Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year

Webber Street

Probably my last picture for 2009

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Enough BS, Monsignor!

We learn today that two Argentinian gay men, Alejandro Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello, had to literally go to the end of the world for the opportunity to get married (BBC News, includes video). Becoming the first gay couple in south America to get hitched, they had tried to tie the knot once already but had been denied by some "militant jusge" no doubt!

But they have finally made it and all my congratulations and best wishes go to them.

Once again, however, religious people are meddling with things that don't really concern them and as is so often the case, are talking through their hat in another desperate effort to keep their so-called moral ascendant.

How exactly would that marriage be "an attack against the survival of the human species", as Bishop Juan Carlos of Rio Gallegos worded it, I would truly like to know.

Those two men are gay, they are not going to reproduce whether they get married together or not. Furthermore their marriage is not stopping anyone else from procreating. So what is the problem, exactly?

Enough bullshit, Monsignor (and friends)! You may be against gay marriage and that's your right but you should not insult people's intelligence by coming up with such bogus "arguments" and state real, rational reasons for your opposition.

We will all be waiting with bated breath I am sure!


Friday, 25 December 2009

Pictures of Deserted London

Lower Regent Street

A series of pictures of various London landmarks without cars or people, taken on Christmas day between 9.30 and 10.30am, can be found on my flickr account here.

A selection of these pictures appeared in Londonist here.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Avatar - A Review

When you enter a cinema showing what is reportedly the most expensive movie ever made, you have a right to expect something outstanding. And in many ways Avatar, James Cameron's latest offering is quite outstanding.

Set in the future, on a fictional small earth-like planet inhabited by the na'vi people, called Pandora, the film tells the sotry of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled former marine, sent to the planet to take over his dead twin brother's avatar, a man-made human/na'vi hybrid body used to make contact with the indigenous people.

The humans have discovered mineral resources on the planet that they intend to plunder but the na'vi people, who are highly in tune with their ecosystem, are in the way. Sully finds himself stranded with a na'vi tribe and gets to learn their ways and finally becomes one of them. Soon he has to choose between humanity and his adoptive people.

The plot is to a large extent fairly conventional: the hero finds his true self and rebels against a corrupt and oppressive system. Where things are slightly different however for a Hollywood block-buster is in the fact that the humans are the evil group and (warning: slight spoiler ahead) are the ones who lose in the end (which is very open and clearly gives spaces for the two sequels that have alreadry been announced).

It is obviously no coincidence that the planet where the story takes place is named after a character of the Greek mythology famous for releasing all the evils of mankind. Cameron portrays (most) humans as greedy, delusional and warmongering "morons" while the planet and its inhabitants hark back to some primeval Golden Age where senscient beings remain in tune with nature.

Cameron's message against war (I heard people chuckle with me at the famous phrase "we have to fight terror with terror") and in support of a more considered and respectful approach to nature is both quite obvious and rather unusual in this type of film. It is to Cameron's credit and (hopefully) a sign of a change in mentalities that this should happen when Hollywood is known for its rather conservative approach to social and political issues.

From a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans (LGBT) perspective, it is also very easy to identify with what Sully is going through. Like most LGBT people, he has to go through a sometimes difficult process of change and learning, finding along the way a new group to which to belong. Then there comes, for some of us anyway, the realisation of the oppression endured by that group and a decision to stand up and fight for the rights of this new "family", sometimes at the risk of betraying old allegiances.

For most people however the main appeal of the film is the use of 3D technology and the world created by Cameron to set his story (He even asked some university professor to create a new language specially). And there is little doubt that the film is indeed visually stunning. The 3D works very well; it is, most of the time, unobtrusive and only very occasionally a bit clumsy.

Neytiri teaching Jakesully how to use a bow.

The Computer-generated imagery (most of the film, I would imaginge) is absolutely flawless (none of this floating impression you usually get) although I have some reservation in the design of some of the creatures that appear in the film. While the Banshees (loosely based on pterodactyls) are convincing, the ground animals are not so much. They seem much too similar to earth animals and the decidion to six legs instead of four to make them look different doesn't make much evolutionary sense.

There are also some improbabilities: Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)'s smoking in air-tight environments (her first line in the film is to ask for a cigarette, presumably as an easy and lazy way to make her look like a rebel, someone who thinks and acts differently). Another issue is the fact that although Pandora seems mostly covered in lushious rainforest, it doesn't seem to rain there.

Finally, the character's and particularly Sully's change of body happens much too easily. Considering that a na'vi body is about three times as big as a human one, getting used to using such a different set of limbs would probably take much more time than is shown in the film.

But on the whole, Avatar is a hugely enjoyable and entertaining piece of cinema. Despite the length of the film (close to 3 hours), the story, however lacking some may chose to portray it, carries the viewer throughout without a moment of boredom. Highly recommended.

Plus you get to look like this!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is Homophobia Really a Ugandian Value?

After reading some of the despicable comments left on the edition of the BBC's Have Your Say asking "Should homosexuals face execution?" (see previous post on this here and my complaint to the BBC here).

This "brilliant" piece of investigative journalism comes in the context of the debate around Uganda's proposed bill that would have enshrined death penalty for homosexual acts in law and also encourage people to snitch on others for fear of being prosecuted themselves. Although it seems that the people involved are now backing down and will remove the death penalty element from the bill in favour of "a more refined set of punishments".

Without going into what is wrong with the very fact that the BBC should feel it appropriate to ask such question - Should blacks face execution?, Should Jews face execution? - I would like to answer one of the recurrent arguments I have seen (not just on the BBC's site) in that debate in response to the international negative reactions and pressure to the bill. Sign a petition here.

The argument is that Ugandians (and Africans) should not allow western values to dictate what they do in their country. Fair enough BUT - and what a big but this is - things are not that simple.

This is forgetting the fact that influence from right-wing American christian groups has been clearly exposed and established in the creation of this bill.

More profoundly though, what those people seem to forget when they claim that they hatred of homosexuality is rooted in traditional african values is that it is in fact rooted in Christian values and that those values are another product of western influence, via colonisation.

So one is left to wonder is if homophobia really is a Ugandian value or are the supporters of the bill simply trying to have their cake and eat it.

Sadly it seems that some people in Rwanda have been inspired by the Ugandian bill.


Complaint

More seriously though, here is the text of my complaint to the BBC:
How utterly heartless, disrespectful and depressing that you should think it appropriate to ask your reader if homosexual should face execution.

The BBC is supposed to be a bastion of quality and I am afraid in this case the urge to give in to sensationalism has been the stronger.

I trust you would never dare publish a similar request for "debate" about Jews and balck so why did you judge it legitimate to be asked about gay people?
You too can complain here.

Congratulations to the BBC News Online team

I would like to publicly congratulate the BBC News Online team for being so daring and forward thinking in setting up the edition of Have Your Say asking people if homosexuals should face execution.

By doing this, the team shows how at the cutting edge of true journalism it really is, valiantly flying in the face of any moral or ethical consideration (and the fact that death penalty will probably be removed from the Ugandian bill the tabling of which started the whole story) and going straight(!) for subjects that really matter.

In the same spirit I would like to suggest to you a couple of other subjects for future editions of the page which will no doubt help further and enhance your reputation as fearless seekers of the Truth.

How about: "should blacks face execution?" and then I would follow up with the always popular "should Jews face execution?". I trust the team will embrace those subjects too and I am very much looking forward to reading all the enlightened and enlightening comments these will no doubt generate.

If you don't agree with the above, you can make a complaint to the BBC here.
(the text of my own complaint is here)

Monday, 30 November 2009

Ill-bred pleasure

"Everyone of average education considers it inadmissible, ill bred, and inhumane to infringe the peace, comfort, and yet more the health of others for his own pleasure. But out of a thousand smokers not one will shrink from producing unwholesome smoke in a room where the air is breathed by non-smoking women and children."

Leo Tolstoy, "Why do Men Stupefy Themselves?", 1890 as an introduction to a book by his medical brother in law, Dr S P Alexeyev, Drunkenness

Sunday, 1 November 2009

After the Vigil

No to hate

My pictures are here on flickr (with the photopool to share yours here).

My report for Londonist is here (please give it a star if you like it, thanks).

Enjoy!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Up Yours Moyles, the Gays Have It


Picture illustrating the paper version of this article in the Guardian.
In a fast-changing digital world in which most traditional media are struggling to adapt, BBC Radio 4 has bucked the trend, posting its highest listener numbers for a decade over the summer months.

[...]

Today – which has refreshed its presenter line-up over the last 18 months with Evan Davis and Justin Webb joining the breakfast programme team – gained 95,000 listeners on the previous quarter to reach 6.6m an average each week, an increase of nearly 500,000 on the same time last year. Today's 16.8% share was its highest ever.

[...]

With Moyles losing 679,000 listeners over the same period, his audience of 7.04m put him 718,000 adrift of Wogan compared with a 213,000 gap in the second quarter.
Chris Moyles, who presents the morning show on BBC Radio 1, has made several homophobic comments on air. Evans Davies is the gay presenter of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.


Thursday, 29 October 2009

Vigil Against Hate Crime - 30 October

On Friday 25th September 2009, Ian Baynham, 62, and his friend were subjected to homophobic abuse in Trafalgar Square, London. When Ian challenged this unacceptable behaviour he was assaulted by three youths: two women and a man. He later died of his injuries on 13th October.

On Sunday 25 Ocotber, James Parkes, 22, an off-duty trainee police officer, was set upon by a group of up to 20 teenagers in the heart of the gay quarter of Liverpool. James was with his partner, another man and a woman when he was attacked. One of his companions was punched in the face. James is now fighting for his life with multiple skull fractures and other injuries.

Ian and James are sadly not alone; They are two among thousands of people who have been victims of hate crime. In London alone, 1,192 homophobic offences were reported in the year to September 09, up from 1,008 the previous year - a rise of 18.3%. That's an average of almost 3 per day!

People from all communities are invited to come together on Friday 30th October to stand up and say that Hate Crime is unacceptable and that we will no longer tolerate it.

The yigil, which has received high-profile support and will be hosted by Sandi Toksvig, will include speakers from a wide cross section of the community, and musical contributions from a mass choir bringing together members of the LGBT choir of London, Brighton and Hove, Birmingham and Manchester as well as the London Gay Symphonic Winds.

Those unable to attend the event in person, wherever they are in the world, are invited to light candles of hope and observe the two minutes silence, preferably at 9pm GMT.

The vigil, in Trafalgar Square, will start at 8pm and will last 2 hours.

A website (www.17-24-30.com) and Facebook event have been created for the occasion as well as a Twitter account.

Donations can be made here on PayPal or via a dedicated bank account (Sort Code 40-03-22 Account 41446843).

Volunteers to help organise are also welcome.

A vigil in reaction to the attack on James Parkes will take place on Sunday 1st November at 8 pm on Stanley Street in Liverpool.

Monday, 26 October 2009

RIP Geocities

It's all a bit hazy now but as far as I can remember, sometimes in the late 1990s, after I finally got an Internet connection (pay as go dial up, no doubt) at my parents' house in the middle of nowhere, I started looking at building my own website. Using publisher I put together a couple of pages both in French and in English and looked at a way to put them online. Lots of animated GIFs ensued...

I quickly came across Geocities and Angelfire which offered webhosting for free. I am not even sure those few webpages made it online and there have been several attempt at creating my own site.

In August 2001 when I took over as moderator of my newly founded reading group, I decided that a website would be useful and once again I turned towards Geocities. The site has been online ever since, though it underwent a much needed redesign in 2005, loosing the black background and the GIFs that had been the canons of amateur webdesign a few years before.

For over a decade, Geocities were never very far off in the background as I was teaching myself HTML and webdesign, sinking deeper and deeper into geekdom.

Today, even though I have never been formally trained in that domain, I hold a job as web manager, and it is partly thanks to Geocities.

And today, Yahoo! who has been owning if for several years, has pulled the plug on Geocities. It is more.

A page of the early years of the Internet as a mass media dies today.

Things have and will move a lot since then...

You can read other reminiscences by Geocities geeks on Mashable here.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Thrilled and Inspired

I spent the last two days in a computer room on the second floor of the London College of Communication (LCC), at the Elephant and Castle, a good 10 minutes walk from my garret.

Having started a new job a couple of weeks ago, I am being sent to various training courses (amazingly all within walking distance of what I call home).

This week's was entitled "InDesign, the fundamental". Unexpectedly I found myself seated next to one of my former colleagues at VisitBritain. Small world and all!

We learnt how to create shapes, apply all sorts of rather amateurish (in our hands at least) effects (shadows, glows and embossing) to our documents, create business cards, master pages and style sheets, tables, lay out some text and insert images in the desktop publishing software that seems to have become the new professional tool (replacing Quark).

We were made to collate our efforts into a sort of booklet which we then turned into a pdf file. The results of my own efforts (albeit slightly redacted in the business card section) can seen by clicking on the picture above. Please bear in mind that there were exercises that don't necessarily reflect my taste...

At the end of the course, after being given our certificates, we were asked to fill in assessment forms on the quality of the training. One of questions was whether we felt inspired.

I can't say I was particularly inspired by the course itself. While it was fun to do and the tutor knew her subject, she wasn't the best of communicators and we only really learned about how to use a tool. There was nothing that actually helped develop our creativity as such.

What was thrilling however was to find myself (for the first time) within the walls of the LCC; a building I have passed quite often in the 5 years (?) I have lived in its vicinity.

Walking along the corridors of this temple of art and creativity was quite exciting (and I am not just talking about the cute young things on display at every corner!) and inspiring it was too. I felt slightly wistful at not having had the opportunity or even the idea to take the road those young people had decided to follow. And I felt like signing up and becoming a student again.

They, very thoughtfully, gave us a copy of their prospectus. I think they may see me again soon...



Jan Moir Doesn't Have a Clue (updated twice)

Yesterday and for the second time this week (the first time had to do with Trafigura, and the PR-illiterate law firm Carter-Ruck trying to gag The Guardian and then Parliament (no less) around the publication of the Minton Report), Twitter and other social networking sites flexed their cyber-muscles and ostensibly made a difference in British public life.

It all start with a despicable article by Daily Mail hack Jan Moir about the recent death of Stephen Gately. The article was originally titled "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death".

Within half a day, a Facebook group had been created (counting close to 23,000 members at the time of this update; that's more in three days than in the past five years!), the article was retitled "A strange, lonely and troubling death..." at the same time that all adverts were removed from the page, the Press Complaint Commission's website had crashed from receiving over 21,000 complaints, and the mainstream media was picking up the story (see Charlie Brooker and Roy Greenslade).

Since this post was first published, a petition has gone online asking for Moir to be sacked (almost 2000 signatures already) and the Met have received a complaint. Strangely, while everybody is talking about it, the story has received fairly little media coverage (see link at the end) but another columnist in the Daily Mail has taken her colleague to task about her article.

Bowing (only slightly) to the unexpected pressure, Jan Moir, trying to justify her words, released a statement that proved highly patronising and at least as offensive as her article.

In her so-called apology, Moir uses the terms "orchestrated internet campaign" to categorise what happened to her that day. In my view, this shows how little of a clue she has of how new media works.

For what happened to have been orchestrated, there would have to have been someone with a masterplan behind it, having enough influence on 1000's of people. This is clearly not the case and Moir does not provide any hint as to whom may have been responsible for the said orchestration (not that lack of evidence would stop her, as her original article proves only too clearly).

No, what happened is that Moir's own bile has goaded people out of their usual inertia and made them to stand up for decency. The difference with the Neanderthalian times to which Moirs is so clearly harking back, is that while people used to be condemned to scream at the kitchen clock when coming across such inanity as hers, they now have the means to express themselves publicly and create a critical mass of opinion.

This is obviously potentially dangerous; a different kind of mob-rule; and I am sure that some of the comment were sadly just as bad as what they criticised, but this is now a force that has to be reckoned with and thankfully, so far, it seems a force for good.

I think that what happened yesterday however marks another watershed, and one just as positive. Possibly for the first time people have publicly and spontaneously united against a bigot. Yes, there has been demonstrations before but those are usually limited to a smallish interest group and are driven by some level of orchestration.

In this case, straight people, together with LGBT people, decided that enough was enough and made their voices heard. And in a way it had nothing to do with denouncing homophobia but rather plain crass stupidity and nastiness (which is of course what homophobia also is).

Of course, the demographics are still probably quite narrowly defined (probably mostly middle-class liberal) but I want to believe that this heralds the beginnings of a new social attitude where people won't stand for intolerance, no matter who the victim of it is. The signs of a more open and more welcoming society, ready to challenge its moral dinosaurs.

And that, Mr Gately, if nothing else, is a pretty nice legacy.

This post on The Media Blog makes an interesting point on the relation between old and new media coverage of the Moir, Trafigura and Balloon Boy stories. Stephen Fry has also published a long and very eloquent piece on the subject. See also this post by Patrick Harvie MSP (a Facebook and Twitter friend).


This post was first published on 17/10/09 at 9.44am and updated on 18/10/09 at 19:31.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Chord

IMG_0529

just uploaded: my 3000th picture on flickr!
View the rest of this set (an art installation in a former tram tunnel) on flickr here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Pink Sauce

Pink Sauce

Several people expressed curiosity about that delicious concoction I invented for my pasta, so here is a little piccie so that said people get a better idea. ok, it looks more orange than pink, here but that's because I didn't put quite enough cream in (it's normally shrimpish pink).

Give it a go... go on, you know you want to.

(for those wondering, the yellow rectangle at the back of the plate is Emmental)

The Pope's Visit in the UK (2010)

It was announced this week that Gordon Brown has officially invited Pope Ratzinger to visit UK. This he will do next year. Already, protests are announced (in Brighton, tomorrow) against the invitation and a Facebook group has been created for longer term action.

Today Tanya Gold has published a damning summary of the Catholic Church's actions in the Guardian.
Ignore the bells and the smells and the lovely Raphaels, the Pope's visit to Britain is nothing to celebrate. Gordon Brown is 'delighted', David Cameron is 'delighted'. I am 'repelled'.
Read the full article here.

In the meantime, the Vatican has come out with a little gem of hypocritical bad faith (!), stating "that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger."

I suppose that makes it ok, then. right?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Orange

IMG_0457

(Part of) the view from my window: Palace of Westminster's Victoria Tower in the sunset

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

pink sauce | life, with a pink seasoning

As of tonight, my blog Aimless Ramblings of Zefrog, that "place where I can vent my frustration, express ideas and generally open my big gob without bothering too many people" which will be 6 in a couple of months, becomes Pink Sauce. While the URLs zefrog.blogspot.com and www.zefrog.eu are still valid to access this page, the main URL now becomes www.pinksauce.co.uk.

There is a vague plan to create a proper website for www.zefrog.eu to which the blog would be linked.

Why Pink Sauce, you may ask. It is both simple and complicated. For several years, I have grown out of love for the name of the blog. It felt a bit cumbersome and clumsy. That said, I never really looked into changing it, seriously.

Tonight, for dinner, I had pasta with a special pink sauce of my concoction; single cream and ketchup. I know most people while feel nauseous at the very though of the mixture but trust me, it's gorgeous. Don't knock it till you've tried it.

After having had my platter I boasted on Twitter about my sauce and one of my followers (@nminers) suggested that I should have a website called Pink Sauce. Immediately this seems like the perfect name for my blog. A place where I speak about the minutia of live but, more often than not, with a gay (or pink) twist.

I therefore check that the domain name was available, bought when I found out that it was and fired up photoshop for a spot of design. The result, a couple of hours later is the headmast now topping those pages. I'll probably hate it in the morning but hey, that's life!

I hope that this will not prove to much of a shock for my readers. Please feel free to leave comments about the new look. But please forward any complaints to Mr Miners.

Le blog est mort, vive le blog!


Friday, 18 September 2009

Early Christmas

Early Christmas

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Something Happened on the Way to Oxford Circus

Something extraordinary happened on the way to Oxford Circus yesterday, and in my life. I got there first!

At the end of May, my contract with VisitBritain came to an end (it had been originally a six month contract and had already been extended). Since then the hunt for a new job proved rather unfruitful and sometimes frustrating.

In the first three months, I was only invited to one interview, for a small charity based in Shoreditch. Although the feedback was very positive, I wasn't hired. I had only come second. Not the first time this had happened to me for an interview.

Unusually perhaps, though that was certainly welcomed, I was recommended by this first charity to a second one that was looking for someone in a similar position. I duly submitted my application and was invited to an interview.

This took place on Tuesday. Though that was apparently unplanned but not unforeseen, a second round of interviews had to take place to differentiate between two remaining candidates. And I was one of them.

That second interview was yesterday. We had been asked to do some homework beforehand, designing a webpage from a document provided to us. During the interview, I had to explain my design and the choices I had made before answering further questions. The interview went well. The panel was made up of three women and I seem to be more relaxed interviewing with women.

So once again, it was going to depend on the quality of the performance of the other candidate. Something I really dislike as it means things are totally out of hands. I could foresee another occurrence of the bridesmaid syndrome taking place.

Well, this time, it didn't happen. During the afternoon, as I was walking towards Oxford Circus with my friend Petr, I received the joyful phonecall offering me the position and I accepted the offer. How wonderful!

Literally wonderful. In my nine years in London, this is only the second permanent position I will have held. More than that, it is the first one I will have got all by myself through the interview process (the other one was an internal affair following a restructuring where I was working on contract).

I have a meeting scheduled on Wednesday at the JobCentre to review my job search. I will use this as an opportunity to tell them where to go (not in so many words, of course). No doubt this will generate material for another blog post.

But today, there will be a bit of a celebration. When I left that previous permanent job, over three years ago, I was given a bottle of Champagne. I haven't had a good opportunity to drink it, yet. Thinking that this would be the perfect occasion for it, I put it in the fridge last night and today, I will be surprising Petr with it.

A votre santée!


Friday, 11 September 2009

An Apology is Not Enough, Mr Brown

The following has appeared in PinkNews under the title Comment: Brown's apology to Alan Turing is not good enough.

The readers of this blog, who know how militant and political I can get, may be surprised to hear that I did not sign the widely publicised petition for an official apology to Alan Turing.

Of course this campaign is in many ways a very positive thing. It brought a dark page of the history of the LGBT community to the forefront, making the wider public aware of what some of us (many still alive today, no doubt) have had to endure from their own country.

It also served to highlight the way LGBT people have been treated by historians simply because of their unorthodox sexual orientation; how they have been prevented from taking their rightful place in the history books and have instead been firmly kept into the historical closet, regardless of the scope of their achievements.

As the news that Gordon Brown has taken the highly unusual step to actually grant the demanded apology, I can't help but wonder once again, as does Peter Tatchell (in a statement made today on the subject) and no doubt a few others, why Alan Turing should be singled out. Why should he be the only one deserving of an apology for the "utterly unfair" treatment he has received at the hand of the government of the time?

Tatchell, in his lukewarm praise of Brown's apology as "commendable", reminds us that an "estimated 100,000 British men [...] were also convicted of consenting, victimless same-sex relationships during the twentieth century". And then there were the others before that whose lives were destroyed (all too often literally) for who they were and who they loved.

And this brings the next question, that of the worth of an apology. This is not a new debate. It is a particularly heated one, for example, in the black community around the issue of slavery, where it is complicated by the question of financial reparations.

An apology is, of course, a potent symbol, but what is an apology by people who weren't involved to someone who is dead going to achieve? Especially when so many inequalities, humiliations and rebuffs are still visited on LGBT people today around the world. Indeed, at the same time that Brown was apologising to a British citizen for the treatment he received for his homosexuality, another British citizen was being killed in Jamaica for the exact same sorry reason.

Finally, let's not forget, at the risk of seeming ungrateful perhaps, that while the PM may have apologised, Turing is still officially a criminal. He and all the others should be pardoned, not solely apologised to. What are you going to do about Mr Brown? An apology is not enough.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Rare Views of London in the 1930s

Thames House

We all know (or hope) that flea markets will offer hidden treasures. And sometimes they just do.

A lucky find in Deptford market, a couple of years ago, has made me, for the grand old sum of £5, the happy owner of a photo album with some very interesting shots. Although there are virtually no annotations in the album, it seems that the pictures were taken between 1930 and the late 1940's. Some may even be earlier.

Most the pictures are of groups of young people involved in camps and excursions organised by the Crusaders Union but some show views of the Queen Mary and sailing boats, of Stratford Upon Avon and other unnamed places, and of steam trains. Those about London - there are only seven of them recognisably of London itself - can be viewed in the Londonist gallery dedicated to them here.


Friday, 4 September 2009

Up West by Pip Granger - A Review

This is the full-length version of my review for Londonist. Regular readers will also know that this is my first book review.

Imagine looking at a picture of a place you know well in a mirror. Everything you know seems there but somehow it's not quite right, it's not quite the same. This is how it feels reading Up West by Pip Granger.

The street names and the landmarks are all there, though many have also now gone. The busy and diverse crowds are also livening up the streets but the colours have gone and everything has the drab greyness of post-war Britain and its pea-soupers. The smells are different too. Stronger and earthier.

As Granger points out herself, there has been many books about the area, some are general histories, some are focusing on certain communities living there. Many are about the famous "boozy chums" of the author. "At once a history, a memorial and a love story" (p21), Up West is all of these things as it draws on the lives and testimonies of those who lived there in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Granger's father himself lived in Old Compton Street and she spent a lot of time there, as a child.

If you think the West End of London is a busy place today, imagine how it must have been when the fruit and veg market was in full swing in Covent Garden, when all the possible trades in existence (except funeral directors - you had to cross the Big Divide that was Charing Cross Road to Covent Garden for that) were represented in Soho, when the newly invented teenagers, with money in their pockets, decided to go up west and join the other revellers to have a good time.

And imagine the cast of characters: The likes of the Queen, Barbara Windsor, Fred Astaire, Billie Holliday, The Goons, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Keith Richard, and many more, all have a cameo here but there are also local figures like Timothy "Rosie" Cotter or Prince Monolulu, and of course the anonymous legions that lived and worked in the area; the children, the waiters, the costermongers and barrow boys, the small artisans, the buskers and the prostitutes. And Crooky/Ikey the pigeon.

The book covers all the various aspects of life in the West End, its material harshness and its human warmth, in 18 independent chapters. The very detailed index at the end is a very good help to find your way around the book whose scope goes beyond the confine of that relatively small area of London. It eventually describes post-war London as a whole, with its social and existential turmoil in readjusting to everyday civvy life.

A real problem with the book however is its vagueness with locations (often places that have now disappeared). The map at the front is woefully sketchy for anyone who hasn't done the Knowledge. Details of what the various businesses and places mentioned have now become or been replaced with would have been very welcome too.

Such a wide ranging book will, of course, not go without mistakes and I have spotted two. The Theatre Museum, in Covent Garden, has been closed for at least a year now but still appears in the present tense in the book (p146).

Also mentioned is 41-43 Wardour Street, now the site of my favorite chinese restaurant, Wong Kei, but at the time still the workshop of a theatrical wig maker. The author mentions "an arch whose foundation stones were laid by Sarah Bernhardt and John Irving" (p184). In fact there are plaques on each side of the entrance to the building stating that Bernhard laid the foundation stone of the building in 1904, while Irving laid the coping stone in 1905.

And what's with the highly annoying conceit of having "into" spellt in two words throughout the book?

This informative book remains a highly enjoyable and nostalgic walk around one of London's most idiosyncratic villages. The best place to enjoy is it probably in a café in Soho or on the top of a bus where you often only has to take your eyes from the book to see the street you've just been reading about. So close and yet so different.

Up West by Pip Granger is out now from Corgi Books, RRP £6.99 (paperback).


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Proof That Gay Marriage Does Not Destroy Marriage

People opposed to gay marriage or Civil Partnership always claim that these undermine traditional marriage. We may be able to believe them should ever manage to explain how this is actually happening. They never do.

As far as I can see, straight couples are doing a very nice job of undermining marriage themselves. And in any case, how can giving more people the opportunity to join in something undermine it?

Well it seems that we now have the proof that not only gay marriage does not destroy marriage, it actually help support and strengthen that institution.

Gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for the past 5 years. This means that we now have 4 years of data allowing us to judge the extent of the damages wreaked on that poor state by gay marriage.

Well, guess what: according to the latest figures from the National Center For Vital Statistics, Massachusetts is the US state with the lowest divorce rate of all, and that rate is about equal to the national divorce rate... in 1940.

Provisional data for 2008, shows that the divorce rate may actually even be falling (by 0.3% from 2.3%)!

So there we have it. Now we have proof of what we, sensible people, already knew. Gay marriage is, quite unexpectedly, only about gay people being able to create loving and committed relationships and has none of the deleterious effects forecast for marriage and society.

Homophobic religious people are painting themselves in an ever tighter corner and the increased hysteria that seems to be characterising their most recent comments about gay marriage and what it does to the world is a clear sign of that. I think we only have to sit back, relax (not too much: a right given can just as easily be taken) and have a good laugh while they make fools of themselves and total discredit themselves.

And talking of a laugh; check out that report from the Daily Show on the subject above:



You can also read this article in the Chicago Tribune to get an idea of how anti-gay marriage activists react (or not) when challenged with those new figures.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Gay Homophobe

As I was about to board the bus that would take me to Tesco yesterday afternoon, I spotted a rather attractive guy, already on the bus seated in the first few seats at the front. I looked at him a couple of times and it seemed to me he was looking back.

I got on the bus and went to stand in the open space opposite the exit doors and waited for my stop. Before this one arrived however, the bus got the guy's stop. As he stood up we exchange another glance. It felt like a typical "cruising" situation. I had very little doubt that the guy was gay - I know that my gaydar is not great but it's not that bad.

The guy however started mumbling under his breath, looking at me square in the face and with a pained expression. He was speaking in West Indian patois and I didn't get what he meant other, perhaps, than the word "bumboy". Whatever his exact words, the purport of his speech was quite clear: he wasn't happy.

I just stared at him with on interrogative look on my face; the pithy repartees needed in such circumstances would (as usual) only come to me about 20 min later.

There is a widely spread theory that the most virulent homophobes are actually self-hating homosexuals and I have to say that this episode didn't do anything to change my mind on this.

For me and my gaydar, this guy was clearly gay, whether he is aware of this or not is another question, though I would tend to say that he is. Why else would he have noticed that I was looking at him? I look at guys a lot on the street and in public transport and in almost all cases they never notice me looking at them. And I wasn't even particularly insistent in this case.

His reaction was, of course, unexpected but it is also interesting that he didn't actually shout what he had to say or that he did it in a foreign language that most people on the bus would not understand. I think there may be hope for him. I hope there is.


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Sue Sanders


One of my pictures, used to illustrate an article on Wikipedia, has been used by Manchester Pride to advertise one of their events.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

I'm a Photographer, not a Terrorist


Click on the image above for more information.


What's the Point of JobCentre - Part 2

On the day where we learn that the number of jobseekers as gone up once again to reach over eight million, it is probably time for an update on my experience with JobCentre and share a few more nuggets.

I still haven't found an answer to the question I first posed back in June, other than that they are there to administer people's claims.

In the past couple of months, I have not received one bit of advice from them on looking for a job. The only advice comes from friend and from a kind recruitment agent who took an hour of his time to explain to me about what I think are called "functional CVs". I will certainly give those a try. It's not like I have anything to lose.

Last week I went to sign at my scheduled time and was informed that I would have to attend a compulsory group session the next day. When I queried the very short notice, I was informed that they normally give a week. I also had the opportunity to explain to the clerk how email job alerts work. Shouldn't they know about these things?

The next day I attended the session. I was aghast when we were told that would start 2 minutes late. People apparently complain when they start on time. I find it absolutely unbelievable that JobCentre not only condones but effectively encourages such behaviour, when they should help people learn that most basic of disciplines.

The session itself was an introduction to the workings of the Jobcentre. Apart from its self-congratulatory tone, it was of little help and came about two months too late. Still, I managed to finally get an answer the questions I had emailed to my advisor, whom I suspect to have gone on maternity leave without setting up her out-of-office assistant. Why else would she ignore my emails?!

On a more positive note, this week, I received notification that I would receive Housing Benefit and a Council Tax credit. This didn't go quite as smoothly as one could have expected. Together with the notices for each respective benefits, came a third one stating that my claim had been denied. Confused, I rang the relevant Council service to be told that I could disregard this third piece of paper.

Why send it? And why send the letter I received a few weeks ago asking me to provide some information I had provided in person only a week before?! That letter actually did contain a line that it should be disregarded should I have already provided the information.

Still, I supposed I shouldn't complain. My Housing Benefit amounts to more than my actual rent by £64 per month...


Monday, 10 August 2009

Tempus Fugit

In October 1993, at 19, I started university. Although I was still going back to my parents', about 50km away, every week-end, this was for me the real beginning of true independence. I had been spending my weeks away from home (at the French version of a boarding school - i.e. nothing posh about it) for the past four years but this was different. From my room in a student residence, I was more or less free to do what I wanted.

Within a few months, having finally realised that I was neither straight nor bisexual, I had been to my first gay club, had met my first boyfriend and had started to come out to my closest friends. I also started to find my own sartorial style.

This was not a particularly rosy or successful time and I don't look at it with fond nostalgia, wishing I was still there, but it was an important stage in my life.

Part of this metamorphosis involved the purchase of a silver ring. Something cheap (the equivalent of £7 (70 Francs), as I remember) but I thought it was elegant and fashionable with its design which, as I later found out, was based on an Indonesian pattern.


I placed it on my right ring finger and it has very seldom left that finger ever since. Only once, a few years back did I lose it for a while, having taken it off at the gym, it has somehow slipped from the pocket of my bag where I had placed it.

Over the year, the ring has lost some of its own shape to better espouse the shape of my finger; a few dents have appeared, but on the whole it's been in a way a faithful companion.

Last week however, I noticed a crack in the part of the ring facing my palm. I thought it would probably be fine; other wounds inflicted to it by time had not grown any worse over the year. Today however I notice that the problem has indeed grown worse: a part of the ring has gone loose (as can be clearly seen on the pic above).

the cost of repair, which I can't afford at the moment in any case would probably be more than what the ring itself is worth. I have also no idea where I could get the job done. I therefore had to reluctantly retire this old friend.

My finger feels naked and my thumb keeps going back to where it used to find the ring to play with it and readjust it. It seems that after 16 years, a page needs to be turned. Hopefully, the departure of the ring will mark the start of another momentous period in my life, just like the one heralded by its arrival.



Sunday, 9 August 2009

Open Letter to Rev James Tallach - Part 2

After finally managing to track an email address for Rev James Tallach of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, on the Isle of Lewis, I sent him the email reproduced in this earlier post, challenging his alleged attribution of the reason for a tornado on Lewis to "god's warth" at the first celebration of a Civil Partnership on his island (as reported in this article on PinkNews).

His first reply was as follows. Although, I have asked him permission to reproduce his emails, my request has remained unanswered. I have decided to publish anyway, since I am sure the Reverend is a man of integrity who would stand behind his own word publicly.

Dear zefrog
Thank you for your thoughtful email.
During my interview about these matters I was asked whether I saw the tornado as a judgment for the breaking of God's commandment. I said specifiically that I did NOT make that connection and spoke of changing weaather patterns.This was correctly reported in at least one account. I did not see all the reports in all the papers but obviously from your remarks at least one newspaper wrongly reported my remarks. I made no such pronouncement.
Kind regards
James Tallach


A day later, however, I received another email from him:


Dear zefrog

As far as same sex civil partnerships are concerned the Bible catagorises such relationships as sin. Lev 18;22 and Rom 1;22 ff. Jesus as the very embodiment of the love of God warned repeatedly those about them against braking God's law. If a doctor warned you that you had a mole which might cause your death would you count this a mark of hatred?

You suggest 'charitable work in aid of those in need.' I spent 13 years as a doctor in a single doctor hospital in the bush in Zimbabwe on a low wage and no state or NHS pension for those years. Since leaving I have supported our Mission work there in our secondary school and hospital and plan to go out for 3 weeks in October to see if further help is needed. Was that the kind of 'charitable work in aid of those in need' you had in mind?

Regards
James R Tallach


My reply to his second email (reproduced below) was -sadly- ignored.


Dear Reverend,

would you allow me to reproduce the content of your emails on my blog?

As far as I know the Bible doesn't mention civil partnerships. it does however refers to sex outside of marriage as being sinful (one the 10 commandments, right?). Therefore civil partnerships, or even better gay marriage, would seem like a good solution to that particular problem.

As for the elements in Leviticus (Rom is only Paul's view on the subject and it is disputed that he actually refers to homosexual acts, so allow me to discard this), they do not describe mortal sins, so this talk of hell is irrelevant. There are also many other things that Leviticus forbids which Christians have been quite happy to disregard. Why being so selective and focus so much on sex? The Bible mentions usury much much more than homosexuality, yet, we don't hear Christian demonstrating against that...
Also, from what I understand, the word "abomination" should be taken as meaning "outside of the dogma", which diminishes the import of the whole thing for people who are not part of this religion.

There are also several positive passages about relationships of the same-sex. As we both know (I am sure), if you look hard enough, you can find anything and its opposite in the Bible.

I can't help but noting also that you are the one mentioning hatred, not I.

I applaud you for your various work in Zimbabwe. this is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. I find that many religious people spend too much time, energy and money fighting something that is not relevant to them and with which they should not feel the need to meddle, while they could redirect all those resources to more useful work, such as you type you are involved with.

Best wishes,

Zefrog


"God's answer turned out well"

Published on BlueRidgeNow.com: Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 4:30 a.m.

To The Editor: Twenty-five years ago we discovered that one of our sons was gay. We loved him, but I was afraid of what the future held for him in a society that did not accept him.

Therefore I began to pray that God would change him. One day as I was praying, I got a message from God that God did not work that way. So instead of God changing my son, God changed me. God changed the way that I viewed homosexuals, and gradually my understanding of Scriptures. From that moment on I began to accept my son as he was.

Eventually God led me to PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) where I met other parents who were like me. There I found the courage that I needed to come out of my closet and talk openly about my son, not only in PFLAG meetings but also in the church and community.

Since that time God has blessed my family in many wonderful ways by bringing not only a wonderful partner for my son into our lives but many other wonderful gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people as well. I thank God for changing me.

Rev. Jerry W. Miller
Hendersonville

Friday, 31 July 2009

Open Letter to Rev James Tallach

Since Reverend Tallach of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, on the Isle of Lewis, can not be reached by email (the two addresses for him, I could find online bounced), I will post this email on my blog, hoping that God will guide the Reverend to it (see this article on PinkNews for details of Rev. Tallach's comments).

Dear Reverend Tallach,

I was very interested to read in the press about your pronouncement that a recent tornado over the Isle of Lewis was the result of God's Righteous Wrath for allowing civil partnerships. It is indeed quite wonderful to be able to find God's work in nature everywhere.

I couldn't help thinking myself recently that the forest fires and earth tremours that plagued California at the end of last year and the beginning of this, and so reminiscent of the Biblical fire and brimstone, were indeed God's way of telling the inhabitants of the golden state that they should not have voted for Proposition 8 which made gay marriages illegal. After all, God is love, Jesus has told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and neither of them can be very pleased when one part of the population gangs up on another one simply to try and re-ascertain its ebbing power and influence.

I trust that God will guide your thoughts towards matters more worthy of your energy and abilities such as perhaps charitable work in aid of those who are in need.

Regards,

Zefrog

The short email exchanged that eventually followed this can be viewed in this post.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Gay Icons - A review

The National Portrait Gallery has gone a bit queer this summer. Beyond the perennial portraits of gay, lesbian, bi or trans (LGBT) people that the initiated can spot around the gallery, there is a selection of colourful portraits of George Melly by his friend Maggi Hambling on offer. The pièce de résistance however is only a few butch strides down the corridor.

The soft-lit, aubergine confines of the Gay Icons exhibition huddle together a selection by 10 prominent LGB figures of 60 photographic portraits they personally deem significant...

Read my full review of the exhibition on Londonist here.

Images - left to right: Joe Dallesandro by Paul Morrissey 1968, k.d.lang by Jill Furmanovsky 1992 & Joe Orton by Lewis Morley 1965 all courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library

One of the many pleasures offered by London is that of discovering quirky places no one seem to know about and seemingly held in some quaint timewarp.

The Sands Films Studios in Rotherhithe are just one such place. Housed in some unprepossessing Grade II listed former granary, Sands Films Studios were founded in the 1970's and offer film production facilities as you may expect but also a cinema club (free) and a renowned costume-making workshop.

You will have seen their creations in such films as Little Dorrit (1988), Vanity Fair (2004), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Pride and Prejudice (2005) or Fingersmith (2005) and many others.

The quaintest and most interesting part of the complex however is without a doubt the adjacent Picture Research Library.

Library 2

Neatly tucked on the ground floor of the oldest part of the building, its ceiling supported by 18th century reclaimed ships' timbers, imagine a giant scrapbook of thousands of images, photographs and other magazine clippings brought together in a serendipitously haphazard way and covering subjects as varied and far apart as advertising and packaging to costumes, via domestic utensils, nature, transport or war.

Add to that a collection about local history and you may get a picture (!) of this visual cornucopia used by researchers, stage and fashion designers as well as local school kids.

The staff there (probably volunteers for the most part) is incredibly friendly, welcoming and passionate, and, although what looks a caf in actually a staff canteen, Neil, a propah cockney (although his mum is apparently from Norwich) who seems to be the manager there, will probably let you have a bite if you ask nicely and will later come and sit with you with a nice cuppa and have a good old chinwag.

Library 3 Files 2

Neil assures us that the best time for a visit is on Tuesdays, when Olivier, the enthusiast in charge, is at hand and able to guide you through his treasures.

Whether it is a Tuesday or not however, if you find yourself near Rotherhithe, do drop by and have a look at this hidden London gem.

The library is open every week days from 10.30 till 4.00. Access is free.
for more information visit: www.sandsfilms.co.uk

More pictures are available on my flickr account here.

An edited version of this article has appeared on Londonist here.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Splat the Dog!

Splat the Dog!

This picture was used by Londonist to illustrate an article about "dog crimes" in Camden Town.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Sue Sanders

Sue Sanders

A cropped version of this picture was used to illustrate several articles about the event is depicts (Sue Sanders receiving an award for her work from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) on 10 July 2009). First on the LGBT History Month blog here and then in PinkNews here.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Catholic Inconsistencies over Epidemics

Last month the Diocese of Plymouth (southern England) sent out letters to its priests advising them to stop offering wine at communion in a bid to help fight the swine flu epidemic.

The Plymouth Diocese has 93 parishes stretching from Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in the west to parts of Bournemouth in the Dorset.

The step was apparently taken in response to the World Health Organisation upgrading the seriousness of the epidemic risk. According to the BBC, at the time, there were no cases of the flu in the area covered by the Diocese and only 18 cases have been diagnosed since then (source).

This morning, the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that, at present, swine flu appears to be less severe than previous pandemics and "broadly similar" to seasonal flu - which kills between 5,000 and 7,000 each year. There have so far been 17 swine flu-related deaths in the UK.

All information both at the time of the Diocese's letter and now points towards a need for calm. There appears to be no need to panic.

In the meantime the Catholic Church seems to be much less in a hurry to do something about another pandemic which has proved its ferociousness over the past two decades.

The Vatican's official policy, despite every evidence and in total negation of human nature which it prides itself of knowing so well, is to forbid the use of condoms, which could help fight AIDS. Further than that, they have even claimed (again, despite all evidence) that condoms do not work against HIV.

Because of its limited scope (Catholic church goers in the South West), the Diocese of Plymouth's initiative will have very little impact on the swine flu epidemic. However, a change of the policy which to be fair several Catholic bishops seem to be ignoring, from the Vatican would go a long way..

It doesn't even have to be a full endorsement of the use of condom. The Church could easily stick to its dogma of abstinence as the best way to fight the epidemic. It could simply repeat its message and include the caveat that if people can really not stop themselves from having sex outside of marriage, then they should use a condom.

This would not in any way undermine the doctrine but would show a much deeper and compassionate knowledge of the human psyche and would help the Catholic Church stop probably being indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundred of thousand of people, mostly in Africa.

Unlike with the Plymouth story, we are however talking about sex and sexual morality here which is and has always been one of the main tools used by the church to assert its power over people. A change of tone and a show of responsibility by the Vatican is therefore sadly less than likely.

With thanks to @RichieInLondon for the tip off.
This article was published in PinkNews on 15 July 2009.



Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Selfridges and CK don't get Pride

This year, like last year, I spent the parade at Pride on the open top of a bus. As it passed in front of Selfridges on Oxford Street, a friend remarked that, unlike last year where they had some half-naked guy or other handing out stuff, nothing seemed to be happening there to mark Pride. We didn't think about it much at the time.

When I got home however and started checking out the pictures of Pride uploaded to Flickr (here), I quickly found out the reason for this change.

Selfridges had teamed up with Calvin Klein to hire a bunch of skimpily-clad models to take part in the parade itself, carrying a banner and handing out flyers, as can be seen in the picture above (courtesy of RealMen).

Selfridges and CK are obviously not the first non-gay commercial organisations to take part in Pride (British Airways or BT come to mind). And it is obviously a great thing that parts of the wider community should want to reach out and support the LGBT community. That they should decide that, contrary to a still fairly widely held belief, this visible support will not have adverse consequences for them and their business.

These organisations should indeed by praised for their progressive thinking but ,generally, those companies are represented by members of their LGBT staff network. They are not, as Selfridges was all too clearly doing on Saturday, engaging in clumsy and crass commercial opportunism.

Whoever in Selfridges' marketing department had the idea of this stunt clearly has no clue of what Pride is about. At a time when so many think it is not political enough, it should certainly not be used as an opportunity to sell your stuff and try and profit on the mythical pink pound.

Pride, and this should be all the more obvious on the year marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is an affirmation. A declaration to the world that the LGBT community is alive and well and not ready to be kept in a closet. Pride is, and should remain, first and foremost a protest.

The vacuous theme of "come out and play" chosen this year by the organisers, certainly couldn't have helped to rectify our hapless marketeer's erroneous perceptions.

Furthermore, using a group of half-naked, muscly, tanned and waxed pretty-boys (most of whom are probably not even gay), seems to me to be incredibly patronising and subtly insulting coming from a organisation that is not actually part of the community.

It seems to say that the LGBT community is very shallow indeed, that its attention can only be attracted by appealing to its basest instincts. This is, at the very least, an easy, cheap and unoriginal way to proceed, not to mention that many people in the community are not actually attracted by the "body beautiful". Even I, who is rather partial to this sort of physique found this bunch strangely unattractive.

And, of course, this stunt also completely negates the existence of lesbians!

This sort of unfortunate, inconsiderate, tokenistic and ultimately prejudiced way of trying to engage with any community (gay, black, older, disabled, ...) can be more damaging than anything else to a brand.

My suggestion to Selfridges and CK for next year is to save their money in hiring all those models and to instead send a group of their LGBT staff. Thus showing that they truly value diversity and don't only see it as a marketing gimmick.

Better still, they could team up with community groups or small charities, sponsor their float and support their actions beyond this involvement for Pride.

This goes, of course for any other non-gay business thinking about join in the fun.

On the night of the march, I sent Selfridges a tweet to that effect. Sadly noone deemed it worth a reply. Today, I sent a reminder, asking for a reply. Let's see what happens.

This article appeared in PinkNews on 7 July 2009



Update - 08/07/09:
Selfridges have tweeted back (here):
Dear @zefrog Thank you for your thoughts and feedback. We'll bear it all in mind for future Pride events. See you soon in Selfridges!
Not exactly overwhelming but let's hope they do think about it...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Anniversary

Today marks nine years since I moved to London. How time flies!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Like a Sore Thumb

last week I was waiting for someone at a corner on Old Compton Street when I was approached by a young man and took my picture.

Before your overworked imaginations start going on overdrive, I must add that he was a "journalist" working for Boyz magazine (one of the free scene rags in London).

He explained that the National Portrait Gallery was about to have a new exhibition (now open) called Gay Icons, gathering 60 pictures showing what 10 prominent member of the LGBT community view as their icons.

Boys was doing a voxpop to see who people would nominate. It seems that the editor of Boyz felt that the icons featured in the exhibition were not quite current enough.

And so I was asked to nominate my own gay icon and to say why. Well, Boyz, the results are in and as usual I stick out like a sort thumb. A look at the scan of the incriminating page of Boyz No 931, below, should be ample proof.



Pride London 2009

Crowds

And that's another one done! My (not very good) pics of the event can be found on flickr here. The flickr photo pool for Pride 09 is here.

One of my pics was used by Londonist (along with a selected few) to illustrate the event. View it here.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Pride is a Protest

Pride is a Protest

My newly-finished placard to take on the opentop bus of the Southwark LGBT Network at Pride London on Saturday.

Monday, 29 June 2009

London Marks 40 Years Since the Stonewall Riots

Departure

40 people gathered yesterday afternoon (Sunday) outside the London Schools of Economics (where the first meeting of the Gay Liberation Front UK took place in the 1970) for a march marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that took place on 28 June 1969 in New York and are considered as the beginning of the modern gay rights and gay pride movement.

The march which went through Soho (one of London's gay quarters) finished in a club called Central Station (King's Cross area) where a free afternoon of cabaret performances had been organised.

More pictures are available on my flickr account, here. details of the event can be found on this Facebook page.

The picture above was used by Londonist to illustrate their short article about the celebration, here.

I may blog more extensively (and specifically) later about my feeling towards yesterday's event...

Monday, 22 June 2009

What's the Point of Jobcentre?

Having never registered as unemployed I had only a very vague idea of what the Jobcentre can do for it customers.

That's until I registered with them earlier this month. Now I have no idea whatsoever of the point of this organisation.

In my naivety, I imagine that a Jobcentre was there to help people find a new job, providing all sorts of services and facilities to support jobseekers in their quest.

Not at all. I now know that Jobcentre does not offer CV surgeries where people can get advice on how to improve their CV. I am assuming that interview technique advice is also out of the question.

It also seems that the centres do not provide jobseekers with the facilities to print out documents (such as CVs or job applications that can only made by post - yes they do exist still!) or make photocopies.

Jobcentres are also not there to process your benefit claims or event track their process and make sure that they have been made properly with all the required documents.

On Saturday 20th, I received a lettre from the Makerfield Benefit Delivery Centre (in Preston) informing me that despite a request for missing documents (bank statements) they had made on the 17th (I have no idea to whom and how this request was made), they still missed the documents require by the law and that they had decided that I was not untitled to the Jobseekers Allowance. They generously gave me until the 26th to send the missing documents.

Incidentally the 17th, was the very same on which I had sent an email to my adviser at the Jobcentre asking if I had provided all the relevant documents. I had not received any answer to that email and was therefore assuming that all was well.

To my questions about printing and advice, that same adviser has directed to some sort of local quango that "helps people get into work." The only slight problem is that to be able to benefit from their services, one has to be "affected by:
* Long term health problems and incapacity benefits
* Mental health issues
* Physical disabilities
* Learning difficulties
* Refugee status
* Young people leaving council care
* Drug or alcohol misuse and being an ex offender
* Childcare and being a single parent"

I therefore don't qualify. In other words, I am just going to have to do it myself and only use the jobcentre to sing on every two weeks. It seems to be the only service they provide.

Thankfully, today I was contacted by two agencies that want to forward my CV to positions they have on their books. Both are short-term contracts but so was my last employed and that lasted a year. It's also extra experience on my CV.

Fingers are therefore firmly crossed (and a few other bits besides).

An update to this post can be found here.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Phèdre - A Review

Jean Racine is, together with Pierre Corneille and Molière, one of the three major French playwrights; all from the 17th century. Still, while I have read some of Corneille's stuff and endured the study of some of Molière's comedies at school, I have never actually explored Racine's works in any way.

Therefore going to the National Theatre to attend a performance of Phèdre, with Dame Helen Mirren in the title role, presented several levels of interest.

Before talking about the play, I would like to have a good moan about the quality of the seating in the theatre. Cozy doesn't even start to describe it. There is barely enough place to fold one's legs and certainly none to change position, which can be an issue when watching a two hour play with no intermission. The back of the seats are also too low in my view.

I am sure that actress Fiona Shaw, who had the misfortune of sitting right behind this 6'1 hindrance, would also have had something to say about the seating arrangements.

On to the play itself now.

Picture below by Catherine Ashmore: Helen Mirren (Phèdre) and Dominic Cooper (Hippolytus)

Helen Mirren (Phèdre) and Dominic Cooper (Hippolytus), photo by Catherine AshmoreThis modern version written by Ted Hughes officially opened 11 June following previews that began 4 June.

Yet it felt still quite untrained and self-conscious. I noticed two hesitations from two different actors and towards the beginning, twice we could hear things falling off-stage.

Because this is classical tragedy, the style of performance is quite grandiloquent and conceited. I found this a little difficult to get used to at the beginning but that didn't last.

Despite all this the performances were very good and will no doubt even improve as the actors settle in their parts.

The acting and general plot however are probably the only elements left of Racine's original text which was written in 1677 in 5 acts and in alexandrine verse, following the dogmatic canons of the Tragedy genre.

Although Hughes' version does a great job, it comes as one long piece of prose. And Phèdre's dying scene is over in about a minute which feels much too short for this sort of play and I won't say anything of the use of such glaringly anachronistic words as "slow motion".

There is probably a still moralistic element to the play. The spectator is, I think, invited to take responsibility for his acts and at the very least to be careful of what he/she wishes for.

Discussing the play with a friend who was there with me, I was reminded of the video of a talk I had recently seen in which author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and expresses the idea that, instead of the rare person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius, and how liberating this can be. The video can be viewed below:



My friend however complained that he had not find anything he could relate to in the play. And it is indeed hard (if impossible) to care for the characters and their woes.

I am not sure however that this is the aim of such play. It is, I think, an example of art for art's sake. Something beautiful, polished and called like a Greek statue but in a way too perfect to allow for feelings.

Possibly not the way were are used to enjoy our plays these days but certainly not something impossible to achieve as my evening proved that night.

Find out more about the original on Wikipedia here.

Phèdre
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
National Theatre
until 27 August
Website