When, one winter’s night in 1958, Ian Harvey (a minor apparatchik in Her Maj’s Government of the day) was caught pleasuring a Coldstream Guard in the bushes of London’s St James’s Park, Winston Churchill is said to have remarked,
On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British.
I laughed when I read this but it does reveal the barefaced hypocrisy of the ruling class at the time with their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude to sexual shenanigans. Boy-on-boy activity was on the menu at every British public (i.e. private) school and fagging* was the dish of the day, whereas us plebs could be banged up for even the briefest of fumbles behind the bike sheds. Many were. Now there’s a fascinating new book that prises open the Establishment’s closet door and shines a torch into the dank recesses. Closet Queens by Michael Bloch is a survey of alleged gay or bisexual male politicians of the Twentieth Century. From tittle-tattle to open secrets, it’s an amusing read. But what about the plaster saints of the cassock class? There are a quite a few bones rattling away in the rectory, or so I’ve heard.
As for Mr Harvey, he got off lightly with a small fine and a slap on the wrist but he was forced to resign his ministerial position. For a Tory, he sounds quite a decent sort of chap. He paid the errant soldier’s fine and returned to his wife and kids with his tail between his legs. From 1972 onwards, he was the Vice-President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. And that’s not all. In 1980 he became Chairman of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. Blimey. I didn’t know there was a Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. In fact, until fairly recently, I’d never seen the words ‘Conservative’ and ‘homosexual equality’ in the same sentence. To be fair, equality wasn’t exactly high on Old Labour’s agenda either. Your average salt of the earth, red blooded working class bloke wasn’t really into poofters; unless it was behind the bike sheds, of course.
*A fag was a young pupil who provided a personal service to one or more older boys. Well, you can just imagine what that involved.
A short while ago I shared this image on Facebook. It was a whimsical tease about the sartorial obsession the religious establishment have with funny hats, as if a silly head covering confers gravitas and wisdom. The idea being that if atheists could come up a millinery gimmick to get them in the papers, they might get taken more seriously. It was a joke, obviously. Not so to someone. A couple of days later, the picture and associated comments disappeared quicker than a South American political activist. Where did it go? Why did it go? Who knows? But then, a few days on, the post miraculously re-appeared. I know it was probably some Faceache anorak in hipster whiskers and top knot but I like to think it was divine intervention.
Yesterday, at the very last minute, the Turkish authorities banned Istanbul Pride. A peaceful celebration of difference and diversity was savagely dispersed by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas, the weapons of choice for the Turkish State. Memories of Gezi Park came flooding back. It seems the holy month of Ramadan was the feeble excuse offered up by the Police. Yet, last year’s march also occurred during Ramadan and passed off without incident. Perhaps this was the last hurrah of a president on the skids. I do hope so. Watch the footage of a young man waving a rainbow flag being blown clear off his feet by a water cannon. Is this the image of a modern Turkey President Erdogan wants to convey to the world?
Images courtesy of Occupy Gezi and Twitter
With Liam away in London on family duties, I was left to my own devices to troll the streets of Norwich. As I passed the rear of St Peter Mancroft, a divine shaft of light pierced the clouds and a sudden crescendo of bells rang out. Blimey. It was almost enough to make this sinner drop to his pagan knees. I resisted Peter’s temptation, it’s not something I tend to do in broad daylight (not even when the better half is away in the Smoke).
St Peter Mancroft is the largest church in Norwich after the two cathedrals. A ring of fourteen Whitechapel bells clanging high in its lofty belfry makes quite a heavenly racket, I can tell you. As it turns out, it wasn’t the Almighty calling, just a practice peel for the National 12-Bell Striking Contest Final.
Who was St Peter Mancroft? No one. The Mancroft bit is thought to be a mangling of the Old English gemaene croft, meaning a common field. Nobody knows for sure. Fancy.
Unlike many houses of God poking up through the mishmash skyline of Norwich, the old church of St Giles, so ancient it got a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086, is still saving souls today. At this time of year, it’s ringed by a dripping abundance of wisteria and very pretty it looks too. As the old saying goes:
Norwich has a Church for every week of the year and a pub for every day of the year.*
I took some snaps on the way to my place of worship, the Coach and Horses.
*Sadly, this is no longer true pub-wise though there are still plenty of places to take communion.
A damp and dingy Saturday afternoon saw us at the Maddermarket Theatre for an am-dram matinee courtesy of the Norwich Players. We were Maddermarket virgins and I fancied a peek at the converted Catholic chapel. A striking Sixties’ add-on foyer looked better on the outside and led us to the interior of the church, reconfigured as an Elizabethan playhouse. We took our pews for The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s loud and densely scripted account of the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts at the end of the Seventeenth Century. I looked around the audience. Many of them could well have sailed on the Mayflower. By now, we’re used to mingling with the grey herd at Norwich’s cultural events, but the care homes of Norfolk must have been deserted that afternoon. When the over-generous use of dry ice to create the misty ambience of a midnight glade threatened to gas the first four rows, I feared some of the punters might not make it back to the coach.
Miller’s now iconic play is a story of rampant fundamentalism, ignorance and the abuse of power. Mass hysteria is whipped up to impose religious orthodoxy and settle old scores. Miller wrote the piece as an allegory of Fifties’ McCarthyism when the U.S. government hounded and blacklisted alleged communists (and socialists and liberals and anyone else who didn’t tow the party line). Sound familiar? Just take a look around the world. The play’s core message is just as relevant today as it was then. The talented thespians did well to deliver the difficult drama with conviction leaving us with the real sense of a menacing world gone completely bonkers. Sadly, the message was all lost on a few. As we queued to leave the auditorium at the end of the performance, an old Norfolk broad turned to her companion and announced:
“Didn’t understand a word of it. Not a word. Marvelous, wasn’t it?’
With the remorseless horror in the Middle East being played out on our screens every day at 6pm, it’s hard to make sense of the senseless. The baffling case of the school girls who have allegedly travelled to Syria to become brides of ISIS only adds to my bewilderment. Sometimes, it takes humour to wade through the treacle – the British funny bone is a cultural characteristic forged by wartime adversity and a healthy disrespect for the respectable. Cue a recent Facebook exchange with a Bodrum Belle of my acquaintance.
“Hello, Jack, now where’s this new book of yours? Got myself a little girlie spa holiday booked to get away from frozen Bodrum. I need something to read so get printing. Bodrum is seriously cold this winter. Roll on spring. Me and a few gals are off to Egypt, and very cheap it is too, all 5 star inclusive tackiness. Why so cheap? Because the British Government says it’s unsafe and advises not to go. Well that doesn’t hold these gals down. If we do get taken as Jihadi brides, at least we can say we’re used to the heat.”
“Hello, love. The book’s with the designer. It’s not just thrown together, you know. Make sure you pack some sheets – just in case you need to wrap yourself in polycotton for the wedding. You’ll forgive me if I turn down the invitation to your nuptials…”