Category Archives: Uncategorised

Monochrome, People, Uncategorised

What does the future hold for Morris dancing?

early warning signs all was not quite right inside

The men of Chelmsford Morris in full flow

On Wednesday night I had the great honour of joining Chelmsford Morris (the men’s group) to find out what off-season folk dancing looked like. The blinding white suits and buckled waistcoats were nowhere to be seen. Instead, a friendly gaggle of men in jeans and polo shirts were there to greet me.

My reason for being there was essentially an occupational afterthought to a previous piece I had written about this particular club’s concerns for its future given an apparent dearth of “fit, mildly eccentric” men.

Thankfully, since writing that piece, two men have stepped out of their own doors and up to the plate (two women have also since joined).

But it all begged a question – what does the future hold for Morris dancing?

I have a confession to make. I first saw Morris dancing in the Woolshops area of Halifax. I was 11 or 12 years old and out with friends. We mocked the dancers. I felt the whole episode was rather embarrassing. In my mind Morris was consigned to those activities – like shouting about God in the middle of a street (usually atop a box) or walking around as a human A-board sign – that were early warning signs all was not quite right inside.

Invited to join in for a dance, those views formed in mid childhood began to stir.

Ocklebacking with the Chelmsford group

Ocklebacking with the Chelmsford group

But only briefly. Because – and this might be an age thing – I found something quite wonderful in this increasingly anti-social age that a group of guys would meet up, get some exercise, immerse themselves in Centuries-old folk culture without a care of what people thought of them and then go for a pint.

Perhaps, I thought, joining a Morris group is actually an early warning sign that all is very right inside. And looking at the club’s newest members (one is 30 years old), I think the future of Morris might be very rosy indeed.

The bagman of Chelmsford Morris, Celia Kemp

The bagman of Chelmsford Morris, Celia Kemp

People, Uncategorised

Tidal Surges: Why would people ignore an evacuation call?

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Last Thursday I drove out into the snow for the village of Jaywick after the police announced they were planning to evacuate the 2,500 or so residents ahead of a tidal surge.

I was disarmed by the honesty of the police officer in charge of the evacuation that night. Without prompting, he voiced his fears that the evacuation call might be ignored.

As I wrote for the BBC, the officer was keen to get the message across that the police were “not crying wolf”.

It almost beggared belief that potential fatal floodwaters were expected but the people in the line of fire planned to remain in their homes and “sit it out”.

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

I wondered whether there was something about this situation that reflected the times in which we live – one in which the opinions of “experts” are lambasted daily, forecasting ridiculed and truth decided democratically rather than empirically.

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Perhaps there was an element of that. One man explained nothing bad happened during the last tidal surge in 2013, so nothing would happen this time around.

But what made most people decide to stay put was the existence of a greater fear – that of burglary/looting. In their own minds, many people had decided the risk to property was greater than risk to life and chose to ignore the advice of the experts.

And the surge passed without incident, thankfully, yet again.

But what about next time?

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Places, Projects, Uncategorised

Inside Reggie Kray’s old prison cell at Blundeston

There are some places you never imagine you’ll end up.

Take, for example, the prison cell which was once home to one of east London’s most notorious gangsters.

Reggie Kray, to be precise.

He was once at the now defunct HMP Blundeston near Lowestoft. I’m told by a former guard he never requested his personal belongings to be brought in as he thought his time there would be brief. He was wrong.

His first Blundeston home was Cell 116.

I got an incredible tour of the whole prison thanks to the Freemasons of Stradbroke Lodge and a terrific security guard called Paul Dunn.

Yes, Cell 116 was intriguing. But it was solitary confinement and the unexpected artwork which blew my mind there.

The piece I did for the BBC news website is here.

Here are the images from the shoot.

Uncategorised

Unidentified bodies, Cockley Cley and the people trying to give the unnamed dead a name

I couldn’t believe there were more than 1,000 people in the UK who were dead, unnamed and with nobody to mourn them.

In this age of social media where we know what a celebrity has for breakfast, where all our movements in public are apparently covered by CCTV, how is it possible that something as significant as the death of somebody could pass so anonymously?

At first I was concerned my suggestion of investigating how this might be so might fall on deaf ears, dismissed as overly macabre. It didn’t. My colleagues and superiors at the BBC embraced the idea. More importantly, the Great British public found the situation as appalling as I did.

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

My online work on this was viewed by more than 1million people, while my radio efforts were listened to on radio stations across the country and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and our Inside Out film, much of which I had the opportunity to film and direct myself, reached a far higher audience than usual. And there was a short film called “How do you reconstruct a Human Head?” which was well received, despite (or perhaps because of?) its unusual title.

And the story was taken up by others in the days that followed, including the regional and national press and other broadcasters including ITV and SKY. Such things don’t matter to me in terms of ego, they do matter to me in terms of a subject’s importance reaching as wide an audience as possible.

One of the cases we looked at was that of an unidentified woman, whose decapitated body was found bound and covered in a dustsheet off a rural path in Cockley Cley, Norfolk 41 years ago.

Cockley Cley is a beautiful, though other-worldly, place. I wanted to spend some time in the area off the beaten track before meeting the detective trying to solve the case. These are some of the pictures I took that day.

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley