Here’s What You Could’ve Won #3: An Airship Fleet

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

Guys. Bear with me.

In 1930, the last British airship to be made in the 20th century, the R101, set off into the skies over Cardington, Bedfordshire. It really was the Titanic of the Air: a bevy of high-profile guests were on board, including the Air Minister Lord Thompson. There was a full dining car painted with a faux marble effect, a kitchen, and a promenade section with huge glass panes. It was 200 metres long, an unsinkable ship, designed to set a new passenger line between England, Egypt and India.

Unfortunately, the R101 met a similarly Titanic-esque fate, crashing in an unexpected storm over France, killing 48 of the 54 people on board.  The British government almost immediately abandoned its airship programme, followed shortly after by nations the world over.

Now. Am I saying we should send government ministers out to die in flimsy death-balloons? No. Not in this blog anyway. Like I said, hear me out.

80 years on from the end of the era of the airship, new ones are emerging. Companies are attracted to the same virtues that once drew governments to lighter-than-air travel: the ability for vertical take-off and landing to obviate the need for landing strips, their potential for greater energy efficiency, and their increasing possibility for greater speeds. Two years ago, the Airlander 10 became the first airship to be inflated at Cardington for more than three quarters of a century, with a top speed of 100mph and the ability to carry thirteen tons of cargo. That ship was made with an old airship model the US had got bored of and sold them for cheap, and backed by Kickstarter, its most high-profile donor being Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. Imagine what could be achieved with investment from more than just legendary metal singers and the kind of people who will spend $50,000 backing potato salad.

The Airlander 10 cost £25 million. Assuming some efficiencies from mass production are counterbalanced by the costs of R&D and some bigger ships,  our £205 billion gets us a fleet of 8,200 ships. At home, you could hop on one from your local station at any city in the country, and tear through sky with electric engines on a beeline to your destination, soaring above our decrepit rail network, and our choked-up roads, held in serene suspension over the moors and beaches. Abroad, China’s terrifying New Silk Road project would be met by a smaller, quirkier English version, with driverless ships taking raw materials, machinery or even whole buildings and dropping them into parts of the developing world hampered by poor road access. Even if safety wasn’t greatly improved you’d still be more likely to die in a car accident. And they’re so pretty. Wouldn’t it be worth the risk?

The Imperial Airship programme behind the R101, for all its flawed thinking and the ethical vortex of the Empire behind it, signified a people that believed in a future. A future that we would be a major part, perhaps the leaders of. That attitude seems vastly absent from people across the political spectrum. We used to think we were inches away from colonizing mars, flying cars and 1-hour work days. Now there are only competing images of decline and dystopia. This blog miniseries has been me trying to recapture some of that 20th century optimism. And maybe giant balloons is a weird way to start. And no, it’s probably not the best use of £205 billion of public money. But its still better than nuclear bloody submarines. And, to me at least, its an interesting comparison of like for like. Of course if that money appeared today it should go on housing, healthcare and education. But if it were ringfenced for quixotic, unwieldy future tech, wouldn’t a Skytanic or two be so much more fun? Or, as the man Bruce Bruce himself put it: “I told my wife, I’m about to put £100k into a big bag of helium. It may go up in smoke. She said, people have to dream, and unless you can dream something it’s never going to happen.”.


Here’s What You Could Have Won #2: Nationalising Facebook

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

Ah Facebook. Where else can you humblebrag about your new job, post your new avocado workout and furtively masturbate over pics of university acquaintances? People are getting increasingly vexed about the rise of Facebook, both in terms of its monopolistic control of social media, and the, um, intriguing applications of its technology by home-grown old-school British villains Cambridge Analytica. Now even the mega-rich are turning on it, as Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook throw shade at each other, like, well, two nerds in a Facebook comment war.

If domestic geeks are going to use Facebook data to rig elections, they might as well do it for MI6 and, y’know, rig them the right way. On the real though, nationalisation would offer the potential of far greater transparency on how data is used. At a bare minimum, it would mean some elected officials would be snooping on your late-night drunk-messages and not a private company. And it would give the British taxpayer access to a slice of its tasty $4.7 billion per year in profits.

But Jack, you comment while Timehopping back to that Amazeballs Night With Fiona And the Squad, would Zuckerberg want to sell? He wasn’t very keen on sharing the fun when he was Jesse Eisenberg learning dance moves from Justin Timberlake in that one movie, was he? Well, it’s complicated. Normally, on a publicly traded company like Facebook, for every share you buy you get one vote at shareholders meeting, where the companies big decisions are made. So if you buy more than half of the company’s 2,986,000,514 shares, you get a controlling stake: you’re the boss. Our £205 billion doesn’t quite buy us all of Facebook, but it gets us a 62% stake. But Facebook, as in most things it does as a company, does things differently. They have two different classes of shares. Class A (one share, one vote) and Class B (one share, 10 votes, owned exclusively by company insiders). Through owning a shit ton of class B shares, he has 60% of the votes despite only having 16% of the shares. This, for some reason, is perfectly legal, meaning a company gets the liquidity of trading its shares on the stock market that being a public company provides, with the same total control by one or a few people that a private company does. Isn’t Capitalism a BLAST?

So our majority stake would get us the money, but not the power. But does Zuckerberg really want to be in charge of the monster he created? As Trevor Noah from the Daily show riffed: ‘Mark Zuckerberg started out by basically making a “hot or not” website for his college ,and now America is counting on him to protect the integrity of its elections”. Mark, I implore you, let go of this Atlas-like burden, go focus on philanthropy and Farmville, and leave us to counter the post-Brexit lapse in trade with some super-targeted pork pie ads.

Meet The Humans #4: Mike Tweddle

The Biz:

What His Job Is

Artistic Director, Tobacco Factory Theatres

What He Programmes

All genres of live performance that can “tell epic and extraordinary stories in an intimate, atmospheric setting and to reflect, inspire and engage people of all backgrounds” (Programming policy here).

How He Programmes

At weekly meetings with three other staff members, where they review tour packs, videos and things they’ve seen live.

When He Programmes

9-10 months in advance

Do’s and don’ts of talking Mike


– Send overly long emails


– Read the programming policy and find out about the venue before contacting.

His Email (but you should send show proposals to )

Fun Fact About Mike
He and his partner got engaged while out rollerblading.

The Waffle

What do you do when you’re too successful? Not a question that many people who aren’t rappers will ask themselves, but one that seems to be on the minds of the Tobacco Factory. The venue draws 80% of its income from its box office, an unheard-of amount for a subsidised theatre. They average 80% of capacity for their shows, which range from the more mainstream to the weirder. They are coming to the end of constructing a new, smaller theatre so that they can programme even more from the weird end.

If I was in Mike’s position, a position I’d wager many venues would do violent crimes to be in, I’d just want to coast. But of course, Mike doesn’t just want to coast. “You only have to walk ten minutes from this building to get to places where educational attainment, life prospects, social mobility are some of the lowest in the country”, he points out. “There are loads of people we want to work with more, and listen to more”. It’s always worth remembering as arts professionals that success for us (usually defined as big audiences and/or plentiful funding) is not always success for the places we live and work – not if the people most in need of a lift are still not getting through the door, as is so often the case. Your average theatre audience (can’t speak for Tobacco factory’s) is 93% white , their average age is 52 and only 10% of actors are from a working class background. Mike is trying to expand the venue’s engagement activity, and make their programme more inclusive (a previous season was programmed almost exclusively by a group of young people). This is one hell of a mountain to climb, especially when trying to fill the void left by the vanishing of the arts in state education –a mountain that, on reflection, makes the fight to sell 80% capacity look mole-hillish. Certainly I don’t have the foggiest on how we get there. But it’s a mountain that we must climb somehow: no matter how well an individual theatre venue or company does, theatre as a whole is in poor health if the faces and walks of life that come with the bums on seats don’t match those that fill up our country as a whole.

This isn’t abstract for Mike, but personal: “When I was a kid, getting involved with theatre saved me”. Me too, actually. If I stopped working in the industry tomorrow, the outlets, the self-belief, the values and creativity that the art form gave me would still form an essential part of who I am. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of you. So let’s save everyone we can.

Here’s What You Could Have Won #1: A Thousand Years of Grit

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

I write this in the middle of Storm Emma, a rare Siberian weather pattern that has crept its way west like Kutuzov’s armies fresh on the heels of Napoleon. I am snug indoors with the dog, but outside the world is collapsing. Non-essential travel is discouraged. Chatham ski slope has closed due to too much snow. A great yellow penis of frosty doom drags itself over the land, and all the English doth lose their shit. At times like this a uniquely English clash of weather and local politics emerges over the subject of gritting. In Sheffield, the ongoing furore over the private contractor Amey’s destruction of thousands of ancient trees continues to bubble over, with the council apparently prioritising gritting access roads for tree-cutters over important traffic routes. One things for sure – there’s never enough grit and never enough people to spread it. It’s a spicy microcosm of the debate around prioritisation of public resources that I’m getting sticky with in Nuketown.

Grit (which is actually rock salt), helps snow and ice melt faster and helps car tyres grip the roads. It is mined domestically and distributed by local authorities, who are compelled to grit their roads under the 1980 Highways Act. The UK puts 2 million tonnes of it out every year. So if we spent the £205 billion purely on materials, how much would we get?. The BBC recently found out the cost of rock salt per tonne in different parts of the UK, with the priciest being Torbay at £38 per tonne. Setting the cost at that of the fancy, fancy riviera salt of my southern neighbours, we get 5,394,736,842 tonnes. Stacked into cubic metre bags one on top of each other, this would stretch to the moon and back 54 times.  Spread evenly, it would slather the entire island of Britain 173 metres deep. True Grit.

But Jack, you howl from the avalanche-hole you are trapped in: what use is all this grit with no-one to do the gritting? Right you are, these sturdy guardians of our fine minerals must be taken into account. This article put pre-austerity spending on gritting across the UK at £150m per year. I’m not sure if this figure has since been cut, but let’s give it a one-third increase either way and bulk it up to £200m. Ignoring inflation (because that’s no fun), and assuming a steady and unlimited supply of grit from our nation’s mines, as well as ruling out savings from automation by increasingly powerful and hilariously named machines, the new Royal Chartered Institute of Gritters could keep churning grip-dust onto our lanes and byways from now until the year 3043. But then what would we complain about?




Meet The Humans #3: Mair George & Jade Campbell

 [Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited.]

The Biz:

What Their Jobs Are
Jade: Co-Director & Co-Founder, Doorstep Arts.

Mair: Co-Parent & Lead Producer of Platform, Doorstep Arts.


What They Programme

Theatre from “national touring artists, emerging local theatre makers and regional young people” in venues around the Torbay area. Most shows that are booked come with some kind of participatory element that is accessible to young people.


How They Programme

Mostly through the Collaborative Touring Network, an open-application touring scheme led by Battersea Arts Centre, which programmes two tours a year.


When They Programme

In line with Platform, a festival that takes place in spring and autumn, (coinciding with CTN tours), booked 12 months in advance.


Do’s and don’ts of talking to Mair & Jade


– Talk inscrutable arts jargon at them.


– Make your copy accessible to a general audience.

– Bear in mind that your show will usually be pitched as whole evening’s experience – often with a meal after – at non-theatregoing audiences. “A show can challenge an audience, but it has to also welcome them”.


Their Emails


Fun Facts About Mair & Jade

Jade is a blue-belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. Mair speaks four languages.


The Waffle

The more I think about the process of theatre tour booking, the more it seems analogous with the world of dating. You meet, sometimes in the real world, more likely these days on the internet. You try and woo them, usually presenting your best self rather than the reality. Maybe you go on a date (one-night booking). This might grow into something larger (run, commission, co-production) or might not. Some venues are poly, some seek exclusivity (I’m thinking of contracts with the biblical-style “thou shalt not perform within 40 miles for 40 days forsooth” clauses).  This similarity might go some way to explaining why I kind of suck at both (in this part of the Sex and The City episode, I look from laptop to the window as a voiceover goes “I couldn’t help but wonder”…)

After doing some more research, I find that a lot of the common pitfalls of online dating replicate themselves identically in tour booking. There’s “Ghosting”, when someone just stops contacting you completely and without explanation, “Breadcrumbing”, where someone feeds you a minimal amount of attention and correspondence but actually He/She’s Just Not That Into You, and “Zombie-ing”, where someone will disappear off the face of the earth for months and then contact you again as if nothing has happened. I dare say if you’re a theatre maker talking to venues you’ve experienced at least one, if not all three, of these. And while ghosting in the dating world is done pretty much equally by men and women, I’d wager a pack of Tinder Super Likes that artists are more ghosted that ghoster. (Prove me wrong in the comments! Flame war on!).  Either way, ghosting of all kinds is whack. And though it isn’t on the surface a gendered issue, it seems possible to me that it’s a feminist one.

Doorstep Arts describe themselves several times as a female-led organisation in our conversation, and big up other ones that they know as well. I ask them why that’s important to them as a label, and how it differentiates them from an organisation led by the penis-havers. “We value the process of working together, as a web, rather than a hierarchy” says Mair. “Jade is a Director for putting on forms, but on the day-to-day my input is valued equally”. There certainly seems to be a different culture – people are given “parent” roles over projects (like Mair’s) rather than management ones. Staff can bring their babies and small children into the office whenever they like “We have a list of tasks, and we trust that they will get done”. They don’t view these elements as something a male-dominated workplace couldn’t have, but they’re vocal in declaring its uniqueness and its value. “We might have a meeting where Erin is breast-feeding, and some of the men are uncomfortable, but you know what, eat that. We’re going to breast-feed our children and we’re still going to crush the meeting”.

If we work together as equals more, we are pushed to use trust rather than coercion to achieve our aims more. If we trust people more, we communicate with them more, and we develop more empathy. Hierarchies fill the void where trust is absent. The three avoidance techniques above come from a fear we can all relate to – the fear of being cruel. A director friend said a literary manager once told him he didn’t ever like to send script rejections because “I don’t want to be the person that says no to the next big hit”. We all like to keep our options open, and we all find it hard to let people down at times. But we invariably prefer an honest rejection over evasion when we’re on the receiving end. A study in 2012 identified seven strategies people use for breakups, and out of all of them, people who were broken up with ranked “openly confronting your partner, expressing your feelings and your desire to break up” as the best strategy, and “avoidance” as the worst – worse even than “using manipulative tactics” and “becoming unpleasant and picking fights”. I know first hand how much I’d rather get an honest no from a venue than months of being ignored. But in the position of power that venues often are in over artists, and the hierarchical thinking that comes with it, many will opt for avoidance in the belief that they are within their rights to do so. Even venues that make a documented commitment to respond to emails, as the Venues North group did and the new Venues South West group have, can fall short of these declarations. And technology makes it so much easier – ignoring an email carries so much less emotional baggage than binning a letter, hanging up a phone call or blanking someone in the street.

People of the theatre world, whatever your line of work, artist, manager, officer, executive or co-parent, I implore you – answer your emails. You may have hundreds of the fuckers, but “no” is a wonderfully short word, and will be the stitch in time to save you from nine thousand followups. Let us walk, arm-in-arm like Gilbert, Yates and Holtzmann in a film that had no controversy whatsoever, to bust these ghosts once and for all.

Meet The Humans #1: Emma Bettridge

[Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited.]


What Her Jobs Are:

Bristol Ferment – Producer

Arts Council England – Artistic Assessor

Wivelisccombe Town Hall – Chair of Board / Manager-in-waiting

Move & Gather, Annie Siddons-  Freelance Producing Consultant

The Countryside – Dog & Horse Trainer

What She Programmes

Bristol Ferment – All of these things, plus some performances of finished work at the Studio of the Bristol Old Vic. (no current Programming Policy page on their website)

Wiveliscombe Town Hall- Eventually, a mini-Ferment Festival, more residencies, cinema, ceilidhs and lord knows what else.

How She Programmes

 Bristol Ferment – Curated programme made up of artists she has met and/or seen the shows of.

Wiveliscombe Town Hall- As above

When She Programmes

 Bristol Ferment – Year round – festivals usually booked 3-6 months in advance

Wiveliscombe – When it’s finished (currently in the planning stages of a major refurbishment project)

Bristol Old Vic Studio – No touring work until Spring 2019 (also in major redevelopment).

Do’s and don’ts of talking to Emma


  • Send template / mass emails.
  • Spell her name wrong
  • Get angry or defensive if you don’t get what you want


  • Show your personality as possible in an email – be informal and don’t be afraid of banter (warning: may not be transferrable to other programmers)
  • Do your research on Bristol Old Vic
  • Ask for introductions to programmers you don’t know, or even to programmers in general who might like your show.
  • Send a film of your show if she can’t make it to any of your performances. It doesn’t have to be super-high production values (iphones and handycams are fine), as long as the action on stage can be clearly seen and heard. Emma, and a good chunk of her programming peers, WILL book something off of seeing a film.
  • Try and set up a chat before you pitch anything.

 Her Email

Fun Facts About Emma

Strangers are always approaching her to tell her their secrets. Her dog is called Hobbs.



When I was finishing my studies at Bath Spa University (90th best uni in the nation, get in!) I had no marketable skills, no major postgraduate prospects, no work experience beyond ushering in a dark red waistcoat at the Theatre Royal. One of my professors gave a lecture where he said “most likely, you won’t make a living as a writer”. What I had was buckets of White Straight Cis Man Confidence, and a meeting I’d set up with a woman who worked for a thing I’d never heard of called Bristol Ferment who had seen me do some spoken word. We chatted for about half an hour, and she offered me £350 to make something and try it out at the next festival.  I didn’t really know what a work-in-progress was (cheers degree), and I’d never seen that much money before, so I used it to spend the whole summer making a full 45-minute storytelling epic with stop-motion animation and original music. I think my deeply earnest, slightly over-the-top response to this tiny commission made a good impression. This woman was not Emma Bettridge (gotcha good!), but Kate Yedigaroff, Emma’s predecessor as Ferment Producer. The two of them kept giving me small commissions, advice and gigs until I left the southwest four years ago. My career simply wouldn’t exist without them.

When a person hears that two folks who work in the arts are dating or roommates, or have some other unexpected connection, regardless of whether said person is in the art world or not, their comment is very often “gosh, the arts is very incestuous isn’t it?”. I’m always aback a bit: it seems a bit of an escalation to compare two people who work in the same industry going out to The Full Jaime & Cersei. But it nods to a different truth, an open secret: opportunity in the art world is overwhelmingly defined by personal connections.

This is what me and Emma talk about for a bit. As someone who manages a curated (aka closed) programme, she makes an articulate case for this way of doing business. “I have to understand the art to confidently sell it” she says. Theatre is about human relationships, and to help develop the artist-audience one, she has to have to have a relationship with the art herself, and thus also the artist. I sort of get this, but I still think there’s so many unanswered questions there. What if you find chatting with certain people a bit difficult, but are excellent at making theatre? Sophie Willan brings this up in a Guardian article this week. You might feel like too much of an outsider to hobnob with everyone in Theatreland, whether because of class, ethnicity, disability or plain shyness. But I didn’t ask her about that, so more fool me.

We also talk about Development Hell – the limbo brought about when early career artists can access small pots of money from venues to research and develop shows, but not the chance to actually put anything finished in front of an audience. I heard Paula Varjack coin the phrase at a conference in 2016 and I realised I’d been in Development Hell for years: in the 5-and-a-bit years since my explosion of paint and words in a Bristol summer in 2011 I’d made seven shows, out of which only one had been seen by more than a thousand people. I was scraping a living, but who the hell was I working for? I’m always grateful to the organisations who’ve backed me in any way, but the public who were paying for me to make art, through them, didn’t know I existed. Surely the best thing for me to develop would be, y’know, the bit where people look at it?

Emma is not responsible for creating Development Hell, but of course, as a person working in artist development, she is more than aware of it happening. She names several companies that have been in the same predicament. Ferment is a rare exception to most artist development schemes – you can actually progress from there to proper gigs in the Studio (although the Main House is out of bounds – don’t get too many big ideas, you uppity maker you). She’s also usually frantically giving advice, cajoling other venues and making introductions to try and get artists on in their career, whether they’re in or out of the Ferment squad: “I might not be the Yes Guy, but I can often find the Yes Guy for what you have”. And in this world, who could really ask for more than a Fredo of Yeses?

How Parliament would have looked if the Progressive Alliance had happened (and how it would look if it happened again)

So, I’ve been managing my anxiety about the world with some therapeutic spreadsheeting, and, in the apparent absence of anyone else having attempted this particular “what if?” yet, I thought I’d have a go my self. Here’s what I came up with.


Some caveats:

  1. This is based on every single vote from Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens going to the most popular candidate from that group in each constituency.
  2. “2015 Rules” is what would happen if the choice of who would stand aside in each constituency was based on which party ranked first in the 2015 General Election results.
  3. “2017 Rules” is what would happen if the same decisions to stand aside were made based on the 2017 election results, in some hypothetical near-future election where neither side gained or lost votes.
  4. “Left Alliance” excludes the Lib Dems, in line with Farron’s most recent “No Deals” tweet and debates over whether they would be eligible as “Progressive”.
  5. I have used the Britain Elects data, so Northern Ireland is ignored for the purposes of the calculation but added to the total. I have done the same with the Speaker’s seat in Buckingham.
  6. I have excluded UKIP for simplicity, since (to my knowledge), there is nowhere where their vote would exceed the Conservative, Alliance and Lib Dem one.
  7. I have no specialist expertise in this and may have made many glaring mistakes. You can see the spreadsheet I used here. If anyone wants to use / improve / make a cool map out of or inspired by my work then please do, just ping me a credit.Initial thoughts: this is quite astonishing in terms of the opportunity that’s been missed, and could be taken again in the event of another election. The Progressive Alliance would have left the tories with 50 less seats than they have now, and Labour WOULD STILL HAVE GAINED EVEN MORE SEATS. Going forward, the “Left Alliance” could form a working majority even without a single Lib Dem vote. Any votes lost due to voter dissatisfaction or rogue local parties standing would surely be massively outweighed by combined campaigning, resources, etc, and likely extra downward slide in vote share for the tories.

Let’s make this happen – if you’re a Labour / Lib Dem member, talk to your MPs / local branch and show your support for this. Never has there been a clearer case for working together.



Millennials deemed “the worst generation” by 10th Century people

[Pictured: a group of Millennials engaged in the popular activity of “Feast Hall and Chill”]

New research from Ramsey Abbey has shown that attitudes to the generation born between 980 and 1000 AD, often dubbed “Millennials” or “Generation ð” are perceived to be the worst generation yet in popular opinion. Common conceptions of the age group include narcissism, sexual infidelity and a woeful inability to repel Viking raids along the Devon and Sussex coastlines.

“I just can’t understand them” said Thane Simon of Sinek, speaking in last week’s Witenaġemot “they just spent all day looking at their tapestries. How are you supposed to get on with real work, like aiding the parsnip harvest and digging holes to shit in, with an attitude like that?”

Others point to a strong sense of entitlement, set up by poor parenting. The Venerable Stein wrote in Time Chronicle, “a lot of these kids grew up expecting to live in walled towns, and won’t even sleep in a pile with their entire family on top of a pig for warmth. They’ve gotten used to abacuses doing maths for them, so can’t even calculate their share of the Danegeld levy in their head.”

Statistically, Millennials are 10% less likely to take up their father’s profession (not counting slaves), 20% less likely to know how to yoke an ox, and 3% more likely to contract leprosy.

There is also concern about a lack of commitment among Millennials. “My 18-year-old son still hasn’t taken a wife, and wants to travel to the next town over to look for one”, says Ælfheah, a churl from Old Sarum. “Who’s going to pay for that? There’s Wyrms and Giants out there!”

The Abbot of Ramsey was unavailable for comment, possibly due to dysentery.