The Day the Rot Set In

The Day the Rot Set In

On this day fifty years ago, the Sexual Offences Act received Royal Assent. The act partially decriminalised male homosexual acts. I say partially because the repeal only applied to rumpy bumpy between men 21 and over in England and Wales. It excluded the rest of the UK and those bastions of red-blooded machismo, the Merchant Navy and the Armed Forces. The ripe phrase ‘rum, bum and the Navy’ must have seemed even more ironic to randy sailors on a long and lonely tour of duty. By contrast, girl on girl action has never been illegal, perhaps because the (almost exclusively male) elite were rather titillated by the thought of it (well, those who weren’t fiddling with the altar boys or servicing the groom, that is). Reform-wise, the Scots didn’t join the party until 1980 and the Northern Irish brought up the rear in 1982. This may explain the over-representation of ginger queens on the pink streets of London during the seventies and eighties.

If the holier-than-thou pulpiteers, tight-arsed little Englanders, mighty-mouths down the pub or queer bashers on the streets thought the 1967 act was the one and only concession to be made, they were in a for a nasty surprise. It was a call to arms. The eighties and nineties brought the darkest days of AIDS and many hoped we’d all sashay back into our closets and die. No such luck. Despite the violence, the ridicule, the outraged press and pushy coppers in rubber gloves, a growing band of brave souls kept the rainbow flag flying higher than ever. Direct action and the outing of mitred hypocrites became rather fashionable. And it worked. One day, the walls came tumbling down and what followed was a bonfire of the prejudices.

The age of consent was reduced (first to 18 then to 16), the armed forces ban was lifted, the offence of gross indecency was repealed, Section 28* was abolished, gender re-assignment was recognised, fostering and adoption laws were liberalised, employment protection secured, civil partnerships were introduced and, by 2014, full marriage equality was realised across Britain. Then came the royal pardon for past deeds no longer illegal and, in time, so too will come the official apology.

On equal marriage, only Northern Ireland is still holding out, with some dour old dinosaurs desperately trying to hold back the tide, Canute-like. Their days in the sun are numbered, despite their last hurrah propping up Chairman May.

Rainbow Copper

The gestation of the 1967 Act was a long one. It was the Wolfenden Report of 1957 that recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences and concluded:

“…unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”

Some still get hot under the collar in matters sex and sin, stoked up by bigots from across the religious divide. The issue even hit the headlines during the recent general election. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a devout Christian, was repeatedly harangued about whether he thinks gay sex is sinful. The poor man squirmed and wriggled presumably because in his heart of hearts, he probably does. After the election, he resigned because of it. I don’t normally feel sorry for politicians but even I thought it was all too much. I’m well-acquainted with oppression by the majority and it smacked of bullying. And I don’t like bullies whatever their persuasion – left, right or centre. Mr Farron’s personal religious beliefs are his own business and, to paraphrase the Virgin Queen, I have no desire to make a window into anyone’s soul. Mr Farron can think whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t move to impose those beliefs on others. And as far as I know, unlike the orange relics and meddlesome priests of the Emerald Isle, he never has.

So I celebrate the day the rot started to set in. It eventually brought the whole edifice of hypocrisy crashing down. Now we can live happily ever after. Or can we? For some in our sceptre’d isle, life is still a little bit shit – bigotry can lurk just beneath the surface and the pendulum never stops swinging. And what of rainbow life beyond our shores? You only have to look around to see how really grim things are for many – the recent roundup and torture of young men in Chechnya is a case in point. And Allah only knows which way the wind will blow now Turks have foolishly voted sweeping presidential powers to an autocrat with a messianic streak. As for Saudi Arabia and Iran, the sword and the noose are kept on standby just case anyone dares poke a toe out of the closet.

*A shameful and largely symbolic law banning the alleged ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, as if sexuality were a choice.

I Beg Your Pardon

alan-turing

All men convicted of homosexual offences no longer illegal have now received a royal pardon. The general pardon (so-called Turing’s Law) is modelled on the 2013 pardon granted to Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who broke the German Enigma codes during World War Two and shortened the war, saving thousands. In return, he was convicted by an ungrateful nation of gross indecency, chose chemical castration over incarceration and killed himself in 1954 at the age of 41. It’s a story full of shame, none of which was his. For the dead, the pardon is posthumous. Those still alive and mincing (reckoned to be around 15,000) can apply to have their convictions expunged from the record. I could have been one of them. I just didn’t get caught.

Our Rapacious World

Back in 2014, stencilled slogans appeared on the pavements along Gentlemen’s Walk in central Norwich. Highlighting the menace of domestic violence across the realm, there was nothing gentlemanly about the stark facts conveyed by the messages. This year, the initiative has been rebooted with a particular emphasis on rape.

Rape Statistics

Rape Crisis Helpline

Assuming Britain is no worse than any other country and considerably better than places where rape is legal within marriage or where it is used as as weapon of war, my brain just aches at the grim level of sexual violence across the world. Depressing really.

Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest

Norwich Bus StationYou need a second mortgage to park in Norwich city centre.  When we moved into the micro-loft, we flogged the sexy-arsed Mégane (to my sister) and Liam now rides the bus to work. He no longer risks life and limb on the narrow country lanes with their tail-gating yokels, blind bends, loose livestock and black ice.

Bus travel in Norfolk belongs to a bygone era.  People still (mostly) queue at bus stops and drivers apologise for being late. Just imagine that! It’s the kind of civilised behaviour long since abandoned in London, a place where the law of the urban jungle prevails and it’s survival of the fittest. The last time I visited the Smoke, a bright red double decker actually yelled at me. Over and over it screamed…

This bus is under attack. Call 999!

London Bus

I’m delighted to confirm it was a slip of the driver’s wrist. Still, it was enough to wake the dead and give nervy tourists on-the-spot seizures. The hapless driver was frantically trying to switch off the announcement as the bus cruised slowly by. After events in Paris, Beirut, Turkey and elsewhere, I felt his pain.

Land of the Blind

Land of the Blind

Land of the Blind 3dIf you’re looking for a masterclass in how to open a thriller, I suggest you read the first two pages of Barbara Nadel’s latest book, Land of the Blind. It’s the start of a rich and taut mystery, expertly crafted and atmospherically set in the extraordinary city of Istanbul. Following the discovery of a woman’s body in the hidden depths of the ancient Hippodrome, dog-eared, chain-smoking Inspector Çetin İkmen, leads the reader to the achingly satisfying reveal. İkmen is eminently likeable. He puffs and shuffles his way through the politically charged streets of the city like a Turkish Columbo. Nadel’s writing is fluid, crisp and crystal clear. As the clever plot weaves its way, she deftly lifts the veil on the contradictions of contemporary Turkey: the clash between secularism and Islamism, freedom and conformity. But this is no personal polemic against the direction of modern Turkey, more an astute observation seen through the eyes of the cleverly cast characters, from Inspector Süleyman and his controversial liaison with a feisty gypsy in the hills, to Ahmet Oden, a despised and despicable property mogul. Add into the mix the riots at Gezi Park and you end up with a compelling and electrifying read. In some ways, the city is as much a protagonist as the canny sleuth. A brilliant seventeenth book in the Çetin İkmen series.

I Could Murder a Pint

The Murderers Public HouseNorwich is blessed with a wealth of hostelries to quench the thirst and chew the cud, but few are as famous as the Gardener’s Arms on Timberhill, one of the last family-owned pubs in the city. Partly dating back to the Seventeenth Century, the traditional ale house is stuffed with oldee worldee nooks and crannies, knotty oak beams and exposed brickwork. Its fame derives from an infamous past. The Gardener’s Arms might be the pub’s licensed name but, for years, it’s been known locally as the Murderers. Why? Because after closing time one late night in 1895, Frank Miles battered his estranged wife with a hammer and left poor Mildred for dead. Handy Frankie should have swung for his dastardly deed but the case attracted huge public sympathy and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. What had the luckless Millie done to deserve such a sticky end? Apparently, she was seen with another man. Oh, that’s alright then.

If you’re passing Timberhill, be sure to pop in for a pint of real ale and admire the murder theme posted on every wall (Dr Crippin, Lizzie Borden, Bonnie and Clyde, Ruth Ellis to name but a few). I’d avoid the big screen soccer nights, though. The beautiful game murders civilised conversation.

Murderer's Pub

My Letter to Özgecan

Maybe, just maybe, something positive will emerge from this.

janeyinmersin

I never had the pleasure of meeting you Özgecan.  I never had the chance to hear you laugh with your friends or sing along to your favorite tune.  No I did not know you at all but I know you now.  Your name will forever be etched into my heart and into the hearts of millions of others here in Turkey and around the world who woke on Valentine’s Day, the day of romance, to the sickening news of your death at the hands of a monster.  We are shocked beyond words hearing of your suffering and of knowing that the simple task of stepping on a bus is no longer safe here in Mersin.

Aslan

What happened to you happens to other women every day, all over the world.  Whether it is in New Delhi or Melbourne monsters can be found everywhere.  But with your death comes the news that tens of thousands…

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