Sunday, 28 December 2008

Gay care home residents have a right to express their memories too

Posted on Independent Minds, 28 December 2008

There’s an article in the Mail on Sunday today which does everything I detest about the Mail newspapers. It makes up an issue out of nothing, manipulates headlines in order to generate as much outrage as possible, and treats gay people as less than human. The headline to the piece is Home for retired missionaries loses grant - because it won't ask residents if they are lesbians.

What happened was this: Brighton & Hove has reduced funding to a Christian care home for the elderly, because it wouldn’t demonstrate that it was an inclusive community. Residents were not forced to declare their adherence, or otherwise, to the charms of lesbianism.

I can imagine how a council officer could turn a genuinely important enquiry - does this care home, which is a recipient of public money, meet the needs of all of Brighton’s residents? - into an exercise in officious form-filling. But that’s not the point. Brighton & Hove council didn’t demand that residents announce their orientation against their will, and nor, pace the Mail’s hysteria, did it force an enquiry into their current or previous sexual histories. The points are these:

  • Gay people are as likely to be residents of care homes, per capita, as anyone else.
  • All of us fund care homes through the fees paid by Councils.
Some of ‘all of us’, at least, are gay, and have a vested interest in learning whether or not our money is being spent appropriately. Appropriately, in this situation (for the benefit of MoS readers) means according gay residents the same amount of dignity as would be accorded anyone else. Any care home which refuses to contemplate the very existence of homosexual residents is clearly not meeting this appropriate requirement and should forfeit its claim to taxpayers’ money.

If you think I’m over-reacting, read this:

[Phil Wainwright, director of human resources for Pilgrim Homes] said: ‘We have every reason to believe that we have given places to gay Christians, and no questions were ever asked.’

I read this to mean: we tolerate homosexuals living here, so long as they shut up about their love lives prior to their arrival. They’ll be expected to keep their mouths shut when other people talk about their marriages, and not disgrace our Christian ethos by correctly labelling their relationship with anyone who comes to visit them.

Not a penny of my money, thank you, to fund an organisation which believes that asking ‘no questions’ of the people in its care is an adequate discharge of its Christian ethos.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

Posted on CentreRight on 23 December 2008

The Pope has said that saving people from homosexuality is as important as saving the rainforests ... something like that was the first thing I heard this morning, weaving my way back to consciousness, to the headlines on Today. I look at Keith. He looks at me. Is the tea ready?

Yes, this is going to be personal, but I don't think that matters, in fact it might be important. Some Christian leaders say these things, I think,  because - unlike the wholly wonderful Archbishop of Canterbury - they think that a focus on the bigger picture is more important than consideration of individuals. When the leading Vatican official in October described homosexuality as a deviation, an irregularity, a wound I imagine he was thinking of the bigger picture, and not about all the individuals he must know who are physical manifestations of this deviation, this irregularity, this wound.
The bigger picture goes something like this: God determined that we would have two genders, and that only single couples formed from one of each of those genders would sexually couple, and then only for the reason of reproduction. Therefore, any deviation from this pattern is a sin, is sinful, and ... this is where it breaks down a bit ... homosexuality is particularly wrong, almost uniquely so in the universe of pathology, probably because it mimics a bit too closely for comfort the ideal model. I've written elsewhere that we make too big a fetish of our biological variability, and that such a fetish leads to the growth of Identity Politics (one thing the Pope and I can agree upon).

OK but let's give the Pope's ideas a go. Let's do a thought experiment. Turn left. Rewind the clock. Let's start the day again, but without the homosexuality:

The Pope has said that saving people from homosexuality is as important as saving the rainforests ... something like that was the first thing I heard this morning, weaving my way back to consciousness, to the headlines on Today. I look at Keith. He looks at me. What are you doing in my bed?

Err, I dunno, sorry, some sort of an irregularity. Won't happen again. He leaves for work. He leaves for good, of course. The path of this good man's life, which is spent in acts of duty and care to others, leads to ... nothing. An empty bed and a solitary grave. None I think do there embrace. At least he's free of being a wound, an irregularity or a deviation.

I find an article I once wrote, about waking from a nightmare, with the sweat of the dread on my brow. I'm sure it once ended: It's OK. Not alone. Not alone. Now it ends: Alone. Leafing through the photo albums I find all these blank spaces, where holidays didn't happen, families weren't visited, children weren't loved, weddings didn't happen, connections weren't made. Only disconnect. 

Fast forward a few years, and the stability which my psychology requires having vanished, my life goes off the rails. I catch my last glimpse of Keith while I'm waiting in the GP surgery to have my blood pressure checked. I see his large frame pass by the window, taking his dog to the park. The affection of dogs for humans, and vice versa, mercifully left uncontaminated by doctrinal urging.

This experiment has to end now, sorry. Not alone. Not alone.


There is no bigger picture. You, and how you interact with the people who are close to you, are all that matters in this world. All you can change is all you can know and all you can touch. I think this is part of what Dr Williams was saying in his wonderful article earlier in the week. The Pope can wish the love I have for Keith out of existence if he wishes: if he could do it, if he could wipe the world free of my deviation, my irregularity, my wound, the only outcome would be a reduction in the amount of love on the Earth. Is that the church's message to the planet?

You probably know that the title of this piece comes from the work of a certain lady, whose humanity and complex thinking about human beings had such an impact on my early life. The picture on the right is the portrait by Tom Phillips, which you can see at the National Portrait Gallery, if it's still hanging. One of her sentences occurs to me every day, because I believe it to be very true. It's my credo, if you like. In the end, all our failures are failures of love. I am very imperfect, and my life is filled with many such failures, but my love for the good man who shares his life with me is not one of them.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007


I read a comedy article in the Observer this week about how insomnia is just one of those made-up diseases from a non-existent pathology that middle-class people use to make themselves more interesting (like wheat allergies etc). I wish. The author also said that insomniacs write too much on their blogs about it and it's boring. I guess this is true. But tapping away into the ether is preferable to staring at the wall. What happened to old cures? [Old cures were: any trashy murder story (not good literature: that requires a heavy bout of flu); the World Service; Something Too Dirty To Write About Even For The Ether]. They don't work anymore (actually books work less and less in any sense for me, something else for me to worry away at as the hours tick by -- is this the real thing about aging? A creeping anhedonia? I was thinking about this walking back from the Lido today ... I am fairly sure that when I was younger I was more or less interested in everyone who swam into view in front of me; but now I find it hard to care about anything out of my immediate perspective. I suppose the advantage to this is that one becomes more focussed with age but oh my goodness you could easily become very blinkered. Anyway hope that's not happening to me (yet) so I tried talking to the woman in the sandwich shop where I bought my caprese roll (don't ask) (oh, you didn't) but she just sort of grunted. Perhaps narrow perspectives are easier. Where was I? Oh yes. Not sleeping. New cure which does work but which terrify me because of tolerance (growing ineffectiveness over time) is to antagonise (pharmacologically) one's histaminic receptors until one glides into slumber. Unfortunately (apart from my terror that I become tolerant to the therapy) this is what tends to happen to me the next day:

Anyway why should I worry? There was a news report a few weeks ago that this BLOODY government is going to make it illegal to purchase such mild sedatives over the counter (or any cold remedy which contains them: goodbye vicks sinex inhaler; goodbye night nurse) and leave them prescription only, which since I can't get on a GP's list because of this BLOODY government etc means that they will be as elusive to me as sleep itself.

Monday, 7 May 2007

When Did You Last See Your Conservative Government?

BBC Parliament is re-running its 1997 General Election coverage ... where were you when the bastards stormed the Citadel? And did anything good come from 1997?

It taught me that I'm not always right about everything (this came as a shock :-0)). I had an election party at my manky student pad in Glasgow in 1992 and suffered hours of socialist friends saying "Och weil it's a shame for you Tories", only to have to run to the kitchen to stuff spoons in my mouth and shout for joy when it became obvious we were going to win again (Stirling! Galloway!). Then in 1997 I attempted repeat though by this time was expat in Italy and perhaps me and my other right wing expat friends were a little out of touch ... there were no Labour voters present to jeer but we fell silent, one by one, leaving the spumante untouched (that last bit is made up).

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Antisocial Irresponsibility tackled head-on by Mayoral Candidate Boff

There I was, congratulating Mayoral Candidate Andrew on his great showing in the Conservative Home members' poll and discussing the themes for his platform, standing on the corner of Broadway Market, Saturday Farmer's marketing in full flow all around us, and just as I was making the most arse-y statement of the week ("I watched a really good videopodcast from Cameron about social responsibility, in the car that brought me back from the airport last night"), waiving my recently purchased organic leek around for emphatic effect, when a hooded youth threw away a half empty can of fizzy pop, which landed at our feet. Oi! I shouted, and Oi! I'm glad to report, also shouted Mayoral Candidate Andrew at said youth, and what's more, he went after and upbraided him. Social Responsibility in action!

Later during the same marketing trip, Mr Keith and I were asked to sign a petition to help protest against the erection (oh for goodness' sake) of a phone mast on London Fields. I signed, happily, but fear I was unable to resist pointing out to the earnest young environmentalist that you get the sort of local government that you vote for, and while indeed much of Britain will today be waking up to a brighter, greener, Tory-er borough, here in Hackney we Labour on (geddit) under the crushing boot of municipal failure/socialism.

What joy it must be to be alive in Gedling this morning, for example! Unless one works for the BBC. My favourite This Paper Is So Crap You'd Be Better Of Looking At The Back Of The Bogs In Your Local For Political Insight Than Parting With Money For This Shit headline was in The Times yesterday: Conservative Limp To Finish was how they described: an increase in Tory councillors of more than 800; the complete wipe-out of socialism in the south; the destruction of the Liberal Democrats; the highly respectable new showing of our party in the North (a quarter of the Tory gains were in the North); &c &c. Not sure what planet Times political writers are on (Planet BBC?) but it's not one which contains the UK.

Well time to scrub the squash I think. I'm making roasted squash and beetroot, with roasted sesame seeds on top (I got the recipe from a Sainsbury's packet!). Am beyond belief amused that if one types "butternut squash" into the Google image search engine, one is presented with a range of photographs which would have kept That's Life chortling away for weeks, viz:

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Drinks With David

Mr Keith and I went to have a drink with David Cameron last Monday. OK the truth is that we went to a very crowded room in the new Tory HQ at Millbank, and stood at the back while The Leader addressed about 200 of us crammed into a room designed for at most 50. Reader, all human life was there! First visit to the new HQ ... very nice whitewashed floorboards in reception. And more champagne than I can manage. Unfortunately I have a rule "never say no to champagne", largely because you never know if you'll ever get any more.

Mr C was cool as ever. Normally Keith and I just hang around the back of these events, enjoying the ambience, people-spotting ("oh look! Lord Strathclyde! He's lost weight and he's looking great!" [he was, too]) but this time after the Vote Blue, Go Green baby roundup from David, he toured the room and introduced himself to everyone. Someone had the unenviable task of preceeding him, asking the names of each group of to-be-introduced-ees, then telling David who he was about to meet.

I engaged the leader in 10 minutes of witty badinage at Gordon Brown's expense, and am sure there will be several references to me in the index of his autobiography. Actually, the conversation went like this:

David Cameron [for it was him!] : Hi, where do you two come from?
Me [sweaty with nerves, eyes-bulging at proximity of greatest hope in UK politics &c &c]: Hackney.
Dave [screwing up face] : I'm always in bloody Hackney!

It's true you know. The borough could have been designed as a show-piece for any centre-right politician who wants to show what's wrong with socialism and how we need a bit more social responsibility. There are lots of examples of social responsibility happening in this place, in the teeth of Labour opposition, and it makes a great backdrop when Mr C wants to introduce a political theme.

Sadly I think I didn't make the most amazing impression (I didn't have my Converse trainers on, perhaps it was the fact that Keith chose this moment to launch into a tirade about the fact that we didn't get a Christmas card last year, whereas Michael and Sandra Howard always found the time &c &c) but we had fun. Despite the press he gets, only Keith and I are ever tieless. There's nothing like a gathering of senior Tories for making me feel scruffy. The funny thing is, at work that day, Andy said to me "ooh look at you all dressed up".

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Victoria Park Saturday

We had a lovely walk round Victoria Park, the Roman Road market in Bow and back to Bethnal Green yesterday. I took some photos, starting in Victoria Park's "Village", on Lauriston Road, and some of Keith looking quite funky I thought in the Fat Cat at Bow Wharf.

You can see them all on the Facebook photo page here.