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- A week in Rutland: Oakham
- New free course: Making up characters
- Nobel peace prize: Tunisia
- Watch: Space rocks
- National Poetry Day
- World Mental Health day
Every general election brings a flurry of excitement as new names appear on the benches at Westminster, often at the expense of long-serving MPs who have been bested at the polls. But how do you cope when the job you've done for five years is suddenly, publicly, taken away from you by the people you were serving?
The OU's Jane Roberts has been talking to former MPs, and other elected officials, about the pain of losing their seats, and those in power about how they might react. As we cast aside those who fail at the polls, could we be losing something of value?:
From my interviews, it was clear that current politicians mostly had given little thought to when and how they might leave political office. MPs, by and large, were reluctant to think about it. Council leaders tend to be in office for a shorter time than MPs, but, even so, few had given much thought to when and how they might leave it.
Stories are often powerful. And so it is the case here. There are many powerful narratives in this research: about the experiences of holding political office; about how carelessly dismissed the individuals feel on leaving that office; and about how what former office holders may still have to offer is so little recognised.
I argue that not only do we, the public, do a disservice to those who leave political office and their families, but we do ourselves a disservice by failing to make use of their valuable skills and experience. Furthermore, I make the case that the conditions into which we elect our representatives and the smoothness or otherwise with which they can leave office have wider implications for our representative democracy.
Saturday the 10th is World Mental Health Day - we've gathered OpenLearn content into a collection for you to explore stories from mental health survivors, discover support and strategies, and find out how you could become a mental health professional.
Yesterday was National Poetry Day, and BBC Radio 4 marked it by threading poets and poetry through the day telling the story of We British. There's a lot to explore on the Radio 4 website, including some clips of poems being brough alive through reading. Like Vanessa Kisuule's The Skies Are Grey With Remorse:
Everything you wanted to know about space rocks, but were afraid to ask - in a short animation from the Royal Observatory.
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 has been awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for their work in bringing plural democracy back to Tunisa, and for the encouragement they've provided for the democracy in what has been a difficult period.
One of the observers at last October's elections, Ahmed Medien, wrote at the time about the challenges facing the new government:
The elections in Tunisia were messy (ar). The committee in charge of organizing the elections and several observer groups recorded violations by several political parties, including Nidaa Tounes, who lost a seat in Kasserine. However, these elections are not the end goal per se, only mechanisms to reinstate and reinforce plurality. The challenge that remains in Tunisia is to work within the pluralistic democratic framework now in place, with the new constitution as the safeguard of rights and liberties during the next five years of governance.
New to OpenLearn today is a new course which makes up part of our range of advice and learning for aspirant authors - Start Writing Fiction: Characters and stories. You'll learn from experts - both people writing today, and the greats of literature. This extract from Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is one of the examples used to spark your own creativity:
I got to think, he repeated to himself. I got to think. He opened the street door and went out. He didn't even wait to fetch his hat. His hair was thin on top, dry and brittle under the dandruff. He walked rapidly, going nowhere in particular, but every road in Brighton ended on the front. I'm too old for the game, I got to get out, Nottingham; he wanted to be alone, he went down the stone steps to the level of the beach; it was early closing and the small shops facing the sea under the promenade were closed. He walked on the edge of the asphalt, scuffling in the shingle. I wouldn't grass, he remarked dumbly to the tide as it lifted and withdrew, but it wasn't my doing, I never wanted to kill Fred. He passed the shadow under the pier, and a cheap photographer with a box camera snapped him as the shadow fell and pressed a paper into his hand. Spicer didn't notice. The iron pillars stretched down across the wet dimmed shingle holding up above his head the motor-track, the shooting booths and peep machines, mechanical models, 'the Robot Man will tell your fortune'. A seagull flew straight across towards him between the pillars like a scared bird caught in a cathedral, then swerved out into the sunlight from the dark iron nave. I wouldn't grass, Spicer said, unless I had to .... He stumbled on an old boot and put his hand on the stones to save himself: they had all the cold of the sea and had never been warmed by sun under these pillars.
This week, we've been starting our days with short visits to Rutland. In case you've missed our trips so far, here's where we've been:
We're ending our week in Oakham, the county town and largest settlement in the county. It's only been a single town since 1894; before that time, although a single parish, there were three townships - Oakham Lordshold, Oakham Deanshold With Barleythorpe, and Gunthorpe. A local government reorganisation of 1894 united most of the parish, although Barleythorpe was cut loose and remade as its own civil parish. (As a sidenote, Barleythorpe might have been removed from Oakham, but today it is home to Oakham United.)
Oakham's most notable claim to fame is its Norman castle - of which only the Great Hall remains. It houses a collection of horseshoes which, by tradition, nobles and royals passing through the county are obliged to present to the town. This collection is the inspiration for the horseshoe as county symbol, across everything from the local paper's masthead to the council crest. To the delight of the locals, when Channel 4's Time Team hosted an agricultural dig at the site in 2012 they even uncovered a 13th Century horseshoe.
Behind the castle stands All Saints Church, which dates back to the 13th Century but was restored considerably by George Gilbert Scott. Although a gorgrous Gothic building, there is a detail of the building which some people find hard to enjoy - the windows of the bell tower aren't aligned properly. As Pevsner put it, they are "distressingly out of the centre line of the tower to allow for the staircase."
Amongst the noted residents of the town are Roger Flore, who was speaker in three consecutive Parliaments in the 15th Century. His rise to power was aided by his skills as a lawyer - in an age of patronage, his work helping nobles with land deals allowed him to build up a stock of favours owed. But he had an electorate to tend to as well, and he showed a shrewdness here, too - in order to avoid distress at his tendency to not show up in his Rutland constituency very often, he publiclly refused to take any expenses for his parliamentary work. It's a lesson that some modern Parliamentarians might wish they'd paid more attention to.
Sir Jeffrey Hudson was baptised in Oakham, but it was his life elsewhere that was notable. Positioned by some writers as "the real life Tyrion Lannister" (from Game of Thrones), Hudson was known as "the Queen's Dwarf" and "Lord Minimus". He was given as a gift to Queen Henreitta Maria - these were not, by any stretch, enlightened times. He was shrewd enough, and smart enough, to break from his position as kind of human pet into a favourite at court; he fought alongside the Royalists in the Civil War and fled with the family to France after the fall of Charles I. He was ejected from the court after killing a man in a duel - exiled from a court already in exile - and by 1645 was being held as slave in North Africa. He would remain enslaved for quarter of a century, but surfaced again in England in 1669 - the exact details of his release have never been uncovered. Upon his return, he claimed he had grown 45 inches in height during his captivity - this, he attributed to being repeatedly raped by his captors. His life of turmoil was not over yet, however - after a spell living in Oakham, he returend to London. There he found himself caught in a popish plot led by Titus Oates, thrown into jail solely for the crime of being a Catholic. The circumstances of his death are unclear; his grave, unmarked.
Before we leave Oakham, one last notable architectural feature is the signal box by the railway station. Arguably, the Oakham signal box is one of the most famous in the world - it was the model used for the Airfix Signal Box kit. It is still in operation but will close over the next 18 months, as the Peterborough to London line moves to a more modern form of signal controls - but the building will remain in place, thanks to its Grade II listing.