Second cousins

This is a Facebook post from 9th Feb 2016 and is about an interest I have in family history.

I’ve always been interested in exploring notions of identity and to what extent experiences or genes shape us. When at Dead Earnest I wrote a number of plays that were essentially about this kind of inheritance (probably influenced by also doing Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ for the Company, early on). This interest has also drawn me to exploring my family tree and recently to having my DNA tested to tell me more about where my genes originated from.

This test told me something about the origins of my genes, going back thousands of years, but also indicated if I was related to others who’d also taken the test. Amazingly there were quite a lot of people I was related to. Admittedly most of these were my 5th-8th cousins, but some were 4th cousins. A 4th cousin means we share a great-great-great-grandparent and so hardly a close relative, but nonetheless interesting. However, at the end of January there was a surge of new names appearing on the site fuelled, no doubt, by tests being given as Christmas presents and this time there was someone who appeared that was closer; a second cousin.

So second cousins share great grandparents. I never knew my great grandparents, but I have pictures of them and know a fair amount about their lives. This seemed much closer and it was intriguing that we were related and yet knew nothing about each other. However, what really peaked my interest was when she sent me a message. She said she was delighted to have found a relative and this was because, as she put it, “my twin brother and I were adopted at birth and so I do not know my birth parents.” She went on to say that she came from Detroit and wondered if I had any links to that part of the States.

Wow. I knew a lot about my family tree and so was it possible that I could help her discover who her real parents were? Did I know anyone in Detroit? I don’t think so. But then I did know that my Dad had two uncles that went to Canada. If only I could remember their names. How could I find out? I had a look at my records. There was some information there, but I didn’t know much about what happened to them after they emigrated. How might I find out? I know, I’ll ask Mum

Mum was as intrigued as I. She thought that my Dad’s uncles were unlikely to lead to the answer and that I might be better looking into her cousin’s story. He emigrated to Canada just after the war, when we was 15, and had a bit of a reputation as a ‘charmer’. A bit of searching and I found that, sure enough, he had been in Detroit in the 1950s. That was encouraging. However, it also appeared that at the time he was married with a family and none of the children were twins. I must have got it wrong, unless…. what if the twins had been born without the ‘legitimate’ family knowing and perhaps without their father knowing either. Was it appropriate for me to tell her this theory? It was very likely to be the answer, but what if I was wrong?

Amazingly, it was true and that my new second cousin had been given the same information from another source. It turned out she had also been in touch with someone else that had shown up as a relative through her DNA test. I hadnt really noticed this person because they were one of the more distant relatives on my list, but to her’s he showed up as being very close.

A series of emails followed between the three of us and we soon all came to the conclusion that the story was true. The new third person in the story said that his Mum was one of the the legitimate children born in Detroit in the 1950s and that he was now quite sure that she was the the half sister of this lady. It was a big shock for both sides. The truth had been hidden for 60 years, but they were determined to meet and welcome each other into their families.

So, the lady that contacted me (my 2nd cousin) had found who her father was. Previously she had drawn a blank in her 35 yr search because the birth certificate didn’t indicate a father. Suddenly, thanks to a DNA test, she found a family she didnt know she had and, as an added twist, a half sister who had been brought up in the same city but in a different faith than her adopted Jewish parents.

I couldnt help thinking that it sounded like one of those plays I had written. If I had written it, though, I also suspect that no one would have believed it.

Treasures from the wreck of the unbelievable

This is a review of the Damien Hirst exhibition called “Treasures from the wreck of the unbelivable” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice that I posted on Trip Advisor on 19th June 2017

‘Treasures from the wreck of the unbelievable’ is an amazing, irreverent and gauche exhibition. It is by turns both beautiful and ugly, meaningful and vaccuous. The perfect place for it is Venice. By placing this work there, Hirst is sticking two fingers up to the art establishment that revere Venice as the home of great art.

The premise of the exhibition is that an ancient ship has sunk with treasures from across the world. These treasures have now been excavated from the seabed by divers and are displayed with the customary descriptions from experts. On the way in you watch a ‘documentary’ about the raising of the artefacts in which a voice-over says things along the lines of “I’m not saying it is the truth, but there could be some truth in it”. The exhibits seem at first to be plausible but later you see encrusted statues of Mickey Mouse and Hirst himself. I enjoyed wondering what would come next and confess to occasionally laughing out loud.

However, despite enjoying the irony, the size of the imagination and the craft, I also felt frustrated by the nihilism. The exhibition seemed to me to say “Don’t believe anything” / “there is no truth” / “there are no experts”. These are mantras that we have heard in Trump’s USA or UK’s Brexit and personally they make me despair. If we don’t find meaning in things, if we cant see the difference between the price of something and its value, if we cant come to appreciation of our past, then how can we feel passionate about anything. If you see a Titian painting in a Venice church you can see passion and belief. It jumps out at you. For this reason it has been captivating people for hundreds of years. Art can be amusing, irreverent, challenging, but it can also be passionate.

So if you get a chance to go, do. It is certainly an exhibition that makes you think and laugh, but… maybe… also leaves you feeling a little empty.

Leaving before the end

Posted onto Facebook on 28th March 2018


I’ve had a bit of a football obsession this season. I’ve seen lots of games over the years (at least one game every season for the last forty years), but have been to more this season than in any before. I also now go to more games as a neutral supporter and, as such, spend time observing the rituals and behaviours of the spectators (I am, of course, a Performance lecturer!). Added to that I have found myself documenting each of the games and trying to work out which matches I have seen in the past (asking my poor family – can you remember if we saw West Ham v Derby in Oct 1981?)

Something that happens at football matches that wouldn’t happen in, say, the theatre is that, with five minutes to go, you see a steady trickle of people making their way to the exits. I understand this to be, to avoid the traffic after the game. I make a point of not doing this. I feel I have paid for the whole game, which is expensive enough as it is, and often the drama is at the end.

To back this up, this season, I have so far seen seventeen professional football matches (all leagues and all domestic cup competitions) and, in those games, there have been 43 goals. However, 12 of those goals were scored in the last 5 mins or in injury time. That’s well over a quarter of the goals in those matches that, had I left early, I would have missed.

If you think about it, it makes sense, too. At the end of the game the players are more fatigued, probably concentrating less and might need to push forward to salvage a draw or victory. There are bound to be more goals.

I confess, there’s one further reason I don’t leave early. Once, on 10th January 1999 (Yes, I know the date – I have the programme!), I was watching West Ham being trounced by Man Utd at Old Trafford. People around me had had enough and started leaving. I decided to follow them and as I reached the exit there was a cheer behind me. Frank Lampard had scored a consolation goal for us. If you know your football, you would know that he went on to set records for the number of goals he scored from midfield (something like 175 in the domestic game). I saw him score other goals for West Ham and so, in some ways this was no big deal, but I have always regretted missing that one. And… I didn’t miss the crowds and almost certainly arrived home no earlier.

So, if you dont like crowds and want to avoid the traffic, then, don’t go to a football match! And if you do, stay to the very end. You never know what might happen… what little bit of Performance might take place.

Update… In the end I saw 19 games (not including the U17s UEFA championships, which were 80 minute games) with 48 goals. 13 were after 85 mins (24%)


P.S. or post script is something that you put at the end of something, not the start. It is an after thought. It is something that wasn’t important enough to be included in the main body of what you are writing, but you think at the end that you still ought to mention it, just in case. It is even relegated to a place beyond your signature; as if you are unsure about even putting your name to it.

This is how I start this blog, by considering it as a post script. I have often written my views about ‘things’ on facebook that are perhaps too long for social media and friends have said to me ‘set up a blog’ instead. I feel for them. I think they probably read what I say out of loyalty rather than interest, but some of these postings have also developed into interesting interactions which I have found useful and stimulating.

Social Media likes to be ‘of the now’; to be the script and not the post-script. It encourages me to map ‘where I am now’, both geographically or in terms of mood. However, I tend to be more reflective and write about yesterday or ‘earlier’ and I’m not sure that’s the way to use it. You see, I am a bit of a ponderer. I like to ruminate, cogitate, and contemplate. Things don’t necessarily make sense to me immediately, but, after a bit of thinking about it, they do. Or, at least, they do ‘a bit more’. I want to record something after it has happened rather than when I’m there.

A couple of years ago I did a teaching course (the HE version of a PG teaching qualification) and I was introduced to the Kolb learning cycle. Kolb suggests that knowledge is created through “the transformation of experience”. His learning cycle suggests that people have an experience, reflect on it, come up with new thoughts or ideas, which they then try out. The trying out of a new idea is in itself a new experience and so the cycle starts again. This made sense to me, as did his thoughts about learning styles. Although I feel that people can exhibit a range of learning styles, rather than being defined by one, I was interested to assess myself as an observer (/ feeler). I think I am.

Therefore, I find myself watching things, thinking about them and trying to make sense of them. A blog is a way of putting a voice to all this… a way of shaping and testing my musings and a way of seeing if anyone thinks the same way.

Therefore this blog will be my musings on things I have experienced or perhaps observed, but I should also confess to the nature of the lens through which I view the world. I see the world through my eyes, of course, and make sense of them inside my head and I am different from anyone else. We all are! However I am happy for people to understand something of where my world view has come from, so they can forgive for what they might perceive of as ignorance.

Therefore, I openly acknowledge that I am a white male, born in the late 1960s to parents who both went on to study for Psychology degrees at the Open University. My family are liberally-minded and spent many years supporting people they considered as “less fortunate” than themselves. I also went on to study Theatre at University, ran a theatre company for almost twenty years and became an academic teaching and researching in the fields of Applied Theatre and Performance. I was also brought up in Essex and spent countless hours and far too much money following West Ham United. I am interested in many things, but in particular the arts, politics, sport and especially football, but if I write about any of these things I will do so as a Performance academic. I see ‘performance’ all around us. It is how I see the world.

Finally, my hopes… I hope I feel the muse (at least once a month), I hope I make some sense and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Ashley (Sheffield, feeling apprehensive)

P.S. there’s some stuff I have written in the past, which I am going to post on here too.

P.P.S. I’ve also written quite a few ‘scripts’ and so can think of the period post-script to be the time just before the production. It’s the moment before the next of Kolb’s “concrete experiences”