pepol power

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 at 05:23
sneak preview of something I've been working on for the last year: check it out. Happy new year!

PePol | effective, collective, action As part of the growing movement towards a sustainable, peaceful future, PePol is about supporting and inspiring you to take effective, collective action for positive change. With PePol you can make a real difference! Some of the things PePol will do for you...


Sunday, 29 November 2009 at 16:37
I acknowledge how these things have affected me in the past,
and the pain they’ve caused me.
Now, I accept that I can change to find harmony in my world
and I make the choice to define myself.
I release that pain and without resentment step beyond it
into a freer and self-guided way of being,
into the life of my choosing.

(A poem made from a paragraph in my soon to be in print book, "Healthy, Loving Relationships", from the section 'Our attitude to change')

some picture from the common

Thursday, 15 October 2009 at 09:52
I took a little break from work and got these shots in Southampton Common a few days ago.

Climate change and modern society - the politician's double bind

Wednesday, 23 September 2009 at 16:46

I went to an open meeting yesterday with members of local government about making our city sustainable and doing our bit to minimize climate change. I came away with a heavy realization - that if we leave things to government as it is, we are screwed.

Although the speakers I heard were well meaning, they just didn't seem to have much sense of urgency. They blathered and went on tangents and didn't have important facts at their fingertips, or even available (like what the estimated percentage reduction of CO2 was over the next couple of years, if their plans were put into action). Sustainability is just one of several dozen issues they have to deal with on a daily basis, but even so, the presentations felt like a perfunctory passing down of official notes and far off targets, dressed up with a few anecdotes.

I was left with the distinct feeling that government will only give climate change appropriate attention if the public leave them with absolutely no alternative. But why is this? Surely they are aware of the science, the evidence and the immeasurably grave consequences of insufficient action? I think they are, so what is going on?

I thought about this and it seems government are stuck in a double bind. It's not just about getting elected again, although that is no doubt a big part of it, it's about what they were elected for.

We vote for counsellors and political parties we think will champion our values and improve our lives - and there in lies the problem. We value many things, like personal economic prosperity, because it gives us personal freedoms and luxuries. We value the ready availability and affordability of the things we like to eat and wear and otherwise buy. We also value health and education, security and liberty. Oh, and a fast growing number of us also value looking after the earth and not wrecking it any more than we already have.

With the exception of liberty, all of the above cost 'money' and some are in direct conflict with having a sustainable society. So, the message from the public is:

a) "Give us cheap travel and consumables and affordable housing (and also keep us in good health, safe and educated). If you don't, we'll vote for someone else who convinces us they might be less bad at the job."

b) "Use your power to protect our planet and the future of humanity. If you don't we'll lose what faith we had left in you and lay the blame at your feet (even if we still vote for you until the water's at our door)."

They cannot escape this situation or ignore the issues. They have been elected, and they as individuals probably want to satisfy both demands. It's a double bind conflict. They must do something and they are wrong whatever they do.

Of course this is only the beginning of the problem. We've not considered industry yet and the media they own, or lobby groups or plain ignorance, denial and addiction to power, or the excuse 'if everyone doesn't do it, what's the point in us doing it?'

But then, why aren't government putting more effort into educating the public about the issue and more money into R&D for renewable energy? Our total budget for renewable energy development this year was £450m, which includes assisting businesses in using existing renewable technology. The money spent on actual research and development will be much smaller.

To put that into perspective, a report by market researchers Datamonitor found that in 2004 Britons spent £400m on chocolate (£920m in total on 'premium treats'). We currently spend around £1b every year on cosmetic operations.

Perhaps the conflict runs deeper than concern for conflicting public opinion? Perhaps we need to consider our status as a nation? Any move to a more sustainable society that results in a shrunken economy or a threat to the business-as-usual establishment would fly in the face of deep rooted ideas of what 'progress' means (free markets and continuous economic expansion). We would risk becoming less 'developed' in the eyes of other countries that did not take similar action. We may lose international clout beyond simply what a reduced economy would dictate. Again, what government would warm to that idea?

Just imagine what would happen to the UK if we did something 'crazy' like commit to an 80% reduction in CO2, not by 2050 (our current target, actually one of the more 'ambitious' amongst rich countries), but say in the next 8 years? If we were the only country to do it our economy would most likely soon become the Sierra Leone of the Eurozone. We'd be forced to be almost entirely self-sufficient (because we'd lack the money to buy much from outside). Our status as a global centre of finance? Bye, bye. Our liberty to drive around town in range rovers? Bye, bye. The availability of cheap plastic goods for everything from food wrapping to car parts? Gone. You think electricity is pricey now? Just wait. You get the idea. (Yes it's possible if we focus our efforts we could come up with incredible developments in sustainable technology that we could trade with other countries to ease our transition, but we can't rely on that.)

Can you see that policy flying in Westminster in the next year or two?

Taking a brief look at some figures, in several studies published in Nature [1,2,3] this year, the latest research indicates some alarming things. In order to have only a 1 in 4 chance of going over the 2 degree temperature rise (measured from 1990) we must limit our total CO2 emissions from 2000 to 2050 to under 1000 billion tons. This 2 degree rise is thought to be a tipping point for the climate, after which we can expect drastic temperature and sea-level rises, loss of coast lines, whole cities and even countries, massive global food shortages and other delights. However, from 2000 to 2006 we already blew 234 billion tons, or around 39 billion tons per year on average. Since 2006 China (along with many other countries) has significantly increased it's CO2 emissions, exceeding even the US. If we assume an average yearly rate then of 40 billion tons from 2000 to 2010 that's almost 400 billion tons so far, leaving us with 'just' 600 for the next 40 years, or on average 15 billion tons per year, about 37% of our current usage. But remember that's just to get a 1 in 4 chance of averting cataclysmic disaster. Supposing we wanted to pop for a 1 in 8 chance? How much would we have to reduce emissions then? I don't know, but I bet it's by a lot more than 63%. Given what's at risk, even a 1 in 100 chance seems like an awfully big gamble. The government's current target, which many consider ambitious, is barely in line with giving us that 1 in 4 chance. (Yes, the bold action of any one country would have to be followed by the rest to avert disaster, but at least if we take the initiative we move in the direction of hope rather than despair.)

What about industry? Actually some parts of it have been quicker to respond to the demands of the sustainability movement than government. There is valuable commercial opportunity there (besides the quick buck seekers some good examples are renewable energy tech and plant based plastics industries and local organic farming businesses). However other parts of industry have spared no expense in impeding the adoption of greener policy, because the cost benefit analysis doesn't work out for them (the planet is generally not included in calculations). Think petrochemical and coal industries. Yes they currently provide much of the life blood of our society, but unfortunately that doesn't exclude them from being a big chunk of the problem.

There is certainly more opportunity for business to form part of the solution here, but there are also conflicts between commercial opportunity most often being tied with economic growth and that growth being tied to growing consumption and thus growing energy and resource usage. I'll leave that issue to another day. Part of the difficulty is also infrastructure. We have huge investments in old unsustainable production systems, which are currently doing rather well at making profit, paying shareholders and helping some people live the dream. What company board would vote to dismantle that in the face of competition that wasn't following suite?

Yes you will get the start-ups catering to a growing niche, but for business at large, it's going to be a very slow transition until they get an unmistakable picture of mass public demand for sustainable alternatives, and a willingness to pay the price for them. So quite like government in that sense.

Demand of course is shaped not only by basic needs but by emotional drives for things like sex, status and positive self-image (as the Machiavellian mind of Edward Bernays proved to staggering effect). Demand is also affected by how well informed people are. Those last two factors are strongly influenced and utilised by the vast rivers of cash that make up the marketing and media budgets of our global consumer industries. So we have a feedback loop here that helps keep things as they are. The situation is a bit like "we give you what you tell us you want (after we've told you what you want)".

Now consider the question the public is faced with (but many still don't even think about): Either carry on as you are, whether you're struggling to make ends meat or enjoying the luxuries you've become accustomed to, or make some significant sacrifices and habit changes for the sake of something you can't yet see or hear or feel in front of you and is too big to really comprehend anyway.

With all these combined factors we can begin to perceive the cogs of a giant machine we've built up around us. It has a flashing sign on it that reads 'self destruct - in progress'. Is there any hope at all? Yes, I think so, there is still an abort procedure.

Essentially the above question needs to shift to one of social pressure and acceptability. There needs to be a strong social drive to change habits and expectations. There needs to be a sense of having no option but to change.

Can we see real examples of where large scale reductions in CO2 emissions have occurred, and how has that affected quality of life?

Look to Cuba in the 1990's. When the Soviet Union broke apart, Cuba's oil supplies fell by over 70%, pretty much over night. (Not only that but the US sanctions prevented most of the other imports a country might need from getting in) It wasn't easy, but they coped. Initially there were food shortages, but the country rapidly adapted to localized organic farming (having previously been one of the highest users of pesticides). They reduced the need for commuting by building more schools and housing in cities, promoted cycling and found ways to harness the sun and wind. Communities banded together to support each other and, you may be surprised to learn, during the 90's the general level of health care and education in Cuba equalled or exceeded that in the US, despite having a tiny fraction of its GDP. So, health and education do not have to suffer in a low carbon economy. They actually had lower rates of obesity and heart related illnesses because people were more active and had a more varied diet. So the transition to living with much less oil (and much less energy) can be done, in a matter of 2 or 3 years, and it doesn't mean going back to living in wooden huts. Cuba, though didn't have a choice. Our trouble is that we do.

(From Cuba's recent activity it's clear this is a habit hard to kick (their CO2 emissions have recently started rising sharply again as they grow their gas and diesel usage), but the positive message to take from this is that it is possible to adapt, quickly, when it seems like that's you're only option.)

So even with our more advanced renewable technology and engineering prowess, we are still nudging the issue around the table. What will change this? A critical mass of people inspiring other people to take action (and forcing government to take action). It has to become the accepted social norm to live sustainably. To not do so needs to become socially unacceptable. Then almost any other inconvenience will be tolerated. It will take new tools for organization (watch this space for those of you who know about the PePol project) and possibly a radical act from government, such as forming a coalition government, or a rock solid pledge to share a common environmental and energy policy, to weaken that side of the double bind.

The media has a big part to play too (despite the thoroughly unwholesome influence of the 'business-as-usual' establishment owned media empires) in the solution. We're already seeing the effects of Indie media in this area working with other inspired people and activist groups (for a recent example look at The Yes Men at their best.). If you're hearing a lot about something and you're getting the clear facts, you're in a much stronger position to take intelligent action and you're more likely to become inspired to actually take it.


  1. Meinshausen et al. Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature, 2009; 458 (7242): 1158-1162 DOI: 10.1038/nature08017
  2. Allen et al. Warming caused by cumulative carbon emission: the trillionth tone. Nature, 2009; 458 (7242): 1163-1166 DOI: 10.1038/nature08019
  3. Allen et al. Nature Reports Climate Change. The exit strategy: Emission targets must be placed in the context of a cumulative carbon budget if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Nature Reports Climate Change, 2009 DOI: 10.1038/climate.2009.38

love and life in the clouds - expanded section extract

Friday, 18 September 2009 at 12:55
In the final push to make my book as good as it can be before sending to the printers I've made a number of changes (including changing the font, the section order, expanding various sections, added a couple of new ones, spacing out the paragraphs more and shortening many of the longer sentences). I'd like to share an extract from the additions to the section: 'Love and life in the clouds'. Let me know what you think!

... It would seem strange for a book on relationships (and especially one with the word in the title) to not address the question: “What is love?”. We've all considered it and heard many answers. On reflection we can see many types of love. Love for friends, lovers, family, fellow human beings, partners; love can be romantic, compassionate, lustful, obsessive, selfish, platonic and religious. The Greeks had (at least) 5 words for it.

Different loves sometimes go together and love is often what we make it – especially that head-over-heals, knock-you-into-the-clouds love. We share certain experiences (particularly sex) with someone and weird things happen with our brain chemistry that alter our perception. We become filled with inspiration, feelings of wellbeing and a desire to procreate.

This incredible and natural state is an amazing chance to share and learn, however it can be very addictive - and is a phase of that love we have for a lover or partner. Typically it will settle and mellow and given time and the right mix of personalities, deepen into a more whole and rounder form. This deepening can bring its own thrill and elation.

Some people, alas, do not realize this, expecting a 'true love' to carry on being that hair raising, heart pounding ride it was at the beginning. Or they realize that flavour of love is transitory, but the trill of it is so much they go from one person to the next as the highs pull and wane (for a similar reason some people may, genuinely, love a partner in one way and a lover in another – not that that automatically makes it fine for all concerned). What type of love do you look for?

The word itself, 'love', can be an issue for some. It can carry a lot of weight and a lot of baggage. It might help to remember that whenever someone says 'I love you.', there is a certain feeling for them attached to those words (think of all the kinds and states of love we've mentioned). That feeling may be slightly (or very) different depending on the situation (saying goodnight, taking a romantic walk, laughing at a joke, etc.).

The meaning therefore is in the whole expression. Focus then not only on the words, but more on the tone of voice, the expression and posture and you will get a clearer picture of their feelings when they talk about love. With a clearer idea of the way they are feeling 'love', in that moment, it may feel ok to say 'I love you too', if before it was difficult (otherwise you can just say 'thank you').

How do you feel when you say 'I love you' (or think about saying it)? Do you say it in a spontaneous moment of upwelling feeling? Do you do it looking for reassurance from the other person that they love you too? Or perhaps you do it with the fear they will take your words as permantant and binding, when you're not sure if you'll feel the same way next week?

If you know what the other person's attitudes and beleifs about love are, this will give you a clue to how they could interpret you telling them that you love them. For some people 'love' is a huge word, for other's, not so much. For this reason you may need to either use a different word, be more specific in describing your feelings or use the word more sparingly to avoid misunderstanding.

I believe the more we understand our own feelings around love and unlock our fears of it, the more of it we will have to share and the more we will be able to accept.

The 2 greatest catalysts in my life have been love and lonliness. I have to say I prefer love, it's far more inspiring. ...

Constructive critique welcome!

If I was learning tango again from the beginning, how and what would I like to learn?

Thursday, 17 September 2009 at 19:26

I'm writing this with the following questions in mind: If I was learning tango from the beginning again, what would be my ideal way of learning in a group setting? What would I like to learn and how?

The personal connection is paramount (although, I know, this is all too easy to forget sometimes, when focusing on technique). In the first lesson I ever did I experienced the essence of this connection. We found a partner, opened our arms and hugged. As we did this we breathed together. I still can't think of a better way of starting out on the tango journey. We then went on to explore walking in an embrace, which is the basis of the whole dance.

Aside from this there are social, stylistic and technical aspects to tango, each containing several key elements. (I will talk about the music separately since it is not something we learn in the same way as these other aspects.)

  • The social aspect of tango is one of the main attractors for many people. We gather together, dress up (if we feel like it and depending on the occasion), catch up with friends and dance to music we like with people we enjoy dancing with. For those who are single it's a great way to get out and meet new people and for couples it's a beautiful way to spend an evening. (Yes tango can be a real test for relationships.) Dances are typically divided into tandas, 3 or 4 songs, after which there is a short break allowing us to change partners or at least to have a short rest. In terms of what must be learnt I would list the following:

    • Etiquette: This is about acknowledging fellow dancers and respecting their space. When you enter the dance floor with your partner check there is space. If the floor is busy, make eye contact with the leader approaching you and see if they will let you into the line of dance. A nod or smile is sufficient to say thank you. If you are already on the floor, don't stand around chatting while couples are waiting behind you.

      Exercise. The room is divided if necessary to create a busy floor. The group is divided into 3. 2/3s are dancing in the outer lane, while the remaining 1/3 practices waiting for a safe opportunity to enter the floor with their partner and start dancing, making sure to acknowledge couples for letting them on. Dancing couples practice being polite and impolite to test the 1/3 coming onto the floor.

      Exercise. The whole group are dancing in the outer lane and the exercise is to keep an even space between couples and to experience the affect this has on the flow of the dance. Have one couple holding up the lane and another tale-gating and compare the affect on the whole floor.

    • Looking after your partner: The follower will generally be walking backwards and will often have their eyes closed, if they trust their leaders and the music invites it. This means it's the leader's responsibility to look after them and make sure they don't crash into anything or anyone. Depending on who they're dancing with and how busy and well behaved the floor is, the follower may also want to look after the leader and warn them of any likely collisions.

      Exercise. The room is divided if necessary to create a busy floor. The whole group are dancing in all the lanes. A few couples are assigned to be disruptive and do things like change lanes and plot collision courses with other couples (more in the fashion of a canon than a homing missile). The exercise is for all the other leaders to safely avoid danger as best they can. Everyone gets a go at being the disruptive couple.

    • Line of dance: Social tango is danced in anti-clockwise circuits around the dance floor, divided into lanes. The idea with this is to allow everyone space to enjoy the dance without pileups or traffic jams. It is bad form and potentially dangerous to change lanes in the middle of a dance, even to overtake and especially on a busy floor. The line of dance runs through the centre of your lane. Leaders should try to stick to this line as you dance. If you do this and avoid other couples your follower will feel safe in your arms, be able to relax and enjoy the dance more, which also helps them be a better follower.

      Exercise. Using string or some other markers, mark out 2 or 3 lanes on the floor. The game is to dance smoothly without putting a foot outside your lane. Decrease the lane width for more challenge. Teacher(s) and an assistant can watch for 'fouls' and blow a whistle and give out yellow and red cards to aid focus.

    • Inviting a dance: There are several ways to do this. The traditional way is called the cabaceo. A leader will look around the room and try to make eye contact with a follower. Also, a follower can initiate the eye contact as well. If the follower does not want to dance with the leader, they will avert their gaze. If, however, they wants to dance, they will make eye contact with the leader; who will then slightly nod their head in the direction of the dance floor. If the follower has decided to agree to dance they will nod yes. Only at this point would a leader go to a follower’s table or wherever they are sat and escort them to the floor. This set of conventions serves several purposes. Firstly, it prevents followers from feeling obligated to dance with just any leader who comes to them and asks for a dance. Secondly, leaders are kept from looking foolish by walking over and being refused a dance. Thirdly, if for any reason something comes up, or anyone changes his or her mind, no one else need ever know.

      This works very well if people are aware of the system, but can be frustrating and confusing if people are used to being approached directly. One middle ground is for a leader to half approach a follower and try to make eye contact a few paces away.

      At the end of a dance it is traditional for the leader to escort the follower back to their seat. Athough in England this is only practiced by some dancers, in the case of beginner followers it's a nice thing for an experienced leader to do anyway to help their confidence (which is a very significant part of being great to dance with).

      Exercise. Everyone is walking around randomly and the aim of the game is for people to catch each other's eyes. When you do this you navigate to the other person, circumambulate them and then join the crowd again as individuals.

      Exercise. Everyone takes a seat around the room and the music plays. The idea is for everyone to be aware of who might be trying to make eye contact with them (without looking too much like owls) and to practice making that eye contact. Here the cabaceo is practised. After an agreement is made couples take to the floor and dance a few steps before returning to be seated.

That's the initial draft for the social aspect block. (In practice there would be a basic technical introduction before the social aspect was introduced.) I really welcome constructive feedback and new ideas, so please feel free to share your thoughts. (Stylistic and technical blocks to follow in due course.)

river tango (and related deltas), london 2009

at 15:46
I went up to London to spend a week seeing if I still knew how to relax, enjoy the company of a friend and some tango (obviously).

The relaxation skills still need some work and I have to admit I've enjoyed London tango more in the past, but there were some great moments. Outside the milongas, highlights include: tango practice in the kitchen, blowing a whole blueberry from my nose (I've no idea how that happened, only that I ate it about 5 minutes prior to the incident), introducing a uni friend to tango (the last time we saw each other we were probably slamming each other into the mat in the dojo), running along the side of the Thames (what is it with me and running at the moment?) with about 15kg of kit while the Thames Festival firework show was lighting up the sky and making the most beautiful reflections in the skyscrapers, all to catch the last 10 minutes of the fire garden show by the Tate, walking through a fashion shoot for the Telegraph in Crystal palace parade, sharing some massages and finally doing the first few takes for a promotional video for my book "Healthy Loving Relationships" (still looking for feedback from male readers before I send it to the printers. If you're interested in a signed copy, maybe even a credit, get in touch ASAP).

My recent tango experiences have polarized my mind more in the direction of starting my own tango group. The issue is, I see where I want to take my tango, I've had glimpses of what is possible in my own dance, the creativity, connection and beauty that can be shared. But this isn't really happening much in Southampton, for various reasons (although there are some lovely dancers here, there's no question in that). It's been frustrating to say the least. I've thought about moving to London for this reason, but now I'm thinking it might be smarter to start something in Southampton, where there is, I feel, so much untapped potential for the community in the 20-30 age group (the average age here being closer to 40-45). I hope that by doing this it will strengthen the existing community and boost numbers at milongas rather than create a faction. This way I can hopefully find a suitable lady to be my tango partner and share my understanding at the same time.

Having said that, given all my current projects I'm not sure how I'll fit in running a tango class. Still, in the mean time I'm letting off some steam and developing my ideas by putting together a tango syllabus. Just for my own learning it will be useful to boil down my understanding into clearly presented blocks. I've chosen to split the ideas into the categories: social, stylistic and technical. I'll post the draft notes here. Comments very welcome!

my year in the making online book launch

Friday, 14 August 2009 at 06:45

I write this after working solidly through the day, night, morning and early afternoon (it's now 3.30pm, although with the curtains drawn you could hardly tell). I feel a bit trippy, but not that tired. I guess I just needed to get it out there.

For those who don't know, last year I wrote a book, about having healthy and loving relationships, inspired by many life experiences and meetings. I've tried to make it as easy to read as possible, having a good mix of practical advice and useful insights. Topics range from internal dialogues (the things we often tell ourselves) to sex to fear of rejection to how to approach first meetings and developing good rapport, while sharing your true character, to developing your character and accepting others more easily. It's broad enough to show how many of the elements of happy relationships are woven together, yet condensed enough to provide real meat on each topic - I hope.

Since those first weeks of flowing inspiration, I've been editing, expanding and generally improving it (thanks to many friends for all the feedback). Along side that came the software to process, personalize and secure it in digital format so I could sell it as an ebook. You really would not believe the number of hours (and lines of code) that went into all that. Ironically perhaps, I've been a bit of a hermit this last year working on this project. But now, finally it's ready. Well actually the website went online a couple of weeks ago and I sold my first copy only a few hours after it went live (it felt great!), but it is only now that I feel the website is worth shouting about. I've put many new features and refinements in place, a social bookmarking widget, easy book feedback form and display, animated intro banner text, funky page background, nice buttons, new pages etc. plus lots of things you can't see. You can even decide how much you pay for the book! (Thought it would be an interesting experiment and allow those who are really hard up to get it where they might not otherwise have been able to.)

So now, with all the SEO, page compression, image CSS JS optimization, XHTML complience, Google analytics - and what have you - in place, I feel it's ready to meet the world en mass. After I've had a bit of sleep I shall crystalize my plan for putting it all over the web.

Ideally I'd really like a bit more feedback on the book (esp. from guys - it's aimed equally at both men and women, but so far women have been more active in giving feedback) and the free guide and also very much the website, before putting all my energy into letting the world know about it.

So, I have a favour to ask anyone reading this.

A) If you've either read a draft of the book and thought it was good, like what you see on the website or in the free guide - and you're on facebook,, digg or any of the other social networking sites, please take half a minute to click on the share button on the website and share it with your networks, with a couple of words from you. This will really help me!

B) If you're a guy, curious about the book and would be up for giving me some honest feedback on it, I will give you a free copy! Just let me know who you are. I already know it's a great read from the feedback so far, but some more male opinions will help me balance and refine it that last degree.

C) If you take a look at the website and notice something that doesn't look or work right, or think of some addition that would really improve it - let me know! (Or if you think, 'wow, that's really cool!' it would be great to know that too..)

Ok, so if you could help me with one or more of the above I'd be very grateful!

I should probably try and get some rest soon.

Ciao for now,

ah, home

Wednesday, 29 July 2009 at 16:55
It's good to be home. Gum's still a major pain, but got some new pills now... Had a chance to reflect more on my journey. What a great time! I didn't mention before the wonderful musicians that played tango for us through the week. We had a visiting tango band, an orchestra made up of the festival participants, almost operatic singing, piano and bass and of course bandoneon. Bliss. Thinking now of the SFTX ( 2010, and before that the winter Taboe camp in NL. Homer and Cristina (one of the founders of SFTX) were a real inspiration as usual, both personally and in their classes. Maria and Ismael were also excellent, they had such grace and timing in their movements. There was one moment where they used the first beat of a song after the soft intro to move into close embrace. It is one of my strongest mental images from the festival. I hope to keep in touch with some of the interesting people I met there. It always makes me smile just how easy it is to meet people either doing or thinking along similar lines as you in the tango crowd.

So, now that I'm back, the matter of paying the rent arises. After a clarifying meet with my business partner, we've decided to take a little longer over the Champagne Singles launch event, to give us time to refine and prove the idea on a smaller scale first and built up demand. So, the 5th Sept is off. It's for the best I feel, especially as the venue lease holder was served with an eviction notice. It also gives me more time now to focus on my book, which I feel has a better chance of making money sooner, so, lets see what happens in the coming weeks.

I do feel a little embarrassed about postponing the event though, telling so many people about it, accepting their generosity in helping and telling their contacts, now to have it not go ahead as planned. I don't like not doing what I say I'm going to do, but sometimes things happen beyond our control (actually quite often), so that's life!

It's great also to have a little more space now to move the PePol project forward, something bigger and grander and with the potential to make a real contribution to combating climate change. We're finalising the overview document and mockups before seeking funding, so more details when we do.

Tango was strange tonight at Archers, probably need to give it a rest for a wee bit.

A quick note on "switch catches" - some of the combinations that fit into the idea are of course very well known, it's the wrapping it up as an idea and exploring the various unusual, yet relatively straight forward possibilities of it I feel is new.

To bed.

Taking something good

Sunday, 26 July 2009 at 13:25
The most pressing reason I write this is that I miss home, which would normally feel quite strange as I generally feel at home wherever I find myself, but things aren't as they normally are. I also feel like I'm forgetting some of my own language having spoken almost exclusively to people with limited English (sadly my only language) the last 2 and a bit weeks.

At the moment I'm tired and sick, but also feeling grateful for the many unexpected things I've experienced in these days away. I spent some time with a very beautiful woman and shared some good understandings. The memories are settling into a sunny botanical garden of clear moments now. I remembered not to hold on so much to regret and trust in people's strength a little more. I then spend almost a week diving into the German tango scene here at the Phantastango festival in Braunsbedra. This place is spectacular, like a dreamlike mix of an art gallery, heavy industry factory and church, the the suspended swinging sofas, giant drills and tall, arched windows. It was good to meet so many faces I already knew from other venues around Europe and everyone was very welcoming. I think I was a bit of a novelty being the only Englishman here - which has bit hard sometimes, not having a clue about the details of what anyone around you is talking about. But when they can people have often translated and I've met some great people here who'd I'd like to keep in touch with. Amen for tango.

I was just about balancing my work (deadlines looming for a new event, see and dancing, having some great tango exchanges and input from the teachers and my favourite dancers here and getting a lot out of just observing the classes and demos (I was too late to book the ones I would have been interested in, and besides I find there's little point unless you know you'll be working with a partner who's vaguely on the same page as you in their tango), when a few days ago I felt very tired, with a strong headache and a very sore throat. The next morning I woke up with a brite red, swollen gum at the back of the mouth, so much so it was starting to cover my molar, meaning I was biting down on gum when closing my mouth fully. You can imaging how much fun eating then became. The gum has now changed colours (hopefully just healing from the biting) and I'm liquidizing my food as best I can. People have been extremely kind here, I've had massages, homeopathic treatments and many kind words from people I barely know. While I wasn't dancing I got some decent pictures of the tango action and the fine group performance on the final evening. Today I was taken to a dentist by one of the attendees here and given a painkiller injection and some anti-biotics and told to get the tooth out as soon as I get home. Nice. But if it works that's ok with me. I'd neglected to take out travel insurance, but she didn't charge me. So, such a lot to be grateful for, but I'm feeling quite fed up still. Simply bitting into a sandwich without wincing again will feel great. Feels good to write this.

I'm hear now, day 9, with the cleanup crew, helping out and staying an extra night as my train leaves tomorrow. I have a bucket of blended pasta, potato, peanuts, tomato, olives and port cutlets next to me and a Becks green lemon - which is not quite as affective as the double bourbon was, but tastes so much better. I'd orginally planned to having a look around the churches and landscapes. Unfortunately it will be another 72 hours before I see an English morning again and can book an emergency dental appointment. Pants. But on the plus side this experience will probably work out to be a useful one, tough one's usually do.

Take care

ps. in terms of personal tango learning, for me the most important things have been observing more carefully the weight tranfer onto my left foot (as I have left knee troubles) and continuing to develop my sensitivity to the followers axis (which of course allows more comfortable and peaceful dance as well as crazy sliding volcada type action). perhaps I'll write more on that when I have more energy. Just one more thing. I've named the set of techniques I've developed (accepting someone, somewhere, sometime may have done the same) and that often flavours my dancing. "Switch catches". I might change it, but I like it for now. Essentially variation on the theme of some kind of catch joined to another via 1 or 2 baredas and/or a weight change, most often with the same leg of the leader doing the foot play. The idea can also be used with secarda ganchos, with the secarda rasing the leg to be 'caught' with a gancho and then bought back through into potentially into another catch - either mordida or gancho freeze. This concept rarely fail to bring a smile and giggle to a follower when performed well. One of the great things about these things is that some of them are rather little and simple things that most leaders should be able to do with a little practice, and of course when divilered as a concept provide ready avenues of exploration. I shall aim to write more about "Switch catches" before long. Getting well again and sorting financial life are priorities now.

There is a space

Sunday, 7 June 2009 at 09:45
There is a space

There is a space in my heart.
How can I fill it?
What movements fold it into a flower,
or incantations summon the essence of a sunny day
to fill it to the brim?
Is it always there?
Will there be a time where I dance
with a twofold, resonant passion,
enduring celebration of a life shared?
I will turn about this space,
with movements and incantations -
appreciating the moments,
until I find a fit that wants to dance.

(poem written in a distracted few minutes while slogging away at some code, on my own, inside, on a sunny day and remembering with a tint of sadness some beautiful tango moments)

Homer and Cristina in Cambridge, 2nd-4th May

Tuesday, 5 May 2009 at 11:59

I was very impressed with the Cambridge tango scene, and once again with Homer and Cristina's workshops. I've danced in a crypt before (The Crypt, London, a little pricey for the dancing time, but highly recommended), but this was the first time I'd danced in the church, surrounded by huge stone pillars, crosses and stained glass windows. We arrived around 9pm, Saturday and the thing that struck me most when I walked in were the excellent, 'celestial butterfly' theme decorations. There must have been well over a 100 origami butterflies resting on the walls and tables, soaking in the rays from the multi-sized hanging lights arranged as if in orbit of each other.

People were thin on the ground initially, but I soon got the impression that Cambridge was one of the major tango spots outside London. There were certainly enough dancers from London (and various places around Europe) in attendance. The place was rammed by 11 and I had some great tango experiences.

Around the time it got seriously busy I found my host for the weekend. One of the kindest and most considerate guys I've met in a while. House keys, 'help yourself to anything in the fridge' (dangerous words if you know my appetite), his bike to ride around on, a decent mattress, a map for every place I might want to go, with a route already highlighted, an excellent breakfast and good company to boot.

I'd left planning the weekend late (as in 4 days before), so only got to do one workshop, but I think it was the right one for me. 'His and hers, pitter patter' – making small steps to each of those fast little beats of the syncopations, embellishments and solos in tango and milonga.

It built nicely on the Kiss-me Good-night workshop the previous week in Oxford. Sometimes these little beats, are in double time, sometimes more like quad-time, so the steps have to be small. Homer and Cristina explored several options for this foot play: the leader doing it, while the follower continued normal steps or was still, the follower doing it only, and finally both doing it at the same time (and not necessarily the same pitter-patter – I think it looks and feels pretty cool when it's different but harmonious). The keys seemed to be:

  • Isolation of the open side hand and isolation (or disconnection if not leading a step) of the closed side arm when just the leader is doing it. Imagine your hand fixed in space and the rest of your body moving around it. The 'no step' lead. Or make every point of contact give as smooth an impetus as possible for a normal step, while your feet do funky pitter patter craziness. The follower will always be able to tell something is going on down there, you just need to distinguish that awareness from the perception of a lead.

  • Slight lift (with sense of compression that results) in the embrace to invite the follower to join the leader in pitter pattering. (if you sink it seems to result in heavier (more tiring) steps.)

  • Provision of a 'safe zone' where the follower feels there is the safe space to play along side the leader. In promenade and circular forward steps are two of the easer positions for the follower to pitter patter. It's a fun exercise for the leader and follower to walk side by side ('promenade' embrace) for a track or two and interpret the music together in this way.

  • Use with discretion – some dancers (leaders or followers) will get a little freaked out if you do this. Most dancers will get a little fatigued if you do this at every opportunity. It's often nicer when it's a well executed surprise.

Obviously this is much easier if you know the track, but you can often recognize patterns in new songs and it's such fun if you just nail a solo with complete connection to the music. Homer suggested around 3 years of practice before this becomes seamless and effortless. I reckon the simpler options with just 3 or 4 little steps could be picked up to a level where it becomes fun for both dancers with a few weeks practice by the majority of dancers. Certainly by the end of the class there were a lot of people who were doing it very musically.

This workshop and the next that I watched (step-through colgadas) lead to an onslaught of ideas I wanted to try out. I love to chain steps together, ganchos, secada, baredas, they can all be chained to great effect. The one that struck me just as I was about to go to sleep, early Monday morning, was a chain of alternating secardas in a constant figure of eight colgada with each dancer face to face and the feet coming back to shoulder width apart, side by side (think of you both sitting on a high stool, facing each other with your feet in contact) between each secarda. Ask me if you want to see it. Another was the 'bouncing bareda', think feet immitating the path of a bebble as it skims across a lake.

The points I picked up from the step-through colgadas workshop were:

  • When catching the followers foot in preparation for a colgada (or at any time), do it before there is any weight on the foot you're catching with. Too often I step to just beyond the position I expect the followers foot to land. It's fine if you judge perfectly, but if they over step or you under step you end up being kicked (which even if it doesn't hurt can make the follower feel like they're not moving with grace).

  • The lead for step through colgada can be thought of as a rocking weight change, projecting forward to initiate the colgada, coming back to the far leg to counter balance then returning to the front leg as the follower steps through (maintaining the colgada until the end, not 'ka-plunking' out of it).

  • When teaching colgadas a lot of time can be taken up helping people get a good, stable, comfortable posture in counter-balance.

    I like the idea of simile and role-play in tango learning. Homer uses it well. Writing this I just had the idea of colgada being framed as the sitting movement at a well-to-do tea party. Very 'correct' posture, shoulders set back, back in straight up position, not slouched back or hips thrust forward (so uncouth) head up, knees together (some gap allowed for gentlemen), etc. So the game could be 1. 'accept invitation for tea' (embrace) 2. 'in a genteel fashion, take a seat' (the colgada). You could even 'sip the tea' with one hand to test balance. If you just say 'shoulders back, bend at the knees, don't stick bum out', more than half of the people don't really take it in. If they're are 'in role' they have a stronger mental picture to follow. The scenario is a shorthand for mechanical instructions.

On the Saturday for some reason I was particularly aware from partner to partner just what a world of difference the quality of balance and smooth feedback/ resistance in the embrace makes (perhaps because some dancers were just so incredibly balanced and sensitive) - taken to the extreme, like dancing on a smooth, flat, reflective surface that stretches seductively out before you inviting infinite possibilities, compared to dancing in the deep ridges and furrows on the back of a giant beast as it stirs, trying to topple you, or the other extreme of dancing with a frightened bird who flies away at the slightest twitch. There can be challenges and rewards to tango with all extremes, finding new heights of connection and creativity, taming the beast, calming the bird, etc. In pretty much all my dances in Cambridge I was able to find that connecting, creative space, accept maybe a few on Monday, but that was more down to my fatigue than anything.

On the Monday I noticed once again a particular, less than helpful habit I have sometimes when a good connection isn't happening. I turn away. Yup, hardly going to help, but that's what I do. My chest turns to the V embrace angle and my body shifts to the right of the follower, so it's almost like, fend-off-the-shoulder-barge-tango. I exaggerate slightly. It mainly comes down to intermittent loss of confidence I think as it happens a little more with more experienced followers, when it happens. It can be really subtle too - just a slight shift in angle and a tensing of the closed side shoulder. I remember back to my lesson with Isobella at the Taboe camp, 'turn inward to the follower, Joe, keep the embrace soft always', repeated many times. If I can just make this my default reaction to a troubled connection I'll be onto a good thing. A little more practice.

It was around 4:45am, on the Saturday, when the sun just started to creep through the stained glass windows of the church, while the few remaining die-hard tango junkies where still at it. Such a gorgeous image. Welcome to the church of tango.

Homer and Cristina I suspect won't be back to the UK for at least a couple of years. Part of me would quite like to follow them around the world on their tango sharing adventure, but I have other work to be done (more on that another time).

Since getting back, for those who know of the mission, my hurricane spin is coming on nicely.

Homer and Cristina in Oxford, 24th-26th April

Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 15:28
(For the uninitiated, I dance Argentine Tango, a lot, but not as much as I'd like. It's like a conduit of play, intimacy and joyful discovery of self and others, all in a dance)

A friend had put me onto Homer a couple of months back, and his Organic tango idea. It sounded great and I liked the way he looked in videos, but the guy spends most of his time stateside, so I thought, 'maybe next year', like so many other things I'd do today if I had the money and time. I was delighted then to hear he was doing a couple of weekend workshops in the UK. I write this after returning from the first one in Oxford.

For quite a while now, my lust for ever fresh and funkier combinations and outlandish maneuvers has been tempered with a quest to find the underlying principles of tango dance, those foundations of communication, the qualities in the embrace and 'way of engaging', that when imbibed, free the dancer up to do and create pretty much anything in the dance and have it feel musical and connected and natural. It was my time in the Netherlands that really got me thinking this way, and I was so happy to hear Homer and Cristina so strongly and clearly focus on the underlying principles.

It wasn't just the principles in the embrace and posture, it was also underlying structures in the music itself that they picked out and drilled down on. Excellent!

Their style of teaching was very relaxed, friendly and encouraging. In a busy session, everyone seemed to get useful personal attention. I made some shorthand notes on the ideas (as I understood them at least) that most interested me, which I'll expand on below.

  • Floating head - The idea that the head should (by default) be directly above the axis (and the chest above the hips) and not tilted forward. This results in the head feeling quite free on the neck - or 'floating'. This I was reminded makes a huge positive difference to balance with rotary movements, as well as allowing visual connection even in a close embrace and giving more sense of space to both dancers (although it is nice to have head contact, it's great to have the option of not having them glued together in close embrace). Another important effect is getting rid of sore necks at the end of a night's dancing.
  • Equal and opposite resistence - I couldn't help smiling when I heard this one. The penny had dropped in the Taboe camp in NL over newyears. I'd tried to bring the idea back, but it seemed quite alien to most people I tried sharing it with. Now here it was again being spread in the UK. Basically, by default through every point of contact if the leader pushes (not shoves), the follower pushes back. If the leader pulls (not hauls) the follower pulls back - both maintaining the integrity of their embrace. Before I was focused on this as really opening up counter balance movements. This time Homer and Cristina were focusing on the sensitivity and sense of connection that results from it. I've found a lot of teachers kind of touch on this principle indirectly, but few really boil it down to this level - which is a shame, because I feel it's such a fundamental and liberating one!

    If you're reading this and thinking 'well if the follower gives the same opposite force back, how do you actually move anywhere?', the answer seems to be about controling where the force is coming from (also see: building resistence through compression, below). If the leader's whole body is moving, say, backwards and their enclosing arm is drawing the follower with them, then that's a pretty clear step or volcada (depending on sense of support and lift) and it would be very hard for the follower to counter-act that. However if the leader allows some release in the enclosing arm and does not step back, at the same time as beginning to move his chest and open arm back, then this is countered by the follower to maintain balance in the couple, resulting in something like a colgada, or a pulling counter-balance that can be used well in turns. Maybe you could say, 'if you feel a force which doesn't immediately invite a step, then counter-act it'. They also make the observation that many followers like to be very light in the level of resistence they give, especially beginners, but ironically this is the hardest way to get a good sense of connection, much easier with a medium of even strong (which is probably closer to medium in reality from the leader's perspective) level of resistence. If you start with this, get that sense of constant connection and really experience what it feels like, then it can be easier to reduce the resistence in the embrace and still stay connected. 
  • Smooth resistence - really a consequence of the above point of applying equal resistence. We started with walking and looking for a totally constant feeling of resistence, so both follower and leader were fully balanced and engaged with each other, no 'hickups' of falling into a step or stalling short of one. So a big part of this is tuning your step length to each other. The follower steps too long and the resistence (and the connection) falls away and the leader feels like he's falling, or being pulled into a void. Or with a little shared axis if the leader takes too short a step there is a sense of stalling before the next step, which interrupts the flow of the dance and greatly reduces options. After walking we did a weight transfer and cross sequence to really test the smoothness of resistence through every point. I think this is a great thing to focus on in a practica context. Pick your favourite movements or combinations and make it so the resistence in the embrace is totally smooth through every point of movement - then repeat 50 times. It's worth saying there's a big difference between pushing back into someone (good - if it's intentional) and pushing down on someone (generally bad). The stability and power we need to apply smooth resistence comes from really engaging our legs with the floor, feeling and keeping our connection with it, with both feet. They observed that many followers actually project back too far when they step, leading to weakening of the connection at that point. One of the last things they said about this idea of constant equalibrium and connection from equal resistence in the embrace was that 'They knew nothing that came after, nothing that was more advanced. If you get this, you've got it all.'. Food for thought. 
  • Building resistence through compression - Sometimes the music suggests a building of tension or energy or a drawing out of movement. One very effective way of expressing that is to build the resistence in the embrace, so there is temporarily more force shared between leader and follower (which later settles down to a comfortable default) This can be achieved through compression, the leader drawing his embrace in towards the centre of the followers chest. The follower naturally opposes this to keep the integrity of her frame and posture - and so resistence is built. With elevated restance, longer, slower, more powerful looking and feeling movements can be made, as well as very rapid ones.
  • Rhythm signatures - The idea that beneath classical tango there is a very common sequence of accents. DA-da ... da-DA, or 'Kiss-me, good-night', as they put it, was the one focused on. We explored different ways of highlighting these accents in the music. Some options: small rock-steps, weight changes, side-steps, side steps with weight change in middle (very cool), or quick little ochos. They also presented the idea of selectively highlighting certain accents, like only the first, or first two, or building a sequence, like "Kiss.", "Kiss-me.", "Kiss-me, good-night." as the music progresses, etc. This sort of thing can really help bring the music to life through your feet.
  • Ways for the follower to highlight accents, even when the leader isn't - This one I loved, but as they said, it does depend of having a leader who doesn't insist on the follower always doing precisely what is lead and nothing more (like clear reflection, not adding any additional character - which can feel lovely for both dancers, but can also be a little lonely for the leader and creatively frustrating for the follower), or one who enjoys a sense of musical collaboration. The idea is to move your body in such a way that expresses the music/beat/accent, but doesn't force the leader to stop or take a step (in other words not seizing the lead - which sometimes if done well can be fun and interesting also). This can be done in so many ways, foot tapping through a step, little side steps, hip wiggles or twitches, shoulder movements (isolating from hips), even finger taps on the leaders back (love it!). It depends on the mood, but this can be such a lovely way of really engaging emotionally and musically with your partner and the music.
On the Sunday I only attended the 2nd workshop 'The Wrap'
  • Leg wraps - Later they demo'd 101 different ways to wrap, but the session was focused on the principles of what opens the possibilities up. We started with a wrap from the hero, Side, forward, side, leg goes in and wrap, back. The first cool thing was the teapot embrace (leader's right hand behind their own back), to avoid 'cheating' the movement with arm movement compensating for lack of whole body movement. They covered different options for exiting the wrap, generally favouring those that don't result in a big swinging leg that arcs out across the floor (potentially taking out couples along its travels) - plain unwraping and collecting, bouncing (raising the knee), and caressing (on exit and on way down to collection)  For safety, followers keep toes pointed on entry and exit. It's worth pointing out that if followers give a little bit of 'omph' to wrap it feels good and assists in keeping the movement going. Also by generally unwrapping with your knee inline with the direction of your hips (i.e. rotate your hips when unwrapping instead of circling the leg in isolation of the hips) you allow for cool things like a 2nd wrap on the re-bound for the same leg before it lands. :)

    For the leader, the key for the type of wraps they showed was to open the hip and project the leg with bent knee making inside thigh contact with the follower's leading leg, not the trailing one ( the trailing one is the one that's going to wrap) and to keep the rotation going (unless you want to freeze it). This lets the follower know exactly where you are and helps to share the point of rotation. It also helps (for couples with good height matches) for the leader to raise the heel of the leg-to-be-wrapped leg leaving only the ball on the floor, it makes a close, full wrap easier.

    We also did wraps from forward ochos, and from over rotated backward ochos (also known as backward ganchos). Finally before the demo they introduced 'double wraps', where the leg does a double take and wraps twice (or more) as the leader quickly reverses the movement part way, or where the follower decides it would fit nicely with the music, even if not lead (again, use good judgement according to who you're dancing with). There was a lovely game to help followers get a sense of sending the whole leg through, not just flicking at the knee, which tends not to feel as nice and more easily results in injury to the leader. The game was to stand side by side, hip to hip, arms around shoulder and waist. The 'follower' (it's good to swap roles for this) swings their whole leg back and forth with constant tempo. The 'leader' puts their inside leg behind the follower or (a little trickier) in front of the follower's standing leg, so that the swinging leg as it's swinging back from the front-most position is intercepted and wraps around the leader's leg. The high-light for me from this session was figuring out the flowing double wrap on alternate legs of the leader they did in their demo. So cool! Ask me if you're curious :)
So, in summary, highly recommeded. If you get a chance to do a workshop with this couple, do it. Besides the tango, they're also lots of fun to hang out with.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I think that's most of the key tango points I picked up from the weekend. Oxford was beautiful and I had some gorgeous, playful, sensual dances with some lovely people. I was lucky enough to be put up by a friend's kind family for 2 nights, so I also got to fly a baby around a living room (narrowly avoiding getting any sick on me), sleep (for about 4 hours) on a giant self-inflating air bed, and have breakfast made for me. All in all a pretty cool weekend.

Right, back in Southampton and back to the business of getting some of my various money making, world changing projects to a point of completion...

welcome to my blog (again)

at 15:24
Hi, this marks the beginning of my blogging again. It's not going to be like last time (or the time before that), I've mellowed out a little, I'm less public and have less time to write such things. I think this will be more short snapshots of experiences, little reflections and reviews of various (most commonly tango) events. Enjoy.

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