Dreams to Reality at TEDxExeter 2016

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2016 it was “Dreams to Reality”; in 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here belatedly are my 2016 posts.

  1. Living the dream
    An introduction to the series… Once upon a time, the Old English dream meant “joy, mirth, noisy merriment” or “music”.
  2. First a dream
    “All we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.”
  3. Dream succeeds dream
    In the UK, the dream of suffrage has been succeeded by the dream of full equality for women.
  4. “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”
    For Carl Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity.
  5. Killing dreams
    Tread softly because you might be treading on others’ dreams… or your own.
  6. Dream world
    When you wish upon a star, you’re a few million lightyears late. That star is dead. Just like your dreams.
  7. “Einstein’s Dreams”
    In his dreams, Einstein imagines many possible worlds, set in the towns of his homeland, in the valleys of the Alps, on the banks of the River Aare
  8. Technicolor Dreamcoats
    What is your dream? Are you willing to let it upend your reality?
  9. Dreamtime
    Some individuals have forgotten the songlines. They have become alienated from the land and cannot bear too much reality.
  10. I have a dream
    Martin Luther King dreamed of a better world, and he had been to the mountaintop. And yet it wasn’t about the mountain, but about the view over the mountain to what lies ahead.
  11. Dream location
    How we can help shape the place we live, through local government and at the grass roots.
  12. Dream team
    Even in football, it is possible to have dreams of community, to play as a team instead of individual starlets.

TED and TEDx things that interest me

I’ve been the TEDxExeter Storyteller since the beginning, mainly blogging articles inspired by each year’s theme, and then live-blogging from the back of the theatre during the event itself. In 2016 I started a new series of things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be my responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on…

  1. Five go to the voting booth
    Brexit and young people and how to get them to vote.
  2. Watching TED talks to know you’re not alone
    There are myriads of reasons why people watch TED and TEDx talks, and myriads of outcomes.
  3. Giving TED talks to know you’re not alone
    The benefits of collecting so many statistics on the number of times a talk is viewed and the related web pages are accessed

The Porch Magazine

A message from Porch editor, Gareth Higgin, via me…

Don’t despair! The world might seem like it’s in crisis, but I think it’s the story we’re telling that needs the most healing. The good news is, we have some medicine!

I want to tell you about The Porch, a new magazine and community that I’m writing for – the first issue is available today!

The Porch is born out of the idea that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better; that beauty is the antidote to fear and violence; and that a conversation is better than a lecture. It’s a community embodying creativity, hope, and peace of mind amid a noisy, depressing, dysfunctional media landscape. If you like Third Way, The Wittenberg Door, or The Sun magazine, I think you’ll love The Porch.

The Porch lives in four ways:

  • Our magazine, published at least six times a year, committed to one thing – great writing telling a better story, making a better world.
  • Our festival, where everyone is invited to come together for a long weekend of creative conversation, music, laughter, challenge and inspiration.
  • Our online community, where we learn from and encourage each other to live hopefully, even when it seems really dark out there.
  • Surprises – subscribe and you never know what gifts await!

I’m delighted to be involved in The Porch, which brings together so many of the streams of work and passion that have been part of my life: storytelling, peacemaking, activism, laughter, and most of all, good conversation about making a better world. I’d love to have you with us.

So I’m inviting you to do two things:

1: Consider joining the conversation, by subscribing here. Subscriptions are available to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.

2: Like the Facebook page, and tell others about The Porch – we want to grow this community to make a genuine impact in our lives (and, at a time of challenge for writers and publishing, we also want to pay our writers well).

Thank you for your helping nurture a slow conversation about beautiful and difficult things. I hope that The Porch contributes to your own peace, wellbeing, and sense of community.



We’ve sold out young people, but not in the way you think

So, in the fall-out from the EU Referendum, here’s the much-shown graph of how three-quarters of young people polled said they would vote Remain, and how they were sold out by older people voting Leave.

EURef - Voting

But wait a minute… Sky’s final poll says only about a third of people aged 18-24 may have voted.

EURef - Turnout

So the votes for Remain as a percentage of eligible voters could actually have been the lowest in the 18-24 age group.

EURef - Adjusted

Why was turnout so low? I don’t know. Maybe it always has been. But I suggest our young people are so disengaged now because we sold them out a long time ago. What do we do about it?

And why were there no exit polls, which would give us better information?

Data sources

  Turnout Remain Leave
18-24 36% 73% 27%
25-34 58% 62% 38%
35-44 72% 52% 48%
45-54 75% 44% 56%
55-64 81% 43% 57%
65+ 83% 40% 60%

Projected voting adjusted for projected turnout

  Remain Did not vote Leave
18-24 26% 64% 10%
25-34 36% 42% 22%
35-44 37% 28% 35%
45-54 33% 25% 42%
55-64 35% 19% 46%
65+ 33% 17% 50%

Free Art Friday Exeter

I started Free Art Friday Exeter in July 2015 as part of my “Particulart: Up in the Air” exhibition at the Glorious Art House in Exeter.It has its very own Facebook page.

Free Art Friday is a worldwide movement that has existed for many years. Artists leave pieces in public places to be discovered and taken for free. Its founder My Dog Sighs has given a talk at TEDxWarwick. He wrote this description of the movement on its Flickr group page:

Artwork placed on the street for any member of the public to enjoy and take home — go on, make someone’s day! Post only pictures of free art please.

Free Art Friday is not an original concept. There are many artists across the world making art and leaving it out on the street.

There are no rules. That’s the joy! In order to keep a record of exclusively free art you need to make sure the work is easily removable and does little or no damage to its environment.

Some put out canvas. Others use materials found on the street. Cardboard is popular but your imagination is your limit.

P.S. It doesn’t have to be Friday!

The concept of Free Art Friday has many strands.

For the artist, it is an opportunity to create work free from the constraints of commerce, to voice an idea, shout a political message or just amuse and confuse the viewer.

Art is so often tied to a need by the artist to ‘make a living’ and constrained by gallery and dealer issues. FAF focuses the artist on the act itself, giving complete artistic freedom as opposed to considering financial and commercial limits.

Many Free Art Friday participants’ work is humorous and good natured, hoping to cheer up the walk to work of the viewer. Hoping to make them question everything. To expect the unexpected and realise that along with the need to sell, promote, fight the system and rebel, there is also a need to embellish and entertain in a non profit way without the need to cause damage to property.

The act of removing the work intrigues. Almost an act of situationist art itself. Is there guilt? Why is it taken – as part of a street cleaning operation, consigned to the rubbish heap? or coveted and displayed? Are they artists themselves? Kids, willing to steal and destroy purely for the act of rebellion or someone never faced with something completely free, not promoting or selling? After all how many things do you know that are completely free, no strings attached?

All street artists, whether producing static or removable art, hope to promote discussion in one form or other: “Talk about me and my work”, “Question the images thrown at you”, or “Use your political power”.

(My Dog Sighs ’07)

I started by trying to give away my prototype for Particulart, the carbon dioxide that ended up a bit too big and time-consuming to knit. A bit of a wrench! The lady on Reception in the Exeter Civic Centre couldn’t quite grasp the point of Free Art Friday (“It’ll disappear within 5 minutes”… well, yes) and thought it better if I didn’t leave my carbon dioxide molecule there. So I took it to Exeter Library instead, and left it on a table in the café. Did anyone find it, did anyone see it and was intrigued but didn’t dare take it? Was it just binned by the café staff? Deafening silence!

There it rested until the new year and new resolutions, and I thought I’d get it going again. So I rolled up one of my prototype Soul Cube sheets into a scroll, tied with a ribbon, and nestled it among the Oxo Cubes in the city centre Tesco. Again, a deafening silence.

And then I met Cleo of Miss*C’s Graffiti Academy at an Exeter Visual Arts Forum. She knows the FAF founder My Dog Sighs, and was immediately interested, and started to crochet some beautiful butterflies to leave around Exeter and further afield.

I left a Green|Blue greetings card under a tree in Fore Street, and suddenly had my first find. I donated another carbon dioxide to a fundraising raffle for refugees (held on a Friday). After all, climate change was one factor leading to the unrest in Syria. Our last offerings (at the time of writing) were Mini Fashion Statements, tiny scrolls made in a Craftivists Collective workshop on craftivism, and left in the pockets of clothes for sale in stores around town.

Free Art Friday is what it is. Any one can get involved, leave art for others to find, and post on the Facebook page. My art is typically more political. Cleo’s butterflies are jewel-like and beautiful and have reached more people. She also inspired the set-up of Free Art Friday Exmouth, which has formed a group and will do its first drop during Exmouth Festival.

Interested? Go on, make someone’s day!


Who has the wisdom?

I adapted the following from a sermon I gave on Sunday 18th October during the Sidmouth Science Festival.

The Book of Job is part of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament, which also includes the Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.

It describes the troubles visited by Satan upon Job to test his faith, Job’s lament, and speeches from three friends that are supposed to bring him comfort, but could be summarised as: “You must have sinned, and so brought all this upon yourself.”

Job stoutly defends himself, and asks God to vindicate him, after which a fourth friend, Elihu, gives a long speech criticising the other three for failing to answer Job, and Job for his complaints. And then in Chapter 38, God finally arrives in a whirlwind and delivers an amazing bravura rebuke, at which point Job relents and is restored.

Let’s take two verses:

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
   or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
   Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
(Job 38:36-37, NRSV)

God’s speech does not come out of the blue; it all references earlier speeches. So when God asks “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?” Elihu has already five times referred to clouds, for example asking Job: “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect?”

The answer to these rhetorical questions is of course that only God has the wisdom. But what is wisdom? I am a bit of a nerd and like to look up the origin of words.

Wisdom is Old English, an elision of wise and doom. Wise is related to wisse, used by Chaucer to mean show or teach. The Ancrene Wisse was an anonymous 13th century monastic rule or guidance. And then doom is about judgement – as in the Doom paintings you see in some churches with God above and saints going to heaven on one side and sinners to hell on the other.

So wisdom goes beyond knowledge, to the weighing up of knowledge, and the application of knowledge, experience, intuition.

Now science means knowledge, from the Latin scire to know, probably from the Greek σχίζειν/skhizein to split – think schizophrenia. That’s how science works; it divides big questions up into smaller, manageable and hopefully answerable questions. So we have lots of scientific disciplines, and very focused research projects. It’s not a bad thing, and science has been incredibly successful on its own terms.

But there comes a time when necessary to put it all back together again, to gain an understanding of the whole system, to realise that life is not just about knowledge, and to be humble about not having all the answers – to have wisdom.

Earlier I wrote that God is the one with the wisdom, so I appear to have contradicted myself and the Book of Job. But maybe we start to have some inklings of wisdom gifted to us when we recognise that we are not actually God.

The word scientist was coined relatively recently, in 1834. Before then a person who did science, a 14th century word, was known as a natural philosopher – from the Greek φιλία/philia love and σοφία/sophia wisdom, so a scientist used to be a lover of the wisdom of natural things. Wouldn’t it be great to rediscover that meaning – “a lover of the wisdom of natural things”?

Most of my discussion so far has been about what happens up in the head. But for me “the wisdom of natural things” encompasses not just the head, but the wholeness of a person. Our mind is not separate from our soul, emotions and feelings, or our body. We experience natural things most through our body, after all, and we are in the season of Seasonal Affective Disorder, when I for one feel lower and like hibernating.

I quoted earlier “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?” This verse is difficult Hebrew, and has been translated in wildly divergent ways. The New International Version has it: “Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding?”

The words translated “in the inward parts” could literally mean “into the kidneys”. “Who has put wisdom into our kidneys?” Maybe we would say “heart” in our culture, but in any case, it is very physical language.

And God’s speech in Job is about physical phenomena, natural things: “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?” or “Who provides for the raven its prey?”

Our inklings of human wisdom, gifted by God, are not just in our heads, but come from a combination of knowledge, intuition, and physical gut, and ultimately by listening deeply to and waiting intently upon God the source of all wisdom.

In my art practice “Particulart: The art of knitting, chemistry, and gentle protest”, I am trying to help people to approach science and environmental issues in a variety of ways: through data and head knowledge, numbers and words; but also through the visual aspects; through the tactility of the physical representation; through play; and through reflection and contemplation.

I can’t hide that I intensely dislike most of our current government’s policies. They are not listening to scientists and other concerned citizens over many issues. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is happening, human activity is causing it, and it is the greatest threat to our continued existence. But the Chancellor views the environment as ‘red tape’ holding back economic activity, and consciously or unconsciously chooses not to understand that all economic activity and indeed life is entirely dependent on having an environment.

We are playing at being God, pretending we have wisdom while we just have knowledge, and sometimes we ignore even that. To repeat what I wrote earlier: wisdom goes beyond knowledge, to the weighing up and application of knowledge, experience, and intuition. And maybe we start to have some inklings of wisdom gifted to us when we recognise that we are not actually God.

So let us pray that the negotiators at COP21 in Paris – even those from the UK – have the humility to listen deeply and the willingness to seek wisdom through knowledge, intuition and physical gut feeling, and become lovers of the wisdom of natural things.


Taking the Long View at TEDxExeter 2015

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here are my 2015 posts.

  1. Magna Carta
    The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was the inspiration behind the 2015 theme. Why we chose that and not the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music.
  2. The telescope
    Taking the literal view of the Long View, a smattering of quite interesting factoids about the origins of the telescope and its name; the transit of Venus and Cook’s voyages; and the Interplanetary Scintillation Array and other more modern telescopes.
  3. Climate change and knitting
    The Guardian’s campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a Lenten Carbon Fast; and how I take the long view in my knitting and arts practice.
  4. If you go down to the woods today…
    The short-termism of deforestation, and some hopeful examples of the long view of reafforestation.
  5. Up the Women
    From Clause 40 in Magna Carta to HIllary Clinton via the suffragists and suffragettes – the long struggle for women’s political rights, and a call to vote on 7 May [sigh].
  6. Further together
    There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Also a tribute to the wonderful TEDxExeter team.

The day I jumped out of an aeroplane

I wrote a begging email on 9 May 2015…


I’m going to jump out of an aeroplane on 20 June 2015 to raise money for Hospiscare and I’d really appreciate your support.

Hospiscare does amazing work in caring for terminally ill people and providing respite for their carers, and relies on the generosity of many people to continue this work. I have had a surprising number of connections with them, through friends, family friends, work, church, and singing. So I wanted to do something to help.

Why jump out of an aeroplane? Well, why not? I’m told that 15,000ft is the highest possible skydive without needing an oxygen supply. As an aside, my jump will also be part of a Guinness World Record attempt as the biggest ever worldwide tandem skydiving event.

Donating to my JustGiving page is easy – just follow this link and click Donate: justgiving.com/Clare-Bryden. JustGiving sends your donation straight to Hospiscare so it’s a quick and safe way to donate. Alternatively, I will accept cash and cheques!

More about Hospiscare…

“Hospiscare makes a difference for thousands of people in Exeter, mid and east Devon. We deliver a wide range of high-quality care to ensure our patients make the most out of life.

“Hospiscare is dedicated to changing attitudes, bringing choice and dignity to families and helping them through difficult times. We take a lead, we work with others and we change the lives of patients and those around them.

“We provide nurses, doctors, therapists and volunteers who help patients to lead as normal a life as possible, giving both physical and emotional support.

“Hospiscare is not funded by the government or the NHS. We raise over 4 million annually to provide our service free of charge to patients and their families. We rely on generous donations and fundraising from the community to keep our vital service running.”

So if you are able to help, I and Hospiscare would be very grateful.

Thank you,

PS. I signed up to this before the General Election, and despite the result I am still planning to wear a parachute!!

On 20 June, the forecast was this…


Mist, fog, dark coud, light cloud, rain – too much weather to be conducive to jumping. My jump was postponed, so I rescheduled for 3 July.

I wrote another email on 27 July to my supporters…

A belated report and thank you.

It happened! Touch and go, as my doctor’s form didn’t have the proper stamp, which meant panicked form-refilling and scanning and emailing and stamping and signing and scanning and emailing and printing and stapling.

But anticipation gradually took over from stress, and then there was the spiral up to the jump height, the shuffling forward on the benches towards the gaping door, and the moment of sheer panic as I knelt on the edge and was tipped forward into oblivion, and then we levelled out and I could enjoy the sense of freefall for an all-too-short minute.

My original date was 20th June, which was also supposed to be an attempt on the world record for most skydives from an airfield in one day, but that had to be postponed owing to too much weather. I thought I may as well rearrange the jump for my birthday, 3rd July, so I was treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday on the way up – sweet but atonal. My jump partner Andy also took a wrist camera, set to take regular stills. I could view the shots after we got back down to earth, but didn’t pay to keep them! The attached were taken by my uncle, who nobly came to watch and hang around (there was a lot of hanging around), and the partner of one of the other jumpers.

My tandem guy Andy, with parachute

My tandem guy Andy, with parachute

Our parachute was number 4...

Our parachute was number 4…

...as you can clearly see!

…as you can clearly see!

Back down to earth

Back down to earth

Visibility was excellent – Exeter, Honiton, the Exe Estuary, and as far as Portland, Hinkley Point, and South Wales. The ascent to 15,000ft took about 10 minutes, and the descent under parachute from about 5,000ft took about 3 minutes, so I had a goodly time to look about. Parachuting felt almost as gentle as air ballooning. We tried a bit of aerobatics – a strong yank on the right strings set us spinning sharply… and my stomach to churning, so we stopped that.

Then there was just time to appreciate the solar farm and the pool by our landing site used for pond swooping before Andy told me it was time to raise my legs, and we came gliding in to land on our backsides.

Thank you once again for your support. Hospiscare were very impressed with my total of over £1,800. Would I do it again? Yes maybe, to fully experience that 5 seconds of terror!

You can still sponsor me at justgiving.com/Clare-Bryden



I will pour…

A short reflection I wrote for EcoChurch South West’s Carbon Fast 2015 – Day 7 – Wednesday. The overall theme is water.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. Isaiah 44:3

At the Greenbelt Festival in 2012, Kathy Galloway spoke for ten minutes on the topic “Is God… Scottish?” As a cloudburst deposited its soaking load on the festivalgoers outside, she reminded us of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, that God sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. In Scotland, she said, “the combination of the cold damp climate and Presbyterian cultural pessimism meant that rain is experienced as a curse”, and those who were affected by the floods in southwest England last year may well agree.

But in Palestine at the time of Jesus, rain was a blessing, a necessity for crops, livestock and people. In many parts of the world today, farmers rely on regular rainfall patterns, and are struggling as those patterns break down under climate change.

God created the world and declared it good. God is a God who blesses and who promises blessings. Let us open our hands and minds to receive those blessings with thanks and carefulness.