Archive for I-J

At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament – Derek Jarman

AYOR2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The title must be a reference to the frequent admonition about cruising grounds and such like in the former Spartacus International Gay guide.

Jarman was an arty-man to whom I couldn’t relate but this diary shows how normally human he was.

Saint? Well he was in ironic way in which the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence use the term

It’s not true that the Wolfenden Committee didn’t consult homosexuals.

He writes about being a boy and having innocent, unknowing attractions to other boys, and of being confused when the adults reacted with horror and censure to innocent boyhood flirtations. He writes of going to school and having no role models to help him understand what he was feeling, of having no idea that there were even others like him, that there was, in fact, a whole underground social structure of men with the same desires and feelings as him. “I was desperate to avoid being the sissy of my father’s criticism,” he writes, “terrified of being the Queer in the dormitory.” Later, he writes of discovering gay role models in art (Genet, Burroughs, Cocteau, Ginsberg) and truly awakening to his own sexuality during a trip to America in the 1960s.

At Your Own Risk is a very angry book because he was writing in the last years of his life, as he entered the advanced stages of AIDS-related illness, starting to go blind as many of his friends died from the same disease that he knew would soon enough claim him as well. Moreover, he was writing from within a culture that had, throughout his life, consistently restricted and tormented homosexuals, legislating their behaviour and, with the onset of HIV/AIDS, all but ignoring the problem until it dawned on everyone that heterosexuals were being affected too. Jarman’s book is structured by decades, from the 1940s to the then-nascent 1990s (the book was written in 1992, two years before Jarman’s death), and in each decade-spanning chapter, Jarman chronicles how gays were treated by society and how his own dawning understanding of his sexual identity developed.

This is also a very hopeful book, though, despite its righteous anger and outrage. Jarman is looking back here, examining a life lived within the restrictive boundaries of what he calls “Heterosoc” (a society-wide conformity that rejects all possibility of other ways to live and love), but he’s also looking forward, imagining a future in which young gay men won’t face all of the same problems that he’s faced. He ends the book with a movingly optimistic address to future generations: “I had to write of a sad time as a witness—not to cloud your smiles—please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without a care and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out.”

Basically each chapter is a decade and each decade is made clear with a montage of articles, states or minds in that time and his own look and experience on it. What I really loved about his writing style (and try to do the same in my stuff) was the blatancy and rawness but at the same time keep the mood light or not too overwhelming, no matter how outrageous and offensive it may seem.

AYOR1940’s – mostly articles about the gays in the Military and how they would be handled etc. And how some of them would be rent boys

1950’s – Alan Turing, who decoded the Enigma Code, was gay. The powers that be turned a blind eye at first, then , maybe they used and abused him.

1960’s – his first visit to a queer pub.  Laws changed and it felt like it was ok to be gay in the open but the police started giving them drama by raiding clubs and all sorts. Now Jarman keeps talking about the Heath, how the firemen would have a locking and invite gay folks in their pool after the gays had finished clubbing.

1970’s – founding of the Gay Liberation Front, gay politics, manifestos, the gay manual, the drugs, baths, saunas. Media making it worse with stupidity and spreading the wrong awareness about AIDS. Calling it the gay cancer. The circle of death as more and more known gay folks were dying of AIDS. Pasolini, Wilde, etc.

1980’s – New AIDS acronym – Arse Injected Death Syndrome. (rivals = Another Idiot Discovered Sex; All Interested Die Soon) More misleading quotations from the media. Doctors were making it even worse because if they knew their patient was gay they’d tell the patient he already was HIV+ so as to stop them from ‘funking around’. So many more deaths of Derek’s friends it’s like he never knew when he’d see them next. So he has a little Lamentation section in memory of quite a few of his friends, the memories he shared of them and a kind word or two… or not. The Sun whipped up the most flames with the most ignorant headlines and articles which were so far away from the truth. And so many pages were dedicated to such articles and headlines. And how Derek finds out he’s infected too how the kiss or death was his kiss of life. Living the life of an AIDS infected gay man, interviews on the subject and the like.

1990’s – Derek is canonised by the gay order of nuns (the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) for his films and books as Saint Derek of Dungeness of the Order of Celluloid Knights.

An Appendix – which was basically information sent to him by his friends who were involved in the struggle for civil rights. Stuff about Hetero Hero (Magic Johnson) admitting he has AIDS and turned into all-American Hero by the president. While Freddie Mercury dies 24 hours after his public statement and how the tabloids heave into action. Statistics of criminal injustice even though being gay was not a crime anymore. Queer Policing. Tax money issues. Something that looks like a constitution, laws, rights, demands and bills for people with HIV..

AYOR 3Quotations:

For the first twenty-five years of my life I lived as a criminal, and the next twenty-five were spent as a second-class citizen, deprived of equality and human rights. No right to adopt children – and if I had children, I could be declared an unfit parent; illegal in the military; an age of consent of twenty-one; no right of inheritance; no right of access to a loved one; no right to public affection; no right to an unbiased education; no legal sanc­tion of my relationships and no right to marry. These restrictions subtly deprived me of my freedom. It seemed unthinkable it could be any other way, so we all accepted this.

In ancient Rome, I could have married a boy; but in the way that ideals seem to become their shadows, love came only to be accepted within marriage. Since we could not be married, we could not fall in love. Since we could not fall in love, we were not loved.

The Heath no more belongs to the people of Hampstead than the Palace of Westminster belongs to the people of Westminster.

No man is an island, but each man created his own island to cope with the prejudice and censure. The time for politeness had to end.

Already the dormitory was divided into three groups: those who would report you – future guardians of morality; those who enjoyed themselves – myself; and the rest, frightened by their own come, and probably destined for the cloth.

James Lindesay writes: Heterosexuality (derived from the Greek `heteros’ meaning different, rather than the Latin `heitare’ meaning ‘to yawn’) is a condition in which the individual is sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. It is becoming increasingly apparent that heterosexuals (or ‘drabs’ as they call themselves) do in fact make up a significant proportion of the community.

In his Symposium Plato recommends that only young men who love each other are fit for public office.

The modern Queer was invented by Tennessee Williams. Brando in blue jeans, sneakers, white T-shirt and leather jacket. When you saw that, you knew they were available.

Swinging London swung in the imagination rather than reality; however, there was a limitless horizon of optimism. What were these bars like? None of them would pass muster these days; apart from the lack of alcohol, sound systems were in their infancy so dance floors were an after­thought.

Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now to be integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys its emasculation.

So they – Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogeneity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.

The slow-witted approach to the HIV epidemic was the result of a thousand years of Christian malpractice and the childlike approach of the church to sexuality. If any single man was responsible, it was Augustine of Hippo who murdered his way to a sainthood spouting on about the sins located in his genitals.

Those who thought otherwise, that sexuality was to be celebrated, were executed or pushed into the shadows. The battle goes on with Augustine’s pack hunting in the debased tabloids. Augustine was joined by other demented saints.

The passions in fact are dishonourable since the soul is more damaged and degraded by sins than the body is by illness… Real pleasure is only in accordance with nature. When God has abandoned someone every­thing is inverted, for I tell you that such people are even worse than murderers. The murderer only separates soul from body but these peo­ple destroy the soul within the body.

`Three years ago he was diagnosed HW+. His doctor, who knew he was gay, organised a test for him. When he went back two weeks later for the results, he was told he had the virus. The doctor was a born-again Christian and he said my friend should give up his homosexuality and become a Christian. He didn’t do that and we coped for three years. A month ago he was called up and asked to go and have further tests by the hospital. He was tested and then re-tested and called back to be told he had never had the virus. They had been investigating the doctor, who had been giving young men who he knew were gay false positive results.’

 The average police clear-up rate for the mainly consensual gay offences of buggery, procuring, and indecency is 97%, which is 28% higher than the average clear-up rate for rape and indecent assault on a woman. This extraordinarily high clear-up rate for victimles-s homosexual offences is suggestive of a police vendetta against the gay community.

Compared with men who have consenting sex with girls under 16, men who commit the consensual offence of ‘indecency between males’ with partners over 16 are five times more likely to be prosecuted, and three times less likely to get off with a caution.

Convictions for victimless homosexual indecency rose by 106% between 1985-’89. According to the Home Office this can be explained by the decision of some Chief Constables to ‘target’ these offences. Comparable heterosexual behaviour is rarely, if ever, targeted by the police.

As a result, the number of convictions for consenting homosexual indecency was nearly four times greater in 1989 that in 1966 – the year before the ostensible decriminalisation of male homosexuality.

Men who have consenting sex with 13 – 16 year old boys nearly always get charged with ‘indecent assault’ (despite the boys being willing partici­pants); whereas an ‘indecent assault’ charge is almost never brought against men who have consensual sex with girls in the same age range.

Prison sentences for consenting homosexual relations with men aged 16 – 21 are sometimes as long as for rape, and are often twice as long as the gaol terms for ‘unlawful sexual intercourse’ with a girl aged 13 – 16.

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The Establishment: And how they get away with it – OWEN JONES

teahtgawiAs with Chavs, the author tells us everything we need to know in the forward – the rest of the book fleshes it out.

There’s some repetition of material already in Chavs.

Many reviewers, even in The Guardian, have criticised him for things he never said or even refuted.

He exposes the financial shenanigans of Philip Green long before he came to pubic attention.

The idea of an “establishment” was first popularised in the mid 1950s by the journalist Henry Fairlie, who coined the term to describe how the elite networks at the top of British society closed ranks to protect their own. The particular instance he had in mind was the way the families of the Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean had been protected by their friends in high places, inside and outside of government (Fairlie’s establishment stretched from the BBC to the Church of England). Fairlie did not think ideology was the glue that held the establishment together: after all, these people weren’t helping out because they sympathised with communist defectors. It was an unthinking allegiance based on personal connections. Social ties trumped political ones. What mattered, Fairlie said, was not what you believe, but “who you know”.

Jones quotes the blogger and inveterate political troublemaker Paul Staines (aka “Guido Fawkes”) talking about the political class: “I hate the fucking thieving cunts.”

Yet on Jones’s account Staines is one of the ins, not one of the outs, because he is fully signed up to the idea that the state needs to be pared back to the minimum. He belongs to the ideological “outriders” of the new establishment, in a tradition stretching back to Hayek in the 1940s. By attacking the self-serving rapacity of politicians, he is doing the dirty work of the economic and power elites for them, since he is making it far harder for any politician to take them on.

Why did they go for the comedian Jimmy Carr and not for the many big figures in the City who have engaged in tax “minimisation”? Because, he argues, Carr has fewer friends in high places.

His solution is a ‘democratic revolution’. The trouble is that the masses would need to be educated to withstand the lies of the media.

Chapter 1 – The Outriders

In this chapter, Jones discusses think tanks and groups which function to push the Overton Window, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Jones claims that these are all groups that pose as non-partisan grassroots organisations but that actually have an agenda to push right wing policies. They receive funding from and contain many members with links to the Conservative Party.

Chapter 2 – The Westminster Cartel

This chapter discusses the political system in Britain and how it has changed over the years. It discusses the revolving door between politicians in the UK and big business, quoting for example, that 46% of the most profitable companies in Britain have an MP on their board of directors or as a shareholder. It discusses the Church of England’s relationship with British politics, and claims that many decisions made in parliament financially benefit the MPs that make the decisions, quoting a Daily Mirror report that at least 40 MPs stood to gain financially from changes made in privatising the NHS.

Chapter 3 – Mediaocracy

This chapter discusses the British Media, and its relationship with both the outriders discussed in the first chapter, and the politicians discussed in the second. Jones claims that the wealthy people that control much of the press have interests closely aligned with the establishment, and therefore tend to promote the establishments views, rather than the views of their readers, saying, “The British people are not being served by a media that exists to inform them, to educate them, to understand the realities of the country they live in and the world around them. Instead, much of the media is a political machine, lobbying for the often personal objectives of their owners. The media and political elites are frequently deeply intertwined, sharing as they do many of the same assumptions about how society should be run and organized.”

Chapter 4 – The Boys in Blue

This chapter discusses the British police force and their role within the establishment. It discusses a number of incidents which involved the police including Plebgate, the Hillsborough disaster and the News International phone-hacking scandal, and uses these incidents to highlight the complex relationships the police have with the media and politicians, and how these are often at odds with the ‘policing by consent’ model that the British police adopt. Jones claims that due to recent political changes which effectively privatise and incentivize areas of the police force “Britain faces the prospect of police forces policing by consent of their shareholders rather than their communities.”

Chapter 5 – Scrounging off the State

This chapter discusses the establishment’s relationship with The State. It describes how recent governments have been privatizing previously public services, including the NHS, by following free-market ideologies, whilst at the same time, the establishment demonises benefits fraud and makes cut-backs and imposes austerity measures on those at the bottom of the financial pyramid. Jones points out what he believes to be a contradiction in this position, where big business rely on the state to provide infrastructure, education to their workers, and also to subsidise their low wages with income and housing benefit relief. Jones calls this a form of “socialism of the rich”.

Chapter 6 – Tycoons and Tax Dodgers

This chapter discusses how big businesses in Britain avoid paying tax. It gives several examples of companies who have complex systems set up to avoid tax, and it discusses how the big accounting firms give advice to the government on the drafting of their tax laws and then use this information to advise their clients on how to avoid paying tax. It discusses how these practices are legal but cost the country huge amounts of money. It contrasts this with the other end of the financial scale where people on low income convicted of benefits fraud are jailed, despite the amounts in question being a fraction of those lost to big businesses avoiding tax. Jones also discusses the difficulties in imposing effective legislation to combat tax avoidance in a global marketplace.

Chapter 7 – Masters of the Universe

This chapter discusses the financial sector, which Jones claims is a threat to British democracy. Jones discusses how the role of the City has changed over the years and talks about the bailout of the banks in 2008 and the subsequent quantitative easing employed to revitalise the financial sector at the expense of taxpayers. Jones also discusses the PR companies that represent the financial sector and their close relationship with politicians and the media. For example, he discusses the top financial publicity firm the Brunswick Group, “When Brunswick founder Alan Parker got married in 2007, his wedding guests included then Prime Minister Gordon Brown – whose wife Sarah was a Brunswick partner – and David Cameron. Brown is godfather to Parker’s son, while Parker and Cameron holidayed with each other in South Africa in March the following year. At the beginning of 2008 – just months before financial calamity struck – Brown appointed Brunswick’s CEO Stephen Carter as his Chief of Staff. Parker’s sister, Lucy Parker, is a Brunswick partner who, after David Cameron entered Number 10, headed up the government’s taskforce on Talent and Enterprise. Brunswick has gone fishing for talent in the Murdoch empire, too: one senior partner is David Yelland, former editor of The Sun.”

Chapter 8 – The Illusion of Sovereignty

This chapter discusses the British establishment’s relationship with America and with the EU and how that has changed over time. It discusses historical events which have shaped Britain’s special relationship with America. It also discusses Britain’s relationship with the EU and how that represents a different dynamic with regard to what British people regard as The State and The Establishment.

Conclusion – A Democratic Revolution

Here, Jones gives a broad summary of the preceding chapters and the complex relationships between the groups which make up the establishment, and how through common interest rather than any sort of organised conspiracy, it has become a vehicle to serve the rich and powerful. He then goes on to give a number of examples of groups and ideas which aim to improve the system by challenging the systems described elsewhere in the book, stating that people should be working towards a “democratic revolution”.

For example, he describes the work of think tanks such as Class and The New Economics Foundation; activist groups such as UK Uncut’s work on forcing politicians and media to deal with tax avoidance by big business and wealthy individuals; the Occupy movement highlighting inequality; anti-austerity campaigners such as Disabled People Against Cuts, the People’s Assembly (of which Jones himself is involved) and The Green Party. Jones claims that these disparate groups need to organise to form a coherent and credible alternative to the current status quo which resonates with a mass audience.

Jones then goes on to describe some proposals which he believes would help to reassert the democracy which he claims has been lost in modern Britain. Some of these are: Higher top rates of tax; “Democracy in the workplace”, citing Co-determination – Germany’s model of employee representation within company board meetings; A system of “democratic public ownership” of key utilities such as railways, electricity companies and banks; laws to shut the revolving door of politics including banning MPs from taking up second jobs.

He calls for the government to adopt an “industrial policy based on an active, interventionist state” but explains that this does not represent a “statist” model as has been seen in the past, but rather a new model whereby taxpayers have representation and ownership within the systems they pay into.

Quotations:

It’s important to point out that when post-war Britain had higher taxes on the rich, stronger trade unions and widespread state inter­vention in the economy, it also experienced higher levels of economic growth which was more evenly distributed than today. Today’s Establishment — formed from the late 197os onwards — has presided over a Britain with lower levels of growth, which has been less evenly distributed, as well as the three great economic crises of post-war Brit­ain: the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and post-2008.

Here, it’s worth reiterating that the book is an explicit rejection of the idea that the Establishment represents a conscious, organized con­spiracy. Sure, there are undoubtedly specific conspiracies, from police cover-ups to tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Yet the whole prem­ise of the book is that the Establishment is bound by shared economic interests and common mentalities. There is no need for any overarch­ing planned conspiracy against democracy. The Establishment is an organic, dynamic system.

my deep attraction to the idea of the ‘Overton Window’, a concept invented by US conservatives to describe what is deemed pol­itically possible at any given time.

Governments enter and leave office, and yet the Establishment remains in power.

Developing out of a primary focus on the environ­ment, the Greens offer policies that represent a genuine assault on the Establishment: a statutory living wage, public ownership, workers’ rights, higher taxes on the rich and companies, a clampdown on tax avoidance, a council-house building programme, and so on.

Yet Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system represents a formid­able obstacle to any new party.

Here is what I understand the ‘Establishment’ to mean. Today’s Establishment is made up — as it has always been — of powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote. The Establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to `manage’ democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population. As the well-connected right-wing blogger and columnist Paul Staines puts it approvingly: ‘We’ve had nearly a century of universal suffrage now, and what happens is cap­ital finds ways to protect itself from — you know — the voters.’

Bailed-out banks; state-funded infrastructure; the state’s pro­tection of property; research and development; a workforce educated at great public expense; the topping up of wages too low to live on; numerous subsidies — all are examples of what could be described as a ‘socialism for the rich’ that marks today’s Establishment.

“New Labour thought it could keep winning without tackling some of the things that progressive politics should be challenging. They regarded elections as in the bag. They didn’t need to go further or to challenge the Thatcherite settlement. As a result, millions of citizens find themselves unrepresented by conventional politics. Even mild shifts by the Labour leadership away from the establishment’s group think trigger a frenzied response. A narrow consensus is zealously guarded and policed.”

“Future generations will surely look back with a mixture of astonishment and contempt at how British society is currently organised.”

“Private interests are completely dependent upon state largesse if they are to prosper, and thus they should pay up accordingly.”

Chris Bryant, a Labour shadow minister, knows just how frighten­ing it can be to end up on the wrong side of a media baron. Bryant, a blunt, sardonic man, has an odd background for a Labour MP. As a student, he was an officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association; he then became a priest, before deciding it was inconsis­tent with being gay. When he was elected as a Labour MP for the solidly working-class South Wales constituency of the Rhondda in 1997, he was seen as an unwavering leadership loyalist. But his appar­ently uncontroversial politics would not save him from his whole life being turned upside down by media barons.

The Murdoch empire ‘operated by fear and favour’, Chris Bryant tells me in his House of Commons office; he speaks in the past tense because, rather optimistically, he believes its stranglehold over the political elite has come to an end. ‘Whether granting a political favour in supporting you in a general election through your newspapers, or just inviting you to smart dinners to watch the tennis, whilst at the same time having the threat that if you do us over, we can do you over individually or individual members or your Government.’

In 2003, Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun, had been sum­moned to answer questions before the House of Commons Culture and Media Select Committee, of which Bryant was a part. He asked her directly whether she had ever paid police officers, and she responded that the newspaper had. It was an illegal practice, and yet at the time it was barely reported. ‘God knows, I tried to get it cover­age,’ Bryant says. ‘In the end I think it may well be because quite a lot of newspapers were doing it and no newspaper would shoot at another newspaper, it was a code of thieves really.’ As part of the Select Com­mittee, Bryant also criticized other newspapers for the same practice: ‘I did all of them in the course of five weeks and, by the end of the year, all of them took their revenge by doing a fairly hefty attack on my sexuality.’

It was a humiliating experience. ‘I think they bided their time,’ Bry­ant says, ‘they waited, and then they caught me and the stupidity was I let them catch me.’ Newspapers published salacious details of his use of a gay dating website, including the seeking of sexual encounters with other men. Most embarrassingly of all, they splashed a photo­graph of him posing naked except for his underpants. Other prurient stories were dredged up, whether based in fact or not. ‘Apparently I forced seven men to perform fellatio on me at the same time while singing “Things can only get better” on the night of the General Elec­tion in 1997,’ he says with a wry smile. ‘That’s quite impressive.’ Bryant was reduced to a wreck. ‘It was really horrible at the time,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t sleep for three months. I literally shook for 24 hours after they came and turned up on my doorstep. It felt like I was being violated. I had a stalker, I had people on my doorstep, they pub­lished my address in the newspaper.’ The response to Bryant’s criticism had been ruthless. One former Daily Mail journalist passed on a message to one of Bryant’s friends: ‘We hope you’ll be dead by Christmas.’

[And I bet the photo wasn’t from Gaydar – no self-respecting gay man with any taste would wear cheap, dirty Y Fronts like those.]

You have a fiduciary responsibility as a company director to make sure you do the right thing for the company and there’s nothing in company law about doing the right thing for society.’

And yet this is not an accurate representation of the law at all. The Companies Act 20(36 includes nothing about maximizing profit. Rather, it calls on the director ‘to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole’, including taking into account ‘the interests of the company’s employees’ and, crucially, ‘the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment’.

Russia has a top income-tax rate of 13 per cent — but there is hardly a stampede of British billionaires heading to Moscow, or to Serbia, say, where the top rate is 15 per cent. The wealthy have other factors to consider: where their friends and family are; their social and cultural life; whether they feel at home; whether they feel safe and secure, and so on.

Large companies have long used the threat of pulling the plug and taking jobs elsewhere in order to blackmail elected governments. But it is bluster. According to research by Richard Murphy, a handful of multinational companies relocated elsewhere after the threat of some changes in tax law in zoo8, but they were barely paying any tax in the first place, so the loss to the Exchequer was negligible. It hardly seems likely that corporations would seek to abandon Britain, one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets, if there was a genuine clampdown on tax avoidance. After all, the country has many advan­tages: world-class education, infrastructure and a highly functioning legal system, as well as a national language that happens to be the international business language.

as Francis Beckett, the biographer of Labour’s post-war Minister, Clement Attlee, put it. ‘If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.’

One City stockbroker and energy analyst, Peter Atherton, put in plain English what the Big Six were threatening: brownouts and blackouts.

If trade unions had been issuing such threats, there would have been a tsunami of outrage from the right-wing press. But now there were no tabloid headlines along the lines of ‘Energy Barons Hold the Nation to Ransom’ or ‘The Enemy Within’….. they suffered no blackouts as a result. EDF, effect­ively run by the French state, had to abide by price restrictions back at home.

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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones

chavs(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

“Chav” means “underclass”, which means working-class people who don’t keep their noses clean or behave impeccably. The word’s etymology is contested: some accounts associate its origin with chavi, a Romany word for “child” or “youth”, which developed into “charva” – meaning scallywag – used for a long time in the northeast. Others treat it as an acronym for “Council Housed and Violent”.

Chavs, Jones writes, are unremittingly portrayed as “Thick. Violent. Criminal.” Travel brochures still apparently promise “Chav-Free Activity Holidays”.

An example of middle-class contempt towards working-class people is rightwing commentator Simon Heffer’s talk of the “feral underclass”.

As British society has become ever more segregated by class, income and neighbourhood, miscommunication has deepened between the classes; the Conservatives’ demeaning of trade unions has helped to strip the working classes of what public voice they had, so that the middle class has effectively become the new decision-making class.

In New Labour’s eyes, being aspirational working class meant embracing individualism and selfishness. It meant fighting to be a part of Brown’s ‘bigger middle class than ever’ p. 90. They Laud ‘aspiration’ but what if there are no jobs to aspire to?

Jones reveals the increasing poverty and desperation of communities made precarious by wrenching social and industrial change, and all but abandoned by the aspirational, society-fragmenting policies of Thatcherism and New Labour. The chav stereotype, he argues, is used by governments as a convenient figleaf to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems, and to justify widening inequality.

Midway through the book, Jones gives a somewhat harrowing account of how some call centre workers in County Durham are treated in exchange for their £14,400 per annum. Those who spend more than 4% of their time in the toilet or making a coffee face financial penalties. A no-hang-up policy, however rude and aggressive the callers, means “quite often on the floor people in tears at the way people have spoken to them”.

Critics will say that his leftwing politics requires working-class people to be “oppressed creatures”, always victims, not rational actors in a play they help to write.

Maybe he romanticises an ideal of working-class life, the noble savage here.

‘….the dozens of Daily Mail readers who bombarded the newspaper with messages in support of the Tory councillor. ‘I fail to see the problem with his comments,’ wrote one, adding: ‘It is NOT a God-given right to mass-produce children.’’ p. 27 Roman Catholics would disagree.

chavs-2Quotations:

“It’s sad that Woolworth’s is closing. Where will all the chavs buy their Christmas presents?”

“Karl Marx once described religion as ‘the sigh of the oppressed creature’: something similar could be said about the rise of the far right today.

“Demonisation is the ideological backbone of an unequal society.”
“Taken together, New Labour policies have helped to build a series of overlapping chav caricatures: the feckless, the non-aspirational, the scrounger, the dysfunctional and the disorderly. To hear this sort of rhetoric from Labour, rather than the Tories, has confirmed the stereotypes and prejudices many middle-class people have about working-class communities and individuals. But it can be far subtler than outright attacks. Many of New Labour’s underlying philosophies were steeped in middle-class triumphalism. They were based on the assumption that the tattered remnants of the working-class were on the wrong side of history – and must be made to join ‘Middle England’ like the rest of us.”

“Being born into a prosperous middle-class family typically endows you with a safety net for life. If you are not naturally very bright, you are still likely to go far and, at the very least, will never experience poverty as an adult. A good education compounded by your parents’ ‘cultural capital’, financial support and networks will always see you through. If you are a bright child born into a working-class family, you do not have any of these things. The odds are that you will not be better off than your parents.”
“It is entirely undesirable that on modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live,’ he argued. ‘If we are to enable citizens to lead a full life, if they are each to be aware of the problems of their neighbours, then they should all be drawn from different sectors of the community. We should try to introduce what was always the lovely feature of English and Welsh villages, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street.”
“Chav-bashing draws on a long, ignoble tradition of class hatred. But it cannot be understood without looking at more recent events. Above all, it is the bastard child of a very British class war.”
“George Orwell observed: ‘If you look for the working classes in fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole … the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists. When they do find their way between the corners of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief.’”
“What does the case of Jade Goody show us, other than the capacity of the British media for crassness and cruelty? Above all it demonstrated that it is possible to say practically anything about people from Jade’s background. They are fair game.”
“Pinochet shared one of the main aims of his ideological soulmates in Britain: to erase the working class as a concept. His goal, he declared, was to ‘make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs’.”
“Get rid of all the cleaners, rubbish collectors, bus drivers, supermarket checkout staff and secretaries, for example, and society will very quickly grind to a halt. On the other hand, if we woke up one morning to find that all the highly paid advertising executives, management consultants and private equity directors had disappeared, society would go on much as it did before: in a lot of cases, probably quite a bit better.,”
“Morality is personal. There is no such thing as collective conscience, collective kindness, collective gentleness, collective freedom,’ she planned to argue. ‘To talk of social justice, social responsibility, a new world order, may be easy and make us feel good, but it does not absolve each of us from personal responsibility.’ It was clearly too much for her speechwriters and did not make the final cut. However, they were not able to stop her infamous declaration several years later (in lifestyle magazine Woman’s Own, of all places): ‘There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
To justify the slashing of welfare benefits, he argued that long-term claimants had to ‘take responsibility’ for the number of children that they had, and that the state would no longer fund large workless families. In reality, just 3.4 per cent of families in long-term receipt of benefits have four children or more. But Hunt was tapping into the age-old prejudice that the people at the bottom were breeding out of control, as well as conjuring up the tabloid caricature of the slobbish single mother who milks the benefits system by having lots of children. The purpose was clear: to help justify a wider attack on some of the most vulnerable working-class people in the country.

 

comments open a window into the minds of educated, middle-class hacks. They had stumbled into strange, unfamiliar territory. After all, they knew nobody who had grown up in these circumstances. It’s no surprise that they found it difficult to empathize with them.

I suspect in general a lot of national journalists, the people who will have gone up north to cover it, would have been entering an alien world,’ says senior Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire. ‘It’ll have been as alien to them as Kandahar or Timbuktu. They just wouldn’t know that Britain … Because it’s not their Britain, it’s not the bit they live in, they come from.’

This is not baseless speculation. The occasional journalist even con­fessed as much. Melanie Reid in The Times argued passionately that ‘us douce middle classes’ simply did not understand the case ‘because we are as removed from that kind of poverty as we are from events in Afghanistan. For life among the white working class of Dewsbury looks like a foreign country.”

 

Kevin Maguire is one of a tiny handful of senior journalists from working-class backgrounds. You will struggle to find anyone writing or broadcasting news who grew up somewhere even remotely like the Dewsbury Moor estate. Over half of the top hundred journalists were educated at a private school, a figure that is even higher than it was two decades ago. In stark contrast, only one in fourteen children in Britain share this background!’

 

Increasingly, wannabe journalists have to pay for their own training, which usually means having at least one degree. That leaves a huge amount of debt on their shoulders when starting out in a profes­sion with notoriously low wages for junior staff. ‘The only people who can do that are those with financial support,’ he says. ‘That is, those whose parents can support them, which means the nature of those going into journalism has changed dramatically.’

 

There was once a tradition, particularly on the Labour benches, of MPs who had started off working in factories and mines. Those days are long gone. The number of politicians from those backgrounds is

I small, and shrinks with every election. Fewer than one in twenty MPs started out as manual workers, a number that has halved since 1987, despite the fact that that was a Conservative-dominated Parliament. On the other hand, a startling two-thirds had a professional job or worked in business before arriving in Parliament.

 

Welfare fraud is estimated to cost the Treasury around £1 billion a year. But, as detailed investigations by chartered accountant Richard Murphy have found, £70 billion is lost through tax evasion every year—that is, seventy times more. If anything, ‘welfare evasion’ is more of a problem, with billions of pounds worth of tax credits left unclaimed every year. The cruel irony is that poor people who live in communities like Dewsbury Moor actually pay more in tax as a proportion of their wage packets than many of the rich journalists and politicians who attack them. But where is the outcry over middle-class spongers? Given the media’s distorted coverage, it’s hardly sur­prising that people significantly underestimate the cost of tax avoidance and overestimate the cost of benefit fraud.

Looking back on the episode, the future Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin later confessed: ‘The Conservatives can’t talk of class war. They started it.’

the strikes were almost completely avoidable. James Callaghan’s Labour government had imposed years of effective pay cuts on public sector workers in order to keep down inflation. But this approach was based on the myth that union pay claims caused price rises, rather than the other way round. Inflation was rampant across the Western world at the time, regardless of how strong unions were.

You didn’t get young lads going off the rails at the weekend. You wouldn’t upset an old guy because he would be the same one you’d rely on in the pit to protect your life at work, so why would you upset him at the weekend over a few pints?’

it was the relatively better-off council tenants who were becoming homeowners. Those who remained council tenants tended to be poorer and in the worst homes. By 1986, nearly two-thirds of tenants were from the bottom 30 per cent in terms of income, and only 18 per cent were from the richest half. Yet, just seven years earlier, a fifth of the richest 10 per cent were council house dwellers. Council housing became increasingly reserved for those who were most deprived and vulnerable. It was in the 1980s that council estates got their bad name as dilapidated, crime-ridden, and deeply poor: exaggerations in part—and any elements of truth were the direct result of government policies.

 

As Stephen Pound, a loyal­ist Labour MP, argues: ‘I think part of the problem is that people in the working classes have been sold the line that they shouldn’t be there, and you can somehow drag yourself up … The old socialist motto is “rise with your class, not above it”. The reality of this country is that to rise, you rise above your class.’

The resulting despair was a major cause of anti-social behaviour.

I sometimes feel—and I’m not criticizing or knocking young people, I don’t mean this as it sounds—that among the younger generations, because maybe they’ve got no prospects, there’s a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. Things like litter, and things like that. I see them walking past here, there’s bins attached to the lamp posts, but they just throw everything over the wall. And if you say anything, you get a lot of aggression straight away.

A nearby pub that was recently closed because of drugs was a particular source of anti-social behaviour. ‘I remember after midnight Mass at Christmas, it was Christmas morning—about half past five—and I was out here, sweeping up the glass and everything before people came to Mass in the morning. Bottles, just smashed—thrown all over the wall, litter everywhere.’

When people think of single mothers, it is often teenage girls that spring to mind. But in reality, only one in fifty single mothers are under eighteen. The average age for a single parent is thirty-six, and over half had the children while married.

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With Angels and Furies – John Sam Jones

WAAF(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Having read his “Crawling Through Thorns”,”Welsh Boys Too” and “Fishboys of Vernazza”, I wanted to read this, his first full-length novel. However, to start with it didn’t ‘grip’ me as much as they did and there were too many characters, which became confusing. Then it all came together, rapidly, in the last third of the novel. Many of them are types of people or roles in his other books and many of the places ain them are revisited here.

The author’s description of male bodies from a female point of view is actually a male appreciation *

We are taken back to the homophobic taunts and bomb scares of the late 20th Century. And we get a lesbian vicar at a time when women priests didn’t exiost here but did in the USA.

* With only limited experience of men’s charming ways, however unsubtle, Bethan was flattered by his attention. When she joined him again at the top of the stairs he put his arm around her waist to escort her down to the dance floor. His touch set off a chain of tingles that were as delicious as they were disconcerting.

Cigarette smoke, mingled with an evocative, humid blend of perfumes and colognes that exuded from the press of dancers, clung in the air of the low brick-ceilinged vaults. They wove together into the knot of dancing bodies and Bethan felt the frantic rock music propel her charged body into an energetic dance. The fluid movements of Ben’s body washed over her and the sway and thrust of his hips seemed to resonate through the space between them, fusing his body to hers. When their eyes met, they lingered. Bethan read the suggestions and interpreted the intentions evoked in the deep pools of green, and she relished the possibilities.

Beginning to overheat with all the energy, Ben unbuttoned his shirt and tugged its tails from inside his jeans. Bethan tried not to stare, but she found herself fascinated by his tight brown nipples, as tempting as two sun-ripened raisins, and she wondered whether her experiences with women would count for anything as she fantasised about arousing Ben’s body. Surprising herself, she reached forward and traced the outline of muscle on his chest with her fingertips and allowed her thumb to rest momentarily at his nipple. She teased it coyly and felt its contractions. Its erect hardness thrilled her. The skin on his lightly downed chest and belly, taut across toned muscles, glistened in the flashing disco lights and his navel, a moist pitted cherry, looked good enough to suck and probe with her tongue. Below the cherry, like the twinkling lights hung up in the shrubs along Portland’s Peacock Lane through the Christmas holiday period, tiny diamonds of sweat sparkled through a thin hedge of hairs. Her insides churned.

He folded her into his arms and moved her with him into the more “OK, but hurry,” Ben said, beginning to dance coquettishly and giving her his come-to-me eyes.

gentle rhythm of a nineties ballad. Lightly gripping his shoulders, she felt the firmness of his deltoids through the gauzy cotton skin of his shirt; she squeezed with her fingers unconsciously, probing the density of the muscles, and concluded that his body felt so different from those of the women she’d known. Pulled close into him, her cheek brushing against his, she breathed in his smell: a gentle spicy mix of a not inexpensive cologne, laced with some unique, masculine pheromone that stirred her with startling urgency, churning her insides again with a potency more keen than had ever been true with any of those Berkeley girls. The languorous cadence of the ballad swayed their bodies into sensuous closeness — then he kissed her cheek, tentatively at first. She turned her face gently into his and, carried on the rushes of passions coursing through her body, she tasted him deeply, becoming intoxicated as his presence surged through each of her senses.

After two more hectic dances, Ben beckoned Bethan to follow him across the dance floor to where a wide passage, dimly lit and lined with couples being intimate, led to the toilets, a bank of telephones and a spiral staircase that went back up to the atrium. They kissed for a while, leaning against the wall. Now she concentrated on the taste of his mouth and was surprised that it wasn’t at all unpleasant, though why she’d thought that boys might taste odious was beyond her. Ben’s lips and tongue were a heady mixture of mango and apricot, basil and cilantro, fresh and pleasing. She knew from the way he pressed against her that he was aroused and when she felt his delicate fingers, first at her breasts, tentatively teasing her nipple, and then pushing under her skirt to stroke the inside of her thigh, she cupped the swelling in his pants and felt the hard ridge. The feel of the metal studs in his fly confused her, but, when Ben moaned gently and said, “That feels nice,” she let her hand linger. And they kissed some more.

Bethan’s body responded to his touch and her mind raced with the possibilities that might be realised between them. If only it had been another time, she thought, when her mother wasn’t there, and after she’d had some time to think about what she wanted from someone like Ben — and how she wanted it.

“You’ll spoil it all if you do that for too long,” Ben said, breaking into her misgivings.

“But I thought you said it felt good,” Bethan alleged, suddenly raked with self-doubts and pulling away from him.

“It does feel good Bethan — wonderful,” Ben reassured her over a disco remix, the dimple coming back to his cheek.

Bethan was even more confused by his mixed messages, and her face was slow to break from the scowl that furrowed her brow. Her diffidence puzzled him, and, pulling her back to him, he kissed her.

“It really was very nice, Bethan,” he said. “But when you’re bursting for a pee it’s not so cool. Why don’t I meet you back upstairs?”

“I’ll be with Mari and my mom, then, in the Dyke,” she shouted back as he pulled away from her, the music suddenly too loud.

She watched him disappear between the groping couples. For a few moments, before mounting the spiral steps, she felt abandoned and disconcerted. Her eyes lingered on the couple closest to her. The girl sucked her boyfriend’s nipple through his shirt, leaving a lipstick stain, and with her long, slender fingers she massaged his buttocks. He kissed and licked her earlobes, and under her hitched-up miniskirt the fingers of his left hand were lost beneath the scarlet cotton of her panties. Her crimson nail extensions writhed like an upturned crab’s legs. Ridiculous as they looked, Bethan caught a fleeting glimpse of herself and Ben in their embrace and the feverish pitch of her excitement startled her. What she wanted from him began to take shape in her mind — and, now that the possibility of it seemed within her reach, she began to question her motives. She tried to stifle the ethics of it and her confusion became palpable; she’d never experienced such moral qualms with any of the women she’d slept with, so why was it suddenly so different with a man?

 

She watched him undress. She knew that he slept naked but now she wondered if he’d leave anything on; she’d take his lead. Not wanting her watching to seem too obvious, she sat on his bed and picked up the poetry book she’d lent him.

“Are you still learning one a week?” she asked.

“I’m struggling with ‘The Whitsun Weddings’,” he said, stepping out of the khaki chinos.

“Do you like Larkin, then?” she asked, kicking off her shoes and thinking to herself that the reason his buns looked so good in those pants was that he didn’t wear briefs.

“Well enough,” he said, scratching among his pubic hairs without embarrassment and wondering whether he’d tell her about what had happened the previous afternoon when he’d sat in the quiet of Llan Illtud church. He moved over to the French windows.

“Shall I leave these open?”

“Yes,” she said, pulling her top over her head. “The lilacs smelt lovely and it’s still so warm.”

Folding her clothes neatly and laying them over the back of the chair, she wondered whether he’d notice her nipples and whether he figure it out.

“I hate it when some sentence drifts into my head, though,” he said, pulling back the duvet on his side of the bed. “You know, when you just can’t fit it into the right poem, but it stays with you, and torments you.”

“But that really gets your brain working,” she offered, wondering he’d noticed the fluster in her voice as she took off her wet-creased panties.

“What are you reading now?” he asked, lying back and resting his head in his hands.

“I’m working hard on T H Parry-Williams’s sonnets,” she said, noticing how his penis had flopped back to rest on the thick tuft of black hairs. “But his use of the language is so rich and my Welsh vocabulary is still pretty limited. I’m really struggling.”

“Do you want me to read them aloud for you?”

“That would help me a lot, I think,” she said, fascinated by how much the wrinkled opening of his foreskin looked like the polo neck of one of her sweaters in miniature, and unsure whether she’d prefer that he were circumcised.

“How many of his sonnets are you doing?”

“Six or eight,” she said, counting them off on her fingers. “Let me think: there’s `Dychwelyd’, `Cyngor’ and Tyr Ysgol’.”

” `Tyr Ysgol’,” he said with enthusiastic nostalgia. “I remember that one from school; it’s one we did for GCSE: ‘Mae r cyrn yn mygu er pob awel groes, a rhywun yno weithiau n sgubo r llawr ac agor y ffenestri..! ”

She tried to concentrate on the poem but Gwion’s body stole her thoughts. She wanted to touch him. Not just a sisterly hug or the offer of a reassuring pat with her hand, but to really touch the different parts of him: to hold his hand in hers and kiss his fingertips; to trace circles with her fingers around each of his nipples and delight at seeing them peak; and brush her lips over the hairs that guarded his navel and probe

its mystery, gently, hungrily with her tongue. And she wanted to take his penis in her hands; she imagined its eye winking playfully at her from somewhere beneath its sheath and she let her mind linger, rolling back the polo neck to explore a territory that was new to her, as intriguing as a foreign country, if not a little frightening. It looked benign enough, lolling on its bed of softness, but just how big would it

grow and would it then seem menacing? And would he hurt her? Would he touch her body as he touched a man’s and would that be hard and rough? And she surprised herself by how little she knew of the intimacy there might be between two men and chastised herself for assuming their sex would be without grace or warmth. And a desire to feel the qualities of his touching enveloped her and she yearned for him to reach for her, to reassure, to encourage, beckoning her to him. But Gwion stared at the roses in the ceiling cornice and recited the sonnet.

He lay quietly, after finishing the recitation, pleased that his memory hadn’t failed him and content in Bethan’s company. After a while he felt her move next to him and her fingers began to trace delicate lines along his thigh. It felt nice. Realising how grateful he was for her friendship, he turned into her embrace.

“Thank you for being such a friend,” he whispered into her ear. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you those couple of days last week after Gareth dumped all his shit on me.”

“Thank you for being here for me this afternoon,” she said, and kissed him.

She’d never kissed him like that before, on his lips. He noticed it was a different kind of kiss, somehow loaded with possibilities, a kiss that made him think of Gareth, who was such a good kisser. What if Gareth came home and found them together? How would he explain their intimacy? And the thought of Gareth pushed Bethan away from him, although they remained tightly embraced, and Gwion began to understand. Her hand, the one that had stroked his thigh, had become trapped between his legs when he’d turned into her; now its touch was too intimate, nuzzled against his balls. Her other hand was on his chest, the fingers playing a gentle melody on an imaginary keyboard. And she was kissing him again, her tongue tickling his lower lip.

“Please, Bethan, let’s not do this,” he said, not wanting to reject her, but wanting it to stop. “I don’t want you to touch me there, like that,” he said, shifting onto his back and releasing her hand from between his legs.

“Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like, though?” she asked, sitting up and taking his hand in hers.

“No,” he said, more out of shock at the suggestion than any certainty that he might not like to try. “I’m Gareth’s lover,” he added quickly, perhaps to convince himself.

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Welsh Boys Too – John Sam Jones

WBT(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The author has worked in education, as a chaplain in hospitals and prisons and as a sexual health worker and is currently employed as the Schools Advisor for Personal and Social Education in Denbighshire.  He lives with his civil partner in a farmhouse in the Rhinog mountains

After ten years in the States, the author was horrified about the homophobia that still pervaded Welsh society in 1993 so he wanted to suggest some of the ways that individuals overcame such prejudice.

On 1996, he worked in with a group of gay and lesbian teenagers at the West Rhyl Young People’s Project and realised that despite many gay characters in soaps that seem to have played a role in fostering greater understanding and tolerance, life as a gay or lesbian teenager in rural north Wales was as awful as it was when he had been a gay teenager in rural north Wales at the beginning of the 1970s. The politics of Section 28 and the government’s unwillingness to define a sex education curriculum that is statutory left gay and lesbian teenagers amongst the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and left teachers uncertain of what they could say to the gay or lesbian young person who seeks their counsel. Little is done to develop the self-esteem of gay and lesbian teenagers in school settings. Still to this day little is done to address homophobic bullying in schools.

This collection of short stories is essentially a tale of two identities – Welsh-speaking and gay. It encompasses a wide range of classic gay themes including the gay holocaust, coupledom, relationships with a straight family, coming out/denial, bullying, cottaging, the age of consent, rent-boys, Clause 28, gay weddings, Christian homophobia, and a dash of camp, all set in the Welsh-speaking North, in just over ninety pages!

Llŷr Jones, M.Th., Gethin’s Calvinist father in ‘The Wonder at Seal Cave’, would remind his congregation ‘that stories give shape to lives and that without stories we cannot understand ourselves’. That’s what this collection does too – providing Welsh gay men, especially the young, with stories through which they might better understand themselves. Gethin is agonisingly trapped between his own self-knowledge and a minister father and psychologist mother who would stifle his sexual orientation. However, during a family visit to Bardsey Gethin has an important initiating encounter with a German boy, the tale ends lamely when the troubled boy is advised by a sympathetic teacher to telephone a gay help-line.  Gethin starts to make sense of his burgeoning sexuality by seeing the film Beautiful Thing, set in a London council estate, whilst he was in Liverpool. Where in Wales could Gethin have heard a similar Welsh story?

In The Birds Don’t Sing, the narrator visits Poland along with his partner Griff, and relates their frolics together. Then Griff goes off cruising while our narrator meets an older women, a Polish refugee and mother of a gay son, together, with the thought of pink triangles in mind, they visit the sight of Auschwitz.

WBT 2The ‘gay community’ as such does not feature largely in them. There are references to the brotherhood of the Pink Triangle, pink politics and the Gay Outdoor Club, but the gay characters live mostly as couples in a heterosexual world without contact with other gay men. This surely is the reality for many gay men in Wales, but not the only lifestyle.

‘Sharks on the Bedroom Floor’ charts a weekend in the lives of gay partners and their hosting of a young nephew and niece. In this tale, Jones uses a multiple viewpoint.

In the five-page “But Names Will Never Hurt Me,” he gives us everything necessary to understand why the 17-year-old protagonist, who has already made his affectional choices, decides that “Rent boy . . . didn’t sound so bad.”

In nine unhurried pages, “The Magenta Silk Thread” reveals exactly why a 77-year-old war widow is attending her best friend’s son’s wedding and taking the train rather than getting a lift to it.

 The bleak circumstances of furtive sex are presented here in some detail. One story ends thus: ‘As you shower that sunny August morning of your seventeenth birthday, you think about all the hurtful names you’ve ever been called. There’d been effing queer; there’d been turd-driver and arse-bandit. Rent-boy, though, didn’t sound so bad.’

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Crawling Through Thorns – John Sam Jones

CTT(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The author is about the same age as me and we both grew up in seaside towns. We have many similar, and also many different, experiences. He discovers cottaging in his teens. Many of is encounters have also been described in his novels: Welsh Boys Too, Fishboys of Vernazza  and  With Angels and Furies .

When John Sam Jones’ life reached a crisis point, he faced a choice between change or suicide. This book describes his journey back from the edge

He grew up during the ’60s and ’70s in a small town nestled between the Irish Sea and the Rhinog mountains in Wales. His family lived in that community for many generations; hard-working, Welsh-speaking, and solidly Presbyterian. The town was a summer holiday resort that had seen better days, but life still seemed spit into two; the three-month-long season and nine months when nothing much happened. Both his parents were second children.

Realising that he was gay at the age of 11 or 12 wasn’t easy. In the late 1960s in Britain, homosexuality was barely talked about – unless in hushed tones and with distaste. All he knew about homosexuals was what he’d read in newspaper reports – about men being arrested for improper behaviour, and the word “homosexual” was always accompanied by words like unstable, alcoholic, sinful, sick, criminal.

The clash of religion, culture and sexuality in his sense of identity became intense by the time he was 18 and he suffered depression and an eventual breakdown.

The repressed gay ordinand who seeks to cure him by having sex with him is just typical.

The NEB version of 1 Corinthians which mistranslates as homosexuals can’t go to heaven is the experience of many, to their despair.

The extempore prayer that uses the word ‘just’ several times is a bit anachronistic for the 1970s – I think.

However, the account of Taize is accurate and atmospheric.

The arrival in Israel, wit its sweltering heat and citrus smell; reflects my experience too.

I enjoyed SCM being dubbed ‘Slightly Christian Marxists’.

Richard (Kirker) was, indeed, ever the salesman.

It’s astonishing that aversion therapy was still going on in the 1970s – but then it is still is in some places. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t work, it’s highly immoral to encourage men to use women.

The Welsh Book Council has described it as “book that refuses to be pigeon-holed: it reads like memoir, is presented as fiction and offers a critique of society’s changing attitudes towards the gay community from the 1960s to the present day. It is a brave and often shocking book, whose flashback structure generously softens the pain… Crawling through Thorns is the story not just of a personal quest for honesty and openness, but also of a society having to confront its fears and prejudices. Highlighting the difference between the toxic shame delivered upon the oppressed and the real shame that should be felt by the oppressors, it is a challenging and compulsive read – often harrowing but ultimately uplifting.”

The title echoes a slightly obscure poem by Waldo Williams. The book jumps about a bit.

I liked the contextual theology and Robert MacAFee Brown.

And I really do get that someone who is dying wants Communion from the person who cares for them rather from some remote priest.

There’s a bit of obsession with sound systems – Bang & Olufson and the like.

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Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood.

GTBThis is set in 1930s Weimar Germany. It’s semiautobiographical and describes pre-Nazi Germany and the people he met: the caring landlady, Frl. Schroeder; the “divinely decadent” Sally Bowles, a young Englishwoman who sings in the local cabaret and her coterie of admirers; Natalia Landauer, the rich, Jewish heiress of a prosperous family business; Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to accept their relationship and sexuality in light of the rise of the Nazis.

It was first published in 1939 and highlights the groups of people who would be most at risk from Nazi intimidation. It was described by contemporary writer George Orwell as “Brilliant sketches of a society in decay.” In his autobiography Without Stopping, the author and composer Paul Bowles suggests that Isherwood, whom he met in Berlin, may have borrowed his surname for the character Sally Bowles. Isherwood confirms this in his 1976 memoir Christopher and His Kind, writing, “[I] liked the sound of it and also the looks of its owner.”

A continual theme throughout the book is what people will put up with as their conditions gradually decline and what people will continue to accept as normal. This can be seen in Sally’s association with the man who swindles her of money, claiming to be a film producer. He asks her to marry him and she puts up with his uncouth behaviour in hopes of fame and fortune. He later turns out in fact to be a penniless 16 year old boy who is mentally disturbed. Another example of this normalising attitude can also be seen in the conditions the Nowaks live in with too many beds crammed into a small flat between other furniture and a dripping ceiling. It can also be evidenced in the gradually worsening relations between Otto and Peter who come to despise each other but continue to bicker, argue and needle each other for much longer than is healthy in order to sustain their relationship.

Quotations:

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking”

‘Because I have given my own name to the ‘I’ of this narrative, readers are certainly not entitled to assume that its pages are purely autobiographical, or that its characters are libellously exact portraits, of living persons. ‘Christopher Isherwood’ is a convenient ventriloquist’s dummy, nothing more.’

‘Poor Frl. Schroeder is inconsolable: ‘I shall never find another gentleman like you, Herr Issyvoo – always so punctual with the rent … I’m sure I don’t know what makes you want to leave Berlin, all of a sudden, like this …’ It is no use trying to explain to her , or talking politics. Already she is adapting herself as she will adapt herself to every new regime.’ And he continues, ‘After all, whatever government is in power, they are doomed to live in this town.’

‘Like everyone in Berlin, she refers continually to the political situation, but only briefly, with a conventional melancholy, as when one speaks of religion. It is quite unreal to her. She means to go to university, travel about, have a jolly good time and eventually, of course, marry.’

‘Yes, Herr Issyvoo, I’ve got something to remember each of them by … Look here, on the rug – I’ve sent it to the cleaners I don’t know how often but nothing will get it out – that’s where Herr Noeske was sick after his birthday party.’

‘I am so sorry,’ said Frl. Hippi, rising, ‘but for today we must finish. And we shall see us again on Friday? Then goodbye, Mr Isherwood. And I thank you very much.’

‘Oh, hullo, Chris darling!’ cried Sally from the doorway. ‘How sweet of you to come! I was feeling most terribly lonely. I’ve been crying on Frau Karpf’s chest. Nicht wahr, Frau Karpf? She appealed to the toad landlady, ‘ich habe geweint auf Dein Brust.’ Frau Karpf shook her bosom in a toad-like chuckle.

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