Monday, 27 December 2010

Pictures of Deserted London - 2010

Waterloo
Like last year, I spent some of my Christmas day morning cycling in central London, taking pictures of the eerie deserted streets. This year, the expedition was made all the more easier by the lovely Kenny Farthings aka Boris Bikes. No need to borrow a bike for a flatmate I no longer have.

Click here to view this year's batch (Elephant and Castle, the Southbank and Covent Garden mostly) and here for last year's (Westminster and the West End).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Clair de lune over 2010

It's the end of the calendar year and with it comes a strange need to stop and take stock of the year gone by. This impulse is augmented by that melancholy and contemplative Sunday evening feeling most of us seem to experience.

Tonight I am sitting on my six-month old sofa, looking at the lovely urban view I am sharing with you below. And I look back on 2010...

Clair de lune

A year ago at this time of year I was in the last throes of the Christmas session with the London Gay Men's Chorus (my 15th season with them - eight years). After three performances at the Cadogan Hall at the beginning of December, and an invitation to the Mayor of London's Choral Service at Southwark Cathedral, we only had a few performances left on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall as guests of Sandy Toksvig's show, before packing up the tinsel for another year.

This year, I wasn't part of the Christmas show, having taken the season off after the summer concert at the Roundhouse and a visit to a defiant Europride in Warsaw. This gave me the opportunity to see the Chorus on stage for the first time. It was an odd but proud experience.

During the year, I attended several protests and demonstrations, that brought a bit of excitement. A rally in defence of street photography in Trafalgar Square; two protests against the State visit of the Pope, one in advance of and one during the visit; a very wet picket outside the Malawi High Commission in support of an imprisoned gay couple.

During the year, there was a visit to Oxford, one to the deserted streets of London, and one to a tunnel under the Thames. And a few others besides.

During the year, the Cycle Hire Scheme was introduced (not without troubles) and I have now become a cyclist, I suppose, going everywhere possible on one of those trusted Borisbikes.

During the year, I spent possibly even more time online (particularly on Twitter) than I used to spend before.

During the year, I bought my first artworks (one of which, a diptych, is not in this photo set). I think that (and listening, sporadically, to the Archers) may make me middle-class...

During the year, I celebrated the first year in what is the first permanent job I got directly from an interview (previous jobs had all been temporary or contracts; my only other permanent job coming after a succession of both temp and contract work in that organisation).

But most importantly, during the year, I did something I wasn't expecting I would be doing, even 10 month ago.

During this year, within a few days of marking ten years of life in London, I became the part-owner of a one bedroom flat, after living for five years in a smallish room, sharing a flat with 4 other people (only one of whom remained there all that time).

And not only, is it my own space where I don't need to queue for the loo when I need a visit, or bother to get get dressed to go to the kitchen, it is my own space in one of London's landmarks; its tallest residential building, Strata SE1. A little bit of the London skyline.

During the year, I bought a sofa (mentioned above), a mattress (and possibly a bedstead very soon) and a Persian rug (that was today, actually). How very grown up that feels...

So all things considered, I think 2010 can be classified as a landmark year in my life, rather than simply an incredibly positive one.

The only negative note, the one dark shadow on this luminous painting, is the same one that has been the bane of my life for as long as I can remember. And the one that will probably remain just that until the end of that life.

During the year, not only did I fail (again) to meet that special someone, I remained the sad loner that, I am starting to suspect, most people who know of me have no idea I am.

Yes, moving to Strata has provided some glimpses of hope in that respect, thanks to the friendly and sociable mindset of many of its residents but there is no indication that these will be more than occasional glimpses.

There have been lone, similar glimpses before and most have remained just that or have quickly vanished, quenched in the implacable shadows of my social ineptitude.

So here is to hoping that the momentum accrued so far carries on gently for a long while. And here is to hoping that you, my dear reader, find yourself born by that same momentum.

Merry festive season, and a happy and prosperous new year to us all.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Revenge of the BoBi - taking no prisoner

I was almost home. So close that I could actually see my building but there was still the new T-junction in the southern part of the Elephant and Castle to negotiate. The ride from Shoreditch had gone well and the bike was one of the smooth and responsive ones.

There was a bit of a jam at the light but they had just turned green and traffic was moving on. So was I at the same speed not blocking anybody's way. Or was I. As I was about to pass the lights, going straight in front of me down Newington Butts, a white van came rushing to my left clearly trying to overtake me to turn down the Walworth Road on the left, cutting my way and forcing me aside.

Earlier on Tower Bridge I had seen a 141 bus trying to do the same to another cyclist for about a quarter of the bridge, the driver using his horn to express his displeasure at the impudence of the cyclist who rightly was refusing to give way. Not such behaviour would happen if the bike was in fact a car.

Already slightly riled by the bridge incident, and having learnt in the past few month of using the BoBi that we are too easily ignored by certain drivers, I decided that enough was enough and that the van driver would not drive away freely. I gave a big resounding whack to the side of the van with my fist as I let him pass me by and then moved on. As I looked I saw that he had stopped a few metres away either wondering what had happened or more certainly wondering if he had hit me. He could not have ignored the fact of my presence.

Soon I heard him yelling and shouting but I was already riding away, my right arm raised, hoisting aloft the standard of my victory: my middle finger. And that felt good!


This was originally posted on 17 November on the BorisBike forum, here.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Short History of the Elephant and Castle and Its Name


Last night I attended a lecture by local historian Stephen Humphrey who discussed the general history of the Elephant & Castle, focussing more particularly on what he called its heyday (between 1850 and 1940).

This is part of a week-long art project (The Elephant Project) hosted in an empty unit on the first floor of the infamous shopping centre, aiming to chart some of the changes currently happening to the area.

When an historian starts talking about the Elephant and Castle, there is one subject he can not possibly avoid, even if he wanted to. Indeed my unsuspecting announcement on Facebook that I was attending such talk prompted a few people to ask the dreaded question: Where does the name of the area come from, for realz?

Panoramic view of the Elephant and Castle around 1960/61.

Those of us less badly informed than the rest have long discarded the theory that the name comes from the linguistic deformation of "Infanta de Castille", a name which would have become attached to this little bit of South London because the said imaginary Infanta may have one day stopped there for some refreshment or something.

We are more likely to believe in the other erroneous notion that the name has something to do with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers and their crest (which can sometimes - but not always - include an elephant carrying a castle on its back) thought to have been gained (in 1622) because of the use they make of ivory for the handles of their wares.

Obviously knowing his business, Mr Humphrey started the talk on that very subject and lost no time in debunking the Ivory Theory. The area, which has no particular connection with Cutlers, simply takes its name from the pub that has graced the place for over 200 years.

The reasons why the first landlord of the pub decided to name his premises that way are however lost in the midst of time. It is likely that he just chose something a bit exotic that people would nonetheless be familiar with.

What Mr Humphrey is certain of, however, is that the image of an elephant carrying a castle on its back was, for centuries, a very common one in the popular imagination. For him, the image gain currency at least as early as Hannibal's use of elephants as "assault vehicles" around 200 BC. The first appearance of "armoured" elephants (ie carrying warriors in some sort of protective structure) in what would become England happened when the Roman emperor Claudius came over here with his own beasts in 43 AD.

After that, that particular sight probably became quite rare but it survived in various representations (in illuminated manuscripts or the capitals of church columns) and by the middle ages had solidified into an elephant (not always very life-like) carrying a castle (the visual short-hand for something armoured). It is possible to imagine that this became the chosen way to signify that what we are looking at is actually an elephant, since most people, including the artists, would never have seen the real thing let alone know what they really look like.

Looking south: The 3rd and last incarnation of the Elephant and Castle pub on that location, between 1898 and 1959. The small cupola at the back of the building is the Northern Line tube station, still in the same location, albeit in a different shape.

A map dated 1681 shows the area comprising two triangular "islands" delimited by roads. Things stayed that way right until end of the 1950s. Until the mid 1600s the smaller island (north of the site) had been empty but then a farrier decided to rent it and build premises for his workshop which he named the White Horse.

The first mention of the pub under the name of the Elephant and Castle comes in a document dated 21 March 1765 in which the Mannor of Walworth (the equivalent of the council) ordered Mr Frost, the landlord, to do some repairs on this property. Another document (a bill of fares) shows that there probably was already a pub on this location about 10 years before that.

In Georgian time the building was pulled down and rebuilt in a grander, more fashionable style (see the second image (wrongly dated 1912) on this page). In 1898, the building became even grander and put on the Victorian face it kept until 1959 when it was finally pulled down to give way to the southern part of the northern roundabout. By that time, however, the war had already started the demolition work, destroying the roof.

There are still premises called the Elephant and Castle pub. It is however now a Thai restaurant, rather than a bona fide pub, that sits on the old site of the Rockingham Arms, which has itself also moved slightly north.

The southern roundabout, and the shopping centre being built - 1963

Until 1751, when Westminster Bridge was built and required the reopening of the then mostly abandoned road that now forms the New Kent Road for extra access, the village of Newington (New Town), as the area was known, was quietly dozing in the slowly encroaching shadow of London (still mostly on the other side of the river by then). Blackfriars Bridge (the 3rd bridge over the river) was built in 1769.

This extra traffic started to change everything and, by the time the Second World War arrived, the area, now absorbed in the fabric of the sprawling city and known by the name of its most prominent and enduring feature, had become a bustling quarter known as “the Piccadilly of South London”; offering Baptist churches (two of about 2000 seats each and one of almost 6000 seats - roughly the size of the Albert Hall), several music hall and theatres, a cinema (the Trocadero, open in 1930, seating 3500 and boasting the largest Wurlitzer organ in Europe), factories, a huge department store (William Tarn and Co) and dozens of smaller concerns.


Looking north: reproductions of postcards showing the Elephant and Castle in 1934 and 1951

It is not however the war that put paid to all this, as may be imagined. Although many buildings in the area had been damaged or destroyed, many also survived. The Greater London Council, however, in keeping with the then prevalent idea of modern urban progress, had plans for the area. In the early 1960s the bulldozers moved in. Soon the area was unrecognisable and, despite boasting the first covered shopping mall in Europe, had lost most of its vitality and certainly its human face.

And 50 years later, the area is about to be transformed again. Already some changes have happened. Part of the subways (a version of which first appeared in the area in 1911) will be filled by summer 2011. New buildings are growing (including the tallest residential building in London and first building in the world with wind turbines incorporated to its fabric), others are being emptied, earmarked for demolition. Let's hope the changes are for the better and that the Elephant will once again become the chaotic and excited hub of humanity it used to be.

Images taken with my iPhone (hence the low quality). Most documents were provided by Stephen Humphrey.

A book on the history of the Elephant and Castle by Stephen Humphrey is now available here.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

BT are Rubbish - 2

The following was written at the end of September 2010 but due to a mix up with the scheduling system of Blogger, this post has been waiting in limbo ever since. Here is it now.

Two months more or less to the day after I moved into my know flat, I have finally got a landline that is working and an the Internet connection I needed it for.

I must admit to suffering from a bad case of suppression of what exactly happened since my previous post on the subject. All I know is that further phone calls, each bringing its own story and contradicting the previous one, took place. I also remember spending another off waiting at home for an appointment with an engineer that did not turn up, like the first one.

When I talked about compensations for clearly not delivering the service I had paid for I was more or less told to forget about it (I had already been given a free month rental, if you remember). And there is also no real complaint procedure other than getting in touch with Customer Service or the BTcare twitter account when there is a technical problem.

I have said it before and I'll say it again to as many people as possible: don't use BT if you can avoid them.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Gareth Thomas at the LGBT History Month pre-launch event

IMG_5543

Last night I attended the evening part of the pre-launch event of LGBT History Month 2011 which was taking place at Twickenham Stadium. The Month is focusing on LGBT sports for the next two years, leading to the Olympic Games.

The day was a busy one with many things happening, including the 3rd UK LGBT Sports Summit. The evening leg of the event included a Judjitsu demonstration, various speakers and a panel discussion chaired by Jane Hill and bringing together out LGBT athletes Gareth Thomas, John Amaechi and Clare Harvey.

My pictures of the evening can be found in this flickr set here. Some of them have appeared on Gareth Thomas' official Facebook page.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Open letter to Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck and people of his ilk

The following email was sent to ken@buckforcolorado.com earlier today with the subject line: "Homosexuality".

Dear Mr Buck,

I was very interested to hear your recent comments (includes video) about the fact that gay people have a choice.

While I would agree that people can accept or refuse to be who they are and decide or not to have same-sex relationships, I am more than a little concerned that you should imply that sexual attraction is a matter of choice.

As gay man, this is clearly not my personal experience. I would also find it quite surprising, as you surely will too, that so many people would chose to be gay thus opening themselves to all sort of violence and discrimination (and I am not even mentioning the various countries around the world where such people could be given a death sentence by the state).

In any case, if we follow your logic, I think we should all start asking ourselves the question: when did you yourself decide not to be gay?

At the end of the day, whether homosexuality is a choice or not, you was running to be a senator, a representative of the people of the country that claims to be the land of the free. People should be allowed to chose who they want to be (as long as it doesn't actually harm anyone) and not suffer discrimination and violence from it.

I hope you will forgive me to say that your position is not only ridiculous and ill-informed, it is most of all irresponsible and dangerous.

It is reasonings like yours, that seek to maintain gay people's position as second class citizens, that create the sort of environment where teenagers (some of them simply perceived to be gay) feel they have to kill themselves rather than face constant harassment. It is words like yours that allow people to find justification for for turtoring fellow human beings in a New York City garage for being gay.

For this alone, you should be ashamed of yourself.

I am looking forward to hearing your comments on this (please note that such comments will be published on my blog).

Monday, 20 September 2010

Protest against the Pope

John Waters

On Saturday, between 12 and 20000 people gathered in the street of London to protest against the state visit to the UK by Pope Joseph Ratzinger. A demonstration of what Ratzinger had called the day before "aggressive secularism" which looked to me more like a pride parade with a political message.

Famous faces spotted on the march included John Waters (above) and Ian McKellen. The speakers at the rally the blocked Whitehall after the march included Richard Dawkins, Johann Hari, Dr Ben Goldacre, an openly gay Catholic priest, among others.

My pictures of the event can be found on flickr here. A photopool is available here.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

From the top

4967965945_e0480004d9_o

Last night I was given the opportunity to go to the top of Strata SE1 and i certainly grabbed it with both hands. I took the opportunity to take pictures of the amazing views over central London (from Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Stadium via the Emirates) from the view terrace on the 42nd floor but also some of the power plant one level higher.

The picture above (of the Elephand and Castle) is a slightly doctored version of one of those pictures, using the fake tilt shift technique.

All the pictures can be found here.

Friday, 13 August 2010

BT are rubbish

I thought that to provide some light relief from my recent rants about the Cycle Hire scheme I would treat you to a post on my woes with BT.

As some of you may be aware, I have recently moved to a nice newly built building complying with all sort of yet to be enforced standards in construction and very much ready for the future in matter of telecommunications.

I therefore found myself under the misguided impression that it would be a cinch to get a phone line connected for my Internet access. How wrong was I!

You see, I am getting a fairly good deal on broadband from my mobile phone provider and I almost never use the landline for calls (I am infact considering not even giving out the new number once I have it), so I am only interested in renting the line for Internet access.

This right away discounted my previous provider who, as I have learnt, are using using a technology called local loop unbundling (LLU). Apparently this means that they can offer cheaper deals but it also mean that I would have to take on all sorts of bundles (including broadband) I am not remotely interested in (and incidentally pay more than I did so far).

So the only option seems to be BT. I therefore gave them a ring, set up an account and an appointment for an engineer to come round and connect the line was set up. I booked some time off work.

A couple of days before I received a text confirming the appointment but showing my former postcode. I rang them to make sure that they had the right details and that the appointment would indeed happen. All was fine, I was told.

The day of the appointement came and I dutifully spent the afternoon (from 1pm to 6pm) at home waiting for the engineer to come. He didn't.

By 6.30pm, I was on the phone to BT, asking why the engineer hadn't turned up and why I hadn't been notified.

It turns out that Openreach, BT's provider for connections, had decided that some extra external work was required for the connection to happen. And that BT had been notified of this by the time I had rang them to confirm the appointment. You know, when I was told that all was fine...

I wasn't particularly impressed, especially when I knew that other people in the building had already had their lines connected by Openreach...

I was told to ring again in a week and was offered a free month of line rental as compensation. That's £12. Yes, 12 measly pounds, when I have wasted a day off, spent an afternoon waiting and will have to pay £127 for the connection to take place.

But sadly, this is not all.

A week later, on the Tuesday, I was on that phone asking what was what. I was told that as expected the work was mostly completed and that my line should be connected (note without the need for a visit by an engineer!) on Wednesday. I would be sent an email to confirm that.

On Thursday the email hadn't arrived. I sent an email to BTcare (yes, I know!), the customer service, who to there credit a fairly responsive if totally ineffective and was told that all was good and that the line should be working by 8pm that night.

That was last night. This morning, the line is still not working and I am starting to lose my rag.

I am waiting for BTcare to get back to me with whatever wooly explaination they can come up with. Needless to say, I am not recommending BT to anyone. The most frustrating that, due to my circumstances, I am stuck with using them. Where is the competition in this? Ofcom, who has been contacted, doesn't seem to see any problem in this situation.

Watch this space for an update, if you can bear it.

Update - 13 August 2010 - 11:17:
Well it looks like some has been telling porkies. The line is actually not ready to be connected. As per the latest email from BT: "Openreach have advised that there is still a lineplant issue which means cabling is not fully installed in the area around the property and is required to complete the work. They are reviewing the next steps today and following that discussion they will advise of a way forward. They also advise that they are ready to go ahead with installing the additional cabling required so the resolution should not be to far away."

Strange that, really... Since 2007, London's tallest residential building comprising more that 400 units has been under construction and it is only now that people are moving in that BT/Openreach realise that the inhabitants of said building may want to get phone lines and that they should perhaps do something about it to have the external infrastructure ready... Good planning, guys!


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme 3

I am rather pissed off this morning. One of the few items on the list of things that can make me angry is my time being wasted by other people's ineptitude, in other words, people not keeping their promise.

So far and despite the various problems I have already encountered with the Cycle Hire scheme, I have been willing to relaxed about it and ascribe all those problems to teething problems as people call them (incidentally, I am still waiting for that callback I should have received on Monday).

However the scheme has now been live for almost two weeks and I do think that most of those problems should have been sorted by now. It is becomeing apparent that the systems behind the schemes are not ready and should not have been launched, even if that meant waiting until next summer to ensure at least some fair weather for people to enjoy the ride at its inception.

This morning, I blithly walked to the second closest docking station from where I live (the closest was not operational all week-end and I was hoping to avoid the disappointment of possibly finding it still in that state) to get a bike and cycle to work. I had left my bike there last night without a problem.

Unfortunately, I couldn't release any of bikes at the station despite trying most of them (I spotted one with its amputated pedal delicately resting on the handlebars). Yesterday, I had read on the London-SE1 forum stories of people's accounts being suspended and £150 fines being applied repeatedly for no apparent reason and I was already thinking that something similar had happened to me while still thinking that there may be something wrong with that particular docking station.

I hopped on the nearest bus and went to the next docking station (the other side of the Elephant and Castle) and again tried several bikes to no avail. I decided to ring Cycle Hire to see what was happening. Uncharacteristically, I managed to get through fairly quickly and to someone actually working for the scheme (not one of those overflow call centres that just take your details and promise you'll be called back within 24hrs).

After acertaining that everything was fine with my account, I was told that the terminals were rebooting and that I would have to wait about 1 hour to get a bike. I am not sure whose idea it is to reboot the terminals at rush hour when the scheme is probably the most used but I think they should think about that again. Hard.

It was time for me to get on a bus to work. My frustration was added to by the fact that I saw Cycle Hire bikes being used in the City. I am now wondering if the guy I talked was just placating me with a lie (he didn't know which stations I had tried and he seemed to be talking about all the treminals being rebooted).

In the end, it took me about 50min to get to work from the time I left home. I probably could have walked to work in about that time.

I should also mention that the "activity log" on the website, which should show me the transactions made on my account and the trips I have made, while not being totally fictious gives a wide range of freedom to the computer's creative licence. Mine lists trips I have never made or even shows me have made two trips at the same time. I have also just noticed an entry for £1 called "subscription" the significance of which completely escapes me. I would call them to ask for an explanation but do I really want the hassle?!

As I have repeated several times, I enjoy the cycling but Cycle Hire are truly on the verge of spoiling it all for me. I am even considering cancelling my account and asking for a refund since they are clearly not delivering the service I have paid for.

Perhaps I should start posting on www.borisbikes.co.uk

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Velib versus Boris Bikes

Tory Troll has posted a helpful little table first published in the Evening Standards which provides figures of comparisons between the Paris and London cycle hire schemes.

Strangely the ES manages to claim that the London scheme compares favourably with the Paris one (the biggest such scheme in the world). Judge for yourself.


































VelibLondon Cycle Hire
Number of bikes
Initially 10,648, now 20,600
6,000
Docking stations
1,451
315 (400 originally planned)
Area covered
90Km2 in 20 arrondissements
44km2
Bike weight
22.5kg
23kg
Subscribers in 1st year
198,913
As yet unknown (30,000 in 1st week)
Funding
€90m from JCDecaux (about £75m)
£140m from taxpayer + £25m from Barclays sponsorship
Annual subscription
€29 (about £21)
£45
(I have added/amended some of the info).

Still according to the ES, and because obviously too much positive bias towards Boris wouldn't be on, the "French prefer our ‘stylish and beautiful’ Boris bikes to Velib". Personally, I can see very little difference between both bikes, apart from the colour, they look pretty much the same.

And finally, there is already a conspiracy theory around the schemes.

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme 2

Well, I would have been too good, if things had gone smoothly after all the problems I have had so far.

On Friday, I cycled back from work and when I got to my local station (off the Elephant and Castle), there was no space to leave my bike. I had to cycle to another one. I had been told that there was a way to get an extra 15min free in case this happens but I haven't been able to find a mention of it and of how it works exactly.

It seems in any case that there is a problem with this station (I have reported it) since it remained full all week-end and people were not able to take bikes from it. I couldn't either when I tried this morning.

In any case I have heard and experienced what will no doubt become THE major problem of the scheme when the non-members can start using it at the end of the month: the repartition of the bikes during the day, with some station being either packed and not allowing people leave their bikes or other station being without available bikes (note that this could happen to the same stations depending on the time of day).

This morning I received an email from TfL, thanking me again for being a "pioneer member", as the call us and stating that "We are using these first weeks of operation to learn more about how Londoners engage with the scheme, including patterns of use and how we can best support customers."

Hopefully this means that they will have some system in place to shift bikes around during the day to keep some sort of balance. I did spot a car with a trailer with a capacity of a dozen bikes, the other day, so this may be it.

No mention of the other problems everyone has been experiencing in that email, incidentally...

Problems, such as that of the ghost docking stations. With our membership key we were sent a lovely map showing the location of all the 400 docking stations available. The problem is that only 315 have apparently been installed due to some councils refusing planning permissions, it seems. My experience seems to point at the Tory-held Westminster Council as a main culprit for blocking the Tory Mayor of London's project.

On a (slightly) brighter note, I finally got my call back on Sunday afternoon (way of the mark from the 24hrs that had been mentioned, though); and there the birghtness stops because the person who rang couldn't do anything about my problem (the count-down to the end of my access period starting 2 days too early, if you remember) and someone will have to call me back. Within 24hrs, of course...

Still loving the cycling though...

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

In these shoes?

In these shoes?

Another proof that I am probably a closet extrovert or just a weirdo?

Itunes had thrown up Kirsty MacColl's song In These Shoes and, being a bit bored, I started dancing along.

Soon I was digging out the shoes I had bought over six months previously for my first attempt at drag on the occasion of a friend's birthday cum leaving party. The rest is not history but the picture before your eyes.

As seems to be the case of most of my impromptu self-portraits, it has turned into an exploration of appearance and, in this case, gender representation.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Road to Warsaw: Homing

This is day four in my "report" of the trip I made to Warsaw with the London Gay Men's Chorus for Europride between 15 and 18 July 2010. The days leading to the trip, the journey itself and the first evening in the city are described here. The second day can be found here. The third day is here.

Pictures of the day.

On the Sunday, the last day of the trip, I started the day (after breakfast and checking out) by a quick visit to the swimming pool of the hotel before joining a small group of people in the visit of a controversial exhibition on homoerotic art at the National Museum.

IMG_3666The exhibition gathered some lovely moving pieces and I enjoyed it but when it seemed to want to highlight the universal and timeless appeal of the theme, the exhibits themselves seemed to focus a little too on Polish artworks.


My favorite piece was called love and consisted of two white shirts hanging in the air and stuck together at the chest.

On the way back from the exhibition to the hotel, we went up to the 30th floor of the PNiK to the viewing platform that gives 360 degree views over Warsaw. This only confirmed my impression that Warsaw is not a pretty city.

Back to the hotel and unto the coach taking us to the airport. After some delays because of a downpour, we were soon in the air, hurtling toward Blighty.

Sitting next to me was a middle-aged Polish woman who soon asked me why there were so many men on that plane. We started chatting about our trip and Warsaw. Also on the plane was a member of the group which had been travelling with Nick Herbert. We got chatting when leaving the plane and in the massive queue to the passport check.

He said he is a political advisor to David Cameron on LGBT matters; one of those fabled gay tories! We exchanged cards and during the week, a meeting was organised in Downing Street (in the Thatcher state room!) to chat about LGBT History Month. Despite my follow up email, I haven't heard from him since that meeting, so I am guessing he got the information he wanted...

Olympics
East London from the plane.

Finding myself at work on the Monday was a trying experience. My brain was clearly not yet back from Poland. This was I think the best trip I have had with the Chorus. I enjoyed it because of the (relative) importance our presence at Europride but also for the social side which I have experienced more than in previous trips.

I hope we tack part in more similar actions which, in my view, at least, get the Chorus closer to fullfilling its mission of fighting prejudice than several of the things was have done in the past.

The Chorus is now on holiday until September when we will start working on our Christmas show, Make Your Own Kind of Christmas (10th and 11th December at the Cadogan Hall).

All my pictures from the trip are available on my flickr account here.

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme

I can't remember if I have mentioned it on these pages but for months now, I have keenly been waiting for the cycle hire scheme that was implemented on Friday in the capital.

I think it is a fabulous idea and Ken Livingstone should be applauded for starting the process that sees it come to life now. Yes, the "BorisBikes" were Ken's idea, let's not forget that.

Online registration to the scheme opened on Friday 23rd at 6am and at 9.35am, I was one of the first to register.

Unfortunately, this is also when my travails started. Despiste three attempts with 2 different cards, my payment could not be processed. Although the website's log page looked like my bank accounts could possibly have been debited 3 times (They have a very confusing way of showing transactions called the "Oyster Maths" apparently).

I had to ring the call centre where the otherwise friendly operator didn't seem to quite know what to do. Finally we had to go through the whole payment process again over the phone a couple of days later when I was called back.

My key arrived promptly and I was able to activate it online without problem.

On Friday 31st, I went to my local docking station, hoping to cycle to work and be among the very first to use the bikes. Alas, something wasn't working properly and despite trying 2 different bikes, I had to take the bus to work as usual. In the evening I tried my luck again, but that didn't work either.

In the meantime, however, the count down on the 7-day access period I had purchased had been started as of the morning. Again I had to ring the call centre and again the operator, while helpful, didn't seem to know what to do and said I would be called back by someone from the customer service department. Six days later I am still waiting for this to happen.

On Sunday evening, on a whim I decided to try to get a bike from the station on Wardour Street and this time I did manage to do so.

Since then I have been using the scheme several times every day without problems and I am absolutely loving cycling around London. Getting the bikes and discarding them is as easy and practical as I was expecting.

I have two reservations about the bikes though:

First the carrying element at the front of the bike, is too small and unpractical. I can't put my backpack there for example. The fact that it's open on the sides doesn't help.

Second: the gears are not hard enough. I only use the 3rd gear (which should probably be the first one) and often finding it pointless to carry on pedalling when in a gentle slope.

But appart from all that, I am loving it and am considering getting a year membership.

Update - 06/08/10:
I am now on my third promise of a call back from TfL and not being very hopefully. This morning I had to take the bus to work because my access had run out (as it should have, had I been able to use the bikes on the first day when I tried). Being trapped again in that trundling sardine tin, made me reflect on how liberating cycling around London is.

I have now purchased an annual access, so hopefully all the administrative problems I have described above are now a thing of the past.

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Road to Warsaw: Marching

This is day three in my "report" of the trip I made to Warsaw with the London Gay Men's Chorus for Europride between 15 and 18 July 2010. The days leading to the trip, the journey itself and the first evening in the city are described here. The second day can be found here.

Pictures of the day.

Having set my phone alarm but forgotten to turn it on, it is only after about 10min to get ready that I errupted out of the hotel to see the old banger of a communist-era coach that was going to take us on another tour of Warsaw leave the curb, on that second morning. Thankfully, the tour people had a second smaller vehicle for overflows and I jumped into that.

It was just me and the young driver who rattled on in an overexited way until we joined the main group on Constitution Square, a vast ensemble of autere building dumped in the middle of the city without care for the existing street plan. This was apparently mostly a show piece where official demonstrations took place.

From there we walked to a communist monument exhaulting the workers and further on to a lovely little hotel built in 1912 in the courtyard of the appartment block that provided the money for its construction. We then got back to the coach a drove towards a street of the Jewish Ghetto eerily preserved and allowed to decay, while the guide explained how Warsaw had been distroyed mostly after the war by the communist, although the Germans had a good go at it first.

Throughout this part of the tour which was in the area where the Pride march was later going to take part an increasing police presence could be noticed, doing little to allay the worries of some of us about what was to come.

IMG_3190 IMG_3248
Our group in Constitution Square and in the remains of the Jewish Ghetto.

After our stop at the remains of the Jewish Ghetto, we were soon was back on our mobile sauna (the temperature outside being over 30 degrees already) to cross the river for a taste of Vodka and Polish nibbles, that would constitute my breakfast. This was to take place in little bar in the Praga district (called Sense/NoSensu) which would find approval with the most hardened Hoxton Hipster with its decor of garish wallpaper and second-hand 70s furniture.

Praga, situated on the eastern side of the river (which is why the locals have apparently nicknamed the district "Asia"), is a mixture of communist, russian and war-surviving buildings. This is a decidedly poorer area with apparently a strong artistic community, attracted there by the low rents. Many substandard buildings are however being replace by more expensive development and things are changing.

Having been dropped off at the hotel, there was little time to get changed and prepare for the afternoon before we had to convene in the lobby and walked to Bankowy Square where the parade was to beginning.

As we entered Saski Gardens we were greeted by a small group of men holding a banner that, although it was in Polish, was clearly not a friendly welcome.

As we progressed through the park, we became aware that the people staring at us from the benches may not necessarily random pleasure-seekers enjoying the shade and cool of trees. One of them even asked a group of us if they liked "penis in bed" while another shouted the word "pedal", a good translation of "faggot" in Polish (as in French).

Members of the police (both on horses and on foot) were also enjoying the shade of the park but things were clearly soon to heat up.

We reached the square without any problem however and soon put our banner together, took a group photo and started to mingle with the rest of the 10,000 people here to take part in the parade (Pink News).

A big butch lesbian who normally does security at events in London told me that in the morning of the parade, "Pride House", a meeting and information point, had been fire-bombed (she added that she had nearly shat her pants). Later in the day several of our members felt intimidated by random hostile groups.

Despite a higly-visible police presence however (about 2000 officers), a main group of about 300 right-wingers tried to block the parade (see video below). They were quickly surrounded by the riot police.



Seeing the Polish branch of Dykes on Bikes (only half a dozen of them) finally breakthrough and kick-start the parade was an emotional moment. The protestors however started hurling insults, half-full plastic bottles, bibles, eggs and stones at the 11 floats (a member of the Chorus was indeed hurt).

Other smaller groups (also under close police surveillance. it was clear that they had been told to behave) were protesting along the route of the parade. Someone was throwing holy water at us. 8 people were arrested and the parade had to be re-routed and cut short to avoid further protests.

IMG_3415 IMG_3601
Anger of the far right protestors v calm of the marchers

On the whole however, the usual party spirit pervaded the day. Interestingly, the people taking part in the parade were mostly "every-day-looking" people, rather than the more flamboyant kind we are used to in London. Even so, many onlookers seemed genuinely nonplussed by what they were seeing, a sign that LGBT visibility is probably not as high as it could and should be in the country.

The parade ended in joyous mayhem in the former communist ceremonial square of the city where one of the floats turned into a stage for a rally which included a speech by Nick Herbert (out British Minister for Police).

Comments from marchers about our performance the night before and our presence on the parade show how our Polish brothers and sisters welcomed and needed our support in this long struggle they have to fight. We all got home elated and proud to have been part of this event. For some of us it was also a wake up call to the fact that things are probably not as rosy as they thougth they were.

IMG_3579

All my pictures from the trip are available on my flickr account here.

See also SDPL leader Marek Borowski promises to open Warsaw Pride if elected mayor on PinkNews.

Part Four is available here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Road to Warsaw: Performing

This is day two in my "report" of the trip I made to Warsaw with the London Gay Men's Chorus for Europride between 15 and 18 July 2010. The days leading to the trip, the journey itself and the first evening in the city are described here.

Pictures of the day.


The first night in Warsaw, in the luxurious room I had all to myself (it's about the size of my flat!), felt unfortunately quite short, after the previous night's extended meal and meanderings in the unknown city. It was at a time not unlike that of a usual working day that I got up, got ready and went down to breakfast before joining a walking tour of the old town (the area where we were the night before). Meanwhile, others in the Chorus were being packed into an old-fashioned bus for a different sort of tour. More about that later.

Warsaw has, of course, a long history but one mostly marked by conquest, destruction and domination by a foreign power. This is particularly true of the last 200 hundred years. And, as one would expect, this is reflected in the fabric of the city. The second world war and then the soviet domination in particular have been the causes of much destruction and redevelopment.

The central Śródmieście district, which comprises two very distinct areas: the old and the new town, and where we spent most of our time, is probably the part of the city that has seen most of the effects of this.

Plac Zamkowy Intercontinental
Zamkowy Square in the old town and the Intercontinental in the new town.

The old town, which dates back to the 13th century, is picture-postcard pretty, with its old citadel walls, its iggle-piggledy houses of various colours and awkward shapes, and its churches. This is also where the palaces of the former nobility are located.

Many of the buildings are however "fakes". Badly damaged by the Luftwaffe in 1939, who remained of them was systematically blown off by the German army following the Uprising in 1944. After World War II, the Old Town was meticulously rebuilt using original matrials and images, with the last elements of the reconstruction (on the Royal Castle) being finished only in 1974.

The new town has known a totally different fate however. The major part of it is the former location of what was to become the Jewish ghetto. Again most of it was destroyed by the Nazis but this time the freed-up space was used by the new communist masters of the country to express their architectural domination.

Large avenues were carved up through what was left of the old buildings, new squares (such as Constitution Square (Plac Konstytucji) were built in total disregard of the existing street plan and Joseph Stalin planted his controversal Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki or PKiN, a "gift" to Poland and a very conspicuous building in the Warsaw skyline)

On the whole, I can't say I was particularly taken by the city. The fact that it felt pretty empty of people, not at all like a capital city was also a turn off for me. I learned later that it was indeed shockingly empty (even for a local) due to people being on holiday or fleeing the heat (over 30 degrees C) in the countryside.

Warsaw is quite flat and apart from the Town Centre, which boasts a few towers, it is rather low rise and doesn't seem to offer the dramatic views one can find in London.

The two abiding elements of the city for me however will be the birds flying around (particularly swallows which I used to see as a child in my parents' village but seem to have otherwise disappeared) and the lime trees that seem to be the favoured tree to plant along streets. Strangely the locals do not collect their flowers to use as herbal tea.

After the walk that there was time for a visit to the sports area of the hotel, where I had a 10min run before joining the others in the pool area for a swim and a steam.

Soon however, we had to be on our feet again to make our way to the Congress Hall at PKiN for our technical rehearsal. The venue, with its 2500 red seats, used to be the meeting place of the Polish Communist Party and it there that on 29 January 1990, the Party was dissolved. Marlene Dietrich, Louis Armstrong, Jacques Brel, Dalida, The Rolling Stones, Luciano Pavarotti and Eric Clapton, amongst many others, all performed in this space. It is however unlikely that Stalin himself, ever made an appearance on the site, since construction started only a few months before his death in 1953. Other communist leaders, such as Ho Chi Min, did.

IMG_3115
The Congress Hall from the back of the stage in the Palace of Culture and Science.

I and I think a few other chorines felt truly privileged and humbled to be invited to sing in such a venue. This was also probably a historic moment in its own little way: I can't imagine many gay choirs have performed in there before.

Also singing, was the Stockholm Gaykor. We were performing at as part of an award ceremony for local activists (although UK campaigner Clare Dimyon, who tours eastern European Prides every year and received an MBE this year for her work, was also honoured).

As is often the case, most of the afternoon (and a good part of the evening) was spent waiting. When we arrived to the venue the piano was still being tuned. During the show itself, the speeches and awards elements seem to go on for ever. Although the audience was rather small for such a big venue, they were very appreciative and enthusiastic and our 40min set received a standing ovation.

To conclude the show, the Swedish choir joined us on stage for a rendition of Hej Hej Hej, a very popular Polish song.

After the concert, part of the Chorus went to a pre-organised group meal while others went to (probably gay owned) restaurant near our hotel. I was part of that second group and very much enjoyed the experience and the food.

It seems the other group's evening was a little more eventful, with long delays to be served and fighting in the kitchen...

The piano in the room and our accompanist found themselves united after desert and we sang (mostly to ourselves and the staff) Seasons of Love and Hej Hej Hej.

While some wne to a nearby club, I want to bed.

View YouTube videos of parts of our performance that evening:
Confide in Me (opening of the set)
All I Care About is Love
Boys Will Be Boys with Stockholm Gaykor

All my pictures from the trip are available on my flickr account here.

Part Three is available here.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Road to Warsaw: Travelling

What an eventful and varied time, the past week has been! So much so, that the oldest details are already fading into a mist of oblivion while the present doesn't feel quite real either.

Most of Saturday was spent vainly trawling south London in search of floor varnish to protect the wooden floor of my new flat. It's not until Monday that I was finally able to find (Ironically in the shopping centre across the road!) the require products in the required shade and start the process of staining and varnishing the floor.

On Sunday I attended a meeting of my reading group to discuss Gypsy Boy. We were lucky to be joined by the author himself and had a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

Tuesday saw a trip to Ikea (where I bought a sofa), more floor activities and a final dash at packing my stuff (mostly books, of course) in preparation for the move itself on Wednesday. The effective ministrations of Rocket Van meant that the all business was over and done with in 1h30. Sadly the hot Polish mover didn't agree to let me take picture of him and his colleague in action.

After a not altogether satisfactory first night in the flat (in a sleeping bag, on my folded duvet laid on the thick carpet), I turned my sights towards the east and Warsaw where the Chorus had been invited to perform and attend Europride.

While the morning seemed to start very smoothly and I left early enough to be able to stop in Waterstone's on Piccadilly to buy guide, it seems about to seriously derail when, as the tube I was on to Heathrow was leaving Knightsbridge station, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to pack my Chorus shirt, without which I wouldn't be able to perform. After some agonising I decided that would just about have time to go back and get it. I did and I had. The rest of the trip was totally uneventful. The flight was slightly delayed, the members of the Chorus on board drank the plane dry of gin and I slept through most of it.

View
The view of Warsaw from room 1055 of the Radisson Blue.

Getting off the plane, we were hit by a wall of heat (over 30 degrees) which would stay with us all week-end. We got on a coach that delivered us to our hotel in the centre of Warsaw.

Pictures of the day.

A collective meal had been booked at a "traditional" restaurant (Podwale 25); there was therefore little time to settle down in our rooms before we had to get back on the coach to cross the city.

And what an experience that restaurant turned out to be. The members of the Chorus are not renowned for the temperance of their ways but even they seems to find a match in the almost obscene avalanche of food that was presented to them and consisting mostly of various forms of cabbage (including some gorgeous sauerkraut) and all kinds of meats.

When there is food (and quite a bit of beer) involved, the chorines have a tendancy to resort to song after a while and this was no exception, other perhaps than in the fact that it seemed more tuneful than in similar past circumstances.

A group of three musicians (part of the experience) walked into the room at one point and soon we were singing Hej Hej Hej with them, a popular Polish song we had learned for the trip, according to our tradition. In return, they performed the end theme tune of Benny Hill (!). Later one of our soloists lead us into a rendition of La Traviatta's drinking song (part of the current repertoire) in apt celebration of gluttony.

The walk "home", late in the hot Polish night, was a little confused and certainly more scenic than intended...

All my pictures from the trip are available on my flickr account here.

Part 2: The Road to Warsaw: Performing.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Free Steven and Tiwonge Protest

Speakers

On a wet Saturday afternoon outside the Malawi High Commission in Hampstead, north London, about 250 people gathered in support of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a Malawian couple sentenced to 14 years for being in love.

The chants included: '2 4 6 8 spread the love not the have. 3 5 7 9 they should not be doing time.' 'True love is not a crime, why should they be doing time?' and "we are standing in the rain cause homophobia is a pain."

As we got home we learned that they had been pardoned by the Malawian president. Not that there should be anything to pardon.

More pictures are available on my flickr account here. Several of these pictures were used in this youtube video

Chicken

Chicken

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking on the SouthBank with a friend, we walked into the Gallery@oxo to take in a bit of art. The exhibition, organised by Affordable Art, was of London Printmakers.

There were many lovely and colourful works there but the prints by Martin Ridgwell were the ones that caught my eye. While some of the images go perhaps a little too far in the artist's internal life for my taste, I enjoyed the superb craftmanship and the obvious queer sensibility. The pieces are beautiful but also playful and witty.

And I went home with the one above: Chicken...


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Big Move - Strata SE1

On 14 January, following a slightly convoluted series of events, a friend of mine referred me to attend a focus group session for a housing association wanting the gather the views of the gays on marketing themselves to the community.

At the event I heard about an organisation called Housing Options which has been tasked by the government to administer affordable housing in London. I also learnt that I would probably eligible for the shared-ownership scheme in which one buys a share of a flat and pays rent on the rest until one can afford to buy more of it or the totality.

And so on 6 February, I registered.

Today, less than four months later, I had a meeting with a broker, organising an application for a mortgage to buy (45% of) my very own one-bedroom flat (featuring a triangular bedroom!).

And it's not any old flat either. It's a flat on the 9th floor (see picture) of Strata SE1; the tallest residential building in London (42 storeys and 147 metres high) and the first in the world to incorporate wind turbines in its structure.

Having only visited the show flats and information being rather thin on the ground, making a decision (something that had to be done in 3 days from the moment I was allocated a flat on 17 May) was not easy but eventually I have decided to simply go for it and try and enjoy the new opportunity that is offered to me. Living in my own space and on my own for the very first time (apart from a year-long stint in a studio at uni).

5 July will mark the tenth anniversary of my arrival to London and it seems that roughly at the same time, all going well, I will become the owner and moving into a part of the London skyline.

What better way to celebrate?


Friday, 14 May 2010

Stop all the clocks - W H Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

-W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

Friday, 30 April 2010

Are the Tories really embracing gay rights?

Today the Guardian has published in its Comment is Free section a piece by Nick Herbert, openly gay Tory candidate and shadow justice secretary until the desolution of parliament, entitled The Tories are embracing gay rights, in which he defends his party's stance on gay rights and explains why his much-trumpeted visit to Poland in July is not tokenisitic.

Between bouts of laughter, I have penned my own comments which I posted below the article. Since they amount to a blog post, I bring them together below.

My first reaction was a follows:
"I have to say I am a little confused. For months now the Tories have been telling us that their lovely friends from Poland and Eastern Europe in their new political group are not homophobes. Repeating this till they are blue in the face (see what I did there?) despite all evidence to the contrary.

And suddenly two weeks before an election and as the party's support within the LGBT community is melting like snow in the sun (apparently now down to 9% from over 30% a year ago!!! according to a PinkNews poll of its readers), they decide that now would be a good time to announce that they will be sending someone (a gay someone at that) in July (plenty of time to change one's mind) to Poland to talk to the none-homophobes about sorting out their homophobic attitudes...

As I said I am confused and I have a feeling the Tories are a bit too..."

And then I decided to explore the policies highlighted by Herbert in his article:
Whoever forms the next government will still have work to do, and we've set out three specific proposals for change. We will remove historic convictions for consensual gay sex, which would now be legal, from people's criminal record checks. We will recognise civil partnerships, along with marriage, in the tax system. And we will take action against homophobic bullying in schools.
And here is what I had to say:
"Your flagship promise for the LGBT community is something that, while it is important that it should happen, is clearly tokenistic: it will only affect a very small minority of people. it has however the great advantage of being unlikely to refuffle any feather in the more conservative regions of the party.

You say, sorry: you trumpet everywhere that you will place CP on the same tax footing as marriage. My understanding (and I am happy to be corrected) is that the CURRENT law prevents discrimination between the two in tax matters. I suppose we should rejoice that you would be following the law but, if you really think that CP and marriage are the same thing, why not go a step further and make them so both in form and in name?!

And then, there is tackling homophobic bullying. Yep, it's great! It very much needed. What I'd like to know however is how you would do that. any concrete solutions? anything more than lip service? What are you going to do about faith schools in this matter for example?

Finally. You say that your party has changed, that it supports gay people. I won't mention all the homophobes coming out of the woodwork one by one (nor will I point out at the selective expulsions of said homophobes - only the small fry seems to get the boot) but couldn't make a little bit more of an effort and find more than just 3 vague or secondary measures to help convince us that you have indeed changed?

People don't believe that you have changed and there is one reason for that: the constent lack of really committment you are showing to the community. Redress this and we may start believe you. In the meantime, it will remain "same old tories" for me (and many others)".



Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Nuthurst Woodland

Nuthurst Woodland


Earlier today, I took delivery of a painting (the first I have ever bought and the second I own - the other one can be seen here).

I was going to keep it under wraps until I sort my room out (it's been tarted up and I have just moved back into it - it full of boxes that need unpacking). I couldn't resist though. I had to unwrap it and share it...

So here it is. May it be the first of many.

Nuthurst Woodland by David Grinaway, oil on canvas, 30 x 17 cm, 2009

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Brunel's Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

On Friday and Saturday, about 2000 members of the public were given the rare privilege of walking the Thames Tunnel and back before the reopening of the (extended) East London Line which normally runs through it. I was one of those people.

To quote wikipedia: "The Thames Tunnel is an underwater tunnel, built beneath the River Thames in London, United Kingdom connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping. It measures 35 feet (11 m) wide by 20 feet (6 m) high and is 1,300 feet (396 m) long, running at a depth of 75 feet (23 m) below the river's surface (measured at high tide). It was the first tunnel known successfully to have been constructed underneath a navigable river, and was built between 1825 and 1843 using Marc Isambard Brunel's newly invented tunnelling shield technology, by him and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel."

Photos of my visit are available on my flickr account here.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The BBC, the Tories and Rupert Murdoch

The article/post I could have written, had I taken the time and had I the talent:

The BBC is caving in to a Tory media policy dictated by Rupert Murdoch
Mark Thompson is jumping from the second storey because he fears a new government may throw him from the roof
Jonathan Freedland
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 March 2010


I also had that theory at the back of my mind:

The BBC's big PR stunt - why 6 Music is the new Wispa
It is the ultimate social media PR trick. A company threatens to pull a brand and then sits back and watches as fans start huge Facebook/Twitter/blog campaign to save it.
Ashley Norris
Posterous, Wednesday 3 March 2010

Thursday, 18 February 2010

What the Uganda anti-gay bill is about in 3min




Stephen Gately, Jan Moir, the Daily Mail and the Press Complaints Commission [updated]

As expected the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has delivered a whitewash for the Daily Mail after receiving 25,000 complaints against the Jan Moir article on the death of Stephen Gately.

The PCC's adjudication is available here. Interestingly the PCC seems to have ignore the complaints from the public and to have only focused on that by Gately's husband, Andrew Cowles.

The PCC is founded on the principle of self-regulation; this means that the press adjudicates on what the press does. Let me rephrase that: the accused decides if the accused is innocent or not.

More over and despite the claims of unacceptable censorship used to justify yesterday's decision, it seems that the only sanctions that the PCC has power to inflict on a guilty paper is to get it to publish the adjudication. This from the Editors' Code of Practice (pdf file):

Any publication judged to have breached the Code must print the adjudication in full and with due prominence, including headline reference to the PCC.
And having vainly rooted around the PCC's website for a while it seems that this is it. Nothing else and certainly no financial sanctions against which the website actively advocates.

This morning on Today (just before 8am if you want to look for the interview), the chairman of the PCC (Baroness Buscombe), in response to the argument that self-regulation doesn't work, boasted that the PCC does indeed work and that this is because it is independent of the state…. She stated this in total disregard to the fact that the PCC is not adjudicating on the state's actions. So how can this be relevant?

The PCC, whose strapline is "free, fast, fair" (I kid you not), is a toothless irrelevant joke. How can a system where poeple are judge and party (in a commercial environment) be expected to work? How can an organisation whose Chairman of its Editors' Code of Practice Committee is also the editor of the Daily Mail be expected to deliver a "fair" and inpartial ruling against the Daily Mail?

I don't think they can and we got a flagrant proof of this last night.

See The PCC's Jan Moir FAIL on Clapham Omnibus for an analysis of the adjudication itself


Sunday, 14 February 2010

London for a Secular Europe

Harangue

Due to a misunderstanding, the kiss-in (for the organisation of which I have been called an "extrèmiste sodomite" - article in French on a fundamentalist blog: you've been warned!) did not take place but the protest it was a part of did go on and was indeed much fun.

Many friendly and familiar faces were there and it was in the end about 300 people who took to the wintry streets of London (between Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Italian Embassy in Grosvenor Square) to voice their opposition to the undue influence of the Pope and the Vatican in European and British politics.

It was interesting to note that despite the wider purport of the protest, a vast majority of the participants seemed to come from the LGBT community.

My pictures of the event can be seen in this set of my flickr account.

(Image above: Peter Tatchell speaking against the Pope outside the Italian Embassy)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Valentine's kiss-in at the Cathedral | LONDON FOR A SECULAR EUROPE

I have done it again. I find myself organising a protest, albeit a small one part of a bigger one. And one to which I can't take part(!)

The Catholic Chruch is supposed to be spreading a message of love. Yet more and more it's message seems to be going from this towards something more sinister.

On Sunday, a demonstration will be taking place outside the RC Cathedral in Westminster (Victoria Street - not the Abbey) before moving to the Italian Embassy.

We suggest that straight and gay couples come together for a Valentine Day kiss-in to remind the Church what love is really about.

The Kiss-in will last about 5min before the protest moves on to the Italian Embassy.

A similar event is taking place in Paris this week-end.

There is a Facebook Event for this.

Find out more about the main protest here (also on Facebook).

(note: the organisers of the main protest have given assent to this)

Press coverage:
- Protestors will tell Pope to 'snog off', Pink News
- Valentines Day Kiss-in at Cathedral, Homovision
- Valentine's Day Kiss In, Londonist

For those wondering, the reason I can't take part is that I am single and therefore have no one to kiss... boohoo! I'll be taking pictures instead.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Stephen Fry Takes on the Catholic Church

In October last year, a debate was organised in London around the motion that 'The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world'. The pannel was made up of Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan supporting the motion and Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry speaking against it.

I have only just come across Fry's contribution to the debate but it is absolutely superb and so I have decided to include it in those page. It lasts about 15 min and has been truncated in two by Youtube; see below:



For reference at the start of the debate the audience was asked to vote for or against the motion.

beforeafterchange
for678268-20%
against11021876+34
undecided34634-14%

The full debate including the other speakers, a Q&A bit and closing statements can be found on the Intelligence2 website.