(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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May 31, 2003

I am much looking forward to reading Hello Sailor! The Hidden History of Gay Life at Sea by Paul Baker and Jo Stanley (published in March).
    Passenger ships provided one of the only spaces where gay men could not only be "out", but outrageously camp. Able-bodied seamen by day, queens and butches strutted their stuff below deck at night. Hello Sailor! opens up a secret world of bold young men having a ball as they sashayed and minced across the world's oceans. Life on land in the middle of the twentieth century was far more restrictive than on the ships, and gays often out-numbered straight men in the catering departments of great cruise liners like the QE2 and the Canberra. Communicating in their own secret language - Polari - they were comfortably queer at sea at a time when life on land demanded compulsory straightness.
Hello Sailor! takes forward the series of books by the same authors about polari, the "underground language" used widely by gay men up to the 1970s, and captured in those extraordinary camp sketches featuring Julian and Sandy on the 1960s radio comedy programme Round the Horne (which remain etched deep in my memory -- and that of many others.

Photo of Paul BakerPaul Baker (a rather dishy lecturer in linguistics at Lancaster University who did his Ph.D. on Polari) last year published a book all about Polari and Fantabulosa, a dictionary of Polari. Men Paul Baker's age might never have heard Polari "spoken", but its spirit continues to exert an influence in gay culture, and for anyone interested Hugh Young has provided an exhautive analysis of gay-speak. But for me the most delightful modern incarnation (!) of Polari is the translation by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (Manchester Convent) of the whole of the Bible into Polari:
    GENESIS Chapter One

    1 In the beginning Gloria created the heaven and the earth.
    2 And the earth was nanti form, and void; and munge was upon the eke of the deep. And the nanti lucoddy of Gloria trolled upon the eke of the aquas.
    3 And Gloria cackled, Let there be sparkle: and there was sparkle.
    4 And Gloria vardad the sparkle, that it was bona: and Gloria divided the sparkle from the munge.
    5 And Gloria screeched the sparkle Day, and the munge he screeched nochy. And the bijou nochy and the morning were the una day.

    Vocabulary: Gloria - God.  nanti - without.  munge - darkness.  eke - face.  nanti lucoddy - spirit.  trolled upon - moved upon.  aquas - waters.  cackled - spoke.  sparkle - light.  vardad - saw.  bona - good.  screeched - called.  nochy - night.  bijou nochy - evening.  una - first.

May 30, 2003

Dean, who has himself several times recently confronted the conflicts between organised Christianisty and gay organisations, and Christian individuals and individual gay people, today asks gay people and Christians (and nobody else!) to examine the issues between them. It's already an interesting thread (my own [first] contribution is the 10th posting). Check it out and contribute if the subject concerns you.

May 28, 2003

Photo of Luciano BerioLuciano Berio died yesterday aged 77. As Ivan Hewett says in his fine obituary in the Guardian today: "Music has lost more than a marvellous composer who wrote some of the most moving and beautiful scores of the postwar period. It has lost one of its intellectual mentors, one of that handful of radical reforming composers who redrew the landscape of music."


It was reported on Friday that "convoys of French troops with armoured vehicles have thundered into Ivory Coast's lawless west to guarantee a ceasefire meant to stop the former colony's civil war for good... Fleeing civilians tell tales of murder, rape and looting."
    Two French convoys stretching for six miles and consisting of more than 100 vehicles each, some mounted with heavy cannon, rolled through the once-thriving coffee and cocoa-growing region.
Strangely, there has been no UN involvement.

May 27, 2003

Su(zi)e recently provided intelligence -- and what else would the author of such a unique and engrossing blog provide? -- that "Here Inside" has been stamped with official approval. Sure enough, there was the link on the Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) website, listed on the the blog page of the community resources section (all those URLs!) Well, thank you Mr Clarke (and the Becta Board).

May 26, 2003

The life of the Russian nun (as reported in today's Sunday Times) mixes privation and eccentricity in equal measure. Vegetarians and virgins, forbidden to touch one another, they restore the Orthodox churches in their convent-compund, protected from intrusion by a pack of man-eating hounds. And somehow they have collected a little zoo of animals. Ponies, tropical fish, parrots, turtles, and 'Sinai, a camel that was presented to the nuns by to cosmonauts who had "found God" when in space.'
    "I'm not sure why they thought we'd want a baby camel when we live under 2ft of snow for half the year," giggles Yelena, "but we love him." Now full grown, Sinai stands about 12ft from nose to toe and is exercised morning and evening, when Yelena mounts him and trots around the grounds with her robes flapping over his humps.
Which immediately made me think of that wonderful 1950s novel by Rose Macaulay The Towers of Trebizond which has one of the most bizarre and memorable of all opening lines: "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

May 24, 2003

All of us are prone to believe what we want to believe, and to find the latest news confirms what we have always thought (and if it doesn't, we get really angry). I've been pushing the idea that we need to wait a while before deciding what we think has actually happened (especially regarding wars and their aftermath), so I think this story provides a (hilarious) warning about taking the news too seriously.

May 23, 2003

A thank-you to Dean (a magnet for everyone who tells it like it is) for pointing out this excellent article from a few days ago on the story behind the demise of the Kyoto Protocol (for which George W Bush has so widely been blamed).


I was delighted to discover that Studio5ive is "changing the way men think about cosmetics" with products that "promote a handsome, fit, and healthy look." Like the Brow & Eyelash Gel -- "a clear light holding gel that's a must for men with shapeless and unruly brows", and the Beard & Brow Shader -- "the ideal product when your look requires a sturdier, more masculine appearance":
    Male models and screen actors aren't the only men these days who depend on cosmetics to groom their face. In fact, men of all backgrounds and professions are using some kind of enhancing and concealing product from self-tanning creme and bronzing powder to tinted moisturizer and concealer.
Given that, it would be good to know whether or not one was a freak. This quiz claims to diagnose freakishness, but it turns out to be a pretty straightforward introverted/extraverted personality test -- but I liked the way the results were displayed, and it was (as always) fun to answer questions about me (If anyone's interested this was my result.)

If it turns out that you really are seriously freaky, then I guess this sick little game will be right up your street. But if all you're into is make-up morning noon and night, then you'll want to meet some other studs who feel the same.

May 22, 2003

Two exhibitions have just opened that would be great to visit, but which provide food for thought in cyberform.

Images from Braingirl

BRAINGIRL + E + PUSSY WEEVIL (work by Claudia Hart, Larry Bercow/Marina Zurkow, and Julian Bleecker) is at the bitforms gallery (529 West 20th St in Manhattan). The exhibition "investigates the relationship of character and narration" using the a range of hardware and software. BRAINGIRL is created in Flash animation with the character-story "a hybrid of the adolescent girl's exaggerated sense of self and the artist's viewpoint of the teen's externalized emotions... at the juncture between self, family and society."

That sounds rather like the province of the realistic novel -- it might be a description of much of Jane Austen's fiction (right down to the adolescent girls!) -- in the construction of narrative from the intersection of the presentation of, and commentary on, character. It also sounds rather like the province of the strip cartoon, with its small, recognisable cast of characters and array of commenting tools. What it is most removed from is the form which it most immediately resembles -- film -- which so problematically lacks a separation of character, action and stable external voice. Digital art of the kind showcased here represents genuinely new meanings, made possible by growingly confident (yet exploratory) use of new media -- and it is far more accessible than avant garde works in traditional media (especially film).

The bitforms gallery takes its name from the "fundamental unit of digital information" (bit) and "the realizations of creative possibilities" (forms), and presents the "nexus of art and technology" that is digital art:
    Diversity of media is typical in this new domain of art, which often acts as a bridge between the traditional art world and an emerging creative scene based on new definitions - and combinations - of art and technology. As a result, visitors can expect to experience large-scale reactive sculptures, elegantly encased software art, and digitally influenced mixed-media pieces.
Pictures of works by Lichtenstein

At the stunning new Las Vegas Guggenheim there is a major retrospective of 1960s art - American Pop Icons, 28 paintings and sculptures from eight of the most important precursors and participants in the Pop art movement - Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann:
    In Pop art, the narrative or epic impulse of Abstract Expressionism was replaced with straightforward depictions of the everyday, and the mass-produced was afforded the same significance as unique works of fine art... These images, presented with - and sometimes transformed by - humor, wit, and irony, may be read as both an unabashed celebration and a scathing critique of popular culture.
But precisely how Pop Art might be read remains the analytical preoccupation with this work -- in other words, we cannot even get beyond the critical first base. In representing consumer culture without any of the pretentions (or anti-pretentions) of Pop Art, digital art like BRAINGIRL constitutes a profound intrepretative challenge to Pop Art (even if the place of '60s iconography is assured), about which the article by Susan Davidson on the exhibition's web page defines many of the "established" readings.

Photo of interior of Guggenheim Hermitage, Las Vegas

That interpretative "crossroads" is represented by the physical development of the Guggenheim art museums. The Las Vegas -- itself a location loaded with every possible kind of modernist association -- galleries were opened in 2001 and present the two faces of the artistic establishment: the The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum is in every respect intended to be the companion of the great European galleries which its name evokes:
    Both the exterior and interior walls of the museum are made of Cor-Ten steel, a material with a velvety rusted surface evocative of the velvet-covered walls in the eighteenth-century classical galleries at the Hermitage. The severity and serenity of the steel facade - which can be seen from the Las Vegas Strip and is strikingly prominent to visitors - dramatically contrasts with the derivative faux architecture of the major hotels and casinos in the immediate area. On the interior, four symmetrical galleries - each measuring 1500 sq. ft. - will also have Cor-Ten steel walls, which will contrast with maple wood floors and ceilings.
The Guggenheim Las Vegas is for special exhibitions and is clearly the province of the establishment avant garde, its opening exhibition devoted to the Art of the Motorcycle.
    The main gallery in the 63,700-sq.ft. building is approximately 210 ft. long, 160 ft. wide and 70 ft. high. The largest gallery features a 70 ft. square pivoting door, as well as a functioning industrial bridge crane (hovering close to the ceiling and suspended from tracks at either side of the space) with a lifting capacity of 35 tons. The main floor breached by a 210 ft by 30 ft.trench, which can either be covered with 21 5-ton trench covers to create a single level, or the trench covers can be selectively removed to reveal the galleries on the lower level. The lower level is accessed either by escalators, or via a 30 ft. wide lime green processional staircase. A skylight in the ceiling (125 ft. by 70 ft.) features motorized trap covers, located on the roof, which can either filter out all natural light or be fully open to the sky. In a gesture to the Las Vegas aesthetic the underside of the skylight is covered with a large-scale facsimile of the central scene from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.
In their obsession with physical solidity, and the enormity of the dimensions of enclosure, these constructions represent the very height of the "real-time" concept of art, anchored deeply in space. But at almost the same time the Guggenheim launched a virtual museum of art -- a "morphing structure that is in constant flux":
    The New York firm Asymptote Architects has been commissioned to design and implement a new Guggenheim Museum in cyberspace... The structure will be an ongoing work in process, with new sections added as older sections are renovated. The project will consist of navigable three-dimensional spatial entities accessible on the Internet."
It is a "structure" intended to link and interchange the existing Guggenheim museums in a single interface, and so affirms a belief that the "enclosure, form and permanence" of existing art museum architecture "will undoubtedly persevere". But in recognition of the forces already sweeping forward heedless of the great institutions of the past, the Guggenheim affirms "a new architecture of liquidity, flux, and mutability predicated on technological advances and fueled by a basic human desire to probe the unknown."

Illustration of detail of Virtual Museum

And so the Guggenheim's "virtual art collection" is already running ahead of the structure being built to "hold" it. Cyberatlas is absolutely spectacular, an invitation to explore and relish sheer brilliance (go there!). Many will also enjoy net.flag by Mark Napier which might be intellectually rather conventional, but is as refreshingly transparent and explicit as one could hope. And Nancy Davenport's downloadable animated screen-saver May Day is a sheer delight:
    May Day is an irreverent perspective on the generic political rally. It draws comparisons between the outmoded and debased functions of the screen saver, and repetitious aspects of the culture of political protest. Though their original function to avert screen burn-in quickly became unnecessary, screen savers remain in use as vehicles for both advertising and self-expression. Likewise, many conventional protest strategies endure as nostalgic yearnings for the more politically-aware past.

May 20, 2003

I love to read about American people - ordinary people - doing things, and I especially love to read about groups working to clean up the countryside and protect wildlife. The Loyalhanna Watershed Association (LWA) of Pennsylvania's site is a delight to visit:
    Founded in 1971, the LWA strives to achieve its mission via the coordinated efforts of its 500+ members, 15 board members, 3 full-time staff and the support of several environmental partners. The mission of the LWA is to protect, conserve and restore the natural resources of the Loyalhanna Creek, which originates in the limestone aquifers of Laurel Mountain and finds its way to a confluence with the Conemaugh River in Saltsburg. From its beginnings high in the mountains, to its confluence with the Conemaugh, the Loyalhanna Creek encounters a series of environmental challenges that the LWA has, is and looks forward to addressing.
Familiar no doubt to many Americans, I was surprised and very happy to discover the American Wetlands Campaign of the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA), founded in Chicago by anglers in 1922:
    The League also spearheaded protection of public lands, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, Everglades National Park, the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and Isle Royale National Park. In addition, the IWLA led the effort to create the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the major source of revenue for parkland acquisition and recreational facilities.

    Wildlife protection remains a major focus as well. National projects include organizing the 1926 campaign to protect black bass, a late 1980s purchase of a helicopter to help wildlife law officers catch waterfowl poachers in the Gulf of Mexico, and a 19-year outdoor ethics campaign to improve behavior by outdoor recreationists.

    Time after time, Ikes have won battles against all odds. There was never enough money. There were internal disagreements and even personal disputes, but through it all, the League kept focused on its mission: To conserve, maintain, protect and restore the forests, water and other natural resources and to strive for the wise stewardship of the land, its resources and humans' sharing in it.


There is a wonderful article in today's Times about the extraordinary flowering of the free press in Iraq:
    Every day in Iraq a few more newspapers start publishing, taking advantage of the first freedom of speech that most Iraqis have ever known. Despite having no telephone system, irregular electricity and limited transport, the flourishing Iraqi free press now totals about 50 titles, supplying an extraordinarily large range of information and opinion to a people desperate for news.

    News-stands are springing up, attracting crowds of curious readers. Journalists, political parties, lawyers, sportsmen, rich businessmen and even shopkeepers have all set up newspapers, helped by staff who work, at least to start with, without pay. Until the regime fell, all the media were state-controlled, with many newspapers owned by Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday. Journalists who wrote the wrong things were jailed, tortured or executed. The lucky ones were sacked. Not one of the old newspapers is still produced. Newspapers are expensive for Iraqis, at between 20p and 30p, but Ibrahim Jawad Hussein, selling the papers in front of the pedestal of a toppled statue of Saddam, said that business was brisk.

May 15, 2003

Good Vibrations LogoUntil yesterday I was unaware that May is National Masturbation Month in the USA -- "a month-long celebration recognizing the many ways we can pleasure ourselves" Begun in 1995, it's the brain(?) child of Good Vibrations (a democratically-run worker-owned cooperative with a staff of over 100, a great website and a magazine, Good Vibes), and reaches its first climax this weekend (16th-18th May) with the Masturbate-a-Thon -- "We think it's important to bring masturbation out into the open and let people feel better about what they're doing -- and, for those who may not be doing it, we want to encourage it!" It's a great idea. We should stretch our hands out across the Ocean and join in. My only concern is: what happens from June to April?

Not a million miles away physically (albeit a few thousand politically) this month's Men's Journal offers advice and encouragement for hetero guys who want to be big smoothies:
    During the past ten years male hair removal for purely aesthetic reasons has become more widespread, moving from the gay community to the population of grooming-conscious men in general.
So what about making June pubic shaving month?


Education Guardian today reports:
    Paul Mackney, general secretary of the lecturers' union Natfhe, said the the Conservative party's policy to drop student fees and recruitment targets was a "cynical effort" to capture middle class votes, "full of holes and reeking of opportunism". He said "The proposals are typically elitist... there is no mention of student grants... thousands of lecturers' jobs would go... Of course we would welcome an abandonment of tuition fees by any government."
Well, the Conservative policy is clearly not the only thing that's full of holes and reeks of opportunism, but I would say a more accurate description of it (and of course of Mr Mackney) would be "unprincipled and reactionary".

May 14, 2003

It looks like a bouncy castle, and comes complete with blow-up altar and air-filled angels. The inflatable church attracted unflattering attention from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association [G&LHA] back in 2002, and now today it has finally made the pages of the Times. Its maufacturer writes:
    This fantastic air filled building is 47ft long by 25ft wide and 47ft high. The attention to detail is heavenly with plastic "stained glass" windows and airbrush artwork... it has an inflatable organ, altar, pulpit, pews, candles and a gold cross.
Photos of inside and outside of inflatable church

It's a terribly easy target for "humour", but apart from references to clerical wind-bags and holy blow jobs, I did like these reactions:
    "Great! Child molestation takes to the road!" and
    "Just the place for me and my inflatable girlfriend
    to tie the knot."
As for comedy situations, it surely has all same the slap-stick potential as the water bed. But why stop at inflatable churches? They're not going to.

Photos of Clare Short Chris Tarrant and Justin TimberlakeI'M A GOD GET ME OUT OF HERE

From Ananova and AOL.News come profound and shocking news that gives new meaning to the postings on Lubin's blog:
    One in three people in Britain is suffering from Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) after becoming obsessed with their screen idol, according to new research. Extreme sufferers of the newly identified condition admit they would lie, steal or worse if the object of their admiration asked them. Kylie Minogue, David Beckham and even Tony Blair were among the most popular celebrities idolised by participants in the study.
Who do you worship? (possible objects of obsession in the pics) and what would you do for them?

I don't know if this has any connection with Justin Timberlake's claim that while he had dinner with David and Victoria Beckham they were constantly "groping". But in any case there are much worse dangers: apparently women who eat large quantities of contaminated fish are less likely to give birth to boys, while regular exposure to traffic fumes may damage sperm quality in young and middle-aged men, and people who regularly drink beer or spirits have an increased risk of rectal cancer (however wine drinkers are at less risk). Better stick to herbal tea -- except that it's just been found to be harmful to your teeth.

But imagine being called Superman - every ailment under the (don't stay out too long without factor 15+ sunscreen) sun would be sure to follow. So Swedish authorities have prevented a couple from naming their son Staalman (Swedish for Superman) after their favourite comic book hero celebrity "saying it is not appropriate and could be unpleasant for the boy."

May 12, 2003

In all the current fuss over hospital ratings (with the instant round of interest-group condemnations and official defenses) it's easy to forget how long hospitals have been around -- in how many different ways their role has been conceived; how varied has been their role, organisation, and, perhaps most important, shape. You don't have to be Michel Foucault to think that the physical structure of institutional care is central to understanding its purpose. Like the University College Hospital (UCH) Cruciform Building by Sir Alfred Waterhouse (also the architect of the Natural History Museum building in South Kensington), or the extraordinary Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

Photos of University College Hospital and Hospital de Sant Pau

UCH has been meticulously restored, and rededicated as a bio-science research centre (the WIBR) in a process that reveals the full complexity of assigning the spacial organisation of the turn of the twentieth century to the intellectual activity of the turn of the 21st -- and of the financial complexities of the Private Finance Initiative.

Looking at these buildings I came across one more EU cultural project with a genuinely interesting website (albeit one that will clearly never be finished) - PAPHE (The Present and Future of European Hospitals Heritage). It is useful to learn about the various forms the hospital has taken and the lexis that defines it, but the site's great value is its links to hospitals all over Europe with plans and photos -- and while it is fascinating to explore the hospitals of Finland or North Central Italy, the most comprehensive region to examine is Catalunya.

Photo of McGill University Health Center Montreal

The London-based Architects for Health and the International Academy for Design and Health promote new paradigms of medicine and bio-science as well as clinical care. The British organisation is also exploring with the Healthcare Engineering Association of Japan, and their exhibition for Japan of six hospital architects is fascinating - I was particularly involved by the page from Devereux Architects showing the Haven Trust Breast Cancer Support Centre, and more than a little horrified by the Keppie Design page with the new Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. What do we think a hospital is? Who should be responsible for it (and pay for it)? What place do death-rate leagues have?

May 08, 2003

In my last post I offered the opinion that statistical claims about pub licencing are untrustwothy. The following collection would seem to support that (though perhaps someone can correct them or offer definitive evidence on the question):
    Otley: "Otley reputedly has the most pubs per square mile of any town in the country."
    Edinburgh: "Did you know that Edinburgh has more pubs per square mile than any other city in Europe?"
    Newcastle: "there is the famous Bigg Market with more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the UK."
    Hull: "Hull has more pubs per square mile than any other town."
    Wrexham: "Where do you begin in a town centre that has been reputed to have the largest concentration of pubs per square mile of any in Britain?"
    Guisborough: "Someone once told me that there were more pubs per square mile in Guisborough than any other town in the UK."
    York: "Apparently York has more pubs per square mile than any city in England."
    Dorking: "Dorking (tee hee), has the most pubs per square mile of any city in the U.K."
    Todmorden: "They used to reckon there were more pubs per square mile in Todmorden than anywhere else in the country."
    Leeds: "The town was recently known to hold more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in England."
    Chesterfield: "I am informed that Chesterfield is the town with the most pubs per square mile in England!"
    Aberystwyth: "I've also been told that Aberystwyth has the largest number of pubs per square mile of any town in the U.K."
    St Albans: "More pubs per square mile than anywhere in the country."
    Canterbury: "Canterbury has the most pubs per square mile than any other place in the UK."
    Rugby: "More pubs per square mile than anywhere else in UK!"

May 06, 2003

A letter in yesterday's Times angrily draws attention to an example of one of the root causes of misery in everyday life in Britain: a mass of national legislation based on no more that facile belief and bureaucratic assertion. The object of the author's wholly justified concern in the Licencing Bill which is currently passing through Parliament, which would completely liberalise pub and club opening hours. The government claims that "longer opening hours" are a "key mechanism for combating binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour, which is often provoked by fixed and artificially early closing times", without any evidence whatsoever to support it. The same legislative guidance denies to local authorities the general powers needed to manage areas with concentrations of drinking places, and so is just as likely to lead to more and later vandalism, incontinence and disturbance in town centres (city centre drinking areas are un-reclaimable no-go areas).

What makes this especially galling, and typical of the bureacratic arrogance that drives so much impractical legislation, is that that very same guidance also "strongly recommends that no system of zoning is introduced because this proved unsuccessful when attempted in Scotland". That phrase speaks volumes, but leaves unsaid even more.

These matters were transferred in 2001 from the Home Office (where they properly belong) to the gruesome Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which declares that the licencing bill will provide "a balanced package of freedoms and safeguards" (by which horrible mangling of language and understanding is meant "and unrrelated set of opportunities for drunkenness and commercial profit from it, and regulatory requirements"). It further claims that the bill "will clamp down on crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour perpetrated by a minority [about which it in fact does absolutely nothing] and give the responsible majority more freedom and choice about how they spend their leisure time [on which it paradoxically seeks to impose a uniform and comprehensive regulatary regime]".

If as a result there is more vomit all over my front wall, more vandalism to my car parked outside my house, more violent quarrels and ludicrous discussions under my windows at 2.00 a.m. (and a few more at 4.00 a.m.), more thefts from my garden, and more assaults on my door-knocker at all hours, it will be because people refused to substantiate the asserted truths of the Department of Culture - which will be their fault (and my problem) I expect.

May 05, 2003

Yesterday we went to Hidcote Manor Garden, a few miles away in North Gloucestershire. We've visited the garden many times, the last occasion with my mother not long before she died. I guess it's one of those places with which it is possible to become familiar and yet which each visit reveals new features as the plants and colours change from season to season and year to year.

Pictures of Hidcote

As the National Trust (which has looked after it since the 1940s) makes clear, it is a garden with a very significant place in the historical development of horticulture and garden design in this country, and it's not difficult to believe that as one wanders through the "rooms" that combine spaces, colours and shapes with such deftness that adjoining areas of similar size can achieve strict formality and the most profuse abandon, and harmonise their mood and perspective with wide velvet lawns, wry topiary, and narrow walks (see interactive photo-map).

Picture of the Hornbeam Walk, Hidcote

I can't remember having gone to Hidcote in early May before. Everywhere was extraordinarily verdant, while much of the planting remained quite sparse, so it was possible to see far more clearly the architecture of the rooms and the arrangement of their components. Rigorous pruning left the structure of many large plants far more visible, so they served not to shade but intrigue; and without the scorching of Summer, the formal and informal water elements served not to refresh but energise. Everywhere there were tulips -- red, white, deep purple, yellow, sharp and assertive -- and lilac, soft and diffuse, late daffodils in chaos and clouds of forget-me-not.

Of course, the roses that scent the garden in high Summer were missing, and with them the feelings of desire and incontinent sensuality that the garden then evokes. In May all the power and force of fresh maturity raised my pulse rate and set my eye roving. [Un]fortunately the human specimens were far less impressive than the plant life -- we wouldn't want the NT to have the same problems among the hedges and hide-aways of Hidcote that it has in the dunes of Studland now would we?

May 03, 2003

The biggest losers in Thursday's local elections in England were the TV presenters and journalists, when voters robbed them of the story they had prepared, and with it the opportunity to impose their own perspective on the whole process. They had done everything in the days before the vote to assist the British National Party (BNP) short of campaigning for them on the dorrsteps, by highlighting their candidacies and predicting their successes. This was done not because they supported them, but (a) in order to provide shocking, hysterical attention-grabbing reports about racism and fascism which would dominate election coverage (as in "but the real story of these elections is..."); (b) to allow the journalists to lacerate both Labour and the Conservatives for failing to combat the BNP and the "rise of racism", for creating the "poverty and alienation" in which "racism grows", and for policies (on the war and asylum-seekers) that "encouraged racism".

But the BNP failed to get elected in any numbers at all. Of 25 candidates in Sunderland, not one made it. In Sandwell (72-seat council) the BNP now has 2 seats, and Dudley (which is next door to Sandwell, and also has a 72-seat council) they now have one. And in Stoke-on-Trent (home to the largest number of violent football hooligans in the UK) the BNP won just one seat in the 60-member council.

Only in Burnley (where journalists had already gone overboard about the fascist advance last year) did the BNP make headway, gaining 3 seats for a total of eight on the 45-member council. In absolute desparation the journalists reported this as "BNP become second-largest party in Burnley" - omitting to add that such a description is pretty meaningless when Labour hold 24 seats, and Liberal Democrats have 7, Conservatives 3 and Independents 3. It's clearly time to start referring to the BNP as "the electorally insignificant Burnley National Party" - but you can be pretty sure the journalists won't do that.

May 02, 2003

The nearst large city to my home is Coventry. There are those who would claim it has almost as little going for it as the Soviet Union, and I cannot say I visit it very often. In the 1960s Coventry was Britain's "motown" (though without the "sound") and it is now perhaps principally famous for a more permanent remainder of that decade, the modern Cathedral by Basil Spence that built alongside the bombed-out ruins of the medieval cathedral. In almost every other respect from ring-roads to high-rise public housing, from incompetent administration of welfare benefits to negligent social services, Coventry is a showcase for the worst that municipal planning can produce.

Over the years the deliberate creation of a hopeless environment blighted the lives of millions -- while the Labour councillors, who held an apparently invincible grip on local power, conspired with their incompetent and arrogant government officials to celebrate fictional successes and hide culpable failures. Nobody had grander or more chimerical clothes than Coventry's regneration emperor.

So it was with enormous pleasure that I saw in the BBC's results of yesterday's local elections that Labour had lost control of Coventry City Council (needless to say this morning the Council's website still displayed no results). It was the culmination of an electoral movement that had been gathering pace since the mid 1990s, as Labour lost more and more seats in every election.

Coventry City Council Seats by Party, 1998-2003


Soc All = Socialist Alliance (Dave Nellist)
Table constructed by Here Inside from BBC archive records

Whatever the specific combination of issues that moved 30-40% of the electorate this year -- (and those can certainly not be presumed to be the war in Iraq, and neither is Coventry in any way a small copy of nearby Birmingham) -- was part of a long-term trend. With a four-year electoral cycle, in which a third of the Council seats are contested each year, followed by a rest year, the 2004 elections will be crucial. There is hope for Coventry yet.

May 01, 2003

The... actions were immoral and constitute a crime against humanity. [They are] using the pretext of war against terrorism to make people believe that all the means are acceptable in fighting terrorism... [People] have died because those in charge care more about their political agenda than human lives. They have died because of the country that historically puts its own state affairs above all, even human life.
These words were written by a Russian, not about the recent war in Iraq, but about the storming of the Moscow theatre siege by Chechen terrorists in October last year.

Gas (which was secretly pumped into the theatre by the authorities prior to an armed assault in which all the terrorists were killed) at the time caused the deaths of 129 of the roughly 750 people who had been held hostage. The Times now reports that another 40 of the surviving hostages have since died from the effects of the gas, 100 are seriously ill, and 80% are suffering from ilnesses and symptoms associated with exposure to the gas. However
    The ingredients of the gas, which was pumped through air vents into the auditorium, has not been disclosed by the Government, rendering medical treatment almost ineffective as doctors struggle to diagnose the sufferers' symptoms. A week after the siege, the Health Ministry disclosed the substance to be a compound based on fentanyl, a potent synthetic opiate that was first used as a painkiller in the Soviet Army. It is estimated to be 100 times stronger than morphine. However, German doctors testing the urine of German hostages also identified traces of halothane, an anaesthetic, and American doctors speculated that the gas contained BZ, a hallucinogenic drug and a chemical warfare agent. The cocktail is proving to have lethal long-term effects.
Relatives of those who died have brought evidence to show that medical preparations before the gas was used were totally inadequate, and that numerous deaths were caused by lack of, or inappropriate attention when hostages were brought out unconscious -- failures due to the negligence of the authorities. Survivors were held in hospitals and relatives denied access and information about them for several days. Leaders of the relatives of those who died claim that doctors removed the vital organs of the dead hostages in order to make post mortem examinations impossible. Officials still refuse to reveal the composition of the gas used, or to provide any assistance to those suffering medical symptoms, many of whom are now unable to work or lead normal lives. Despite evidence from the charity set up to assist the relatives of those who have died, the Moscow Healthcare Committee denied the reports that 40 more people had died from the gas. Sergei Polyakov, the first deputy head of the Healthcare Committee, said: "The former hostages are under observation in the city's medical establishments."

The Russian government behaved sickeningly, with major loss of life due to its decisions and gross incompetence, followed by denial of basic rights and continuing withholding of information and spreading misinformation . Meanwhile, President Putin paraded as a strong man to the general approval of the Russian population and the plaudits of world leaders. The full consequences of his own little war are becoming more and more clear. But of course, those who claim to hold human life so precious in Iraq don't give a toss about this -- because it doesn't help their propaganda war against the USA. It's simply one rule for Bush and another for everyone and everything else.

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