Sunday, 2 September 2018

Bring on the dancing girls! Just don't pity Theresa May...



Much has been made this week of Theresa May dancing awkwardly in South Africa and Kenya. There was uproarious laughter from some quarters, pity from others, cries of "sexism!" at those who laughed, others still offered patronising coos of "At least she had a go, bless her!", Alex Clark, meanwhile, wrote a piece "in praise of female awkwardness" in the Guardian

Whenever a male politician makes a berk of himself when he tried to dance in public, he is usually pilloried just as Theresa May was this week. Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson were mocked for their lame attempts at dancing in Saudi Arabia, Justin Trudeau was mostly given a leave pass by liberals but criticised by those who don't share his politics when he joined in a display of bhangra dancing, and Jeremy Corbyn caused a mass cringe among his opponents when he tried to rally the troops by showing off a few moves at a union rally Sunderland. 

Sure, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't when confronted a situation where it is considered polite or at least sporting to join a dance - and a bit rude and uptight if they try and sit it out - but we shouldn't have our giggles censored when this situation arises. There are good reasons for such images, regardless of the gender of the politician involved, being a long-time staple of Private Eye covers. 

They are all powerful and privileged men and women.   

And in the case of Theresa May, all I really saw was desperation as she danced in South Africa and Kenya, because while everyone was busy arguing over whether it was OK to laugh at her moves, nobody was really talking too much about the reality of the trade deals she was attempting to make on her whistlestop tour. 

Last year, the UK exported £2.4bn worth of goods the six southern African countries included in the deal she tried to crow about. In contrast, the UK's exports to the EU and the rest of the world combined are worth £339bn. And the six-country deal is just a replication of a deal the UK already has as part of the EU. Theresa May will need to do an awful lot of replication - and dance to an awful lot of tunes, literally and metaphorically - to come close to making up for the post-Brexit shortfall in trade we currently enjoy as part of the EU.

Let's just examine Africa, shall we? Africa's nations are moving ever-closer - there are assorted economic blocs all over the continent, such as ECOWAS, which is comprised of 15 west African states, the Arab-Maghreb Union, comprised of five North African states, the Southern African Customs Union, comprised of five states in the south of the continent, and in the east, the East African Community has customs union and common market arrangements, including provisions for free movement of labour, goods and services between six states. 

The EU has been very busy, particularly in the last three years, in making agreements to facilitate trade with these blocs. And, unlike many earlier attempts at European trade with Africa, which often took place under a grim shadow of colonialism or arrogant post-colonialism, lessons have been learnt and trade agreements that are win-wins are becoming more common. These deals involve meaningful aid for projects such as education and healthcare and investment that is aimed at creating jobs with respect to the local content laws which many African countries have passed to increase the skills of their people and reduce the reliance on expatriates. 

Critically for the global security, local content laws aim to reduce the problems created by economic migration in poorer countries, which in turn leads to economic migrants often ending up in dangerous places where either their own lives are put in danger or the risk of radicalisation increases - and contributes to the influx of refugees into Europe. It is essential for Europe to be part of the solution to this problem through investment that will create jobs that have dignity, purpose, prospects for advancement and living wages.

On top of all this, the African Union is getting ever-closer. The African Continental Free Trade Area is the result of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement between all 55 African Union members - in March this year, 44 of the 55 states signed the proposed agreement and if it is ratified, it will be the largest free trade area since the WTO was formed. It should come as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to the world that many African leaders in business and politics look to the EU as a model for free trade across a continent. If the EU ultimately does a free trade deal with the AU, the UK will be, to quote Theresa May "naked and alone" on the world stage. She may have been referring to a post-Brexit Jeremy Corbyn, and she was correct, but if her mismanagement of Brexit continues, she will be in the same position.

And if you are still feeling sorry for Theresa May because the mean people laughed at her dancing, maybe you will feel less sorry for her if you consider that she has had to form an unholy alliance with the sexist, homophobic DUP to cling to power. Or maybe you might want to think about her terrible tenure as Home Secretary, where the Windrush scandal happened on her watch. 

Or perhaps you haven't noticed her complete lack of authority as Prime Minister. She can bang on about her "Chequers deal" all she likes but it's not a deal for post-Brexit Britain. It's a pie-in-the-sky laundry list of wishes made of unicorn guano and pixie dust, a list that the EU will never agree to in its current form, a list that has angered the hard Brexiters and led remainers to shrug and ask why we're bothering to leave.

So frankly, who cares if she dances? Who cares if she doesn't dance? Who cares if her moves make her look like the arrhythmic lovechild of a praying mantis and an ironing board?

None of it will matter if a catastrophe unfolds between now and March.
        


Sunday, 12 August 2018

Who needs standards in journalism?



In this era of "citizen journalism", insisting on high standards in reporting - demanding pesky things such as accuracy, genuine balance, correct spelling, punctuation and grammar and, God forbid, paying journalists for their work - exposes one to mockery. 

Never mind that accuracy is the foundation on which credible journalism is built, or that balance on issues of climate change will not be achieved by wheeling out Lord Lawson to punch science in the face, or that journalism is more readable when spelling, punctuation and grammar are in order, or that journalists should be paid for their work because, well, it's work...

Instead, as part of the world's inexorable descent into idiocracy, the rise of the "citizen journalist" means that anyone, it seems, can call themselves a journalist. We wouldn't allow "citizen brain surgeons" to open our skulls but, it seems, many of us are happy to let "citizen journalists" tell us what to think, whether its accurate or not.

"Well, you would say that, wouldn't you?" I hear the indignant crowd shriek at me. After all, I've made a pretty good living out of being a journalist for more than 20 years now. Why would I want these untrained upstarts parking their tanks on my lawn? Why don't I just go back to my manual typewriter and report on the intrigues of the church fete and let "citizen journalists" take over?  

OK, I'll tell you why. Because journalism is a profession. Training is required. Journalists do not need to spend years and years at university, as is the case for doctors, and it is a shame that the days of cadetships, where aspiring hacks could leave school at 16 and work their way up the ladder at newspapers, have fallen by the wayside. But there are skills that need to be taught, an understanding of media law is essential, and ethics are as important as ever. These can be taught at college, university or on the job - or a combination of these - and they are essential for professionalism. 

This is not about Old Lady Lewis yelling at technology. It's great that social media can be used to break news, for people who are on the spot as news events unfold to film or write about what they see through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook Live. 

Hell, I'd be a massive hypocrite if I demanded that bloggers get shut down, particularly as bloggers have shown incredible bravery in less liberal parts of the world in their quest to expose true horrors and corruption. Raif Badawi, for example, is still languishing in a Saudi Arabian jail. He has been publicly lashed over charges, including insulting Islam and apostasy, because of his pro-free speech blog.

But plenty of bloggers and assorted social media users seem to be unaware of the responsibilities that come with writing either reportage or opinion pieces. They risk getting sued for libel or prejudicing court cases. Often, they contribute to the growing mountain of bullshit that can be filed under "fake news". 

The tidal wave of ignorance about the British criminal justice system and rules in regard to reporting on court cases has been brought into sharp focus in recent weeks. First, there was the #FreeTommy crowd, foaming and indignant that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon could be guilty of contempt of court when they thought all he was doing was telling the truth about rapists - except that his "reporting" has the potential to cost the taxpayers thousands in aborted trials and could cause rapists to go free. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is not a journalist.

And ever since the trial of cricketer Ben Stokes commenced earlier this month, the armchair experts have been out in force crapping all over social media with their inane pronouncements of guilt or innocence. These fools do not care that the trial is ongoing and, at the time of writing, not all evidence has come before the jury. 

As well as being told to avoid the traditional forms of news media, jurors are now being advised to steer clear of social media, lest their decision is coloured by online pitchfork-wavers. The journalists reporting on the case have to be very careful with the language they use, to not allow opinion to creep into their stories, but head over to Facebook and everyone seems to know exactly what happened that night and what should happen to those involved. It's pathetic.

Of course, not all journalism is perfect and bad journalism should be called out. This week, for example, there was a mass outrage because apparently an innocent British woman was jailed in Dubai for the heinous crime of having a glass of wine on an Emirates Airline flight. Except that's not quite what happened - and the reporting of this case in the UK media was almost universally terrible.  

The woman in question, Ellie Holman, a Swedish citizen who lives in Kent, arrived in Dubai from London with her daughter. At passport control, she handed over an expired Swedish passport. Understandably, she was not allowed into the country, as would be the case if she tried to enter any country with an expired passport. Ms Holman then produced an Iranian passport - Iranian citizens cannot get a tourist visa on arrival to the UAE, just as they can't if they want to visit the UK. She had the option of paying on the spot for a visa which would allow her, as an Iranian citizen, to spend 96 hours in the UAE. But she refused. 

As the situation escalated, she filmed the border control officials - again, this would land you in trouble at pretty much any international airport. In the UK, for example, while filming in public places is legal, airports are privately owned businesses and, as such, they can set their own rules in regard to filming and photography. 

Ms Holman was asked if she had been drinking and she said she'd consumed a glass of wine on the plane. But her detention was not for drinking a glass of wine - it was for visa irregularities. However, it was decided that charges would not be pursued and Ms Holman and her daughter should be arriving back in the UK today. 

If someone rocked up to Heathrow on an expired Swedish passport and then tried to enter the country by producing an Iranian passport without a valid UK visa - and then filmed border control officials as the situation escalated - they too would be taken aside and public sympathy would be non-existent. 

As someone who has herself fallen foul of the law in the UAE, I am not going to sit here and tell you all that UAE law is perfect. It's not and there are plenty of good reasons to criticise it. But I am also someone who believes in accurate journalism and there is nothing to be gained by reporting on Ms Holman's case in such a shoddy manner. It undermines the good work other journalists have done on reporting on legal matters in the UAE and neighbouring states.

If people who declare themselves "citizen journalists" would like to become professional journalists, there are multiple options available for training. It would be great if such people did take the time to make themselves aware of media law, of rules and conventions particularly in regard to court reporting, and of media ethics. Good things have come out of the rise of blogging and social media - but when you publish something, you have responsibilities. I'm sure plenty of people, if they have made it to the end of this blog post, will still dismiss me as a boring and bitter old hack, trying to take all the fun out of their crusades - but if you cannot be bothered with accuracy, you are not a journalist. 








Photography by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The "You know what? Fuck it!" era of politics



We are now in the "You know what? Fuck it!" era of politics. This is being exhibited during elections and referenda and by politicians themselves as throwing caution to the wind - or simply blurting out exactly what's on their mind rather than fudging and waffling.

The YKWFI trend can be good or bad, depending on your viewpoint, and you might be delighted with certain manifestations of YKWFI while despairing at others. These moments are not necessarily limited to one end of the political spectrum.

Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as US president are the two most obvious manifestations of YKWFI. This is not to insult those who voted leave or for Trump - indeed, for many people, to have the YKWFI moment in the privacy of the voting booth in either the EU referendum or the last US presidential election was not necessarily because of stupidity or paucity of intellect* or lack of serious thought and soul-searching before polling day. For many, the YKWFI moment was borne of desperation, of years of feeling neglected, of wanting change even if might seem unpalatable to others, of figuring their vote could lead to an outcome that was a risk worth taking. 

But it's not just voters who are having YKWFI moments. Obviously, Donald Trump's still-fledgling political career has been one big YKWFI moment after another, usually tweeted from his toilet. Anna Soubry, rocking a drunk-office-worker-at-All-Bar-One-at-5:45pm-on-a-Friday vibe, said exactly what she thought about Trump (a "dickhead"), Jacob Rees-Mogg (he's running the country) and Boris Johnson ("he should have been sacked weeks ago") on Channel 4's The Last Leg a few weeks ago. 

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, meanwhile, told audience of The Last Leg that there are "some nice Tories", implying there are plenty of bloody awful ones too. 

And speaking of the bloody awful Tories, the Cro-Magnon spectre of Dominic Raab had a YKWFI moment combined with a potent brain fart when he told Andrew Marr to "forgive me if I don't keep a laser-like focus on the substance" of what EU representatives are saying in relation to the rights of EU and UK citizens. Except, as the new Brexit secretary, that is exactly the kind of thing he needs to focus on - still, within days of his appointment Theresa May had a panic-stricken YKWFI moment of her own and watered down his job description. Raab has a great future outside of politics as the bouncer of a nightclub with a misspelled name, such as Pryzm or Khlamydya. 

Theresa May, who usually comes across as the quivering lovechild of an unconvincing used car sales man and a virgin at an orgy, then had another YKWFI moment on Marr when she revealed that Donald Trump told her she should "sue the EU". It was the boldest, coolest thing she has perhaps ever done. She seemed relieved when she said it. And she said it twice, with the gusto of my late Aunty Nance deciding to have a second sherry at Christmas. 

She may be an incompetent Prime Minister but in that one YKWFI moment, she exposed Donald Trump as an undisputed idiot. To simply sue the EU is a typical Trumpian YKWFI reaction. As someone who favours bullying capitalism, his solution for eliminating competition or getting out of paying his bills is to lawyer up and drive smaller businesses to the brink. Trump would not have been able to elaborate on any relevant laws for suing the EU or explain exactly what Theresa May was meant to sue the EU for - instead, he would just assume she could foist that task onto a hapless lawyer.       

Regardless of how Brexit pans out, it will finish her with rocks and hard places at every turn - if we leave the EU with no deal next year and chaos ensues, she will be blamed because everyone else who should be taking responsibility has resigned; if anything close to the Chequers deal-that-was-really-just-an-absurd-laundry-list happens, she will have no credibility with anyone; and if she decides to call the whole thing off, that will delight half the country and enrage the other half, give or take those whose reaction will be "meh" with a hint of "whevs". 

Whether Theresa May will have any more YKWFI moments between now and March 29 remains to be seen, but she has nothing to lose if she does. Whether the rest of the country will lose as a result of any future YKWFI moments she may have is anyone's guess. 


* Disclaimer: The YKWFI Brexit voters who Googled "what is the EU?" the day after the referendum or voted leave but didn't really want to leave the EU and bovinely moaned and gasped about this on the news on 24 June 2016, however, are not deserving of sympathy. They genuinely are stupid.




Photography by Bill Smith/Flickr

Friday, 13 July 2018

On reclaiming decency


Sadly, the notion of decency is often associated with joyless pearl-clutchers expressing disgust at everything from nubile young women in minimal clothing to gay couples having the temerity to get married to anyone having sex outside of heterosexual wedlock. But to automatically link decency to displays of flesh or other people's sex lives is to merely be a pathetic busybody rather than an advocate for genuine decency. 

Indeed, plenty of people who are synonymous with decency are actually pretty terrible - the TV evangelists who inevitably fall from grace when they are caught in bed with people other than their wives while expecting sexual purity - and money - from everyone else, the anti-gay zealots who force people into the closet and inspire homophobic violence, the exposed flesh police who play no small role in creating a vile culture where short skirts and low-cut tops are blamed for rape rather than rapists.

But it is good to see that in the wake of England's surprise performance in the World Cup, decency has been the winner. Gareth Southgate, the team manager, has emerged as a genuine role model - a man who has been humble, respectful and compassionate while still being a strong leader. His young team responded well to this sort of leadership and their World Cup was not marred by scandal or idiotic comments during post-match interviews. Usually when football managers and players end up on the front page rather than the back page of newspapers, it is because they have behaved like dickheads. Not this time. Instead, these fine men made it to the front page because they inspired love, loyalty - and everyone was glad of some temporary respite from stories of catastrophic Brexit negotiations and Theresa May's amazing collapsing cabinet.

Southgate and his team have all been thoroughly decent.

Not so decent were the idiots who jumped on an NHS vehicle and damaged items in an Ikea store after England defeated Sweden in the quarter-finals. In this era of social media, it wasn't long before video footage of these people went viral - the woman involved was quickly identified and has been arrested. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the men involved have not been tracked down. I hope they are found and arrested too.

Inevitably and ridiculously, there were pleas to not ruin the lives of these young people by sharing the videos of them vandalising publicly funded emergency vehicles. "Calm down, nobody died," one tosser moronically opined on a Facebook page. Would he be as sanguine if it was his car that was vandalised, or one of his loved ones experienced a delay in receiving treatment because that NHS vehicle was off the road? 

And the NHS vehicle in this case was so badly damaged that it was taken off the road - the bonnet was dented, the windscreen was shattered, a wing mirror was destroyed and the radio was broken. This is not OK. It is criminal damage and the repair bill will be footed by the taxpayer. 

To deliberately jump on an NHS vehicle is an act of indecency. 

Doing daft things when one is drunk is not unusual but there is a world of difference between nicking a traffic cone to wear as a hat for a selfie and rendering an emergency services vehicle unroadworthy.

Yes, it is very easy to be publicly shamed in this internet era - and for some people, the shaming is unfair and unjustified, or blown out of all proportion. But equally, the internet can make it easy for people to make amends, to publicly apologise or to set the record straight. And just as today's dead tree newspaper is tomorrow's chip paper or kitty litter liner, the content-hungry beast that is the internet means that while the story may live on in Google searches, other stupid things will happen to make people forget about it and move on.

And the existence of the internet does not mean an end to adults taking responsibility for their actions. The woman who was arrested was 21. That means she is considered in the eyes of the law to be responsible enough to drink alcohol, drive a car, get married, join the military, buy property, consent to sex, and vote. The comments on social media about her thighs and body were revolting, unnecessary and irrelevant, but the outrage at someone behaving so irresponsibly was justified, as was the outrage at the fools who were egging her and the other car-jumpers on.

At 21, you are expected to be able to distinguish between right and wrong, to not jump on an emergency vehicle, even when you are drunk or encouraged by other drunks. Howls of "But she's so young! Her life is ruined!" are infantilising nonsense. At what age is it OK for someone to be held to account for this sort of mindless vandalism? I wouldn't expect it of my seven-year-old nephew - if I did catch him jumping on my car rendering it unroadworthy, he would not see the calm side of Aunty George for quite a while and his parents would not be amused either.

The contrast between a small minority showing off the worst of Britain and the decency of Gareth Southgate and his team is immense. His squad was the second-youngest in the tournament and they behaved like grown-ups. Indeed, plenty of much older sportsmen have, over the years, lacked the decency of the England team - I'm looking at you, Shane Warne.

The English squad's conduct on and off the pitch was something to aspire to - the term "role model" is bandied about too often but in this case, it is perfectly apt. The term "decency" is often mocked as old-fashioned, of being from the dull, prudish world of Mary Whitehouse - but in the case of Gareth Southgate and the England squad, we have an example of genuine decency, a decency that does not dwell on the activities in one's bedroom or the brevity of one's clothing because it is much bigger than that. 

True decency is not petty. True decency is not limited to any one religion and it is does not have to involve religion at all. True decency is not self-serving. True decency recognises the good that can be found everywhere. True decency is about showing respect, thinking about the consequences of your actions, taking responsibility, being honest, recognising that you are part of something bigger than yourself. And, sadly, the stories that are once again wiping the World Cup off the front pages show true decency is in very short supply.









Photography by Dean Johnson/Flickr

Sunday, 1 July 2018

From abusive sex tourism by the privileged to Love Island


I have been reading a terrible book. It's called Sultry Climates by Ian Littlewood. The book's subtitle is "Travel and sex since the Grand Tour". Within its pages, you will find an uncritical, morally lazy look at sex tourism of the privileged without any voice given to the people with whom these men - and a few token women - were having sex.

A direct line can be drawn between the apologia for pederasty by men such as Byron, as recounted in this book, and the horrendous advocacy of sex between grown men and 13-year-old boys by deeply insecure, attention-seeking troll-for-hire, Milo Yiannopolous, who is rapidly becoming a fringe figure as he desperately tries to stay relevant. 

For many, Milo's comments were a bigotry too far - after being totally fine with his racism, sexism and Poundland economics - just as the fan bases of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris rightly withered away after revelations of their sexual abuse of minors came to light. It is a sign of an improved society that child rape - for that is what paedophilia is - is looked upon by most people as being abhorrent. 

In Sultry Climates, Littlewood quotes the writings of white, wealthy British men (and the rather dreadful Paul Gaugin) who could afford to travel to Europe as well as countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tahiti, in centuries gone by. Some of these men are gay and the book does nothing to dispel the myth that all gay men are paedophiles. Excerpts, mostly from diaries and letters, about seeking out inevitably "beautiful boys" and men procuring these kids for each other, are published without any real critique, except to say that travelling away from conservative Britain was a blessed release for gay men in a less enlightened time.  

There is no attempt by Littlewood to find out who these boys were, whether they were prostituted at the behest of poor families, what physical and emotional damage was left behind when these selfish, self-indulgent men returned home. Obviously, it is appalling that until relatively recently, it was very difficult and indeed illegal to be openly gay on Britain - but that does not excuse child rape. 

And it's not just gay men getting their rocks off with children who are romanticised by Littlewood. There is an account of a man having sex with a girl of 12, again written about with any real thought to what the experience would have been like from the point of view of the victim. It's just something men do because they can, because while abroad, they are free of the apparently terrible constraints that prevent them from raping girls. That particularly disturbing passage was all about how the man in question could not believe his good fortune.

And when the book shares accounts from further afield in South Pacific, you can almost hear Littlewood's hand furiously grinding away in his underpants as he again lets the privileged men describe their encounters with local women. These women were, as far as they were concerned, all willing participants, offering themselves to ship-weary travellers. Like the "beautiful boys" who were picked up in Europe and North Africa, all the women of the South Pacific are described as physically magnificent to the point of fetishising them. He describes the men who were drawn to the South Pacific as "rebel spirits" when "rapists" is more accurate. But there is zero research conducted into the lives of these women by Littlewood or the real consequences of men landing on their shores and colonising their bodies as well as their land.

Indeed, women take a secondary role across the entire book, aside from a few paragraphs here and there. The women are, like the men in this book, wealthy enough to afford to travel in pre-Easyjet times to places where they can enjoy sexual freedom away from Victorian expectations of marriage and childbirth. The stories of their sexual encounters, in which they miraculously seem able to steer clear of abusing kids, are dropped in with minimal research. 

Embarrassingly, the book concludes with references to Club Med as a latter day equivalent to the sexually free tours of abusive posh gits in days of yore. I had forgotten Club Med was still a thing and, having taken a peek at their website, I am amazed that it still is a thing - their prices are ridiculous and the search engine is terrible.

Obviously, the "what happens on tour stays on tour" mentality still exists for many people (most of us know of at least one married or partnered-up person who uses business trips as an excuse to shag around) and there are still plenty of British men who sexually exploit women while on holiday - and this is no longer limited to wealthy men in this era of more affordable international travel. It would be naive to think otherwise - but these exploits are not necessarily romanticised in the way Littlewood does in his pitiful tome. 

And that brings us to Love Island, which has people across the nation glued to ITV to see which of the nubile young contestants will be "coupled up", who will get "mugged off" and whether it is possible to form a serious relationship while doing "cheeky challenges" for the cameras.

It is all too easy to sneer at Love Island, to consider oneself to be socially, morally and intellectually above the contestants. But it is more honest and wholesome than any of the abusive behaviour that happened when wealthy, privileged men escaped Britain to chase sex elsewhere with scant regard for consequences or consent. Sure, Hayley thought Brexit might mean that all the trees will be cut down, but she epitomises the not-uncommon phenomenon of the physically glorious young woman who has only had one lover. For all the moral panicking going on out there about teenage sexual behaviour, research from the Next Steps Project found that one in eight people aged 26 are still virgins, a much higher proportion than around one in 20, as studies of earlier generations found. 

So far, only two, maybe three, couples have had sex in the current series of Love Island, with the first couple "doing bits" on episode 16. Only a seriously tedious prude would consider that rate of shaggery as some sort of orgy. The fact they refer to sex as "doing bits" tells you everything you need to know, bless 'em.

And unlike the wealthy creeps of centuries past, the sex that's happening on Love Island is consensual. Nobody is underage, nobody is being exploited, nobody is bothered about social class, and even if "doing bits" is a euphemism that makes me think of grinding things with a mortar and pestle rather than one's genitals, the young men and women are able to talk about what they're getting up to without rushing to either confession or their mothers. Only the nation's dreariest wet blankets are getting upset. 

Give me a society where sex is consensual and discussed without embarrassment over one where sexual freedom is only for the privileged few at the expense of the vulnerable in faraway lands. Whether they realise it or not, the Love Islanders are flipping a massive bird at past hypocrisies and for that. I salute them.


Photo by Oliver Sjöström from Pexels

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The World Cup should be political


Predictably, when Peter Tatchell, a long-time gay rights campaigner, was detained in World Cup-crazy Moscow last week, there were plenty of wails along the lines of "Why can't people leave politics out of sport? What did he expect when he broke the law in Russia?".

Tatchell held up a banner that accurately said: "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people", was arrested, questioned and detained for a few hours and then released on bail to appear in court on 26 June. He has since been allowed to fly home.

The protest put the Russian authorities in a sticky predicament - on one hand, the government had temporarily tightened already tight laws on freedom of assembly, making it illegal for a single-person protest to take place during the World Cup. On the other hand, Russia is desperate for the World Cup to be a public relations triumph. It would have been a marketing disaster if it emerged that Tatchell was locked up without charge or experienced any kind of police brutality. 

Tatchell himself said he was treated well by the police. It was a stark contrast from his visit to Russia in 2007 in which he was attacked so viciously by Russian neo-Nazis that he suffered brain damage, compounding the effects of an attack in 2001 by thugs in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. He is way more courageous than the random bellends on Twitter complaining because someone might have made the World Cup a little bit political. Those same random bellends have probably never been beaten almost to death because of his sexuality. I say "his" because it is almost always a man who gets upset when someone shines a light on an important issue during their ball game. And Katie Hopkins, because of course she did. 

When football associations around the world are working hard to fight homophobia and to ensure that all players, regardless of sexuality, feel comfortable and safe when they play, represent their country and socialise after the match, it is only right that Russia's record on gay rights be questioned. The tragedy of Justin Fashanu's suicide could easily happen again, particularly in Russia. 

By making a statement in Moscow, Tatchell joins a long and distinguished line of people who have politicised sport to great effect.

The most obvious example is that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who both bowed their heads and raised their fists in the black power salute when they won gold and bronze respectively at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The silver medallist, Australia's Peter Norman remained close to Smith and Carlos, both of whom were pallbearers at his funeral in 2006. It is one of the most iconic images in sporting history and it is still relevant today. 

In 1936, Jesse Owens' triumph in multiple events at the Berlin Olympics dented Adolf Hitler's desire to use the games as a showcase for Aryan superiority and it emerged that Jewish athletes were banned from competing, apart from one athlete with a Jewish father. Many Jewish athletes who had competed at the highest level perished in concentration camps and Captain Wolfgang Furstner, the head of the Olympic village, killed himself two days after the games after being dismissed from the military because of his Jewish ancestry. 

It is ironic that Jesse Owens' presence and success at the Berlin Olympics was, in and of itself, a political statement against Nazi racism and at the same time, the pageantry of the Berlin Olympics set the tone for patriotic spectacles at the Olympics in the decades to follow. It is, therefore, only right that the Olympics, as well as World Cups, are used as an opportunity to contemplate what it means to be patriotic and whether patriotism should be blind loyalty to your country.

In tennis, the late Arthur Ashe turned his AIDS diagnosis into an opportunity to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. He used his last years well and his high sporting profile played an important role in overcoming prejudice and ignorance and certainly helped pave the way for better health policy, increased accessibility to medications, effective prevention campaigns and fundraising for research.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, sport played a role in ending the scourge of apartheid. While it would be fatuous to say that apartheid would not have ended without international sporting boycotts, particularly in rugby and cricket, from 1968 until the early 1990s, they were important in keeping the issue in the news. The decades of sporting wilderness were an acute reminder for South Africans of a racist and untenable political situation.

And it's not just Peter Tatchell getting political at this World Cup. Alliance For Choice, a group which is campaigning for abortion rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland, has been tweeting comparisons between abortion rights for every country competing in the World Cup as they play their opening matches this week. Even Paddy Power, the betting shop chain with a mischievous marketing team, has got in on the act, pledging to donate £10,000 to causes which are working to make football more LGBT+-inclusive every time Russia scores. With Russia giving Saudi Arabia a 5-0 drubbing in the opening match of the tournament, the fundraising is off to an excellent start.

With the next World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar, it is clear that politics is not going to vanish from football, or indeed most other sports, any time soon. Qatar's human rights and worker safety record has, quite rightly, been widely reported - and its ability to retain the right to host the tournament could well depend on the political situation in the Arabian Gulf over the next four years. Meanwhile, Trump supporters have lost their collective shit over American footballers taking a knee during the national anthem as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign - this most peaceful of protests, amid examples in the streets of violence, has played no small role in keeping stories about race relations in the US on global news cycles.

So enjoy the World Cup, cheer on your country's team, get a bit excited if your team wins in the office sweep - there is nothing wrong with any of that. But if you think politics is going to vanish from sport any time soon, you're naive and you are siding against people of courage from across the decades.


Photography by Коля Саныч

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Kathleen Dehmlow: The sheer rage against women who leave




Kathleen Dehmlow's death notice went viral. Instead of the usual platitudes about being "much loved" and "sadly missed", Kathleen's children, Gina and Jay used the death notice for revenge against the mother who left them in 1962.



It didn't take long for Twitter to erupt in a self-righteous festival of online pitchfork-waving at a woman they never knew. A woman who dares to leave her husband and kids receives a special kind of ire that simply doesn't happen when a man does the same thing. Even if the first instinct is to condemn a man who leaves his wife and kids as a bastard, it's easier for him to rehabilitate himself - Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Ted Danson are all better known for their careers rather than the fact that they all left wives and kids for other women. 

The fact that Kathleen was pregnant by her brother-in-law when she left Dennis, Gina and Jay added extra fuel to the fire around the virtual stake to which she was now tied. 

But Kathleen's death notice raises more questions that it answers. Firstly, it's not an obituary, even though people keep referring to it that way - obituaries are written by journalists and should not be used as a one-sided revenge attack. That is not how obituary journalism works. It is a death notice, a classified advertisement paid for by someone who wants to announce that someone has passed away.

But journalistic pedantry aside, it comes as no surprise that a relative, Dwight Dehmlow, spoke up, telling a newspaper that "there is a lot of stuff that is missing" from Kathleen's story. He said she was admitted to a nursing home a year ago and died with her sisters by her side, perhaps the first indication that she was not an evil witch who abandoned her kids on a whim or ended up in a sexual relationship with her brother-in-law for frivolous reasons.

Was her first marriage abusive? Did she find happiness with Lyle Dehmlow? Why were Gina and Jay then raised by their grandparents rather than their father?

It is important to look at Kathleen's life in historical context. Assuming the dates in the death notice are accurate, she was married by the age of 19, had two children in less than five years - by this time, she was just 24. It was around this time that she fell pregnant to her brother-in-law and left her first husband and two kids.

If her marriage was abusive, either physically or psychologically, or even if it was just plain miserable and there was no hope of it ever becoming a joyous union, she may not have had many options in the Minnesota of the late 1950s. 

Today, Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state with "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship" as the only grounds for divorce. This is a good thing, especially for anyone in an abusive or loveless marriage. But this did not become law in Minnesota until 1974. When Kathleen left her husband and children, anyone wanting a divorce in Minnesota would have to prove that their spouse was guilty of one or another of a list of grievous offences toward the other spouse. If Kathleen's marriage was violent, her options were probably limited - the Domestic Abuse Act wasn't passed in Minnesota until 1979. Roe vs Wade, which enshrined the right to abortion in the US wasn't passed until 1973. The birth control pill was not approved by the FDA until 1960.

This is by no means a criticism of Minnesota or indeed America - the late 1950s and early 1960s did not exactly comprise a golden era for women in terrible relationships in most places. 

It could also have been the case that Kathleen was suffering from post-partum depression or she was struggling to cope with motherhood at a young age - again, she was living in an era where mental healthcare for new mothers was not exactly brilliant and, if this was the case, she may not have had many options, short of being dismissed with a bottle of pills or nothing at all by a doctor. She may have been fobbed off as "hysterical".

The 1950s was the start of a busy time for research into depression but it is debatable as to whether those findings would have turned into good treatment in Wabasso, Minnesota.  

Admitting that motherhood is difficult can still be a tough thing to do. The expectations have always been ridiculous, whether it was automatically engaging angelic 1950s motherhood mode or today when women are expected to be invincible supermums, juggling multiple commitments with aplomb while raising perfect kids. 

But Kathleen will never get the right of reply - all we have are testaments of people who have known her for a long time coming to her defence, people who are able to acknowledge that none of us are perfect.

Nobody reasonable would argue that going through the experience of one's mother leaving the family home would ever be easy. It would mess with the minds of young children in 1962 just as surely as it does today. But, with the benefit of the intervening 56 years of changed divorce laws and social mores, as well as better research into mental health and relationships, it is unfortunate that Gina and Jay do not appear to have benefited from the modern trend towards talking through family issues and seeking appropriate counselling. We may well be living in the age of the overshare, but when it means people actually communicate and seek sensitive, professional help for the problems that affect every aspect of their lives, that is no bad thing.

I remember spotting a book at home called The Heartache of Motherhood  by Joyce Nicholson - my mother bought it sometime in the 1980s, when I was in primary school and when my sister and I were probably more of a handful than we realised. As a teenager, I read Joyce's account of becoming a mother in Australia around the same time as Kathleen did in the US. She wrote of how she felt as if she didn't fit in with other mothers at social gatherings. She would gravitate towards men at parties so she could discuss something other than child-rearing, only to get told, sneeringly, that she "liked the men". It was easier to shame her rather than consider the boring truth that she simply liked conversation that was not about nappy rash.  

Joyce Nicholson did not leave her husband until she had been married for 35 years. Obviously, by that time, her children had left home and when a marriages ends after such a long time, people are generally a bit more sympathetic. "Oh well, you gave it a good shot," you'll probably be told in such circumstances. Joyce would not have been branded as an abandoner of children in the way Kathleen has been.

For my own mother, I am sure there were large swathes of the book to which she related. I remember one morning when I was about seven and my sister was about four, Mum became so frustrated with our constant fighting that she grabbed her car keys and handbag and said she was leaving us. She was a woman of her word, driving off in her Mini, leaving my sister and I alone in the house and aghast. She was probably only gone for about five minutes but it seemed like eternity to me. As a seven-year-old, I didn't yet have the logic to realise Mum wasn't going to be gone for too long or get too far with nothing but her handbag and an ageing car for company.

The incident is nothing like the experience of abandonment that Gina and Jay went through but I bet plenty of people will read that and be horrified at my mother's behaviour. I'm not. I don't blame her. I remember how awful my sister and I could be when we fought as kids. Something must have snapped. She just needed a few minutes to drive around the block and calm down. I am not psychologically damaged by it. That's a ludicrous suggestion.

There are probably plenty of mothers out there who have had the urge to drive away from their kids, even if it is only for a few minutes. Equally, plenty of mothers over the centuries have probably wanted to leave awful relationships even if it meant leaving children behind too. The very notion of maternal abandonment offends people so mightily because it's about women not fitting into the ideal of motherhood, that they are somehow belligerently defying nature if they have children and then realise it's difficult or depressing - or it was not the right decision because of time or circumstance.

If Kathleen was 19 today, her life may have been completely different. Would she have married so young? Would she have had two children in relatively quick succession? Would something drive her to leave her family? 

We will never know. But we can be pretty sure that, thanks to the age of the internet, we will probably hear from Gina and Jay again. One can only hope that they find some sort of peace in taking out a hatchet-job death notice and that perhaps they try and find out more about their mother's early life, even if it is too late to tell her she is forgiven.






Photography by Johannes Plenio

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Reflections on World Club Foot Day


There they are, in all their misshappen, scarred, unfiltered, modern Prometheus-like glory - my two club feet. The challenging appendages at the end of my pale, corgi legs, the body parts that cast a shadow across every aspect of my life. 

I was both fortunate and dead unlucky to be born in Australia in 1976 - fortunate because Mr Peter Dewey, an excellent orthopaedic surgeon happened to live and work in the town where I was born. He started work on my feet from the time I was a baby, right through to when I was 18 and 19 for my final surgeries, for which he came out of semi-retirement, in between doing amazing work with land mine victims in Cambodia.

Without him - or if I was born in a less developed era or lived in a less developed country - I probably wouldn't be able to walk. I would have been doomed as a sad, crippled girl who would not have had the opportunities to get educated, travel the world, drive cars, work as a journalist in three different countries, meet the love of my life in an Abu Dhabi newspaper office after chasing boys with varying levels of success, and generally have a pretty amazing time. I still laugh when I think of the time my friend Stephen said I could open a bar, call it Club Foot and the slogan could be "Club Foot: Where you get down and fall down". 

But since 1976, the Ponseti Method has come a long way and I will never know if it could have prevented me from having to go through 13 reconstructive operations, involving long stints up to my knees in plaster, multiple stitches on the tops of my feet, the sides of my feet and up the back of my ankles, internal clips, and heavy scarring.

Even with Mr Dewey's brilliant work on my feet, I still get intense swelling in extremes of hot weather (or even on this mildly warm British day...), ironically white-hot pain in cold weather, arthritis has bedevilled my left ankle to the point where I cannot be trusted to safely operate a clutch, the way I walk affects my knees, hips and back, it can can enhance my inherent clumsiness, and sometimes I have to sit down or lie down or take painkillers. Or I simply might not leave the house because it's too uncomfortable and I don't always trust my feet not to seize up on public transport or while trying to walk somewhere. It won't get any better as I get older.

Despite the desperation of a mansplainer on Facebook the other day who presumed to know my own reality better than I do, my experience of club feet is not a "minor condition". Forty-two years of experience with these damn feet means I know how to manage the condition but it's something that I am aware of every single day to a greater or lesser degree.

On a superficial level, I get frustrated when trying to buy vaguely attractive shoes - I can walk in plenty of ugly shoes but buying shoes for special occasions is a nightmare. If one more person, no matter how well-meaning, tells me I simply haven't found the right high heels or I just need to buy really expensive high heels, I cannot be responsible for my actions. I cannot walk in anything higher than about an inch and I do not need people telling me that I would suddenly dance about like a gazelle if only I bought Manolo Blahniks or had a pair of heels especially made for me. Trust me, I have tried and failed to wear heels and I am less gazelle and more stumbling, newborn foal. My feet are held together with clips and cannot bend into the unnatural pose required to convincingly wear skyscraper shoes. Leave me the hell alone with your obsession with getting me into shoes that will only cause me needless misery. I am at peace with my huge collection of flats.

But I write this not to wallow in self-pity - such innovations as DSG gearboxes, good painkillers, carrying Deep Heat and Deep Freeze in my handbag, cute flat shoes, kitten heels, physiotherapy, strapping for my ankles available at any pharmacy in the land, and simply being affluent enough to afford a warm, comfortable house and bed are among the things that improve my life. Even though I am too old to take advantage of the less invasive Ponseti method for club feet, I do not want the next generation of club foot patients to miss out, no matter where they are in the world.

In the UK, the Ponseti method is available on the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in particular do great work in this regard. I met a beautiful little boy at a friend's baby shower a few years ago. He was resplendent in a pair of bright blue boots as part of his Ponseti treatment - and it was an absolute joy to reassure his mother that life with club feet will not hold him back. It would be amazing if this good fortune was global and therefore merely the way things are rather than a matter of luck in life's lottery.

_____________________________

To find out more about club feet and to ensure club feet patients everywhere here are some helpful links:

Steps Charity

The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital

Miraclefeet

Cure Clubfoot

Global Clubfoot Initiative






Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The depressing impasse of #MeToo

 

The #MeToo movement only started last October. On one hand, it feels like it has been around for much longer, perhaps because of the sheer volume of words written on it - and here I go, adding to those words, which will inevitably cause some eyes to roll, I am sure. But on the other hand, it feels like the #MeToo car, which was on an empowering ride, has crashed into a brick wall, like a prosaic and mundane alternative ending to Thelma and Louise.

We see progress with the arrest of Harvey Weinstein and one can only hope the wheels of justice turn surely and fairly. But while he is a grotesque warping of the leading man role, the one at whom we can all wave our pitchforks, it still feels like nothing much has changed. For the past seven months, the same arguments are going round and round on an eternally unconstructive hamster wheel.

When the men that we rather like are accused, we don't want to believe the allegations. Instead, we seek out alternative narratives, the accounts from those who thought he was delightful, a proper gentleman, when they met him. When eight women came forward to accuse Morgan Freeman of inappropriate touching and harassment and CNN ran a detailed report, nobody wanted to think about a man who has literally played God being the next one to fall by the wayside in a shameful pile along with Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey.

And so the same arguments keep breaking out ad infinitum. 

"Poor men! They're too scared to even ask a woman out now!" is a pretty common howl, as if all human relationships have suddenly ground to a halt since last October, as if some unseen force has caused Tinder to freeze and nobody is getting laid anymore. If a man wants to ask a woman out (or vice versa), all he has to do is politely ask. If she says yes, they can go on a date. If she says no, he should accept her rejection graciously and move on with his life. This is not hard or oppressive to men. 

The same goes for sex - why is striving for a world where consent is given freely and clearly, where men and women are comfortable and confident enough to say yes without fear of judgement or say no without fear of assault, such a terrible thing? Why are we instead setting the bar so low for men and women?

"Why was she in a hotel room with him in the first place?" is another common question. Hotel rooms are often used for meetings. I've conducted interviews in hotel rooms where I've been alone with a man. These interviews have never ended up in bed and I have never been harassed or propositioned in any professional situation in a hotel room. The closest shave happened in 2006 when a creepy guy on a press trip to Ireland called my room and asked if he could come in and give me a massage. I told him: "Good God, no!" and hung up the phone. 

I should not feel like I need to breathe a sigh of relief because this is how my life has panned out, that I have never been groped or harassed or raped in a hotel room in the line of duty - it is simply the way it should be. 

And even if every woman in the world refused to have professional meetings in hotel rooms, even if it was illegal to have meetings in hotel rooms, that wouldn't stop the problem of sexual abuse. The abuse would simply move to other locations, in much the same way that banning abortion in Ireland didn't stop Irish women having abortions. It merely moved the abortions to England. Sexual predators have an awful habit of finding a way to do what they do in all manner of places. It's just that "hotel room" has seedy connotations that "meeting at Costa" does not - but that doesn't mean women aren't harassed over coffee. Hell, Max Clifford allegedly groomed one of his victims at the Wimpy burger joint down the road from my place. He didn't need to book a suite at the Dorchester. 

Or there are the inevitable non-sequiturs - "Why are all the feminists making a fuss about this and not about female genital mutilation/the kidnapped girls in Nigeria/the raped Yazidi women/child marriage?" - except that "all the feminists" is not a homogenous blur. "All the feminists" covers a diverse group that transcends national borders, religion, ethnicity, body type, socio-economic status and so on. And plenty of feminists speak out about issues apart from #MeToo and do some incredible work with girls and women all over the world - women are capable of being angry about more than one thing at a time and taking action. We are pretty damn amazing in that regard.

The #MeToo movement does need to go beyond the world of celebrity so women who have been exploited, harassed, abused and raped in all industries can speak out and get justice. We should stand behind every actress who has been abused and equally we need to stand behind the waitress who is being groped by her boss on the promise of better shifts, the nurse who gets her arse pinched in the hospital corridor as she tries to do her job, the immigrant cleaner who is raped in exchange for her silence on illegal workers.  

And then there are those who worry about men's careers being ruined. If someone is found guilty of harassment, abuse or rape, his career is not going to be at the top of things I'm especially worried about. This plays into the narrative of false accusations - which are terrible but rare. Seriously, think it through, everyone - the shit women go through when they speak out or try to report such crimes is frequently horrific. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this and there would be no need for a #MeToo movement.

Then there are those who claim that all these women are coming forward because they want to be famous. Here's a test - without Googling, tell me the name of the woman - first name and last name - who accused Bill Cosby in the court case that led him being found guilty of drugging and indecently assaulting her. Go on, it was just last month.

While all this is going on, guess what? Men are getting away with it. There have always been men who get away with it. A self-confessed pussy-grabber was elected president, for God's sake.

Roman Polanski may not be able to come back to the US any time soon without being arrested but that has not stopped him making award-winning films - and it certainly hasn't stopped plenty of celebrated actresses from working with him and singing his praises. Rob Lowe was caught out in a sex tape scandal in 1989 after he claimed to have no idea that one of the two participants in the threesome was actually 16 years old. But since then, he rehabilitated himself as slick Samuel Seaborn in The West Wing and too-good-to-be-true Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation. Enough water seems to have passed under that particularly seedy bridge that he even made a parody of the sex tape in 2016. Hey, we should all be able to look back and laugh at the time we shagged a minor, right?

And Morgan Freeman? My prediction is that the worst thing that might happen to him is the reconsideration of a lifetime achievement award. He will still die a wealthy, multi-award-winning actor, and because he is one of the guys that nobody wants to think ill of, his films will be rewatched over and over again. He may be a sex pest, he may not be - but what I do know is that when people come forward with accusations, they need to be taken seriously. This is not the same as all accusations being automatically believed - but if #MeToo is going to mean anything, allegations require proper investigation. Sweeping it under the carpet may have been the way it used to be in the "good old days", but the more we learn about what used to go on, the more we realise that for many girls and women, the "good old days" were bloody horrific. 









Photography by stock.tookapic.com

Monday, 21 May 2018

The real purpose of royal weddings


Now the bunting has come down and the prosecco bottles are consigned to the recycling, it has become abundantly clear what royal weddings are for - they are a national (and international...) form of catharsis, a global opportunity to be as rude as we wish we could be at actual weddings.

Let's be honest - only the truly saintly among us have never snarked at a wedding. Whether it's speculating from behind an order of service about how long the marriage might last, telling a bride she looks beautiful when you secretly think the dress looks like a feral shower curtain, or judging the choice of a Celine Dion track for the first dance, we've all been there. Sometimes snarkers aren't even subtle - I was told I was "brave" for not wearing a white dress, as if getting married in silver and black was heroism on par with rescuing orphans from a burning building.

But when it's a royal wedding, on telly for all of us to see, we let loose. The white lies and good manners that lubricate the wheels of polite society dry up. This is not new, despite social media.

When Charles and Di got married back in 1981, Princess Anne's omelette-like hat and the crush-fest of a wedding dress attracted much low-tech snarking. Indeed, this was immortalised in Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, with Adrian reporting that the princess wore a "dirty white dress". In the TV adaptation, Bert Baxter, the curmudgeonly OAP, said: "I know a wrinkle when I see one!" as everyone watched Diana enter St Paul's Cathedral looking like she was dressed in the handiwork of the Andrex puppy.

And with Twitter and Facebook, snarking went into overdrive as soon as the guests started arriving at St George's Chapel on Saturday. In between people expressing delight at the simple elegance of Meghan Markle's wedding dress, plenty declared they were bored by the dress, as if she got dressed solely for their entertainment, as if she owed the world a riot of sequins, itchy lace and a big old arse bow.

During the wedding service itself, collective pearls were clutched during the lively sermon given by the Reverend Michael Curry, the African-American primate and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. This was hilarious (such as the starched fart faces of certain people in the congregation) and a bit disturbing - an angry online mob of white people complaining that a black bishop is talking for too long is somewhat unseemly to witness. Of course, when I dared point this out on Twitter, a bunch of white people landed in my notifications to tell me I am racist and that they really didn't notice the bishop was black.

Apparently, 14 minutes of airtime was more than some people were prepared to deal with, even though it was the most entertaining and memorable part of the whole damn wedding.

The Venn diagram of people who have ever screeched "Britain is a Christian country!" and those who felt the need to complain about Reverend Curry going on a bit would probably overlap quite significantly. How many of these supposed defenders of the Church of England against threats, real or imaginary, regularly attend church?

Fourteen minutes is by no means an epic sermon, as anyone who goes to church can attest. The eminently forgettable sermon at William and Kate's wedding ran for about eight minutes but both wedding ceremonies lasted about an hour in total - the Book of Common Prayer marriage liturgy can be a wordy, time-consuming thing, especially when you add hymns to the mix. Give me a lively 14-minute sermon over a couple of dirgy seven-verse hymns pooped out of an arthritic pipe organ any day. 

And here's the inconvenient truth for those who thought the reverend's sermon was too long or too over-the-top or both - if you are genuinely concerned for the survival of Christianity in the UK, you might want to congratulate black British people for doing their bit to keep churches open. The British Social Attitudes survey documented from 1983 to 2014 a steady decline for the Church of England and a slight decline for the Roman Catholic church but a substantial increase in "other churches", many of which are dominated by people of African and Caribbean heritage. Between 2001 and 2011, white Christians declined by 18%  in London whereas black Christian growth was at 32% over the same period. The growth in church attendance is fuelled by black and ethnic minorities, not white Brits.

And if that means lively sermons are getting bums on pews, anyone who has panicked about the decline of church attendance in Britain should celebrate these extra bums regardless of the colour of the cheeks.