Thursday, 3 November 2011

Email Exchange with a Catholic Church Representative

Following the reading of an article on Pink News about the Catholic Chruch's opposition to marriage equality in Scotland, I decided a week ago to write an email to John Deighan, the Catholic Church's parliamentary officer. Contrary to my expectations I received a response though not really a reply within a day or two. I replied back with further points but I haven't heard anything more from Mr Deighan. Response and reply are copied below.

Dear [Zefrog],

Thank you for getting in touch. It is of course difficult to convey the details of our views in the media and I fully understand that it can be confusing to have arguments reduced to soundbites. It would be nice if we were given the opportunity for a full explanation of our views.

Fundamentally marriage arises from human nature and is a consequence of the natural complementarity of male and female. This is the environment in which children come in to the world and provides the ideal environment (ordinarily) for the socialisation of children. By altering the understanding of the family unit we alter the support for the best model of socialisation which will have a ripple effect through society.

It is not an instantaneous linkage that allows you to see an immediate effect as you suggest we should see from the other parts of the world which have adopted same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage just happens to be the next stage in the deterioration of support for the family built on marriage. The decline in that support has been accompanied by damage which is posing and will continue to pose problems. The collapse in birth rate across Europe, for example, is part of the reason our public services are unsustainable since the proportion of tax payers collapses with birth rate. We also see many problems arising from lack of family stability - drug and
alcohol abuse, crime etc.

I can only briefly give an overview in an email but if you are interested in finding out more you can check the website
www.catholicvotersguide.org/marriage-and-family and from there link to the appropriate information.

I should end by stating that the Church's views are not motivated by any animus or disrespect of any person. Rather it is about proposing the things which lead to fulfilment of the human person and human society.

Best wishes,

John Deighan



Dear John,

Thank you for your reply. Having read it, I am still none the wiser as to how practically you think marriage equality would be harmful. It doesn't take anything away from marriage as it is but if anything would add to its richness. People will be able to marry as they always have and for the same reasons. It just happens that more people will be able to enter into it thus becoming even more involved in society as a result. If anything it fosters a stronger feeling of social belonging from a part of society which has felt rather excluded until now.

You say that marriage arises from human nature. I agree with that. It comes for the desire of two people who love each other to make their relationship even more special and ask for the recognition and support of the wider community (although other elements of human nature, such as greed, have long been part of the reasons why people want to tie the knot).

Therefore I don't see why loving gay couple should have to renounce their human nature to bow to a restricted view of marriage, which is not even part of their moral landscape (since many are not Christian).

Indeed the Bible itself (Old Testament), since I assume (I hope not wrongly) that this is the basis of your objections, portrays and promotes various forms of marriage that even Christians do not recognise as valid any longer.

I would also point out that not all heterosexual marriages exist with a procreative aim. Should these therefore be forbidden?

Again you make statements about what marriage equality would do to marriage as a whole without explaining how this would happen practically. And I don't see why a comparison with other countries is not possible and can not bring some light on what would happen here. All of these countries are very much western and share very similar values to the UK.

To finish, I think I am aware of most, if not all, the arguments the Church has against marriage equality. What I am trying to understand, and the reason why I contacted you, is how it sees the process that would lead equality to engender the destruction of civilisation as we know it, since this is what we seem to be talking about here.

I am also somewhat surprised that while an ever smaller section of the Christian community is vehemently opposed to opening marriage to more loving couples, the same people are more than quiet about divorce, which seems to me much more undermining to marriage. It seems to me that they should be campaigning just as vehemently so that man does not separate what god has joined together. I can't help but feeling that this smacks of double standard.

I look forward to your thoughts on these points.

Regards,

[Zefrog]

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Third Vigil Against Hate Crime

8pm

The first vigil had been organised following the fatal attack against gay man Ian Baynham on the Square. This edition of the vigil now directed against hate crime in general but gathering mostly members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) community.

Speakers included Lynn Featherstone (minister), Brian Paddick (out mayoral candidate) , Ken Livingston (mayoral candidate), Elly Barnes (No1 in the Independent's Pink List 2011), Sue Sanders (co-chair of Schools Out and LGBT History Month), and Stuart Milk (nephew of Harvey Milk). There were performances by a choir made up of members of London's three LGBT choir (London Gay Men's Chorus, Pink Singers and Diversity Choir) and the London Gay Wind Orchestra. No representent of the current mayor was present.

Two minutes silent were held at 8pm followed by the reading of names of LGBT and disabled victims of hate crime.

Other vigil were taking place simultaneously around the country, including at the Occupy London camp outside St Paul's cathedral.

My pictures of the night are on flickr here.
My pictures of the first vigil (2009) are here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A letter to the Catholic Church via one of its representants

Following the reading of this article on Pink News about the Catholic Chruch's opposition to marriage equality in Scotland, I decided to write the following email to John Deighan, the Catholic Church's parliamentary officer. I really hope I get a response to this question I have been asking myself for a while.

Dear Mr Deighan,

I was interested to read an article reproducing one of your recent statements about the possibility of marriage being extended to gay couples in Scotland. According to this article, you said the following: “Bishop Tartaglia was forthright in his assertion that proposals to legislate for same sex marriage would be harmful to society and to the government."

The fact that same-sex marriage would be harmful to society or various variations on a similar theme are one of the main argument cited by its opponents. These are however never accompanied with any reasons or explanation as to how exactly marriage equality would be harmful to society. What would it do to it? and more importantly: how would it do it?

This is all the more confusing that nothing particularly catastrophic seems to be happening in the few countries around the world that have actually opened marriage to same-sex couple.

I would be very interested to hear from you or your employers on this subject.

Regards and thanks,

zefrog

Monday, 4 July 2011

Pride London 2011 - Pictures

Look

Another year and another Pride have gone. My 10th Pride in London. Like last year, I was walking with the London Gay Men's Chorus but for some reason it all felt a bit underwhelming. And I am not even sure why as no noticeable difference springs to mind.

My pictures of the day can be found on flickr, here.

Previous sets of pictures:
Pride London 2007
Pride London 2008
Pride London 2009
Pride London 2010

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Park Avenue Cat @ Arts Theatre

As we are steadily reminded throughout the hour and half hour of Park Avenue Cat, the new play by Frank Strausser, which had its "world premiere" this week-end at the Arts Theatre, time is money. Most of the play takes place in the office of a posh LA therapist who charges $200 per hour.

So, having sat through the play, I am wondering why the author spent time writing it, why a production team spent time putting it up and why I and any audience member are asked to spent time (and money) watching it.

The play, said to be "a triangle with four corners" (!), brings together a therapist (Tessa Peake-Jones), who is probably not enjoying her job all that much), Lily (Josefina Gabrielle - the eponymous Parc Avenue cat) as well as Philip (Gray O'Brien - aka Tony Gordon in Coronation Street) and Dorian (Daniel Weyman), Lily's lovers.

In an interview on the play's dedicated website, Strausser (who was in the audience) explains that he thinks comedy comes out of awkward situations. Here the situations (and the plot) are not only awkward, they are also much too convoluted, nonsensical, sometimes contradictory and certainly not "hilarious".

Situation comedy has an established habit of asking us to suspend our disbelief but this is pushing to the point of asking us to perform an execution by hanging.

The only really clever bit of the play is the set design (by Mark Walters), which comprises two revolving sections that allow the creation of the three different sets of the play.

The performances are only marginally more convincing than the hyper-fake American accent that everyone is putting on (even I could spot something was wrong). The worst culprit on both counts (performance and accent) is in my view Tessa Peake-Jones, who simply overacts without giving much feeling to her character (not that the play gives her much room to display any of any depth).

In the aforementioned interview, the author also informs us that the play is not about therapy but about relationships. Sadly at the end we are not at all the wiser as to who the characters are, what their motivations are and what brings them together. Indeed we are not even sure that there are any kinds of relationships going on between them.

Lily in particular remains mostly an enigma though we gather that she is an insecure aging beauty who doesn't know what she wants and possibly (as inferred by the title) not much else than a gold digger. Sadly the play doesn't really take the time to analyse any of these things and what lies behind them.

Therefore, unlike so many people don't waste your time (and money) on this Park Avenue tat.

Park Avenue Cat is at the Arts Theatre until 19 August 2011 (maybe).

Sunday, 26 June 2011

BP Portrait Award 2011 - my winners

Today I popped in the National Portrait Gallery to view the paintings shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2011. This year was mostly underwhelming, I have to say, with many examples of a trend in modern portraiture that I find particularly annoying: the photo look.

Paintings with the slick, smooth, slightly-soft-focused look of a photography. I do like hyper-realism but for some reason I can't abide that look in portraiture. The overall winner, by Wim Heldens, just about escapes my ire in that respect. Although I rather like it, it is also not part of my favourites. You can find them below in bad iPhone pictures I took myself (the links provide more info about the paintings and the artists):

George O'Dowd by Layla Lyons, oil on canvas on wooden stretcher, 1800 x 1400 mm

Abi, by Nathan Ford, oil on canvas, 280 x 200 mm

and just because I like Maxi:
Maxi Jazz by Joe Simpson, oil on canvas, 600 x 600 mm

There was another one I liked, which I didn't photograph and doesn't seem to be on the website for the exhibition for some reason... (not all the paintings seem to be there and I think I even spotted one on the site that wasn't exhibited...)

Special mention goes to I could have been a contender by Wendy Elia and the amusing little sub-painting of the topless young man walking into the room and averting his eyes.

BP Portrait Award 2011
National Portrait Gallery
until 18 September
admission free


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

LGBT and Muslim activists united to welcome East London Mosque statement against homophobia

In the Open Letter sent out 7 June regarding the Gay Free Zone case, a number of gay and feminist activists closed by saying:
"The East London Mosque claims to have no responsibility over those who speak there. The East London Mosque also claims to be opposed to the 'gay-free zone' campaign and homophobia. We demand that the East London Mosque live up to its stated word, take ownership of its platform and stop allowing its premises to be used to promote gay-hate campaigns."
Salman Farsi, Communications Officer from the East London Mosque, speaking to the Guardian responded by saying:
"Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises, whether that is us organising an event or someone else. As for the condemnation of homophobia, our director has gone on the record on this."
We, the undersigned, welcome the East London Mosque's statement that they will no longer allow their premises to be used by homophobic speakers and take them at their word. Eliminating a platform for hate in such an influential institution as the East London Mosque is a strong, positive action and will have a very positive effect on both the local gay and Muslim communities.

Hate and division have no place in Tower Hamlets or anywhere else. Extremists, of both the religious and political variety, seek to keep us divided and at each others' throats. Through this action, the East London Mosque will help to rebuild trust between and within communities and to thwart the attempts of those who would try to play us off against each other.

We request that the East London Mosque make this policy known on its website - and to the Muslim, Asian and East London media - so that the entire community can see their commitment to stopping homophobia and to improving community relations.

We also welcome Mr Farsi's statement regarding Mr Hasnath's sentencing: "I can see where the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is coming from. That £100 fine was a slap on the wrist."

We celebrate East London's diverse multicultural communities and affirm the need to tackle all intolerance. Both Muslims and LGBT people - especially LGBT Muslims - know the pain of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime. We stand together with our neighbours, united against all hate. Anti-Muslim bigotry and homophobia have no place in our communities.

Signed:

Mohammed Abbasi, Co-Director, Association of British Muslims
Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, Co-Director, Association of British Muslims
Elly Barnes, Diversity Leader - Stoke Newington School
Julie Bindel, Journalist and Feminist Campaigner
David Bridle, Managing Editor of London's gay weekly Boyz Magazine
Paul Burston, Author, Journalist, Editor of Time Out's Gay & Lesbian Section.
Gaby Charing, Chair, Southwark LGBT Network
Nicolas Chinardet, LBGT Activist
Eddie Clarke, Publisher
Darren Cooper, Senior Consultant, Out Now Consulting
Desiree Cooper, International development professional and human rights activist
Tony Fenwick, Co-Chair, Schools Out and LGBT History Month
Faisal Gazi, Software developer, anti-racism activist and blogger
Paul Harfleet, Artist, Founder of The Pansy Project
Alex Hopkins, Journalist, Editor; Publisher, Dissident Musings blog
Tehmina Kazi, director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Adam Knowles, Chair, Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association
Colm Howard-Lloyd, Trustee, Pride London
Derek Lennard, IDAHO-UK (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) Coordinator
Mandy McCartin, Artist and Resident of East London
Fiez Mughal, Oral Surgeon, Muslim LGBT advocate & human rights activist & blogger
Mac McDermott, Publisher, HOMOVISIONTV
Kylie Revels, Human Rights Activist
Linda Riley, Managing Director, Square Peg Media, Publishers of g3, Out in the City and Pride London Magazines
Sue Sanders, Co-Chair, Schools Out and LGBT History Month
Paul Shetler, Human Rights Activist, Coordinator of London 2011 Summer of Love Campaign
Ian Sinclair Romanis, Gay Man and Resident of Hackney
Gavin Simpson, Founder, discodamaged.com, London's alternative gay clubbing and lifestyle site
Patrick Strudwick, Journalist
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Christian Taylor, Journalist: SameSame.com.au and GayTimes Magazine
Adrian Tippetts, Human Rights Campaigner and Journalist
Matthew Todd, Editor, Attitude Magazine
Marco Tranchino, Campaigns Officer, Central London Humanist Group

Monday, 6 June 2011

Review: The School for Scandal @ Barbican

But I bear no malice against the people I abuse: when I say an ill natured thing, ‘tis out of pure good humor; and I take it for granted they deal exactly in the same manner with me.

Bit of binge drinking - Picture by Neil Libbert

Have you heard the one about the "athlete" who had an affair with that woman off the telly and now he is suing Twitter because he didn't want people to know but everyone is talking about it on there? Well, I can't really tell you about it, yeah, cause of the super injunction thingy but I bet it's going to end up all over the papers anyway like what happen to that banker, Goodwin, yeah. That super injunction thing rather backfired for him, innit? Anyway, you'll never guess, on Friday evening I went to see that play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It's called The School for Scandal or something. It's quite famous, I think. And I heard that that bloke Sheridan he had to fight a dual (twice! imagine...) because a journalist had dished some dirt about his girl. You wouldn't catch me doing that! Anyway, that play, yeah. It's all about those rich bitchy people in funny clothes, like. They spend their time gossiping and dissing people but they kinda get unmasked in the end. Nothing too original, if I am honest. Sometimes they are dressed in normal clothes though or they use mobile phones and they used those cool tunes between the scenes to make it look less naff, I suppose. That old play is we, you know. Not easy to make it seem alive. OMG! and they even do some charlie on stage! I kinda liked it though, you know. The set was quite funky too. You could see lots of backstage and stuff and it was kinda like only suggesting things rather than a full-on theatre set you normally get for that type of classic plays. Oh and there is those people off the telly in it. There is that woman from the IT Crowd, yes, the ginger one. She plays the young wife that kinda get sucked in into that world. There is one from Harry Potter but he's only got a smallish part. There is the guy from Garrow's Law (he is supposed to be the good guy but you know: when it's too good to be true, it probably isn't!) and there's this guy who plays the rich uncle that I have seen in plenty of things but I can't remember where. He normally plays a baddy, I think. They've even got Ian from the Archers! You wonder what they are doing in a play, like. I mean come on! they were on the telly! They were all really good but that's pretty normal since they are all professional actors, you know.

Anyway, if you fancy seeing it, it's on at the Barbican until the 18th June.

This review was originally written for Londonist on 20 May 2011, following the guideline that we should try and be original. However this was deemed likely to confused the readers and wasn't published in the end. You can read the second version of this review (totally different tone) on Londonist, here.

Jabberwocky

I don't know much about poetry but there are a few poems I like. this is one of them
Jabberwocky

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
by Lewis Caroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

"Gay-free zone" stickers: choosing the right targets

We learned this afternoon that an 18 year has been sentenced to a £100, ordered to pay £85 costs and a £15 victim surcharge for placing stickers in various parts of east London, designating them as "gay-free zones".

The stickers caused a lot of controversy in the area and even more discord within the LGBT community but thankfully nothing serious came out of it. The affray is probably already much more than what the people behind the stickers were expecting to achieve.

Nevertheless, already I have seen people commenting that the sentence isn't enough, that is is a "f*cking joke". It seems to me that it is on the contrary about fair and probably quite close the maximum of what it could have been for the charge of public order offence of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour.

It seems to me that £200 is quite a lot for someone who is on the dole, particularly as punishment for something they didn't even think was wrong.

At the tribunal, Mohammed Hasnath, who, it seems couldn't afford a lawyer, declared:
"Basically, some people just handed them [the stickers] to me so I just put them up. I didn't say anything, it doesn't say that I am going to punish them it just says what God says in the Koran."

"I wasn't the one who made them, some people gave them to me and I only put up a few, there were hundreds of them up. I didn't know the police were going to get involved or that it was a offence or anything."
Adding:
"But I just put up stickers, I didn't harass or swear at anybody or anything."
Of course, I can only go by what is reported in the article linked to above but those two paragraphs have the ring of truth to me.

I am convinced he didn't stop for a second to reflect on the real meaning of those stickers. While I am not trying to find excuses, I think that the people complaining about the sentence are barking up the wrong tree.

I am perhaps being naive here and too trusting in humanity but it feels that in his mind Hasnath was only seeing the perceived positive act of affirming what he had been told is said in the Koran. And that this act was totally dissociated of any possible negative impact on some other human being.

And this is clearly what the people who gave him the stickers were counting on, taking advantage of his gullibility and probably lack of education. It seems to me, after reading his words, that in their anger, those asking for a harsher punishment, endow Hasnath with intellectual capabilities that, unlike them, he probably doesn't possess. No thoughtfulness or empathy for something in him. Only blind, thoughtless submission to religious doctrine, whether true or false.

It's clear to me that Hasnath doesn't have the means both financial and probably intellectual to organise what is a concerted campaign in the east of London and also in at least two other cities in the UK.

We should not waste our energies on one of the inept and insignificant pawns, who has now been punished anyway, but rather turn our attention to those manipulating those pawns. They are the ones who should know better. They are the really dangerous ones. They are the ones whose nefarious actions we should denounce. They are the ones we should go after and remain vigilant against.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Dialogue opens between protesters and Soho "gay kiss" pub

Following the delivery of a 1000-signature-strong petition on Tuesday, a meeting took place on Wednesday morning between gay-rights activists and the management of the John Snow Pub in Soho.

This is part of the ongoing reaction to the alleged ejection from the pub of a gay couple for kissing, last month.

On receiving the open letter accompanied by the 1087 signatures of support gathered online, an unidentified member of staff had agreed on Tuesday night to meet again with the activists the next morning.

The meeting took place outside the John Snow between three representatives of the pub and four protestors, one of whom described the occasion as "civil throughout".

The protestors were advised that management is not at liberty to comment on the situation due to an ongoing police investigation into the incident. They were also informed that the pub's CCTV tapes have been handed over to the police.

The results of the investigation are reportedly expected in two weeks. A new meeting has been agreed for that time between the parties.

Paul Shetler, one of the protestors present at the pub, said: "It is encouraging that the pub management has agreed to meet with us. We are very pleased to see that some sort of dialogue has been established and we hope that this can lead to a positive resolution for all”.

“We will however remain vigilant, ready to challenge any sign that the management of the pub is trying to disengage from the situation."

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Petition Delivered to the Soho "Gay Kiss" Pub

A petition gathering over 1000 signatures was delivered today to the Soho pub that found itself at the centre of an international media storm last month.

The 57 page petition before it was delivered to the pub (Picture by me).

On the evening of Wednesday 13 April 2011, Jonathan Williams, 26, and James Bull, 23, were asked to leave the John Snow public house for kissing while on their first date. A member of staff allegedly described the couple’s behaviour as "obscene" and evicted them from the establishment.

Despite several attempts by journalists at contacting the management of the John Snow, as well as the Samuel Smith Old Brewery, which owns the pub, neither the pub nor the brewer released any comment, statement or apology.

In an attempt to get the management of the pub to air their side of the story and to create a dialogue, a group of activists who had organised two successful kiss-in events outside the pub decided to write an open letter.

The letter demanded that the John Snow management, and/or the Samuel Smith Old Brewery issue a statement:

"1/ specifying exactly why Mr. Jonathan Williams and Mr. James Bull were asked to leave the John Snow public house on the 13 April 2011.

2/ clearly stating the venue and company's compliance with and commitment to the Equality Act of 2010.

3/ officially apologising to Mr. Jonathan Williams and Mr. James Bull."

Having gathered 1087 signatures of support after it was placed on a petition website, the letter was symbolically delivered at the pub on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

A member of staff who did not identify himself received the petition and agreed to a meeting on Wednesday 18th in the morning.

After the event, Paul Shetler, who organised the first Kiss-in on 15 April, said: "Tonight the management of the John Snow Pub heard voices from London, the UK and around the world emphatically stating that affection, whichever form it takes, is something positive that should be celebrated and not repressed."

"We all want to put this behind us but it was important for us to demand the respect we are owed as human beings. Nothing more, nothing less. The John Snow management must take responsibility for their action and break the silence they have kept so far."

The people behind the petition are in the process of planning further direct action events over the summer to promote LGBT visibility and fight homophobia in fun and unexpected ways. They invite people to join a Facebook group to be kept informed of what will happen.

UPDATE (18 May 2011 - 11.30)
The meeting with the person we saw last night (accompanied with another man and a woman) has now taken place outside the John Snow. The meeting was Was civil throughout. The man advised us that he can not comment at the moment because of the ongoing police investigation. The pub's CCTV tapes have been given to the police.
The results of the investigation are apparently expected in two weeks. A new meeting has been agreed for that time.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Praha / Prague - Impressions

Praha
I have just returned from a week exploring the sunny streets of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Much walking was involved and just as much photographing (I shot over 1000 images if I include the duds that weren't worth keeping).

A selection of those pictures (a mere 436 of them!) is available on flickr here.

It was an interesting experience for me to observe my images evolve as the days went along.

On the first couple of days, I found it impossible or quite hard to take original pictures, ie images that were not your bog standard tourist shot and that ultimately present little interest.

As the days went on, however, I started to move away from those; starting to notice details and oddities, as if the city came into focus, and I hope that my images gained in interest as a result.

I also went to some places on the outskirts of Prague that not many tourist can have visited, such as the eastern terminus of the tram line 22 or a street in what could be a village if it wasn't being swallowed up by the metropolis.

Eventually I even produced two of what I think are probably my best ever shots, which is quite rewarding.

While the one above, which is one of them is carefully considered, composed, cropped and photoshopped, the other one (below), as is so often the case, is a moment of serendipity as I was fiddling with my settings, trying to take a picture that never happened.



Prague is quite a beautiful city that justly attracts millions of tourists every year. It reminded me a lot of Turin and Rome in italy. And mirroring my feelings for these cities, as well as those for Dublin and Paris, the homogeneity and in the end monotony of the architecture were more of a turn to me than an attraction. After all, one of the reasons why I love London is this chaos where architectural eras will happily cohabit.

This monotony and uniformity is also, it seems, reflected of the people and the way they dress, as my guide (who was born and bred in Prague but has lived in abroad for about 5 years now) pointed out. A palette of greys and brown is the staple of the Czech wardrobe. It's as if people do not want to stand out. Possibly the result of years of communism and negation of the individual by the state.

But to the eyes of a foreigner, Prague does present a few cultural idiosyncrasies.

There are for example an astonishing number of churches all over the city; many more than can be needed for such a relatively small population. Also numerous are the bridal shops and, in the touristic area around Staroměstská náměstí, jeweleries.

Praguans are, it seems, very fond of dogs (to the point of taking them to bars in the evenings) and that few parks of the city derive a specific aroma from this.

IMG_8199 IMG_8535

There are very few people of colour, the majority of them being east Asian ; something very odd for someone from multicultural London. Gay people are just as rare and gay bars themselves are fairly quiet.

Also in very short supply in the country that gave the world the oh-so-pretty Bel Ami boys (if one except perhaps, the Italian school-trippers), are good looking men which makes perambulations in the old town that much less exciting.

MP3 players and Apple products are also a rarety. HTC Desire is the smart phone of choice and you see very few people with headphones in the street or in public transport.

My biggest gripe with Prague was with smoking and the careless and apparently haphazard way in with the smokefree legislation is implemented. It seems that the decision regarding smoking is left to the business owners. Bars and restaurant should have a non-smoking area but only if there is enough space for it.

This led to the ridiculous situation of us being told is a beautiful art nouveau café (clearly catering for an international clientele which would be familiar with smokefree environments) that the smoking area is the back of the room while the front of it is reserved for non-smokers. As if the smoke would stop at the arbitrary barrier between the two. We left.

There are however totally smokefree places. They just have to be found. My only visit to a gay bar left me with a congested throat and a sniveling nose the next morning; an unwelcome reminder of how much we have got used to smokefree environments.

Something that Prague does better than London is possibly public transport. A one-day ticket costs about £3 (100Kč) and gives you access to the tube network (3 lines) and the tram system. Both are fast, efficient, clean and not overcrowded. The bosses at TfL should visit and ask for a few tips.

IMG_8907 IMG_9148

Despite all my moaning above, I enjoyed discovering the city. I got treated to an authentic Czech meal cooked by a Czech grandmother and had tea in one of the poshest restaurant of the city (Art Nouveau at Obecní dům) as the guest of the French chef (a friend of my guide). I walked miles, climbed many steps, got a tan, saw the tomb of Antonín Dvořák, avoided the few Starbucks but shopped at Tesco, walked some more and just had a good time!

Apart from the obvious tourist spots such as the Castle, Charles Bridge, the Clock Tower on Staroměstská náměstí and probably the stump of an Eiffel Tower overlooking the city from Petřín, there a few less obvious places I would recommend visiting should you find yourself in that particular neck of the wood.

Indigo Café: cheap and arty café that seems to be ignore by the tourists even though it's only a stone-throw from Staroměstská náměstí. You may even be lucky and the cook may turn up to prepare some food on the day of your visit... Non-smoking space at the back. Details on Time Out

Modrá Zahrada (Blue Garden): Classy pizzeria in the centre of town. Cheap but lovely food (though the portions were perhaps a bit small for my big appetite). The non-smoking area is downstairs and is much bigger than then smoking area. Details on Prague.tv

Grosseto: Less central (15min on the tube from the centre) but still easily accessed from the centre. Cheap and busy pizzeria. The pizzas are just massive. Non-smoking! Website.

Kulat'ak: Again, 15/20min on the tube from the centre. This was recommended to us by a local. The equivalent of a pub. Serves lovely Czech food. Website

Riegrovy sady: Lovely park with great views (ideal for sunsets - see second night image above). 15/20min on the tube from the centre. There is a bar with terrace and an open air pub.

Na shledanou.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Demain, dès l'aube

I don't know much about poetry but there are a few poems I like. this is one of them
Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
by Victor Hugo, Les Contemplations, 1856

Friday, 29 April 2011

A Right Royal Wedding

IMG_7766

In a bit to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage of a certain event taking place in Westminster this morning, I had to take refuge in the gym (which was thankfully open).

In the afternoon, however things took a more subversive turn. First with an aborted queer zombies flashmob organised by Queer Resistance in Soho Square.

The aim was to protest the current budget cuts made by the government and affecting various part of the LGBT community.

Unfortunately the police seems to arbitrarily decide that such a gathering would be an inconvenience to the more conventional revelers and gave the handful of peaceful protesters five minutes to leave the Square under threat of being arrested. This really did smack of an abuse of power worthy of the worst police state.

Later I joined a group of members of the London Gay Men's Chorus who had dragged up as bride to enjoy a little pub crawl around Soho. This happened without any problem and was met with cheers and many requests for photographs for the crowds.

Pictures of both events (including links to videos of the police telling people to leave Soho Square) are available on my flickr account, here.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Second Kiss-In at the John Snow

IMG_7526

My pictures of the second kiss-in which took place on 21 April can be found on flickr here.

Don't forget to sign the petition here.

(My pics of the first kiss in can be found here.)

An Open Letter To The John Snow Pub and Samuel Smith Brewery


You can join us in this by signing the petition on Facebook. (click here if you are not on Facebook)

On the evening of Wednesday 13 April 2011, Jonathan Williams, 26, and James Bull, 23, were asked to leave the John Snow public house for kissing while on their first date. A member of staff allegedly described the couple’s behaviour as obscene and evicted them from the establishment.

The media have reported several accounts of this incident. The general consensus has been that the couple's behaviour was entirely appropriate for a couple enjoying their first romantic evening together.

The strength of feeling that this mistreatment of a gay couple raised in London’s LGBT community was such that in the course of less than 30 hours, a gay kiss-in was organised with several hundred participants at the John Snow on the evening of 15 April 2011. Another kiss-in followed the next week on 21 April 2011. Rather than allow the LGBT protesters into or around the pub, the John Snow closed its doors on both of these evenings.

Despite several attempts at contacting the management of the John Snow, as well as the Samuel Smith Old Brewery, which owns the pub, neither the pub nor the brewer have released any comment, statement or apology to this date.

While we agree that any establishment is entitled to refuse entry, and/or the provision of goods and services to individuals they deem unsuitable or inappropriate, if this refusal is motivated by a person’s sexual orientation (real or perceived) it contravenes the Equality Act of 2010. This legislation came into force in October 2010 to prevent any business discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, disability, religion or ethnicity, or against pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

Anyone found to be the victim of discrimination on those grounds could be considered liable for compensation from the venue that discriminates against them.

We, the undersigned, therefore ask that the John Snow management, and/or the Samuel Smith Old Brewery issue a statement:

1/ specifying exactly why Mr. Jonathan Williams and Mr. James Bull were asked to leave the John Snow public house on the 13 April 2011.

2/ clearly stating the venue and company’s compliance with and commitment to the Equality Act of 2010.

3/ officially apologising to Mr. Jonathan Williams and Mr. James Bull

Continued silence on this matter by both the John Snow Pub and the Samuel Smith Old Brewery can only be seen by the public as acquiescence to the fact that discrimination had taken place, something that is likely to damage the reputation of the business. Direct actions will continue against this pub until it, or the brewery has started to engage in the meaningful and respectful dialogue that we believe this serious matter warrants.

The undersigned,

Paul Burston
Nicolas Chinardet
Edward Clarke
Darren Cooper
Tommaso Fico
Alex Hopkins
Paul Jeffrey
Robert Schwarz
Paul Shetler
Robert Wheeler

You can join us in this by signing the petition on Facebook. (click here if you are not on Facebook)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Musings on the John Snow pub events - The Management


Musings on the John Snow pub events - The Events

There are of course always two sides to a story and it would be very interesting indeed to hear the management's side of this particular one.

The problem is that the management has shown a remarkable lack of PR savvy throughout the whole story. Not only have they consistently refused to answer enquiries from the press or issuing pithy comments like “I have every right to kick people out if I wish.” or “Can you just stop calling this number please, or we’ll have you done for harassment.” but the Samuel Smith Brewery, who owns the pub has been equally silent (although this is apparently normally policy from the company in the face of crisis).

What is utterly astounding, and, in the mind of many, further proof of foul play, is that the landlord, cutting his nose to spite his face, should have deemed it preferable to close the pub on a Friday night, on what would no doubt be a very busy and profitable night, rather than let openly and visibly gay people enter his pub.

Press reports confirm that the closure does not come from police advice. The police didn't turn up until at least one hour after the start of the protest, so worried were they that something untoward would happen. It would have been so easy for management to dispel the situation to their advantage by simply making a bit of a fuss in welcoming people in on the night.

But they decided to shut the door instead, literally and metaphorically. The brewery needs to urgently fire their PR person. Or perhaps simply hire one...

IMG_7295

While under the Licensing Act, landlords are indeed allowed to decide who they admit into their premises, they also must abide by the anti-discrimination regulations that state that LGB people should be treated in the same was as their straight counterparts in the provision of goods and services.

There is indeed so far no proof that we are in the presence of homophobic discrimination. However, the language reportedly used by the management, the media silence, the fact that they decided to close the pub to avoid the kiss-in as well as the ejection itself for what seems to be very innocent behaviour; all tend to point towards something potentially unsavoury.

Something that could be made all the more unsavoury by (so far) unsubstantiated allegations about the landlord's former political allegiances and present views on certain sections of society made by someone who claims to be a former employee of the John Snow on Facebook and Twitter.

Should these be proven to be true (and they haven't), a very interesting new light would be shed on the sorry episode that brings us here. It is important to note that no proof has been given to support those accusations.

[This section of the post was edited down following external advice and personal reflection to remove details of the allegations and avoid possible accusations of libel.]

Confirmation that the banning of kissing customers is not something one should be expecting at the John Snow comes from one John Clark, who says he used to manage the pub and has been reported by the Daily Mail as saying: 'Wish I could be there. I used to manage this pub and this disgraceful act would never have happened in my day. Enjoy all the snogging folks.'

The police are investigating and everyone is very eager to hear the results of this inquiry. There are too many questions and not enough concrete answers at the moment.

To be continued...

Read my short report of the kiss-in for Londonist here. My pictures of the event can be found on flickr, here.


Musings on the John Snow pub events - The Events

Last night about 600 people gathered outside a pub at the heart of Soho to protest against homophobia, of all things.

On Wednesday night, a young couple was having their first date. After pizza, they went to a favourite pub, the John Snow, and as the night progressed and they enjoyed each other's company, they started kissing. Independent witnesses have assured us that this was all very light stuff. Nothing that should worry anyone in a Soho pub.

Yet Jonathan Williams and James Bull (pictured), both in their 20s say they were asked to stop by a customer who identified himself as the landlord and professed himself "bothered". A couple of hours later, as Bull was preparing to leave, he gave, Williams "a peck on the lips". A woman claiming to be the landlady apparently asked them to leave at this point calling their behaviour "obscene"; the earlier customer/landlord allegedly lending her support and grabbing Bull by the lapel of his jacket.

The couple left, "shaken and angry", while other customers challenged what had just happened and were also asked to leave.

IMG_7318

Whether one condones public displays of affection or not, there is a strong suspicion that the ejection of those two men may have a homophobic motivation. And to those who claim, even within the LGBT community, that Williams and Bull should have kept to the safety of a gay bar, I reply (and others with me) that "separate but equal" and ghettoisation are not equality.

This is why about 600 of us and seemingly just as many representants of the press were blocking Broadwick Street last night.

Another kiss-in is planned for 21 April.

Musings on the John Snow pub events - The Management

Read my short report of the kiss-in for Londonist here. My pictures of the event can be found on flickr, here.


Thursday, 7 April 2011

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

This is a poem I studied at school when I was in my mid to late teens. I love the music of it.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
by Robert Herrick, Hesperides, 1648

Monday, 4 April 2011

For Sale: Invisibility Cloak

Someone I know who believes in reincarnation once told me that each new incarnation is some sort of long experiment for our being to try to learn about and correct some specific deficiency that prevents it from reaching perfection. The whole incarnation is geared up to test that deficiency and allow the being to challenge and overcome it.

Although it sounds far-fetched, moments of indulgent introspection sometimes make the proposition rather seductive. If I were to say what challenge it is that I have to tackle in this lifetime, what cross I have to bear (to use a rhetoric more relevant to my upbringing), the obvious choice would be communication.

Facets of it imbue most aspects of my life, from my professional life (Internet, branding, graphic design, marketing) to my interests (photography, singing, reading, blogging), via my personal life ("spinsterhood" and chronic deficit of social skills) or my life away from my mother tongue.

It is the overarching narrative in my life. In some respects, I think I can say that I am rather good at it. In others, I fail miserably, although, as the years go by, as compromises and adjustments happen, the paper-cuts of failure become more shallow and more occasional.

And then there is this serious case of the Mr Cellophane complex.

As Amos Hart, one of the characters from the musical Chicago, sings:
A human being's made of more than air
With all that bulk, you're bound to see him there
Unless that human bein' next to you
Is unimpressive, undistinguished
You know who...

Cellophane, Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...
Often, when I am out about town, people do seem to try to walk right through me. When I am in a group, my attempts at contributing to the conversation remain unnoticed, just as my general goodbyes to such a group, which, coming from someone else would be picked up and acknowledged, also usually remain unheeded.

I am now used to this and can live with it but what prompted these long and tortuous musings are two recent examples of the Mr Cellophane complex which are more difficult to come to term with.

First there was the online equivalent of what I have just described. A couple of days ago, I left a comment on blog post. It was the second comment left there, which makes it more difficult to ignore than if it was lost in the middle of many others. Since then a variety of people have also been prolifically commenting both on the blog post and on each other's comments. No one has picked up on mine (though I know that some have clicked on the link to this blog).

The other “incident” has to do with my new neighbours. A small group of us met roughly at the same time in August and September last year, when we were still all new in the building and were trying to find out feet. Social events were organised and it was all rather promising.

Recently however I have become aware of the fact that several little social groups have formed and that people have been socialising.

This is of course fine but I can't help wondering why I haven't been included in this and what it is that I did or didn't do during the initial meetings that induced my ostracisation. What signals do I send out that somehow tell people to keep away?

This leaves me perplexed because there doesn’t seem to be any rational facts to use towards an explanation.

I know that people will probably not avoid me because I look at them (I am always very much aware of my surroundings in the street and I look at people a lot) and that as a result they think I will move aside first to let them by (try it: If you don’t look at them, THEY will move).

As for the group thing, it may have something to do with what AC Grayling is talking about in a (great) interview I read today in the Guardian:
[…] I don't sort of exist. The rest of the world does, and I'm really interested in it. If there's a group of people sitting round, and I think about it afterwards, I always fail to remember that I was there, if you see what I mean.
Perhaps this is all to do with the fact I tried to make myself invisible at school.
Perhaps this is why, like a powerless Harry Potter, I donned some kind of invisibility cloak to avoid being noticed and picked on, even cutting myself off from peers who clearly weren't going to welcome me, seeking refuge reading in the darkened and rarefied atmosphere of my bedroom.

It worked but perhaps I managed it all too well; to the point that it's become second nature and that I can't control it any more. It also means that I missed out on all those years of formative experiences when one learns to become a social being.

I am now very much a spectator in life and a spectator rarely has a say in the action while the actors are not encouraged to break the fourth wall.

The conclusion of this long sorry tale is that I am not completely sure what is going on here. I am not even completely sure that anything is going on at all, other than in my fevered mind.

All I know is that I am tired of it and that I am ready to shed that invisibility cloak so if anyone out there wants to buy it, get in touch.

Be warned though, you may be getting more than you bargained for.


Thanks to @mudlarklives for encouraging me with this post and for reminding me of Mr Cellophane.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

In Pictures: Heygate Estate, SE17

IMG_7134

Yesterday, I took my camera around the neighbouring Heygate Estate. You can read about it in Londonist here.

All the pictures of my visit can be found on my flickr account here.

--------------------------

The Londonist article has been picked up in the Guardian's list of top London blogs.





Sunday, 27 March 2011

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays - a review

It's not often that you can attend a world premiere. Much less often on the 100th anniversary of the birth of playwright; one among the greatest of the past century.

This is however what I managed to pull off yesterday by attending a performance of an unpublished, never-performed, 1970 work by Tennessee Williams: I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn. And a treat it was too.

This production is only one of a winning streak since the appointment of Adam Spreadbury-Maher as artistic director two years ago. This includes a lovely and highly appropriate version of La Bohème (my review for Londonist here).

Lewis Hayes as Tye, Shelley Lang as Jane and Cameron Harris as Director. Photo: Rocco Redondo
Cameron Harris as Director tries to convince Lewis Hayes as Tye and Shelley Lang as Jane to say their lines. Photo: Rocco Redondo.

Once again the creative team have managed to make the best use of the intimate (some may say cramped) space that is the Cock Theatre. Some of the actors are seated among the audience who become even more involved in the last dress rehearsal of the play they are witnessing. A play within a play.

The play is typical Williams, a point emphasised be the casting of a Williams look-alike in the role of the playwright. The weak oversexed macho man, the strong young woman out of her depth with the situation, the oppressive, decadent and deleterious American South, some gory back story.

This is the work of a disillusioned and substance-abusing master who hasn't seen success for some years and is passing comment on a theatre industry which deems so much of his work inappropriate and not enough of a money spinner, forgetting artistic and creative considerations in the process.

The play is not perfect but it is very good indeed and it was a real treat witness such strong performances.

This play has now closed by the Cock have another treat in reserve for us. Another Williams premier in the shape of A Cavalier for Milady. One of Williams's very last works. On the strength of what I saw yesterday, I'll be sure to drag my sorry arse all the way to Kilburn to see it.

Happy Birthday, Mr Williams.

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays
Directed by Hamish Macdougall
Website

A Cavalier for Milady
Directed by Gene David Kirk
29th March - 23 April
Cock Tavern Theatre
website



Sunday, 6 March 2011

Walk for Love III


Below is the result of my live tweeting of the third Walk For Love, including a few pics - start at the bottom. More pictures are available on Flickr by clicking on the image above.

The event on Sunday 06 March, started at Poplar DLR station and ended in Cabot Place in Canary Wharf. The aim is to counter with a message of love a hate campaign using stickers to declare part of the East End a "gay free zone"


Next #helpyourselftolove walk on Friday
[11th March]. 6pm Shoreditch Town Hall. See you there people :)
»
He said people could come and talk to him about the issue anytime.
»
The head of security for Canary Wharf has just been down to chat to us. Very supportive and positive
»
RT @MODERN1ST: Help Yourself to LOVE @ Poplar DLR Station http://instagr.am/p/CDGMi/
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Tea and warmth break
»
Apparently they've had loads everyday for about a week. And some good CCTV footage...
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been spotted by Canary Wharf's own Big Brother. Their delegate was very friendly. Said they'd been removing stickers
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#helpyourselftolove in Canary Wharf http://twitpic.com/46ua1l
[image reproduced above]
»
Police also told us they are making great progress in finding who is behind this hate campaign
»
We haven't spotted any stickers so far but were told by police officers that they are actively removing them
»
Have walked down Poplar High Street now going towards Canary Wharf
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Walk of love III (@ Poplar DLR Station) http://4sq.com/gWhVJf

You can read about Walk for Love II here.

Walk for Love II

Below is the result of my live tweeting of the second Walk For Love, including a few (bad) pics) - start at the bottom.

The event on Friday 25 February, started at the Shoreditch Town Hall and found its circuitous way around part of East London to end in Brick Lane. The aim is to counter with a message of love a hate campaign using stickers to declare part of the East End a "gay free zone"


Back on Brick Lane. This is where live twitting of the #helpyourselftolove walk stops. Thanks for reading. See you next week :)
»
A few people have asked us what we were all about. Reaction to the word gay was muted but not hostile
»
Sheep of Love are live sheep at the Spitalfield City Farm #mysterysolved
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There will be another walk next friday. Check out Facebook for details
»
Oops. Got a bit lost there for a sec
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We are being promised the Sheep of Love #intriguing
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We are at Osmani Primary School
»
RT @scottbert I've been clearing them off round Marsh Wall/Canary Wharf area...no mention of them in the press here tho
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We are now at Wodeham Gardens. There seems to more around here
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The council has been doing some cleaning apparently. Two remnants on bottom right http://twitpic.com/43oee5
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This one is a fresh one on a bin http://twitpic.com/43odsg
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Thankfully attitudes are shifting as shown by the support from the MCB
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This sort of attitude will not help change the bad image of some Muslims
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Apparently the mosque has been spoken to but refused to speak to the organisers. Nice!
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Passing the mosque. Shame it looks closed otherwise we could have gone and ask them for their thoughts
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We must have reached about 30 people now
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On Whitechapel Road
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Spreading the love at the bet shop http://twitpic.com/43o5gj
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Defaced anti-gay sticker on the door of a betting shop http://twitpic.com/43o4zb
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If you want to make instant friends, just walk down the lane. The restaurant touts are certainly spreading the love
»
The Muslim Council of Britain, the police and Hackney Council are all supporting us
»
Having a filmed interview with journalism student outside the Beigel Shop on Brick Lane
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Going down Brick Lane
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Outside Shoreditch station
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Walking back down Shoreditch High street
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anti-gay campaign we are walking against, *ostensibly* from Muslims is a national campaign. posters appeared in Brum 2
»
#helpyourselftolove at the Joiner's Arms http://twitpic.com/43nsrw
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Now at the Joiner's Arms.
»
To find out more about what we are doing search for #helpyourselftolove ( not in one word) on Facebook
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I lied. First stop is the George and Dragon another local gay pub. Onward.
»
First stop: the Joiner's Arms. The local gay pub that was invaded by a group of homophobic youths.
»
About 25 of us so far.
»
Gathering for a walk in the area to spread a bit of anti-homophobic love (@ Shoreditch Town Hall) [pic]: http://4sq.com/hdK9AD

Saturday, 12 February 2011

What a (gay) day that was!

I had a busy but most interesting day, yesterday. The Chorus had been asked to support two events marking LGBT History Month (which is this month, as you no doubt know).

Internal poster for the event at the DfEThe first event, organised by the Deptarment for Education's LGBT staff network, found us singing in the massive "cruise-line-like" atrium of the ministry, with people attracted by our sound looking down on us from the 7 stories of the building. The Lunchtime event was hosted by David Bell, the Permanent Secretary.

Following our performance, we had been invite to stay on and attend Q&A session with Jane Hill (BBC news reader) and Leslie Jordan (US comedian). Both speakers first talked about themselves and their experiences of being gay. Members of staff were then invited to ask questions.


Jane Hill and Leslie Jordan speaking at the Department for Education

While this was a very enjoyable event and Leslie Jordan was particularly funny, the event seemed to a lack a little in focus. The speakers were asked serious general questions which they, not being specialists, were not equipped to answer properly. When there is so much that needs to be addressed around homophobia and education, it may have been more productive to have less high-profile speakers but some who could actually engage with the DfE staff on matters that are relevant to their work.

On a side note, and on the back of yesterday's talk, I went to see Lesley's one-man show today at the Apollo Theatre. While this was also very funny, I was disappointed to discover that most of his talk at the DfE, which had seemed to genuine and impromptu, was in fact nothing but a word for word rendition of bits of the show, down to the gestures.

Internal poster for the event at GoogleAfter killing a spare hour in a local pub, we then moved up the road to the headquarters of Google UK. The performance was part of a re-launch of the local chapter of their own LGBT staff network, the Gayglers. It also involved a charity auction to raise money for an anti-cyberbullying initiative, Cyber Mentors. We've learned since that £3,700 were raised.

Having heard much about the going ons at the Google HQ, I quite curious to have a nose around and I wasn't disappointed. The reception area looked more like the waiting room of a trendy hairdresser salon or some posh gay bar than that of a multinational, complete with crystal chandelier and a bathtub (that used to belong to Douglas Adams, if one of the Foursquare tips for the location is to be believed) as coffee table.

We didn't get to see the working areas themselves but were ushered into the (free) canteen where our episode of the weekly "Thank Google, It's Friday" (TGIF) event was to take place. By 4:30 staff started to drift in and by 5 o'clock it seemed that most staff had stopped working to come and fill the large room, indulging in the free food and drinks on offer. Where do I sign?!

After the event, I noticed that someone in the audience had seen my tweets about being at the event and had followed me. I had noticed her red hair in the audience earlier and decided to go and say hello. We had a nice chat, which carried on Twitter. It turns out that the woman is rather Geek Royalty (of the type that gets mentioned in the same sentence as Sir Tim (Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web). *courtesies*

Isn't it just like me though to "pull" a lesbian...

After a little more hovering and face-stuffing, I bestrode one of my trusty BorisBikes/KennyFarthings and propelled myself to the other side of the West End for an event organised by GALHA, which purported to explore the degree of sexual subversion offered by Laurel and Hardy.

The event was rather disappointing. While the quality of GALHA's presentations is normally quite high, this consisted in little more than the playing of a DVD bringing together various extracts of some of Laurel and Hardy's 106 films (mostly shorts), showing how often they could be seen sharing the same bed or how much they enjoyed doing drag. There is was unfortunately no real analysis of what this could possibly mean or the possible repercussions of such footage.

At the end of the event, an acquaintance who was also there, pointed out a fellow member of the audience as being the lead of a 1980's pop band.

He also turned out to be the same person as the guy who had contacted me on Grindr as I was entertaining myself with my iPhone while waiting to for the event to start (I had arrived a good 40min early). Interestingly, but perhaps predictably in the gay world, the guy claims to be 34 on Grindr, while he Wikipedia profile says he is over 50...

I got home and to bed without further incident or encounter.


Monday, 7 February 2011

Tour of the Olympic Park

Basketball Arena

Last Thursday, I was given the chance to visit the Olympic Park in Est London. Perfect weather for it too.

I had had an opportunity back in November but stupidly had forgotten my passport. The Olympics Delivery Authority's idea of security being rather restrictive, my Tesco card didn't prove enough to let me and I had to be content with viewing the stadium from the viewing point outside the perimetre of the park, take a couple of pics and go home.

This time I got in and did a write up for Londonist (here). The tour took place is single-decker bus, so the quality of the pics is not what it could have been.

You can view said pics on flickr, here.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Dear Melanie Phillips,

I have to say that, when, this morning, I read that article of yours in which you so eloquently denounce the production of optional lesson plans that would force absolutely every school in the realm to possibly have to consider the idea of maybe including LGBT elements in their curriculum, I was particularly impressed with the dexterity with which you arranged reality to fit your idiosyncrated and rightuous view of the world.

How can one not be impressed with your citing the story of that preacher, who was NOT condemned for homophobic statements, as one of the incontrovertible proofs that those poor Christians are yet again under attack by the nasty gays and their terrible homosexual agenda.

Likewise, exhalting as examplary the case of those B&B owners who decided that they were above the law of this country and refused a bedroom to a civilly-partnered gay couple, was truly a masterstroke.

I can also only applaud and humbly agree when, dear Melanie, you state that "this is but the latest attempt to brainwash children with propaganda under the ­camouflage of ­education. It is an abuse of childhood". It is indeed the latest attempt and it is absolutely outrageous that centuries of complusory religous education, your favorite type of proganda, should be brushed aside so and replaced by someone else's.

And while we are mentioning the good ol' "moral norms of Western civilisation", which, as you so insightfully explain, are being trampled by those repugnant homosexuals, I would like to state how much I long for that golden age when women knew there rightful place (in the kitchen or at church, with the kids) and didn't have the impudence of expressing their naive and childlike views in the papers, but simply didn't even have views on anything.

Likewise I hanker for that blessed time when we, the enlightened white males of this world, could make the gift of civilisation and the good news of the Gospel to those poor black and brown people by allowing them to wait on us and do our jobs for nothing.

*nostalgic sigh*

So, dear Melanie, please, please, please, carry on your good work in that thankless role of moral light of this nation, that you undertook, unbidden, to burden your frail shoulders with. We need people like you lest we forget how the world has changed and how different it would be if you and your devoted followers of the Daily Mail readership had their way.

Best wishes,

Zefrog.

For those curious to see what including LGBT elements to the curriculum can do to a school, I suggest you visit this page on the LGBT History Month website or read this blog post by a gay teacher.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

LGBT History workshop at the Museum of London

The following was written as part of a workshop on blogging LGBT history at the Museum of London, organised by Untold London. After the visit described above, we were simply asked to blog something in 20min, hence the rough, rushed, not-really-thought-through nature of it (particularly the conclusion). I haven't had time to proofread or refine it.

There were a few strange looks but mostly people seemed oblivious. Amusingly some people looked actually rather pleasantly surprised to hear those words in such an unexpectedly place.


We were a group of about 30 people blocking the narrow spaces of the museum, there on a whistletour of the collections for some elusive glimpses at LGBT history. Our guide wasn't shy in using words as incongruous in those surroundings as homosexuality, gay and sodomy. Quite loudly too!

After being shown a bronze head of Hadrian which used to be part of a statue on London Bridge, we were moved on to a little alcove housing a head of the god Mithras. As our group emprisoned a pair of what looked like gay men in the small space, our guide launched into reading a ritual involving enthusiastic exclamations of adoration for the god. These, we were informed would only be uttered by young, viril and probably fairly sexually-unhinibited soldiers. No women there. The "gay couple" looked around slightly uneasily, moved to the other side of the space and turned their backs to us.

The quick stop at the Great Fire section of the museum also allowed us to startle a pair of unsuspecting gays, as our guide unformed us that after the Fire the French were blamed for not only the conflagration but also the rampant sodomy of the time at the origin of this new Sodom and Gomorrah.

By the time we got to the notorious Samuel Drybutter, the manish suffragettes and the colourful pride badges, we were pretty much on our own but there was still a thrill, for me and obviously also for others, to be in a public institutional space and unveiling our hidden histories.

This is both positive and emblematic of the work still needed for visibility and (although I hate the word) normalisation for LGBT lives. This is what History Month is about.