Tag Archives: Norwich

Jean Cocteau’s Play, The Eagle Has Two Heads, Hostry Festival Norwich

Jean Cocteau’s, The Eagle Has Two Heads, Review

Peter Barrow (actor & backer) and Stash Kirkbride (artistic director) together make up the PBSK partnership that puts on the annual Hostry Festival in Norwich. This year their main play is the L’Aigle à deux têtes by Jean Cocteau, written in 1943 and first performed in Brussels, Lyon and Paris in 1946. The French play both became a film and was ‘adapted’ by Ronald Duncan for English productions as “The Eagle Has Two Heads”. Whilst Cocteau once unfairly derided his translation as “preposterous”, the performance, staging and script, on the opening night (continues till 29/10), were superb.

Melodrama Revival or Tragicomedy?

“It’s a revival of a long lost French melodrama, a romantic play not seen in Norfolk since 1947 when it was performed at the Maddermarket Theatre.” – Stash Kirkbride

Although, Cocteau himself, would rather see it as comic tragedy uniting a “human play” and “great rôles” in “intellectual theatre” with “violent action”. Take the sarcastic bite of these lines, for example:

The Queen: “I have not shown my face to a living soul, except to my reader, Edith. It is questionable whether she has a soul. It is still more questionable whether she is alive.”

Cocteau has sections of Hamlet read during the seemingly multiple plays within a play and references a resurgent theatre in suggesting that the King was killed for building theatres and the Queen criticised for her love of the arts and actors in the family.

The Queen: “…they all wanted to become actors. that was impossible, so what could they do but turn their lives into a play, each living his own comedy. But I dreamed of making mine into a tragedy.”

There were times when I wasn’t sure whether laughter was appropriate in this tragedy, for there were great comic moments and fantastic verbal put-downs by the two leading female roles, and to a lesser extent by the resurgent Stanislas when not in cowardly assassin or fawning lover mode, as for example when he calls the Queen on her conceited notion that suicide was insufficiently dramatic a death.

“All love is a little death, and great love is suicide.”

For those with a knowledge of French, back-translating the dialogue led to some great double entendres, including le petit mort above,  perhaps unintentional, but it added to the depth of the typically French philosophical and somewhat sexy melodrama – or tragic farce, at times.

Tracey Catchpole & Adam Edwards - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole & Adam Edwards – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Historic Setting & Political Commentary

“On a wild Autumn night circa 1910, a reclusive Queen dines alone in one of her many castles mourning the loss of her late husband. An assassin appears – he has come to kill the Queen but instead he falls hopelessly in love with her. For a brief moment in time their love blossoms, but it is not long before the corridors of power begin to echo with disapproval. And so, it must all end even before it has begun… but how?…” – Synopsis, Hostry Festival

Indeed, the play has echoes of Romeo and Juliet‘s tragic romance. This 20th-century play, set in the late 19th – loosely based on the “strange death of Louis II of Bavaria” – is, in addition, interlaced with questions of anarchy, the poetic temperament, philosophy of ideas, court intrigues, and even class commentary.

Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) & Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) & Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

The latter almost creates a play within a play as the supporting actors Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) and Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) carry on their own drama of love, jealousy, position and power among lower order nobility.

The Queen: “Those who are born slaves are free. Compared to us who are imprisoned in this tyranny [love, or indeed royalty].”

Meanwhile, enter the anarchic poet peasant with royalist leanings, with his uncanny resemblance to the dead king, on the anniversary of his death. The hermit Queen, not seen in public for years, has her own anarchic and heroic leanings, owning a copy of the poet’s seemingly anti-monarchy poem. She both dispenses with and asserts class and court etiquette in dialogue with Stanislas – a fact which he gains courage to take advantage of, to both the Queen’s dismay and pleasure for she hates cowardice. He, nonetheless, recognises that it is all within the Queen’s gift and that she is “the axis around which all men must move”.

“You are in the presence of your Queen. Don’t forget it.”

But then comes the distinction, is he, or indeed she, against the office of the Queen, rather than the person? For it is the crown that wields the power, not the wearer alone. Who is to be assassinated, the idea or the individual? Typically French revolutionary political ideas mixed with high philosophy.

Stanislas: “I am not hating my Queen. I fell in love with a cause and let a cold idea ravish me. So that when I broke into your room I was nothing but a mad idea.”

Adam Edwards as Stanislas - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Adam Edwards as Stanislas – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

As with the incognito Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s assassination in 1898, the assassin was attacking the system:

“I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.” – De Burgh (1899). Elizabeth, empress of Austria: a memoir, pp326–327

Staging & Acting

Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Cellist Ivan McCready – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

The fast-paced three-act play opens with an opulent open stage, set in the round – well a square (squircle?), with raised seating on all four sides. The backdrop is a large piece of double-headed eagle art by local Russian artist Gennadiy Ivanov.

A live cellist, the excellent Ivan McCready, sits at one corner of the stage adding real musical backing overlays and that resonant wooden tone that only a cello provides.

Tracey Catchpole as the Queen - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

I was sat on one of the four front rows, next to the cellist and to a card table that the Queen and leading actress sat at during the play, giving the audience a rare intimacy and experience of the action. And, action it was at times, with erotic embraces,  intense thumping dialogue, and not a few near and acted deaths taking place at the audience’s feet.

The actors threw everything into their craft, faces were stretched, contorted, angry, impassioned, spitting, “acting without restraint” like a Jean Marais (Cocteau’s lover) in Les Parents Terribles. This was something Cocteau wanted to restore to modern theatre, including a reading of Hamlet within the play, “with as much violence as [Stanislas] put into [his] last insult.”

“The appearance of a comedian-tragedian is the great novelty of the theatre today. By exaggerating the comic lines he manages, without seeming ridiculous, to put on the sublime grimaces of which the screen deprives us.” – Jean Cocteau

Tawa Groombridge as Tony - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tawa Groombridge as Tony -Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Even the deaf and mute role of Queen’s servant was acted with strength, poise and dignity by Tawa Groombridge, despite the scripted abuse by another role.

The calmer role of courtly Baron, yet no less conniving, Chief of Police, was played by actor and executive producer, Peter Barrow, presenting a foil to the rollercoaster love and hate, life and death, of the other interplaying roles.

Baron & Chief of Police, Peter Barrow - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Baron & Chief of Police, Peter Barrow – Hostry Festival, Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

To be honest, the Queen (Tracey Catchpole) rightly steals the show as both actor and author of some of the best lines, including lengthy monologues, that are far from monotonous because of her range of presentation, and constant movement to ensure that all four sides of the audience can be played to. Tracey describes the role as a “gift of a part”.

In fact, the gifted part was meant to be that of Stanislas, since: 

“The Eagle Has Two Heads was written…in part as a favor for Cocteau’s lover and favorite leading man, Jean Marais. Marais asked for a part in which he did not speak in Act One, shed tears of joy in Act Two and fell backwards down stairs in Act Three.” – The Harvard Crimson

The Harvard article goes on to compare Cocteau to David Lynch and The Eagle Has Two Heads, to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. Elsewhere, it has been compared to an inverted Beauty and the Beast!

Adam Edwards as Stanislas - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Adam Edwards as Stanislas – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Adam Edwards, does play Marais’ part well, but the stage presence and gravity of role mostly lie with the Queen’s lines. The to and fro of their interaction, the ebbing strength and weakness, love and morbidity, truly make the play stand up.

The Hostry play runs from the 23rd – 29th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office).

Love Your Local Market – Norwich, 17-31 May #LYLM2017

Love Your Local Market

Norwich Market
Norwich Market

LYLM is a campaign to celebrate and make relevant our markets. The oldest form of commercial trade, many have suffered from superstores, out of town shopping parks, and the online revolution. Keeping them fresh and vibrant remains a challenge. That said, many entrepreneurial migrant people have established stalls and brought international flavours and variety to traditional trades and ownership.

Norwich Market

Today is #LYLM2017 day at Norwich Market from 10-4pm. Historic Norwich Market is especially loveable! It’s mentioned in the Domesday Book, and one of the oldest and largest in the country. It’s been in its present location for 900 years pre-dating the surrounding buildings.

St Peter Mancroft and Norwich Market
St Peter Mancroft and Norwich Market

St Peter Mancroft was financed by the market’s merchants and its graveyard expanded taking in a row of the market because of 14th-century bubonic plague and famine deaths. All stallholders retain the right to hold their weddings in the church and to be buried there.

Norwich Market, Gentleman's Walk
Norwich Market, Gentleman’s Walk

St Peter’s Street used to be called Over Row and Gentleman’s Walk, Nether Row. Haymarket, Maddermarket, Timber Hill and elsewhere held additional city markets.

In the 16th-Century there were 37 butchers alongside the oranges and lemons, sugar, figs and prunes – then considered exotic international imports. Also, somewhat exotic, the 17th-Century saw lions, tigers, camels and jackals, displayed at the market, alongside “unusual people”.

Ice cream on Norwich Market
Ice cream on Norwich Market

Public punishments were also carried out at the market at its Guildhall end where the stocks and pillory were located.

Norwich Union (Aviva) was founded, over 200 years ago, to provide fire insurance to stalls and shops around the market.

The market now, once again, celebrates an international city with food and provisions from many countries as well as organic, vegan, and community-social enterprises. You can also buy hoover parts, DMs, flowers, clothes and more… Support and love your local market today.

Norwich Market, support it to keep it open and prosperous
Norwich Market, support it to keep it open and prosperous

Theresa May Brexit Suicide float provokes mixed feelings in Norwich

Brexit Suicide float arrives in Norwich

Brexit Suicide Float outside City Hall in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside City Hall in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

On the eve of BBC Question Time in Norwich, not just one political demo but two protests against the Government took place. One was anti-austerity/Tory and gathered outside The Open where filming was taking place.

The other was anti-Brexit whose centrepiece was a German carnival float with the sensitivity of a French Charlie Hebdo cover in the spirit of Spitting Image satire – how about that for European unity!

French artist but UK resident for 30 years, Laure Olivier Minns, drew attention to the sad state of the satirical statue, in an interview with the Norwich Evening News:

“Look at the state of her head already, it’s a sign that she isn’t strong and stable.” – Laure Ollivier Minns, EDP

Questionable Taste

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside the Norwich Forum, photo by Katy Jon Went

The humour was not to everyone’s taste, and as someone who has experienced suicide attempts, I found the subject matter challenging. The image of Theresa May shooting herself in the mouth was meant to be about Britain committing political suicide by Brexit. Instead, the image was profoundly personal evoking strong reactions.

Perhaps, it should have been Britain shooting itself in the foot, rather than the mouth, it may even be seen as an own-goal. Some erstwhile Remainers refused to attend the rally as a result, others like myself had mixed feelings.

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float going past Open and Anglia Television in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

During the evening I had several conversations with passers-by about suicide but few about Brexit. One car driver stopped and said he agreed with what we were doing and supported Remain but having lost a family member to suicide found the imagery distasteful.

Another person found that it conjured up allusions of male-on-female violence. I critiqued that view and pointed out that male suicide by gun is a much higher figure than female suicide fatalities. Well, it created a debate, but perhaps not the one intended. Much as Antony Gormley’s recent rooftop-edge human sculptures up at UEA.

Laure defended the choice to bring the float to Norwich and use it as one expression among many of people’s feelings about Brexit. She said:

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float: Laure Ollivier Minns, Katy Jon Went, Joan Pons Laplana L-R

“The message is clear: BREXIT IS TOXIC. And that I guess is at least something we all agree on. So this May’s float might not be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of ‘bad taste’ for some, however, I truly believe that it is so important for FREEDOM OF SPEECH to be respected and protected.

Visuals such as the float or other creative means like some ingenious cartoons show humour through carrying angry voices and it is a way to soften anger too strong for words and at the same time be totally spot on in delivering a strong message. Humour is so important to cherish and use through tragedies and political dilemmas to also lighten up the atmosphere. Likewise many creative placards that are conveying strong messages through cartoons of sorts, make an important impact in seconds and make people smile relating to that message or/and provoke a reaction. So what? I think it should. It is a way to be heard.

Brexit Suicide Float outside Jarrolds in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside Jarrolds in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went

We can’t expect everyone to agree on each of those creative means to carry our voice forward and it does not mean that the placard of Billy-next-door is a reflection on what we all stand for. We all have our own individual way of expression, shared by other groups or not, and we should remind ourselves that we are marching for the same goal: Pro-EU / stop Brexit > which are both about MAKING OUR VOICE HEARD whatever slogan one chose or art form used.”

Nonetheless, the satire also made the point that most provocative art and humour do, that life is sometimes messy and uncomfortable, opinions differ and divide; it was certainly a talking point – whether it was Remainers shooting themselves in the foot with a tactless float, or Brexiters committing political suicide, we’ll have to wait and see…

Düsseldorf Carnival Brexit Suicide Float

The satirical Karneval float created by Jacques Tilly depicts the British Prime Minister with a ‘Brexit’ gun in her mouth first debuted Düsseldorf Carnival in February and was subsequently used by the Unite for Europe campaign and March 2017 events in the UK.

The float is currently on a British tour and arrived in Norwich on the same day as the BBC’s Question Time took place at The Open.

Satire or Serious Message?

Düsseldorf’s Karneval regularly features political satire but this year with Donald Trump, Netherlands’ Wilders, France’s Le Pen, Turkey’s Erdogan, along with Britain’s Brexit, there was plenty of material.

The stodgy stereotypical image of German humour is clearly way off the mark as these floats were right up Charlie Hebdo‘s street and could have walked off the Spitting Image TV set. Humour, like art, both protests and provokes. I hope the conversation shifts away from the rather visible satirical attack on Theresa May and instead remains about the political and personal damage that Brexit may do to European relations and EU nationals living here, as well as threats to Britain’s prosperity and cultural tapestry.

Norwich Anti-Austerity Protest

Vince Laws: Oscar Wilde, "Cripple the System" Quote
Vince Laws: Oscar Wilde, “Cripple the System” Quote

The serious message about austerity and cuts and their impact on the disabled, the poor, and the most vulnerable was also protested outside the BBC filming by Vince Laws, Jan McLachlan, Tim Hughes and many others.

“If the system cripples you, you must cripple the system” – Oscar Wilde

OK, so Vince made that one up, but the #fakenews quote got you thinking and googling its source! What Oscar Wilde did say was – “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”.

 

Protests continue at Chechnya Homophobia, Gay-Bisexual Torture & Killing

Chechen Gay ‘Concentration Camps’

The Chechen Republic is a Russian autonomous region that is around 95% Muslim. Reports over the last week or so have continued to come in that around 100 men suspected of homosexuality have been sent to a detention facility in Argun, and that allegedly 3 have been killed. Calling them ‘concentration camps‘ may be a reach, but as we don’t know what is going on there it may be appropriate.

Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest
Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest

The last few nights have seen protests in London at the Russian Embassy and around the country because of the 100 detainees. Norwich held its protest with around 50-60 attendees last night on the City Hall steps. The supporters were addressed by Norwich Pride’s Nick O’Brien, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green’s Lesley Grahame, Katy Jon Went, Julie Bremner, Andy Futter, and Di Cunningham. (Gallery here)

Decriminalisation of homosexuality

Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest
Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest

We can keep the victims in the media eye, gain diplomatic and human rights traction by our voices, standing up for those who’ve lost their liberty because of their sexuality. This is poignant coming, as it does, on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

Sadly, over 70 nations worldwide still criminalise homosexuality and male on male sex which includes bisexuality, so let’s not forget that those imprisoned and beaten, even killed, may include gay and bi men, and trans – anyone who is an affront to the macho traditional image of Mother Russia and the two major religions in its regions, the Russian Orthodox Church and Islam.

What is happening in Chechnya?

One victim described how Interior Ministry SOBR police officers:

“stripped me naked. One filmed me on his telephone. Three of them beat me. They kicked me, broke my jaw. They said that this is a gay and that there shouldn’t be defects like this in Chechnya.” 

Rounding up the “defects”, the “abnormal”, speaks of sexuality eugenics and group genocide.

These are not just rumours, the Guardian spoke to two victims who were “subjected to torture on a daily basis” and activists report this is happening in multiple towns across the region. Helplines have been set up to help LGBT people leave the country and journalists who have reported on it are also fearing for their lives after threats and considering that the rare independent voice of Novaya Gazeta has had several of its staff murdered.

We have no Gays!

Denial that is happening is part and parcel of how this kind of abuse works. Spokesman, Alvi Karimov, for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov described the Novaya Gazeta report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, saying also that there were no gay people in Chechnya:

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

According to the Guardian, Chechen television is reporting that thousands gathered at Grozny’s central mosque to pass a resolution against the “lies and libel” in the Novaya Gazeta stories – “chiefly for suggesting there are gay men in Chechnya”!

“The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” – Chechen Resolution

This is similar to during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when “The mayor of Sochi, said there are no gay people in the city.” 

Why ban what allegedly doesn’t exist?

Famous Gay or Bi Russians

Why forget and erase the history of your own great LGBT+ persons?

From Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, probably Stravinsky, the son of Rimsky Korsakov, Gogol, numerous artists, dancers like Nijinsky and Nureyev, to Ivan the Terrible with 7 straight marriages but a preference for cross-dressed men. Not to mention dozens of counts and princes of Russia’s past who were bisexual, open or closeted gay Russians.

Legal Prohibition of Homosexuality

Apart from religious condemnation of homosexuality in orthodox Christianity and Islam, I’ve encountered a secular Russian traditionalism that also condemns being LGBT on the basis that it destroys the family, the national image, and is just plain “abnormal”. 

In June 2013, Russia brought in a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors”, not unlike the UK’s Section 28, but given the street-based homophobia much more dangerous. Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act stated that councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.

Homosexuality “in private” was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but plenty of discrimination and prejudice remains. Actually, it was decriminalised in 1917 but re-criminalised in 1933. That’s a stark reminder that equality rights won can be lost again, just look at India and Uganda too. Russia is at least 25 years behind the UK on LGBT rights.

The law banning spreading “non-traditional” sexual propaganda to minors is so loosely worded that almost anything could be seen as illegal. Locals say they fear even holding hands or kissing in public for the risk of attracting a £100 fine or worse. Prides in Moscow (2006-2011) have been beset by homophobic violence and since 2012 banned for 100 years by Moscow courts.

Russia’s second-largest and hitherto most open city, St Petersburg, has seen a deterioration with city council members since 2012 pushing Putin to harder lines on LGBT freedoms. Marked homophobia and transphobia worsened in 2016 with LGBT persons and their supporters being hounded out of their jobs, attacked in the street, and denied civil freedoms. 

Vladimir Putin, himself, has linked homosexuality to paedophilia and stated strongly that Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays if it wants to increase its birth rate.  The tagging of population growth on the end of that statement in no way minimises the echoes of a homosexual holocaust that was part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ in “cleansing” 1930s Nazi Germany of Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, and non-conformists, alike.

Chechen Laws and Attitudes

Chechen Republic, Chechnya FlagChechnya, in 1997, implemented Article 148 of the Criminal Code punishing “anal sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or a man and a man”. The punishment was caning but upon a third conviction, the death penalty by shooting, stoning or beheading. Since 1996 and repeatedly reaffirmed, Russia under pressure from the Council of Europe has had a moratorium on the death penalty despite a persistent majority of the population wanting its reinstatement. The death penalty thus remains on the books but not enacted since 1996.

In 2011, the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, is quoted as saying: 

“I have the right to criticise my wife. She doesn’t. With us [in Chechen society], a wife is a housewife. A woman should know her place. A woman should give her love to us [men]… She would be [man’s] property. And the man is the owner. Here, if a woman does not behave properly, her husband, father, and brother are responsible. According to our tradition, if a woman fools around, her family members kill her… That’s how it happens, a brother kills his sister or a husband kills his wife… As a president, I cannot allow for them to kill. So, let women not wear shorts…”

With these kinds of archaic gender stereotype attitudes is it any wonder that LGBT people are ostracised, given up, locked up, with little internal national complaint?

Freedom House included Chechnya in the “Worst of the Worst” list (2009) of most repressive societies in the world, together with Burma, North Korea, Tibet.

Toxic intolerance of Homosexuality

From the Russian Orthodox Church to Conservative Islam and extremist Islamism, religion, tradition and ideology are involved in the toxic intolerance of homosexuality in Russia and Chechnya.

We must support open-minded inclusive faith and practice, but not the closed-minded homophobia of secular and religious pronouncements and laws.

Keep Chechnya in the public eye, and don’t forget everywhere else we turn a blind eye to, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Uganda and the other 70+ nations that deny human rights to LGBTI people.

LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protest
LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protes

Brexit Britain triggers Article 50, Leave & Remain the new political forces

I remain pro-European & all that entails

I love EU, placard at Norwich Stays EU rally, 7 July 2016
I love EU, placard at Norwich Stays EU rally, 7 July 2016

I voted Remain and I still feel more European than British, a global citizen, part of the forward thinking age of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism. I try to take the best human parts of globalisation from its worst capitalist components. BBC Look East interviewed me today about Brexit to go out on the evening news tonight, unlike the poor BBC coverage of the 100,000 march in London last week, at least local news are covering people’s views about Article 50 and concerns for their fellow Europeans living locally who feeling like political pawns, now entering 2 years of uncertainty for their families and jobs. 

A new politics

As Britain triggers Article 50, Leave & Remain are the new dividing lines tearing up the old political party Left & Right rule book. Nationalism (good and bad), and broader consensus politics that is pro-internationalism, pro-migrants, more concerned about others than self, believing in the need for a rainbow coalition rather than party first electioneering. Being pro-EU has become a new political movement, just as UKIP was anti-EU. When Tory old guarders like Michael Heseltine are on the same side as Labour and LibDem remainers, you know something has shifted. 

Article 50 “the biggest sacrifice of British sovereignty and self-interest that I can remember…losing control over the conditions in which British companies trade and operate in our biggest market…all the stuff about gaining sovereignty, putting ourselves in charge, will be exposed for the hypocrisy that it was…” – Michael Heseltine

New Europeans

Norwich, which voted 56% Remain and feels like more because of its welcoming attitude to foreign nationals who quickly feel at home here, is also home to Archant newspapers and their New European newspaper launch. A paper for the 48%, for those anti-Brexit, anti-Trump, anti-Le Pen and the direction some politics are going. 

Europeans at the Norwich Stays Rally, 7 July 2016
Europeans at the Norwich Stays Rally, 7 July 2016

Old Britains

The resistance to change, not only from Remainers not wanting to seemingly go backwards, is evident in the unexpected 52% who voted Leave, who had many reasons for their decision. Among them, legal sovereignty, immigration, and yes some xenophobic racism, but perhaps for many a preference for traditional Britain, without too much further integration of diverse peoples, cultures, languages and the changing landscape that comes with it. The Remain campaign emphasised economics in their failed “Project Fear” advertising and yet just 2% of Leavers cited economics as the reason for their vote. Vote Leave had its own issues around false advertising – we’re still waiting for that mythical £350m a week for the soon to be lacking EU workers NHS. Both Leave and Remain campaigns were riddled with lies, damned lies, and statistics that led to project fear of immigrants v project fear of economic loss.

“We’re going to build a stronger, fairer Britain” – Theresa May

Fairer to whom, Britain first? Stronger for whom, against those who are already weak?

I remain worried about the narrative of “Britain First, make Britain Great again” which echoes Trumpism, and its anti-migrant, xenophobic language, building walls not bridges, pulling up the drawbridge and retreating to an island mentality, pre-WWII, pre-globalisation’s understanding of this internet and fast travel age.

I remain concerned about the new dividing lines, of Leave and Remain, instead of a unity that was continentally broader than our small sceptred isle. We are now fighting among ourselves to keep the Kingdom United. Scotland has every right to leave, as we have voted to leave the EU. I’d rather Scotland stayed, I’d rather the UK stayed within the EU, but I’ll support Scotland’s right to leave, does that make me a hypocrite, perhaps, it certainly makes Theresa May one for pushing through Brexit but blocking and delaying #IndyRef2.

“We are one great union of peoples and nations” – Theresa May

Wasn’t the European Union?

Social Values

The majority of Leave voters want the Death penalty brought back, and 42% want corporal punishment back. the time warp is more like 1565, if Jacob Rees Mogg is anything to go by, as he’s just hailed Theresa May as a 21st century Elizabeth I in Parliament!

At a recent ComRes polls Brexit Britain data event it was revealed that of those that thought the following were negative factors for ill in society, the majority were Leave voters:

Feminism 74%
Globalisation 69%
Green Movement 78%
Immigration 80%
Internet 71%
Multiculturalism 81%
Social Liberalism 80%

When 70-80% of the people who essentially oppose diversity and equality, and the modern global movement and communication age, are Leave voters, you can see why age, education and tradition factors were so prominent in voting intention.

Once in a lifetime decision

Age, education and rural versus urban dwellers, were the demographics most prominent in those that voted Leave. Take the vote again in even 5-10 years and the majority would probably vote Remain. Sadly, Article 50 is a once in a generation vote, although nothing is stopping us from applying to rejoin in the future, it would never be the great economic deal we once had. 

Interestingly, whilst the majority have held firm to Leave v Remain, YouGov’s latest 21 March poll puts each camp level on 44% with 12% unknowns. 

European benefits

As much as World War One and Two, were drawn up along divided national lines, the European Union provided the opposite. A unity of nations bringing prosperity and preserving peace from once warring nations. Indeed, Winston Churchill had called for a “United States of Europe” although did not see Britain as a part of it. The Council of Europe (1949) in turn led to the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) and to the Treaty of Rome forming the European Economic Community (1957).

I’m pragmatic about the future and still believe that at an individual, local, and national level we can speak positively to the benefits of European and international freedom of movement, exchange of ideas, culture, education and the arts.

Business will always find a way to make the best of it, we’re a nation of entrepreneurs and shopkeepers (as Napoleon or Adam Smith once said), my concern is for the people, the students, partners, migrants, artists, and the leavers – ironically, many of whom may be the worse off for Brexit.

 

 

 

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2017 Poetry & March for Safer Streets

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2017

The night began with poetry and speeches from a dozen poets, the NUS Women’s officer – Hareem Ghani, Helen Burrows of Leeway Domestic Violence and Abuse Services, the Lord Mayor of Norwich – Marion Maxwell, and Blur’s drummer, Dave Rowntree. Organised by UEA student union officers Jo Swo and Abbie Mulcairn, and compered by Maëlle Kaboré the event was attended by around a 100 people. UEA Union has established its own anti-sexual harassment campaign,
Never OK.

Reclaim the Night March through Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
Reclaim the Night March through Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

The march to make the streets of Norwich safe for all sought to raise funds for Leeway, end harassment, slut-shaming and victim-blaming in sexual assault. In addition, it was campaigning to Light Up Norwich – a petition to end the austerity cuts to public lighting and thereby public safety.

Prince of Wales Road, Norfolk’s most dangerous street

Norfolk is one of the safest counties in England, yet also contains one of its most dangerous streets, sometimes ranked as high as 23rd worst (2010) with over 50 violent or anti-social behaviour crimes in a single month (Dec, 2010). On a Friday night, thousands pour into its nightclub district around Riverside and Prince of Wales Road, requiring dozens if not on occasion, hundreds of police officers to be on duty, along with the SOS bus. It also ranked 4th out of 50 cities for harm to self and other after excessive alcohol-related drinking injuries resulting in hospital admissions.

“statistics show that since 2005, when pubs and clubs were allowed to open longer, there has been a 210pc increase in violent crime in Norwich between 3am and 6am and an increase in police hours of 12,000 per year.” – EDP, 2013

It’s a street that has been highlighted and visited by TV’s Jeremy Kyle and then, too, by Police and Crime Commissioner, Lorne Green. Two nights after the march and Police around Prince of Wales Road had a busy night with 21 detentions and arrests

CK from Norfolk, writing in Vagenda magazine, 2013, described the differences between sexual harassment in Norwich and London, thus:

Prince of Wales Road, Reclaim the Night
Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, Reclaim the Night 2017

“…lascivious comments are infrequent, especially if you avoid the many delightful establishments on Norwich’s Prince of Wales Road, known as one of the country’s ‘most dangerous streets’. What I was not prepared for was the sheer volume of street harassment that has become a near daily feature of my glamourous London life…

The tone here is different too. Men call out at all times of the day, not just when they’re drunk on a Friday evening and don’t realise that their ‘inside voice’ has become their ‘outside voice’. And for better or for worse in Norwich, you would often have the opportunity to interact with the gentleman clucking at you…

In Norwich’s Mischief pub, I once hit someone with my handbag after they decided that my arse was the ideal hand-rest, their wrist presumably tired from a strenuous day of wanking. I don’t condone violence, but I was tired and wanted a gin and for fuck’s sake, touching is verboten unless I specifically say otherwise.”

“Fuck Harassment” Public Order Offence

Reclaim the Night March Fuck Harassment
Reclaim the Night March photo by Katy Jon Went

Apparently, “Fuck Harassment” on a handmade sign is a public order offence but “Fuck the Patriarchy” wasn’t.  One female student was told by a police officer monitoring the march to put her sigh away or her details would be taken and a possible offence logged. As the sign was anti-harassment, I fail to see how it could be harassing!

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 says than an offence comprises two elements:
 
A person must (a) use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting; and
 
The words or behaviour, or writing, sign of other visible representation must be within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
 
Norwich Reclaim the Night Fuck Harassment
Norwich Reclaim the Night Fuck Harassment

Yet, no evidence of distress or intention to cause alarm is required to merit an offence.

The irony – that saying “FUCK harassment”, is anti-harassment by street harassers seems to have been lost on the police who made sexual assault victims into aggressors by their PC actions.

Poetry on the night

The poems, some old, some new, some about dangerous grannies with Uzis, contained raw, personal and often political (isn’t the personal, political?) stories of assault, violence, homelessness, gender dysphoria, rape and suicide, and not a few mentions of Donald Trump.
 
Katy Jon Went her reading poetry
Reading my first poem in decades, wearing ironic pink!

I hadn’t written a poem, successfully at least, since I was 15, when I think I got a ‘C’. I’m happier with political speeches, social commentary, or stand-up comedy, so when asked to write a poem, it was quite a challenge. The text of my poem can be read here.

Among the many great performances, perhaps standout were Ella Dorman-Gajic and Elley Tourtoulon, as well as punk poet & activist, Josh Chapman. Other poets and speakers included Charlotte Earney, Sophie Robinson, Jan McLachlan, Eli Lambe, Joe Collier, Nicholl Hardwick, Alison Graham,  Alicia Rodriguez.
 
Elley Tourtoulton poetry at Reclaim the Night, Norwich
Elley Tourtoulton poetry at Reclaim the Night, Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
 
Although, to be honest, the diversity and equality of quality of the poetry, speaks to the inclusivity of the event, particularly with two trans poets, and considering other Reclaim the Nights have witnessed trans-exclusive behaviours from some radical feminists.
 
The Reclaim the Night evening in Norwich, like the city itself, was inclusive and friendly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be made safer and more welcoming to all people, irrespective of gender, sexuality, faith, or attire, whether by day and/or especially at night.
 
Norwich Reclaim the Night outside Flaunt
Norwich Reclaim the Night outside Flaunt bar & club, photo by Katy Jon Went
 
 
 
 

Norwich protests Donald Trump selective Muslim Ban, welcomes Refugees

Donald Trump Muslim Ban Protest in Norwich

Hundreds of people in Norwich turned out to protest President Donald Trump‘s temporary immoral executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) entering the USA. One arrest was made, and the demonstration was otherwise peaceful with a diverse range of speakers and banners from the humorous to the very serious.

Judge me by what's in my head not on my head
Judge me by what’s in my head not on my head

Perhaps, the best said it simplest, a woman in a headscarf whose placard read “judge me by what is in my head not what is on my head”.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion and race.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, based upon nationality and religion alone, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion.

Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest
Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest

Two protests came together for this event, one organised by UEA student Lotty Clare of Movement for Justice, and the other by Julie Bremner of Stand Up To Racism. Other groups including Norwich Stop The War Coalition joined in and over 1,100 people signed to attend on a dark drizzly night in February.

The mood was far from damp, with resounding cries of:

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”

If anything, it was the hundreds of comments on the EDP online and Mustard TV posts that made me realise why we do this. The spewing of hate and Britain first, echoing Donald Trump’s election manifesto of America first. I talked afterwards to two Donald Trump and Brexit supporters, teenage girls from City College, they had no problem with elitist, nationalist, selfish, protectionist policies, though our debate soon turned to mental health and we had a good conversation. 

Norfolk Welcomes All Folk
Norfolk Welcomes All Folk

I was interviewed by Robbie West of BBC Look East, Emma Knights of the EDP, and ended up on a Mustard TV live stream. ITV Anglia also reported on the event. Good coverage and continuing to remind me of how great Norwich is, in the main, and after so many political protests and pro-migrant rallies over the last year it shows the strength of feeling in communities, both pro and anti. 

Katy Jon Went speech text

The 7 nation Muslim visa and refugee ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when the Whitehouse chose to #alllivesmatter the victim list by not mentioning Jews and homosexuals at all.

The fear that LGBT people may have their Obama-won state protections removed has also been concerning people, even if that comes to nothing, people are living in fear and anxious times. America’s biggest terror massacre since 9/11 was by an American, albeit the son of an Afghan immigrant – but not on Trump’s ban list, who traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia – also not on the list, before killing 49 people, mainly Latinos, in the Orlando Pulse club shooting. No connection to the seven nation ban list.

Despite the so-called British exemption, Iranian-born but raised in Italy and doing post-grad veterinary studies at the University of Glasgow, Dr Hamaseh Tayari was denied US-leg travel by the presidential executive order, the extra flights avoiding America cost £2600 however, public response raised more than double that via crowdfunding with the excess going to the Scottish Refugee Council. That is one way we can help. Similar to the folk providing food and funds, and many lawyers offering pro-bono free advice at airports across America. Lawyers are saying that “It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality” but judges and others unwilling to enforce it are being replaced.

Speaking about the ‘Muslim’ travel block and its effect on the vet student, the University of Glasgow’s principal said:

“The free movement of people, of ideas, of intellect is surely the very hallmark of civilized society.– Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow

Introvert's Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!
Introvert’s Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!

Indeed, America and its innovations and inventions are built on immigrants, not just the last century or so, but even those that first came to America, those pilgrim fathers and conquering Catholic explorers of different faiths to the established indigenous inhabitants. Indeed 7 nations of foreign religious immigrants from the early Norse to the British, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Irish and even Russians (Kodiak Island) came to America and populated it, and far from peacefully. 

Blocking immigrants now is hypocrisy and against its founding principles. Take the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; … Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

The Quebec mosque attack last weekend that left 6 dead and 8 injured was not by Muslims, but of Muslims. First reports drew attention to the fact that one of those arrested was from Morocco, another fake news story from a pro-Trump reddit said they were Syrian refugees, but not the truth that the sole perpetrator, killer, terrorist, turned out to be a far right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant and Trump supporting white supremacist inspired by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of Front Nacionale of France:

“Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Alexandre Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.”” 

Will Donald Trump now block Canadians visiting the US, or won’t it matter if the victims are other Muslims and the aggressors other American continent citizens?

11,000 are killed on US soil each year at the hands of US citizens, black and white, Christian and Muslim. More toddlers than terrorists kill Americans. Ban guns not Muslims.

ISIS kills more Muslims than Christians and more people from the seven barred nations than American citizens. How many Americans you ask?

The number of Americans killed by terrorists who’ve entered the US as Refugees? ZERO. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980. Prior to that only Cuban non-Muslims had.

Even if we include attacks and plots with no fatalities, then just 20 refugees out of 3 and a quarter million have been convicted over 40 years, that’s just 0.0006%, which is statistically zero anyway. An American is 250 times more likely to be killed or murdered by other means than by a foreign-born terrorist.

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list. Trump’s nations only enter the list at places 25 and lower! 

Pennsylvania Republican representative Charlie Dent said,

“the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”

Even Donald Trump admitted it was a “ban”, announced in his best official and professional sounding statesman-like way on Twitter:

Another US Republican senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain said:

“Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” 

Even Mike Pence the Republican VP denounced it in 2015 when Obama was advised to do something similar but less extreme:

Yes we need to be careful calling this an “all Muslim” ban or saying it came only from Donald Trump, as Obama’s advisors first drew up the list but as amendmends to the pre-existing Visa Waiver Program. The new ban cancels the visa themselves, rather than requiring them.

Theresa the Appeaser
Theresa the Appeaser

Wherever it started, it’s where it ends that worries me. “Theresa The Appeaser” came back from America and Foreign Secretary Boris ‘the joke’ Johnson announced British exceptions to the rules – just like Chamberlain’s futile appeasement attempts in 1938.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill

We won't let history repeat itself
We won’t let history repeat itself

I can appreciate the irony of standing under Hitler’s favourite balcony, Norwich City Hall, protesting. We do need to attack the policies not the person, appreciate the complexities of their origins, and not demonise the man, reference mental health and little hands, that plays into the insecure dictator psyche and adds fuel to Trump supporters that we don’t hear their concerns.

Just as with Brexit true communal change can only come about with all parties engaged, remainers and leavers, Democrats and Republicans, Labour, Tory and the rest. We underestimated the fears of leavers and Trump supporters that led to them winning society changing votes that will affect the next 4-5 years or more.

I would commend peaceful and polite protest, therefore, but without passive appeasement. The women’s march saw millions gather because it was peaceful. Better to let Trump visit the UK and then have a protest he can witness the size of feeling at. Unrest and civil disobedience are always a later option.

Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim
Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim

If anything similar were to ever happen here as some Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage have called for, then I’m with Madeleine Albright (a Czech immigrant to the US and former Secretary of State) and would register as a Muslim to demonstrate solidarity, before they list any other categories of people that need rounding up or banning.

Resist the ban, welcome refugees, and provide practical and legal support where you can, illegal support if it ever comes to it! It’s open mosque day this Sunday – go to one.

I am reminded of another of Churchill’s statements that diplomacy does not mean friendship with another state acting immorally towards its people and demonising groups within it. It reinforces the dangerous moral path Theresa May treads in appearing as Donald Trump’s greatest foreign ally.

“You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

View more photos from the protest here.

Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor
Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor

 

Church of England’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on LGBT sexuality

CofE Marriage and Same Sex Relationships Report

It was National Chocolate Cake Day on Friday and the Church of England celebrated it by issuing a fudge of a report on LGBTI acceptance in the Anglican Church. The 15-page report published today called for “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people” – well, so long as you are celibate and don’t want to get married. 

Bishop Graham James of Norwich led the CofE report into LGBTI people in the Church and concluded that there should be no change, some repentance, maximum freedom within existing prejudice – I mean doctrine, and called for more reports to conclude that there should be no future change either.

Okay, that last bit was me being cynical and pessimistic, but whilst history has seen the addition and change of women in not only leadership but the episcopacy, I find it hard to imagine ecclesiastical change on the position of gay and lesbian Christians any time soon, not to mention the very binary gendered position on marriage when even the Bible acknowledges the existence of people outside of binary male and female.

I was defriended by evangelical Christian friends and told by my Prayer Book church that it was easier for them to believe that I’d committed adultery (I hadn’t) than for them to understand my being transgender. Upon being asked to leave, and I used to deliver sermons there during an interregnum, I was offered the sickly salve of “I can put you in touch with more affirming churches”.

The current of society is flowing forward faster than the Church can even tread water mid-stream. As a result, it is like dead wood somehow anchored and stuck by a pseudo-theological/traditional snag whilst open-minded thinkers float on by. If the truth will set us free, then the Church needs to wake up to the risk of its own demise, ageing population and irrelevance to this generation. I was once a young person in a church, going on to become a missionary and theologian until my identity was rejected by the Church. It seems the Church is not interested in the truth of authenticity, something that has truly set me free.

The Church is not adaptable

Bishop James said that the church should not:

“adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time…I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.” – Bishop James

The bishop and the report also used language such as “culture of our times” and “lifestyle” questions, inadvertently suggesting that LGBT lives were temporary cultural lifestyle choices that would perhaps go out of fashion whilst the Church’s doctrine remained written in stone, essentially.

Any student of ecclesiology and patristics well knows how Christian theology and church practice have been hammered out at councils, and been at the whim of political and personal beliefs of the time.

Not to mention, the dubious concept of biblical marriage given how many types of marriage there were in the Bible, only one of which is between “one man and one woman”. Two women or hundreds more were also options, as were sisters, slaves, prostitutes, and eunuchs. Sexual relations often began before marriage – even defined it, sometimes. 

Clergy & Laity Double Standards

It was concluded that there was no double standard in denying gay clergy active sexual relationships and yet allowing homosexual lay people to express their love physically since canonical law demanded “an exemplary position of the clergy”. Yet, the double standard is that the same celibacy is not required of heterosexual clergy except in the Roman Catholic Church. 

“some bishops who would like to see the sinfulness of any
sexually active relationship outside heterosexual marriage more consistently upheld.”

So, going forward, heterosexual clergy may be asked similar questions or homosexual clergy not asked and “trusted”, so as to bring in an equality of ordinand interrogation. Bishop James said this is “Not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in any shape or form.” Sounds like it to me and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude open letter today now terms it “official policy”.

“No Change” – the way forward is backward thinking

“There is no change in theology, no meaningful change in practice and no change in discipline.” – LGCM & Changing Attitude open letter

Whilst canonical interpretations were described as “a latitude with boundaries” it seems the Church has butted up against those boundaries and finds little room for present or future movement.

“what they’ve announced is the most incredibly painful policy which offers zero change after 6 years of false reassurance and asking us to be patient and wait and see. We waited, some of us very unwillingly and they’ve dished out a load of shit.” – Rev Colin Coward

A painful policy indeed, exacerbated by the dangled signs of hope, now effectively withdrawn. Another priest drew attention to the bishops’ asking for sympathy for their plight:

“The report is at pains to emphasise just how difficult and painful all this has been – FOR THE BISHOPS! – and begs us to sympathise with them.” – Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Whilst Bishop James says it’s not the “last word on this subject”, it sounds like it is the last nail in the coffin for LGCM & Changing Attitude members who are “not prepared any longer to wait for the bishops to act collectively in this matter”. Their grace and patience have been stretched too far.

Whether it’s the Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), Pilling Report (2013) or the current statement (2017) it seems the Church of England is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition – of the past.

A muddled Church lacking in Love

The Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report opens early with the words:

“If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated.”

Sadly, that is the way the report is most likely to be heard by LGBTI Christians and LGBT-affirming society as a whole.

Bishop James said this was not the end of the process but left the Church “somewhere in the middle”. I think that is a typo for “muddle”.

 

Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York, off-Broadway Hostry Festival Norwich

King Lear in New York, Melvyn Bragg

The 2016 Hostry Festival production of the 1994 original play by Melvyn Bragg has been revised by Melvyn with suggestions by Stash Kirkbride, who directed this version, and one of the principal actors, Peter Barrow. The result is a play that positively zips along, in just 90 minutes without a break, with two outstanding performances from Louis Hilyer playing Robert and Rebecca Chapman as Jackie, who set the depth and drama of Shakespeare against the gossip and glamour of Hollywood.

Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

The other starring role in King Lear in New York goes to drink, for it is a dysfunctional family tragic-comedy with father, daughter, and brother, ex-wives and ex-lovers, and a prominent role for the not so on-off relationship with alcohol.

Modelled on Richard Burton’s own demons – drink and women, as Bragg admits, having also authored his biography, Richard Burton: A Life. Burton said, himself, that he turned to drink to “burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage.”

“I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder.” – Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers, p145 (2009)

Burton of course, never played King Lear, only King John, and whilst wanting to play Macbeth to spite Laurence Olivier, in a film version, never achieved that either. This play imagines a type of Burton before opening King Lear, albeit in off-off-Broadway.

Melvyn was in town on Wednesday to see the new version and take a Q&A on it. He was asked about the cutting and editing process, that included the removal on one character in their entirety. Personally, I don’t feel the daughter’s addiction is fully sold to us, indeed there’s enough broken family angst between father and daughter, even without her addiction to drugs paralleling her father’s to drink. Melvyn was keen to present her fragility and yet, unlike Lear, portray redemption and rescue.

There is a cracking score of music and storm effects, projected New York backdrops, vintage ‘brick’ phones and, I think I spotted a Dalwhinnie whisky centre stage, alongside the Jack Daniels and plenty more drink besides, on the permanently-on-stage cocktail mini-bar. More likely to have been cold tea or coloured water than the marvellous amber single malt nectar. Peter Barrow holds the stage alone at first, almost making one wonder if we are watching a 1980-90s Wall Street drama.

Before any chance of settling in, there was an early dramatic entrance by Robert, amidst a cacophonic clatter and clink, rather alarming the back row, and one wondered whether this was going to be a cross between Withnail and I and Waiting for Godot, or perhaps even Whisky Galore! The entry brings wine and JD to join the already well-lubricated ‘actor-playing-an-actor’ on stage who is on the knife-edge of a return to fame or floundering as a washed-up thespian wannabe.

Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

As if his drink and acting problems weren’t enough, he has broken relationships with his daughter Julie played with teen-twenty angst by Nina Taylor and ex-lovers to manage. Rebeccas Aldred and Chapman squared off with each other, arguing over Robert, his career, and his affections. Aldred was an excellent foil to Chapman, an in her role was equally torn between her allegiances and hopes for Robert.

All that, and King Lear too? A knowing audience would be left wondering how far the play within, or rather before, a play will ape Shakespeare’s own and be a full-on tragedy and no mere storm in a whisky glass.

Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

King Lear faced the challenge of dividing his realm between his three daughters, with the lion’s share going to the one who loved him most. In this play, there are more than three rival and competing loves. Dialogue and drama swing between the paternal love of his daughter, fraternal to his brother, and erotic – and there are a few good speeches about that in the play with regard to ex-lovers. Excusing his past loves as natural processes, defending the self-acknowledged Lotharian love rat that he was/is, he expounds on ‘what is love?’ Or rather, on sex – “Sex is like emptying your bladder.” Though, the full “repertoire of love [is] grander than a cathedral organ.”

Then there’s the titanic struggle between the allure of Hollywood and the age-old stage actor’s dream of Shakespearian challenge. A challenge, that the role of Robert is simultaneously tempted and tortured by, not to mention taunting by his ex-lovers. Whether an actor will ‘die’ on stage is part of the attraction he says. But one day and one death on stage would also kill his Hollywood resurrection, the others counter with. In the play’s first outing in 1994, one reviewer described Kate O’Mara in Jackie’s role as “horny for disaster”, Chapman, instead, seems to desire either his success or failure, but nothing in-between.

Life is an act. “He is him when he is most someone else”, the actor’s brother says, even the agent has to ‘act’ on his behalf. We are all the great pretenders, performing our ‘lie-dentities’. Whether in life or on the stage, we are actors in our own dramas.

Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

This drama is part sitcom, part tragedy, but fully engaging. Torn between multiple loves, do we love it? In the context of the play, it might be pushing it to say addictive, but the editors seem to have got the revision just about right. Quitting Shakespeare is as hard as quitting drink, it is as much a drug to its proponents as the skin-deep glamour and glitz of Hollywood celebrity. The play expertly channels King Lear through the funnel of boozy dysfunctionality of its players. Louis Hilyer is Shakespearean and Rebecca Chapman revels in exuding the worst of Hollywood and TV chat shows, even reeling in the excellent Rebecca Aldred as Bett. The play is certainly worth a second visit after 20 years and maybe even a second visit this week. Norwich’s Hostry Festival event is certainly off-off-off Broadway, and deserves greater visibility.

We are all migrants – Norwich Solidarity Rally with International Immigrants

Norwich Migrants Solidarity Rally

Rebecca Tamás organised a rally of over 400 people on 12 July outside Norwich City Hall, with a dozen speakers across cultures and continents, writers, politicians, faiths, artists, academics and activists, as well as the daughter of the Eastern European village shop on Magdalen St that was arson attacked on 8 July. The purpose of the gathering was to affirm the city’s welcome of migrants, refugees and all its international communities. Norwich is a city of refuge and literature to everyone with a story, a safe place for future chapters to unfold, even if there are isolated incidents of hate or racism, Norwich remains a fine city where the community responds to hate with love, to darkness with light.

Rebecca Tamás organiser and speaker at Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016
Rebecca Tamás organiser and speaker at Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016 – more event photos here

Hungarian-British UEA PhD student and organiser of the rally
Rebecca Tamás described the event as:

“a testament to the power of love and inclusion” – UEA Concrete, interview

In the same post-rally interview I said that:

“Nobody can say there’s even such a thing as ‘English’, let alone ‘British’ or anything else: we are already a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds, bloodlines and everything. But it’s about, even more than ever, despite that background, recognising that we are part of a global village. And it is this bigger picture we often miss: the fact that we are all human beings whose duty it is to always watch out for our fellow humans… at the end of the day, it is about stories, we have personal stories and people have community and country stories, but it’s having the freedom to have your own story, the freedom to then tell that story to others, to be heard and to be recognised.” – UEA Concrete, interview

We are all migrants. We are all story-tellers. We are all humans. We deserve the same opportunities, the same love, and the same respect. And, at the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.

Hate is taught and caught, not born with, children begin life accepting everyone until we teach them otherwise, it is good for, particularly young people, to be out demonstrating a positive response to diversity and difference, rather than the rise in xenophobia and hate crime witnessed post-Brexit vote.

Event Speakers

  • Katy Jon Went, writer & diversity activist (full transcript below)
  • Marcia X, UEA
  • George Szirtes
  • Samantha Rajasingham
  • Dr Becky Taylor, UEA
  • Pa Musa Jobarteh of BridgePlus
  • Fern Richards, UEA
  • Mohammed Ameen from Chapelfield Mosque
  • Annie Henrique from Norwich Liberal Synagogue
  • Tim Hughes from Stand up to Racism.
  • Rebecca Tamás, UEA
  • Cllr Alan Waters, Leader of Norwich City Council
  • Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South – by message

An excellent summary of each speaker’s main points can be found on Tony Allen’s blog.

Text of my opening speech

Speech download as PDF

Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Solidarity With Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Solidarity With Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016 – more event photos here

The UK and, indeed, East Anglia have long traditions of immigration. We currently have some 8 million foreign-born people in the UK, about 1-in-8 of us. But, more than that, many of us, if not recent migrants, have Roman, Viking, Norman, Saxon, Dutch, African, Caribbean or Indian ancestors.

Ironically, Brexit Boris Johnson has Turkish and Franco-German ancestry and was born in the USA so is included in that 8 million figure! Unless you want to class bombastic British Boris as foreign, the actual number is nearer to 5 million, or about 1-in-12 people.

Whatever the figures, though, the important thing to recognise is that we live in a global community, locally expressed.

It is community cohesion and communication we need to build to counter fear, hate, and prejudice.

My partner is Dutch and my family name has Dutch emigrant roots. In the 16th century Norwich welcomed Dutch and Flemish ‘Strangers’ till they made up a third of our population, bringing new skills that enhanced our then status as England’s second most prosperous and prestigious city.

Before that, back in the 12th century, Norwich was 7% Jewish but after the killing of a teenager, posthumously to become St William, that was falsely blamed on the local Jews, and so began the Blood Libel. A persecution and killing of Jews that spread across East Anglia and to Europe, from our fine city of Norwich. By the end of the 13th century all remaining Jews had been expelled from Britain.

In addition, slavery, empire, and commonwealth’s, often coerced, contributions to wars, trade, and labour, mean that Britain’s success owes a moral debt to people from around the world. Economically we have, and continue to thrive on, migrant people’s hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit. Economic studies show that immigration is a net benefit, that immigrant people are more likely to be in work or starting their own trades, paying tax, and not claiming benefits, than people of longstanding British heritage.

Whether people come to Britain fleeing war, terrorism, homophobia, transphobia, or poverty, they are all fleeing a threat to life, liberty, or livelihood. Even poverty is a slow death and until #Brexit we were the 5th most wealthy economy in the world after Germany which has twice the percentage of migrant background population. We are fully able to sponsor and support asylum seekers, refugees and even so-called economic migrants.

What we have to do is engage with British communities that bear the greatest new influxes so that integration is successful. London with over a third foreign national origin people is a successful example after more than 60 years of immigration, Boston and Great Yarmouth, among others, need time to adapt.

That means that grants and benefits need to fall upon domestic as well as international communities in those areas. It means increased spending on schools, the NHS, and community services, not austerity which falls hardest upon the poor. Doing this will reduce societal division, fear, hatred, jealousy and suspicion.

Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, 12 July 2016 #SafetyPin
Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, 12 July 2016 #SafetyPin – more photos here

Hate crimes have surged by 42% in England and Wales since the Brexit result, over 200 a day, the worst rise on record. Three race hate crimes an hour is three too many, especially when nine more per hour go unreported.

The UK needs to be at the forefront of offering opportunity and safety to all. Freedom of belief, expression, identity and speech, alongside freedom from poverty, persecution, FGM, homophobia, forced marriage, racism, and torture, these are the very foundations of a truly forward thinking country and culture.

Our Home Secretary will become our Prime Minister tomorrow, unopposed. She herself, though, has opposed immigration and despite after much petitioning reviewing asylum seeker processes continues to preside over conditions and interrogations of refugees that demand they prove their sexuality and threats at home in invasive ways.

Theresa May may have Tory ‘Maymentum’, and Momentum may have a meeting tonight amidst Labour’s leadership woes, but we here in Norwich have migrant momentum, maintaining Norwich’s place as a growing city of cultural and international diversity, safety, and welcome. Here’s what the City Council have to say:

Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, City Hall, 12 July 2016
Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, City Hall, 12 July 2016 – more photos here

“we, as people of Norwich, should be reminded and encouraged to take pride in our ethnic and cultural diversity and rejoice in what we can share with and learn from others. Above all, we should be on our guard against anything or anyone who sets out to destroy it. As an institution (Norwich City Council), which is an integral part of city life, we once more declare our abhorrence and utter rejection of any form of injustice and pledge ourselves anew to celebrating cultural diversity and to ensuring that all members of our city feel nurtured and embraced.” – NCC statement