Archive for the ‘documentary’ Category

Social Media Addicts Anonymous

social media addicts anonymous documentary film Poster real stories

The fourth of my documentaries commissioned for Real Stories (Little Dot Studios) went live last night. The full film is here for free [26 minute watch]. I collaborated with director/producer Simon Goodman of Showem Entertainment on this light, entertaining doc – we’ve been working on it since late 2016 so it emerges at an interesting moment in the evolution of Facebook and social media (Cambridge Analytica, betrayal of trust, abuse of personal data, #deletefacebook, etc.) It is our third collaboration after ‘Naked & Invisible’ and ‘Young Swingers’. All have a light surface but carry substance. This one plays out thus:

Six social media junkies put themselves in the hands of a psychologist specialising in digital addiction to try to break free of the clutches of social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. As a first step, they agree to have their accounts frozen and go cold turkey for a week. How long can they survive without their fix? What difference does this forced abstinence make to their lives?

These self-confessed addicts agree to ditch their virtual lives for some real-world truths by participating in a course of ‘shock treatment’ under the guidance of Harley Street counselling psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist Dr. Becky Spelman.

The addicts range from 39-year-old Jill who says her social media usage is a marriage wrecker (“I use Facebook to avoid having sex with my husband”) through 20-year-old Freddie whose addiction to Snapchat has landed him three written warnings from work and who admits his smartphone usage makes him “become a bit of a psycho” to 30-year-old fitness model Tracy Kiss (2.6M Facebook followers) who says that her online activities are affecting her relationship with her kids to the point where if she doesn’t change soon “things will probably implode”.

The initial week-long programme raises all sorts of questions: What will they discover about themselves by going offline? How will they fill the online void in their lives and will the process create rewarding experiences for them? Can they find ways to stay connected to their friends and the world at large?

Through this group’s stories the film explores the wider issues for the generation now living in a world where they gauge their self-worth by the number of likes, favorites, or retweets they receive.

The final film was influenced by a comment made publicly by Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook, late last year: [about Facebook]

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

As the film entered the edit in February 2018, James Steyer, CEO & Founder of Common Sense, launched the Truth About Tech campaign, driven by the employees of social media platforms and other big players in Silicon Valley:

“We are into the appropriate and balanced use of technology. We are calling out the industry for their excesses and their intentional effects to manipulate and addict.”

120M Views 2017-05-24 Naked and Invisible video facebook

‘Naked & Invisible’ – 120M views in 10 days on Facebook

 

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Absent from Our Own Wedding – The Observer / The Guardian

An article about my latest commission on Real Stories by Vanessa Thorpe of The Observer. {text courtesy of The Observer – Film/Documentary}

No bride no groom I do Montana's proxy weddings on film article 24 march 2018 The Observer The Guardian

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No bride, no groom, I do: Montana’s proxy weddings on film

 

US state allows marriages in which neither party is actually there, explored in documentary Absent from Our Own Wedding

 

For some nervous betrothed couples a proxy marriage might sound too good to be true: if there really were such an easy way to avoid the stress and fuss of a wedding ceremony, surely everyone would do it?

But marriages in which neither the bride nor groom are present happen all the time, and not only in countries with very different customs and laws to Britain.

The award-winning British documentary maker and former actor Debbie Howard recently released the first film about a US duo who run a thriving proxy marriage business from their rural home in Flathead county, Montana.

Her film Absent from Our Own Wedding tells the remarkable story of the retired husband and wife team Tom and Teresa Kennedy, who conduct about 500 weddings a year for a fee of $750 (£530), without ever meeting a blushing bride or a gallant groom.

Montana is the only US state where double proxy weddings are legal and the Kennedys believe their business, Armed Forces Proxy Marriages, offers a useful service to couples who cannot arrange to be together on their big day.

Tom Kennedy said: “I stumbled on this law and now we just love doing it and we want to carry on. We are not doing it for the money. We are fine, because Teresa was a stockbroker and I worked in public service for around 25 years, including a long time in the fire department.”

The obscure Montana law dates back to the 1860s, Tom explained, and was initially a way to help out male miners. “All the women were on the east coast and it was not seen as proper to bring them to tough all-male mining communities to get married,” he said.

Teresa, 56, regularly stands in for either the bride or the groom, who can be same-sex, while a colleague steps up to play their intended. Tom will often conduct the ceremony.

In the past double, proxy marriage was possible in Montana for anyone who applied from anywhere in the world, but 10 years ago the law was changed. Now one of the two getting married must be a resident of Montana – or on active duty in the armed services.

“Outside of Montana very few people have heard of this,” said Tom, 66. “It is very obscure and even federal officials know nothing about it. The fact is, in Montana you do not even need to be a magistrate or a judge to marry people. You just have to appear to be of sound mind to those who are present at the time. You could even marry yourselves.”

Howard’s documentary, made by Big Buddha Films, was shot in Montana last year and is now showing as part of the Real Stories strand on YouTube.

Absent from Our Own Wedding

Absent from our Own Wedding poster marriage documentary Little Dot Studios

My third commission for Little Dot Studios’ Real Stories channel went live this weekend. You can see it here. It is an exploration of what matters in marriage through the quirky story of a Proxy Marriage in Montana.

It was directed & produced by Debbie Howard and executive produced by Gillian Mosely.

Absent from our Own Wedding

What really matters in weddings and marriage?

Jasmin is in Southern Italy. Aaron is in Wiesbaden, Germany. They’ve just been married. Even though they are 863 miles apart. And the wedding was in Montana, USA. Montana is a state where ‘proxy weddings’ are legal. You can get married without your spouse being in the room. In fact neither of you need to be there and that’s what ‘Absent from Our Own Wedding’ revolves around – a ‘double proxy wedding’ where both the bride and groom have proxies standing in for them as the ceremony is performed.

The observational documentary, shot on location in Montana by an all-female creative team,  features the stories behind a number of proxy weddings carried out by the fascinating husband and wife team at Armed Forces Proxy Marriages, who have the process down to a T. We see it from the first incoming call to the mailing of the fancy marriage certificate.

Because the proxy ceremonies are batched and not scheduled with the couples, often the bride and groom only realise they are actually married when the email comes in. Sometimes therefore they can’t even say exactly where they were at the moment they tied the knot.

Many proxy marriages involve people in the armed forces who need to get married swiftly to secure their rights as a military couple (to housing etc.) But just because they are sometimes functional doesn’t mean the love and commitment aren’t there.

The roots of the proxy marriage laws in Montana are back in the days of the Wild West and these are explained by Tom, who officiates at the ceremonies, which often involve his own wife, Teresa, as a proxy. That’s why Teresa, technically, has been married thousands of times!

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Jasmin & Aaron

 

Sorry I Shot You

Sorry I Shot You Real Stories Original documentary stana grime rapper

‘Sorry I Shot You’, the second of my commissions for Real Stories, Little Dot Studios‘ documentary channel, went live last night. You can watch it here. It’s a fresh, moving look at Restorative Justice.

He shot a cop. Did his time. And now wants to make amends.

Dean Stanbury aka Stana was a bad-boy gangster and grime rapper growing up in East London. Then one fateful day in 2006 he shot and wounded a police officer. Dean was running away and fired over his shoulder. He did 8 years in jail, coming out a changed man. He now wants to track down the officer he shot and express his remorse and regret, check he is OK, and apologise to him face to face for what he did. Will Dean be able to find him after all these years? What will the policeman say, how will he react? In the process Dean re-visits his past to work out how he became the man capable of pulling the trigger that day.

Dean now has young children of his own. He has changed his lyrics, which were shockingly violent, to reflect his new values and discourage young men like he once was from glamorising guns, crime and life on the street.

What makes this film stand out is that it is a tale of Restorative Justice told from the inside (as opposed to TV people pitching up and looking in on this world). The director of ‘Sorry I Shot You’ (Nicole Stanbury) was involved in gang-related and organised crime which lead to her serving time in Holloway and other women’s prisons before finding her way back to the straight and narrow, including directing this her first film. Because she is a close relative of Dean Stanbury and has his full trust, the film is astonishingly intimate.

‘Sorry I Shot You’ is an uplifting documentary about redemption and second chances gratefully seized. Its protagonist is unusually honest and open, making this a very revealing and insightful film.

It is one of the first original productions from Real Stories (and the first ever commission for Underworld.TV) and has the feelgood vibe and overcoming of adversity which is part of what characterises this fast-growing documentary channel. ‘Sorry I Shot You’ [a 29 minute watch] went live on 2nd March 2018 on the Real Stories YouTube channel.

Top Documentaries on UK TV 2017

BBC Ambulance documentary series

My favourite documentary series of the year

Title Channel Share % Viewers ‘000s
         
1 Blue Planet II BBC 1 45.8 14,011
2 Diana, Our Mother: Her life + Legacy ITV 36.7 9,390
3 Diana, Seven Days BBC 1 32.9 6,425
4 Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum + Dad BBC 1 26.2 6,345
5 Spy In The Wild BBC 1 25.7 6,218
6 The Real Marigold Hotel BBC 1 23.3 5,999
7 Wild Alaska Live BBC 1 31.9 5,998
8 Attenborough and the Giant Elephant BBC 1 20.3 5,378
9 The Real Full Monty ITV 24.2 5,362
10 Fake Or Fortune? BBC 1 26.0 5,127
11 Snow Bears BBC 1 23.6 4,969
12 Paul O’Grady For the love of Dogs ITV 21.1 4,960
13 Diana: In Her Own Words CH4 20.6 4,923
14 The Truth About… Sleep BBC 1 20.3 4,704
15 Ambulance BBC 1 21.1 4,660
16 Police Tapes ITV 20.5 4,522
17 Easyjet: Inside The Cockpit ITV 20.2 4,488
18 The Real Marigold On Tour BBC 1 18.3 4,411
19 An Hour To Catch A Killer ITV 18.1 4,362
20 Inside London Fire Brigade ITV 18.7 4,317
21 Britain’s Busiest Airport – Heathrow ITV 18.5 4,309
22 The Met: Policing London BBC 1 19.5 4,224
23 Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia ITV 19.4 4,222
24 The Cruise : Mediterranean ITV 17.3 4,216
25 Galapagos BBC 1 16.9 4,173
26 Elizabeth And Philip: Love & Duty BBC 1 14.6 4,149
27 Sir Bruce Forsyth: Mr Entertainment BBC 1 21.7 4,094
28 Reported Missing BBC 1 16.6 4,051
29 Prince Harry & Meghan ITV 16.8 4,034
30 Joanna Lumley’s India ITV 18.3 4,025
31 The Week The Landlords Moved In BBC 1 18.2 3,982
32 The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway BBC 2 17.4 3,908
33 Italy’s Invisible Cities BBC 1 14.6 3,859
34 Ross Kemp Behind Bars ITV 17.1 3,848
35 Sugar Free Farm ITV 16.3 3,840
36 Gordon Ramsay On Cocaine ITV 16.4 3,839
37 Diana: The Day Britain Cried ITV 14.6 3,817
38 Spy in the Wild: Meet the Spies BBC 1 17.6 3,784
39 Serial Killer with Piers Morgan ITV 15.9 3,683
40 The Ganges with Sue Perkins BBC 1 15.9 3,671
41 How To Stay Young BBC 1 15.9 3,648
42 Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury ITV 17.1 3,619
43 A Very Royal Wedding ITV 14.9 3,588
44 Gone To Pot: American Road Trip ITV 13.5 3,585
45 Killer Women with Piers Morgan ITV 15.7 3,553
46 Britain On The Fiddle BBC 1 14.1 3,459
47 The Truth About Stress BBC 1 14.7 3,451
48 The Harbour ITV 14.4 3,431
49 I Am Bolt BBC 1 15.8 3,409
50 The Sheriffs Are Coming BBC 1 14.1 3,400
51 Orkney: When The Boat Comes BBC 1 17.0 3,380
52 Winterwatch BBC 2 14.0 3,378
53 Harry & Meghan: Royal Engagement BBC 1 16.0 3,377
54 Russia With Simon Reeve BBC 2 14.0 3,287
55 Call The Midwife: The Casebook BBC 1 17.0 3,234
56 Devon & Cornwall Cops ITV 14.6 3,206
57 Planet Earth II: A World Of Wonder BBC 1 19.6 3,174

blue planet II natural history documentary series BBC

Real Stories hits 1m subs

real stories one million subscribers documentary channel youtube

Here’s an update by Little Dot Studios Co-Founder, Andy Taylor, of the progress of this online documentary channel for which I have been commissioning the first original content.

This week at Little Dot Studios, we are celebrating a major milestone. Our documentary channel, Real Stories, has hit 1 million subscribers.

Real Stories is only two years old, but is now running at over 700,000 views per day. It’s become a major success in a small window of time, leading to big projects and investments in the brand. But the launch of the channel was not the product of strategy reviews, business cases or investment committees – it was a small number of employees from different departments who developed their insights into ideas, and then had the initiative to see them through.

The history  

Two years ago, our ContentID team – the team overseeing YouTube’s copyright management tool – kept telling us that documentaries were big on YouTube. They were ‘claiming’ over 40,000 television shows for our production, distribution and broadcaster clients and kept finding that full-length documentary content was attracting significant viewing. In came our Insights team, who pulled all our viewing data and put videos into different genres: comedy, kids, entertainment, factual/documentary. The data showed that factual was the second-most viewed genre in our portfolio (after pre-school kids). There was an opportunity to create a genre-specific YouTube channel for full-length documentaries.

This was a novel idea at the time. Most people at this point still viewed YouTube as a short-form platform for ‘viral videos’ – certainly not the home of premium, long-form documentaries. But the data was on our side, so we opened a page called Real Stories, and our partnership managers went to all our clients to see if they would license us full, one-hour documentaries for use on YouTube. Within 3-6 months we had around 1000 documentaries.

Two years later, we have a phenomenal success story, all born from data, insights and people not being afraid to put ideas forward. A brand that didn’t exist two years ago and a channel for which we haven’t yet produced an original video now has 1 million subscribers. And we’ll pay out c.$1m to our partners this year. The prospects for 2018 are exceptional.

The evolution:

In August, we committed to two initiatives. First, to launch Real Stories on Facebook. It was always going to be tough because the brand is unknown on the platform and we have long-form content, while the platform demands short, snappy videos. 4 months later, Real Stories has over 200k Likes and achieves 200k views almost daily. On good days, it hits 1m views and has hit highs of 10m a day. We re-edit and repurpose one-hour docs for the Facebook audience and have licensed content from Vimeo and other platforms to bolster the content output. One of those videos has done 6m views. We’ve also run competitions and ‘live’ broadcasts to experiment with the Facebook algorithm. 

Second, we’ve been commissioning Real Stories ‘Originals’. We’ve brought in Adam Gee from Channel 4 (where he headed Factual Commissioning for All4) and within 4 weeks he’d signed off nine commissions. These commissions have gone to a range of new, emerging talent – different voices to the usual with a huge platform on which to tell their stories. We’ve subsequently signed off a further two and they’re all now in production. They’ll go live on Real Stories in January and, with a bit of luck, we’ll then be able to sign off more films.

Looking forward:

Looking even further forward, in Q1 2018 we’ll be launching Real Stories as an app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Roku and other devices in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. It’ll be a ‘beta’ launch to learn about these new platforms and to continue to build the brand beyond YouTube. For us, it’s another step into the unknown for a brand that keeps pushing us out of our comfort zone.

Cycle of Life

Anglia Television TV Norwich

Norwich

I heard one of those stories the day before yesterday that makes you despair of mankind. I was in Norwich to deliver a lecture on online video at NUA (Norwich University of the Arts). Actor John Hurt served proudly as its first Chancellor until his sad passing at the beginning of the year. The course leader (Film & Moving Image Production) who lead me through the charming city was telling me about the new yellow bikes that have appeared in the city recently as one crossed our path outside the lecture hall building. It is a city scheme which the students are testing out enthusiastically. He told me a new bank of bikes had appeared outside his house the day before. But when he came down that morning they were gone. He found them soon submerged in the river, chucked over the wall. Why would anyone do that?

As it happens, I’m working on a documentary about cycling, cyclists & bikes at Little Dot Studios which includes the story of a university cycle scheme. With a bit of luck the tapestry of stories will be nearer the uplifting end of the scale.

I’m writing this at Venue No.2 of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York (a multistorey bar), killing time before Evensong at York Minster. I went yesterday afternoon too – it’s pretty uplifting even if religion is not particularly your bag.

I served on the jury of this year’s festival, judging the Documentary category among others. I’m just out of one of the Docs screenings which concluded with a short entitled Dial-a-Ride about a minibus service for the elderly and remote of Brecon. It was the other side of the human coin, propelled by a caring driver who appreciated the rich mix of stories of his mainly elderly passengers.

And so the wheels of life turn…

York Minster cathedral

York Minster

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017

Highlight of Doc/fest for me this year was meeting the legendary Walter Murch, sound designer and editor, who created the picture and sound editing magic of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the Oscar-winning sound montage of ‘The Conversation’. He gave some real insights into the practice of editing, from overarching comparisons to architecture and choreography to frame-level detail in search of the perfect cut.

Apocalypse Now fan

The link between the ceiling fan and the chopper sounds suggested itself when shots between were removed

Another highlight was an energetic, extended conversation in the wake of ‘You Have No Idea How Much I Love You’, a documentary by Pavel Lozinski – or is it? (a documentary) On the way out of the Showroom Cinema I accosted a fellow producer and asked her whether she’d had the same reaction to the end of the film (basically a punch to the guts). We were then accosted by Amir Bar-Lev, director of the new Grateful Dead doc ‘Long Strange Trip‘ (just released on Amazon Prime) who had the same question. Between the Showroom and Exchange Square with stops along the way the three of us had our own Q&A discussing the ethics of shooting therapy sessions and how they can be shot in an ethical way which doesn’t disrupt the therapeutic benefit. I’d gone to see the film in the first place because one of the films I’m currently working on, ‘Love Lies Bleeding‘ (w/t, directed by Leslie Lee), includes scenes of this kind. Leslie and I spent the week before Doc/Fest working with the wise, seasoned expertise of the likes of Peter Symes and Jihan El-Tahri at Documentray Campus on the story structure.

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You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (Poland 2016)

 

A past Doc/fest: 2015 (rock, Kurt Cobain, etc.) ; Shorts ; Black Panthers ; Drones.

The Next Day: fragments of Bowie

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

So today is The Next Day – the day after Bowie’s birthday, after the anniversary of the release of Blackstar, the day before the anniversary of his death, the middle day, the limbo day.

As promised in yesterday’s birthday post, The Man Who Rose from Earth, in this one I’m going to gather some of the Bowie posts from across the years of Simple Pleasures part 4. As a blog about Creativity and the quest for Happiness through the Simple Pleasures of life Bowie was always bound to feature as a great creator, an outstanding innovator and a man who worked hard to know himself and find Peace.

So adding to the photo album of my Bowie’s Berlin trip last January and my post on hearing of his death (Blackstar Rising) from yesterday’s post are:

Bowie: The Next Day [11 January, 2016] My reflections on his death

The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death

The Berlin Trilogy 2: Where Are We Now? [17 January, 2016]

The Berlin Trilogy 3: Goodbye to Berlin  [19 January, 2016]

Heroes Mystery Solved [27 January, 2016]

David Bowie locations in Berlin [22 January, 2016] a ready-made tour

Heddonism [11 April, 2012] a first-hand account of the unveiling of his plaque in Heddon St.

A Bowie Moment [13 January, 2016] Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiling video

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January, 2013] 4 of his best songs

Sound & Vision [12 November, 2016] the best of Bowie’s art collection

Cut up by Bowie’s Black-out [20 January, 2016] a Bowie-style cut-up

Where Are We Now? [11 January, 2016] an animation

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

Celebrated The Big Man’s birthday yesterday evening by watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new BBC feature documentary commissioned by my friend and former Channel 4 colleague Jan Younghusband. It is an excellent watch, breaking new ground with its focus on his last half decade and last two LPs in an intelligent and insightful way. It was directed by Francis Whately. There are various clips here.

Three Days a Week

 

Eight Days A Week

Eight Days a Week

Day 2: Liverpool

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So I’m sitting in front of Liverpool Town Hall in the Indian summer afternoon sunshine. I’m discussing a documentary with a Scouse film-maker, the protagonist of the film and the cameraman. We’ve just arrived, the beers have just landed and out of the open balcony door of the Town Hall tumble the strains of Let It Be. Then more Beatles. Then a female singer doing covers of their songs. I couldn’t have scripted or timed it any better. My fantasy Liverpool afternoon. After the meeting I trotted down the street to the Odeon for the world premiere of the Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week, put together by Ron Howard. The red (actually blue) carpet shenanigans were broadcast live from Leicester Square to this and other cinemas around the country and beyond, including the arrival of Paul and Ringo. Where better to watch it than in Beatlesville. The moment and song that punched out was when John composed Help. It stood out as the point when their song-writing went up a gear or three.

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Day 1: Sheffield

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Spent the day working with an indie producer in Sheffield – which was fun. After we wrapped for the afternoon, I headed into the city centre from the atmospheric, leafy burbs. In the golden early evening sunlight surveyed the city’s excellent array of street art, not least the excellent work of Rocket01.

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After a fine Mexican beano, hung out chatting in the Peace Gardens with their monumental fountain portals and all-round perfect mix of water, stone and grass. I’m usually in the city for DocFest in the summer so it was good to see it under other circumstances. It has some of the finest regeneration in the country, with a brilliant passage from the station up to the Peace Gardens. The blade sculpture bordering the station with a thin layer of water flowing over the gigantic knife-edge of shining steel. The tower of the university bearing a poem by Andrew Motion about standing looking at the tower of the university. The art deco Showroom cinema. The art deco Library and (Graves) Gallery. The wooden ribs and hothouse glass of the Winter Gardens. The Victorian Town Hall, sheltering the Peace Gardens.

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Day 2: Sheffield

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Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry

Began the day at a working breakfast with a Sheffield-based film producer who is a very nice guy. Then a quick visit to the Graves Gallery to look at the hidden treasure that is their permanent collection. Catching my eye this time: Christ Carrying the Cross attributed to Luis de Morales (late C16), a prematurely aged, weary Jesus, right beside a striking painting of a man holding a skull, a dark momento mori where the difference between the head and skull is marginal; The Hours by Burne-Jones, six ladies representing the sweep of the day, their dress ranging from dawn blue to late afternoon russet and back to night-time blue-black; a Paul Nash landscape, an Auerbach cityscape of Mornington Crescent; Sam Taylor-Wood suspended from the ceiling (flashback to young John Lennon); a portrait of Edith Sitwell and her languorous hands – one of the best galleries in the land.

Then the train to Liverpool across the Peak valleys bathed in Indian summer gold.

Day 3: Sheffield

Rain after the early hours thunder, making the work at Roco (a new creative co-operative space) all the cosier. A good creative session, inducing headache in the journey to a possible break-through, wrestling with knotty problems between cups of tea. A burst of sun as we left to mark the conclusion in grand style.

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“So we sailed on to the sun”

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine

 

 

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