Friday, 29 April 2011

A Right Royal Wedding

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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

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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...

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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.

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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

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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.

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