In 2001 I was chasing a rainbow. I was in the family courts pursuing an application for contact with my son. As many fathers find, I needed more help and advice than my (fairly inexperienced) solicitor was able to give, and I joined the parenting organisation Families Need Fathers. The following year, disillusioned by FNF – membership of which was quite expensive – I joined the fledgling Fathers 4 Justice.
I stayed with F4J until 2012, and from 2005 was active in researching and writing for them; I also moderated the forum for many years. But I knew I was only getting a fraction of the whole picture. I began seeking out other organisations, in an effort to widen my perspective and understanding. I approached Mothers for Justice, run mainly by victims of domestic violence, and Babies 4 Justice, set up for mothers who weren’t receiving the child support they were entitled to.
It was all interesting and instructive, but all these groups – and many, many others I could mention – were only representing just one gender, and usually only a small section of that gender. I wasn’t getting to the truth.
On July 12th 2009 I discovered Wikivorce, which had been set up in March 2007, and immediately realised I had found something very different: its members were both men and women, parents from all sides of family proceedings, with very diverse experiences, but working together relatively harmoniously and very constructively. Incredibly, this feature – which is hardly rocket science – remains unique amongst parenting groups. Since then the membership has grown from 40,000 to 150,000. I began to correspond with another member; her experience was utterly different from mine – she was a single mother and survivor of domestic violence – but our views on parenting were remarkably congruous, and… well, reader, I married her.
The following article is, I believe, extraordinarily important, a game-changer, a paradigm shift: the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It shows what can be achieved when mothers and fathers work together, in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. Ultimately, single gender groups will never, ever, achieve anything, because they represent an adversarial approach to parenting. The only way to parent a child is, has always been, and will always be, cooperatively by two parents. No one has ever come up with a better alternative, and never will, despite the efforts of reformers like Plato who think they can come up with something better. Similarly, no one will ever come up with a better alternative to marriage, however many millennia elapse. I believe these truths passionately.
Lawyers, politicians, legislators come and go, as do the single issue, single gender groups, with their impossible, ill-considered, unrealistic demands. At a stroke they have become redundant, obsolete. What the parents in Wikivorce have achieved makes the other groups, and the legal reforms, irrelevant. These are parents, parenting. Quietly, without publicity or fanfare, they are creating a revolution.
The language and vocabulary we use say much more about us than the words alone.
In the field of family break-down, I am very aware of the language and words used by parents. Often, without realising what they are actually projecting, people use words, phrases, language which often tells me much more than they think are saying. The words used can either calm a situation or more often than not, increase and inflame hostility and conflict.
I have read many, many statements from parents in support of their proposals for parenting time. All too often, they focus on what the parent wants – starting sentences with “I want”, using self-focused language that moves the emphasis on to what the parent desires, rather than keeping the child’s needs as the heart of the statement.
Language can often inflame an already delicate situation, and create fractures and hostility where adopting a different sort of language…
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Really excellent blog post on keeping gender (and some of the heat) out of post-separation parenting support’
I have spent the last few months or so looking at the wide variety of self-help and support organisations and groups that exist to help parents when experiencing family breakdown. For the last 7 years my work has been, and continues to be advising people on all aspects of family law, but mostly parents who are faced with issues relating to arrangements for their children, – that’s both mothers and fathers. My approach is simple; treat each person as an individual regardless of gender, regardless of whether they are the resident parent or not, and to tailor my advice according the emotional needs of the client – it’s both counselling and factual legal advice. I promote non-adversarial methods and encourage parents to use mediation services, use parenting agreements, and above all, keep everything focused on their children.
The main issue I found while looking at the various groups who support…
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This is a very exciting moment for Ruth and myself.
Today we publish our book The Family Law A to Z, a work which has been gestating for a number of years, and which will finally be available on Amazon Kindle for a very modest £7.50.
The book contains around 500 items of English/Welsh family law jargon, and explains their meaning clearly, adding discussion about how they are used, relevant case precedents, etc.
We hope that the book will become an indispensable guide for all litigants, especially those representing themselves, for their advisors and McKenzies and for law students.
We recognise that there has been a huge increase in litigants representing themselves (to 62% by June this year), that negotiating the family courts on one’s own is a nightmare, and that there are very few books and resources available. We hope that this guide will prove a worthy addition to the literature.
By making it available on Kindle we intend that it will be downloaded to people’s phones, pads and laptops, and become a handy reference for them at all times.
It also means we can easily update it and keep it current.
We welcome any corrections of factual errors, formatting errors, or suggestions for new content. A Scots version is in the pipeline.
Please have a look and tell us what you think.
An excellent post by Nick Woodall demonstrating why FNF has long been despised by many in the shared parenting business, and Ken Sanderson in particular.
Just as former smokers make the most evangelical campaigners against smoking, so it takes a former feminist to warn against the dangers of feminism, as Yvette Cooper plans to turn the education system into a machine of mass ideological indoctrination. Here is Karen Woodall’s open letter to the MP.
It was with a heavy heart that I read your article in the Independent this week. Writing about abuse in schools, you headline your piece ‘why we must educate our sons to save our daughters‘ and continue it with the most flagrant disregard for the truth that I think I have recently encountered.
You write of the hurling of insults and the way in which teachers are concerned for the well being of girls and you use as your evidence this –
According to the Children’s Commissioner there is clear evidence that violence in young relationships is growing. The British Crime Survey shows girls aged between 16-19, are most at risk of domestic violence – over 10 per cent had been experienced violence or abuse in a relationship.
Examining the evidence that you seek to rely on to convince us of this, however, it is clear…
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2. The Director’s Brief
Sometimes getting useful information about a production from the director can be challenging, they may know what the production will look like in their head but conveying their ideas to others is beyond them. On this occasion, however, there is enough detail at least to get a lighting design started.
The phrase ‘post-apocalyptic’ has been used; and this establishes a harmonising theme for set, properties, costumes and lighting.
Of course, many will groan at this, and ‘post-apocalyptic’ has been done to death in the cinema since long before Mad Max (Wikipedia lists more than 230). In Macbeth it may even be more inappropriate, since the apocalypse occurs during the action of the play.
References to biblical language abound in Macbeth; it begins with the Sergeant’s lines,
Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds,
Or memorise another Golgotha.
This idea of a second Crucifixion is particularly unsettling and anathema to Christian thought, though it also conveys the second coming of Revelation: the Apocalypse. The weird sisters then greet Macbeth in the words of Judas when he identified and betrayed Christ.
The unearthly knocking would have recalled for Shakespeare’s audience Christ’s arrival told in Luke 12.36 when the Lord ‘cometh and knocketh’ or the prophecy in Revelation 3.20 that He will ‘stand at the door and knock’, calling upon the sinner to answer for his sins. The Porter imagines himself ‘porter of hell-gate’, admitting sinner after sinner, while Lennox’ description of the night of Duncan’s murder echoes Christ’s description of the end of the world in Matthew 24.6. Duncan’s murder is an analogue to that of Christ: it is a crime against God (kings rule by divine right), and Macbeth has doomed himself. When Lady Macbeth hears the alarum bell she imagines it is the final trumpet which shall call the sleeping dead to judgement; when Duncan is called to judgement his ‘virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued’. Ross asks, is it ‘the day’s shame / That darkness does the face of earth entomb?’ and again recalls the Crucifixion (Matthew 27.45),
Now from the sixth hour was there darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour…And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened.
Macbeth’s eventual fall from grace is likened to the fall into hell of Lucifer, ‘Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell’; and Macduff continues the imagery, ‘Not in the legions / Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn’d / In evils to top Macbeth’. As his earthly end approaches, Macbeth knows the record of his life must soon be prepared for his own judgement, ‘Creeps in this petty pace / To the last syllable of recorded time’. Too late he realises he has been taken for a fool, ‘I pull in resolution and begin / To doubt the equivocation of the fiend / That lies like truth’, and he knows he is damned, ‘But get thee back; my soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already’.
The director referred me to the film The Book of Eli to get a ‘feel’ for what she was after. The particular apocalypse in this post-apocalyptic film has been a war fought 30 years before over the Bible, and the book of the title is the last surviving copy, in braille. Its survival ensures that there will be a repetition of the war and the continuance of man’s inhumanity. The film is shot in an almost monochromatic style with filters of sepia, and steel blues and greens, washing out any real colour. It represents a palette I think I shall borrow. I also like the hazy use of a similar palette in the low-budget Welsh sci-fi film The Machine.
Similar washed-out, greenish palettes are utilised in other post-apocalyptic films such as the Matrix series and the Children of Men. It is common in film – where the colour cast can be added post-production – but less so in theatre where the cold colours inevitably warm up when they are dimmed. The last time I used these sort of colours was in Marat/Sade, back in 2004, though that was relieved by some pale lavenders and even some Lee 111 pink!
A comparable palette is employed in the filmed version of the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Macbeth – which featured Patrick Stewart in the title role. The atmosphere is full of haze and smoke, and the actors are often sharply back-lit or lit from above in cold whites.
Unusually the director is allowing me to use smoke or haze – or possibly both – and there are a number of reasons why that is appropriate. For one thing, haze allows the beams of light to become visible, and thus to become almost a structural element of the set. The director intends to use LED torches – for their brightness – and haze enables their moving beams to become an extension of the torch, like a Star Wars light-sabre, as she put it. She proposes to use the moving tangle of beams to represent Birnham wood, so that will be an added interest, though it might be necessary to augment them with a few pin-spots.
Smoke is essential to convey the confusion of the Act V battle scenes, and Shakespeare’s fast, almost cinematic cutting, as well as the supernatural elements of the scenes with the weird sisters. As with the lighting effects we noted in the first post of this series, the text is full of references to smoke and fog. At the opening of the play the sisters ‘Hover through the fog and filthy air’; Macbeth’s sword ‘smoked with bloody execution’; Lady Macbeth prays, ‘Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell’; heaven may not ‘peep through the blanket of the dark’; ‘dark night strangles the travelling lamp’; the light ‘thickens’; the air is ‘infected’.
1. The Text
Lighting Macbeth is a lighting designer’s dream. Not only is it perhaps the greatest play in the English repertoire, but its text is also strewn with hints and pointers for a designer to follow. In this short collection of four posts I shall consider the director’s brief, the set and the design itself, but I shall start, as I always do when putting together a design, with the text.
The word ‘night’ occurs a remarkable 38 times in the play. Its symbolic use is fairly obvious: the night in Macbeth’s own soul, the darkness of the deeds he commits, the darkness of his reliance on the weird sisters, the darkness of Lady Macbeth’s pact with the ‘spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’, and so on.
Shakespeare presents night not so much as the absence of night as the smothering and concealment of anything that emits light: the sun, the stars, a candle. Lady Macbeth invokes ‘thick night’ to conceal the act she commits; she summons spirits to prevent ‘heaven’ (i.e. the sun) ‘peeping through the blanket of the dark’; and when she dies, her husband imagines her death as a candle snuffed out. So too is Banquo’s torch extinguished at the moment of his death. An ephemeral flame is a consistent metaphor for the fragility of a human life.
The play opens with a stage direction: ‘A desert place. Thunder and lightning’. The text repeats the scene-setting for the benefit of the audience:
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
The reply gives the lighting designer another useful hint he can employ in the next scene – it will be just before sunset. The next two scenes continue the storm imagery, ‘Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders’.
Macbeth’s first entrance reminds us again of the stormy weather conditions, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’.
Thus the first scenes establish the dark and stormy character of the play. The theme of concealing and covering of any light source begins with Scene IV as Macbeth realises he can only achieve the weird sisters’ prediction by killing Duncan, ‘Stars hide your fires, / Let not light see my black and deep desires’.
This theme is taken up by his wife in what is surely the dark heart of the play and the source of the many superstitions surrounding it as she sacrifices her fertility and femininity to the ‘spirits that tend on mortal (i.e. murderous) thoughts’ and conjures up an unnaturally dark night,
Come thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’
Duncan’s arrival at Forres promises to introduce some light – ‘This castle has a pleasant seat’ – but both the messenger and Macbeth have already made clear that his arrival takes place at evening and the guests are quickly fed and escorted to their beds.
Act II opens in total darkness, lit only by the torches of Banquo and Fleance; it is after midnight, the moon has set and the stars are hidden – ‘there’s husbandry in heaven; / Their candles are all out’. The darkness and silence of the night are unnatural – the product of Lady Macbeth’s pact,
Now o’er the one halfworld,
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings…
In this near total darkness hearing becomes preternatural: a bell rings, an owl shrieks, the grooms snore, crickets cry, voices are hard to identify, ‘Didst thou not hear a noise?… Did not you speak?’ In the silence Macbeth hallucinates: ‘Methought I heard a voice cry ‘sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep’, while his own voice is strangled,
But wherefore could I not pronounce ‘Amen’?
I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’
Stuck in my throat.
A strange knocking begins which carries us into the next scene and morning, and further descriptions of the strange sounds in the night, chimneys blown down, ‘Lamentings heard I’the air, strange screams of death,… the obscure bird / Clamoured the livelong night’. A bell clangs, associated by Lady Macbeth in her agitated state with the final trumpet.
Though it is morning there is still no light, ‘by the clock, ‘tis day, / And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp’. This is the result both of the unnatural murder of a divinely appointed king and of Lady Macbeth’s earlier prayer, ‘O never / shall sun that morrow see!’ The king, the divine sun, has been extinguished.
By Act III Macbeth is already king but only some 24 hours have elapsed since the opening of the play and though we are hastening towards evening again, the lighting designer may be excused some artificial light. Lady Macbeth plans a banquet and Macbeth devises his next murder with two cut-throats, instructing, of course, that the murders of Banquo and Fleance must take place under the concealment of night. The imagery of strange sounds returns,
Ere to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.
And again Macbeth summons up an unnatural darkness to hide the deed, ‘Come seeling night, / Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’,
Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse:
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
Banquo’s murder takes place appropriately as the sun sets – ‘the west yet glimmers with some streaks of day’ – but torches are needed for identification and in the confusion Fleance flees. Back inside for the banquet in the next scene the lighting designer must relieve the darkness with some welcoming artificial light but the festive mood is soon cut by the gory apparition of Banquo’s ghost, which is usually marked by some eerie lighting.
This is the mid-point of the play – ‘I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’ – and the lighting designer will be feeling under some pressure to raise the lighting levels a little, in order to relieve the unrelenting darkness. The next scene provides the opportunity as we are taken in our imaginations over the border to sunny England, ruled by ‘the most pious Edward’.
Immediately afterwards, however, we are back with the weird sisters, grouped around a bubbling cauldron. Once again the imagery is of darkness and shrouded light sources – ‘Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse’. Macbeth’s speech is full of storms and unnatural and unholy phenomena – ‘Though you untie the winds and let them fight / against the churches… though the treasure / Of nature’s germens tumble all together’. There follows a truly nightmarish sequence of apparitions dragged up from hell and Macbeth conceives his next set of murders: of Macduff, ‘his wife, his babes’, which is attempted in the next scene, before a return to England in the long, and rather tedious, scene after which ends Act IV. Here again the light levels need to be lifted before the final darkness of Act V.
The final act opens again at night and in darkness as the Doctor and a gentlewoman await the appearance of Lady Macbeth, sleep-walking and carrying a taper. We are told that she keeps ‘light by her / continually’, presumably to ward off the spirits she has invoked; it is also a metaphor for her fragile life. Once again Shakespeare fills the darkness with strange noise, ‘Foul whisperings are abroad’.
After a brief moment outside – again, at night – we are back in another room of Dunsinane castle with Macbeth buckling on his armour and preparing for battle with the English. Cut to the attacking army disguising their numbers behind hewn branches from Birnham wood. Cut back to Macbeth, a ‘night-shriek’, and the final extinguishing of Lady Macbeth’s candle. Birnham wood begins to move, an alarum bell rings, and a storm wind gets up.
Cut to the English troops; cut back to Macbeth: the imagery is of hell and ghosts: there is fighting, killing, noise, confusion. Finally Macbeth and Macduff confront each other and Macbeth learns that the trust he placed in the weird sisters has been betrayed,
And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise in our ear,
And break it to our hope.
They exit, more confusion, then Macduff returns with Macbeth’s severed head, and surely no lighting designer can resist a sunrise:
The time is free:
I see thee compass’d with thy kingdom’s pearl.
The movement for equal/shared parenting has just suffered a devastating defeat. Very few of the usual news outlets have picked up on this, and you won’t find mention of it on the normal fathers’ groups websites, though individuals like Jeff Botterill and Nick Woodall have spotted it and Tweeted accordingly.
I am not referring to the gaoling for six months of Tim Haries, for vandalising an especially awful portrait of the Queen, which should surprise no one, but to an amendment to Clause 11 of the Children and Families Bill.
This amendment was introduced by Lord Nash – a schools minister – and Baroness Butler-Sloss – former President of the Family Division – following successful lobbying by the self-styled Shared Parenting Consortium, in reality a cynical alliance of organisations and individuals ideologically opposed to shared parenting, including the NSPCC, Resolution, Young Minds UK, Barnardo’s, Gingerbread, NYAS, Relate, the Children’s Commissioner, Coram’s Children’s Legal Centre and Butler-Sloss herself.
Section 11 had read,
A court… is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.
The Shared Parenting Consortium had made the familiar claim that this clause would conflict with rather than enhance the paramountcy of the child’s welfare and that it implied in some way an equal division of parenting time. Butler-Sloss explained,
I… worry about those who would go to court with an erroneous view of what this clause actually means, and with an inbuilt sense of their rights rather than the best arrangements for the children. The purpose of this amendment is to give some clarity to the clause and to help the public come to terms with putting the welfare of their children first.
The amendment reads,
In subsection (2A) ‘involvement’ means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.
This is significant and damaging for two reasons: first, it introduces the idea of indirect involvement, so that “involvement” can now be taken to mean, as now applies, a mere letter every month; and secondly it ensures that “involvement” cannot be taken to mean any division of a child’s time.
The reason this is so damaging is that the division of a child’s time is really the only thing a court has any influence over when making any order for Contact, Residence or the new Child Arrangements; it can have little influence over how that time is used or the quality of parenting during that time. Removing the time element from the concept of “involvement” strips it of any significance.
The clause began life in the Government’s Response to the Family Justice Review and had some teeth,
The Government believes that there should be a legislative statement of the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests.
The final version of Section 11 represents the final nail in the coffin for any hope of a legal presumption of shared parenting to be introduced into English/Welsh law. This is despite the fact that there is overwhelming academic evidence that equal shared parenting promotes children’s welfare and that a legal presumption is the best way to achieve it.
Let us be clear – there are only two options for dividing up parenting after separation: the first is equal shared parenting and the second is sole mother custody. There is nothing else, and even where an unequal form of shared parenting is ordered the tendency is for it to revert to sole mother custody. This amendment ensures that the Consortium’s favoured demographic will continue to get the lion’s share of custody and that children will continue to lose fathers. It has nothing to do with children’s welfare and everything to do with elevating the rights of one party over those of all others.
Baroness Butler-Sloss also said this,
The groups of parents whom I worry about in relation to Clause 11 are those who try to settle the arrangements for the children without going to court. In the absence of lawyers to advise either side, the stronger, more dominant parent may insist on an arrangement based on equality, or at least on disproportion which is not appropriate for the welfare of the children…
Given that these groups represent at least 75% of separating parents with children (and the official figure is 90%), demanding that all separating parents go to court to slug out their child care arrangements would put enormous additional pressure on the courts while at the same time provide a huge increase in business for lawyers and judges. What is best for children and their families is to stay out of the courts, not to be sucked into an adversarial battle which can last years and cost tens or even hundreds of thousands. The Shared Parenting Consortium is revealed as an alliance inimical to the interests of children.
It is high time that the organisations truly supportive of shared parenting woke up to what is happening and formed their own alliance. The forces ranged against them are enormously powerful, well-funded and organised. They are well-represented both in the Commons and in the Lords. The NSPCC derives more than 70% of its annual income from the taxpayer, falsely positioning itself as a charity promoting the welfare of children; Barnardo’s derives 78% from the taxpayer.
Meanwhile the supporters of shared parenting are disorganised, lack funding and lack any common aims or any common understanding of what it is they are fighting. We allow ourselves to be distracted by conspiracy theories and disputes over individual egos which block the formation of effective alliances and block progress. This is an absolute disaster for the children and future generations who look to us for a solution.