Picketing is pointless – and that’s why we need it

May 25, 2016

Picketing is such a pointless thing to do. I think that’s why we need it.

The picketing day starts earlier than a normal working day.

As a commuter, I’d fork out an extra £30 for a peak train ticket, to travel to work on a day when I wouldn’t be paid, and stand outside in the drizzle, with no access to the loos or cups of tea within.

Picketing is not a day off.

Currently, my commute is a more enjoyable bike ride along the canals. Passing under an A Road thick with rush hour traffic, I find an image for why picketing matters: it runs athwart the daily conveyor belt.

For me, picketing is not political. Nor does it win the action. We might remind a few passing colleagues who aren’t in a Trade Union that signing up is on their to-do list. But that’s not why we’re here. Not now, not in this game.

Standing around on the edges of the university, at work but not working, is the most pointless thing an employee can do. And that’s the whole point, I think. We mill around the various gates, visibly suspending our labour. And suddenly, there’s time to think. And there’s time to talk.

Two things we are paid to do, but when we’re working there is never time to do them.

I think that picketing is the only time I really see my co-workers as humans. The rest of the time, we’re too busy scrabbling to keep up with everything to really see and hear each other. On the picket, we find out what it’s actually like for each other, this game, and we find surprising connections between our interests, our projects, our teaching experiences.

It’s like common rooms used to be, when staff had tea breaks.

And picketing allows me to be human. To smile and say hello to students, security staff, contractors, delivery workers, visitors, administrators, human resources, librarians, caterers, people emerging from vans with mysterious logos, and passers by whose route brings them along the university’s perimeter.

Everybody, anybody. Not because we want something from them, or they want something from us, not with half an eye on all the things we are both falling behind on, but because they happen to be passing through this little bubble which has been rendered so pointless by our picket.

Most of them are only too happy to enjoy a few seconds or minutes of our picketing pointlessness. They can take a leaflet if they’re interested, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to reconfigure everything that led to this point, to rediscover the pointlessness that is essential to this work, if it is to have any point to it after all.

And then, a cup of tea has never tasted so good.





Dreams, rules, death and relativity

October 9, 2015

A quick roundup of upcoming events featuring me on dreams, rules, death and relativity:

31st october, 2-4pm, Mile End, London (free)
Time, Dreams & JB Priestley with Katy Price and Anthony Peake
8th november, 2-3pm, BBC Radio 3, Newcastle (free)
The Rules of Good Science with Carlos Frenk, Jim al-Khalili, Katy Price and Tom Shakespeare
17th november, “Death Showoff” i will be talking about the Victorian Internet of Death – ie the methods of Telepathy research – possibly in my frock coat and moustache, at the Star of Kings in Kings Cross as part of a science / history death themed stand up. Details to follow.
28 november, 10.30am, Mile End, London

JB Priestley Society lecture, 31 October

September 17, 2015

What better way to celebrate Halloween than with a double bill featuring the stories of people “haunted by time”, who found a sympathetic ear in the hugely popular yet currently overlooked playwright and broadcaster J.B. Priestley.

Join Anthony Peake and me for the J.B. Priestley Society annual lecture on 31 October 2015 at Queen Mary University.

Free entry, but it will help us work out numbers if you book.

A new adaptation of Priestley’s ever-popular “Time Play” An Inspector Calls is available on iPlayer until approx 12th October.



Annual J.B. Priestley Society Lectures 2015

At Queen Mary University of London

2 – 4 p.m. Saturday 31 October 2015

Booking on eventbrite

We are very pleased to announce that this year there will be two lectures not one and we are delighted that our two lecturers will be Anthony Peake author and time theorist, and Dr Katy Price Lecturer in Modern Literature, QMUL.

Their theme will be:


J.B. Priestley was fascinated by time. This most ephemeral of perceptions re-occurs as a theme over and over again in his plays.  I Have Been Here BeforeDangerous CornerTime and the ConwaysJohnson Over Jordan and An Inspector Calls all use time as a major plot device and explore the nature of time in some way. Priestley also wrote extensively about the subject in his autobiographical works, culminating in his fascinating work Man and Time.

Anthony Peake will discuss major influences on Priestley’s philosophy of time, especially as seen in his ‘Time Plays.’ In 1963 Priestley appealed to the public on BBC television’s Monitor programme to send in their own accounts of experiences that appeared to challenge the ‘common-sense’ idea of Time, including precognitive dreams.  Anthony was the first person, since JBP himself, to be given access to all of those letters. He will describe the contents of a dozen or so of these letters and will present them within the JBP philosophy as presented in the “Time Plays”.

Anthony is a writer who deals with borderline areas of human consciousness.  His first book,Is There Life After Death? was published in 2006 and since then he has gone on to develop his own ideas together with exploring the latest areas of research in his field. He has published eight books in total and has lectured on Priestley’s ideas about time at The National Theatre. For more information about Anthony visit his website.

Dr Katy Price’s research interests include para-psychology in literature and culture; and the social history of precognitive / prophetic dreams. Her lecture will briefly review the terms on which Priestley’s writings are being appreciated by literary scholars today, before turning to the Monitor letters themselves as a rich repository for social history. It is thanks to Priestley’s appeal for time experiences that we have access to records of people’s reading habits and inner lives in the mid twentieth century. The letters also reveal the multiple benefits that fans derived from Priestley’s works and from a sense of connection with a trusted storyteller, to whom they looked for guidance and support.

Katy Price is a lecturer in modern and contemporary literature at Queen Mary University, London. Katy is the author of Loving Faster than Light: Romance and Readers in Einstein’s Universe, and is currently writing a book about prophetic dreams in the twentieth century. Katy has given talks about Priestley’s collection of time letters from television viewers to audiences in psychology, psychical research, history of science, literary and media studies. An article about mental health aspects to parapsychology experiences as told to Priestley in 1963 is free to download from Science Direct.

The lectures are free and open to the public as well as members of the J.B. Priestley Society.

Race and ethnicity in UK higher education

July 3, 2014

Here are some resources on race and ethnicity in UK higher education that I’ve come across while doing a research project for the TUC diploma in equalities. I’m continuing to add new things that come in / items that I previously missed.

With thanks to Robbie Shilliam and others who took the time to help me research this topic.

Further suggestions welcome – please leave a comment below or email k [dot] price [at] qmul.ac.uk

The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspiration in the face of inequality (2014) by Kalwant Bhopal

Black Academia In Britain (2014) by Robbie Shilliam

Black Women’s Experiences at University (2014) by Michelle Mangal at Black Feminists

Walls of Whiteness (2014) by Sara Ahmed at Media Diversified

Why isn’t my professor black? (2014) a panel discussion at University College London (video)

How are ethnic inequalities in education changing? (2014) from Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity

Travelling to the UK? On the Pain, Separation and Dehumanisation of Student Families from ‘High-Risk’ Countries (2014) by Amber Murrey

UCL Faces Race

Runnymede Trust
When education isn’t enough (2014) report on labour market outcomes of ethnic minority graduates from Russell Group Universities

University offer rates

Why do elite universities admit so few ethnic minority applicants? (Guardian July 2014)

News coverage of LSE research (2014)
Times Higher

LSE Blog

The Ethnic Penalty: A more sophisticated form of discrimination (2014)

Higher Education Funding Council for England

– HEFCE Research (2014) on degree outcomes in relation to ethnicity and gender
– What HEFCE knows about race equality poster (2014)

Absent from the Academy (2013), a film by Nathan E Richards exploring the absence of Black Professors in UK higher education institutions (video)

Experience of black and minority ethnic staff in HE in England (2011), report by the Equality Challenge Unit

Race for Equality (2011) report by National Union of Students

Race Discrimination – ACAS guidance

Organisations and groups

Black British Academics

Higher Education Race Action Group

Centre for Research in Race and Education

University and Colleges Union
– Race equality resources
– Black Members’ Survival Guide
Black Members’ Standing Committee

Higher Education Statistics Agency
– HESA data on students
HESA data on staff

Times Higher Education coverage

Racism seen but not heard at UK and US institutions (2014)
Black scholars still experience racism on campus (2014)
– Race discrimination in universities still a problem, reports survey (2014)
– Race discrimination in academia ‘has not improved’ over past 20 years (2013)
Racial divide is higher education’s ‘dirty secret’ (2012)

 US material about higher education

The “Liberal” Ivory Tower Often Discriminates Against Women of Color (2014) by Carmen G. Gonzales and Angela P. Harris – extract from their book Presumed Incompetent

Not directly about HE, but relevant to the British context for education and employment

Look How Far We’ve Come: The Race / Racism Primer – A Resource for Conferences, Seminars, Workshops and Community Discussions on Racism and Racial Equality

Minority Interests – a resource for Minority Ethnic Professionals

work as self harm

February 7, 2014

Since October’s apocalypse in which yours truly was seen heading to Wales for a long weekend with more members of my family than I’d had hours of sleep in the preceding week, I’ve been wanting to write an amusing blog post about my ongoing efforts at staying less crazy.

None of it was funny however, and I had zero spare energy to even write the tedious version. Most of the time, mental health is not dramatic or hilarious. Most of the time, mentalism is fucking boring.

Plus, my particular strain is specially bred in academia, a trade that is only feasible because of all the perfectionists, workaholics and insomniacs that keep it going – whether as students, administrators, support staff or teachers. And I couldn’t find a way to talk about how working as an academic makes me ill, and how that illness makes me work as an academic.

Four months of therapy later I am sat here having an evening without work. This makes me twitchy, and having eaten everything in sight I still don’t know how to not be working. This blog post is a step, hopefully towards many future work-free evenings spent in such revelry of slackness as watching telly or possibly even interacting with selected non-work humans.

There’s no story here just a bunch of episodes.

Running crazed sobbing out of the doctor’s surgery after being told “there’s nothing I can do”. This from the GP who mainly googles self-help leaflets to print out while I’m talking. I mention that the sleeping pills make me feel like I’m not myself, and stop me being able to do any work, so I don’t take them, because worrying about work is what keeps me awake. Doc tells me to take double at the weekends. Wanker.

Occupational Health nurse who listens to me properly for an hour, then writes a letter to my managers explaining what they can do to support me. Basically the same list I’d given them when I started work, but all official so that next time they do the opposite of what’s on the list I can wag my finger in an imperious manner, do Michael Caine impressions, or send them baby fox pictures with NO KULL KATY  in neon pink bold comic sans.

Six sessions of therapy on the employee assistance programme. I always wondered why six is the magic number in free therapy situations. I see now that six hours is about the right amount of time for any therapist to come out with some damaging rubbish based on their own problems or prejudices. This one told me I was lonely. Lonely!! I live with my cat. How can that be “lonely”. I see no cat fur on YOU, lonely one. Whereas I have a mound of purring warmth permanently attached to my chest / legs / head. Tsk tsk. However, before coming out with this piece of errant nonsense the therapist did get me to start keeping a record of all the hours I work, with times and tasks written down. I’d always thought this would be an extra job in itself, and anyway isn’t this how lawyers work, and lawyers are evil, but in fact it’s dead easy once you get in the habit. Now I have 15 weeks’ record of exactly what hours I’ve worked and what I did. I know how long it took to prepare a lecture to cover for a colleague on sabbatical (10 hours 20 min). Or make the revisions requested for a journal submission (50 hours). Or read the primary texts for a new module (26 hours 30 min). Or discover that quote pasted from Wikipedia in your essay (2 seconds – you forgot to strip the hyperlink). I have a running total of overtime, and can now see why the pink chip system broke down and could only be resolved through a surrealist game of tiddly winks involving 3 human and one cat, concluding with different coloured chips awash all over the house.

The other little gem to emerge from the six sessions is that I’m using work as a form of self harm. The duties I have and the hours I work are normal for academics. This does not make it right or healthy, but it does make it harder to notice that there is something wrong about the way I work that has left me with nothing outside it that seems real or worthwhile.

I’m now almost half way into 10 sessions of CBT from my local IAPT, who are extremely good and swift in scooping the mentalists of Haringey, Enfield and Barnet into their assorted funnels of mind-mending. In a portacabin welded onto the side of a children’s daycare centre, pounded by toys hurled against a metal door, weekly I draw maps of how and why work came to be a way to hurt myself.

I’ve just taken Friday night off. It’s working. I mean, not working!!!

whistle to signal for help

October 17, 2013

I have had cause to try out some mental health services over the past few days. This is partly because St John’s Wort is the devil’s work and no mistake:


But also because there was only so far that a brief stint of CBT on the NHS was ever going to stretch against 15 years of failing at sleep and 39 of being a mild to moderate pain the arse. So it’s actually a good thing that I haven’t slept in 3 nights. Because now I have made some appointments and phone calls, and begun taking steps to capture this career-honed workaholical-stressy-flail-weep-snarl thing in a ginormous net and prod it with uncomfortable items in delicate places.

Once the amphetemine masquerading as folkloric ancient herbal wisdom finally wears off and my brain stops being immune to sleeping pills, there will be some work to do. Until then it’s all hypomania, ice cream, social media bingeing, oh, and a four-day weekend with all of my family in wales which has no internet and therefore NO BABY FOX VIDEOS, starting at Paddington station in 7 hours time. And me having volunteered to cook dinner for 20 people on Saturday night! What will I give them to eat! Will I have fallen into a 48 hour coma by then, or will I drink all of the wine and say / do rude things in front of the children!

The first brave thing I did was contact occupational health which I have avoided like the plague since forever because of a fixated belief that they’re in league with HR, and also an OH doctor once made me cry with inappropriate remarks. (Apparently OH is where they send the crap doctors that nobody knows how to get rid of.) But in order to get any mentalist adjustments in the workplace formalised I should really chat with OH. Hey, maybe they even have experience of this stuff. Maybe it’s even their damn job. So watch this space for a report on “OH: are they c****s after all or can they help the mildly mentalist employee”.

First off, I can report that they have responded to my plea for advice about work stress with a kind email containing (A) a phone number for a nice person who has made an appointment for me, (B) a link to the Health & Safety Executive, which has a STRESS area with inviting use of the first person and a photo of a white man’s folded hands for a video entitled ‘Dealing with my Personal Issues’. There is also a Line Manager Competency Indicator Tool! I plan to work my way through these resources once I have eaten all of the life-giving foods that are contra-indicated for St John’s Wort.

and (C) another link: to the Employee Assistance Service. Here is where things take a slightly surreal turn because the landing page of this site offers alarming news that the apocalypse is at hand:

wplace crop

One feature of insomnia is of course having the attention span of a kitten in a sunbeam in a warehouse full of moths, so by this point I have completely forgotten my self-help quest and am eagerly reading up on The Kit, which includes “battery-powered or hand-crank radio”, “plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place”, and “whistle to signal for help”. Emergency Foods are another compelling topic, with an emphasis on cereal, nuts, peanut butter, crackers, and more encouragingly “comfort / stress foods”. Meaning of course brie.

I am just about to rummage under the stairs for plastic sheeting etc, and settle down with Resonance FM and some cheese and crackers, when a further heading recalls me to the task at hand: Kit Locations – Work. Being stuck at work during the apocalypse sounds a lot less fun. There is no talk of radios or duct tape, merely the advice “be sure to have comfortable walking shoes at your workplace in case an evacuation requires walking long distances”. Ah, the workplace: cause original of this whole little interlude. Later today I called these apocalypse merchants and had an hour long chat with a helpful person who allowed me to non-declare both gender and marital status, and who is arranging for six sessions of counselling on the topic of my choice (see ginormous net above). So we shall see what transpires. Meanwhile, to the ancestral homeland armed with comix, ear plugs and no fucking herbal medicines.

staying less crazy (episode 2) : the process journal

October 11, 2013

Or: how I plan to write my second book without even noticing.

A digressive and over-sharing prelude: The start of a freshly plucked academic year has brought with it a ripe new barrage of mixed metaphors and wayward adjectives, borne out of flailing through the latest effervescent crop of ‘meta-academical’ sessions. No student or junior staffer is immune from these meta-activities, in which the actual work of academia is delayed in favour of compulsory ‘how do we do this’ events.

Such training sessions are based on the optimistic principles that (a) people will read manuals; (b) although, actually, they don’t read manuals, people will listen to manuals in verbal form; and (c) humans can be trained without the use of chocolate and electric shocks. (Ignorance of this third principle is entirely responsible for the development of powerpoint.) (By the way, there are people who make powerpoint slides out of chocolate).

A portion of the seasonal meta-academicising has been delegated to me, thankfully not without the refining presence of other and wiser colleagues. Memories of my own first days on a new course were not helpful in trying to conceive of What Newbies Need. I began primary school by crying in front of everyone for three weeks, and university barely making it into a loo cubicle before bursting into tears. My PhD began with a level of physical and emotional carnage that induced me to suddenly stop taking prozac because life had taken such a bizarre / apocalyptic turn that I reckoned the withdrawal would go unnoticed.

I am therefore lacking in wisdom to impart. But I do have one extremely cunning strategy for academic life, in which I have a messianic level of belief: the process journal.

What it is: the process journal is a torment dreamed up to plague the life of creative writing students. Not only must they suffer the iniquities of having their creative writing (& therefore their soul) stamped with a grade. They must also write about the process of writing. And be graded on that, as well! The process journal is a date-stamped set of entries reflecting on the sordid business of writing in an enlightening manner. I no longer teach creative writing (I ran out of both patience and sadistic glee), but I have imported the process journal into my own academic writing practice.

Why is it the best writing trick ever invented: the process journal can tame the most outrageous and over-ambitious, snarly project and render it a purring pussycat. For my new book I have decided to write about prophetic dreams, all over the world, in all time. This is plainly ludicrous in scope but I’m having fun with it. I intend to continue having fun, despite never having studied psychology or comparative religion, because my process journal has rendered the whole process COMPLETELY PAINLESS.

How does it work: every day I must write 300 words. These need not be good words. Just any old words about prophetic dreams. In they go into one corner or another of my Scrivener project. Today was Jihadist prophecy; last week I was among the Zulu Zionist churches of South Africa. Once the word count hits 300 I must close the laptop and go and do something else. No longer is a Special Writing Day required. Just an hour or two to hack out the daily dose. Then to the rest of the job, such as organising conferences, writing lectures and emailing colleagues with baby tiger videos marked URGENT. The process journal is for keeping track of what I wrote on each day, and of what forces have intervened to thwart this.

Here is a snapshot of my PJ for September, traditionally a month of chagrin about the lack of summer research achievement, plus denial of descent into pedagogical frenzy, combined with sudden inability to know the alphabet, plus no clean pants or socks and parts of the house unaccountably missing in action:


The difference between writing-with-PJ and sans-PJ is clear. Languishing, crapness, consumption and paralysis happen just the same, but having been recorded their menace is de-fanged and there follows a continuation of existence. The languish no longer sprouts melodrama. There is evidence of life beyond the languish. It is dealt with, possibly through a swift application of brie, and the narrative resumes.

September yields astounded to October, and with it the regaining of purpose in academic life: students, seminars, and the bliss of a routine. But can there be any space for three words of research let alone 300 in the daily march to Michaelmas?  The PJ assures us that there can, despite an inauspicious start:


So there it is. The Process Journal: No. 2 in a series of staying less crazy (in academia). But how do you keep the Forces Against Writing in check? Is brie involved? And what is your favourite video of baby tigers?

phono – poetry

June 11, 2013

We’ve just launched a crowd funding campaign to record contemporary poets onto wax phonograph cylinder. Please do support us by pledging £3 and you will receive an MP3 of their phonograph recording. Campaign ends 10 August 2013, with a special performance in Brighton on Friday 30th August. Thanks for your support!

Third Cauliflower International

June 3, 2013

This is what to do if someone gives you a cauliflower when what you really wanted was a transformation of the state. It’s nearly vegan apart from cheese lapse topping.



  • hacked up cauli – including some leafy bits
  • potatoes – boiled a bit, then thick sliced
  • courgette / leek / mushrooms / etc, nice big chunks
  • onion chopped & fried
  • white sauce: fake butter, flour, almond milk, mustard
  • topping: cheese, dried marjoram, chili flakes

1. Steam the veg. Drain & put in your largest dish. Heat up the oven.

2. Make the white sauce:

  • melt the fake butter & cook some flour in it
  • off heat: add milk veeery slowly & stirring smooth after each bit
  • heat again
  • (do flour in butter again, or cornflour thing if it won’t thicken)
  • add mustard – grainy or english or both
  • add fried onions at the last minute

3. Pour sauce over veg. Sliced potato layer on top. Grated cheese, marjoram, chili flakes.

4. Bake til crispy.

5. Summon ravenous horde.