(Gay) Identity and Future

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Cannot be denied
About this blog
This is my first blog. It's a mixture of weblog and journal, with postings about my life as a gay man, and gay issues I care about. The idea is to talk about my own identity, and about what "gay identity" is now - and is becoming.

The relationship between gay sexual feelings, gay sex, and the rest of life, has always been one of tension and conflict -- within individuals and between gay people. The places where these differences show most acutely are in views and decisions about "coming out" and "equal rights". But what it is to be gay, and what it means to live openly as a gay person, have changed. They're enormously more varied. And so the meanings of "coming out" and "equality" have changed too.


John Adams (#)
Thomas Ades (#)
Julian Anderson (1 2)
Harrison Birtwistle (#)
Hans Werner Henze (#)
Magnus Lindberg (1 2)
Colin Matthews (#)
Peter Maxwell Davies (#)
Thea Musgrave (1 2)
Esa Pekka Salonen (1 2)
Kaija Saariaho (1 2 3)
Mark Anthony Turnage (#)

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February 28, 2003

(1) What would blogging be without novelty? I've been much taken with Lubin's blog Trash Addict: the photos from the waxworks are trouser-wettingly funny, while this incredibly sexy still from Footballers' Wives that he posted deserves a caption -- any suggestions? (2) I've really been enjoying Nixon's new blog Popdizzy, with its mix of humour, homestyle and true grit. (3) Quite a few of us have met Toby in a previous incarnation, but his Vividblurry is as fresh as... well, as a used condom, but so what? (4) After my seminal excursion to Barcelona, it's intriguing to read Nessun dorma... Today Edd is wondering how he is to know whether or not a hot young stud is gay. Funnily enough, I had the same problem 25 years ago. Plus ça change.


Photos of bishop in robes, Richard Wagner in artists capHow many gay men didn't dress up in mummy's clothes when they were little? There must be a few, I suppose. But what about other dressing up? When I was a little boy I was so taken with bishops that I made myself a mitre from cardboard, and painted it in brilliant colours with enamel paint. Then I put on my father's dressing gown and walked round the house holding an antique walking stick high in the air for a crook. I got hours of fun doing this, but never had the slightest interest in any theological, sacramental, sacerdotal or transcendental matters, nor expressed any wish to follow an ecclesiastical career.

When I was a bit older I became quite infactuated with the music and life of Richard Wagner... records, performances, musical scores, biographies, anything. I was particularly taken with the great composer's fondness for soft, sensual fabrics (like velvet, silk and satin), and the artist's cap that he wore, and which figured in many of his portraits (and at the end of his life, photo-graphs). I pestered my mother to make me one to wear at home. Eventually, for my birthday, I got one, made of wonderful orange velvet and lined with satin. I think I still have it somewhere. I've remained much more interested in Wagner's music than in the higher reaches of the church hierarchy, but I never really thought that my future lay in music. I just thought the cap looked cool and enabled me to fantasise about all kinds of things. Of course, I was an only child.

What did other bloggers dress up as when they were children? Any other bishops or Wagners, I wonder.

February 27, 2003

Following the disaster with Enetation I have decided to restore my old commenting system. I'm sorry for the consequent loss of comments (if any) posted on the old facility. Also, apologies in advance for the occasions on which YACCS is, inevitably, going to be down -- when it is, I hope it doesn't prevent access to the blog.

"How could anyone fully enjoy sex when he has up to 15 years of encrusted fecal matter and mucus in his colon?"

Photos of pseudo squatting, above, and squatting, belowThis item reporting an extreme case of enema eroticisation (thanks to Toby) reminded me of the colonic irrigation holiday where they "order around 70-odd gallons of coffee and vinegar, lemon or garlic solution to be squirted up the anus"

The need for such treatments might stem from the Western habit of sitting, rather than squatting on the loo -- which, apparently, is responsible for most human disease (see: The Seven Advantages of Squatting. The only solution is Nature's Platform (lower photo), especially if you keep in mind that "sitting with your feet elevated is not squatting - footstools only allow a person to pretend to squat" (upper photo: "psuedo-squatting"). Any photographic evidence from readers of "Here Inside" with respect to these claims would be very welcome, and will be displayed in a special gallery.

Meanwhile, the remarkable Teresa Nielsen Hayden reports that "a Norwegian driver has been hit by a 770-pound flying moose. There’s no photo of this event, but really, you wouldn’t want one; moose infallibly void their bowels during collisions"; but today's hard copy Times does carry a photo of the vet who, attempting to inspect a farm that had been reported for cruelty, was sprayed all over with slurry by the hostile farmer concerned -- he is well covered.


It is a long time since I read -- even in the Guardian -- anything as spiteful as this attack on yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, and on all of our efforts to make our lives, and the lives of those we love, a little better. The author, Dea Birkett, distills the bile of human meanness and squirts it at everyone's hopes. She longs to pull down and ruin what people achieve for themselves, and force them into dependence on the incompetent, bureaucratic whims of the social security state. What is so depressing about this article is that it offers no hope or prospect of individual relief from adversity. It seeks only to destroy, blame, demand. What a vision! I nominate it for this year's "Soviet Union Notalgia Prize". Why on earth did the Guardian see fit to publish it?

February 25, 2003

Explaining her destruction of a large snow sculpture of an erect phallus with life-like veins, urethral bulge, and a sizeable scrotum, Amy Keel wrote that
this object... was incredibly offensive to me. No one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent. The unwanted image of an erect penis is an implied threat -- it means that we, as women, must be subject to erect penises whether we like it or not.
Such ideas will be familiar to anyone who has come across the work of Andrea Dworkin or Catherine McKinnon (author of such articles as "Rape, Genocide and Women's Human Rights" in the Harvard Women's Law Journal) -- but I couldn't help wondering just how everyone could indeed give their express permission and consent to view any object. It would need only one person to find it offensive, and it could no longer remain on display. (Links thanks to Dean, whose blog is a cylinder of fresh air in the cyberhighway smog).

Which, by no more than a tangential connection, made me think of my trip to the supermarket an hour ago to do some lunch-time shopping. Turning an aisle I bumped baskets [!] with a young man who said "sorry" promptly and in the most charming and solicitous fashion. It quite restored my mood. Politeness, courtesy and civility, with or without the socially assured verneer of charm, have a profoundly beneficial effect on the sensibilities of everyone involved.


A report in todays's Guardian Education looks at the financial problems gay students who come out to their parents can face. If parents refuse to pay assessed support there's not a lot any student can do about it, but some of the few avenues that are open to heterosexual students are closed to gay ones. The article commented that the change to post-graduation loan repayment proposed in the recent HE White Paper would be a considerable improvement as (setting aside the question of the actual level of fees) students would at least be able to pursue their studies without debt hanging over their heads, and provided they did the work, earn a degree.

But I also think it's time gay people began to make more provision to help one another. More and more young gay men and women feel secure and positive in their identities, and are open about it. In my late teens at high school in the mid-1970s I never met anyone else of the same age who was openly gay. Even when I went to university there were precious few of us in the Gay Soc. 25 years of campaigning, openness and growing social diversity have changed that. The revolution can be tasted in blogs like Toby's, Ryan's, Rob's, Simon's, Daniel's, Bart's, Kyle's or Christopher's and then just follow all the links from the sidebars. But we need to start to provide hard resources, so that when young gay people get cut off by their parents, there are, if they want to take advantage of them, bursaries, loans, jobs, discounts, professional advice all available. It would be a good place to start before we make a lot of fuss about adopting little children.


I know people who are opposed to any war on Iraq must be feeling the same. I am angry, frustrated and depressed at all the talk, and especially all the news coverage. I feel increasingly divided from fellow bloggers, especially gay ones, and think it would be best to keep quiet. Then I get even more angry, and I need to say what I think.

I have always believed that nothing can be achieved with Saddam unless there is a thoroughly credible threat of armed intervention. I feel just as strongly that if all the people who turned out to protest against President Bush had protested against Saddam, and demanded his removal, it would have occurred without war, and so I believe that the protests against Bush and Blair have made war inevitable. I look at the leadership of the Stop the War campaign and can see only Trotskyites, Old Labour, CND-pacifists and Moslems. In the 1960s, '70s and '80s the first three would have delivered us into the hands of the Soviet Union. They refused to believe the USSR was a danger to the world and a evil abomination on the backs of the Russian people. They preferred Communist dictatorship to freedom, and they tried to destroy freedom -- and I cannot forgive them. Their latest attempt to destroy our own society (and just read what they are planning next!) makes my blood boil.

I look at the Muslim Association of Britain, who co-led the London march. It was because of them that the march had two official slogans -- "No War in Iraq" and "Freedom for Palestine". Did all those people endorse both slogans? Did they know or care what they were supporting? Freedom for Palestine. We know what that means. It means suicide bombing and killing Israelis. Bastards.

I look at the hypocritical, dangerous, calculating actions of Jacques Chirac, who leads a country deeply compromised by its investments in Saddam's Iraq, who licks deep into Mugabe's arse, and wonder why people trust such a hollow bastard and so mistrust Bush, why they are silent about all the help Chirac is giving Saddam -- in their name. I wonder over and over what those who oppose Bush and Blair think should happen -- or if they believe Saddam can just be left to get on with doing whatever he wants. France and Germany say more arms inspectors, more time. While US/UK forces sit by in the Gulf to enforce it and underwrite it, I suppose? Like fuck. How long is that supposed to go on? For ever? Or will France and Germany enforce their UN inspectors and peace keepers (that Saddam would never let in anyway)? What will they do if he refuses to comply? Bomb him with French bombs? Are they alright? Only American bombs are bad?

Worst of all is the endless speculative shit that pours from the self-righteous journalist know-alls. The ones who spent all their time reporting on the imminent famine in Afghanistan, that never happened. The ones who predicted the Muslim world would rise up when the US bombed Afghanistan -- only it didn't. The ones who now go on and on about the effect of war on food distribution by the Iraqi bureaucracy and the importance of power stations. What the fuck do they know? Why not stick to reporting facts, instead of making up fantasies and speculation -- such as the likely casualty figures.

What, most of all, I want is the promise from everyone who is protesting now that if the war happens, and it turns out much better than they predicted, will there be a mass march to say "I'm Sorry"? If the invading forces discover loads of weapons of mass destruction, will there be an outpouring of apologies for having put the world in such danger? If Iraqis celebrate their liberation, will the anti-war protesters write to them saying they should never have doubted it? Or is it OK to fuck with the world's future and bear no responsibility if you're wrong?


I know I really shouldn't laugh. I shouldn't. But I couldn't help it. Saddam's LiveJournal is just too much. (via vividblurry)


Photo of Maltings Concert Hall, Snape, AldeburghThis year's Aldeburgh Festival opens with two performances of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana. I hadn't any idea how deep the musical argument of this rarely heard opera was till I saw the outstanding Opera North production of a few years ago in Leeds. It's a grim portrait of physical decay, political intrigue and jealousy united in passionate ambition and superficial romance. No wonder QEII was not at all pleased with it. We've sent off for tickets, but it's likely that it will sell out to the the advance booking groups. But at least as it is Richard Hickox who'll be conducting, and he is bringing out all the Britten operas on CD, a recording should follow fairly soon.

February 24, 2003

Picture of boxing hares

March is the month for these beautiful creatures to leap and bound. Let's hope that it really isn't long now before the vicious cruelty of hare coursing is ended for good in England and Wales.

February 23, 2003

Today's Observer is full of excellent items. William Shawcross deals with conviction and authority with the heart of the problem: Saddam's regime:
    The worldwide opposition to the US/UK use of force may have convinced Saddam that tactics can get him off the hook again. The inspectors may find some banned materials, by luck, perseverance and good intelligence - and because Saddam has made cunning tactical concessions. They will never find the bulk of the illegal weapons. But that is not their job. That is to monitor his voluntary disarmament..
It amazed me that people who marched were not more careful to check out the history, goals and supporters of Stop the War, and the role in it of the Trotskyite Socialist Alliance:
    Many thanks to all the comrades who helped make up and distribute 1,200 Socialist Alliance placards before and during the biggest political demo ever seen in Britain. Socialist Alliance members and supporters played a very important role in booking transport, building the demo and making it the outstanding success it was. We also need to be raising the issue of anti-war activists joining the Socialist Alliance and supporting our candidates in the forthcoming local elections. We will be producing more material in anticipation of war being launched. Already we have spent a huge amount of money promoting the anti-war message. As a result we are setting up a Socialist Alliance war fund to help us to continue to produce material. (Socialist Alliance Bulletin February 19, 2003)
Socialist Alliance has been exploiting people's anxiety since October 2001 when it opposed any military action in Afghanistan. They have in turn brought in reactionary Muslim groups, as Nick Cohen shows:
    What is the Left offering Iraq? It has no strategy other than the continuation of a brutal status quo. It can't support the Iraqi democrats because they say Saddam can only be overthrown by violence. It can't support the Iraqi Kurds because they agree. It has been reduced to allying with religious bigots.
A look at the Muslim Association of Britain website quickly reveals that it is not Iraq -- its objective is the destruction of Israel and the claims of Palestinians:
    The Muslim Association of Britain in Association with Stop the War Coalition organised a national demonstration entitled 'Don't Attack Iraq and Freedom for Palestine'. More than two million people converged on the centre of London to cheer two slogans: "Don't attack Iraq" and "Freedom for Palestine".
An Observer special report on Saddam showed again that this is not a rational individual: the idea that he could be truthful and reliable in relations with the UN or anyone else is absurd. It is a terrible responsibility to have brought any succour to this utterly evil tyrant, yet
    we know that he watches television and the opposition to the war seems to have bolstered his determination to keep stringing the world along. He still thinks he can play the game and outwit the world.
Jonathan Freedland, a strong supporter of the anti-war movement, in a cringe-makingly guilty article, is forced to acknowledge the failure of the march:
    Tony Benn's patsy interview with the dictator was a terrible error, while aspects of Saturday's rally hardly helped. Few speakers paid more than lip service to Saddam's crimes; indeed, most seemed to regard George Bush as by far the more evil despot. Tariq Ali suggested regime change was needed in Britain more than it was in Iraq, while the official banners told their own story. "Don't Attack Iraq," they shouted, above a second line, "Freedom for Palestine." Why was that not "Freedom for Iraqis"?
Indeed -- what would the peace movement do, apart from leave Saddam in place. What would they do to deal with the very real threat posed by the fact that Saddam has never given up his intention of acquiring and using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, irrespective of how many he has now? Freedand's ineffectual attempt at answering this question made all the clearer that the Stop the War movement isn't about Iraq. As its organisers long ago decided, its purpose is to fight the United States and destroy Israel. And who better to do that than Saddam?


Following my introduction to one of the members of the Welsh Assembly, I was amused to see that 18 (a full 30%) of the 60 members share the same three surnames. I wonder if anyone can guess which three names and how many there are of each. (Clue: The third of the Welsh names is also the fourth most common French surname.)

Pic of Self-Portrait by Max BeckmannGREAT HERESIES I: TATE MODERN

It's virtually a capital offence to say so, but I've never liked Tate Modern. I hate the great empty spaces and brutalised post-modern directionlessness and I think it's particularly stupid to slice off British art (as Gilbert and George said). All the same, I'm eager to see the Max Beckmann exhibit that has received so much publicity and commentary. People talk about Beckmann as if the absolutely magnificent exhibition of German Art of the 20th Century at the RA in 1985 never happened -- those who do remember it will expect the Tate Modern show to be pretty damn good.

Meanwhile Days Like These opens on Wednesday at Tate Britain, an overview of what's what and what's happening in British Art, spread throughout the whole building. Among the artists represented are the wonderful Rachel Whiteread, with a cast of a whole apartment, and one of a staircase. And a film exhibit by Nick Relph and Oliver Payne, whose work is banal, artless and self-indulgent in the extreme, but has a subject dear to any English humourist, libertarian or political commentator: public lavatories.

February 22, 2003

Picture of Welsh Asemblyman David Davis surfing in South AfricaYesterday we went down to to a birthday dinner for my Welsh composer friend G. There was a remarkable mix of people - family, muscial colleagues, opera singers, recording engineers, church people, local friends, gay friends, parents of gay friends. It was all very friendly and everyone made new friends and acquaintances. Among those I found myself chatting to was a young man called David Davies, the only directly elected Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly (a few more Conservatives have regional seats through the PR system), who has represented Monmouth since 1999. He could have come from another planet to the national party, whichever side of the latest infighting you look at. David was completely relaxed, chatting about every topic under the sun, getting on happily with gay couples (and their parents). He's 32 and an experienced surfer, went to the local comprehensive, then spent a few years doing some tough manual jobs in Australia and the US, before returning to help run a family transport business. He learned Welsh and has probably learned some Magyar as he has a Hungarian girlfriend. How funny that he should be one of the only voices of Conservatism in Welsh politics -- while the absolutely gruesome Ron Davis continues his efforts to lead it for Labour.

February 19, 2003

Detail of photo from London Peace March: (c) not-so-soft.comsu(si)e complained here that the war issue was intolerably polarised. Jonno and Lubin express unhappiness at the "all or nothing" way things are defined. They are all right to say that there is a lack of complexity, indeed of reality, to the way in which the issues are posed. I think that's largely the responsibility of the anti-war movement leadership. They have mobilised millions with gross hate-figures and facile empty slogans, that simply bear no relation to the individuals, policies and ideas that interact in complex political systems like those in the USA or the UK.

If we are to progress beyond "War is silly" (and we're surely not going to be surprised if Tony Blair fails to respond to that message) we need to be prepared to examine seriously the ideas which underpin Anglo-American foreign policy. Two articles in this week's New Yorker do so with admirtable clarity and precision. Nicholas Lemann, an out-standingly thorough and insightful current affairs author and journalist, examines the ideas and goals of leading members of the Bush administration in "After Iraq", and discusses the article and recent developments in "Marching Forward". (He follows up themes from his excellent article in the Sept 2002 New Yorker "The War on What?"). Lemann highlights the importance of Fouad Ajami's article "Iraq and the Arabs' Future" in the Jan/Feb 2003 edition of Foreign Affairs, which gives a first-hand feel of the positive vision that Lemann introduces.

Lack of plans for a post-war Iraq has been one of the main criticisms of "moderate" opponents of war. Winning the Peace: Managing a Successful Transition in Iraq [pdf download] an Atlantic Council Policy Paper issued last month shows how many of the issues involved are seen.

Anyone who really does believe that President George W Bush is a monster to be compared with Hitler needs urgent medical intervention. But if someone wants to get beyond such rhetorical road-blocks (and all the other futile denigration that crowds out information) and make mature judgements about the President's political personality and policies "The Real George Bush" by David Frum, in the current edition of Atantic Monthly, is a good place to start.

Having just posted the above I went over to Chris Bertram's blog and found these two posts [#1 #2] that are simply superb. I would only add that, on the basis of Saddam's recent record, the likelihood of achieving any containment without maintaining 250,000 US in the Gulf is (as Chris Patten of all people said this morning on Radio 4) slim. And a military presence of that size is not feasible, affordable or available.

February 18, 2003

Today's Guardian is full of people who are going off their heads. George Monbiot whose biography lists a string of academic positions and honours, publishes this article, which apart from being thick with factual errors from beginning to end, is completely senseless drivel. He needs a long rest away from crowds.

Then Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, writes this letter:
Please commission an opinion poll asking the electorate the following simple question - which would you prefer: regime change in Baghdad, or regime change in Washington?
This is insane. Professor Dawkins thinks people should be asked if they prefer a despotic police state that tortures and murders at will to a pluralist elective democracy governed by a system of laws? Or is he saying, would people prefer to see a different US president, or replace Saddam Hussein? Please, please let none of the Iraqi people ever learn that even a demented Oxford professor could suggest such a choice.

Elsewhere in the paper amnesia reigned. More than 15 articles and a leader pronounced London's congestion charging a spectacular success on the basis of its first day. But all bar one forgot that it is school half term. That item, trumpeting a fall of 25% in central London traffic, fleetingly remembered that the "usual drop" was "10% to 15% for half-term week". It's actually more like 20-25%. And everyone forgot to look at other cities. What was their half-term traffic like yesterday?


What a great leader the European Anti-American movement has found in Jacques Chirac. While his "peace" marchers excoriate President Bush as an oil-thirsty imperialist murderer, Chirac has deployed 3,000 French troops in the former French colony of Ivory Coast -- the world's leading cocoa producer and main trading centre in West Africa.

Chirac is backing President Laurent Gbagbo, who took power in a coup that, according to yesterday's Independent, France approved, and subsequently had himself confirmed by "elections". Since September there have been thousands of killings in the country, and mass graves have been discovered. Human rights groups say President Gbagbo's troops are responsible. Anyone protesting?

February 16, 2003

Image and link to Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, Support Democracy in IraqIraq is a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics,* headed by Saddam Hussein, the father of all criminal lunatics, a genocidal butcher and gangster. As long as he holds power he will be a threat to people across the whole world, and a curse on the Iraqi people. The prospect of a war on Saddam would not arise if he was forced out by world opinion. Huge protest marches should be demanding that Saddam must go.

Instead there has been a huge march in London to support Saddam and demand his regime is secured. No slogans denounced the genocidal butcher, or demanded that his rule of murder and torture be ended. Sadly, instead, a sea of banners called on people to "Make Tea Not War". So it is all the more important that there be a Campaign for Democracy and Human Rights in Iraq. Click on the logo above to Support Democracy in Iraq -- to read statements by leaders of opposition to Saddam, in exile and inside Iraq, and to follow links to Iraqi opposition groups. They, not Saddam, deserve support.

*I must acknowledge the origin of the phrase "a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics". It was used at the protest march in London yesterday by Harold Pinter to describe not Iraq, but the USA.

February 15, 2003

Well, bloggers certainly take Valentine’s Day to their hearts. They're bound to -- many of them are young, young and romantic; and for gay bloggers its another chance to talk sex and boyfriends, and make cynical dirty jokes.

For me it all triggered again memories that have recurred from time to time throughout my life, and which always leave me wondering what would have happened if a small event (or non-event) in my teenage years had turned out differently.


I recognised my own homosexuality quite early. By the time I was 15 in 1972 I had not only put a name to the sexual feelings (which I remembered having had since I was quite small) but I had read quite a lot about it. The serious literature about homosexuality at that time was dominated by Freudian theory; less technical writing and journalism simply expressed prejudice, and seemed always to find an opportunity to reinforce the fact that despite the recent liberalisation of the law, homosexual acts were still illegal if they involved a man under the age of 21.

Freudian and other psychological theories of homosexuality failed to convince me. They neither described my own experience, nor survived my serious critical attention. I remain rather proud of myself for never having found them the least bit convincing or impressive, despite their scientific claims and widespread acceptance. Indeed, I thought them perfectly ridiculous. I didn't find "sickness" at all an attractive alternative to sin or criminality, and I resented the label of inferiority. I've no idea how, but I had decided that being homosexual was perfectly normal and no reason for shame. The law I stood more in awe of. I had no desire at all to have sex in a public toilet, the act from which the majority of prosecutions arose. But I saw that almost anything involving me, a 15 year old, would make both partners vulnerable, and I was very wary.

It was the atmosphere at my school, and the attitudes of my schoolmates, that concerned me most. Unceasing vilification of homosexuality was the backdrop of almost everything we said or did outside lessons, and accusations of homosexuality that were rained down on anyone who happened to display the least deviation from an absurd code of behavioural normality. So absolutely saturated was our schoolboy life in "poofter" and "queer" that absolutely no one escaped being taunted, and no one abstained from taunting. For the most part it was quite light-hearted, and neither accusers nor accused took it very seriously. Indeed, it allowed everyone to proclaim their non-homosexuality by persecuting its spectre and denying its taint. But what was very clear to me was that if anyone was actually found to be homosexual (through an unguarded comment, or worst of all, a botched sexual advance) his life would become hell.

I knew I could only put up with this for so long, but that I had to guard my future. From my reading I knew that there existed gay places and organisations (though they were primitive and tiny by comparison with today) where I could meet gay people. I decided that as soon as I had successfully passed my 'O' level examinations, I would make contact with other homosexuals in nearby cities and London. The 'O' levels, guarantee of reason-ably good employment would be mine whatever happened, and if things cut up rough at school and/or home, I would be able to get a job and support myself. I just had to make it through to the Summer after my sixteenth birthday.

These calculations addressed my sexual self-awareness, and urgent sexual desire, but did nothing to assuage my longing not for sex, but for a boyfriend -- someone my own age. All my schoolfriends were acquiring girlfriends, usually from the girls' grammar school. At the Saturday parties which were becoming more and more common, my school-friends might meet a girl for the evening, and it was often the beginning of a longer association. Driven though they were by sexual attraction, these liaisons were intellectually lively and socially open, and they did not close me out. But all this served to intensify my yearnings, self-indulgent separateness, and a premonition that the inestimable pleasure of youthful romance would pass me by.

I carried on going, increasingly miserably, to the now regular parties, and usually quickly got hammered -- a preference for alcohol over the pursuit of girls was not incomprehensible to my school-mates. But one Saturday I found myself facing the decision I had resolved I would avoid at all cost until that 'O' levels certificate was mine.

I had gone to fetch something from the small bedroom where coats and bags had been left, and I was just about to leave when N. -- a lad my age in the same class at school -- came in. We stood looking at one another. His bright short-sleeve shirt was unbuttoned down his chest, he was smiling, friendly, and made no attempt to explain his presence. With some comment about the party’s young host he squatted down in front of a small bookcase and began to scrutinise the shelves -- Had I read this? He pulled out a paperback and held it out. I squatted down in front of the bookcase myself to take a look. We were very close. Alone in the little room together, our knees and thighs touching, we could feel one another’s breath.


I'd wanted N. since I was in the first year, when we were eleven, and my desire for him had deepened as we'd progressed through the school. Blond and like me, quite tall, he was sleek and fit, determined and silent - a few boys were even afraid of him. He was like a machine in the gym, transgressing the code of masculinity at its "straight" extreme, earning him uncompre-hending jibes of "homo". I could not keep my eyes off his body, and I longed to touch the even, light brown skin that was stretched over the hard plates of muscle on his chest and the undulating ripples of his stomach. N. was certainly not the only one of my schoolmates after whom I lusted, nor even the most frequent subject of my masturbatory fantasies, but my attraction to him was intense.

A threat of physical violence seemed to hover around N., something unusual in our well-ordered, middle-class grammar school. He was easily provoked and everyone found him difficult to get on with. But there developed a specially hostile relation-ship between N. and me. So frustrated was I by the self-imposed block preventing me from expressing my attraction to him, that I argued with him regularly, ridiculed his inarticulateness, goaded him to lose control. He seemed pleased to respond and on one occasion gave me a violent thumping. Of course, this way there developed a bond of sorts between us: our class-mates noted and remarked the passion of our mutual hostility.

But recently our relations had warmed, entirely because N. had begun to make what could only be called friendly overtures. He had gone out of his way to joke with me, voice agreement, initiate conversation. I responded enthusiastically, signalling a willingness to get along with him. On both sides it was creaky and artificial, clearly intentional, chosen, without any discovery of shared interests. But that seemed to augment its significance: to me at any rate it suggested that some powerful factor, ignored our earlier disagreements, was operating, that might lead anywhere.

Had it led to this charged proximity? Our comments on the first book quickly concluded, he returned it to the shelf, and began to read out the titles from the spines - classic novels, popular science, travel. Every so often he took out a book, read out the cover, opened it at random and read a sentence or two or flicked through the pages, then handed it to me to examine. With our hands occupied, we balanced only by pressing our thighs tightly together. After taking and handing back a few more, I began to wonder how long this could go on -- there were plenty more books, and N. showed no sign of stopping. What was going on? Surely he wanted something to happen. Surely any moment he would rest a hand on my leg, and we would turn our heads and kiss. Was he just waiting for me to make the first move?

The fabric of N.’s trousers was stretched tight across his thigh. I could almost feel the soft blond hair on the back of his arm brushing against me. I began to lean forward to kiss him, then drew back. It was unbearable. I wanted N. so much, so wanted a boyfriend, yearned to break the tension of the moment. His leg was millimeters from my hand. Make that move and everything would flow. Then caution hauled me back. Perhaps he was just bored, socially inept, oblivious -- a sexual approach might mean a black eye or a broken nose; at the very least my cover would be blown, my homosexuality would immediately become public knowledge. What if someone came in?


Yet as the minutes at the bookcase passed it was not the fear of adverse consequences that held me back. As it became evident that any further movement would depend on me, I was stymied by collapsing self-confidence – something almost inevitable when you hide the very heart of your personality because it is so disliked; and no matter how much you dissent from the beliefs sustaining that social disapproval. How could I possibly be attractive as my real self? How could my body and personality be attractive when they didn’t match my secret feelings? Why would N., who played in the rugby First XV and the cricket First XI, who swam for the school, want me, who had no sporting talent and loathed games (for all the reasons that animated my hostile relationship with N.)? How could anyone as desireable as N. want anyone as undesireable as me? It was quite a few years before I discovered I was a good looking young man – and that I had been a good looking teenager – just as good looking as N. I had had no reason to feel the way I did.

The opportunity that had seemed so exciting but dangerous became irrelevant. Eventually, reluctantly, I stood up. I had to get back to the party, I said. I stood back a few steps. I wanted a drink, I added. I turned and left the room. We didn’t see one another much for the rest of the evening, and nothing ever threw us together again. Though our relations remained quite cordial, they did not develop. I continued to watch N. on the sports field and slip into hard, erotic fantasies, but I saw him less and less as we went through the VIth Form. We went on to different universities, and I haven’t ever seen him again. (Nor has he yet registered on Friends Reunited!)

This tiny non-event immediately became a turning point in my emotional life. My regret and disappointment in the days that followed were intense. I turned out to have accurately sensed the possibilities of my circumstances: I never did have a boyfriend my own age. I followed my post-‘O’ level strategy, and in the Summer began to go to gay places and contact gay organisations. In 1974 gay life was closer in many ways to the 1950s than the 1980s – assertiveness and openness were still at a pioneering stage. But I met men in their early 20s who excited me, and I had sex with them, and had affairs with a few of them. It all led to some difficult times, but I didn’t end up having to leave home and school and go out to work. But it was a demanding path of personal development, one which lacked many of the things young heterosexuals took for granted and which I longed for.

I wonder how different my life would have been had my hand made contact with N. that night. Would he have met my eyes and my lips with his? If he had, what then? Would we have become boyfriends? If we had, how would we have managed our dual lives at school, at home? How would we have accomm-odated our experience and ideas of what it means to be gay, and how that should be expressed in the way one lives one's life? Whether in attitudes or opinions or political views the potential for conflict between gay people (no matter how close they are) over these "social questions" is still great, and was greater then. They are, after all, so closely conditioned by self-esteem.

I would love to meet N. now and ask him about that night. Would he even remember it? It would lay to rest so much self-indulgent regret. Then again, perhaps it would be better never to know.


February 13, 2003

Asserting universal moral and legal supremacy, Belgium has declared that it can try Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he leaves office, and former General Amos Yaron now, on charges of genocide. What an extraordinary recovery in the competence and integrity of Belgium's judicial leaders there must have been since this time one year ago, when 70% of Belgians said they had no confidence in the criminal justice system. Of course, it presents fewer administrative and forensic difficulties, requires no high-level cover-ups, and involves no extensive web of corruption, to indict someone for supposed crimes committed as a public official of another country, than having to arrest and try a child mass-murderer in one's own. So much easier, too, for Belgium to help foul up NATO -- it all makes me think of that wonderful 1970 Monty Python sketch "Prejudice". But what is the most practical means of dealing with all these problems? Well, perhaps a start could be made by giving Israel permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council.


Serious Culture
Context Project - the core activity is the context weblog - a log of our techno times, a weblog of emerging culture: information on arts, science, technology, and their intersections.
Portage is an intetesting culture blog, with really good sidebar links (via Junius)
Gay Paintings by Raphael Perez -- single-sex families, pride parades, soldiers, male birth giving, portraits, male nudity, homosexual relationships and love as they are expressed in everyday life.
Letters of Van Gogh: Complete and cross-referenced.

Frivolous Society
Thailand launches 'bust-boosting' exercises. The authorities in Thailand have launched a campaign to encourage women to enlarge their breasts through exercises rather than plastic surgery (via Metafilter)
The Bathhouse Diaries A 32-year-old gay Asian man's journal/weblog of experiences and encounters in a gay bathhouse over the last ten years.
The Detroit Project from Americans for Fuel-efficient Cars is unintentionally hilarious; Capital Steps tries (successfully) to amuse with songs like "God Bless my S.U.V." [mp3 download]
Raymi the Minx - the all-time filthiest weblog. For pure foul-mouthed obscenity Raymi's Guide to Public Washrooms is unequalled -- except perhaps by her How to be a Small Town Slut (both are published in Rocketpack).

February 12, 2003

We've got tickets for The Handmaid's Tale by Poul Ruders at ENO in April. The music received outstanding reviews at its first performances in Copenhagen in 2000, and subsequently in Minnesota; and (pretty unusually for a new opera) it got a recording, which attracted international prizes and nominations. All the same, I don't have a lot of time for self-righteous "committed" art, least of all in music (Turnage's Twice through the Heart is absolutely ghastly) and I wonder how the central issues of reproduction and the integrity of the body-person will play out on the operatic stage.

I am encouraged by the fact that the Booker-prize nominated novel which Ruders chose as the subject of his opera, already a film directed by Volker Schlondorff, has been the subject of considerable critical attention; and that the dystopian-feminist story of a fundamentalist religious state (like earlier classics about religious-political intolerance in Cambridge, Mass.) is about individuals and not ideological abstractions, and so is capable of eliciting a variety of emotional-intellectual responses. After all, didn't La Traviata provide superb music for a subject not thought appropriate for the operatic stage of the time?

February 10, 2003

I found this quiz a real challenge, but quite entertaining. If you have a go, feel free to leave your score here --- I'll post my own result when someone beats me! (via Making Light)

February 07, 2003

Two photographs taken recently in my hometown in the rural Midlands.


I am rather bemused by all the apparent confidence in the United Nations. Do people have any idea just what kind of miraculous departure from the organisation's institutional structure and historic record would be necessary for the UN to be in any sense "impartial" or "reasoned" over Iraq?

The juncture of the First Gulf War with the disintegration of the Soviet system provided a brief and profoundly misleading moment of common rescourse to the UN. It occurred between the decades of deadlocked impotence of the Cold War, and was followed by shambolic fragmentation over the Balkans. The UN has only ever been relevant to events on the periphery of great power interests, and its occasional effectiveness has been limited to the work of its associated health and relief agencies. You only have to look at this analysis in the Guardian of the kind of calculations made by France to see that it is political manoeuvering on the basis on national interest that will determine the Security Council's deliberations (and lest anyone thought differently, the General Assembly will play no part).

Tony Blair is encouraging people to place confidence in another Security Council resolution because he believes that in the end the national interests of the French, Russians and Chinese will enable him to engineer one (with or without abstentions). Left-Liberal opponents of the War in all areas of public life are also talking up the UN, misleadingly inflating its moral and diplomatic power, portraying great power jostling as evidence of genuine opposition to war, and exploiting the arms inspections to obscure the fundamental policy issues at stake. The only country that has spoken honestly about its interests and intentions, does not indulge unrealistic perceptions of the UN or try to overload its processes, and is respectful of the basic objectives of the United Nations is, of course, the United States.

February 06, 2003

Map of Northern SardiniaWe have amazed ourselves. It is the best prepared we have ever been for our Summer holiday. The last two weeks of June on part of the North West coast of Sardinia - the red square marks the place - rather beguilingly called the Costa Paradiso. Reservations made - flights, accommodation, car hire. We are already looking at books about the beaches and wildlife - and hoping for sightings of moufflons (splendidly horned wild goats) and perhaps vultures. Anyone know the area?


I grew up with BBC Radio 3 (launched in 1946 as the Third Programme). I listened every day from around the age of 10. I don't quite know why. My parents certainly never listened to a single minute of the station. But in some special way it was "mine" and I loved it. I now realise I simpy soaked up vast amounts of "serious" music, from medieval times to the works of contemporary composers. Obscure operas (never performed or likely to be, but given studio recordings by the BBC) were a speciality.

Photo of MessiaenI remember sitting out in the garden in a deck chair on a warm Summer night, listening to the radio. It was 1970 and I was thirteen years old. Pierre Boulez, the new principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra had chosen a massive orchestral work, La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, completed the previous year by the (then) greatest living French composer Olivier Messiaen, with which to begin the year's Promenade Concerts, and it was being broadcast live. The announcer talked about great "pools" of colour (I particularly remember orange!) and the use of birdsong. I recall letting the great waves of sound wash over me as the evening darkened and insects began to swim in the air. I can't say I have retained any great love of Messiaen (except for his early works like the Quartet for the End of Time and the Turangalîla-Symphonie) but I will always have a soft spot for La Transfiguration

The Third Programme and Radio 3 had a reputation for obscure elitism. In 1946 the New Statesman competition one week asked for a (satirical) "typical" evening on the Third Programme. The winner had programmes starting with a mathematician reciting pi to the fist 2,000 places, followed by two hours of extracts from the Icelandic Sagas in the original language, and then the first of 49 programmes devoted to the string quartets of the lesser pupils of Spohr. It wasn't perhaps all that far from the truth, and Radio 3 when I started listening was only slightly less (deliciously) esoteric. But for several decades now there has been a minor kulturkampf over Radio 3, the "modernisers" insisting on greater "accessibility" and "relevance", advocates of "standards" and "artistic integrity" defending the status quo and bemoaning every change. The impact of Classic FM and greater emphasis on presentation have been denounced as intolerable "dumbing down", and if all you cared about was programming during the morning and evening rush-hours, there might be some truth in the criticism.

But the Radio 3 that I listened to as a boy is still there, almost unchanged, across many hours of broadcasting each day. It is still possible to soak up all the great works of the classical composers, hear great performers from historic archives and in live broadcasts from all over the world, acquire an under-standing of diverse and difficult trends in contemporary composition and hear many first performances, "attend" complete performances of operas and major works several times a week, discover medieval music played on "authentic" instruments... So here is a sample of real listening on Radio 3 next week. I can just see 10-year olds from one end of the country to the other tuning in.

Sat 8 Feb
10.45pm-1.00am Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) cond. Sir Simon Rattle
Johannes Maria Staud: Vielleicht Zunächst Wirklich Nur
Simon Holt: Boots of Lead (Ribbon of Time)
Usuk Chin: Acrostic Wordplay
Ligeti: Chamber Concerto

Sun 9 Feb
5.45-6.30pm The Gesar of Ling. Isabel Hilton travels to Qinghai Province in the northern side of the Tibetan plateau in search of one of the great epic poems of the world. The Gesar of Ling is an ancient Tibetan epic poem over a million lines long, which has been handed down by word of mouth among the Tibetan nomads for more than a millennium. Divine bards sing the heroic story in a state of trance and are still generating new episodes.

Mon 10 Feb
7.25-10.30pm Mozart: Die Zauberflöte, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. Live from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. An exploration of universal ideas of love, duty and freedom. The cast includes Diana Damrau (sop) as Queen of the Night and Simon Keenlyside (bar) as Papageno.

Tues 11 Feb
4.00-5.00pm Voices: The Songs of Poulenc Iain Burnside explores the legacy of one of the greatest French song composers. Performers include Pierre Bernac, Elly Ameling, Gilles Cachemaille, Ann Murray, Felicity Lott, Régine Crespin, Hugues Cuenod, and Francois le Roux.

Thur 13 Feb
7.30-9.30pm Monteverdi: L'Orfeo conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm. The cast includes two of Britain's young international stars, Ian Bostridge (ten) as Orfeo and Christopher Maltman (bar) singing the parts of Apollo and the Shepherd.
9.30-10.15pm Night Waves "The greatest mystery of all is reality." Philip Dodd and guests discuss an exhibition at London's Tate Modern of Max Beckmann, the German Expressionist whose canvases reflect his experience of two World Wars.

Fri 14 Feb
1.00-2.00pm Catherine Bott (sop) sings songs of love, longing and lament from thirteenth and fourteenth century Spain, France and Italy, accompanied by medieval fiddles.

Composer of the Week (M-F 9-10.00am) is Thomas Tallis

Picture of TurbonegroNORWEGIAN LEGENDS

Music Information Center (MIC) Norway on Monday reported that Norway's "undisputed kings of deathpunk", Turbonegro are back after a five year hiatus with the release of their Scandinavian Leather album. MIC continues:
    Few Scandinavian bands have achieved the same legendary status as Tubonegro. A string of legendary albums, equally legendary live-shows ... have secured a world-wide fanatical fan-base for Turbonegro. All over the world, fan bases gather in so-called Turbojugens – mimicking the band's homo-erotic, denim-clad appearance. The Turbojugend sub-culture includes bootleg swapping, fanatic fan-sites, uniform clothing, and total admiration. So far Turbojugend chapters can be found from Tromsø in the north of Norway to Santiago in Chile... Germany has proved to be one of Turbonegro's strongest territories. To the dismay of the Turbo-jugends, 1998 saw the band on a hiatus as internal dispute and less-than-fortunate drug-related events called for a halt to their Darkness Forever European tour. In the wake of the band's split... some of rock's biggest names contributed to produce the 2001 tribute album Alpha Motherfuckers.
For those whose appetite is whetted, the band's site is here.

February 05, 2003
Photo of Lou Harrison, rightLOU HARRISON, COMPOSER (1917-2003)

American composer Lou Harrison died on Sunday, aged 85. He was a leader in the generation of American composers who looked to fellow countrymen like Charles Ives, Henry Cowell and John Cage (with whom Harrison formed close friendships), rather than the European musical tradition for models, and West (from his home in California to the Pacific) rather than East for inspiration.

A gentle rebel, his homosexuality helped define his cross-cultural approach that blended such diverse sources as Chinese Opera, Gregorian chant and Indonesian gamelan. Lou Harrison had enjoyed a deepening recognition of his musical importance, like the special concert in tribute to him, organised by Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 2000, though it came in the same year as the death of William Colvig, his partner for 33 years.

His personal life and musical development are explored very fully in a recent interview, although it does not mention his 1971 gay puppet opera Young Caesar -- or that apart from being a composer, he has been a painter, calligrapher, animal nurse, florist, dance accompanist, record clerk, college lecturer, editor, dance critic, musical copyist, forest fire-fighter and a poet.


There is something mildly coprographical about this posting, but I really can't help thinking that this tribute to the ability of the free market to provide products for every need, no matter how sordid, would make an ideal present for any MP who voted for an all-appointed House of Lords. Or this - which speaks for itself.

Porno-star Jeff Stryker's new career as a singer is as close to tongue-in-cheeck as he is ever likely to get, and takes the banality of Country & Western lyrics to new depths. But Stryker doesn't claim to save the world, and so cannot begin to rival the delusional banality of these, or the serene other-worldliness of this. (With thanks to 3 Bruces, Gary and Tom.)


Pictures of works by Close

Pointillism is not an art movement that has attracted many followers. But Georges Seurat has a worthy successor in Chuck Close. I'm really really impressed by all of Close's work, which overcomes its own objectifying formalism by taking the most individual of subjects, the face (most arrestingly his own), and achieves the rare feat of making portraiture a public statement. So -- so I'll be doing everything I can to get to see the new exhibition of six works by Close at the White Cube gallery in East London. (The website is well worth visit in itself).
    Since the late 1960s Close has been concentrating on portraiture and on the physiological make up of the human face through painting and photography. Although Close has worked through various painterly styles including an intense neo-realism in the 1970s and a shadowy pointillisme in the 1980s, created by paint applied on the fingertips, he is perhaps best known for his more recent works, made up from a shimmering, fragile grid set on the diagonal.

Watching the sniggering, self-congratulatory way in which these MPs trooped into the division lobbies was to see reaction made flesh in a peculiarly vivid and unattractive way. (Guardian Leader article)
Last night a majority of Labour MPs, in a non-binding, free vote in the House of Commons, voted for a 100% appointed House of Lords, while MPs of all parties defeated every one of the eight Lords reform proposals. The Times leader denounced the "rank stupidity" of MPs, and the Guardian condemned "a triumph for the self-regarding battalions of party lobby fodder" (Standing out from the Labour placemen and cowards were two gay MPs, Ben Bradshaw and Stephen Twigg -- who I'm sure has as hip a website as any MP).

MPs surely earned the brickbats thrown at them. But the underlying reasons for this failure are the sheer intellectual dishonesty and analytical confusion that characterise all British treatment of constitutional and democratic matters. It is impossible to decide on an electoral system for the Upper House before it has been decided what representative status and governmental functions it will have. The idiocy of the back-to-front approach that has been adopted was evident every time a proposed mixture of elected and appointed Lords was rejected because of the consequences it would have on government!

Instead, it needs to be decided what constitutional role the House of Lords should play in the governmental system -- should it represent specific interests (regional, occupational, demographic, ethno-cultural); perform [expert] legislative revision; check and balance the powers of the House of Commons; provide patronage for the executive/party managers? -- and then consider the compositional/electoral arrangements that would be most likely to achieve this.

There are a whole host of issues that need to be considered once this approach is adopted, of which there was not even a hint of awareness in what MPs had to say. But before trying to reconstruct the upper chamber, MPs should try putting their own House in order. If they remain resistant to any form of proportional representation, then it becomes essential to create numerically equal electoral constituencies. But MPs have rejected any such change, and their will is enforced by an arbitrary and deceptive boundary commission. Meanwhile, it speaks volumes that the peripheral tinkering enacted to ease major party electoral management by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000) is already proving unworkable and proposals to revise it have just been made.

But it is not only the self-serving political establishment that needs to pause before this mountain of accumulated antiquated unfairness. English people who lecture and criticise the political systems of other countries, and the actions of their politicians, should perhaps examine the legitimacy of British overnment, and the integrity of their own comments, lest they attract accusations of hypocricy. In particular they could try to understand the extraordinary coherence and rigorous honesty of America's political institutions.

February 03, 2003

Pictures from Catch Me If You Can

I went to see Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can expecting a frothy retro-comedy, and saw a film much closer in mood to The Talented Mr Ripley. In Catch Me Frank Abagnale (Leonardo di Caprio) takes to extremes adolescent rebellion springing from resentment at being a powerless pawn in the disintegration of his parents' marriage. But if restoring the family status quo was a recurring and guilty excuse for his pursuit of glamour and respect, it was his visceral under-standing of the centrality of banking institutions -- the biggest daddy of them all -- to the survival and happiness of vulnerable individuals that structured his chaotic life of assumed identities. Banks have exercised great power, financial and psychological, for good and ill, throughout America's history, and Frank's treatment of them mirrors their imperviousness to morality and human values.

Like Tom Ripley, Frank had experimented with small-time impersonation and bank fraud. But it was only when big money entered the frame that psychological inadequacy and criminal talent loosened identity and bearings. In Ripley's case the crime was murder and the deceptions practiced correspondingly sinister and dangerous; Frank's forgery was less socio-pathological, but no less brilliant. What saves Frank from abandonment and incarceration is the unlikely concern of FBI investigator Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), the only man whose relationship with Frank is not vitiated by Frank's deception, but whose existence has become as lonely. Hanratty increasingly (and with growing awareness) provides Frank with a father figure who enables him to recognise and embrace mundane but honest relationships, rather than the isolated heroic-paranoid delusions of his real father (Christopher Walken) .

Catch Me If You Can is long, uneven and disjointed, but held together by a charming and convincing performance from Di Caprio, it is involving and rewarding. Hanks brings off a remarkable achievement in moderating the emotional energy of a defensively humourless character just sufficiently to make credible his paternal response to Frank. As Frank impersonates the role stereotypes of conventional romance and respectability -- airline pilot, doctor, attorney -- so the film pastiches the locales and linguistic conventions of the 1960s: PanAm's corporate elan, James Bond's suavity, pool parties and comfortable suburbia. Central to these stratagems are costume and design, which power an extraordinarily assertive opening sequence, the finest set of animated credits I have ever seen.


From the Sunday Times "Home" section two stories to sear the soul. What can we do to help these forlorn creatures?
In France there are even Brits rejoicing at the news that house princes in Britain are falling. Georgia Sichel has lived in Bordeaux for 13 years. She has spent the past five years restoring a 19th century town house and a series of flats, which she rents out. But with a young daughter and an estranged Franch husband, she would like to sell up in Bordeaux and return to England. "I am looking for a nice Englishman with a good sense of humour," she says. "Such a thing is hard to find in Bordeaux. If house prices really fall in London, I might be able to buy a decent place with the proceeds of the sale here." Her Bordeaux property is on the market for £1.25 million
Prices would have to fall a very long way before she could afford anything "decent". What a predicament!
Robert and Pamela Braithwaite bought a house in Roussillon last year for £200,000. They instructed agents to start marketing their cottage in Kent at the same time, for nearly £600,000. They expected to pocket £400,000 and spend it on good wine and easy living. After three months on the market, they have yet to receive an offer for their English property. "I have sleepless nights wondering how we will get rid of the place," says Pamela. "Everybody told us that selling in England would be easy."
How could people have been so cruel?


Our District council has spent £250,000 producing a "future vision" for a local town (although they now admit it has little practical application); our County Council proposes to spend £1 million on unnecessary highway works following a "traffic accident" study that somehow included two murders, a drunken brawl, and four cases of people falling over in buses.

However, the District Council has proved unable to ensure rubbish is collected (evidently not part of the vision), street lamps are repaired, or abandoned cars removed. In the dark, rubbish-strewn, wreck-littered streets the Council visionaries are thus creating in this hitherto pleaseant small town, it is all too easy for vandals to scratch and damage cars -- like my neighbour's new vehicle. To repair the damage done by their own dereliction, the council bureaucrats have announced they intend to draw up a new "vision document". Meanwhile the County Council has proved unable to grit the roads during the bad weather. They have no interest since it does not involve sophisticated real-time signage. Both Councils receive good Audit Commission reports, and the bureaucrats responsible continue to draw their salaries.

February 01, 2003

Photos of Simon KeenlysideI've just watched the BBC2 transmission of the Royal Opera's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, which opened last week, and runs until 17th February. As the Times reviewer commented, the production was clever but lacking the warmth and humour the opera must have, although the singing was top rate -- especially that of my favourite baritone, Simon Keenlyside, as Papageno. He has become one of the most accomplished singers in the world, with hundreds of absolutely outstanding live and recorded performances to his name, right across the operatic and lieder repertoires (Don Giovanni, André in War and Peace, Billy Budd, Figaro and the Count in The Marriage of Figaro, lieder from Schubert to Poulenc, Papageno at Salzburg and now the ROH) -- and he is so hunky.

It's pretty rare for a popular, major opera with a fine cast (in this case conducted by Sir Colin Davis) to receive a TV broadcast during its run - yet this received almost no advance publicity from the BBC. Without combing the TV listings (something I never do) or accidentally running across it (which I did) I would have missed some delightful performances. I've no doubt many people did. But snooker or golf - well, that's a different story.


Matthew Parris's article in the Times today is essential reading for anyone concerned about the imminent war on Iraq. In "A Dove's Guide: How to be an honest Critic of the War" Parris, who is against the war, cautions those who oppose America that by employing fundamentally dishonest arguments, and resting them on nothing more than suppositions and predictions, they risk political annihilation as complete as that facing Saddam Hussein. The typical "peacenik", Parris says, "is like the admiral who gave 12 reasons for not firing a salute, the twelfth of which was that he had no powder", and he summarises the arguments of the doves:
"I’m against war because I’m not convinced Iraq is harbouring weapons of mass destruction, but even if they are I’m against war because the UN has not authorised it, but if they do I’m against war because an invasion would prove a military fiasco, but even if it didn’t I’m against war because toppling Saddam would destabilise Iraq, but even if it didn’t I’m against war because it will antagonise moderate Arab opinion.” This will not do. It is not honest.
One could add that even if all these and other arguments prove untenable, the peacenik will oppose the war because "very many" people (Iraqi and non-Iraqi) will get killed. But of course that claim is no more certain than any other prediction, and unless it represents an appeal to pure pacifism, its persuasiveness still rests on arguments that such an outcome cannot be justified -- the arguments which Parris has demolished. Parris offers advice to opponents of the war:
Don’t dress up moral doubt in the garb of wordlywise punditry. Give warning, by all means, of the huge gamble that allied plans represent, but if all you are talking is the probabilities, say so, and prepare to be vindicated or mocked by the outcomes. We are very quick to aver that Tony Blair will be discredited and humiliated if the war goes wrong. Will we be discredited and humiliated if the war goes right?
Indeed, what will those who oppose the war do to make up for their errors if they are proved wrong?

Parris founds his opposition to the war on the broad political consequences of American victory (and that has nothing to do with oil, a "conspiracy thoery" which he dismisses with contempt). His view of the war is, in other words, based on political analysis of the relationship between the use of war and the systems of power that surround it --- not on spurious claims to moral superiority or infallible predictive insight; or on preconceived ideological-partisan allegiance; or on absurd appeals to public opinion; or on the ease with which it is possible to poke fun at President Bush and Tony Blair personally; or on the contradictions of the case presented in support of the war. He is right to do this, even if the conclusions he reaches are wrong. If other opponents of the war followed his rigorous example, they would do themselves and fellow citizens a great service.

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