Saturday, 30 June 2007

It's a load of shite thing

Sixteen-year-old English schoolgirl Lydia Playfoot has taken her school to court after being refused permission to wear her 'purity ring', claiming that it's a religious symbol, etc. despite the fact that it's about as historic as a John Holmes vibrating dildo (a little product placement here). Personally, I'd have thought her smug little face were deterrent enough but if she really must wear something to tell the world that she's saving her quim for someone special, why not wear a hoodie with It's a Silver Ring Thing emblazoned on the front (only £20). Or a Safe Sex? T-shirt at £15. Or a beanie hat at a tenner. It may not have much to do with the Bible, but it'll certainly keep this little gang of trouble-making fundamentalists in pocket (I'm sorry, they're a strictly no-profit organisation. It says so on the site). You can find the full range of Silver Ring Thing (SRT; not to be confused with STD) merchandise here.

The company secretary of SRT is Heather Playfoot, while the parents programme director is Phil Playfoot. The surname sound familiar? As though fucking around with their own daughter weren't enough, they want to spend the money they make from selling hoodies (plus a mere twenty quid extra per kid) on something they call Child Sponsorship:

Child Sponsorship
We come across many needy young people on our travels; many are from deprived areas and desperately want to make an abstinence decision and take part in the Silver Ring Thing. Unfortunately they are unable to afford to attend the 4 week programme and receive the SRT434 Student pack and the Silver Ring. By providing a gift of £20, one student will have the opportunity to hear this message, to make an abstinence commitment with a ring, and to share in the hope of a blessed marriage and future. This gift also enrols a student in the extensive follow-up programme designed by SRT.
Deprived children desperate for abstinence? Do me a favour.


Friday, 29 June 2007

The art of conversation

I was waiting for my mother outside the by-now notorious Ladies' Powder Room at Beatties (see earlier post here) when an elderly lady started to tell me about the advantages of the disabled toilet near customer services. She explained that her husband was blind and preferred to be accompanied before his death, but obviously didn't need to be accompanied now, which was a blessing. This was followed by a long story involving the lady's arthritic mother and a wonky portakabin loo in Huddersfield. Finally, she confessed that she'd said the word 'shit' earlier that day when her shopping trolley got caught in the revolving door by Costa and hoped nobody had heard her, though she was perfectly happy to repeat it to me.

None of this would have happened if I hadn't been sitting beside an empty wheel chair.

A plum from the icebox (with apologies to WCW)

Slightly misshapen, as though it were auditioning for one of those anthropomorphic fruit-and-veg greeting cards but didn't have the props...

A cold June day in London

New Writing 15

The Prince of Wales Suite at the British Council HQ must be the worst place in the civilised world for a book launch. It's a low-ceilinged box of a room, reminiscent of a Travelodge lounge or provincial tax office with the partition walls removed; it has carpet (or the sense of carpet; beige carpet) and concrete pillars dividing the space into two and a general mood of sixties brutalism about it. The acoustics seem designed specifically to muffle the human voice. Add to this a microphone that doesn't work, and you have what ought to be a blueprint for disappointment.

So it's both surprising and gratifying that the NW15 launch on Tuesday was great fun.
Bernardine Evaristo and Maggie Gee, the anthology editors, were delightful and attentive hosts. The food was good (the British Council tends to cater well: I remember a conference party in Bologna some years ago with grissini swathed in prosciutto and forms of parmigiano dotted around the table), the Pimms flowed copiously from fruit-filled jug to glass. In the absence of the starrier contributors (Doris Lessing, Julian Barnes, et al.) we lesser lights revolved and networked as nature intended us to do.

It wasn't all alcohol, finger food and the exchanging of cards, of course. Three readings were given by, respectively, Ursula Holden, a drily observed and often moving essay about the business of writing, Karen McCarthy, a witty language-loving piece delivered with great verve and skill, and Tod Hartman, the funniest story in the book and read with increasing relish as the audience responded with hoots of laughter. Karen, clearly used to performing, was unperturbed by the lack of a microphone, while the sheer quality of the work of Ursula and Tod (yes, we're on first name terms) was enough to overcome the technical shortcomings of the evening.

I'm looking forward now to seeing Patricia Duncker's teachers' notes for my piece, an account of a pick-up that went wrong in a mild sort of way. It shares with Tod's story a sprinkling of French and a reference to a post-modern philosophe, but isn't half as funny.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Questions of honour

In a country that sees fit to knight Cliff Rìchard, the decision to give a gong to Salman Rushdie, if only as a nod towards the idea that fiction has at least as much value as Summer Holiday and a brief affair (ahem) with a female tennis player, is a welcome one. Of course there are writers I’d prefer. It would have been good, for example, to see Penelope Fitzgerald damed (to coin a verb) before she died, or Sybille Bedford. Basil Bunting might have enjoyed a knighthood, though I doubt it. Ian Hamilton Finlay certainly wouldn’t, but it would have been fun to offer him one, just to see. Of living writers, James Hamilton-Paterson deserves far more recognition, although possibly not from the queen and Yo! Blair, who barely read, or, in the latter’s case, write. And what about J.H. Prynne, or Christine Brooke-Rose, or Stewart Home? (OK, my little joke.)

But it isn’t welcome to everyone. I’ve always assumed that fatwa is short for fatuous waffle, on the grounds that any statement produced by a celibate sclerotic in a long black frock is unlikely to have much sense to it. The problem is that fatuous waffle hurts, and can even kill, as some of Rushdie’s translators and collaborators could attest if there really were the life beyond.

Maybe it’s time we came up with some sort of death threat we can fling back. The targets, as holy books have it, are legion. Some Muslim, for example, who said that Rushdie deserved to die a thousand times after the publication of Satanic Verses, coincidentally my favourite Rushdie novel, and has since been knighted, a man whose name I shall not seek out for the benefit of this post because it would do him too much honour (honour on honour). Or Shirley Williams, one of the thousands of anxious appeasers to superstition. Or all those people, including Jack Straw, who say that Rushdie is unreadable, as if that were the issue.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Yo! Benedict!

The Vatican hierarchy is notorious for being morally supine in the face of wealth and power. It buried Pinochet with honours and encouraged the Albanian pain fetishist, Mother Teresa, in her quest for photo opportunities with the likes of tin-pot dictator Marcos and the adulterous Princess Diana. So Tony Blair probably won’t have that much difficulty in persuading Eggs Benedict to fast-track him in. But wouldn’t it be nice if he found the holy door barred to him as a warmonger, abortionist and proponent of gay adoption? Wouldn’t it be nice to see the hurt on his duplicitous little face as he spreads his blood-stained hands and wonders, once again, what Jesus would have done?

Friday, 22 June 2007

God hates Lily Tomlin

I’m in England for a few days, enjoying the drizzle and the best that UKTV has to offer. Bit of a glut last night, as I moved from Emmerdale to a programme about a house so dirty the most hygienic niche was to be found inside the cage of a rat. This was followed by Embarrassing Illnesses (slightly disappointing after the exhilarating haemorrhoids of the first episode – a penile spot, heavy periods, cystitis: embarrassing seems to equate with weary regularity to the genital area, although there was an epic case of athlete’s foot and an armpit boil so deep it swallowed half a q-tip). Thirty minutes of Big Brother, yawn, followed by half an hour of one of those holiday from hell things. By this point, I’m working through the six sudokus offered by my mother’s paper and waiting for a promising documentary about the God Hates Fags gang from Topeka. (You know, the ones who picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, with placards saying they deserved to die, surrounded by shocked but fawning cameras jostling for a shot.)

These people (essentially an extended family and six imported loonies) have the terrible logic of most convinced interpreters of revealed truth, which is as near madness as matters. They’re obsessed by rimming, though they prefer to call it ‘eating faeces’. Fags (sic) eat faeces and there are fags in the army. American soldiers are dying in Iraq. Ergo America is doomed. It isn’t logical, but logic isn’t the issue here. They have placards that run the whole gamut of fag-hating delirium, attacking everyone from Lily Tomlin to Elton John: their preferred victims are media figures (as they are), though they’re not averse to picketing a local hairdresser, who stubbornly refuses to repent. I’d rather be Elton than him, despite a local radio person assuring Keith Allen – whose documentary this is - that no one pays them much mind.

Hmm. The problem is that Keith Allen can’t argue and these people can. It’s rather like watching a fifth former trying to hoist the petard of his history master. It isn’t a question of who’s right, but of who’s competent, and seeing Allen repeating ‘fool’ like a mantra to someone who deserves a thorough trouncing at a slightly higher level (i.e. of argument) is simply depressing. The best thing, clearly, is to ignore these people, whose nuisance value far outweighs their significance. If we can’t do that, at least let’s send an interlocutor who can wipe the floor with their medieval nonsense. In other words - Christopher Hitchens, where are you when we need you?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007


This title is both what it says and the name of a story by a fine short story writer, Maria Donovan, which you can hear on Radio 4 at 3.30 pm on 21 June (i.e. later today). The summer solstice, in case you didn't know.The story comes from a recently published collection, Pumping Up Napoleon, the title story of which can still be read on East of the Web. See somewhere down to the right for the link (I know. I'm tired.)

If you miss the story and want to hear it you can go to the Radio 4 website and then the Afternoon Reading page and click on Thursday. Or go to Radio 4 and their Listen Again page. Whatever you do, enjoy!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

PC vs RC

It's extraordinary the way the people who complain about political correctness (without which it would still be perfectly acceptable to call a person with Down's syndrome a Mongol) are the first to get their holy knickers in a twist when someone says something tasteless about religion.

The Italians have a useful phrase in this context: due pesi, due misure (two weights, two measures). It's fine, in other words, to insult a person, or group of people, or life-style, or accident of birth. Just don't touch the revealed truth lobby...

Good riddance to...

...Bernard Manning, admirer, among other things, of Mother Teresa. And before you get sentimental and talk about his perfect comic timing, read this, taken from a Guardian blog posting by Strunt:

A charity dinner was held in 1995 near Manchester to raise funds for the police. One entertainer invited was Bernard Manning (then 65, pictured left), one of the standup comedians who do the rounds of working men's clubs in Northern England and notorious for his anti-ethnic jokes.

The dinner was attended by some 300 policemen - all white except for one black officer. Targeting this single Blackman, Bernard launched into a string of racist jibes. His audience (yes, the police audience) all whooped with delight and cheered him on. Here's a sample of the jibes reported in News of the World (April 1995):

"Where is he? How are you, baby? Having a night out with nice people? Isn't this better than swinging from the trees? - You're black, I'm white. Do you think colour makes a difference? You bet your bollocks it does!"

"They actually think they're English because they are born here. That means if a dog's born in a stable, it is horse."

"They used to be happy people in the cotton fields, singing their bollocks off day and night. A fella used to go around with a whip... 'Oh, massa, give us another crack of dat whip. I love dat whip'..."

"A Liverpool docker went to South Africa for a job. The boss tells him: 'It's people like you we want here. Here's a test. There's a revolver, go out and shoot 6 niggers and a rabbit.' The docker asks: 'Why do I have to shoot the rabbit?' He got the job.

Laugh? I could have died.

Blood and sperm

An exhibition in the once-red city of Bologna has been closed after complaints of abominable blasphemy from the catholic church. The offending collective was named La Madonna Piange Sperma (The Madonna Weeps Sperm). This would be unremarkable if the reference were to Mrs Ritchie née Ciccone, who has surely done this and everything else that can conceivably be done with sperm, bar produce it herself. But, rather naughtily, it isn't. As the original Madonna's representatives on earth, the local Bishop and various other ecclesiastical (and not) bigwigs have huffed and puffed and the show has duly been taken down. The organizers have managed to defend the right of art to say whatever it pleases while rubbing their foreheads on the ground in abject apology. The church has staged an expiatory mass, the high camp solution to gross offence. And so everybody's happy.

Oddly enough, when a garden statue of the Madonna wept blood some years ago in Civitavecchia, blood that was subsequently analysed as male, the church was more circumspect. I quote from a site called Visions of Jesus Christ:

The city's bishop, Monsignor Girolamo Grillo, said the statue cried in his hands.

"We have not proclaimed that the tear-shedding of the Madonna was miraculous," Grillo told the ANSA news agency Sunday. "But the facts speak for themselves." Corriere quoted the Rev. Stefano De Fiores, a Madonna scholar and professor at the Vatican's Gregorian University, as concluding: "There's the hand of God here."

Endangered species and how we can help

Tofa is a language spoken by nomads in the Eastern Sayan mountains of southern Siberia. To be precise, it's spoken by exactly 25 nomads, all of them old and unlikely to live much longer. When they die, Tofa dies with them. Languages are dying out at an unnerving rate, but what makes the loss of Tofa particularly poignant is that it possesses the suffix -sig, meaning 'to smell like.'

We can't do anything to keep the entire language alive, but I suggest we make a concerted effort to help such a charming and unique linguistic creature survive a little longer. It isn't hard. You walk into a room that smells of, say, socks, or your grossly obese ex-boss. You sniff, you pull a face, you turn to your companion and murmur: socks-sig or grossly obese ex-boss-sig.

You see? It's easy. And that way you'll have done your bit to keep this unparalleled linguistic item breathing for a few more years.

After which, the deluge. Hmm. Sewage-sig.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Gay Pride 2007: The interview (part two - the proof)

I'm ten lines down in the last column. You can just about see my name (and age).

Gay Pride 2007: Reasoned response from the right

Gay Pride 2007: The interview (part two)

More from the Rome pages of Il Messaggero:
«Io sono etero, single, con un figlio - spiega Michaela Parris-Lord, 55 anni, ex assistente di volo - sono qui per protestare contro il Family day, perché l’Italia è ancora arretrata rispetto all’Europa». Vicino a lei, Charles Lambert, 53 anni, insegnante d’inglese a Roma Tre: «Sono 21 anni che sto col mio compagno, trovo molto irritante ancora discutere dei diritti dei gay. Qui si parla della laicità dello Stato». «E a me non piace l’idea che l’unico mix valido sia la famiglia - aggiunge Sally Mac Laren, 52 anni, anche lei insegnante di inglese - io sono single e sto bene così».

(Translation: I'm heterosexual, single, with a son, explains Michaela Parris-Lord, 55, ex flight assistant - I'm here to protest against Family Day, because Italy is still left behind compared with the rest of Europe. Near her, Charles Lambert, 53, English teacher at Roma Tre university: "I've been with my partner for 21 years and I find it extremely irritating that we should be discussing gay rights. The issue here is the laicism of the state." "And I don't like the idea that the only set-up considered valid is the family," adds Sally MacLaren, 52, another English teacher - "I'm single and happy this way.")

Gay Pride 2007: Information?

What's most interesting today, after yesterday's euphoria, is the silence of the midday television news programmes (TG1 and TG2). Family Day triggered days of attacks and counter-attacks, as does almost every political event in Italy, however trivial. But today? Not a single word.

The centre-left clearly doesn't know what to do with a demonstration that accused the entire coalition, justifiably, of cowardice and inertia, while directly attacking some of its most prominent members as out-and-out homophobes. (Yes, I'm thinking of self-harming Senator Paola Binetti.) The still-to-be-born Democratic Party emerges from yesterday's demo looking even more sickly than before. If ever there a need for a therapeutic abortion, this is it.

The centre-right, on the other hand, astute enough to realise that, with a million people people in the piazza, no news is good news obviously prefer the event to be forgotten as rapidly as possible so that it can get back to the real business of re-assuming power for its own nefarious purposes.

The television has also been curiously silent on the announced divorce of post-fascist leader, Gianfranco Fini. Ah, Family Day...

Gay Pride 2007: The interview (part one)

This comes from Il Messaggero, the Rome-based national daily. I was interviewed at the beginning of the march yesterday and said an awful lot, as you can imagine. (If you can't, just click on the label homophobia.) The comment quoted, which means "I feel threatened, a few years ago there was a greater sense of freedom", was part of a larger attack on the impunity with which homophobic comments are made in Italy in ever increasing numbers, with no political response in favour of gay (human) rights, and the way this shameful silence chipped away at our hard-won social space. As it stands in the article, it sounds more whiny than I'd intended, above all since I've never felt particularly threatened on a personal level (although this may now change as a result of the article: I seem to be the only marcher whose surname and, in part, address has been provided in any of the three newspapers I've read today).

I particularly
like being described as colourful, happy and innocuous... as of course I am. Although I'm not quite sure about innocuous... I like to think I can be a little dangerous when the occasion demands. In any case, you can see for yourself in this photo, taken by Michaela. Thanks, Mike!)

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007: Sour faces

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Acidulous tourists outside a hotel. Faces like this were, fortunately, few and far between.

Gay Pride 2007: Bears

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The most bear-faced (sorry) of all the many bears. There's been an exponential increase in the bear category since 2000, as some of these photographs indicate. Cynically, this is a marketing miracle, in that it's managed to transform overweight hairy men who look more like American rednecks than anything else into something worthy of desire on a massive scale. But it's also a reminder that the movement is, as we used to say about the labour party, a broad church, with room for everyone. Which is far more important.

Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007; Parents

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Two people on the gay parents' association float, one of the most applauded. A woman in her sixties was hurling kisses and crying at the same time.

Gay Pride 2007

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Back to work on Monday....

Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007: Eggs and, er, bacon

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Benedict's beau, in case you don't recognise him from the manly chin, is Bush.

Oh yes, I'm talking about the bottom photograph. I've no idea who Eggs is dancing with in the top one, but despite his appalling colour sense he's certainly done all right for himself. (Don't tell Georg!)

Gay Pride 2007: Angel

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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Gay Pride 2007

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