Monday, 29 June 2009

London Marks 40 Years Since the Stonewall Riots


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.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner
National Theatre
until 27 August

Liberty Loves Justice

No on H8! - Liberty and Justice: the ultimate in same-sex marriage

I saw a link on Twitter to this cameraphone picture. I quick google search help me found the graphic but no trace of a version with the same text as on the image I had seen.

Half an hour on Photoshop later: tada! No on H8! - Liberty and Justice: the ultimate in same-sex marriage.

Idle hands are the devil's tools!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Songs of London

Songs of London

Flyer for the London Gay Men's Chorus concert at the Shaw Theatre (Euston - 16th July 2009 at 7.30pm.

The Facebook group for the event is here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Waterloo Sunset's Fine For Ray Davies


The former lead singer of British rock band The Kinks treated a gathering of tourists, fans and journalists to a rendition of one of the band's hits, earlier today, on the riverside next to the Royal National Theatre and Waterloo Bridge in London.

Bathed in the setting sun, Ray Davies, backed by singers of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, performed the bitter sweet ballad Waterloo Sunset.

The event was in advance of the release of Davies' new album, The Kinks Choral Collection, to be released next week and on which the Crouch End Festival Chorus is also taking part.

The 1967 song, which reached number two in the charts, appeared in the album Something Else by The Kinks and was composed by Davies who performed it twice tonight to the delight of his fans.

The lyrics are from the point of view of a solitary man on the south bank of the Thames watching (or imagining) the romantic encounters of a couple at Waterloo Underground, then crossing Waterloo Bridge. Davies, in his 1996 autobiography X-Ray, says the inspiration for the song came from an incident when he was hospitalized as a boy. On the BBC radio show The Davies Diaries, Davies stated that "I can't tell you who they are because they're good friends of mine". In a 2008 interview with Spinner Magazine, Davies stated "it was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country."

A new arrangement for See my Friends (first released in 1965) which will appear in the new album was premiered tonight by the choir on its own at first and then performed by Davies and the choir.

For me this was an interesting event for several reasons. First, I know a member of the Chorus but more importantly perhaps, Waterloo Sunset is part of the current repertoire of my own choir.

As a coincidence, we will be singing it on Friday evening (7 and 8pm) at the Scoop (the amphitheatre attached to City Hall) only a few hundred metres down river form the location of tonight's event.

More pictures of the event are available on my flickr account here.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Signing On

In 25 days (5th July), I will be celebrating nine years since I moved to London. In those nine years, I have tried my best to integrate and make a positive contribution to the country that welcomed me by working and paying taxes and by volunteering in various community groups.

Of course there has been highs and lows, and things could probably have gone better than they have (though I am only blaming my own inadequacies for this) but this week, I find myself signing on to receive the Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefits and Council Tax rebate.

I hope that this will only be the precautionary measure I want it to be and that I will find a new job soon but this can't help but grate against my values. This is also compounded by the rather depressing and very disheartening fact that, should I receive all that I have applied to, I may find myself better off unemployed (when everyone seems to agree that the Allowance is really not much) than I am when working. How can this be possible? Why should I bother looking for a new job, for other than ethical reasons?

I have never been very good at job-hunting, which is essentially selling oneself and although, in my first six years here, I have managed to raise my income by more than 50%, it remains quite low and way below the national average. In the past two or three years, the upward trend seems to have petered out and I don't think I am employed to the fullest of my abilities. I went from £12,000pa to about £19,000pa in my latest job and seems to have hit some sort of glass ceiling.

The economic climate makes this even more complicated. There are indeed jobs out there but there are also even more people after them than there used to be. My CV is varied and I am resourceful and a quick learner but there is nothing particularly outstanding to attract employers' attention. So it looks like I will probably be visiting the jobcentre regularly for quite a while.

To conclude and cut all the moaning short, I shall try and turn this post into a rather protracted job advert.

If anyone is looking for an (online) editor or editorial assistant cum proofreader in London, please do not hesitate to contact me for a copy of my CV.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Morality and Religion

Thought for the Day, 25 May 2009
Clifford Longley

I get a sense that our society is reappraising the value of virtue. We are finding in the City, in Parliament, in journalism, in truth everywhere else too, that "going to the very limit of what the rules permit" isn't good enough. As the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster have been saying over the weekend, we need an internal moral compass as well. To be precise, we need a conscience. We need it in order to apply to our lives the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, moderation and courage. Whether we do so successfully depends crucially on what sort of people we are. If we are virtuous we will act virtuously, and become more virtuous in the process. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Am I saying only religious people can be virtuous? Certainly not. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said, controversially, last Thursday that "For Jesus, the inability to believe in God and to live by faith is the greatest of evils. "Evil is a word with many shades of meaning, but this seemed to come close to saying that atheism is wicked.

I beg to differ. One of the most virtuous men I've known was my own father. He was an out-and-out atheist, a Dawkins before his time. Though he disagreed profoundly with my own choice of faith - I'm of the same persuasion as the cardinal - my father certainly wasn't evil. Indeed, a Catholic theologian once said that virtue in an atheist is more admirable than virtue in a believer, for a virtuous atheist pursues the good purely for its own sake, whereas the virtuous believer hopes for his reward in an afterlife. There's a sobering truth in that.

The opposite side of the coin is that wickedness is more wicked when committed by a religious believer. It destroys trust. Many Irish people have abandoned the Catholic faith in recent years, and I would not be surprised to hear of more doing so in the light of recent events, because of the scandal of children being abused sexually or sadistically by priests or nuns. So the inability to believe in God may have a lot to do with the dreadful example set by some of those who do believe.

And I also think the inability to believe in God can, paradoxically, be a source of grace, even something like a gift. It's as if God switches on the light for some people, but for others He deliberately leaves it turned off so they have to create their own light. They have to discover for themselves how to be moral and virtuous, and why it matters.

Believers and non-believers together have the urgent task of promoting the idea of virtue in order to remoralise our entire economic system and our whole society - before it all finally falls apart.

copyright 2009 BBC - Listen to the audio clip here (RealPlayer).

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Gaydar Confusion

Following my previous post about Milk Watch, I have put my talents as a stalker to the test and thanks to Facebook (the stalker's best friend), I have managed to track down the sexy guy that was giving me eye on the shoot (see this post for the full (non-existant) story).

It seems however that the guy (who, so a feature about him in the Independent informs me, is actually not (just) Indian but a delicious mix of English, Polish, Dutch, Indian and Guyanese) is "Interested in: Women".

That doesn't completely square with the experience related in the post I linked to above but there is no sign of gayness whatsoever on his profile.

What should I do? "poke" him (ooo, matron!) to see how he reacts or just let it die and stop being such a creep?

I think I have just answered my own question.

Update (10/06/09): on the advise of a couple of friend, I did "poke" the man on Facebook. A few days later, though he has logged in to FB (his profile picture has changed), he hasn't reacted. That's that!

Milk Watch

A few months ago, I mentioned my participation together with other members of the London Gay Men's Chorus in the filming of a short film about crime-busting milkmen.
The film premiered at the East London Film Festival and is now up for an award. You can view it, try and spot me and vote for the film here.


Milk Watch
Duration: 05' 44
Film fund: New Pathways Film Fund
Borough: Newham
Film synopsis: An all-singing, all-crime-stopping musical about milkmen on a mission.

Key cast/crew:
Writer / Director: Michael Taylor
Producer: Christiana Pascali
DOP: Ben Liddell
Music: Yo Zushi
Cast: David Penkert, Rhys Lawton, Ben de Sausmarez, Daniel Poole, Charlie and Angelo de Vangelez, The London Gay Men's Chorus