Saturday, 28 March 2009

G20 March to Hyde Park

Today was just fantastic. Anyone who has ever sneered at the G20 march has clearly never been on a protest. I don’t feel guilty saying that I had a lot of fun. The G20 rally had a positive and powerful vibe that was peaceful and hopeful. Because tens of thousands of people turned out, we got loads of media coverage so the world leaders will have to listen up.

One of the funniest things that happened was when I left Hyde Park at around 3.30pm. I spotted a group of sombre and gothic-looking folk dressed mainly in black and waving sinister-looking black and red flags right in the corner of the park. I asked one of them what AF stood for on the flags. “Anarchist Federation,” he said. I then spotted two guys whom I just had to talk to – one was wearing a red muzzle over his mouth and the other was wearing a hat pulled down to his eyebrows and a neckerchief over his mouth.

Me: “You guys look kind of scary.”
(They look at each other. No reaction.)
Me: “What are you doing?”
Anarchist: “We are just hanging out here.”
Me: “Well, why aren’t you hanging out with everyone else down by the stage?”
Anarchist: “Well, we don’t want them to get the blame for anything that might happen up here.”

I just had to laugh. There was absolutely nothing for them to target any trouble towards, and yet they still felt they should anticipate it.

If anyone is going to cause trouble in the week ahead, it will be people with that kind of attitude!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Arthur Rimbaud Biog Reviewed In Catholic Press

In a week where The Pope has come out and shown the world just how inhumane his sexual ethics are, it was refreshing to open The Tablet (weekly UK Catholic magazine) and find a review of “Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel”.

Edmund White has written a short biography of the French poet who, it turns out, was a Catholic; or an “improbable” one, if you go by Hilary Davies’ review. It is hardly surprising that Rimbaud was a Catholic. In mid 19th century France, most people would have been. And it is also nothing new that a homosexual poet would have a religious affinity.

What made me smile was the last paragraph is Davies’ review:

“There are times when private passions should remain just that. This is a quite unnecessary book.”

The rest of Davies’ review preceding this paragraph is a robust critique which seemingly displays a thorough knowledge of Rimbaud’s poetry, as well as his older lover Verlaine’s, alongside what appears to be an informed opinion about better biographies to read on Rimbaud.

Clearly, some passions are not so easily satiated!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dans Le Monde Du Pape

Anyone who has ever fallen in love with an illusion will have great sympathy with the anonymous young writer in the film, Dans La Ville de Sylvia, as he walks around Strasbourg consumed by the projection of his muse. Because he (the actor Xavier Lafitte) is beautiful, and his fantasy harmful towards no one but himself, the sensitive artist is easily forgiven.

The Pope, however, is not.

Today’s papers are full of reports about how Pope Benedict XVI has announced that condoms are not the answer to Africa’s fight against HIV and Aids.

Speaking to journalists on his flight to Cameroon, the Pontiff said the condition was, "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone; that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

I wish it were an illusion that this man’s belief in a misogynistic, homophobic and sadistic God could not affect the lives of so many Christians across the world. According to a report in today’s Guardian, 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to be infected by the disease. Past BBC reports say that there are 143 million Catholics in Africa.

If I didn’t know there were outreach programmes in Africa spreading the right message about HIV and Aids prevention, including Christian outreach programmes, my despair would be a lot greater.

The final scene in Dans La Ville de Sylvia shows how successful the director, Jose Luis Guerin, has been in transferring the artist's projection on to the viewer. The camera holds still showing a shot of a street in Strasbourg. People walk in and out of the frame and, while Xavier remains out of it, there is a palpable lightness of being. I sat there bracing myself for Xavier’s entrance and for, what by this point has become, the heaviness of his desire.

But he doesn’t come.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Swimming Champions

Woo hoo! Well done to Beijing Olympics double gold-medallist, Rebecca Addlington, and fellow British champion swimmer, Jo Jackson, for smashing the world record for the 400 metres freestyle at the British Swimming Championships last night. Jackson beat Adlington by 0.13 of a second, clocking 4:00.66 sec at Ponds Forge in Sheffield, but both swam under Adlington’s Beijing world record. I hope Adlington qualifies for the World Swimming Championships in Rome!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Equality Politics

The Guardian reports today that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission formed 18 months ago will tell the Government that the economy is too fragile to impose pay reviews on business despite the fact that women’s pay is on average 17 per cent less than men’s and the gap is increasing.

Meanwhile, in today's The Telegraph, we learn from a front page report that MEPs are still allowed to refer to “waiter” and “waitress” because no gender-neutral term has been successfully proposed and that there is no male version of “midwives”. Well done. Now that they have got that straight, maybe they can tell the UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission a thing or two about something that matters a lot more.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Jose Mourinho

The best thing about Internazionale coach, Jose Mourinho, becoming the subject of a police investigation is that we get to see brooding pictures of him all over the papers.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Brian Haw - The Parliament Protester

I've got to hand it to hand it to Brian Haw.

This morning (Wednesday), I walked passed his peace camp outside Parliament where he has been sleeping out in the wind and rain for the past eight years. Hobbling along on crutches, he stopped in front of his latest protest banner and straigtened out a fold in the canvus with the bottom of his right crutch. Satisfied, he stood back and read the banner for what I imagine must have been the thousandth time. Then he hobbled on.

When I walked passed the camp again in the afternoon, a posse had gathered. I crossed over to speak to Brian just as he got up from his deckchair to wander over the road. I reached him by the traffic lights. I couldn't believe how much his face had changed. He has grown a big, grey beard, but it doesn't hide his gaunt cheeks, razor sharp bones and all-round emanciated look.

"What have you done to you legs?" I asked him.
"What makes you think I did anything to them?" he said. His voice was quieter than when I last spoke to him over the phone a couple of years ago for a series of stories run in the Ilford Recorder (his early years were spent in Clayhall), but it hadn't lost any of the fire.
"You are using crutches," I pointed out.
"It was the police," he said. "They beat me up last May." He told me a bit of the story and his trouble with the hospital.
"You look hungry," I blurted out. "Are you going to get something to eat?"
"I'm ok," he said and smiled. His eyes looked like he meant it.
"Ok," I said, winked, and went away.

I remember what he told me when I first ever spoke to him for a story that made the splash in the Ilford Recorder back in 2006. He said he would die protesting in front of Parliament. Now I think I believe him.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Myersons' Muse

Writers Julie and Jonathan Myerson splashing their son’s troubles all over the nationals to promote their work reminds me of one of the most haunting tales of mother/child animosity. When I first came across psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, I was fascinated by her work. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the price she paid for using her kids as copy. When Melanie Klein was buried in 1960, her daughter Melitta Schmideberg was across town delivering a lecture wearing brilliantly bright red boots, "perhaps the better to dance on her mother’s grave", it is said.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Plane Stupid

This has to be the most suave and dexterous act of “egg-on-your-face” type protest I have ever seen. (Ok, I haven’t seen so many.)

It is amazing this Plane Stupid protester was able to get so close to Lord Mandelson and walk calmly away as if she were Anna Chancellor making a cool and collected stage exit. Third runway at Heathrow protester, Leila Deen, was then given airtime on the BBC during which she eloquently made her case. What a stunt. No agro, no arrest and loads of airtime. It is amazing that she didn’t get arrested! People have been arrested for much less!

To top it all off, Gordon Brown even made light of the incident:

Clearly, a much better PR ploy than holding up budget airline passengers at Stansted.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Should Children Think Like Terrorists?

A year ago, I had a conversation with an acquaintance about suicide bombers. She told me that she had never understood suicide bombers until she saw the film Paradise Now. I subsequently watched the film myself, partly to see what was so persuasive, but it made me angrier against suicide bombers, not more sympathetic.

When I learned early last week that the government had withdrawn a teaching pack, which encouraged children to put themselves in the position of 7/7 suicide bombers, my immediate reaction was that ministers had made the right decision.

In my history lessons at school, I was never taught about the Nazis in this way. One drama teacher who encouraged pupils to explore themes around the Holocaust caused a stir and the exploration was brought to an abrupt end by other outraged teachers at my school. I imagine it is scenarios like this that caused the Department for Children, Schools and Families to think again.

"While the resource in no way looks to justify or excuse the terrible events of 7/7, and is designed to educate against violent extremism, we appreciate that it may not be appropriate for use in schools," a DCSF spokesman said.
"It's important that young people discuss these difficult and controversial issues in a controlled environment but, in this case, ministers apologise for any offence caused."

The Daily Telegraph quoted Jacqui Putnam, who survived the Edgeware bomb on July 7.

"I can't see why anyone would think it is a valuable exercise to encourage children to put themselves in the position of men who treated people in such an inhuman way," she said.
"To encourage children to see the world in that way is a dangerous thing. Surely, there must be a better way of achieving their objective?"

Another strong point was made by Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons terrorism subcommittee, who said: "How useful is it to pretend to be a suicide bomber if it defeats the object of the lesson?"

I agree. The packs were designed for children as young as 11 and, at that age, a clear and simple message about terrorism should be driven home.

I would hope that ultimately the aim would be for anyone who saw a film like Paradise Now to feel rage and sadness that suicide bombing is the last option the disaffected have.