Transcript for the season one assortment
Transcript for Sharing things: season one assortment
Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: In this episode, you will meet Julia Calvert and Martha Greenbank, Melanie Reid and Rosie Taylor, Anne Miller and Hadrien Espiard, Catherine Wilson and Beth Fellows, Beth Christie and Udita Banerjee, Ross Nixon and Catherine Rayner, Sir Geoff Palmer and David Gray, Lori Watson and Russell Jones, Srishti Chaudhary and Abrisham Ahmadzadeh, Kezia Dugdale and Prince Chakanyuka.
Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: What's like your favourite thing on the quilt?
Martha: I mean, I do love my old tour t-shirts. I think it's quite a nice mark of time because it obviously it tells you the dates and the times you went and where you went, and that's quite nice to see, because obviously a lot of my university time was kind of centred around the club.
Amalie: Which club?
Martha: The swimming and water polo.
Martha: Yeah, a lot of my time and effort, I might say is centred around that so it's nice, and it's just, kind of, they all run together and it's just… my four years at university.
Julie: Did I see some cereal badges on there, like, I thought I saw Frosties?
Martha: So Frosties - I don't know whether you have these? Frosties somehow sponsor all of the kids' swim badges, and I think, so for any Brits out there, they will recognise these so well.
Julia: I’m a little bit North American for that maybe, but it's funny.
Martha: Yeah, I know, I've never really noticed why.
Julia: [laughing, muffled words]
Amalie: Have you ever done any swimming Julia?
Julia: Ah yeah, I was a lifeguard for about like half a summer, and then, erm, and then I wasn't.
Amalie: Why, only half?
Julia: Actually I got hired halfway through the season and I just wasn't liking it. It was so much responsibility for me. Back in my day, I would take any job that would allow me to work outside. I'm an outdoorsy person but just being in charge of kids running on the deck and having to yell at them, or you know, tell them to stop, or lives, it was just too much responsibility for me at the time, so I declined the offer to do it again the next summer.
Amalie: Mm, ok.
Julie: Yes, I have lots of little job experiences in my, in my background that didn't last long.
Amalie: Like name another example?
Julia: I was a bartender for about four months, which was great I really liked the aspect of the job where you would stand behind the bar and talk to people. I love that. I love doing interviews as part of my research for that reason. I love talking to people and figuring out, like their story and who they are, but then serving drinks and having to multi-task was not my forte, so I didn't last.
Amalie: Talking and serving drinks?
Julia: Yes, yes.
Amalie: …was a little too much to handle.
Martha: And they wouldn't just hire you as a talker behind the bar?
Julia: I tried, I tried, but you know they saw a problem with it for some reason!
[Sharing things theme music]
Melanie: I watch from afar now. I feel a great sense of regret and distance and love and I still want to get up close and smell them. The smell of a horse is the most lovely sweet beautiful smell that endures, smell of grass, grassy breath and warm, warm air being blown down grassy nostrils. There's nothing like it and I yearn for that but I was hurt so badly and destroyed so badly that I had to- I was going to say step back, I can't step- wheel back and be more dispassionate about it.
Obviously I went back to horses at the beginning after my accident but my hands are so damaged they don't go flat, they're like claws and I can't even have the satisfaction of stroking a horse's coat any more. I've sort of had my message, it doesn't work any more.
Rosie: So a level of fear there, do you think, around being around horses?
Melanie: Yeah and that's where a love affair makes you stupid, as everyone knows who's ever been in love, and after my accident I regained enough function to be able to sit on a horse again, precariously, and I went back to riding for disabled completely dependent upon the goodwill of the horse to hold me in place and not to do anything stupid.
I mean I could hold the reins just about but I had no balance and I was going great guns and I was really enjoying going and it was great rehabilitation for my core, I was developing much better recovery from my spinal injury because I have an incomplete injury and then one bad day the horse took off, heard a monster behind the door and ran away and I got thrown in the air and broke my hip, fell off broke my hip.
And I kind of thought, I went through so much grief at that point so much pain and I put my family through so much and I was so embarrassed, totally embarrassed that I decided, 'You really have to be sensible now, so no more.' In truth I've never gone near them again.
It's just that little poignancy of a lost love affair but, you know, you compensate, you get on and I love being around young people and I love reading books and learning again.
If I wasn't still working, I'd love to come back to university and study something.
Rosie: You can come if you like.
Melanie: Yeah, what should I study? What do you think I should... You're a scientist.
Rosie: Yeah so I study biology, I do zoology, I love animals too so it's probably a really big passion.
I started off thinking I'd do genetics and then I started doing some genetics and that quickly went out the window, so maybe don't do genetics.
There's so much that you can study now, so much, and there are so many different ways of learning. We're going through some restructuring at the moment anyway so the way that we look at knowledge and how we think about what is knowledge and what's worth learning is changing a lot and I think that as that happens more and more really interesting courses kind of crop up because you can take outside courses.
Here I took some social anthropology in my first year and that was like really fun and then I found myself wishing that maybe I'd done that and this year I took some forensic anthropology which is really, really interesting.
Melanie: Oh wow.
Rosie: So I got to do labs where they bring out real - sounds really gross but like - real human bones. There's so much there, so much history in talking about different cultures and different ways that we've treated humans and stuff in the past that I find really interesting, so I think that you can study whatever you want but you'll always wonder if you've made the right choice.
Melanie: I think anthropology is actually something I would like to come to do because it's so big and so deep and it's about people. It's about where were all from, I love it.
[Sharing things theme music]
Anne: in some jobs if you were to be distracted by a side bar and click along, you would be in trouble- we're allowed to do that which is great.
Hadrien: This is basically this is my dream job.
Anne: It's very fun, but you...
Hadrien: This is...
Amalie: Where do you go...
Hadrien: I'm wide-eyed...
Amalie: ...where you go look for random knowledge?
Hadrien: Well so this is a question to sort of answer your question. I spend too much time on Reddit, like way too much time, and I'm sure as you'll know like a very common 'ask a question' is what's a fun fact or what's a surprising fact or sad/happy...
Hadrien: Put any adjective fact so I get a lot of random facts from there and then also I don't know, I don't think it's intentional misinformation but because you get so little information, like the thing that makes it to the top, the information that makes it to the top is short and easy to read so you don't get the full story but so then you can follow up but I was wondering because your work is based on providing facts that people don't know and there is like an influx of facts through like say Reddit or Twitter or anywhere...
Anne: Yeah, a Buzzfeed [inaudible]...o] great but now you've got 20 facts that do this.
Hadrien: And so how do you deal with, now, this influx of facts.
Anne: Trying to find the right ones?
Hadrien: Yeah, try to find the right ones and keep it interesting for people?
Anne: I think so for QI the TV programme we have a really really long research period, so we make 16 episodes and we research for I would say about six months, 10 of us looking for stuff, so if you wanted to make a programme or a podcast about, say, animals, you can get on the internet and within half an hour you could find 15 really cool facts but they would probably be ones that you've seen quite a few times. The one I love but I see it everywhere is that otters hold hands when they sleep so they don't drift apart which is the most...
Anne: Yeah so nice but because it's so lovely I see it everywhere and it's great but the odds of someone seeing already are higher and what you don't want to do is have something where you say I've got this great thing and everyone knows everything you're about say so either it's something unusual- it's a spin on it or something where people aren't already looking- so if you've got time the best way is old books out of the library or not even old ones- new ones- but you can't read them quickly and stuff you get in there is really rewarding.
So I remember doing a column once about mythical creatures and I checked out this book from the library and it was about like mythical creatures and like legends and monsters and I opened it hadn't been open in so long this big cloud of dust came out the top and blew up.
Amalie: I love that.
Anne: So no one had read it in ages.
Hadrien: That's like from a movie.
Anne: Yeah and you just think this is fantastic and so you sort of dig through and find this information and one that I found in, I found this in a book and I found out later it was on Reddit but I did find it in a book and it was about a history of London Zoo, cause I really love animal things, I was reading about London Zoo, which is amazing by the way, London Zoo they took one of the monkeys there by bus from Bristol like they, all the way, they got the animals to the zoo and then the elephants walked through the city and you used to be allowed to get in for free if you brought a dog or cat with you to feed to the lion.
Anne: I know, like so, and I read that and I've never heard that before and that's awful but also like...
Hadrien: Makes sense.
Anne: So bizarre.
Amalie: So bizarre.
Anne: And then I can't remember if it came up, I found it online after we'd done QI or before but it definitely is online as well and that's fine, you want facts to be out there and also you can't really claim them as your own, so in the office we have a slight- not rivalry- so if we all heard the same fact now, it's like who's fact is?
And I was once at a lunch with my colleagues and some friends and one of the friends mentioned very casually, oh do you know where the highest point of the Alps? Do you know in which country the highest point of the Alps is?
Hadrien: I want to say Mont Blanc because...
Anne: Good shout…
Hadrien: It's my guess.
Amalie: Uh, Italy?
Anne: I think it's in the Netherlands because somebody climbed the mountain, cut the top off and put it in a museum in the Netherlands.
Anne: Yeah and so we were both - went oh my gosh and I saw my friend, my colleague and I went...This is [inaudible] journalism. But they got their, they got their phones out and I was like no they're typing it on the board, so we're all trying to get it on first cause we're like such a good fact.
I think it's the Netherlands, but yeah it's in a museum, it's not on a mountain, at the top of the mountain.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: So both of your objects kind of have to do with winning something, so I want to ask what did it feel like when you won your election, and also when you won your poetry slam?
Beth: So I'd say I remember head-to-toe shaking, because it was election night, the big thing in the venue at Potterrow. I had my two closest friends from my course there, who bless them came along.
I was just so, so nervous that a lot of work I'd been flat out just doing this for the last two weeks, I was worried that I was going to have a knock-on effect on my degree. I was in my 4th year and my dissertation was going to get the marks docked, and I was in a complete blind panic, and then obviously it got announced and I burst into tears, and I'm not a crier at all, so like this was such an odd emotion that I was literally shaking head to toe and I didn't know what to do.
I kind of went up on stage to get this big board and they were like, “Oh do you want to do a speech” and I was like just shook my head, I couldn't possibly and it was a complete flood of emotion which I don't often experience as a person because I'm not a big crier at all so yeah that was very odd. But yeah an amazing feeling and I was definitely on a high for, I'm still on a high, I mean I love it, I absolutely love it.
Catherine: I was going to say that I think our objects are linked in another way because you're motto of… the idea that universities are kind of that space to find your happy place, I think that poetry was very much that for me.
But I guess like winning that poetry slam, I mean there was only three other poets, so it wasn't that same triumphant moment of ‘oh my god I'm going to cry’, it was kind of like alright okay, yeah, this feels legit, this feels right.
I did win another poetry competition at one point very early into writing, honestly, I started performing in something like the September, and I won this poetry slam, I think in the January or February, and I was considered quite a fresh face, and I was very young in the kind of poetry scene that I was in - a lot of people, who are much older, cooler, tattooed students, who wrote much cooler poems about hooking up, drugs, and I'd show up and I'd be like, “Here's a poem about [puts on a voice] when you really fancy someone but you just can't say it cause you're an idiot.” Or, “Here is my poem about how I'm just so clumsy and I just keep dropping things and it's a metaphor for my life.”
Yeah, I don't know maybe that's why I wasn't invited to the cool after parties when I first started poetry. They just knew that I would not know what to do with myself there, but yeah I think winning poetry competitions for me felt like such a massive, massive deal, winning poetry slam because part of it is decided by audience vote so you're judged on three things: the content of your poem, the performance of your poem, and the audience reaction. Which means a third of it, is you know, democratic, right?
So I think that's probably the part that's always stuck out at meaning the most to me because when I win it's like a whole audience was kind of behind that decision and when I don't win, I kind of go, well this particular group of people weren't feeling you tonight, and that's fine, but when they do, you can feel it, you can really feel them going on that journey with you as cliché as that sounds.
Beth: It's kind of an overarching theme of democracy, winning and democracy [laughs].
Catherine: It's just really reminded me of one of my very early lectures when I was at a Edinburgh Uni, and I had just switched into doing philosophy as part of my joint degree, and the lecturer said one of the funniest things that I still remember when he said: “Yeah in Socrates’ time, ancient Greece was a democracy, except you couldn't vote if you were a woman or a slave.” So I was like, “So…”
Amalie: Not a democracy. [laughter]
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Both of you are women in leadership positions, what would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt?
Udita: So I currently work in technology innovation at RBS, which as most people know is one of the biggest banks in the UK, and I’ve been in a leadership position for the last couple of years. And technology fundamentally is quite male-dominated, so you’re definitely in a minority if you’re a woman, you’re definitely in a minority if you’re non-white, and also if you’re young, there’s not a lot of young people – and by young people I mean below the age of 40 – people in leadership positions within either technology or banking, right, so it’s hard to find role models and that is a bit of a challenge because it’s not something that affects you directly or it doesn’t affect you day-to-day, but when you think about it, it does seem to become this mental hurdle when you think “Oh, I’ll never get that job, I’ll never get to that position,” because you don’t ever see yourself reflected in like plus 15 years’ time so I would say that that is a bit of an issue.
The flip side is that I see a growth in engagement of diversity, not just gender diversity but just across the board – diversity in tech because a lot has been done with in terms of policies and you know, putting a lot of things into practice to encourage more and more people from different backgrounds to get into it. But it’s a work in progress and when I talk of role models, it’s something that if you set in motion now you’ll see the results in like two decades’ time, because those are the women, or those are the people from other ethnicities who will make it to leadership positions.
And as we know in banking, one of the reasons, one of the contributing factors to the financial crash of 2007, was the fact that there was no diversity across the board, there was no difference of opinion, and there was nobody saying, “No, we shouldn’t do this and here’s why.” And also there’s now research to show that businesses that are more diverse are actually more profitable. So I think I would say that a lot is being done but there’s a way to go there still and that would be probably one of the challenges that I faced.
Beth: I can pick up on that about this idea of role models and the challenge I think that I felt in my career of going into conferences and perhaps being the only female there, the only erm... not having that reflection in the room, not seeing someone in a similar position, whether it’s with children, whether it’s age, whether it’s gender, however, just not seeing that reflection there and to have that role model. And one of the things that I’ve found that’s been so important to me is to have those networks, to seek out people who are doing similar things as much as I can.
So my friend I talked about, Helena in the North, spending time with someone who’s doing something similar to me that I can have these discussions with in and open and honest way and get support from that too. And trying to find those networks is difficult – it’s an absolute challenge, when you’re not - it’s not easy to find the women who do the same things or people who do the same things as you or feel similar to you.
I had the unique opportunity last year to go to Antarctica so – I’m slightly obsessed with the North but I’ll slip in that I’m obsessed with the South as well! – So I had this opportunity to go to Antarctica with 80 other women who were leaders in their fields from across the world. And we were selected, I was one of the women from Scotland who went, there was another women who was there from Scotland too, and we were there together chosen because of our positions of influence or leadership in whatever way that was – early career right the way through to people who were established in their careers as well – people who were interested and focussed on sustainability in whatever shape or form that may be. And also the gender aspect as well, about being female, that was part of it too.
And we came together, and what that gave me, apart from this fantastic experience of Antarctica and the people that I met along the way, but what it’s left me with is this network of women that I would never have met otherwise who are doing fantastic work across the world in different fields, and so interdisciplinary work suddenly becomes a lot more possible – I can physically get in contact with them to establish research to just say, “I’m feeling challenged by this, how would you react, what would you do?”
So there’s a range of conversations that you can have. But what’s important about that is not just that that influences me, is that I can then look at students that I’m working with, I can recognise in others that perhaps they need to be connected to this as well, so the network isn’t just for me to feel connected to others, it’s actually about what can I do then when I’m in this position to support others. So whether it’s, you know, understanding what it’s like to juggle children and study and part-time study and work or whatever experiences I’ve had, if I can help in my leadership position that I have to support others and to connect them into this then I think that’s something I can do to try to mitigate the challenges that I’ve faced, personally I’ve faced.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: I wanna ask, what is the first Christmas that you can remember?
Catherine: I was really little, I can remember we used to go up to Coylumbridge up near Aviemore, I think I remember it because there were reindeer and you could go ice skating- it was amazing but we stopped going after a while, I think it was, I'm from Yorkshire so it was a very long drive with three small children all arguing in the back.
Ross: Christmas is always at my house with my mum's family so they all sort of roll into one. I remember I got a Harry Potter castle one year.
Catherine: That's amazing.
Ross: Yeah, that must have been...
Catherine: Lego, or?
Ross: You pressed a button and it opened up and had like potions, very cool.
Catherine: You still got it?
Ross: Probably up somewhere.
Ross: Everything goes up in the attic so it must have been around the time the first movie came out and I remember going to see that because I was so excited I was sick in my dad's car in the way there and we couldn't go see it.
Ross: So we went back a week later and it got to the scene where they're playing like human chess and I started crying, so we had to leave.
Amalie: So you never actually saw it?
Ross: 10 years later- I decided I didn't like it- 10 years later I gave it another shot and actually- fantastic series. Just a traumatic experience from start to finish at that age- that's the oldest one, although at three o'clock we always eat a lot of food and then we watch some TV and then we just get really drunk so...
Amalie: What do you eat?
Ross: So I always want turkey but no one else likes turkey.
Catherine: I love turkey! We have the same argument in our house- everyone else is like, shall we do something different this year? No! It's like, turkey!
Ross: I always want to do something different cause we have roast beef and we have ham and I'm like, turkey! We had it one year because I converted by aunt but, erm, it's a proper operation to get it all cooked. Like three different houses cooking different things, all bring it over.
Catherine: It's quite good fun thought isn't it, it's the tradition that's the nice thing.
Ross: Where do you do Christmas, at your house, at your parents' house, or?
Catherine: Well it's all changed around, a little bit, we used to usually go down to my mum and dad's but very sadly my dad died last year, so last Christmas mum came up to us, which was a bit weird- still feels like Christmas hasn't quite happened because it was quite strange, but it was nice, but it was just not in the family house and then this year it's going to be really Christmassy cause we're going to Germany to my husband's family.
We're going to go to the real German markets and have Glühwein and yeah it should be good but it's going to be quite tricky taking all the prezzies for the little ones.
Catherine: Who don't really understand why Santa's going to be travelling light because Santa's got a sleigh so it shouldn't really be an issue.
Ross: [Laughter] He actually has 23kg for bags.
Catherine: You have to pay for extra, yeah [laughter].
Ross: Santa's not had a good year.
Catherine: So we were just trying to explain that we have to bring them back and they're like, well maybe Santa could bring them back. He's tired by then.
Ross: He's got annual leave to take.
Catherine: Yeah, he really does, I mean he's been working really- he's been working really hard making all those toys. And they're also at the age where they can't quite understand why there's a limit on what Santa can make because it's all free because he makes it, so they can ask for the £300 Hornby railway set.
Catherine: I know and you're like, uhhhh. And they said, or an iPad, an iPad's really small. It's like, well small doesn't really equate to a monetary value but anyway we'll just nod and smile and put it on your list and we'll see what he brings.
Ross: My first ever job was as a sales assistant at a national toy shop and just seemed like parents trying to say no to kids, that's like...
Catherine: Oh, it's really sad isn't it.
Catherine: It's hard, I mean sometimes it's quite satisfying if they're being really bad but they actually get genuinely upset. When someone cries because you say no, you feel like the worst person in the world.
Ross: It's like, look at like a Lego Death Star for £300 and that's like realistically I'm not paying £300 for Lego but then that kid starts crying and suddenly the parents are paying £300 for Lego.
Catherine: Aww, it's those two years, they've got something in them that casts spells on soft parents I think.
Ross: I worked Boxing Day and that was a whole other experience of like, if you don't have a receipt, I can't return it. Someone turned up with a black bag of Lego, like just indiscriminate Lego, no box, no set, just, 'Can I return this Lego?' I was like [pauses]....
Ross: No [laughter]. I don't know what was the expectation here, but no.
[Sharing things theme music]
Geoff: there is a historical, a very strong historical link, between Scotland and the Caribbean which goes back, you know, over 200 years and when people talk to me they can't imagine that I would have anything to do with, not only that history, that I would not have anything to do with one of their primary industries, which is to do with making of alcoholic beverages, whether it's whisky or beer. So, these items, I think, are very powerful because they demonstrate to not only my family, some of whom are Scottish, but also demonstrate to my students that, you know, we're all different but fundamentally we're the same.
David: OK so I brought three objects but they're all very, very related. There are two books. One of them is called ‘The Living World of Science in Colour’, it's from 1962. The other one is ‘Newnes Pictorial Knowledge Atlas’ from around the same time, slightly older, and the third one is a slice of a geode, which is a special kind of rock, a polished rock. I wouldn't be here without these three objects. I got really excited about, as most young boys do around the world, when I was a kid and these were actually the same books I read - I just found of them on my mother's bookshelf like half an hour ago, they're still there, she doesn't clean the house very much.
But the good news is when I open them, I still get excited about science, about the world, about how the world was formed, really that's why I went to university here and I did geography and geology and things like that and 30, 40 years later I'm still as an excited little boy as I was then around the world, the change of the world. So, for me these are symbolic of the understanding we have of the world and the fact that it continues to change and our knowledge changes. If you read these books you discover, even in 1962, how little they understood of the world, that things you would take for granted as a 22-year-old are completely wrong. Plate tectonics, which you would think would be understood way back, they didn't understand it, it's not in these books. They were trying to explain the plates and the world but they couldn't explain it in 1962. Isn't that startling? And then you read other things, they got it wrong, and if you're ever excited about that kind of stuff, you know, get the old National Geographic's and realise that they didn't understand the world and they didn't understand people and interrelations of people and say economies and they really still don't.
I work for the World Bank now in Washington and I understand you have to keep asking questions, keep challenging authority, keep challenging knowledge, keep challenging the status quo and the fact everything is very interlinked. That those are still things which have kept me going and kept me excited from then on so these are very important to me. I need to mention this wasn't just about the books. These were given to me by my grandmother and my mother who were obviously Scottish women, very, very strong Scottish women, and I didn't realise at the time how strong they were and how unique they were. My grandmother was a geologist before they even had geologists and she's one of the first women to ever be a geologist and she started as a domestic servant, serving in the big houses of Scotland. She was a very poor orphan but she became a geologist and a tourist guide, and then my mother was the first female science graduate, and then I came along and spoiled her life as a child and she's never let me forget that. She then became a housewife and she still is but she never let me forget that I ruined her life. So, these aren't just objects, they tie back to real humans who changed the way I am.
Amalie: Yeah. What would you both say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt from these objects?
Geoff: Well as I said, you know, I've got the Jamaica telephone directory with me and a lot of people would say, "Well, what's the point of having a telephone directory?" But in 2007, the 200th commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007, when I noticed that if you look at the books which are written about the history of the slavery and the slave trade, I could not find any real evidence of the significance of the contribution that the slaves made to the Scottish economy. I couldn't find any evidence of what I call the cultural and genetic relations between the Caribbean and Scotland, in fact, people were talking about Scottish diaspora and the Scottish diaspora was really all white - you're talking about Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand - and I find that rather worrying because I knew in my instinct that the Caribbean in terms of the culture I saw there as a boy and I could see that there but I spoke to Scottish people when I came here in '64 and nobody seemed to know that very well. And just to share intuition, I sent for the Jamaica telephone directory and when it arrived in 2007 I was very surprised about 70 per cent of the surnames in it are Scottish, you know there are 2,500 Campbells in the Jamaica telephone directory, and when you think these are only people who could afford telephones, and when I looked at the Edinburgh and Lothian telephone directory it had just about half as many Scottish surnames and this is now become an important part of the history of this historical link and I did my DNA just for fun and I found that, you know, I'm about five per cent Shetland/Viking Finland so there is that link.
Amalie: Yeah, we're all interconnected.
Geoff: Yeah where you got a black guy who is part of the Shetland Finland history and the Shetland people would have been in Jamaica, so I find that is extremely important. It shows that, you know, we have a relationship. I mean we can't change the past but we can change the consequences and I think if people are made aware of these historical links then people are mature enough to think about it and say "Well I have some responsibility here."
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Can I ask what makes your creative juices flow because you're both creators in different ways?
Lori: Lots of things actually. I mean sometimes I need to kind of shut out the noise of the world a bit too, to then open up other doors in my head but I mean I draw inspiration from a lot of sources; lots of other art forms, a lot of writing, a lot of other music, natural sounds, historical events.
I'm particularly interested in our connections with nature and I suppose not just human emotion but the way our minds work and the way that nature has been a way of coming to terms with life events, good and bad, and particularly in traditional folk songs natural imagery has really been used not just to express or convey things but there's a healing process in trying to explain what's happening in your mind, in your nervous system, in your body and trying to explain that through what you see in the world around you. Historically that's been quite you know rural situations rather than quite urban stuff, that is changing a bit and at least in folk music we use a lot of natural imagery. What about you Russell?
Russell: Similar, different I guess. The point of inspiration often for me is other people's artwork so reading someone else's poem or listening to a piece of music. But I was interested in nature. I guess I am one of those kind of more urban writers because that's where I've lived and that's kind of my point of perspective and also I guess just because of my perspective on the situation of nature at the time that we're in of humanity kind of destroying it, which has been going on for a while now of course but we're kind of this extreme point now and it's very difficult for me to be positive in that way about humanity's impact on it, but I do agree that the other way around nature's impact on humanity is a force for peace and good times.
Lori: Yeah, I mean I think it's really interesting that you say that because, you know, over the last kind of 10 years I've been exploring some of those themes and working with the kind of shapes and moods and specific regional landscapes and now when I'm looking back reflecting on the work I'm realising that it's just you know probably about 10 years of musical exploration of sadness which was not what I realise I was doing at the time. So it's not particularly positive music at all, it's actually, it's pretty I mean I wouldn’t say melancholic but there's like a rawness, there's like a pit of despair there yeah.
Russell: Do you actually find it easier to write sad pieces?
Lori: Yeah, I do at the moment. I'm actually about to see if I can write something a bit more upbeat.
I feel like I need to just - because I thought I was kind of using, you know, not a full palette because I think that develops over time, but I thought I was using a pretty varied palette but I've kind of realised actually I was not caught up but I you know I was really engaging with the, I don't know, the concepts and the stimuli that I had for the work and I've responded to that in quite an honest way and I've got this you know everything's just pretty sad and down beat actually. And now I just want to check that I've still got those other parts to my, you know, music making [laughter] so yeah, prepare for some upbeat anthems.
Russell: Do you think it's maybe the subconscious coming through a little bit you're trying to do something more positive but actually something else is interfering.
Lori: Yeah, I mean I think there's always your - you'll know - there's always what you intend to do and then all the other stuff that just comes out that you then you can craft and play with it once it's out but it's also quite nice not to deny those things isn't it? I mean I've had some of my own mental health issues and some really, really sad life events through that time and I'm sure all of that was finding its way out as well you know.
Russell: Sadness, the only reason I mention… I feel like there's a kind of similarity, I'm guessing it's just an artistic thing, yeah there's an artist that I spoke to once called [Marianne Barouche]. She was a professor - she still is a professor in America - and she said that she felt metaphor was a defence mechanism so because we can't cope with the reality of something we turn into a metaphor. I can almost see that in music as well maybe or in that way you know you're trying to do one thing but actually it's just a way of coping with something else.
Lori: I think there must be a lot of that and not just in our artistic expression, just is in the way we live our lives and the conversations we have and the choices that we make [laughter].
Russell: Like Facebook where everyone portrays this idealised version of their life where only the good things are kind of on display.
Lori: Yeah, I mean, I'm kind of interested in different art forms in terms of what they're expressing and the way that they express different things. So it could be you know situational or specific experiences or it could be larger kind of emotional experiences, but in folk music, we get, a lot of people think oh it's just for fun. But we've got the full spectrum like any art form, you can say a lot with you just a few bars of music, a few bars of melody, so that's something I've been exploring but then, you know, I think most folk would agree that in short stories or in poetry the full spectrum is really obvious.
Russell: I think cartoons and particularly video games are one of the greatest art mediums because they can incorporate all this stuff, the visual, the written words, the music. For me, video games also incorporate that element of choice and being involved in it which actually most art forms don't because you're sort of not tested in the same way. You know if I listen to your piece of music and you go, ‘Ok now what do you think that was about because I'm not playing another song until you tell me’. You have to get it right.
Lori: Or the gig is over.
Russell: Whereas video games kind of do that and they kind of involve you in another way.
[Sharing things theme music]
Abrisham: Do you write, do you blog regularly?
Srishti: Ever since blogs came around, I think I was just 14 or 15, I used to blog a lot and that really helped me find a way to express what I was saying and I was a big blogger on, I don't know, BlogSpot and WordPress and stuff, but I feel that was more like a journal, like every day stuff that I would write, but ever since I grew up more I started to write more fiction, which is what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I think I started to write a little less bloggy stuff. I mean now that I look back on it or if I read it it's like super whiny and super lame, “Why did the boy not look back at me” and some stupid stuff but yeah, I write more like fictional stuff now and I write regularly in the sense that I am always working. So I finished my first book but now I'm working on my second one and I feel that it doesn't give me enough space to also write about my day or, like, what I'm going to do.
Amalie: Do you write fiction in your journal?
Abrisham: Hmm, not so much fiction, maybe it's not necessarily in the journal, but I went through a poetry phase this year. It was a bit vogue, I had some friends who were really into poetry and I'd go along to their open mic nights and watch it and it was really amazing and they had such beautiful things to say that I kind of picked up on it and I don't know if you've been to any poetry open mic nights but they kind of stand up and like, “I couldn't sleep one night so I just thought, oh I'll just write a poem” and then it's like this perfectly well versed beautiful piece of, I don't know, literature.
So I had this one night where I couldn't sleep and I was like, oh this is what they all do when they can't sleep, and it's not often that I can't sleep, I really like sleeping, and I was lying there, like, “This sucks, what should I do?” and then realised everyone else would be writing a poem so decided to write a poem but I did that on my phone notes pages I know some people who have researched into people's notes. I think notes pages can be quite exposing more so than a journal.
Amalie: So exposing.
Abrisham: Something you don't necessarily want people getting hold of.
Amalie: What inspired you in the middle of the night that one time?
Abrisham: It all got a bit weird and cheesy, a little bit lame. I mean it was very bad poetry but I think the idea of like you said taking something out of yourself, like I kind of wrote about some random stuff I think, I don't know, like I wrote about a romantic sunset - hello and welcome to my mind. [Background laughter]
Abrisham: But like the idea of processing something into words I think I can kind of after that experience relate to a little bit but I can't say that I'm anywhere near an author like you are.
Srishti: I mean it's the only thing I know how to do, so I better do it. I like to write. I always wanted to write ever since I read good books, so I wanted to create good books and JK Rowling was a huge inspiration for me as for everyone.
Abrisham: Is that why you're in Edinburgh?
Srishti: Yeah, it was a little bit influential for me but before I started my masters I was a writer who never really wrote because I always thought that I would write something one day but I never really got down to it because it takes a lot of time but once I started my masters here, which was in creative writing, I had a routine and I would write every day and since then I've been writing a lot.
Amalie: Where do you get inspiration from?
Srishti: Everywhere for sure but I would like to be a much better observer than I am now because I think that's your food for writing. I do keep a database of all the dialogues or the nice lines that I hear or nice jokes so maybe I'm stealing your jokes.
Abrisham: But that's your notes pages – other peoples’ conversations.
Srishti: That's my notes pages for sure. I mean I make a list of these things and when I'm writing something and if I'm out of inspiration I just take one of the jokes and somehow make it fit in the scene. Also I feel that reading good books is very inspiring for you to write something. I think that's the case with all creative arts, I mean, of course, you have to consume a lot of good art to create something yourself. Do you also play some music, or?
Abrisham: I was that kid that tried and failed at everything [laughter]. I probably didn't even fail, like everyone had such good intentions for me to be great and I just was like, “Nah violin's lame, the flute's not cool enough, the guitar's too heavy”. I kind of reached the end of my schooling, I was at high school, and I was like, “Oh crap I should've put more time into this, there's been so many great resources and I've not done anything”. I sing, a lot, in the shower, out of the shower - I'm a professional shower singer, but no like nothing else has really been honed in.
But I know you mean, those kind of creative influences kind of come together. I mean you can be listening to a song and be like, “Wow I want to paint” or “Wow I'm going to write a story", I think it definitely, like that kind of inspiration, can come from other people's creativity as well.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: So Prince mentioned, you know, staple diets, do you have a staple diet?
Kezia: Not a very good one, so I spent most of the last 10 years working in politics- quite long days- it's a very privileged existence but it's hard work too in the sense of long days, lots of pressure and you often forget to eat and you kind of live off of coffee, I guess like a lot of students do, and then when you get home you realise how hungry you are and you make really bad choices, so you really carby, cheesy, lovely things at night that then just sit in your tummy and make you fat.
Kezia: It's as simple as that, so there's ways round it, so when I became leader of the political party and the Labour Party in Scotland I had to become much more aware of how I presented myself and how I looked because people expect their politicians to always be smart and always have makeup and women should always be high heels and there's a lot of gender stereotypes and stuff and that.
And so I had to care a bit more about, you know, how I looked after myself so I set some new rules like I wouldn't eat carbohydrates after 6 o'clock at night so I would have to try and aim instead to have a really good lunch and then eat really lightly in the evening that was the only way I could sort of maintain my diet.
Prince: So it's very interesting to say like there were all these, I guess we could call them constructs, that you had to live with...
Prince: If you had a choice to change them, would you change them? Were they important? Was it important for you to kind of change your routine just so you could fit into this lifestyle?
Kezia: Such a good question. I toil with this a lot because, you know, a great example would be high heeled shoes. I never wear high heels but when I became leader I wore high heels and I started to wear dresses in a way that I wouldn't normally do. Now I never wore anything that I felt uncomfortable in, because that's too far...
Kezia: 'cause I can't do my job properly if I don't feel good in my own skin...
Kezia: but there was a construct which was, "Politicians look like this." And I think that should be challenged because I think people want their elected representatives to be diverse and to look more like they do.
Kezia: But at the same time, you can't on your own be the person that changes all of the single-handedly. You can try and it will be a valiant effort but you can't expect a sort of cultural mass to gather behind you and deliver the same thing especially when the media are going to be the first to turn and go, "She's turned up today in her jeans."
Kezia: And that takes you to negative place.
I was in Quebec recently, I was visiting the National Assembly of Quebec and I met the leader of a new party in Quebec called Québec solidaire and it has two leaders, a man and woman leader, like joint leadership, but the female leader of this party was a woman called Manon Massé and she was like the most amazing feminist.
She had grey hair and she didn't care what she wore and she was in her 60s and she wore flat shoes but the force of her personality meant it didn't matter and there's something beautiful about that that I think we should have more of, but I don't know how you get everyone to that place.
This is not the biggest problem in politics, but a lot of my new job is about trying to break down the barriers that people face entering politics and I think, for a lot of people, they look at the people that represent them and they see an elite that they can't identify with.
Kezia: I don't know how you would describe the kind of politicians in Zimbabwe but I'm guessing they're not hugely reflective of the diverse country that Zimbabwe is.
Prince: Um, it's interesting that you say that because I think, especially in Zimbabwe, a lot of the politicians are much older and culturally we are brought up to, like any culture, are brought up to respect people who are older than us, but I think in the Zimbabwean context that respect, it gets to the point of, you sometimes feel like you're not being listened to based off of your age, so kind of, age equal maturity equal wisdom, so a lot of young people don't quite- at least for me- we don't quite feel connected and that someone who was the Minister of Youth could potentially be the person who probably won't listen to you because they feel they know everything, they know everything that needs to be done for you.
So at that point it's kind of like, oh politicians, it's just these people who represent you but you don't necessarily identify with them.
Amalie: You mentioned barriers that a lot of people face when entering politics. What were some barriers that you faced?
Kezia: I was really lucky because I was quite late I guess in my life to identify what my politics were, so in the party that I was elected representative for, the Labour Party, it's quite traditional for young people to support it and to get involved at a very young age, so a lot of my peers had been political since they were like 15 or 16. I wasn't, I didn't even really, I didn't vote at all until I was 23.
Kezia: Yeah, which is, which I feel very guilty about now, but I honestly at the time I didn't understand how politics related to my life. There wasn't a connection there for me.
I just, I didn't think it mattered, to be honest, who was in charge and I still think a lot of people who are under the age of 25 feel that way. Maybe, maybe less so now because certainly in UK politics there are polar choices to be made now in a way that maybe 15 years ago, the political parties were much closer together, but it took me a long time to kind of identify my politics, then when I did, I met a lot of really interesting people really quickly because I joined the party here in Edinburgh so my Member of Parliament the time was Alistair Darling. He was the Trade Minister, he went on to be the Chancellor, so I had a really, like, lucky experience of meeting interesting people early on who were keen to help me and believed in me and saw, I guess, some sort of talent that they wanted to support.
So I had quite a fast rise in politics and when I became leader, I was 33 years old and I was telling a lot of older people what to do.
Kezia: So I was young and female.
Prince: Oh wow.
Amalie: Oh that's fun.
Kezia: Yeah and that, that came with its difficulties sometimes but more often than not I was respected because of the authority of the position that I held.
But I definitely saw some barriers creeping in at that point there, some people- largely white middle class men- who didn't quite like being told what to do by me, can you, can you imagine?
Kezia: But just to quickly answer your question in the round, if you look at politics today, we have a shocking record around black and minority ethnic representation in Scotland.
We've only ever had four politicians in our elected parliament that aren't white and they have all come from- they're all men- and they all come from the same Pakistani lineage.
So for example we've never had an African woman, or we've never had a Chinese man in our parliament. Everybody else in the history of 20 years of devolution have been white. That's the big problem that we need to understand as a country. We're not very good at having people with physical disabilities access in politics.
LGBTI's quite well represented but I can't really explain why, so there's a lot of work to do there, and that's before you get to socio-economic factors like class. How easy it is for somebody who's working on the factory floor to have a brilliant idea about how their country can be fairer and better and see politics as a means by which they do that?
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Thank you for listening to Sharing things. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play to catch our next episode.
Be sure to visit our website to read more about our guests and other episodes at www.ed.ac.uk/sharing-things-podcast.
You can let us know what you think on the website or by using the hashtag #SharingThingsPodcast. See you next time!
Back to Sharing things homepage