Flash Says…

Archive for January 2011

Last year I won a ticket and goody bag to the British Music Experience, at London’s O2. On the last available date I decided to go along – after all, it was free! The normal entry fee is £10 which I would normally consider rather steep – there are many excellent museums which have no entry charge – but the BME’s main sponsor has guaranteed to give away 15,000 tickets in the first 3 years, so you too may get lucky. If I hadn’t won a ticket (in a competition which appealed to my musical geek) I may never have considered going – and would have missed out on an enjoyable and memorable experience.

You enter (and leave) the BME through the shop – first entering a cinema room to watch Lauren Laverne give an overview of what’s on offer. Uh-oh, I thought – I’m suspicious of any museum which has to tell me how to navigate. In the event it boils down to “you can visit any room, in any order”. The merits of your “smart ticket” were explained – there are swipe points throughout the museum so you can tag items you enjoyed – which seemed a bit unnecessary, other than as a means of downloading videos you’ve made in the interactive exhibits.

I decided to make a beeline for a period which interested me – 1970s – and then work forward to see how this music had influenced bands up to the current day – then if I had time, go back and see how the sounds of the 1970s had in turn been affected. Seemed simple, and it worked quite well (I had plenty of time for sections which were quite detailed, and didn’t mind hurrying through a brief overview of jazz and skiffle. That said, it was nice to see Humphrey Lyttelton’s trumpet.)

Each room was different, but with generally similar features. Rooms were well balanced – the earliest one covered almost two decades of the post-war era, whereas there could be a couple of rooms spanning a decade where there was a lot going on.

I had assumed that I would simply be viewing display cases of concert outfits and wrecked guitars, while a video played in the background. I was wrong – it was far more interactive than this, with the opportunity to go into depth on many subjects. For example Table Talk, where you pick up headphones and watch videos about how Live Aid came about, and other topics; and Rock Galaxy where you pop different singles on a turntable, while learning about which genre of rock they covered (folk-rock, punk-rock, psychedelic-rock, prog-rock, etc.) and see how they all come together. In addition to these hands on displays, every room had a large screen with a console where you could scroll through snippets of news from that era, to understand the political background of the music you were hearing.

British Music Experience goody bag and smart ticket
Goody bag (and contents) and smart ticket

The benefit of my smart ticket became clear – how often have you found yourself enthralled by an item at an exhibition, trying desparately to absorb everything about it? This system meant I could swipe my ticket and move on, knowing that it was “banked” for later, which in practice merely served as a list of starting points for google. However, it was useful to remind me of a few tracks I hadn’t really known and wanted to learn about, rather than forgetting about them as soon as I walked back into reality – such as “Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac. If I’d taken part in any of the “video booth” exhibits, I could have used my ticket to download my film clips at home.

The BME really appealed to my enthusiasm for music, with a suitable depth of information, although some people might simply enjoy seeing the Spice Girls’ outfits and watching the big screens. Whatever your interest, you will probably enjoy the exhibition – although it might not hold children captivated for long. It was an interesting place to explore; easy to become absorbed in the exhibits, and I realised afterwards that I didn’t once hear a song I disliked! In fact I’ve started to realise that, with the exception of some Scandinavian artists, I could do without most non-British pop music. Certainly I feel I could manage without America’s contribution – although one display, Atlantic Crossing, demonstrated how their styles have influenced us, and vice versa. The BME also reminded me, with pride, of how many global acts are actually “ours”.

I was too engrossed in the “edge zones” to spare more than a few minutes on the central section, but I noticed that the attractions in this area seemed to be aimed at families and either had a queue (one booth to record yourself dancing, another which simulated being on stage) or were not of much interest to me (display of record and tape decks, or the hometowns of certain artists).

Closing time approached and as I left I collected my goody bag and was quite impressed – a BME branded record bag containing pen, mousemat, badges, travelcard holder, and one of those handy keyrings that doubles as a £1 token for supermarket trolleys. Given that I had enjoyed the last 90 minutes and then received some useful items (a couple of which I’d considered buying) this had been a very good prize.

I wish I hadn’t waited to visit: I could have passed another couple of hours if I’d heard every video or tried all the exhibits – and for that reason I would recommend that visitors go on a day off rather than trying to cram in a trip after work. Having explored most of the material, I don’t feel a need to go back in the near future – maybe I would if a new section was added? That said, I have already snapped up tickets to one of their events later in the year, and I’ll take the chance to catch up on a few extra Table Talks when I return. If you have any interest in music, or just fancy a different kind of museum – then the BME is well worth visiting.

The British Music Experience’s website is http://www.britishmusicexperience.com/

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[Crossposted to Where’s the Benefit? where I am one of the team]

The government’s proposed changes to DLA have been much reported – and you can see articles about why it matters on Flash Says and across the blogosphere, including Where’s the Benefit of course. The news that 20% of people will no longer qualify, and that the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will become harder to obtain than the existing system is a bitter blow to those who worked hard just to demonstrate their entitlement. Indeed, it is reported in the news today that the proposed change from DLA to PIP could breach human rights laws; the fight to save DLA goes on.

But I think there is one more important aspect to DLA that has been overlooked; it is a gateway to many other things.

By that I mean that the standards for mobility and care levels are fairly well defined; organisations which deal with disabled people and assess their need can simply look at the individual’s DLA award to understand what that person’s needs might be, rather than reinventing the wheel and creating their own assessment system. In many cases, receipt of DLA at a certain level provides automatic entitlement to other benefits and services.

For example, here are some useful schemes for which you would automatically qualify, if you get DLA at the levels specified

  • Disabled person’s railcard – Any mobility award, or higher or middle rate care
  • Warm Front scheme – a grant for heating and insulation work – Any DLA award
  • Disability Premium – extra money if you are on income-related benefits – Any DLA award, although middle or higher rate care entitles you to a higher amount, the “severe disability premium”

and the items below are awarded if you have a Higher rate mobility award:

  • Freedom Pass – free travel on London Transport
  • Blue badge
  • Taxicard – reduced fares on London taxis
  • Dial-a-Ride
  • Refund on road vehicle tax
  • Motability scheme
  • National bus pass (in Scotland, higher or middle rate care award also qualifies)

Indeed, it was reported in the Northern Echo this week that “claiming [Disability Living Allowance] not only benefits the recipient and helps stimulate the local economy, it also simplifies the Blue Badge process. This is because people are automatically entitled to a Blue Badge if they are in receipt of the higher rate of the Disability Living Allowance mobility component so don’t need medical evidence to show they have mobility problems and so there are fewer appeals against the refusal of the badge.”

Many other organisations use DLA as a method of determining entitlement – it is a simple way to demonstrate need, and it’s rather less embarrassing than asking someone’s medical history at the front desk. For example many museums, theatres and concert venues will allow a “carer” to enter with you for free. Waving your letter from the DWP can get you the help or concession that you need!

Glastonbury and other festivals also use DLA as a guide to need – for example, in order to access facilities such as disabled camping, accessible toilets and viewing platforms, as well as being permitted a free ticket for your personal assistant, you need to be in receipt of higher rate mobility, and/or middle or higher rate care DLA. (If you don’t claim DLA then you can always make your case to the access co-ordinator, but then provision is discretionary rather than automatic, which can make for a nervous few weeks until you hear whether your application is approved!)

I also haven’t heard anything about how the Motability scheme will operate after the demise of DLA. Over half a million people use the scheme and will be part way through a contract when the changes come into force. Will PIP be enough to fund Motability car hire? How about those whose award level is changed after a PIP medical assessment – how will they be able to afford the car, scooter or powerchair that they need?

When DLA is replaced with PIP, things are going to get complicated. After all, the government has stated that it wants to get 20% of people off this type of benefit, but those people’s needs won’t go away. They will be left with no easy way to demonstrate their level of disability. Organisations won’t have a clear understanding of what the relevant levels of PIP correspond with – at least, not straight away. Will old DLA letters be able to be used? For how long, until everyone is required to hold a PIP entitlement instead?

People may be up in arms at the thought of losing DLA, and frustrated at the thought of having to apply for a new benefit – but they should also be fearful of losing the many extra benefits that they use, with no easy route to prove their need once the DLA rug is pulled from under us all.

The police woke me in the small hours of the morning – not at my door, but in my street, around my car, and having closed off the road. It made me wonder how well I truly know my neighbours…

Dozing while my husband slept beside me, I heard the sound of a car alarm – just a couple of blips. There it came again. Then banging, thuds of a door being slammed and something being thrown around. I stumbled to the window, to make sure my car was secure. To my surprise, police in body armour and helmets were all over the street.

The entrance to our road turning was blocked by a police van, and I could make out the nose of an ambulance standing by on the High Road. Next to my car was a large unmarked Transit van into which men were unloading their kit. On the other side was a dog unit, its occupant being walked back down the road – the German Shepherd complained as they put him back in the van, and my own dog stood up and barked back. What a great way to wake up the neighbours at 3am!

Plainly the police had been stealthy on arrival but less considerate as they packed up again. I’d obviously missed the “action”, but it was clear that they had been raiding a property further down my own cul-de-sac, or the close behind my house.

As I returned to bed, I couldn’t help wondering – terrorist, or drug dealer? Perhaps the target was a child porn ring, or an armed robber? Could it be the students at number 53, or the man who’s just moved into 19A? I quickly ruled out terrorism – the Muslims in our street are all family men, friendly and quietly spoken. Perhaps the woman who keeps herself to herself at number 70 has something to hide, or I should suspect the Lithuanian family at 86? Stereotypes swam into my mind, while I tried to work out how well I truly know the people in my street.

Those characters are ficticious. The people don’t exist and nor do the house numbers. But I do pride myself on knowing my neighbours – I’ve lived in this house for 8 years and am active in my local residents’ association and neighbourhood watch group. I can’t leave the house without running into people I know – in fact for one week I counted, and found that during a 20 minute walk with my dog, I’d run into an average of seven people who’d say hello, two of whom would stop for a chat. A few of my neighbours have become good friends. These kind of reassurances made me think I had a good measure of the people living in my pleasant, peaceful, dead end street.

I’m not surprised to learn that “busts” and “raids” can happen anywhere; everyone’s got to live somewhere, after all. But it’s always a shock to look out of your window and see a street full of policemen, especially if they feel that armour and dogs are necessary. I do love the area where I live, particularly as so many people open their doors to me – but now I’ll be wondering a little more about what goes on behind them once they are closed.