The Beat of Our Drums // Kevin Richards

How and where do you feel the beat of drums? Ask people to give a word to describe their experience and the most common one is ‘visceral’. The response starts in the head, the heart, the hips, the toes…a different place for each person. Many will say the rhythm touches their souls and wakes their spirit. Watch those who have let themselves go with the drumbeat. They can seem to be in a dream, on drugs or disconnected from the world beyond the rhythm. The music of band leader Benny Goodman was banned for some time because the drum playing of Gene Krupa was thought to be encouraging sexual responses.

There are few people who can remain still when they hear drums. A very few reject it, maybe because they recognise that it is reaching inside to a part which they do not want exposed. 

In The Beat of Our Drums Kevin Richards, who has been running djembe drumming sessions throughout Kent for twenty years, took a roomful of adults and children through the basics of playing the djembe, a chalice-shaped drum from West Africa. 

Rather than just giving out instructions, Kevin used images and analogies to teach us, making the learning easier and more interesting. Instead of 'Hit the drum', he would say 'Lift the sound out of the drum' Instead of 'get quieter', 'fade as if you are walking out of the door'.

Kevin explained that the drums were often used to send messages so we played to simple phrases using just the bass (B) and the tom tom (T) tones:

‘To the pulse, to the pulse. Won’t you take me to the pulse.’ (TTB TTB TTBT TTB)

We practised these phrases for several minutes before Kevin told us to listen to his playing and add our own rhythms. Initially there was a cacophony but gradually we synchronised and varied volume and pace along with him. We could feel that our quieter playing was soothing, while our louder playing created urgency. We became confident and everybody seemed to be lost in the rhythms. This combined drumming continued for many minutes and, as many of us closed our eyes to let the rhythm take over, it was mesmerising.

Each participant responded differently…some moved nothing except for their hands; some moved their heads; others almost bounced. It was interesting to see some of the passers-by adapting their pace to the sound of our drums; some even started dancing. 

Eventually Kevin led us deliberately faster and louder until we finished with a liberating ‘boom’.

Learning a new musical instrument can be frustrating when you are unable to make the sounds, the notes, the tune. But with the djembe, we were clearly playing it to a level with which even a beginner can be satisfied.

One participant came out and said she had found it satisfying, inclusive, democratic and a session which had created a sense of community. Not bad for just 60 minutes!

- Joy Pascoe


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Rich Rhythms - Drum Workshops in Kent and the South East

Bruce Allen Drums

Mamapama Live at the Folkestone Harbour Arm

Swearing Is Good For You // Emma Byrne

Dr Emma Byrne works as a robotics scientist whilst extending her fascination with profanity. Today she posed and answered questions, giving descriptions of her research.

Does swearing help us?

It can reduce stress, encourage teamwork and better friendships, and deal with pain. It can also deflect rather than act as a proxy for physical violence.

Why do we swear when in pain? 

Byrne invited a volunteer to leave his hand in ice water for as long as possible, firstly saying only ‘straight’. He later repeated the exercise but was allowed to say ‘shit’. ‘Straight’ resulted 19 seconds whereas ‘shit’ gave 45 seconds. So, had the swearing eased his pain or given him the courage to withstand it?

Why is swearing good for us? 

Apart from anything else, we gain information. For example, we can assess which team is winning by listening. Football fans tend to use ‘shit’ when things are going badly and ‘fuck’ while they are going well.

What are swear words?

Swearing has been used as a diagnostic tool for over 150 years, yet there is still no definition. There are recognised topics but most gradually lose their potency. Blasphemy has little impact now; sexual terms are becoming less shocking as they are incorporated into more normal language and used as a kind of verbal seasoning. Words used against the individual, as in sexism, racism and homophobia are the most taboo now.

Why do we resist it?

We all have the right to swear but some people are offended and assume others will be too.  When we hear swearing we consider our feelings rather than think what it is doing for the speaker or what s/he is trying to do.

Do men swear more than women?

Some suggest that swearing by women is odious to God and women are too innocent to even understand the words. Huh! Whilst Byrne suggested it is true that, in public, women are milder in swearing than men, when together we say whatever the fuck we want. 

Emily Bronte wrote swear words when they were appropriate for her characters, and that word ‘appropriate’ is crucial to any consideration of swearing. We could have spent longer exploring questions about appropriacy; different languages; animals and swearing; judging or accepting those who swear; physiological effects; etcetera, but we had no time.

Did we expect Byrne to swear her way through the presentation? Probably. But her use was entirely appropriate and showed how much swearing can enrich what is being said.

- Joy Pascoe


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Swearing is Good For You - Dr. Emma Byrne

Swearing is Good For You (Article) - RSA Journal Issue 1

Dr. Emma Byrne: The Sweary Scientist

Why We Swear (Four Thought) - BBC Radio 4 

Why Swearing Makes You Stronger - Alan Burdick, The New Yorker

Hyperthymesia // Cece Otto

In the world today, there are between twelve and twenty-five documented cases of hyperthymesia, also known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). People living with this, are able to remember most of their life events. Their recall can be incredibly detailed including the weather, events, emotions and sensations of any given day. All these memories are mentally catalogued and remembered with astounding accuracy. Vivid sequences of events are almost trapped in time, living forever as they are…unaltered by the usual process of re-remembering an event from the distance of time passing.

Cece Otto delivers a one woman-show inspired by these individuals. We glean a sense a life never forgotten; cascading in all its happiness, joy, shame, disgust, embarrassment and sadness. Most affecting is the reveal that the emotions attached to these memories remain potent (demonstrated by Otto's character revealing they are still furious about something that happened when she was five years old). 

It feels like lots of models for increasing a sense of wellbeing (mindfulness, meditation, yoga) encourage one to be present and/or ‘let go’. Difficult or traumatic events hook themselves into our memory and are often re-triggered by other, separate but related circumstances. Revisiting these events to understand them and find a little breathing space, the tiniest bit of relief is already quite an undertaking that can require the sensitive mediation of a mental health professional. So, what happens when you live with hyperthymesia and it is a near impossibility to ever let go of emotional attachments to a memory? How do you come to terms with a difficult moment when it lives on in the sharp focus of the present? Might a person with hyperthymesia relate to lying, fictions or speculation differently, because their own mind has no need for such inventions when telling their own stories?

An infallible memory challenges much of our understanding that recalling memory is predominately a process of recalling ever-changing versions of that memory. Remembering everything as it is-was, crams a brain full. Many people with hyperthymesia stem their barrage of memories by writing them down. Something about visually storing memories by giving form and language must help contain them. Hyper-real by comparison to someone living without hyperthymesia, these memories line up, attentive and unimaginably close. Permanently in order. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hyperthymesia - Cece Otto

Total Recall: The People Who Never Forget - Guardian

9 Facts About People Who Remember Everything About Their Lives - Mental Floss

Meet The Man Who Remembers Everything - NBC News

Remembering Everything: Superpower or Burden? - Plaid Zebra 

Memory Is Inherently Fallible And That’s a Good Thing - Technology Review