Sharing things

Things that really matter - Helen and Daniel revisited

April 14, 2022 The University of Edinburgh
Sharing things
Things that really matter - Helen and Daniel revisited
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to a dive into the Sharing things archive and a selection of 5 episodes where the objects are not just starting points, but deeply woven through the lives of our guests. What do you hold close? In the second episode of this collection we revisit the conversation between Helen Bond and Daniel Mutia and talk about gifts that mean something, the concept of home and being out there. 

This episode is hosted by Richenda Rae, who joined us in the summer of 2020. After her summer with us she returned to her final year of medical school. 

Helen is Professor of Christian Origins and Head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Her published works include 'Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation' (1998), 'Caiaphas: High Priest and Friend of Rome?' (2004), and more recently, 'The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark's Gospel' (2020). She has acted as historical consultant and contributor for a number of television programmes and presented 'Jesus’ Female disciples: the New Evidence' for Channel 4 (2018).  

Daniel is an Electronics and Electrical Engineering student and Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. He is the Vice President Inclusion at Edinburgh University Sports Union for 2020/21, having previously served as International Participation Officer in 2019/20. He was named as one of the Queen's Young Leaders of 2018 for his efforts towards fighting for education and equal opportunities for young people. 

Each episode of Sharing things is a conversation between two members of our university community. It could be a student, a member of staff or a graduate, the only thing they have in common at the beginning is Edinburgh. We start with an object. A special, treasured or significant item that we have asked each guest to bring to the conversation. What happens next is sometimes funny, sometimes moving and always unexpected.

Find out more at

This episode of Sharing things was recorded during the Covid thing.

mages designed by Chris Behr. They are part of his Nice Things icon set.

Richenda  0:05  
Welcome to Sharing things, the podcast that takes a closer look at the people that make up our University of Edinburgh community. Each episode starts with two invited guests and an object, which can be something personal, treasured or significant. It's something that unlocks a story and starts a conversation. We take it from there. I'm Richenda, your new host, conversational guide and a final year medical student. Today, as with all this season's recordings, I'm sat at my kitchen table in central Edinburgh. In this episode, I've invited along for a chat Daniel Mutia, an undergraduate engineering student and VP Inclusion for the Sports Union and Helen Bond, Head of Divinity. Let's take a listen. 

Unknown Speaker  0:44  
[Theme music]

Richenda  0:45  
Today, I've got Daniel and Helen here with me in our virtual studio. So I think I'll start by asking where is it that you guys are calling in from?

Helen  0:53  
I'm calling from Falkirk. So between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so that's where I've lived for 20 years, and I normally get the train in. So I'm feeling really disconnected from Edinburgh just now.

Richenda  1:04  
And how about you, Daniel?

Daniel  1:05  
My-- about Falkirk, my connection is I had this project partner from there, he studies law. So, I'm connected [laughter]. I'm calling from student accommodation, where I'm staying at the moment. It's located in Cowgate, so close to the university gym. And I've been here for, for a few weeks now. Because, because of the pandemic, a lot of students who are still around they had to be moved to the same, or to a central accommodation, but I'm enjoying it here. Summer is amazing.

Richenda  1:44  
I'll actually just start with our first question on Sharing things is of course, what object did you guys bring along?

Helen  1:53  
Do you want to go first Daniel? 

Daniel  1:54  
Yeah sure, sure, sure. Um, I mean, I had a very long debate with this one. I had my flag, which I love so much. Then I had my wristband, which looks like the flag. But then I realised, oh wait, but I've been in Scotland for three years now, I need something that brings both of those together. So last Christmas, someone got me a secret Santa, which is a very nice placard, if I could call it and can you read?

Richenda  2:34  
It says home is where the heart is. That's really nice actually. 

Daniel  2:38  
Home is where the heart is. And on one side, there is the Kenyan map and a little heart showing where I come from. And the Scottish map, also with the heart of Edinburgh, you know, literally home is where the heart is on the map and also, hypothetically, that's also true. The reason this means so much to me is, you know, that aspect of feeling like you belong, because when you travel to a new country, to a new place, there is that aspect of trying to hold on to your home or what you knew or what you had, that you spend a very, a very long time to realise that where you are, that's also your home as well. So this was amazing in that aspect to feel like, oh, wow, actually, I've been able to do so much here, to enjoy so much, have been received by, you know, people over here and friends in the community with open arms. So this is my home too. And I should do my best in whichever capacities I'm in, to make a difference, to try and make a difference and to make everyone's experiences better. So yeah, it's an amazing connection of my home in Kenya, which I miss and my new home here, which I've also fallen in love with. So yeah. 

Helen  4:06  
And how long have you been here, Daniel?

Daniel  4:08  
So I came in 2017 to start my first year, so that is three years now going to my fourth year of being in Scotland. So yeah. 

Richenda  4:17  
How did it feel to first be in Edinburgh? 

Daniel  4:19  
Um, it's, it's, I mean, it's crazy. Because actually, when I was travelling here, that was my first time going outside my country. So, you know, I thought I was very courageous, you know, at that time, you know, getting into the airport door, waving to your family and friends and being like, oh yeah, I'm going, you know, four or five thousand miles away. So, I mean, I, I must say, when I firstly came here, there was a lot of support around me. I'm part of this programme called MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. So I actually came in a week before the other students came in for the orientation. Myself and a few other students who were also part of the program, like we had our own orientation, we knew our way around the city so that when other students came in a week later, you know, we were the people showing them around. So right away, like, the very first week here, there was that, that struggle of finding new friends and so on, you know, there was not much pressure because I already had friends, I already have a team when you like, I could go to this office and ask for things. With time, you get more comfortable, with time you find your way around. And, you know, sometimes you miss your family, sometimes you miss your friends, sometimes you miss speaking your local language and everything. But overall it's a worthwhile experience. Yeah.

How did you even think about coming to Edinburgh? I mean, I think-- I remember back to when I was sort of just starting to think about university, I just can't imagine ever looking sort of beyond the boundaries of really a very small area. So I mean, was it part of the MasterCard? Or, or how did you even think about it?

Um, I mean, I, you know, I was lucky to go to a very good high school in Kenya. And, you know, we had a lot of former students who studied abroad, for either their undergraduate, for their masters. That experience of having gone to a high school where, you know, you had stories of, oh, this person graduated and they went to study at this university abroad, this other person, so that sort of made it a normal thing, or made it feel comfortable. So specifically, coming to Edinburgh, I think, the MasterCard scholarship had a huge, you know, impact in terms of making that decision. But also, I was very, very happy when I was looking up the university and the city, it was a top university, the city was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. So yeah, it all worked out really perfectly.

Richenda  7:11  
Do you relate to any of that, like when you went to uni, did you feel similar or, like a bit in terms of where feels like home? 

Helen  7:19  
Um yeah, I was quite close to home actually, though, it didn't really feel like it. I grew up in the northeast of England, in Durham. And I sort of looked around, basically, I mean, you know, I looked at universities I'd heard of, I mean, I had very little idea about what university even was, and I ended up going to an open day at St. Andrews, actually, and I just loved it. I mean, it had all this glamour, because Scotland, of course, was a foreign country, if you're, if you're in England, and, and what I really liked was that you could sort of mix and match if you did an arts degree, I really like maths, but I also wanted to do divinity. And I could do sort of odd mixtures of things and just try them out and see what they were like. So, so I did like the idea of the course, but a bit like Daniel says, you know, I didn't know very much about the, the town or the village at all, and I got there and I was just blown away by how beautiful it was. And I always like, I like to be by the sea, and the setting, and just everything about it was really lovely. So the first time I saw it, I just thought, yeah, you know, I can imagine myself being here for four years. And so, yeah, that's where I went. 

Richenda  8:31  
And would you say both of you that, like the idea of home and what that means, did that change over your time at uni then? Was there a point where you started to understand the term differently?

Helen  8:44  
I think at some point there, there's a change in sort of who, who is home in a way. I mean, I think as much as any place, I was lucky I suppose in that I grew up-- my parents moved to the house I grew up in when I was two. And, and they moved from there when I was about 30 something, so you know, for all of those years, the same place was home and I'll still have an affection for that particular house. But it's really, it's really the people isn't it? And, and so I still think that the place where my parents are now, to some extent I-- when I go to visit them I talk about going home and I mean their house, but at the same time home is now my new family, you know, my husband and my, my two kids and, and so there's been that transfer of home and yet at the same time, I think you can sort of imagine lots of different homes. I mean, home is partly where my parents are, but I suppose more now where, where my new family is but it's, it's a kind of a fluid thing and, and I think it would be very much where, where those people were rather than the actual house we were living in.

Richenda  9:49  
Yeah, that's nice that you say fluid as well because I think as soon as you accept that it will change, you relax into it a bit more, don't you?

Helen  9:56  
I was just gonna say I used to live in a shared house in Manchester. There were six of us, all sort of 20 somethings, professional as we liked to think. And we were just, you know, all sharing this house and it was, you know, the typical kind of house share, bit grotty, bit grim. But we were all, all of us in a, in a city that, you know, wasn't our own. And, and we very quickly started to talk about ourselves as a family. And, you know, we would say, like, you know, these are my sisters and my brothers and we're sort of honorary or adopted families. And, and, and that was really nice, because it did feel a bit like family, even though you know, we'd only met each other when we moved to the house.

Daniel  10:34  
Yeah, I yeah, I totally agree with, with Helen. I mean, the idea of home is very fluid. It has so many dimensions. I firstly, think home is, you know, that place where you made so many childhood memories, you know, and every time like, it becomes like, your, your centre, you know, every time you feel lost, you go back to those memories, those people you spent time with, and you're like, oh, wow, I miss that place. Or I miss home. But also to another extent, as Helen said, it's also where your family or where your best friends are. Because I remember this time I actually went-- So part of my family lives in the city, and the other part lives in rural Kenya. So there's a time I went in rural Kenya, and, you know, it was just my mum was at home, like, everyone else wasn't there. And, you know, though, it was home, the place I made so many memories as, like, it didn't quite feel so because some people were missing. So that got me thinking, you know, is, is it a place or is it the people? You know, so it's, it's a combination of the two for me. So, if it's that exact place, and everyone is there, it makes it so, so, so much better. But wherever you meet, as a family, or wherever you meet as a group of friends, or people whom you, you know, created memories together, you know, that instantly feels at home. Also, in addition, the idea, for example, the same way Helen moved from her place to university, made new friends. It's also the same aspect for me, you know, moving from Kenya to here, you know, you realise, if I'm here for four years of my undergraduate study, that's like, almost a quarter of my life, you know. And so it also becomes, like you have, the faster you feel like this is home, the better for you, the more you're going to enjoy every moment. Because if you don't feel at home, where you're at, where you're working, or where you're studying, or where you're doing your things. That means, you know, it's sort of like you fix your happiness in the future, which is, which is a bad idea, like you can as well accept the fact that, you know, this is my home now, you know, so I'm gonna, I'm gonna enjoy it.

Unknown Speaker  13:13  
[Theme music]

Richenda  13:13  
Helen, before I forget, and also because I want to know, what is the object that you've brought along?

Helen  13:17  
[Laughs] yes, my little object, here it is. It's really, really tiny. And I actually almost lost it just before this, this podcast, because it's so tiny. Don't know if you can see it there. Probably not see it very well. It's a tiny, tiny little bronze coin. And it was, it was made by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, who sent Jesus to the cross. And it's 2000 years old. 

Richenda  13:44  
Oh my goodness. 

Helen  13:44  
So my little coin and the reason it's special to me is that I did my PhD on Pontius Pilate. Strangely enough, there weren't any books on Pontius Pilate, so I thought that would be a good topic. And when I graduated, my parents bought me this, this tiny little coin, which was such a lovely, thoughtful idea, my parents aren't always the best at buying presents. You know, they kind of tend to send a cheque and hope for the best. And that's lovely, I'd never want to say no to a cheque. But it was just such a really lovely idea. And I think they got it from a little coin shop in, in York, it's old coins and medallions and things like that. So what I like about it, as well as, as sort of the, you know, the personal dimension to it all is, is that it's an actual object that comes from, I mean, I'm now a professor of Christian origins. And so, you know, this whole sort of first century and the political and social and religious history of first century Judaism is, is what I kind of live and breathe all the time. And so just having this sort of tangible link with it is just amazing. It dates from 29 AD and whenever I have my classes and we talk about things like anything, any excuse, and I get my coin of Pontius Pilate out, and I send it round to the class and, and everybody's always really amazed that it's, that it's just so old. And, you know, maybe it was touched by some of these people that we know of from, from the Gospels, who knows, but it's my little object.

Richenda  13:57  
And does it make you feel more connected to that? Especially because it's such a big part of your life.

Helen  15:30  
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, I'm, I suppose I'm really an ancient historian, who just happens to work on first century Israel, so that's why I'm in divinity. But yeah, it's the sort of the social history of everything that, that I'm really interested in, you know, what did people think? And how did they, how did they respond to one another? And, and, you know, how did they negotiate their everyday lives and just seeing a tiny coin, like, this just, just takes you back. And there's actually a few objects in various museums and things that are from sort of Bible times, that-- Pilate really, really liked minting coins. So he, there's thousands and thousands of these things around. So they're not actually that, that rare, but it's just kind of nice to own one and, and to be able to hold it and to think, you know, people back in Judaea in 29 AD were, were holding this when it had just been, just been first made. And that still gives me a thrill. I mean, you know, I've had this coin 20 years now, but it's still kind of, whoo, wow, that's, that's an incredible thing.

Richenda  16:36  
I mean, the way you talk about it, I just want to learn more about how you got started. 

Helen  16:40  
[Laughs] I don't know, I hated history at school, I gave it up as soon as I possibly could, because at school it was all about dates and battles. And, and I just thought that was so dull. I mean, who cares what dates you know, the Battle of Bosworth Field was or any of those things. And I-- but I really, really liked religious studies, because we were doing stories about the Egyptians and the Assyrians and the Babylonians. And I guess it's, it's, it's a fascination with those, those great sort of empires of the past and, and the art and, and like I say, the social side of things, how people were living, how they, how they thought about things, how they-- what gave them hope, you know, how they, how they kind of took on religious beliefs, to give them hope in this world and the next, and so those are the things that I always found really interesting. And, and so I sort of came into history by the back door, I suppose, by, by at least an interest in religion, and that got me interested in sort of religion of the past.

Daniel  17:45  
I have a question. Like, as Richenda said, like you, you seem very ignited, like when you talk about what you do, you know, how did you, you know, choose the career path to go into, because you also mentioned that you are into math? How did you choose to go into Christianity, specifically doing a PhD on Pontius Pilate, and, like, grow to, you know, to love it this much? Or like to feel like that is where you belong? Like, how was that process?

Helen  18:17  
Yeah, we're back to home again aren't we? I never made the decision. And that's the thing, I think, you know, I'm sure you'll find too, that some decisions just seem to, to be there and to grab you rather than you actually consciously making the decision. So yeah, I went to the University thinking I would do, I would do some maths, because then I could get a proper job, you know, I thought maybe banking or an accountant or something like that, you know, something that would, would be a proper thing. But I just was very interested in religious studies anyway, so I thought, you know, I'll do that. And then I became, it became clear to me in the first year that, you know, religious studies and, and I had applied for a degree in divinity. So, you know, that was always what I was going to do. And, and then I just got to the end of my degree, and sort of felt like, I just knew the questions, you know, I just knew what it was I was interested in, but I hadn't yet got any of the answers. And, and because when I graduated, it was a recession as well. And I, I did have a-- the offer of a job in the civil service, but I just decided that, I don't know, I'd carry on and do a PhD instead. And, and at each stage, I kept thinking, I'll just carry on and do a bit more and then I'll get a proper job, you know, then I'll become a banker or an accountant or something, you know, like that. And then, then I got to the end of my PhD and thought, well, I'll just try for an academic job, you never know. And, and I got one and, and then that's just how it's been. You know, I've been in Edinburgh now 20 years, so I guess I, I guess the chances of being a banker or an accountant are probably fairly slim now [laughter]. I probably missed all of that and I'll just have to kind of stay here. But yeah, so it was, it was really very much just a question of the next stage and doing what, what my heart told me. I always tell my kids actually that the best thing to do is, is when it comes to subject choices and things like that, you know, don't think too much about is this going to be useful? Is this going to lead to something in the end? If you do what you really enjoy, at the very least you're going to get a better mark in it and then you can go and do something else. So I think I've just been really lucky too and, and also, you know, when you apply to university, you have so little idea, at least I did, about the course and whether you'd like it. And again, you don't even know the questions to ask, I was just really lucky that the course at St. Andrews was very, very historical, very sort of very academic in that it wasn't sort of, you know, it wasn't practical. It wasn't the practice of religion, it was sort of like, like, like we are at Edinburgh, it's standing outside and sort of analysing religion, which is what I really enjoyed. And, and so I just, yeah, kept at it. And now here I am. So there was never a game plan. It just sort of worked out that way.

Daniel  21:19  

Richenda  21:19  
Are you the same Daniel? Or do you-- are you more practically minded with your choices in life and where you are? Have you followed your heart to Scotland?

Daniel  21:28  
I mean yeah, I think, I think I was the same as Helen to an extent. You know, I think growing up in Kenya, going to, to schools in Kenya, you know, there are some careers which were regarded, as you know, the top careers, you know, you have to be a doctor, you have to be an engineer, you have to be a lawyer, like, and it stops there. Those are not the only ones, by the way [laughter]. 

Helen  22:03  
Not a theologian? [Laughs]. 

Daniel  22:06  
So, so like, if you are a bright student in class, you know, it was like, your path was already made for you, like your parent was like, or everyone in the community was like, oh, that's gonna be our doctor, that's gonna be an engineer, that's gonna be this, because those are the opportunities where like, there's jobs, there's good money there is-- So I made my choice based on my, you know, the limited choices that the society put out there for me, and also based on the abilities that I had in school. So it wasn't much about what do I really, really want to do, but it was about what can I do? What can I do for humanity? What can I do for my community? Even in a small way. So once I made that decision, I started now looking for validation for that decision. And it sort of worked because now you, you sort of have a higher reason to, to keep, to keep doing it. And not just, you know, wanting to get a job for yourself, but you have a bigger aspiration.

Unknown Speaker  23:19  
[Theme music]

Richenda  23:19  
So you do work with the Sport's Union and Helen, you've done work with Channel Four. And, and with I think both of them, I think there's a kind of a common theme about being public facing. So how does that feel to be a human that can be looked at by other humans in a way where you can't maybe interact with people quite so much.

Helen  23:42  
Scary [laughs]. Really scary. Yeah. I mean, I've done I've done quite a few documentaries and things like that on Channel Four and various other TV programmes. Mainly TV, but some radio too. And, yeah, I think that the really scary thing about that is, you know, if you put yourself out there, you've no idea what's going to come back. And I've had, I mean, I was on a documentary and sort of co, co presenting a documentary a couple of years ago and my email, I mean, for about two days, I just could not move for emails that were just coming in all the time. And, and most of them were very positive, but I haven't always had positive ones. I've had really, I had a couple of death threats people, people say-- writing in and they really do write in green ink. 'I am praying to God that he kills you'. And you think wow, that's a little bit scary. And I've had a couple of those and, and then some, some really, really hostile ones as well. And you know, it's nobody is that thick skinned that they can just sort of read things like that and not be upset by them. But strangely enough, people-- I used to get more hostile things when I was younger, I don't know why now I seem to get fewer. But it's still--there's still that kind of worry that in any kind of a public role and being Head of School is similar, particularly since I'm really keen that divinity sort of develops its outward facing work, and that, you know, we engage with, I mean, we're already pretty good at engaging with the city about, you know, I think we could, we can always do more. And, and so whenever your sort of, your name, or your photo, or whatever is anywhere, you have to expect that, that there will be some negative comments alongside most of the time fairly, fairly supportive, positive comments, too. So-- and that's something I don't think you'll ever get used to, certainly, I don't think I'll ever get used to it, you know, just that, just that feeling that people feel, especially nowadays, you know, everybody's got phones or laptops, and they can be watching the telly and they've got their laptop in front of them. So they see you and they say, ah, Helen Bond, I'll just google her, and oh, there's her email, I'll just send-- ping her something, 'you've got a funny smile', ping. Or 'your voice is funny', ping. And, you know, any kind of thing like that. So you get these completely random comments from people that, that are just really, really odd. But yeah, you just have to kind of get rid of-- you just, just work your way through them and and, you know, isn't-- there's some statistic that isn't it-- that we, we take far more note of negative comments than, than positive ones, we need something like eight positive ones to, to get rid of the one negative ones. And of course, it's always the negative ones that, that you remember afterwards and think, oh, that person was so mean. But yeah, it's strange, and part of, part of me is actually really private and shy and, and hates all of that stuff. But I guess the other part of me also is probably a bit extrovert and happy with the attention. I don't know, we're all strange combinations aren't we? 

Daniel  27:00  
So when I was in first year, I got through my programme-- I got put on the, you know, those marketing posters that the University was putting around campus and everything, so my face was there. And then just randomly in a lab, my-- a classmate would just come and they're like, 'hey, I saw you', like, where? 'I saw you in, in CMB, Crystal Macmillan Building', like, no, I wasn't there. 'No in a picture'. My picture is there [laughter]. I was-- I started being in leadership. And, and, and, you know, being the face of initiatives and so on, when I was really, really young. I remember when I was 10 years, that's when I, I-- we had a children assembly, in the district I came from, that's when I became a member of the Parliament. And then at 12, I was, I was the president. At 14, I was a county governor in a bigger sense. And then moving on from there, I've always been in leadership, I've always been, you know, out there making suggestions, out there listening to people. I think for, you know, when you're a public figure people have, you know, crazy expectations about not just your work ethic and your abilities, but also your personality, they expect you to be this perfect person who you know, every opinion they have has to be the opinion of the majority. Every single thing you do has to agree with, you know what the whole society thinks. They forget that you're also a person you know, you sometimes you, you, you might make mistakes and say the wrong thing. I mean, I can't say I hate or love the attention. I mean, I, I love, I love speaking to people, I love hearing people's experiences. I love it when people trust me with you know, sharing their issues and us going through them together. I love being in that space. 

Helen  29:21  
I can definitely see you being a politician later on. You've got the whole, the whole background for it.

Daniel  29:27  
[Laughs] I, I hope if I become one one day, I can be one of those ethical ones who are centred in terms of making, you know, I know the word difference people keep on saying it. But yeah, just a real difference for real people. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  29:47  
[Theme music]

Richenda  29:50  
I think that I'm going to ask our final Sharing things question, which is always what one word would you use to sum up your object?

Helen  30:02  

Daniel  30:04  
Oh, yeah, I mean, mine has little hearts. So I would say, love.

Richenda  30:11  
That's nice. Yeah, I think they both come from sort of similar places, despite being very different. Thank you very much for coming in to speak to us. And to let everybody hear, yeah, your conversations, which have taken us in all sorts of directions. So thank you very much for being on Sharing things.

Helen  30:29  
Thank you very much and lovely to talk to you, Daniel.

Daniel  30:31  
Yeah, I really enjoyed this. Thank you. Thank you. I would, I had so many questions for Helen and what she does, so I hope I can get to ask them in another space

Helen  30:44  
Let's have a coffee sometime when we can do that properly.

Daniel  30:47  
That would be nice. That would be nice. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  30:49  
[Theme music]

Richenda  30:55  
Thanks for listening to Sharing things. If you enjoyed our podcast, then please tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours and it might even be a good excuse for getting in touch with a university mate you haven't talked to in a wee while. If you'd like to listen to more episodes, you can find us on Spotify, iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and we also have a website. Take care and see you next time.

Transcribed by