Saturday, October 31, 2009

top 30

Top 30 - 2 November 09

Halloween: don't grudge horror from Japan

The UninvitedThe first really scary film I remember watching with my Mum on TV was Lewis Allen's 1944 The Uninvited, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. It reproduced the feeling of the hairs on the back of your head standing up when you're convinced somebody - something? - is following you, even though you've looked behind you repeatedly and seen nothing there, only strengthening the feeling that something is hiding.

I spent decades trying to find a film as scary. I watched many horror films, from the set-pieces of Hammer to Clive Barker's Hellraiser series. The genre, like any other, wasn't static: the Hammer films became ever more sexualised and realistically violent, occasioning Christopher Lee's disgusted departure from the company; and the Hellraiser franchise drifted into formulaic blandness.

 the film of the book - CarrieEventually I stopped watching horror films, because the genre came to the point where "horror" was no longer interpreted as rising tension leading to a macabre catharsis (as in Brian de Palma's 1976 interpretation of Stephen King's Carrie), but rather what Takashi Shimizu, director of The Grudge and The Grudge II, called a "splatter-boom". I can sympathise with him - from Romero's Night of the Living Dead through The Evil Dead to Thirteen Ghosts (I refuse to write THIR13EN unless imprisoned in parentheses), cinema-goers have been robbed of horror by self-aggrandising directors and tantrum-prone stars.

The ultimate in theatrical presence - Takako FujiWhich is where Takashi Shimizu comes into his own. His story starts with a three-minute horror film starring Takako Fuji as a "ghost"; this developed into a Japanese film series called Juon, the first of which - uniquely - was remade in Japan using the same crew, much of the original script and some of the original actors starring with American players, as The Grudge.

The GrudgeShimizu eschews special effects, except where he cannot but employ them. For example, in The Grudge there's a scene where a detective is watching a corridor on CCTV; progresively, lights fail as a spectral figure advances until the screeen goes dark, and suddenly a pair of eyes appears on the screen. To achieve the effect, Shimizu had painted Fuji's face black, so that when she opens her eyes to reveal her trademark huge globes, you are scared because you know this is no SFX: you're looking at the real thing. Similarly, when she hobbles hands-first down a flight of stairs as if her joints are set at obscene angles, it's really her moving - she's a woman of many talents. Most of The Grudge and The Grudge 2 could have been made by the team behind The Uninvited.

The Grudge 2The Grudge, like The Grudge 2, terrifies because it is more cerebral than visceral. There are references to an old Japanese myth where a king plays chess with a servant, who beats him: he has the servant, his wife, their son and his cat killed. The latter two combine into a demon and travel over the land. Although it's a Japanese tale, Shimizu hits home worldwide because he knows how to film the international iconography of irrational fear.

Both films also set up a dissonance from the onset as they start in the middle of the story, then progress forward and backward, until we are faced with the gruesome initiation of the murder of Kayako, her son and his cat against the ghastly consequences of her shade's rage at its treatment upon anybody who has been unlucky enough to step inside the cursed house.

Crime and punishment: Sherlock holmesIt's not fair, and in a sense that's the point. Classic horror stories and classic detective stories have something in common in that they're about breaking a natural law and the subsequent retribution, be that at the hands of Scotland Yard's finest or the ethereal forces patrolling fictional firmaments - so that there's a similarity in that sense between The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Hound of the Baskervilles, while the tale of Jack the Ripper, who was unfortunately all too real, slips between them into a disturbing space that is too crowded today. I'm reminded of Tom Clancy's remark about the difference between fact and fiction - "Fiction has to make sense". Draw your own conclusions.

The Grudge and its sequel, on the other hand, do not give us any safe Cerebral terror: Juon 2spaces where narrative can be expanded. It's a staccatto stream of disturbing images that leaves you too scared to scream in case you miss something that might calm you down. And yet...out of both films I can only recall one scene where blood flows. Like other Japanese horror - which is becoming so well-known in the West that it's called J-horror - it is fuelled by the fears of the beholder. Was that a flash of light on the window, or a face? Are strangers looking out at me from photographs? What is it that I'm running from when I belt out of my front door?

Have a frightful Halloween, and a holy All Saints' Day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

top ten songs about thomas

click to go to the THOMAS siteThere's a charity in North-East England called Thomas, which stands for those on the margins of a society, that works "at the cutting edge of social exclusion providing therapuetic and practical support to the drug addict, ex-offender, homeless and others suffering various kinds of social exclusion". I think the acronym says it all - please click the link to the right and have a look at their page; I'd like to concentrate in this post on people who are socially excluded in Cambridge, and who are about to lose an invaluable service which has blossomed into a whole system offering people who are or have been homeless, in the words of the Big Issue motto, "a hand up, not a handout".

In Cambridge we have a magazine produced for and by presently and formerly homeless people called the Willow Walker which is under threat because its funding has been removed; an Autumn issue is forthcoming thanks to the good graces of Cambridge University Press, and editor Kirsten Lavers is presently raising funds through to produce the annual calendar.

The Willow Walker provides the unique service of getting the voices of homeless people into the services which commission and provide services for them. It speaks not only about needs and tragedies, but about aspirations and successes. Cambridge City Council seems to think at the moment that other services duplicate this, but I'm not aware of any.

I thought, as my monthly "top ten", I'd post ten songs about homelessness and responses from within and outwith the communities of people who are excluded in some way. There are as many songs that I could have posted as there are pathways into exclusion, so here are my choices, which are arranged without the usual numbers.

Witnessing and abuse

click to go to the Fish website lyrics pageFish voices the distress a neighbour feels when listening to a neighbour and her children get beaten by her partner - and the temptation to escape from that distress through fantasizing about being a "rescuer", literally a knight in shining armour, which leaves him in a guilt-walled cell where "I become an accessory/and I don't have an alibi".

click to go to the International Directory of Domestic Violence AgenciesThis is a very harrowing song at the best of times; if you're feeling vulnerable because of domestic violence issues, please click the link to the left.


Nick Dominguez - click to read moreIn the Autumn 2006 edition of the Willow Walker, Big Issue founder John Bird told Nick Dominguez, who is one of my favourite blues singers as well as a great writer, that - in the time of the infamous London landlord Peter Rachman - he was trying not only to survive a violent father but an "ideology of failure" imposed upon certain families by Social Services. Here is No Son of Mine by Genesis:


While one hopes that one's relationship is forever, poet Cate Wiliams wrote for the Willow Walker of the sad truth that some go to hell in a handcart with the lines:

The loser and the winner
Are playing the same game
And the hopeless young beginner
Will do it all the same.

However, she finishes her verse in the hope the downwards is not the only motion:

At the foot of every mountain
The path tells us to go
To keep on climbing upward
And never answer no.

This is Abba's song about about "the loser and the winner" from the film Mamma Mia, where Meryl Streep plays a woman who has lost in love in every sense - but suspects little the reparative action that life has in store for her.


Sometimes when homeless people become housed, they face criticisms of still forming part of the street community that is spoken of in negative tones. This legendary song by the Shangri-Las encapsulates the difficulty of getting the streets out of one's mind once one has bodily emerged from them.


Many people on the streets have an illness, but some would say that this reflects the prevalence of mental illness in society as a whole - ie more than some quarters would like to admit: in Cambridge alone, we've seen the closure of two acute psychiatric wards; and the Cambridge Clubhouse, part of the Clubhouse movement, which helps people rehabilitate themselves from chronic illness and the effects of hospitalisation, was closed down and replaced by the Cambridge Mental Health Rclick for Torvill & Dean's Dancing on Ice Tour siteesource Centre, which itself is now to be closed. As a fellow Clubhouse alumnus told me, more folks than should be the case will end up being ping-ponged between prison and the wards as each argues the case for the other to be responsible.

Here's Jane Torville and Christopher Dean skating to Olympic gold to to Ravel's Bolero, which - it has been asserted - reflected his incipient manic-depression in the repeated phrasings.

Horace speaks from the past

One of the tracks on the critically-lauded album Both Sides of the Tracks by Street Voices is Horace Odes Book 3 Verse 29 recited by Geoff Coombe. It contains the lines written by the 1st century BC Roman poet:

Though storms around my vessel rave,
I will not fall to craven prayers,
Nor bargain by my vows to save
My Cyprian and Sidonian wares,
Else added to the insatiate main.
Then through the wild Aegean roar
The breezes and the Brethren Twain
Shall waft my little boat ashore.

The best song I can think of to represent Horace's maritime metaphor for life is Paul Simon's Bridge over Troubled Water: here it is sung by Eva Cassidy.


Lee Jay wrote his first poem in custody, and his stanzas take no prisoners. His poem Regrets, published in the Willow Walker, begins:

Lee JayHe sits alone, on his own
In a lonely place
As he wipes a tear from his eye
As he looks life in the face.
And he wonders why he lived his life!
The way he lived his life,
And he wipes another tear from his eye.

In Madness' hard-hitting and symphonic One Better Day, we hear of the hope that many people in the street community have that things will get better - getting out of that lonely place one day at a time.


This poem was written by a former alcoholic who had recovered but seemed to feel imprisoned by others' assumptions. It begins:

I am put away
I am discounted
I'm unwanted, don't fit,
I have no "house", of my "own",
Outside the city I sit, homeless.

Rejected, as I pay no tax, a social leper I,
A great assumption made.
That I am of no value...

click to go to the Nelson Mandela FoundationWhen I read these lines, the first thing I thought of was Labi Siffre's Something Inside So Strong with its video based on Nelson Mandela's imprisonment, because of Mandela's refusal to remove himself from the consciousness of those to whom his existence was an embarrassment.

Building Oneself

The Willow Walker, with the English Churches Housing Group, sponsored a scheme in 2007 shrewdly called "the self-build": it both highlighted the breadth of talent languishing on the streets and in hostels at this time when we need as many people working as possible, and provided a parable in wood and nails of building oneself up as a person. The Self-Build motto is you'll always get what you've always got if you always do what you've always done:

click to go to the Willow Walker Self-Build issue

On a constructional theme, here's The Who singing Pete Townshend's Dig.

Beatitudes: turning things upside down

click to see the video on Revd Bosco Peters' Liturgy websiteI found this beautiful video on Revd Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog - it's the monks of the Russian Orthodox Valaam monastery singing the phrases from Matthew 5:3-12, helping us to try to identify that hardest of questions, who is the neighbour that Moses' book of Leviticus tells us we should love as ourselves, a task Rabbi Akiva called "the greatest principle of the Torah. I hope the present and future bodies looking at funding the Willow Walker will see that helping presently and formerly homeless people both fits in seamlessly with the Judaeo-Christian principles upon which our country is built, and makes sound econonomic, social, political and humanitarian sense.

(Update: the original video has been taken down, so here's the Beatitudes from Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev's St Matthew's Passion.

Click here to view and download issues of the Willow Walker.

Other posts related to the Willow Walker:

Homeless not hopeless

Catching Street Voices

Both Sides of the Tracks

Save the Willow Walker

The Willow Walker looks for a funder

click to go to the Willow Walker website and find out what you can do

Related posts on music: click here for more top ten songs about...

there's nothing British about Nick Griffin on Question Time

This week's Question Time on BBC 1, starring Nick Griffin of the white-supremacist British National Party, went off with all the brilliance of a damp squib.

James Bethell: click to go to Nothing British's initiative to bring centre-right policy-makers togetherProfessor Calculus and I usually don't watch TV (except for the odd snooker or cricket game) when we meet to put the world to rights over a glass of wine, but we watched QT to see the newly-elected MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside crumbling in the face of real politicians, only to see what Cranmer called "the Nick Griffin show". Griffin certainly faced some hard questions, but smirked through them - and at one point was challenged by host Jonathan Dimbleby for smiling when talking about Holocaust denial - and, in the words of James Bethell, founder of the blog There's Nothing British about the BNP, "retired wounded but on his feet, fit to fight another day".

The BNP leader is never on better form than when playing the victim for the mainstream media - for example, when protestors massed to raise awareness that Griffin was speaking at the Oxford Union with fellow Holocaust denier David Irving, they did their job so well that Griffin was able to grandstand on the national News about "people coming hundreds of miles" to be offended by him.

Having said that, the killer comment of the programme came from a young chap wearing a Kippah (skullcap worn by Jews), who stated, in response to Griffin's claim that Winston Churchill would have been a member of the BNP:
best point of the programme from the man in a KippahSir Winston Churchill put everything on the line so that my ancestors wouldn't get slaughtered in the concentration camps. But here sits a man who says that is a myth just like a flat world was a myth.
Griffin stated the law prevented him from disclosing why he had "changed his mind" on the Holocaust, at which Jack Straw, as Justice Secretary, said he wasn't aware of any law which would punish him from doing so.

Baroness Warsi: click to read moreFor me, the best bit was Baroness Sayeeda Warsi stating that Britain needed a cap on numbers of immigrants coming into Great Britain, which echoed a Telegraph article written by Labour's Frank Field and the Conservatives' Nicholas Soames, co-founders of the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration which states in its title that Cowardice on immigration has allowed the BNP to Flourish and adds that the asylum system, designed to identify individuals in genuine danger of persecution or death should they return to their own countries, has "collapsed". The story defining its collapse has to be that of a Bolivian man whose appeal against deportation was upheld by Judge James Devittie because he'd bought an English cat. In a startling exclusive, the Telegraph's Tom Whitehead reports that Andrew Neather, who had been an advisor to Jack Straw, former Home Secretary David Blunkett and former Prime Minister Tony Blair claims that mass immigration - the Bête Noire of the BNP - was "partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and rub the Right's nose in diversity". (Baroness Warsi's comments on immigration start at 2:38 in the video below.)

True to form, Griffin is again playing to the gallery with a complaint that he faced a "lynch-mob"in the Question Time audience, and that the programme's format had been changed so that it focussed almost entirely on him.

The BNP has a Hitleresque tendency to build a delusional system around a truth, and this is no different. Griffin has a valid complaint here, and Professor Calculus and I agreed that we would've liked to see him drawn out on issues like, for example, Lord Mandelson's manipulating the Post Office strike to soften up the organisation for privatisation, and British banks' reactions to the global financial crisis.

The other "lynch mob" that protested outside BBC Television Centre in London showed socialism's deep-seated ambivalence about fascism, in that they were protesting against a man elected to the European Parliament almost totally by Labour voters disaffected by the Government's ideological method of government that has turned their country into a place they no longer recognised. I wonder if any of them were related to the trade unionists who took to the streets in support of Enoch Powell's 1968 address to Conservative Party workers at Birmingham's Midland Hotel (mis-named the "Rivers of Blood speech"), in which he anticipated Labour's silence on immigration:

Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: "If only," they love to think, "if only people wouldn't talk about it, it probably wouldn't happen."

Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical.
Battle of Cable Street mural, with Independent Labour Party flagOr, indeed, if they were descended from the freedom-fighters who fought at the Battle of Cable Street in London's East End against black-shirted fascists led by Oswald Moseley, the Independent Labour Party MP who, disappointed by his party's response to unemployment, left in 1930 to form the New Party. Gordon Brown, in Maxton, his biography of the hard-left Scottish MP, records that when Moseley left James Maxton said that "he ought not to be condemned but thanked [because] his actions sMaxton by Gordon Brownhowed a deeper sense of responsibility about the unemployed and might lead to a 'new direction' in government policy". And just as the Nazis' response to Germany's economic woes was nationalisation on a massive scale, the BNP's website (which describes the three main parties as "liars, buggers and thieves") proposes nationalisation as a panacea for Britain's. One gets a sense of the political spectrum not as a line but a circle, where "hard-left" and "far-right" occupy the same space.

So whither the BNP? I hope that former Labour voters in north-west England who sent Nick Griffin and Andrew Bron to the European Parliament will withdraw from the abyss come the General Election and vote for the non-fascist party of their choice. But what worries me is the party's attempts to woo the forces, some of whose members, under-resourced and viewed with suspicion by the Government, may seek solace in their empty promises. I finish with a video (sorry, Pam!) from the Nothing British Operation Stolen Valour. Please click the link and visit the site to view the fightback against fascism in Great Britain.

The episode of Question Time discussed can be accessed on the BBC's i-player on the Question Time Site. If you're unable to access it, it's available in parts on YouTube - click here for part 1.

Friday, October 23, 2009

tenacity in the face of eejits

Tim Challies:  click to go to his post on The Case for GodAs somebody who has a great respect for tenacity in the face of eejits, I just had to bring you verbatim part of this review by Tim Challies, who contributes to the blog click to read moreDiscerning Reader as well as maintaining his own at Challies Dot Com; he's just brought out a book called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.

Challies, as Joe Carter explains on First Things, "finds a way to focus on the positive, finding something worthwhile in otherwise lackluster books". Then he quotes the pertinent part of Challies' review of Karen Armstrong's The Case for God:
It is a rare occasion that I find it difficult to point out any redeeming features in a book—when I struggle to find a single positive to write in a review. Unfortunately Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God is one of those books—one that is so monstrously bad, so hopelessly awful, so wretchedly miserable, that it took concerted effort just to finish it. Heck, even the cover stinks—a pile of religiously-significant books hovering at a strange angle over a plain background. I tell you what: I will concede the font. The book is set in Granjon, a very nice, classical font that is very consistent with the earliest Garamond type faces. It is classy and classical but without being antique. But that is as good as the book gets.
I remember the former nun's sententious fingerwagging on discussion shows in the 80s and 90s, where she would be introduced as representing the Christian or even the Roman Catholic viewpoint. Her indifferentism as regards very different religions does none of them any favours, and I believe her being given the Rossevelt Institute's Freedom of Worship Medal is a slur on the great man's legacy.

Challies continues in his review: "I can save you thirty-five bucks and many hours of your life by telling you that 99% of what Armstrong has to say about God and religion she squeezes into the Introduction and the Epilogue, which together take up just 23 of the 340 pages of this book. There she spews forth what she really believes about God and those who seek to follow him."

I have to voice my respect for Challies - I haven't got the stamina to start anything by Armstrong, let alone finish it.

'Nuff said.

Monday, October 19, 2009

the Willow Walker looks for a funder

click to go to the Willow Walker summary and achievementsLast week I attended an event designed to raise awareness about the Willow Walker, a unique magazine produced for and by homeless people in Cambridge. It may soon have to close because its funding body, the Churches Housing Trust, has decided - bizarrely, in my opinion - that its activities and articles don't accord with the trust's Christian ethos.

As we prepared for a photoshoot arranged by the Cambridge News by planning out how to distribute letters painted on A4 paper that would spell out SAVE THE WILLOW WALKER, somebody noticed that there were 13 men and 2 women present in the building. Kirsten Lavers, the magazine's editor, currently going through a redundancy process that will end in January 2010, did some swift mental calculations and commented that this ratio was just about representative of the street community in Cambridge. In a discussion of why this should be so, one chap suggested the various processes following the breakup of a relationship. I found myself transported back to when homelessness was not a distant prospect for me.

To cut a long story short, shortly after moving to Cambridge from Glasgow I was hospitalised and eventually diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar affective disorder). While in hospital, our landlord sold our house to another landlord and eviction proceedings begun. This compounded the pressure on Maxima, who had been effectively coping as a single mother for some time, and it didn't help that the attitude of some of the mental health staff involved in my care was that marital breakup would be part of the natural progression of the consequences of my illness.

Happily, neither breakup nor homelessness occurred, but it is a chilling lesson into one of the many paths into homelessness: a (sometimes small) change in environmental conditions that throws a genetic switch, resulting in chaos.

Relationship breakdown and mental illness are but two of the ways to become homeless which are often discussed, but just as often kept at arms' length through an assumption that "it won't happen to me".

generous sponsors: click to go to the Cambridge University Press websiteThe photo that was taken accompanied an article by the Cambridge News' Chris Havergal. Whereas we were quite optimistic after a donation of £4,000 from Cambridge University Press to ensure that the Autumn Willow Walker came out, Chris' article, entitled Blow to campaign to save voice of homeless, stated that Cambridge City Council's head of strategic housing, AlanHenry Rothschild RIP: click to go to the Primavera website Carter, had announced that the Council did not wish to fund projects that duplicated services, citing Wintercomfort for the Homeless, a service where members of the street community can get some shelter and a feed. Wintercomfort - the brainchild of Henry Rothschild, WWII veteran and founder of the Primavera group of galleries, who died in May this year - is too tightly stretched to apply for additional funds for the Willow Walker.

The reason the Walker is unique is that, unlike, say, the Big Issue, it exists as a voice for homeless people in Cambridge and as such is also delivered to the statutory and voluntary agencies that provide seCambridge Link-Up: click to go to websitervices for them. From the Willow Walker has sprung Homeless Truths, a radio show for and by homeless people, on which a police representative was once interviewed, getting a viewpoint of which the street community can be suspicious into the heart of that community; Cambridge Link-Up is another shoot, recycling everyday items with pleasing and surprising results; and Street Voices has not only released a double CD to critical acclaim, but has shown the big-heartedness of people who are or have been homeless by pclick to go through to radioerforming concerts of words and music for Homelessness Sunday and Leprosy Sunday, as well as performing a major concert at Cambridge Guildhall. The magazine once ran an article by Dave Whitman, of Chicago cultural arts project Temporary Services; Dave remains a supporter.

Kirsten Lavers, editor of the Willow Walker: click to go to the magazine websiteEvery process needs a stable pivot, and as far as the Willow Walker is concerned, that pivot is Kirsten Lavers. She is an unwavering voice of advocacy for homeless people in Cambridge, nad her skills will be needed more than ever when - given the significant concomitancy of mental distress with homelessness - we've lost the Clubhouse, two acute psychiatric wards and a rehabilitation house; and the city's Mental Health Resource Centre is soon to go. To let the Willow Walker fail would be to score a "fail" in enlightened self-interest. The Cambridge Link-Up website puts it best:
We believe that homeless people are a massively untapped resource of skills, creativity, knowledge and experience able to contribute positively to their community.

Kirsten is currently having funding bids put together in a last-ditch surge to save this important and aspirational institution which is already woven into Cambridge's venerable fabric. Wherever you are, please show your support for it by respectfully emailing Alan Carter, head of strategic housing for Cambridge City Council, at, and please copy it to Kirsten Lavers at And if you are or know a funder, please get in touch with Kirsten.

Related posts:

Homeless not hopeless

Catching Street Voices

Both Sides of the Tracks

Save the Willow Walker

Sunday, October 18, 2009

BBC: bullying has Brucie baring his teeth

Jo Wood and Brendan Cole: click to go to the Strictly Come Dancing BBC website

Watching Strictly Come Dancing last night, I was reminded of the proverbial London bus: you don't see a knight in shining armour on the BBC for ages, then two come along.

To aficionados of the series, it won't be a surprise to know that Jonathan Ross wannabe Craig Revel Horwood started it all. He's a master of the catty put-down, and perhaps said more about himself than he meant to when he described a performance as "common". The remark's in this "best of" from series 6 that some kind soul has compiled (sorry, Pam!):

Jo Wood - founder of Jo Wood Organics, model and estranged wife of Ronnie Wood of the Faces and Rolling Stones - was having issues with her confidence, and was shown on the pre-dance video hiring a confidence "guru", as her partner, Christchurch-born Brendan Cole had admitted that he righteous anger: Bruce Forsyth gives Craig Revel Horwood a piece of his minddidn't "know how to teach confidence". And it wouldn't have done her self-esteem much good to learn, shortly before dance lessons began, that her hard-living spouse had traded her in for a newer model in the form of cocktail waitress Ekaterina Ivanova.

In the fashion of a bully, Horwood has identified a vulnerable streak in Wood and targeted it like a guided missile - his summation of her foxtrot with partner Brendan Cole last week was that the best part was when she was standing still. In fact, Horwood received a lightly-veiled warning from host Bruce Forsyth (left) the same week ththe champ: Joe Calzagheat he should be careful to wear glasses when judging Joe Calzaghe' dance with Kristina Rihannof. Calzaghe was bullied at school (more targeting?), and his process of toughening himself up undoubtedly contributed to his being the only undefeated boxing champion in Great Britain. He now helps promote the anti-bullying charity beatbullying Wales.
click to go to beatbullying wales
This week, Horwood sneered that Jo was "holding on to her hero" before referring to her as having "skipped like a bush kangaroo", in a reference to the quondam celebrity marsupial. Knowing of Woods' self-esteem problems - information that Horwood had access to from the pre-dance short film - Cole caused consternation by whisking Jo Wood backstage with no further reference to the panel.

Then the second knight took action. In an unprecedented show of anger, Bruce Forsyth - normally a model of genial mild manners - shouted at Horwood, telling him in a prolonged outburst that there was "no need to get personal". Tellingly, once backstage Cole - having been a judge with Horwood on New ZealanMoira Stewart - click to read mored's Dancing with the Stars - told the camera that "it's Craig's ignorance and lack of knowledge of the dance that leads him to say things like this".

It will be interesting to see if Horwood is forced to apologise for his remark. I say this because it fits into the general context of misogyny prevalent in the BBC - witness, for instance, newsreader Moira Stuart's retirement, generally thought to have been, in the words of the Telegraph's Nicole Martin, because she had "become fed up with the BBC’s alleged prejudice against older women"; her former colleague Fiona Bruce, who Fiona Bruce - click to read morenow fronts Antiques Roadshow, has faced accusations which boil down to being female in public - ie that she has sexed-up and dumbed-down the show; and, of course, there are the criminally obscene phone messages left on actor Andrew Sachs' answerphone about his granddaughter Georgina Bailie's relationship with Jonathan Ross, with the Corporation initially in denial that anything out of place had happened in the face of mounting complaints.

In the light of the reaction against Jan Moir's objectionable article on Boyzone Stephen Gateley's death that the Telegraph's blogs editor Damian Thompson records had Marks & Spencers removing their advertising from the Daily Mail website, this may not be the time to focus too much on the personal life of the bisexual former drag queen Stephen Gately RIP - click to read Jan Moir's article, now editedwho described his role in a teenage relationship with a showbusiness "sugar-daddy" as one that he " being a rent boy", other than to ask that if I were to call him a wicked old queen (he's playing the part of the queen in Snow White in Llandudno this Christmas), would it then be me who was cast as being the bully, because I had arguably cast aspersions on an abrasive member of a minority that the BBC perceives as being in need of protection?

To paraphrase Thompson at the end of his excellent article: I've had enough of Craig Revel Horwood, and I can't wait to turn on the TV and see him eat his words.

And if he doesn't, the TV will have advanced a little more in its journey towards the bin.

survivor: click to go to Jo Wood Organics

Top 30 from the Fen

Top 30 from the Fen 18 October 09

Friday, October 16, 2009

mother earth: sometimes the eyes don't have it

Friends of the Earth?Through the week, I was coming back to find my cycle after giving a short talk in Cambridge when I was stopped by a young woman called Maria. She was carrying a fold-over clipboard that proclaimed "Friends of the Earth" on the front; she had a Mediterranean accent, and eyes to match.

Maria asked me what I thought about the world. I requested that she rephrase the question so, after a short break, she asked me what I was doing that I could change to make a lesser impact on the world.

I thought for a couple of seconds. "You mean like turning the central heating down a bit?" I asked. "Or using the tumble-dryer less? Or taking the bus instead of driving, or not flying so much?" She nodded so excitedly that I felt guilty telling her that we couldn't afford to switch on the central heating unless there was ice outside; neither could we afford a car or to fly. Her dark eyes dulled a little.

Lord Christopher Monckton: click to read moreMaria said she was there to raise awareness about the United Nations Climate Change Conference that was going to take place in Copenhagen in December. I thanked her and said I was already aware of it, and mentioned the lack of awareness about, at one end of the scale, the fire at the Littleport tyre recycling facility, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, that was spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere like nothing on earth; and, on the other, the assertion that US president Barack Obama was so concerned about climate change that he was, in the words of Conservative peer Lord Christopher Monckton (right), willing to cede US sovereignty to a worldwide authority that resembled nothing so much as a government.

There is certainly a paragraph in the Copenhagen Draft that mentions a "dignity" penalty. Certainly the loss of dignity is poverty's most humiliating manifestation, but the clause in question seems to be nothing more than a stick to beat Western countries with, and bears no relation to the dignity of people in developing countries other than to turn it into a political football.

When I challenged Maria on whether the actions of humankind could have an effect on a climate that - as she agreed with me - has been changing for four billion years, she admitted (bravely, I thought) that she didn't know; but added that this was an opportunity to live in a way that took less of a toll on the earth.

On this point I both agreed with her wholeheartedly and parted company with her. It's probably a Celtic thing.

I agreed with her in that if we live more simply, we will have more money to give to those less fortunate than ourselves - but I'm disappointed to note that giving what we save to the poorer did not crop up in the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on climate change.

Jesse Ausubel - click to read moreWhere I disagreed with her - and maybe I was being a bit previous as she hadn't mentioned population - was that an American economist, Jesse Ausubel, recently published an article in New Scientist saying that modern farming techniques could support a world population of 10 billion. I didn't actually go on to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimate in 1995 quoted by John Smeaton, Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, that agrictulture could support 30 billion people.

I suppose what was winding me up was that Jonathan Porritt, former head of Friends of the Earth, had signed off on the Optimum Population Trust's document Fewer Emitters, Less Emissions, Less Cost, which demands an 80% reduction in the global birth-rate. No matter where you are on the vexed spectrum of views about birth control, calling for an 80% reduction in the birth-rate isn't personal choice, it's genocide.

James Lovelock and GaiaWe went onto "Gaia", I have to admit, because I led the conversation there. Maria had never heard of it. So I took a deep breath and explained that according to the Gaian theory the earth was an organism with its own compensatory mechanisms. The reason I went there was because Maria had mentioned deforestation in the Amazon. I agreed this was a bad thing, and dropped in the suggestion of James Lovelock - originator of the Gaia hypothesis - that we bury nuclear waste in Amazonia in order to discourage people from settling there.

Maria's eyes blazed at this, and she said that we had no evidence about the effects of nuclear waste on people or animals over a lifgetime. I swallowed down a reply about Japan and about the lack of lifetime evidence about vaccines.

Just as we were about to go our separate ways she opened her clipboard and invited me to take out a direct debit in favour of Friends of the Earth. I thanked her but said I approach charities that I wish to donate to, not the other way round. She thanked me for listening to her then moved up the road. She was a deluded child but, I must admit, she had lovely eyes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

altruistic octopodes* and going the extra mile

Giant Pacific Octopus: click to go to the Royal BC Museum site and see moreThe Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is not an animal that I'd given any thought to before, but after it's all-too-brief appearance on the Open University documentary Life, which aired on BBC1 tonight, I've thought of little else. (The pic, to the right, is from the Royal BC Museum in Canada, photographed by Jim Cosgrove.)

leopard seal - click to see the whole photo at Djibnet Other animals featured in this first instalment - called Challenges of Life. There were three cheetah bringing down an ostrich, and a grasshopper that presumably thought things were bad enough when it was caught on a spider's web before a toad's tongue sucked it off. And, in a mammoth 3-month operation involving HMS Endurance, Antarctic sailor Jérôme Poncet in the Golden Fleece and veteran wildlife film-maker Doug Allan off Rosenthal Island, a leopard seal, with teeth bigger thwildlife film-maker Doug Allan - click to go to his websitean a lion's and jaws that can open 180°, flaying a penguin chick mouthful by mouthful (which left Allan exhilarated at catching some action at last but sad to see the chick's fate).

What caught my attention about the mother Giant Pacific Octopus is the devotion (that word being used by Attenborough) with which it tends the eggs wherein tiny octopi mature. Blockading herself into an underwater cavern, she blows water over the eggs even as she starves, and expires shortly after her hatchlings swim away.

I don't predicate any knowledge of sacrifice of the Giant Pacific, any more than I do intention to bring a crisis to Christianity of the Ichneumonidae, no matter how many times Richard Dawkins gleefully recounts the wasps' method of using a paralysed caterpillar to bring up baby.

But it seemed the closest thing to altruism I've seen in the animal kingdom yet. Possibly Attenborough's foreseeing the anthropomorphic temptation was the reason he injected a note of caution into his avuncular narration to remind us that surviving long enough to pass on our genes is "ultimately...what life is all about".

In a way, he has a point. There would be no point in Mrs Giant Pacific embarking on her epic fast without her youngsters in their eggs beneath her.

But what of altruism after one's progeny has entered the picture - is it then no longer possible? Many human mothers (and fathers) make sacrifices for their children that the childen would survive perfectly without - but they do it for love. The sacrifices kids appreciate most aren't the ones that result in ostentatious presents they can show-off at school for a couple of days, but rather involve the parent's time that could so easily be spent in a number of other places both physical and mental.

Hillary Clinton - click to read the story in the Belfast TelegraphOn the other hand, there are things that look like altruism which are anything but - take Hilary Clinton's visit to the Stormont estate in Belfast yesterday. Giving Unionist members of the Northern Ireland assembly a barracking about ending the impasse over further devolution of the police force won't do her standing any harm in the eyes of those of her Democrat supporters who would always put a coin in the NORAID can, while Sinn Féin, whose voters have to live with the realities caused by volatile horse-trading, called for loyalists to be given time to think.

At the end of the original version of The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes that "we can...discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism - something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world".

Maybe he's been meditating on the life and death of arthropods for too long. For altruism, don't look at politicians, or even at poor Mama octopus; look at, say, a tired mother taking delighted children out to learn about toadstools, or Dad making time after his nightshift to see the kids before they go to school. Or, indeed, any of many possible examples of going the extra mile.

going the extra mile - click to view Michael Belk's controversial 'Journeys with the Messiah' photographs

*I originally referred to the cephalopods of the title as "octopi" but was taken to task by Professor Calculus, who reminded me of the word's Greek uses and presented me with the options of "octopodes" or the anglicised "octopuses"; I chose the former.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

desecration and hope

CAVETE: discusses and links to occult issues, including the desecration of a church

nocebo: click to go to the New Scientist articleMany years ago, I was introduced to a poor woman who believed she'd been cursed. Working in Kenya, she'd been targeted by a nasty piece of work who'd stolen an item of her underwear at that time of the month and performed a ritual that had involved desecrating a grave, then demanded money from her. I tried to persuade her that by buying into what this chap was saying she'd effectively cursed herself. In medicine it's known as the sinister side of the placebo effect, which has been christened the "nocebo effect" (from the Latin for "I will harm") - essentially, belief that you're doomed dooms you, the principle that fuels voodoo.

The reason that this is on my mind is a very concerning article by the Cambridge News' Raymond Brown about a self-styled occultist who claims to have raised a demon in a Roman Catholic Church in Cambridge with the intent that it "could possess parishioners and drive them to suicide."

Magus Lynius Shadee seems to be trying to get some free publicity about his plans to open an occult centre in Cambridge on December 24 (shortly after the shortest day of the year, or winter solstice, a time of year the mystic writer Dion Fortune claimed was linked to disordered forces). Personally, I don't think he's made many friends among responsible pagans in Cambridge who, according to's Patti Wigington, aren't taking him seriously. However, messages on We're all neighbours - Cambridge Stuff's page on the story called Christianity a "cult" and Jesus and St John the Baptist "zombies".

OLEM nave: click to go to parish websiteUmbrage seemed to be taken at the suggestion of Fr David Paul of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, the targeted church (known as OLEM), that "People who go to these things often end up with mental problems". While not wishing to offend people who follow other faiths gratuitously, I would support his statement. Some pagans report experiences of transmitting and receiving thoughts, possession-states, seeing and communicating with spiritual beings and other phenomena that, regardless of whether they exist, are perceived by many people during episodes of mental illness. (Thought-broadcasting, thought insertion, dissociation states and visual and auditory hallucinations, respectively.)

Shadee goes by an interesting title - "The King of all the Witches". This title is also claimed by Kevin Carlyon, and was laid claim to by Alexander Sanders, who inspired the book What Witches Do, which seemed basically to be a vehicle for Sanders' disciple, Stewart Farrar, to publish pictures of Sanders' wife Maxine naked.

Sexuality in witchcraft is interesting. Wicca was revived by Gerald Gardner with Aleister Crowley's help in 1946, after a hiatus following the murder of "the old religion" by radical secularist (and patriarchalist) elements of the Enlightenment. Crowley's son, Amado, claimed that Gardner's motivation was to get into proximindicative of another pornographic trait?  Photo from a site called Library of Black Magicity to women in an environment where sex was likely. Sanders added a Freudian twist when he claimed to have been initiated into higher levels of "the Craft" by his grandmother with rituals involving incestuous sex. The cover of Gardner's novel, High Magic's Aid, shows a naked woman in the company of a dressed man, a recurrent theme of pornography; I would definitely add the risk of sexual exploitation of vulnerable people to Fr Paul's concerns.

click for prayers to the Blessed Virgin MarySo how did Shadee summon up his "elemental", if indeed he did any such thing? I don't know, but he states that he tends to work alone so, given the fixation of some sectors of paganism with matters sexual, the mind boggles. But any parishioner in OLEM or any other church who felt threatened might feel reassured after sitting and having a pray, or reading from Scripture - I like John 1:1-18; a word in the ear of the Blessed Virgin never goes amiss, and I'm sure clergypeople would be happy to speak to anybody who was worried. Matthew 18:20 tells us that we have a way to make Jesus present that is much more powerful than dodgy doings by a manipulative self-publicist.

CambridgePagans are represented on the Cambridge Inter-faith Group, which states on its homepage that "dialogue and co-operation can only exist if they are rooted in respectful relationships which do not blur or undermine the distinctiveness of different religious traditions", so I hope they will join representatives of other religions in denouncing Shadee's actions and monitoring his activities while in Cambridge.

Somebody calling themselves "Daniel" gives us an educational insight into what Shadee is known for when he pleads online for help from him in work "on a ritual format to manifest Hitler"; I would refer him to the Jewish Encyclopedia, specifically its advice (to Cabalists) who are tempted to work with dark forces "not to resort to any conjuration or magic practises, but to have perfect confidence only in prayer and in the power of God."