Not many people saw it, but last night was a good night for community action. While would-be leaders dominated the television screen, a political drama was quietly unfolding in a Leith community centre which confounds all those fears of immigrants.
Members of Swietlica at the first performance of Change, a play timed to coincide with the election campaign. Picture by Kasia Raszewska
This is where campaigning politicians ought to be. Here’s community spirit in action in the Fort Community Wing where the Polish drop-in club, Swietlica, works tirelessly to bring people together – celebrating Christmas and St Andrews Night, fundraising for good causes, and sometimes throwing parties just for the fun of it.
So it wasn’t surprising that Swietlica hosted the first production of a brave new drama by the Leith community activist theatre group,ACTive Inquiry. Change is a political play (that’s political with a small p) exploring what change means and how we can make it happen. This is deliberately timed to coincide with the election campaign.
And it wasn’t surprising that the small audience representing Scottish, Polish, Indian and English communities wholeheartedly entered into the spirit of a form of theatre which demands audience participation. Elsewhere, across the UK, the media was doing its best to stir up ill-informed fear and resentment of strangers, feeding on Gordon Brown’s unscripted reactions to Gillian Duffy’s East European question. Inside a small Edinburgh primary school, some of those strangers were showing just why Leith is possibly the most vibrant and interesting part of Scotland’s capital.
The play ended with a competition for a project to change real life for the better. And the clear winners of a small cash prize to make it happen were Maria and Marek for an idea that costs almost nothing to put into action. The other two ideas were good too: a leaflet campaign to promote a club for single mothers and a public event to excite support for pedestrianising The Shore in Leith. And they could still happen. But on an old fashioned show of hands most votes went to the smiles.
Smiling Leith simply asks everyone to smile three times a day to a complete stranger. Try it, urged a smiling Maria and Marek, it can make you and someone else feel happier. “I don’t mean a grin,” adds Maria, “I mean a smile from the heart.” (They won £50 towards a poster campaign to make it happen).
I got home just in time to catch the end of the leaders’ debate. It seemed more contrived and controlled than ever. Perhaps saddest of all, not one of them seem able to risk speaking from the heart to acknowledge the great benefits of immigration. Maybe we should invite Mrs Duffy to meet the wonderful volunteers of Swietlica. And watch a performance of Change by ACTive Inquiry. (see more on Leith Open Space)
Audience participation: Mridu, Marek and Marcin (standing) accept a challenge to change the course of events in the play.
“If you think we are rubbish,” says Ziggy, “you can always go upstairs and listen to Cybraphon.” Actually he put it stronger than that but this is a family blog (sort of) and however he put it, Ziggy knew there was a risk people might just do that. Found has created a formidable cyber celebrity with their emotional robot bandin the wardrobe.
It’s no secret that Cybraphon has more Facebook fans than the guys who assembled last year’s BAFTA winner from an odd mix of musical instruments and (let’s face it) old junk. When Simon switched the emotional wardrobe on again earlier this month, reconnecting all those vital circuits in the social media network, it was just a matter of hours before the Twittering and tweeting began. Cybraphon was back.
But Frankenstein is not yet redundant. Robots need electricity as well as noise in cyberspace. Tommy picked up a disturbing text on the way to Cybraphon launch gig at the start of Glasgow Arts Festival on Saturday. Cybraphon not working, bring some tools, said the text, or words to that effect.
Oh dear, said Tommy, or maybe he put it stronger than that. But old style rock bands have their priorities too. While Cybraphon sulked silently on the second floor of the wonderfulStudio Warehouse SWG3 (what a place!), Found soundchecked for their own gig on the floor below where they were booked to rock the room with OnTheFly and Radio Magnetic Sound System.
It could have been a very disappointing start to the exhibition. All those Facebook fans and Twitterers have expectations to meet. After an hour or so of nervous checking someone had an old fashioned thought. A fuse was all it took for Cybraphon to light up again.
So the crowds on the second floor were not disappointed. Any more than the crowds downstairs. Seemed to me no-one felt drawn upstairs once Found began to play. As you can maybe see from the admittedly very murky video clip.
The autonomous robot band is playing at Studio Warehouse SWG3(and constantly scanning the internet for references) until 3 May.
Poor old house. I can almost hear it groaning through the adjoining walls as the banging and drilling, the sawing and sanding, the breaking down and tearing up begin all over again. Yet another new neighbour means new paint, new carpets, new bathroom suite and, of course, a brand new kitchen. Even though the one being ripped out was put in just three years ago. White units, so very 2007!
The house next door has changed owners six times since we moved into the terrace. Admittedly we have been here a very long time – so long Abba was topping the charts with Dancing Queen (or so it says here) the month we were moving in. Come to think of it that doesn’t seem so long ago but the same year Concorde made its first trans Atlantic commercial flight and Apple launched their first computer.
Those were the days … building societies insisted on deposits before lending money to young couples, people bought records and a computer was so big it would fill an ensuite bathroom (though no-one had ensuite). Just about every other house in the street was a B&B and the one next door was pretty rough.
Now there are no B&B’s, even the upmarket guest houses have turned into stylish private houses and only two other families have lived here longer than us. Why do some houses seem to hold on to their occupants? Our house has changed hands only four times since it was built in 1860. Next door, people come and go with increasing regularity and with them come and go their kitchens and ensuite bathrooms.
We never intended to stay in one place for so long but I like the feeling of continuity (if not the decades of clutter). Thanks to our lovely neighbour on the other side I know a little bit about the previous owners who had lived here for more than 50 years. Very intriguingly, they held bathroom parties to which guests arrived by climbing the drainpipe on the back wall – sadly the building society made us replace the old cast iron bath with claw feet but in a cupboard in the bathroom there is still a fragment of the original wallpaper. And the family left their handsome clock in the hall because it had been there so long they didn’t think it right to remove it.
So our house has always been a home though property prices round us go through the roof. It was a stretch for us to buy the place during the recession of the 70s (1970s I mean); even more sobering to think that if we wanted to move into the street now we wouldn’t be able to afford our own house.
I like to think that the next owners might also be looking for a home. Maybe like us they would live with the old kitchen for a year or two. In our case that included a distinctly dodgy museum piece of a gas cooker. In fact we didn’t get round to a fancy fitted kitchen until 2000. By that time Madonna topped the charts, Concorde had only three years to go. Apple of course is still going strong, even as I type. And so is the kitchen.