Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Two quotes

"To read Richard Dawkins on the subject of religion is to read someone on Biology who has read 'The Observer's Book of Birds"

Terry Eagleton



If I Gift Aid a donation to a public school’s swimming pool I am claiming the right to decide that is a better way of spending my taxes (and yours) than keeping open the public pool in my local town.


Sara Maitland

More on both these subjects later.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Changing the World

These are the Oxford Street "Christmas" lights albeit that we not yet close to Advent - never mind bloody Christmas - from an angle I have never seen them before. Allow me, if you would, to explain. It's a largely self indulgent story, but no more so than anything else I put up here and it is, after all, a "blog" and apart from writing for a national newspaper or masturbation there are few things that are more self indulgent.

So on your own head be it.

Stop now and go and read porn instead if you don't wish to indulge me..

It's not every night you get to spend the evening thirty two floors up, on top of the world, with people who changed it. But tonight I did. And golly gracious, wasn't it fun. Let me take my younger readers back a year or two. You will find this hard to believe but Once Upon A Time there was...wait for it, no such thing as the Internet. "What?" I hear you cry. "No such thing as the Internet?" But how did homosexuals meet? How did they organise themselves? How did they ever discover there were other homosexuals? And how for heaven's sake, did they ever get a shag?

Well one of the things they did was to go here. They can't anymore because it's like, well, shut. As of last Saturday. It's not bad photography my darlings. The place is in darkness. Like - there are no lights on, and nor will there ever be again. That in itself is worthy of a Requiem. I am grateful to my friend Annie who asked "Who was the last in to First Out?" - and if anyone knows the answer please do tell. But I'm not going to dwell on sad things today. Because today we partied. We rejoiced in friendship and shared history. We renewed aquaintance, we restored friendship, we recalled old battles and told each other that we 'Had Done Good'. And what prompted this outpouring of mutual affection, respect and love?

The answer is - this did. Capital Gay changed our lives forever. It gave us a voice. It gave us an identity. It gave us permission. And (if you carried it where it could be seen on the tube), once in a while, it got us into bed.

And tonight we celebrated it with all the muster we could muster. It was its birthday and the people who made it happen thought it a jolly wheeze to throw a party. And how right they were.

We are going back to the days when I'd been to every gay bar in London - and there were five of them. To this day I feel guilty that when the sixth (somewhere called 'Bolts' - in Haringey of all places) opened I decided enough was enough and I didn't have to go. Nowadays of course, I haven't been to all five gay bars within half a mile of my house - but I don't feel guilty....

People like this

And this

And this

changed all that forever. A couple of weeks ago two young men walked passed the bookshop. They couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen. They were holding hands and believed themselves to be in love. And it mattered not a jot to them, who in Bethnal Green either knew it or cared. They will never know, (and nor should they) the stories of the people gathered on the thirty second floor of Centrepoint tonight that made it possible.

But hey guys, we did it. We fucking did it.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sin Compounded

Yesterday my mobile telephone was stolen. A gentleman in the bookshop was browsing books. Mostly the ones on the RAF I had sorted out to put in the window, with a poppy wreath. In Bethnal Green, which suffered more than most during the Blitz, it's important that those of us not of an age to remember, do not forget. The moment I turned my back to put the kettle on to make a cup of tea for a friend who had just arrived, ding went the bell on the door, and off he went. Carrying with him my mobile telephone, at least two books recording the deeds of people who gave their lives in the Second World War, and probably much else besides.

And so, I emailed my friends.

The email said :

Some twat nicked my mobile from the shop today.

Oops, what I meant say, was;

A deprived member of the underclass whose need for a mobile was greater than mine relieved me of... blah , blah, blah.

Of course I hadn't backed up my contacts.

If you ever want me to call you again please reply to this email with any or all of the phone numbers I might reach you on.

One of my "friends'' is PC Angela Cox of the local Safer Neighbourhoods team from whom I got the following reply

MPS automated content monitoring gateway has stopped the following e-mail for the following reason:

It believes it may contain unacceptable language, or inappropriate material.

Please clean-up or re-phrase the message and send it again.

If the Metropolitan Police are so sensitive that they reject the word "Twat", how can I possibly report to them that someone in the street has called me a Queer Cunt?

I've had Bieber's baby

Well I haven't actually, but hey, it got your attention and gives me an excuse for putting his picture on my blog..... Twenty seconds to make a baby? Somebody, somewhere aint doing it right. But that's probably for another blogger. I think I'm just not going to go there.

Let's talk about art instead. Specifically, let's talk about 'Performance Art'. And even more specifically let's talk about the performance art that occured in the bookshop this evening.

An actor, who isn't acting anymore, (as he was described to me) came to bookshop this evening to present his show, "I Have Never Even Killed A Bird". I haven't laughed as much for a long time. Not a raucous belly laugh, more a constant chuckle. But definately amusement and entertainment. The premise, if there was one, was a single incident of youthful recklessness that led to a night in jail. I don't do spoilers so if you want to know what he did, what it led to, and how his Mother coped, then you must kick yourself for not being there tonight and either seek out the show elsewhere or petition the bookshop to put it on again.

The point of this post is to say that however dull and ordinary what we do day to day may appear, with the sort of talent and dedication that Greg Wohead demonstrated tonight, lives less lived can be transformed. The act of sharing them, reinterpreting them, and re-telling them can become Art. They can become special. It is after all, what we do day to day that makes up the world. Our histories are what we are. Putting them out there makes them real.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

It is a long time since I have been proud of my inherant Anglicanism.

I have, over the last forty years, made several attempts to divest myself of it, with varying degrees of success. However, the last 72 hours have transformed, not only the Church of England, but, far more interestingly to me, how I feel about it and relate to it.

On Tuesday I indulged in a little bit of old time religion and heard Mass at All Saints, Margaret Street.

It's not an easy kind of religion, but the intention is sincere, the tradition honourable and the music.... well the music was sublime. We prayed, we sang and we listened. We were exhorted to challenge aggressive secularism by the preacher. He was right there. Fundamentalism, whether it comes in the form of the Taliban, George Bush or Richard Dawkins is scary. Really scary. I believe in my doubt. It's what keeps me going. Lord, preserve me from certainty.

On the way home, I stopped at St Paul's. I spoke last night of how that affected me. So much so I returned to the Cathedral twice today.

The first time to give a bag of books to the library that has been set up at the camp. I'd chosen a bundle of books on earnest political and economic subjects. They were received with gratitude and the request that next time, could I bring something 'entertaining'. Smutty novels it is then. I love these people.

They are doing stuff. They are transfiguring themselves. They are changing their world and they are changing mine.

After I'd dropped off the books I was happily sitting on the steps of the Cathedral when the Daily Assembly took place. I was ready to get cross, and to be honest, rather hoped to be. But fuck me, they did it right.

The first speaker was Michael. He is the cleric responsible for music at the Cathedral and spoke to invite all those present to come to the Mass of All Souls' later that day. He was heard with enthusiasm by everyone and embodied the radical change in the Cathedral's position that has come about in the last 72 hours. Next, we heard from members of the various working parties from the camp. Please don't urinate in the Cathedral precints. Let's all eat together, rather than apart. How will the Camp respect the Cathedral's observance of Remembrance Sunday? By this point it was crystal clear. The Cathedral and the Campers are not at loggerheads. They are, at last as one.

Finally, having been back at the bookshop for the afternoon, I returned to the Cathedral for the Sung Requiem for All Souls'. Durufle knew his God. His setting of the Mass, sung by the choir and played by the City of London Sinfonia would have stirred the heart of the most aggressive secularist. Can you have joy in grief? Yes. You can. Protestors, bankers, the committed and the curious were at that service. Some received the sacrament and some a blessing. Some came with faith and some came with doubt. But my goodness me they were all there.

I am at last, proud to be an Anglican.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Changing the World

After far too long, I finally got to St Paul's Cathedral this evening to play my own small part in the downfall of global capitalism.

It has been a matter of some regret that it has taken me so long - but heh - I have got a business to run, and somebody had to post out the copy of "Hilda's Where is it of Recipes" by Hildagonda J Duckitt.

Written in 1896 as a household management guide for ex-patriot young brides in South Africa, it contains jolly useful advice on how to remove sperm stains from silk - which is frankly, invaluable. The rather risky investment I made, purchasing it Brick Lane last spring for a pound, was today amply rewarded when it sold on Abe Books for £50.00. I only tell you this to put in context the fact that no sooner do I appear to have embraced capitalism, (and to rather better effect in this instance than any banker I know), here I am seeking its downfall.

And seeking it I am. And in the company of some truly lovely people. Do they mean it? Are they sincere? Look at this.....

I don't know about you, but I couldn't live like that if I didn't mean it. To be honest I'm not sure I could live that like even if I did, but then again I'm white, male, middle class and mostly unfamiliar with being uncomfortable, especially at night. I used to find Scout Camp a bit of an ordeal.....

But these guys are for real.

They are caring for the space. They are sweeping the steps of the Cathedral more often than the former Dean ever did.

They show more respect for where the Cathedral is coming from than the Cathedral has (so far) shown them.

We'll ignore the bottled water question for now - guys, it's wrong, wicked and evil by the way - but they are having a ball. And why shouldn't they. They are changing the world. They are changing the world, not through bringing about the downfall of global capitalism, which they may or more likely, may not - but they are changing the world by changing themselves. None of the people sleeping outside St Paul's tonight will ever see the world in the way they saw it before.

I changed a little bit tonight just by being in their company for about an hour. I'm old enough to remember the women of Greenham Common. They changed the world. And tonight, on the Feast of All Saints, when there were more Saints camped outside the Cathedral doors than there were inside, I am confident that something is changing. Oh - and if you really want to know why I love them - they had a library. More about that tomorrow.... (I've promised I wont write this blog when drunk - and I'm dangerously close.