Monday, June 19, 2017

RIP Brian Cant

For people of a certain age, this was a big chunk of our childhood: Brian's voice on Play School and Play Away, and narrating these classics of animation from Gordon Murray.
Another sad passing...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Royal Mail Stamp Issue

An August issue will showcase classic children's toys... cultural geography / social history writ large... or small...

Italian Fieldwork Opportunity

Via Paul Baker

Grenfell Tower

This is a hard topic to write about, but an important one. 

Around ten years ago, Dan Ellison and myself put together a bid for the Royal Geographical Society's 'Going Beyond' Land Rover travel bursary which involves a Land Rover and some cash. Sadly, we were not successful, although a future winner of that grant was Felicity Aston's Pole of Cold trip, which I connected with. The idea we had back then, was of turning the vehicle into what we called our 'space'ship, and we were going to arrive at various locations where we would meet up with prominent geographers and groups of school children, and be guided by them as to the geographies of their place. One of the geographers who'd agreed to meet us was Danny Dorling, who was at the University of Sheffield back then.

Danny was going to meet us in Sheffield and take us on a short journey, which would take about 15 minutes, but which would take us from one place to another whose residents had a life expectancy that was 15 years shorter at the time. Geography matters in these instances. The Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, like any urban area of comparable size, is not homogeneous. There are differences within it.
Danny's '32 Stops' picks up that metaphor for a tube line running across London. Lives on the Line visualises this.

On Wednesday morning, we woke to the terrifying images of the fire overtaking the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington. Through the days since, there have been many hours of news coverage, and there has also been a growing anger that this was an avoidable event, and that warnings apparently weren't listened to. There were also some longer-term political allegations relating to fire safety reports, and the reduction in funding to the London Fire Service (and other public and emergency services generally). Several London Fire Stations were closed in 2014 due to funding cuts, for example. At the time of writing, there are growing protests, and the building remains too unsafe for the next stage of the investigation and recovery process to begin. Local tube stations are closed for fear of falling debris, and firefighters at one stage thought the tower might collapse.

Nesrine Malik connected the tragedy with the way that migrants are treated.

The first victim named was a Syrian refugee, Mohammed al-Haj Ali. The list is now extending into a roll call of the marginalised, the maligned and the disenfranchised.

Lynsey Hanley, whose book 'Estates' I have blogged about quite a few times over the years as an important contribution to the discussions on housing was very clear about the link with inequality too. In her piece she also mentions Danny's data in this area, as well as highlighting the potential benefits when these developments 'work':

The geographer Danny Dorling has shown that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that, in his words, ‘the majority of children who live above the fourth floor of tower blocks, in England, are black or Asian.’ This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacit or outright – when allocated housing.

Here's a story about a disabled mum and her son housed high up in the block... should they have been housed in such a place?

Danny Dorling has written on both inequality and housing, and his recent books have explored the idea that inequality is the biggest threat of all. His re-issued book, Injustice, has an important premise.

Beveridge’s five social evils are being replaced by five new tenets of injustice: elitism is efficient; exclusion is necessary; prejudice is natural; greed is good and despair is inevitable. By showing these beliefs are unfounded, Dorling offers hope of a more equal society. We are living in the most remarkable and dangerous times. With every year that passes it is more evident that Injustice is essential reading for anyone concerned with social justice and wants to do something about it.

There are plenty of luxury high rise blocks of course. Urgent efforts are now being made to assess the fire safety of all similar dwellings, one would imagine. A political cartoon in the Guardian, also today includes an image of these luxury developments which have sprouted up throughout London over the last decade, some of them controversial in the way that they have been funded or occupied.

There have been a great many images and political cartoons shared online which, taken with other information and stories are important ideas for students to be introduced to. There is also an aspect here which connects with teaching we do on the nature of risk, and the hazard risk equation. Are the sums working out differently if one considers the richer, and poorer, when it comes to housing safety?

A final story relating to the geography of the tragedy returns us back to the story of a journey between unequal places. The Guardian's Esther Addley followed the road that leads from the Westway, south to Royal Crescent Gardens. It seems that nothing much has changed in those 10 years since our idea.

The Illustreets app gives the area around Grenfell Tower a deprivation of between 7 and 9 out of 100 (0 being the worst), whereas less than a kilometre to the south takes you into areas scoring in the 70s... (100 being the best). Perhaps, as Simon Jenkins writes, it is time to stop building residential blocks, especially as one report said that no fire appliance in the UK could have reached the top floors. It reminds me of some of the book 'Vertical' that I read earlier in the year, and talked about at the time. In his book, Stephen Graham argues that it is the rich who segregate themselves by living higher...

I'm grateful to Brendan Conway for contacting me, and prompting me to think about this issue, and say something about it here.
He reminded me of the important role that schools play following such an event.  
Schools are doing amazing resilient work in the vicinity of Grenfell Tower to support students, their families and other schools.

The closest school to Grenfell is Kensington Aldridge Academy which is closed and currently hosted by Burlington Danes Academy and Latymer Upper School

It can be seen on one of the first pictures on this page - see just how close the school is to the tower. 

Among the various initiatives started up, one is called #GreenForGrenfell in West London schools, but other schools might want to show support in a similar way

Brendan shared just a couple of examples from schools he has worked with in that area:
One of them, Sion Manning is itself deeply affected and they are now hosting St Francis of Assisi primary school (about 200 m from Grenfell Tower, so it's had to close temporarily)  
Another, Holland Park School, appears to have very sad losses from their community and have also been providing magnificent support since the early hours of the disaster:

I know that other schools in the area will be doing all sorts of great things to help and support.  I just thought that this tremendous effort should be acknowledged.

Thanks to Brendan for sharing these stories, and I am pleased to be able to share them here. My utmost admiration goes to all those who are helping the residents and their families in whatever shape that takes.
I hope this post may have been helpful in some way.

If you want to help the residents of Grenfell Tower, there are several ways that you can do that.
The British Red Cross has launched the London Fire Relief fund, which is taking donations. 

First posted on LivingGeography on Saturday 17th June

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ways to see Great Britain

I'm always interested in the ways that places are presented and represented. This is all part of the idea of Geography offering 'a different view' or lens to see the world in a particular way.

Alice Stevenson's new book 'Ways to see Great Britain' looks interesting.

There are many books describing the UK of course, and I have many of them on my shelves.
I'm also interested in how students introduced to this sort of writing could also adapt some of the ideas to their own writing, and perhaps explore their own home areas anew.

This video outlines, the approach, which is inherently 'geographical'...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2018 - EU year of Cultural Heritage

2018: the EU Year of Cultural Heritage

On 9 February 2017 Council and European Parliament representatives reached a provisional agreement on a decision establishing a European Year of Cultural Heritage (2018). 
Cultural heritage encompasses resources from the past in a variety of forms and aspects. These include monuments, sites, traditions, transmitted knowledge and expressions of human creativity, as well as collections conserved and managed by museums, libraries and archives.
The aim of this initiative is to raise awareness of European history and values and to strengthen a sense of European identity. At the same time, it draws attention to the opportunities offered by our cultural heritage, but also to the challenges it faces, such as the impact of the digital shift, environmental and physical pressure on heritage sites, and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

Expect some new resources from the GI Learner project on this theme here...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New Public Service Broadcasting

2nd track from the new album, on the theme of the decline of coal mining....

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Human Atlas of Europe

The Human Atlas of Europe: A continent united in diversity
A review

Here are three important dates to remember for geographers…

· June 23rd 2016 – the EU referendum is held
· March 29th 2017 – Article 50 triggered
· April 24th 2017 – publication of the new Human Atlas of Europe

Policy Press previously published a Social Atlas of Europe, with the same author team in 2014, which explored European identify through a range of different facets.

This Atlas explores provides a human perspective on Europe as it exists today, and explores how it might look in the future. The motto of the EU is “United in Diversity”, and the authors explore the strength that this diversity offers, viewing ‘Europe’ as a single large area stretching from Iceland to Turkey. A reference map at the start identifies the 43 countries that are included in the maps, and their part in the evolution of the European Union.

Ben Hennig’s innovative and bold cartograms and other diagrams will be familiar to many, since their first use in Worldmapper. They also formed part of the more recent LondonMapper project. For those who haven’t seen Ben’s gridded-population cartograms, their construction is explained. The presentation of the mapping is crisp, and the consistent layout of the pages and colour ramps that are used allow for easy comparison between indicators across the atlas as a whole.

The atlas is split into a number of sections, each with mapping based around a theme. These are Population, Wealth and Poverty, Health, Education, Work, Environment, Politics, Identity and Culture and EU budget. Each theme also allows for an exploration of demographic issues such as an ageing population, the pensions ‘timebomb’ and changing voting patterns.

The data used to construct the maps are drawn from a range of authoritative sources, all clearly identified in the appendix. We learn many things from them: the huge number of asylum seekers hosted by Germany, the draw of Spain for people born abroad, the fact that Turkey and the UK have a third of Europe’s prison population between them, and the variations in dental treatment across Europe. The maps are accompanied by pie and bar charts, which bring some of the data patterns into sharper focus.

Full-page maps are accompanied by a ‘top five’ and ‘bottom five’ for the relevant social indicators, showing regions which lie at the extremes of each data set. These assist in further analysis of specific trends. Each map also have a written commentary, which suggest further areas for investigation. The maps pose many interesting questions for further enquiry: why does Monaco have twice as many telephone lines as any other country? why do so many Portuguese have no schooling? why are the Dutch the ‘happiest’ in Europe? why do the Macedonians value their friends the most? The authors are adept at bringing out the geographical stories underpinning the maps.

The inclusion of a Eurovision Song contest map for the 2015 contest is an illustration of the flexibility of Ben Hennig’s cartograms for exploring and visualising contemporary social data.

The dedication of the Atlas to the late Jo Cox, who was killed in the run-up to the referendum, and to those migrants who have lost their lives trying to reach Europe is a poignant reminder of the importance of these issues, and the duty that geography teachers as educators have to keep them in the spotlight. It is essential that curriculum time is found to study them. In the act of curriculum making they participate in daily, this atlas will be an essential catalyst for teacher-pupil discussions, and an authoritative source of information as we move towards a post-Brexit world. As the authors say in the concluding paragraph:

“Where else but in Europe do so many have so much without realising what they have? Europe is a continent that is truly united in such diversity”.

Authors: Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling and Ben Hennig
Policy Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1447313540

The book is just £16 at the time of writing from the publisher’s own website:

For more of Ben Hennig’s maps, check out his blog here:

Danny Dorling’s website always contains further details on the books he has written, and provides a gateway to his writing:

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy by Policy Press (although I would have bought one for my department as a reference copy)

Send my friend to School 2017

I've been involved in this campaign every year since it first launched, and it's nearly time to start preparing for 2017.

World leaders have promised every child in the world a quality education.
But a key piece of the puzzle is missing - the money to pay for this education - leaving the global picture with 263 million children missing out on school, and many more in school not learning. Now is the time to act to solve this crisis. We have a window of opportunity - 2017 is the year that world leaders can translate their words into action and fund education for all.

As part of the campaign, thousands of children across the country are creating paper jigsaw pieces, to represent that financing is the missing piece of the education puzzle, and sending them to their newly elected or re-elected MPs following the results of the UK General Election. It is important that as many MPs as possible can hear about the campaign so that they can see the strength of support for education.

Last year around 400 000 young people got involved. Can we get more this year?

Teachers can request resources to help them get involved in the campaign.

Shackleton Whisky launched

I followed the story of Shackleton's whisky being rescued from beneath the ice, and recreated by Mackinlay a few years ago, and if I didn't have a mortgage I'd buy one of the resulting bottles.
Now Whyte and Mackay have released this.

A new 'expression' has been launched, at a more reasonable price, although with more tenuous connection to the original of course.

I'd be happy to write a review :)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sense of Place

Havergey by John Burnside from Roseanne Watt on Vimeo.
"On the small and remote island of Havergey, a few years from now, a community of survivors from a great human catastrophe has created new lives and a new world in a landscape renewed after millennia of human exploitation. To this strange new land comes a traveller from our own time, bewildered by what he finds, and an object of curiosity for the inhabitants, especially the one assigned to watch over him, as he spends his first weeks on the island in Quarantine. Left alone with a history of the community and its roots, he uncovers truths and new mysteries about the people he has encountered, their forebears and the last throes of the old world. In this new novella, the acclaimed poet, novelist and critic brings his unique sensibility to the idea of utopia. A timely reminder about how precious and precarious our world is, it’s also a rejection of the idea of human supremacy over landscape and wildlife."

Published by Little Toller Books, April 2017

So many books, so little time...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Forensic Records Society

Currently reading the new Magnus Mills book: as good as all the previous ones. I've started adding the tracks mentioned in the book to a Spotify playlist. They may not be a perfect match and the exact versions that the author meant, but it's a start... Explore the music below:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Need an idea?

If so, you need this book. It's written by David Rogers, who has won a number of awards for his effective and creative work.
He references ideas by other creative geographers too.
The book is published by Bloomsbury as part of their 100 Ideas series.
The book is arranged into 8 sections, based on consultation with teachers on social media.
It is available to purchase from Amazon and other sources.

As David says "great geography teachers change the world", but we all need some inspiration from time to time.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Coming out later this year... looks perfectly feasible... ;) Another video to 'deconstruct' for geographical accuracy to go along with Dante's Peak and the like...