Six years to the day after the 1500 v 200 EDL counter demo and the fine welcoming city of Norwich has another small demo, Norwich Against Fascists! Counter demonstration! “There are many many more of us than you” was being chanted by 750 anti-racists and Remainers (mostly) and 50 Unity UK pro-Leave Brexiteers shouting back the same and “More of us voted Leave than you” and “you lost”!
The atmosphere was mostly good-natured, carnival-like with drums, whistles, chanting, occasional discussion and the odd rant. One masked protester was led away, possibly anarchist/anti-Fa, certainly a scarf covering their face but there was no violence.
The police, some 30-40 or so, created a thin blue, well hi-vis yellow line, to keep the sides apart, sadly also blocking the dialogue, the lack of which has left us in Brexit impasse land. Initially, kept to opposing pavements, and allowing the traffic to pass, the police eventually surrendered to the sheer size of the counter-protest and even re-drew the line in the centre of St Peter’s Street.
After an hour, they also mostly gave-in to allowing people to cross the street and engage with each other. At times, it was clear some of the police were struggling to keep their serious and professional faces on given the number of humorous moments.
Even the police giggled when Lab Cllr Jess Barnard started playing Benny Hill over the megaphone! Rather ironically, similar chants were echoed on each side of the street:
“Whose streets, our streets”, “No to racism, No to Nazis, no to fascism” “You’re the racists”, “No, you’re the racists!”
Towards the end, it was almost comical as the Remainers remained and the Leavers left, leaving perhaps a dozen Brexiteers facing still hundreds of anti-racists. The larger crowd refusing to depart until their counter-demo had fully seen off the other side. Police remained on site waiting for one side to completely depart but were frustrated when the larger crowd decided to cross the street and swamp the “drain the swamp” protesters. A few of the latter repaid the gesture and also switched sides leading to hilarity and confusion.
At the close, some 2-3 hours later, several protesters shook hands after dialogue, others persisted in their polarised positions.
The Unity UK Leave contingent tried to convince me that their side of the street was more diverse than the Remainers/anti-racists, but that was hard to accept seeing as how they were 99.9% white, and 75% older people, some dressed in 1950s fashion, a time they perhaps wanted to send Britain back to.
I had conversations with perhaps half-a-dozen of the pro-Brexiteers including a passionate but polite chap called Joe, an older woman whom we both agreed were opposed to Theresa May, and several others willing to dialogue. Nothing will change without conversation, communication and, probably, compromise about our beliefs.
Both sides were a bit confused by the use of the word fascist, both calling each other it. The word really defines those who are totalitarian, anti-democratic and ultranationalist. Along with Nazis – despite the odd mocking salute, it’s a word that didn’t really describe anyone there. One of the Leavers complained about being called a “Nazi” saying “I have an Indian wife”.
Poignant, as it was, across from the city’s War Memorial, the day before armistice day, when we remember standing up to aggression, conquest, fascism, hate, imperialistic ultranationalism, and ultimately, cultural xenophobia in two world wars.
We need to stop fighting and start uniting, build better and common futures, that was why the EU was born, for peace and prosperity, and to end wars.
Norwich’s Hostry Festival 2018 play is Rebecca Chapman‘s “The Boy in the Lighthouse“, a Total Ensemble Theatre Company production that is inclusive in every sense of the word. From the actors it casts to all the various forms of visual and audio art forms it embraces, and to the warning to be careful that the cast don’t step on your toes if you’re in the front row!
“Our focus this year is on inclusion and diversity, and I’m more than proud to announce Total Ensemble Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Boy In The Lighthouse as our festival Central Production. With a cast of over 25 from all over Norfolk.” – Stash Kirkbride, Hostry Festival founder
Some might consider an inclusive production that is mainly movement and music from a cast of all abilities and levels of experience a strange or even risky choice after a history of pedigreed plays and poems at the 8-year-long Hostry Festival. These have included the likes of Jean Cocteau’s “The Eagle Has Two Heads“, Melvyn Bragg’s “King Lear in New York“, TS Eliot’s “Four Quartets“, and “The Night Of The Iguana” by Tennessee Williams.
If the Hostry Festival is willing to experiment and take risks, then Total Ensemble embodies that in extremis.
On opening night there was a packed audience, some even standing, as the play opened to the sound of gunfire or was it fireworks? There was intense movement and music, and several masked cast seemingly playing pass the parcel with a wrapped bundle. Already it’s a mystery wrapped in a bundle of layers just as the parcel is passed around and a layer removed becoming a garment put on by one of the actors.
If, in the opening scenes, cast and audience both seem lost, with the plot at times needing a light shone upon it, have patience, for that light is eventually shone and the parallel tales of the play knot together like twin searchlights eventually crossing over and finding their quest.
“Living in a remote lighthouse, isolated and forgotten, a young man creates a world for himself with the help of his imagination and the magic that resides in the beam of light that scans the ocean at night. There is a mystery… the solution to which lies within a secret buried deep in the past. Join him as he embarks upon an adventure into fantastic worlds, travelling to find peace in a place where he truly belongs.”
The play is mysterious, a journey, never on the rocks but sometimes in the dark. In fact, it is performed in the round so we all see it from different sides, as this round is a square!
If the performance is a little unclear in the early scenes, then so are the characters’ ideas of where they are heading. This may be in part down to the play’s piecemeal coming together over several years, multiple influences, and a creative democracy where workshops and improv have created aspects of the whole that have been weaved into its final form. Chapman, like a master carpet weaver, has, though, managed the feat of tying it all together and maintaining the story and pace in the packed 75-minute drama that effortlessly sails by.
The seriousness with which the piece is performed is portrayed on the faces of every actor, some smiling, some grimacing, everyone giving one-hundred-per-cent. As Hugh Darrah, who plays the Boy, says “we are super focused” and he was, holding a calm consistent centre to the play whilst all around him is sometimes blowing about like a storm.
The physical set pieces of bodies entwined, contorted, at rest yet like sharp rocks surrounding the base of a lighthouse, appear uncomfortable as a dry stone wall but seemingly at ease, much as their cast do.
Timing is everything and the choreographed coordination of movement with the music is transfixing, at times it is perfect with hands in the air moving synchronously with the sounds and narration.
The soundscape is dramatic and really conjures up the slightly creepy end-of-pier atmosphere as well as the lighthouse seascape. It’s even reminiscent of Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks – a favourite of creator and director, Rebecca Chapman. Somehow Chapman, who created the complex soundtrack and voice over, wrote the play, directed, also plays three roles and clearly takes great care of her cast.
Young actor Lexi Watson-Samuels carried off the role of a crow convincingly with a bird’s inquisitive and alert jerky head movements, akin to an indigenous shaman channelling a bird. She embodied the role very well and even when not the focus of a scene remained fully present and in role.
Real and surreal, magical and mechanical, collide in a tale that is both exterior and inner journey. The eponymous Boy ‘in the Lighthouse’ is lost and seeking something just like another character in the play, the end-of-pier broken fortune teller, who cannot remember the past or predict the future.
We are bombarded like waves upon a ship in a storm with messages of brokenness, loss, loneliness, abandonment, and a search for meaning and release. Looking for answers and needing the light.
As the play notes say, the Boy in the Lighthouse is a “dark story bathed with light” that leaves you asking questions and recognising human inconsistencies much as man-made light or magical fortune tellers.
Peter Barrow, acting for the first time with Total Ensemble, though he has been in many a Hostry festival play in past years, is transformed from curmudgeonly sea dog to sea God by costumery that reminds me of a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who and the Sea devils episode from 1972.
The commitment of the cast to telling this tale is evident in their energy, composure, connection and regard for each other’s space and place on stage. This may be about a boy, a man, a god, set in a lighthouse, or fortune teller box, but in the end, nobody steals the limelight they all share it. The cast is listed in alphabetical order not in order of importance and each get equal say and space on the programme to describe their experience of working with Total.
“The greatest shock joining Total this year was the complete lack of hierarchy to the point that I could not discern between alumni and newcomers. Unlike any other experience of group work the atmosphere of acceptance inspires people from all walks of life to come together in confidence.” – Luke Arnup, ‘Teenage Brother/Son of Sea God’
The finished play is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word, inclusive of all its cast, and its audience on four sides. Truly an expertly produced play that really works in the round. You should go see even if only just to read their 15-or-so words of fame that each has been allotted on the back of the programme, I defy you not to shed a tear at how Total Ensemble has made some of them feel included and more confident in themselves.
The Hostry Festival main play runs from the 22nd – 28th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office). Wednesday and Saturday, like Monday, are sold out.
The third Norwich Reclaim the Night took place on International Women’s Day 2018, spearheaded by UEA students and young intersectional and international feminists. It was inclusive of trans and non-binary people, as well as men, focusing on safety for all not gender. Sex worker freedom from violence, intimidation and harassment was also signposted. This was feminism for all without any infighting or exclusion.
Rallying talks and emotive poetry (all with content warnings) raised the issues of violence against women, of “Yellow Peril” racism on the streets, of domestic and sexual abuse, of hate crimes, and of the need to take back and create safe streets for all. The evening began with a talk about Leeway domestic violence and abuse services and also fundraised for them.
“Many marches are women-only and sadly some groups have discriminated against trans participants… We came out to show that Norwich is no longer a place where you can be harmed or discriminated against for the colour of your skin, your faith, gender, sex, nationality or sexual orientation.” – UEA event organising group
March chants – and Poppy Rose was in good voice, included:
“Love, not hate
Makes Norwich great!”
“Claim our bodies
Claim our right
Make a stand
Take back the night!”
The march of some 50-plus people was one of solidarity, safety, and sensitivity, looking after the welfare of everyone involved, several of whom spoke of surviving sexual abuse or other forms of harassment.
A number of young Spanish feminists found the event on Facebook, and were surprised more wasn’t happening on International Women’s Day whilst reflecting with sadness that they weren’t home in Spain during its first nationwide feminist strike of some 5 million women.
During the march, some dozen men on the streets asked me what it was about – there was no mockery but positive approval. Women standing in the queue for nightclubs gave us whoop-whoops as we passed, a couple of times cars honked their horns in solidarity.
This is indicative of how positive Norwich can be.
Unlike other Reclaim the Night events across the country, such as in London, which is considered a ‘women-only’ march, Norwich’s variation promotes an all-inclusive attitude towards supporting all individuals who may be affected by sexual harassment. Second year student, Ryan Jordan, who also delivered a speech and performed several poems, said,
“When I performed, my heart was pounding at first. But in the second half, I thought, ‘I’m with people who are amazing, and in Norwich you feel that you can do anything, unlike London…You’ve got a beautifully different array of people. It feels so safe. And UEA has always been very accepting. I feel okay being myself, and I feel that’s what Reclaim the Night is about.” – Ryan Jordan, as reported by Chloe Howcroft
As an invited speaker, for the second year running, I was loathed to draw attention to the issues of trans people, particularly trans women, and especially on #IWD, but current media headlines necessitated it and it was a safe place to do so given how inclusive an event the organising team had made it.
Here’s what I had to say:
Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018 speech
“Reclaim the night is an annual march … intended to reclaim bodily autonomy and space that is often stolen from us by gendered and sexual violence”
“All genders welcome. This is a sex-worker inclusive event, and we actively advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work. This is also an explicitly trans inclusive march. Given the chequered history of Reclaim the Night elsewhere in the country, we consider this vital to state clearly, and to do all we can to challenge the worrying rise of so-called radical feminism” – Brighton
“Boss babes see one another fighting for not with other women and systems.”
It is claimed that trans women mark the same level of risk to cisgender women as cisgender men do when in fact they are themselves at a higher risk of some types of abuse and attack (and ironically trans women as perpetrators of extreme violence pose a greater risk to men rather than women!)
The first attack, I mean “free speech debate”, that I saw in the media was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and was by Judith Green of A Women’s Place UK calling it “transgender activists and the real war on women“.
Not from a handful of trans people who in almost equal numbers now are traversing the gender divide and leaving biological birth essentialist determinism behind thus showing that neither the gender construct nor birth lottery need define you. Surely, that IS feminism?
Wonderful night! Thank you so much to everyone who showed up for #NorwichReclaimTheNight2018 and dug into their pockets to donate to @LeewayDV and to all the readers and speakers! A great inclusive way to mark #IWD
— Eli Lambe (@elisheepe93) March 9, 2018
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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, 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
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
Brexit Suicide float arrives in Norwich
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
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.
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:
“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.
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
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”.
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.
— Pride in London (@LondonLGBTPride) April 13, 2017
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)
— Norwich Pride (@NorwichPride) April 13, 2017
Decriminalisation of homosexuality
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.
Chechnya: Men detained for being perceived to be gay must be immediately released & their abuse/persecution ended https://t.co/DbbnIVQbSf
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 13, 2017
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
Chechnya, 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.
I remain pro-European & all that entails
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
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.
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?
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:
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.
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
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,
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:
“…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
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!
Yet, no evidence of distress or intention to cause alarm is required to merit an offence.
Poetry on the night
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.