 people that I was a part of was reduced to a team of 1 person. 

The government says this is down to necessary 'austerity measures'; the council call it 'leaner working'; the press call it the impact of 'The Cuts'; activists call it 'the war against the welfare state'; for me it's a job lost. But many of the children just thought it was my birthday.

During my last week of work, I documented the goodbyes in pictures and words. This blog post is formed of selected extracts from those days. The gifts and goodbyes offered up by the children and families I worked with are, I think, startling evidence of how much they valued this important service, and what it was about it that they valued.

For me, this job loss is an opportunity to try and to do some of the things I do outside of children's work as a freelancer. It's not my job I'm mourning; it's the job I'm mourning, and the jobs of so many other people providing our public services.

The Last Week

As I approach the last week, the thing I'm finding the hardest is dealing with other people's sadness: having to navigate so many other people's feelings about me having my job cut when I've already got so many of my own. I feel sad because I'm leaving a job I've loved for the last 5 years. I feel lost, scared of the free-fall that is freelance. I'm also sad for the children and parents losing the service my team and I provided. And on the personal level, I'm saying goodbye to so many people I've worked with, the children I've seen growing up, the colleagues and parents I've come to know.

At every centre, when I tell my groups I'm going, everyone wants to share with me how sad they feel about it. Everyone wants to tell me how much they value what I do, the effect that my team and I have had on them and their children. People tell me how angry it makes them. They ask me what I'm going to do. They have so many suggestions about what I might do. Everyone offers advice and sympathy. Next week I expect they'll also be offering presents and goodbye speeches. 

I'm overwhelmed by all the love and the sadness. I'm overwhelmed by the scatter-gun advice. I'm overwhelmed by the powerlessness of all concerned. I know it's all meant well. I mostly manage to take it in good grace and save my tears for the walk home. 

The worst thing is that when the kids are sad, their eyes are so big, their hearts so exposed. The worst thing is imagining the ones who look forward to seeing me every week arriving at the centre to find I'm not there. Too young to understand why; so young that in the future they probably won't remember I was ever there at all. Young enough to feel the loss but too young to remember the joy we had when they look back.

Goodbye No. 1

These pictures are the emotional punches from this morning's sessions. 

This proves they paid attention to my jelly preferences during recent 'Jelly on a Plate' miming!

There was also a box of chocolates and one group of parents and carers gave me £70 in Amazon vouchers. I was not expecting such kindness and I felt very awkward accepting it.

Goodbye No. 2

I've just said goodbye to a group of children with severe special needs that I've been working with for 5 years.

Goodbye No. 3

The send-off at the third centre was very different to the other two, which reflects (in my view) some of the social issues surrounding that particular centre. The staff presented me with this present. "We would have wrapped it and we were going to make cards, but we had Ofsted this week and we haven't had a chance." 

The parents there are understandably more focused on scouring the job notices put up on the walls and taking down the details of the next food bank than they are the disappearance of the middle class white boy that sings songs with their kids. Many of them didn't know I was leaving, but they still wished me well, and at the end of my session they all lined up to take pictures of me with their children.

Goodbye No. 4

A nursery group (which includes a child called Hope) and a community group (where I first met Hope as a baby). The nursery children were chanting my name as I entered the room. That group have always treated me like a rock star. Dzifa was so sad that she insisted on hugging me mid-'Wind the Bobbin Up'. It's quite hard to play a ukulele, comfort a child and stop yourself from bursting into tears, but I just about managed it. At the end they collectively mobbed me for hugs as they normally do. Hope ran to the door and tried to stop me leaving. Her smiling face was the last thing I saw of the nursery room. The nursery teacher told me how angry she was at the government for cutting a valuable service. "The children love you. So many of them will never sit still and listen, but for you they do. Even the ones with special needs." 

Then, with tears behind my eyes, I left for my session with the community group, which again was full of beautiful and heartbreaking sweetness. The deputy head dropped by to thank me and pass on her frustration. I thanked her for taking time out to do so. "You're part of the furniture here... In a good way!" she said. I know what she means and yet it surprises me how valued a person who drops by one morning a week can become. Who would have thought I would become a familiar and safe thing in the lives of so many children? Certainly not me. But I was. For a short time.

Goodbye No. 5

I missed yesterday's session at this children's centre due to a train-line power failure, so I was glad to be going back today. The management were very nice and gave me £25 worth of iTunes vouchers and a card full of sincerity. The group I used to do there on Wednesdays was a childminder's group until, in mid-February, like most of the childminder's services in children's centres across the borough, it was closed down and replaced by a community group who I delivered story-times to for a few short weeks. Of all the groups to fail to say goodbye to that was probably the best as I'd known them for the shortest time. 

The session I've just said goodbye to was run for children and families currently in temporary accommodation. The service that runs it offers these children the opportunity to play with toys they don't have, connecting their families up with other services and helping them to parent and live in a culture that often sees them through a nasty tabloid lens. It helps them through tough times. It also allows a community to grow, creating friendships and support networks across a diverse group of people. The mums there are warm and tough. They are making the best out of hard times. I provided a song-time at the end. Have done for years. I've seen that community and its children grow and change. I've watched the team supporting them, winning their trust, being super-inspiring, kind people. 

That service has also been decimated by this round of cuts. Now, out of a full roster of sessions, they only have the funding to run one a week, and that's currently only sustainable for less than a year. They're seeking out new funding options, and they're canny and committed so perhaps they'll find some. If they don't, it will cease to be entirely. It will no longer be providing these things for people in temporary accommodation. Families who have no homes will be missing this essential lifeline. Future communities will not grow. The reduction of this service and its possible demise is so much sadder than the loss of mine. 

At the end of today's song-time, I was presented with gifts. The group of 50 or so parents had clubbed together and bought me a box of biscuits in a red bus tin (a reference to my most popular song request), a mug with a D on it, and £30 worth of M&S vouchers. I was humbled and guilty as I received these and a big card full of carefully crafted messages written out by people who generally do not speak or write English. (One of the things they get in the session is help filling in all the barriers disguised as forms that they're expected to complete.) 

Gifts sincerely given are not things you should refuse. And so this middle class man with a relatively stable existence accepted these moving expressions of appreciation from a group of poor people with unstable lives. 

As I was about to begin 'The Goodbye Song', one of the mums said, "Let us not sing goodbye. We don't want you to go. We hope you come back. No goodbye today."

But I sang goodbye anyway because I won't be coming back.

Goodbye No. 6

The nature of life means there was always going to be at least one session where the majority of the regular parents and children just happened to not be in, and that was the case for my community group at this centre. So the sadness there was about who I couldn't say goodbye to rather than the goodbyes to the kids in the room, many of whom were new. 

Luckily, last week I said goodbye to Maya and her mum. I've known Maya since she was 2 months old. She's now coming up for 4 and is one of the most delightful children I've met. Her mum does an amazing job of bringing her up, and also does great (upaid) work supporting the other parents at the group (not that she'd see what she does as work). This centre is another one in a deprived area with lots of complicated issues affecting the people who attend the sessions. The staff and parents like Mia's mum do an important and tough job with little thanks and increasingly dwindling resources.

The craft activity that the Stay and Play worker ran today was making goodbye cards. More children's drawings to add to the pile. I could put on an exhibition with the amount I've been given. From the staff, I got booze and chocolates. I got a bottle of wine this morning too. It's felt a little counter-intuitive walking around the schools and the church where today's centres are based carrying hootch. 

Then I did my sessions with the daycare groups (0-2's and 3-5's). I've seen those children grow up. Some of them I knew as babies, and helped contribute to their first experiences of stories, songs and socialising with their peers. 
All the younger nursery children kept saying, "See you next week." They couldn't get their heads round it. 

When I arrived in the 3-5's room with my bags of presents, this was how it went:

"Are you going to read us that bright coloured book?"

"Um... No. That's not a book it's a card."

"What's in the shiny bag?"

"It's a present."

"David, it's my birthday on Saturday!"

"That's nice. Well, you know what, it's not even my birthday but everywhere I go this week people keep giving me presents. I don't know why."

"That's because it's your last day at nursery, David!"

"I guess it is."

"Tyrell gave me a spaceman when it was his last day at nursery. He was a good friend."

Well, I didn't give them any spacemen but I did sometimes read stories about them. And imaginary spacemen are more reliable than plastic ones. You can't lose them or break them and they can fly anywhere you like.

I was presented with a box of Milk Tray by Jesse, who I first met when he was attending the community group. When he started, he had behavioural issues, and I've seen him grow from a disruptive and aggressive presence to a calm, thoughtful and warm one in the time I've known him. That's got a hell of a lot to do with the staff of the children's centre and the nursery, and the work they've done with him and his family. 

I told Jesse that I'd known him as a baby and that now he was big. He grinned all the way across his face and stood up to show me that he's now by far the tallest in his class. The amount of change a human body goes through in the early years is so extreme. It always shocks and awes me when I pay attention to it.

As I left the room, he called out, "Have a lovely day, David."

Goodbye No. 7

My last visit to the first children's centre I did a story-time in back in 2008. One of the mums made me a cake. 

From Tolga and his family, Turkish Delight and a Turkish coffee making set with carefully written instructions on how to use it and good luck charms attached to the bag. 

Heartbreakingly, one family gave me a card with a photo of their two boys on the front holding up a sign saying 'thank you'. Inside their mum put her email in case I need testimonials from parents in the future. 

From the centre, more booze and another giant, brightly coloured card full of messages and hand prints. 

In the middle of the song-time, the parents stopped me singing so that their children could take turns singing their songs to me: Turkish, Polish and French songs sung by tiny people with shaking voices. Then afterwards, more photos, all the staff and mums hugging me tightly. "We will remember you, David." 

Just one more punch in the heart left to go.

Goodbye No. 8

And this is where we started. Two weeks later, and I'm still relieved the goodbyes are over. I still feel overwhelmed and honoured and guilty to have received so many tokens of love. But those tokens are not really for me. They aren't really even about me. I'm not the story. The communities are. It's those communities that have lost out. I don't want  to have my old job back, but I want that job and jobs like it to exist again. The communities I served were diverse and varied; they have different issues and different circumstances, and they all valued the service my team provided. We weren't cut because we were failing to hit our targets. We weren't cut because our service didn't work and wasn't valued. We were cut because working, functional important services are being cut across the country.

Some people see these cuts as unfortunate but inevitable. Others see them as avoidable and objectionable. However you see it, I hope that this record will show that the services we're losing were valuable.