Some reflections and tips for surviving a viva

The viva is the oral exam exam you do at the end of a PhD or MPhil.  What follows are some reflections on my own experience of doing a viva and a mixture of things that people told me that proved useful.  There is a list of tips at the end.  Thanks to all those who gave me advice and who have contributed (anonymously) to this piece.

I hope this post will be useful to others.  Let me know if it was.

Defending

Preparation

Practice presentations 

It is difficult to recreate the conditions of a viva.  One useful thing to do in the months leading up to a viva is to take the opportunity to do some talks/presentations to groups – on your research topic.  In the lead up to mine I was able to present my research at a conference and also to present a seminar at another university to some staff and other research students.  In both cases I was asked questions afterwards by those in attendance.  This type of feedback is invaluable.  I found both of these experiences to be good preparation for my viva.

Re-read key texts and know your thesis

In the few months before submitting a thesis reading becomes less of a priority, as the pressure to finish writing and edit existing work takes over.  After submission you now have some breathing space before your viva.  Use it wisely.  Reread some key books and articles relating to your topic.

Another thing you can do for the first time is to print out your completed thesis and hold it in your hand.  Reread it from start to finish.

Preparing for the questions

It is vital to be familiar with the format of the viva and the type of questions examiners might ask.  There are three main areas that they will focus on:

  • The methods that were used to carry out your research
  • The theory used in the thesis
  • The ‘so what?’ questions: what is unique about the research?

I was very fortunate to have the benefit of some very experienced academics who took the time to help me to prepare by offering advice and asking questions.  Although it’s not much fun to be grilled and put on the spot, it’s great practice.  You might want to even ask if your supervisor will arrange a ‘mock viva’ for you.  If you have grown accustomed to being asked difficult questions then it will be much easier on the day.

Examiners will often begin a viva with a general question such as, ‘Tell me about your thesis?’  This is your chance to show off what you know but also be able to show that you can give a clear and concise summary of your work in a few minutes.

One thing I found useful was to write a short summary of my thesis and practice saying it out loud.  I did the same with a list of obvious questions.  I even asked a friend if I could rehearse my answers in front of him – which was a little awkward but good practice.

On the Day:

phd03

A good nights sleep the night before is vital.  It may seem obvious, but a viva is stressful enough without being tired as well.

Be early.  In the morning of my viva I went to the university first thing so I wasn’t worried about running late.

Remember, you are allowed to bring a copy of your thesis with you into the exam.

The viva experience

The examination room is laid out very simply.  In my case I was sitting across a desk from the two examiners.  Your supervisor (or 2nd supervisor) can also be in the room but can’t say anything during the exam (in my case he even sat behind me so I couldn’t see him).

There are two examiners – one from your own university and one from another university.  Both my internal and external examiners were very friendly and did their best to make me feel relaxed.

The questions are, generally speaking, all about seeing how much your know about your topic.  In my case, many were open ended.  ‘Tell me about ‘X, Y, and Z’.’  Some were comments on what I had written, ‘I think you’ve been a bit hard on ‘such and such’.’  Others were things like, ‘How do you know your data is reliable?’

It’s important to fight your corner and not crumble under pressure.  However, it’s equally important not to appear argumentative or arrogant.  While discussing one point my external examiner said to me: ‘I don’t agree with you but that’s okay, you don’t have to agree with me.’  I was fortunate to have a very gracious examiner.

A viva usually lasts up to two hours.  After the viva is over you go out of the room while the examiners make a decision.  This is the worst part – while you wait on the good or bad news.

It’s a strange feeling afterwards, someone described it to me by saying that even if you pass, you might feel like you’ve failed.

I’m glad to be able to say that when my examiners called me back in they shook my hand and told me that I’d passed with minor corrections.  Then they gave me a report with whatever changes they wanted made outlined and and talked me through what changes to make.

It took 2 full days to sink in that it was over.

With the benefit of hindsight, the anticipation was much worse than the event.  I’ve listed below my top pieces of advice for students preparing for a viva.  I hope they are useful.

Useful tips for surviving a Viva

  1. Think of the examiners as consultants that you have hired to make your thesis better.
  2. You can’t predict the questions but prepare like you can.  Learn a summary of your thesis and the answers to some obvious questions.
  3. Read your whole thesis again in the few days before the exam.
  4. The examiner wants you to pass.  Remember this.
  5. Take time to breathe before answering a question.
  6. Take a glass of water.
  7. You may, at some stage, go off-topic.  Don’t panic.  If this happens it’s fine to ask for a reminder of the question.
  8. You’re not on TV.  You can pause to think.  Don’t put extra pressure on yourself by trying to give the perfect performance.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat the question or to clarify what they mean.
  10. You can use phrases like, ‘That’s an interesting question,’ or, ‘There are a couple of things I’d like to say about that.’  This gives you more time to gather your thoughts.
  11. Try to look the examiner in the eye.
  12. Be confident but not aggressive.
  13. Be serious, but don’t forget to smile.
  14. It’s okay to admit weaknesses but never say ‘I might have got that wrong.’
  15. Always emphasise the positive aspects of your research.
  16. Try to enjoy the experience – you will grow from it.
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‘Your pain is our pain. God bless you.’

A bunch of flowers in the Shankill memorial garden this week that said from ‘the good people of the Ardoyne’.

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(tweeted by UTV’ s Judith Hill)

There was no ‘sorry’.  There are times for ‘sorry’ and there are times when, if the truth be told, ‘sorry’ doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Many of those who were victims or who lost loved ones don’t want to forgive and they don’t think they should have to either.  And who are the rest of us to judge them, they who are haunted by the ghosts of their loved ones daily?

The poet Phillip Whitfield wrote, ‘It is not the dead I pity.’  If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of the survivors you’ll know what he meant.

The flowers were a simple symbolic act of empathy.  True empathy says something like: ‘We know you are hurting. We offer no excuses or explanations.  Without words or preconditions we acknowledge your suffering and, in our own way, we also suffer because you are suffering.’

Empathy and compassion connect me to you, and you to me.  Without empathy and compassion we will be forever disconnected, and forever at war.  Without empathy and compassion there is no peace.  Empathy and compassion can reach out over the abyss of decades of political and social segregation, and connect people who have never met but who have suffered the same loss and felt the same pain.

Frederick Buechner wrote: ‘Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you.’

This was illustrated this week by a powerful moment on UTV live, hosted by Paul Clarke.  Sometimes journalists get a hard time for only reporting bad news and whipping up tension so, with that in mind, it is worth pointing out that some of them do a brilliant job.

Two of the men on the panel were Charlie Butler and Mark Rodgers.  Charlie Butler lost three members of his family in the Shankill bomb.  Mark Rodgers lost his Dad in a revenge shooting three days later at the Kennedy Way cleaning depot.

In the twenty years since, the two had never met but when Mark Rodgers crossed the studio to shake Charlie Butler’s hand, they embraced.

“God bless you,” Mark said.

“And yourself. Your pain is our pain. God bless you,” Charlie replied.

Cornel West wrote: ‘We must never let our own suffering blind ourselves to the suffering of others.’

When we feel the pain of others it is no longer possible to hate them or ignore them, because we are a part of their suffering and they are a part of ours.

Those of us who want to build a more peaceful future must, like Mark Rodgers, cross our own metaphorical studios, whatever they may be, and say, ‘God bless you.’  And along with Charlie Butler, we must be able to say, ‘Your pain in our pain.’  They have shown us how to do it.  The rest of us no longer have an excuse.

In a week when our political representatives were busy yelling whataboutery at each other on the usual television and radio shows, ordinary people were busy moving forward without them.

Thank you Mark Rodgers, Charlie Butler, and the good people of Ardoyne, for showing us the way.

‘Not really being very democratic’: Loyalists Against Democracy, part 3

LAD3This is the third in a series of posts that came about after I asked, several times, those behind the Loyalists Against Democracy site to meet up with me.  They refused.

I am not the only person to object to LAD.

In parts 1 and 2 I asked 12 influential people to offer their opinion on the Loyalist Against Democracy website.  These were a combination of community relations workers, community workers, writers, academics, a politician, and a church leader.  They were male and female, and catholic and protestant.  Together they have hundreds of years of experience of peace work.

They raised concerns about the mendacity behind LAD.

LAD laughed it off.

The first thing to say is that LAD should not make light of the views of those who have together spent hundreds of years helping to build the peace they now enjoy.  It is one thing to mock those you think contribute to the violence.  It is quite another to mock those who have contributed to peace.  It is arrogant in the extreme.

It is interesting that LAD featured uncritically on BBC Northern Ireland’s ‘The View’ this week, as their ‘tweet of the week’.  Perhaps next week ‘The View’ might want to use the one below?

LAD C

Others in the media have started to question LAD.  These include journalist Brian Whelan, who in a tweet referred to LAD as ‘the Loyalists Against Democracy joke (that got a bit old)’.

On Friday at the Political Studies Association of Ireland conference ‘Alan in Belfast‘ said it was time for LAD  to ‘wise up and grow up’ (part 2 20:25).  Likewise, panelist and journalist Alex Kane (part 3 3:00), warned against the tone LAD takes.

LAD have every right to say the things they do.  What they don’t have the right to do is complain when the same mirror that they hold up to other people is then turned back on them.  Claim you want to expose sectarianism and bigotry?  Then don’t complain when people point out your own bigotry and prejudices.

LAD claim to have noble intentions.  They claim to be providing a public service in exposing sectarianism.  They do this through a process of the public online shaming of individuals that they decide need shaming.  Aside from that not really being very democratic, I wonder how many of these individuals have been convinced by LAD’s tactics and now hold a different worldview?  I would imagine there aren’t many.  With this in mind it’s probably worth asking if they have actually helped in any way to eradicate sectarianism?  Probably not.

It is one thing to speak truth to power.  It’s quite another to attempt to speak ‘truth’ – if that is what this is – from a position of anonymous, unaccountable power, as LAD do.

A number of people have contacted me telling me who they think LAD are and who they are connected to.  One of the concerns some people have about LAD is that they have cranked up sectarian tensions.  I have no intention attempting to ‘out’ them, but Loyalists should at least know that LAD are not part of some Republican agenda against them.  LAD are self-loathing Unionists.  Unionist self-hate is nothing new.  David Ervine said that Unionists invented the word Loyalists so they could separate themselves from those in their own tradition that they considered ‘scum’.  That tradition is alive and well today.

Another interesting feature about LAD is that they thrive on anonymity.   It’s easy to make fun of people when you do it behind a mask.  I have a problem with anonymity and unaccountability, whether it’s on the streets or on the internet.  I suppose LAD would probably be critical of those who pull on a mask and go out on to the street bullying people, the same should apply to those who pull on a mask and go on the internet bullying people.

I know LAD don’t think they are bullies – bullies never think they are bullies – but this is what a female friend – fed up with LAD – wrote to me: ‘Those LAD dicks are simply bullies that the middle classes can like. I do despair for this country sometimes.’  They also might want to consider why some of the contributors to my previous two blogs were so worried about LAD’s bully boy tactics turning on them that they did not want their names included.

One feature of democracy LAD claim to be exercising is the ability to engage in open public debate.  When we step out of line there are people around us to pull us back in (indeed, that is what LAD claims to do).  No one is above criticism.  No one, of course, except LAD.  Object to their discourse and you get told you are a ‘tit’, an ‘arsehole’, a ‘c**t’, or an ‘ass’.  When LAD is offered any sort of critique, it just reverts to exactly the kind of bully boy tactics that it claims to oppose.

Instead of striking out at the most powerful, LAD often strikes out at some of the most vulnerable.  Is having problems with literacy funny?  If you know someone who struggles with literacy and the stigma that is attached to it then you know that it is anything but funny.

The pleasure that LAD seems to take in mocking literacy levels is alarming.  LAD argue that if you are sectarian (again, by their definition of sectarianism, where it seems only working class unionists can be sectarian) then your lack of literacy is fair game for ridicule.  I would ask LAD that if people are sectarian and also have cancer is it also fair game to make fun of them for having cancer?  I wouldn’t think so.

I can think of something much more productive LAD could do instead of laughing at people who struggle to read and write.  LAD could pour their creative energy into setting up or helping out at homework clubs in Loyalist areas where there is educational underachievement, in order to tackle the poor literacy levels they like to highlight.  That way they could really start to address the problems facing Loyalist communities instead of laughing at them.  I can’t imagine they will, but I would be happy for them to prove me wrong.

Exposing bigotry or exposing their own bigotry? Loyalists Against Democracy: part 2

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Part 2 continues with responses that I received from people who wished to comment on the Loyalist Against Democracy website.

From a male church leader with a long history of involvement in peacebuilding:

‘I’m not a huge fan of the site though I have dipped in and out from time to time. I suppose my main problem with it is the same problem I had when the church made statements condemning violence (in either camp) but there was little going on on the ground to change things. The megaphone approach of condemnation or satire by middle class Christians or secular-humanists, unmatched by a willingness to get hands dirty and change hearts and minds is ultimately self-defeating… driving those you pontificate about further into a corner… Especially when LAD has turned its ire on those like John Kyle, who are trying to make a difference. This only serves in fulfilling the paranoia of those who claim to be on the margins already by forcing them further out of “respectable” society. My other problem with it as a satire site is that a lot of it just isn’t funny… That said, the campaign against the facebook site by those within loyalism, be it the repeated claims of harassment getting it banned, or the denigration of it as “Republican” is further proof that large swathes of loyalism are not interested in democracy or free speech, but only in hearing their own perspectives and prejudices repeated… But then they have learned that trick from established unionism with it’s constant criticism of the “liberal” BBC because it shines a light on the poor behaviour of the PUL community… The BBC (and media in general) doesn’t need to do any investigative journalism to uncover the shadowside of the PUL community – we parade it for the world to see… putting it on facebook and youtube… Yet when the BBC or LAD or anyone else draws attention to it then there is a loud cry of foul republican plot… If the PUL community put its own house in order then LAD would be out of business and the BBC would only be reporting the misdemeanours of republicans…’

From a female writer involved in education:

‘I suppose I would start by saying that if they are serious about challenging sectarianism then the way to go about it probably isn’t to only have a go at one side of the community. But aside from that…

The PUL people (who also actually count as ‘the people’ despite the fact that LAD seem to think they represent, er, everyone) may not have legitimate fears but they are certainly real fears, and those fears won’t dissipate through ridicule. I am angry at the flag protestors too. I’m angry that they have harmed their own community so much. The LAD group wants to suggest that they’re only having a go at flag protesters but their page is full of nasty comments about working class PUL in general. Last Christmas I sat and listened to a taxi driver in East Belfast who said he felt suicidal because he’d lost so much business. Those were his people on the street- very possibly people that he agreed with ideologically- and they were crippling him. So when everyone gets lumped in together they include him, and they include the bus driver who, that same evening, had his bus bricked as [my partner and I] sat at the back (the brick bounced off the window but the window completely shattered). He was really rattled, and he had to continue his round.

LAD like to make fun of people for poor grammar and spelling, they like to suggest that working class PUL people are thick. I say, if they’re so clever then why are they spending their days on photoshop making crap jokes? If they’re concerned about sectarianism then perhaps they should be championing those people doing community work is difficult areas. Low literacy isn’t a joke, neither are the suicide rates in East Belfast. There are plenty of working class PUL people spending *their* days trying to keep kids off the streets and trying to sort this shit out.’

From an elected PUL male politician:

“LAD was apparently born out the flag protests and quoting them “L.A.D. is a cross-community, non-political group set up to combat the growing tide of sectarianism in Northern Ireland through the use of satire” in effect they have evolved to be an instrument which mainly parodies some within the PUL community. Yes they undoubtedly highlight sectarianism but do seem to ignore other types of sectarianism from within republicanism for example. At times I find myself occasionally agreeing with them when they highlight the unelected ‘leaders of on the ground loyalism’ doing or saying simply stupid things, in fact things that I would imagine would embarrass many Unionists and Loyalists.

I’ve read comments on Facebook from a very unrepresentative section of the PUL community [LAD has then highlighted] which is appalling, sheer hatred of the RC community which has no place in our society. But I would feel confident that similar stuff is written on Facebook about ‘Pradisans’ but LAD choose to ignore it. Perhaps their core readership wouldn’t find it so funny?

One final issue that I would have is how funny does LAD think it is to highlight some within the PUL community who have difficulty spelling? How is that tackling sectarianism? Rather it is simply making light of an issue of educational under achievement which should be addressed but this is certainly not the way to do it. Is LAD then achieving its core aim?  Not by my standards.”

From a male community development worker in a Loyalist area:

‘Mmmmm. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure…I laugh, but I know I shouldn’t. The ludicrousness of loyalist incompetence is vying with genuine compassion for a struggling community. But I’m also aware that there is a darkness to loyalist culture that needs to be exposed and satire is a critical tool in exposing it. So I welcome the satire, though is it just me that detects that whilst in the early days there was genuine comedy in it, in recent weeks a really nasty streak seems to be emerging in the material.

Wonder too whether is is possible to be satirical about republican culture. Maybe I’m just not aware of where it’s happening.’

Male community development worker and peace worker:

If I’m honest, I’ve laughed out loud at some LAD posts and sworn out loud at others. LAD is a sign of the times we live in, lacking depth or accountability. It’s own haste trips itself up and is reactive which is always easier than creative. I find it cruel yet I laugh so what does that make me?

It’s unwillingness to engage face to face is worrying but not untypical of Norn Iron.’

This is more what I was trying to say:

‘It is easier to be against something than for something. And yet, it is much more gratifying to create than to destroy.’ – Miroslav Volf

A final thought from a very experienced community relations worker:

Step back. Point. Laugh. Call it satire. Call it whatever you like (and “satire” can cover a multitude of sins) but when it starts and stops there then in the final analysis its falls far short of any constructive address of Loyalism’s often genuine short-comings. In the final analysis it is very little real use to anyone. It’s easy though (far easier than a genuine involvement) and will get you attention if there are a few laughs to be had (and yes I have laughed at some of their material).

At this point I should also declare my own bigotry. I am from protestant working class unionist stock. Truth be told i jettisoned my unionism many years ago so LAD’s material doesn’t offend my pretty much non- existent Unionism/Loyalism. However when it openly declares its middle class credentials and castigates and ridicules entire working class communities then my working class bigotry can get a quick re-visit. So who am I to talk eh?

Exposing bigotry or exposing their own bigotry? Loyalists Against Democracy: part 1

ladHaving grown concerned about some of the discourse that those behind the ‘parody’ Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD) website were using I contacted them and asked them to meet up and discuss what they felt they were contributing to peace.  I asked them politely several times, all of which they declined.

Following their refusal to meet up, I decided to address my concerns about LAD on here.  In order to do this I asked a range of writers, academics, church leaders, politicians, and community workers to give their opinion about LAD. The response was so great that I decided that the best thing to do was to publish their opinions in full. The amount and depth of responses mean that I will publish them in two parts.  I have ordered them in the order they were sent to me.

Because LAD are faceless and hide behind a mask, making them unaccountable, I promised my contributors anonymity if they wished. However, I will give a little general information about the background of each person.  What follows are not my opinions, these are the unedited opinions of very experienced practitioners and thinkers who have contributed significantly to building peace in this part of the world.  They are a mix of voices from the Catholic and Protestant communities.  Cumulatively they have hundreds of years of experience in peacebuilding.

Firstly, from an experienced male community relations worker from the Catholic community:

‘You know, I haven’t “liked” it – some of the things I’ve seen linked to from other people’s posts about it are funny, but I have a problem about it – and I reckon that any loyalist friends of mine would feel like it does their cause damage. I’m not a loyalist, and I have major problems with the idea that loyalism is under attack (I don’t believe that at all) but I don’t think that the loyalists against democracy page is helpful.’

From a female community worker in a Loyalist area:

‘whilst sections of their sectarian satire posts can witty, it is a dangerous dark humour which serves no purpose other than to crank up already heightened tensions.’

From a male community worker in a Loyalist area:

‘The LAD site can occasionally be quite humorous and the political satire chewing gum for the mind. However I once heard a phrase about another column entitled Wit & Wisdom and LAD fits the same bill, very little wit and absolutely no wisdom.’

This from a widely published male community worker and writer and on Loyalism and Unionism:

‘..my opinion is that the growth of this kind of satire is fascinating, painful to see and that it will grow. For what was it Karl Marx said about history occurring the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce?  You see the loyalist cultural project is now so eaten through with incapacity that it seems entirely farcical for bands calling themselves Young Conquerers to be so patently losers – and so this invites the kind of vicious comic treatment that LAD offers, made all the more potent because twenty five years ago, loyalism still had tragic muscle and in certain quarters a sharp, grounded and innovative ethos. Yes, LAD is cruel, as all humour can be very cruel and it makes the abasement of the PUL psyche even more grievous but I doubt if the tide of ridicule can be turned, until enough PUL people come to see that one needs to exercise self awareness in order to know how to stop being a butt of humour and a laughing stock. Any school teacher knows that a kid who is mocked will only stop being mocked either when he learns to modify his behaviour or when he is protected by an authority figure, and that authority figure ain’t there so there has to be some quick learning going on, in the art of self-scrutiny and self-remodelling.

[There is] nothing more delicious to a nationalist or to someone who was a rotten Prod than mocking the deposed and neutered Loyalist bully, risky too as he may still have strength for one more knuckleduster punch. Dangerous too. As Nietzsche pointed out, he who fights with monsters must beware lest he too becomes a monster. The mockery of Bryson is in part a fearful class based thing, the derision for the uppity wee skitter from the estate, who wears cheap sports gear and a gold chain and gives you lip at the bus stop.

..superladtube [is] taking it to a whole disconcerting new level of cruelty…however some of the deconstruction of the infamous uvf remuralling project on you tube is utterly brilliant and morally impeccable.’

A female writer wrote:

‘It comes across as really superior and snobbish. As we heard on the news yesterday Northern Ireland’s literacy levels are terrible. It’s nothing to make light of. If they’re so clever, what are they doing to help?’

The final extract of part 1 is from Dr. Gareth Mulvenna, a visiting research fellow at Queen’s University, who did not mind his name being used:

‘LAD Fleg may claim to be the creation of a cross-section of our community, including working class Protestants, but one wonders what it actually adds to the debate. Rather than move things forward this type of parody only serves to reinforce liberal, middle-class, stereotypes of a community which is felt to be holding the ‘peace process’ back. More out of step with modern society are dissident Republicans yet we rarely see social media being used to the same extent to highlight the ridiculous, but more threatening, nature of their activities. The loyalist flag protestors, like the white working class ‘chavs’ which Owen Jones wrote about in England, are easy meat for those who have a delusional sense that Belfast begins and ends in the Cathedral Quarter. The dissidents are harder to challenge and pose the most severe threat to the peace due to their violent nature. Flag protestors, particularly the younger ones, should be given the opportunity to be understood – what are their social and economic concerns? Can we educate them about the welfare state and the best aspects of their British culture? That way we can move forward. Laughing and sneering at the loyalist community won’t fix anything.’

Part 2 will contain extracts from other writers, community activists, a PUL politican, and clergy.

Dear BBC NI and ‘The Blame Game’….

Dear BBC Northern Ireland and ‘The Blame Game’,

I would like to draw your attention to a recent incident on your show ‘The Blame Game’, in which one of your ‘comedians’ did an impression of someone with a speech impediment.  Clearly the standard of comedy on the show was not high when you resort to making fun of someone who suffers from this type of disability.  This type of ‘comedy’ – which I find neither funny nor entertaining – falls well below the high standards I would expect from the BBC.

It seems to me like it should be self-evident that jokes that mimick those with speech impediments are an utterly unacceptable form of public entertainment.  That this show is being funded by the public via the licence fee causes me great unease, as it should you.

The question I would like BBC Northern Ireland and ‘The Blame Game’ to address is this: on what planet are you living where it is acceptable to make fun of people with speech impediments?

If you don’t mind, perhaps then you would also clarify for me what other disabilities you find it acceptable to make fun of?

I wonder if you think it is funny to laugh at those who have learning disabilities?

I wonder if you also laugh at people in wheelchairs?

What about people with downs syndrome?

Where do we stop?  What about people with AIDS or cancer?

It would be useful for future reference if BBC Northern Ireland and The Blame Game would send me a list of disabilities and conditions that you regard as fair game to ridicule.

I know that those at The Blame Game are comedy fans, so perhaps you have heard Stewart Lee’s piece about Top Gear making fun of Gordon Brown’s sight?  It starts at 8:33 in the clip below.

The person in question that was made fun of on your show was Jamie Bryson.  I have no objection to you disagreeing with Mr Bryson’s political views – quite frankly, I don’t agree with him myself – but his views are irrelevant as to whether it is acceptable to use a speech impediment as a point of mockery.

I asked a friend for some feedback before I published this article and this is what he said: ‘I like a laugh as much as the next guy but the secret in comedy is knowing the limits. Evidently the Blame has crossed the line. I have a speech impediment and it is not funny – it is damned difficult and far from funny.’

A final note for the comedian who made the comments.  I don’t know your name, which probably says something of the quality of your comedy and why you need to resort to mocking disabilities to get a laugh, but what I would say to you is this: the type of people who make fun of people with disabilities are unintelligent bullies.  When you mock someone for having a speech impediment you don’t make a d***head out of them, you make a d***head out of yourself.  I hope you have a child or grandchild someday who develops a speech impediment.  I hope every day when they go to school that they get bullied and mocked because of it and then they come home in tears and they look to you for comfort and support.  (I don’t really wish the final part – no normal person would – but if you’ve watched the clip above you’ll understand what I’m saying.)

I look forward to hearing back from you on this matter.

Dave Magee

p.s. I asked BBC NI for someone to email about this and they couldn’t/wouldn’t give me an email address to send it to.  I hope that by publishing it on my blog it will get a response.

Jun Tzu: from East Belfast to Ardoyne (stopping at Bangor and Ards)

Last week I had the great pleasure of setting up poetry and rap workshops with various youth groups and schools for ‘Norn Irish’ rapper, Jun Tzu.  It was a very busy couple of days, but he delighted his old fans and made many new ones.  Watching the young people walk out of the workshops with big smiles on their faces and free signed cds in their pockets was a sight to behold.  Many thanks to Jun Tzu for taking the time out and traveling over from Manchester to do this work.  Below are some of the highlights of the two days:

Tuesday:

Firstly, we met a group from Dundonald High School at the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road, organised through Charter NI (see below).  Big thanks to David and Caroline from Charter NI for organising and to the headmaster of Dundonald HS for bringing the pupils out of school at the beginning of term.  During the workshop Jun asked the group to write down everything they associated with their school.  They then wrote their own individual poems about the school and read them aloud to each other.  After this each participant took a line from their own poem and composed a collective poem about their school based on the ‘Save Dundonald High School’ campaign.

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On Tuesday evening we visited North Down Community Assistance in Newtownards.  It was a brilliant evening with some of the local teenagers from the Bowtown estate.  Thanks to Laura and Walter for hosting and organising the group.  Jun Tzu performed some of his own poems and then got the young people to write and perform their own.  Below are two shots of the workshop:

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Wednesday:

On Wednesday morning we visited Holy Cross Boys Primary School in Ardoyne.  While there Jun Tzu performed a rap to the senior classes in the school (see below) and afterwards held a question and answer session with the boys.  The best question of the morning was, ‘Do rappers get taxis or buses?’ The answer, of course (as everyone knows), is buses.  Thanks to the staff of Holy Cross Boys’, especially the headmaster, for making us so welcome.

Later in the afternoon, we visited Bangor Alternatives in Kilcooley.  Thanks to Jim, Jim and Ruth for hosting there.  A special mention must go to Dylan – aka Yland – a 13 yr old rapper who Jun Tzu told was better than he was when he was 13.  Dylan is definitely one to watch for the future!  Below are a couple of photos of some of the particpants with their signed cds and the workshop:

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After the workshop Jun Tzu did a gig in Kilcooley Community Centre for the local community.  Despite some dodgy acoustics he pulled through and put on a great show for his young fans (and a few older ones too).  Thanks to all who helped organise, publicise, and lend equipment to make it happen.

Not finished yet, Jun Tzu then went and performed a gig in the Menagerie which went on late into the night.  Below is a clip from ‘Wee Johnny’, one of the stand out tracks of the night and a firm fans’ favourite (as you will see from the singing along).

A huge thanks to Jun Tzu for all the hard work he put in and to all the individuals and organisations who worked together to make the trip such a success.  A final thank you to Chris Eva for videoing the workshops and for Darren Anderson for taking photographs.

For anyone who still wants more, there is an article about Jun Tzu and a video of him performing on the Newtownabbey Times website here.

Jun Tzu’s album ‘The Troubles’ will be out later this year – in the meantime you can check out his music on Youtube.