Same walls different posters

folliesI was invited to a meal today in a part of Theatreland, London. Nothing unusual there – but on walking into the venue (which I have absolutely no intention to name) I experienced something of a temporal anomaly. I found I was existing both in 2014 and circa 1986.

Today’s meeting with my better half and a mutual friend was pleasant, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. Interestingly though neither of them could have shared the periodic time shifts I experienced in this amazing and very comfortable venue.

Close to a theatre in which I had performed this venue had always been something of an underground hit. Popular with the lovies and thesps of the West End, it was somewhere I had known since my mid twenties. However, ironically, it wasn’t somewhere I had visited more that twice before. Now I can afford to eat and drink there without too much trouble – but in the 1980’s as a struggling actor anything other than a coke (diet coke was still to hit the market widely in the UK) was as pipe dream. But you could make a drink last a while and hope to be seen by someone interesting and important (not that it ever happened).

Perhaps it was because this venue had become something of a special treat symbolising potential future success that I remember it so well. Having a feel rather like Cheers bar (some of the London lovies will need no more to identify it) this bar had it’s own long standing pianist and a myriad of show posters decorating the walls.

It was one of these posters I remember being prominently positioned over the bar in the mid 80’s. A classic poster publicising Follies which was the latest surprise hit from Wythenshaw (where I was I believe lucky enough to see Meg Johnson rock the north west) which looked like it may make it to the West End in due course.  Many other posters were prominently positioned until each wall was covered with a scattering of the most successful shows from the past five years. But with it’s orange and blue tones being an amazing counterpoint to the subdued lighting in the venue this poster was seared into my mind.

Now, far away from the bar and in one of the secluded corners of the room, I find myself having a meal some thirty years later. Having been engaged with the conversation I hadn’t really looked around at the details of the largely unchanged room. They – as if reaching back through my personal life I was drawn to an art-deco scroll just out of sight to my right. I didn’t really need to check further but looking at the unchanged poster (now relegated to the wall near the kitchens) it was as if the intervening years had suddenly slipped away.

For an indeterminate amount of time I recalled voices, songs, even the feel of tap shoes past across my mind briefly as they clicked and snapped their triple time steps hopefully across the bar between matinee and evening performance. How strange that such an unexpected collection of memories are what came back to me first.

In part, it felt like a different life, a different me. Some friends now long gone could be heard for the first time in over a quarter of a century and details of the bar I hadn’t consciously noted seemed strangely familiar. At the same time, I never felt more like myself. A home from home and somewhere I felt both welcome and real. It won’t be as long before I return to this oasis in theatre land.

You can’t choose your family

familytreeThere are times when I regret being an only child. Not for long and not very often, but from time to time the sensation of having lost out on something arises. Of course, the situation was perfectly normal for me as I grew up. I certainly didn’t feel disadvantaged or lacking in any way for having no siblings with which to share my time, toys and attention.

Being the only child to older parents meant I gained the usual gifts given to those in that position. The contentment to be happy with my own company, the ability to relate to adults with a capricious nature which would now make me nauseated at the very thought of it being just two.

However, as I have grown older I envy the closeness of those I see with brothers and sisters with whom the family bond is strong. It may of course simply be the ultimate manifestation of having a hissy fit over something you want but can’t have. That is to say, if I suddenly found I had a long lost sibling I would entirely reserve the right to relish my uniqueness as the only child my parents had.

The fact that my family is small and fairly distant was brought home to me today when I received a call from a cousin called Dianne. In fact, she is no relation to me at all being the daughter of a close friend of my late mother. However, I only learned that recently as her parents had always been an aunt and uncle in just the same way as any blood relatives.

My mother died in 2012 (April) with her sister following some 3 months later. It struck me that these matriarchal figures had been the glue in holding the cousins together. Since the last of the two funerals, I have neither seen nor heard from my cousins despite my efforts to keep in touch with them. It seems we have nothing to keep up in touch now the older generation has gone.

Yet, Dianne – a cousin only in name calls and checks on my welfare regularly as I do hers. So perhaps the same would have been true had I been lucky enough to have siblings. I have a small number of good friends who could not be closer to me if they were blood relatives.

I know that next week, on one of those milestone birthdays you would rather not recognise, I will receive a small number of cards and acknowledgements. My friends and Dianne will certainly be among them. I don’t anticipate any from blood relations.

It certainly reinforces the old saying ‘You can’t choose your family but you can choose your  friends’

Throwing the lions at Christian

Now I’m one of those people who will annoy many, please others and just bring bemused puzzlement to others. You see, I don’t buy the accepted wisdom that humans are the only animals capable of emotions.   We may argue where the boundary of higher emotional capability lies  and I’m not suggesting a hamster is capable of jealousy and revenge – but then I wouldn’t rule it out either.

This documentary was recently shown on Channel 4 and reminded me both how much has changed in terms of our relationship to animals. In this instance, Christian was purchased at Harrods in the last 60’s when buying a lion was entirely possible.

Occasionally a story is so touching, refreshing and challenging that it just merits being circulated and praised. An amazing story well worth watching.

Manchester Pride ? Some serious shortcomings

Before moving to the substance of this posting, I want to acknowledge the efforts made by many Greater Manchester Police officers to ensure good relations with the LGBT community. Similarly, in previous dealing with PGH security and Manchester city council, there have been many capable and sincere members of staff. However, the way in which aspects of Pride 2014 were handled have (in my opinion) left all parties appearing sub-standard and may – again rightly in my view – bring the current structure of Pride into account.

Again, I recognise the good work and contribution to a number of charities made by Manchester Pride. However, that isn’t the issue at the heart of my criticism. A fairly minor, some would argue pedantic but important point of law appears to have been selectively ignored and overlooked because it challenged the business model of Pride.

Manchester Pride

Manchester Pride

To give non Manchester (or UK) readers some context here is a little background. Manchester Pride (having grown organically from Mardi Gras) is one of the north west’s largest and most successful celebrations of gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles. It raises funds for a variety of charities and is focused around the ‘gay village’ in the city.

An area of the village is fenced off with security controlling entry and exit to the area. This is managed by buying a wrist-band for the evening (or weekend). If you have a wrist-band you get in – if you don’t have one then move along please.

Many (though not all) of the premises within the fenced off area are gay venues taking part in the Pride celebrations. However, there are also residential blocks, a few convenience stores, some fast-food restaurants and some venues not taking part in the event.

This situation has been in place for some years (10+) and hasn’t in fairness caused a problem. However, a few people started to ask the basis on which public streets could be fenced off and an entry fee charged to enter the zone. Many (including some council and police personnel) simply reverted to answers which were (in terms) – ‘We’ve always done it like this and nobody’s complained before’. Whilst that may be true, it doesn’t make it a credible legal basis for justifying the restrictions.

Right of Way

Right of Way

A small but persistent and competent group were unconvinced by this answer and started researching the legal basis for the closure of the roads. There was no dispute over the closure of the roads to vehicles – but could pedestrian access be prevented where there is a right of way over public roads.

There is no requirement in UK law to explain why you wish to walk down a particular public road nor where you are going at any particular point in time. Those protesting the closure of the gay village remained unconvinced and sought guidance from the Department of Transport who are ultimately responsible for the legislation covering road closures by local authorities.

Advice from staff within that department was clear. The road could be closed to vehicles for Pride under the legislation. However, any attempt to extend this to pedestrians or operate a two-tier pedestrian entry system based on whether or not you wore a wrist band was beyond the scope of the legislation. In simple terms, members of the public could still exercise their right of way through the closed off roads.

Several exchange of letters then followed between local council, police, protestors, organisers and interested parties. It appears clear that all parties became aware of the Department of Transport position. Reassurances were issued by both the police and the council that rights of way would be respected.

Fast forward to the day itself and (as shown in this and related vidoes) contracted security staff can be seen running the entry point gates. Whilst acknowledging the letter from the Department of Transport and despite the previous assurances from councils, organisers and the like the right of way is denied and the zone is described as holding a ‘private party’.

Whether or not a private party was indeed taking place (which is disputed) this doesn’t explain why contractors believe they can prevent anyone walking down a public road. It wouldn’t impose a requirement that the public explain where they are going or why. Nor would it provide a power to prevent residents (or visitors to residents) returning to their own homes without being ‘accredited’ and sanctioned by the organisers of Pride.

In the four videos which record some of the protestors encounters police are seen nearby but not getting involved in the matter in any way.

At one point the senior contractor repeatedly refers all questions to the website for the organising group for all questions, complaints, criticisms etc. However, it also appears that they were unwilling to engage with the substance of the challenge, nor were the police willing to engage with the protestors which of course only made the situation worse. Interestingly, the approach of police personnel was reported as variable depending on who was on duty and what advice had been given by local briefing Inspectors.

Regardless of the merits (or not) of the protestors case, the rather heavy handed and paternalistic view of the contracted stewards is deeply unattractive. Similarly, the police appear (at least to me) to have abrogated their responsibility to uphold the law impartially. I acknowledge the complexity of managing a major event and there is certainly an element of proving a point by the protesting group. However, simply ignoring members of the public wishing to exercise their right to walk the public street and seeming to side with organisers in the face of both legislation and common sense seems unlikely to be the best approach.

I doubt this story which can be followed here will simply go away over the coming weeks. The larger issue of closing public roads and spaces for community event is actually quite significant. My personal view is that an objective review of this incident would find the behaviours of both some contracted staff and some police officers to be wanting and inadequate at best – potentially unlawful at times. The circumstances also call the business model of Pride (and similar events) into question. I suspect we may see some significant changes to the future shape of community events of this type in future years.

Keep hydrated or pee a bowling ball !

Today’s post was due to be a quick look back at a 70’s comedian who for a variety of reasons seems to have revisited me recently. However, events today rather overtook that idea and I find myself posting something of a public information piece.

I was due to be at a meeting this morning in London so had to leave early to stand a chance of getting through the rush-hour traffic. In the UK it isn’t unusual for those who live in London to assume a 9am meeting is routine. Clearly they forget the world exists outside zones 1 and 2 and quite how much of a challenge it can be to get there for a prompt business hours start. As a result, it was a quicker breakfast this morning – after all, I can always catch something on the run a little later.

M4 Gridlock

M4 Gridlock

No surprise then when the usual end of the M4 approach in to London brought the predicted snarl-up. However, this time it came with something less predictable a quiet but growing stomach ache – or was it back ache, I couldn’t really be sure.
A few updates (hands free before you ask) to those important to me and the traffic had moved as far as Chiswick. The problem was, so had the pain – now clearly in the back and moving down to the groin and where was the nearest public toilet please …
As the next 30 minutes progressed, so did the pain and as I reached the Hammersmith flyover the decision had been made – this wasn’t right and it was time to make a quick diversion to Charing Cross Hospital. By the time I got there the discomfort was intense coming in waves and feeling like searing stabs with a red hot needle.

Although many people criticise the National Health Service (NHS) – and I know it has it’s challenges, I cannot speak highly enough of the treatment I received today. I made a conscious decision not to raise the alarm with my partner as it quickly became clear what the issue was and there was nothing to be gained by him sitting in A&E convincing me the pain wasn’t as bad as it felt. I’m sure I will have to defend that decision in the not too distant future but it seemed sensible at the time. I don’t think I would make that decision again – but that’s after the event.

Kidney Stone

Kidney Stone

After a quick triage and some investigations the diagnosis came back via a most helpful and direct Canadian registrar. ‘You have a kidney stone’ I’m told ‘It’s just a small one – someone hasn’t been keeping hydrated have they?’

The suggestion that the crystals of calcium and phosphorous were ‘small’ was neither reassuring or at that particular point believable. A couple of courses of ultrasound to break up the stone followed and gradually the pain subsided over the next hour.

Based on the findings of the day, I’m reasonably lucky. I don’t look like a natural stone former, I’ve just been careless in how much I’ve been drinking over the past couple of weeks. Perhaps a little too much alcohol and too few soft drinks have contributed too. Although I can’t claim the examples shown in the picture are anything to do with me – they give you an idea of what you are trying to pass through your system and why it might be so painful !

One helpful nurse points out that the resulting ‘gravel’ feels like peeing a bowling ball wrapped in barbed wire. Of course, I thanked her and asked if she had ever considered a career in advertising before asking whether this was likely to recur and what you could do to prevent it (if anything).

Reassuringly, the consultant’s view was that I had just become dehydrated over the past few days (it had been hectic – no excuse but an explanation) which had allowed some crystallisation to start. As long as I stay hydrated this shouldn’t recur. But he also passed on some pointers which I will repeat as I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy (well maybe my worst but not many others).

1. Drink enough ! – The target is apparently 2 litres per day and if you can include something citrus (or orange juice/cranberry juice) you can help prevent the risk

2. Try to ensure your calcium levels and Vitamin D levels are adequate – a multivitamin or a good glass of milk should do it

3. Watch out for foods high in sodium if you have a recurring history of kidney infections

4. If you have had more than one episode – try to reduce foods high in oxalates such as chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts

Thankfully, I’m now feeling a lot better and things are back to what passes as normal ! So not my usual type of post – but if you too are a skip breakfast type and don’t drink as much fluid as you should then just keep this in mind. By the way – the nurse wasn’t far off in her description .. so it’s in your interest to listen up !

Why do we need our politicians?

United Kingdom Houses of Parliament

United Kingdom Houses of Parliament

Today I found myself in a meeting in London listening to a number of cross-party political types. ‘More fool you’ I hear you cry, don’t come to me with your self inflicted miseries.

Most of the attendees were urging people to become more active in the political process and bemoaning the continuing disengagement from politics by the general population.

At one point, we were referred to the comments of a handful of MP’s complaining about their increased workload. – Why MP’s should feel they are immune from increasing workloads is slightly beyond me – but I digress.

I couldn’t help but wonder how politicians pre 1970 managed to handle their roles. Whilst not making a deliberately anti-EU point, presumably much of the work now delegated or transferred to Brussels must have previously been performed by national governments with additional demands on MP’s, select committees and ministers?

The past thirty years has also seen significant swathes of secondary legislation empowering town and borough councils to take on local responsibility for items as wide ranging as highways and recycling. At least a proportion of this workload presumable fell to Westminster prior to the responsibilities being spread to local authorities? With the growth of quangos (quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations) still moving forward with vigour I can only assume a significant amount of their activity left Westminster some time ago. Whilst there is bound to be a degree of retained central oversight and management the day-to-day functions have been marching out of Whitehall since the 70’s

In a similar way, the introduction of regional assemblies, the Scottish Parliament and regional development agencies/areas has further removed areas of responsibility previously run on a day to day basis through ministers and wider government. So the devil in me can’t help wondering what exactly is there left for them to be doing ?

The obvious answer would be the creation and scrutiny of legislation. However, most first year politics students would be able to tell you most drafting is now done by the civil service. Scrutiny is certainly part of the parliamentary process but can it really keep 650+ MP’s fully occupied. In recent years much of the real scrutiny and challenge has come from the House of Lords where the whipping system is slightly less powerful.

The recent expenses scandal was strongly indicative that the majority of an MP’s time is now spent in London, so the idea that the spare time has been transferred to local constituency matters is somewhat suspect. I would ask my own MP but unfortunately my question arises during his six week summer break. Even then, I would have to be quick as two weeks after returning they break again for the party conference season and then it’s a skip and a jump to the Christmas recess.

So I’m left wondering why we have as many MP’s now as we did before these various releases of responsibility and accountability. We appear to be over-represented in comparison to most of our European neighbours. Perhaps we should look to a smaller and more committed and connected first chamber and ditch some of the career politicians for whom work pressures seem to be something strange and exotic.

A solo on the homophobe

No Pity

No Pity

I had a very interesting conversation with a former colleague today. Unfortunately, it made me realise that fear of homosexuality and misunderstanding around what for me is a natural state of affairs has still some way to go before it is a thing of the past.

I  was aware that he wanted to talk to me as he was hanging around the reception area for the office I was visiting for no apparent reason. A few perfunctory exchanges about this weekend, last weekend and ‘what I’d been up to’ followed before I was challenged (most politely) about who this new chap in my life was?

I explained he was the most important person to me and I was extremely happy to be in a relationship with him. The look of patronising pity which crossed his face was overwhelming. Actually, it was me who probably felt most pity – that he couldn’t accept I may have found happiness with someone who just happened to be of the same gender.

The final blow was the passing comment, meant to reassure me that my best interests were at the forefront of his mind. ‘I just feel so sorry for you both knowing that you’ll never know the sort of love I share with my wife.’

To say my gob had rarely been so smacked is something of an understatement. Why the gender of his partner should define the nature and intensity of the love he feels as opposed to that I feel for mine – well I can’t quite understand the logic.

I had hoped this kind of narrow minded characterisation was a thing of the past. Clearly I was a little too hopeful in that regard.

For what it’s worth I couldn’t be happier than I am with my partner. His gender is not the issue, his humanity, compassion, love and respect are. I don’t require anyone’s pity and we’re doing just fine thank you very much.  If you can’t accept that then it’s better you write me off as a lost cause – because I have no intention of changing to ease your sensitivities.

The death of privacy: Why metadata matters

Location, location, location

Location, location, location

How many times in the past week or month have you been using a mobile phone app when you have been asked to share your location? Surely it’s fairly harmless if it improves the accuracy of the information provided to you at a given point?

It’s not like anyone is actually going to record these location tracks and keep them for each individual – or is it?

Have you wondered why so many thrillers and films show single use of mobile phones and the immediate ditching of sim cards and mobiles?

I would argue that your location is key to your privacy and is now routinely stored by a number of large corporates. These claim this is primarily aimed at narrowing advertising offers to you or providing more accurate and relevant data – but this is clearly open to misuse and abuse.

Whilst not wishing to single out Google – they are no worse than many others, but it is one of the biggest data collectors. At least it has the honesty to show you your own location tracks and therefore the data it (and others) has been holding about you – and continues to store.

Most people consider metadata innocuous – just the routine collection of small bits of insignificant data that doesn’t give anything sensitive away – after all much of it isn’t even considered sensitive data under the relevant data protection legislation.

I also find people only start to ‘get’ the scale of data collection and impact on privacy when they see something which is personal to them and potentially shows up something you didn’t know was being held. So – if you have any form of Google account and a mobile phone here is my challenge to you today.

Log on to the public (but subtly low priority) website by clicking this link and seeing where Google has tracked you over recent days and weeks. Each dot is a data point where your location was obtained and saved. My question to contemplate is whether this data should be available for anything longer than the moment for which the app needs it? Why is this historic tracking data necessary?

If you consider programmes such as BBC’s Spooks, tracking history was positioned as cutting edge technology in 2006. In Minority Report the inability of the main protagonist to escape due to location tracking was seen at that time as being within the realms of science fiction. – How things have changed.

I for one would like to see this historic data covered by the same ‘sensitive personal data’ rules as other data. I suspect it won’t be long before someone challenges this ‘tracking’ under the right to privacy under relevant EU, US or other laws.

It seems it is increasingly difficult to remain private. A case can be made for tracking data being a legitimate data source for instances where national security or criminal activity is being detected. However, should your insurance company, mobile phone provider or others have access to your precise location over the past weeks? … Food for thought.

Things that make you go Hmmm …

commitIt’s quite strange the things that jolt you into a realisation that your commitment levels have gone up a gear or been reinforced.

Today was the first time I can recall the Boss being unwell. Nothing lasting and of particular significance, but two things struck me about it. Firstly the fact that the Boss felt confident enough to let me know he was feeling a bit under the weather and struggling with it a little. May sound strange to some of you unfamiliar with the type of relationship we’re in but it was important for me.

Secondly, I recognised that I wanted to look after him – make sure he was ok. A fairly natural reaction you would imagine but it made me realise that actually there isn’t a filter on when/how He plays a part in my life. It isn’t about being happy, chirpy, horny, fluffy and enthused all the time. (We all know that but sometimes something is needed to kick that home).

He’s had a rough time recently one way or another and the fact that I’ve been allowed to share those times too (and hopefully contribute) and am entirely happy to do so was a telling point for me. I’m very happy with the man I’m getting to know and count myself lucky to be able to share regardless of the situation. We’re not in each others pockets but I think we can deal with the vicissitudes of life that we throw at each other !

Pride and Self-Confidence?

An option to attend a Pride event today – I won’t mention it by name as these comments only reflect my reaction to the event and other people may have had an entirely different reaction. However, once we arrived at the main entrance to the park it was significantly underwhelming.

What looked like a below par 1970’s funfair dominated the field but certainly didn’t float my boat or that of the other half – certainly not at £20 a pop to get entry. Whilst I recognise this is what you might spend on a round of drinks in the pub, it seemed overly expensive for what was on offer and given that, I’d rather spend it for the round in the pub.

It seems that anything with Pride or Gay in the title can add 50% to the going rate. Had this simply been entry to a funfair (which is in effect what it was) the entry fee – if there had been one – would have been around £5 tops. So despite acknowledging the overheads involved in running these events the spend was very well hidden … a real disappointment. However, we did manage to get a great meal for two locally and then caught up with friends from the day in the local bars that evening. So a thoroughly enjoyable day but a slap on the back of the legs for unnecessarily over-pricing entry fees.

The unplanned absence from the pride park did allow me to have a good chat with the Boss. A recent frustration with being apparently transparent and invisible (a la Mr Cellophane above) came to a head and ‘he who must be obeyed’ was able to point out a few very helpful points.

Whilst I won’t go into the ‘solution’ for my tendency to disappear into the background and blend into the wallpaper (a skill that is sometimes very helpful in other settings) I will say I did my best to learn from the master’s advice and took a markedly different approach. Interestingly (and very annoyingly) I have to say he was correct. A change in approach made some very immediate differences – something to consider and work on from this point on.. Thanks Boss !  – Strangely I could have easily given appropriate advice to others with a similar concern but just couldn’t give myself the required options/approach to change my demeanour.

We’ll see if I can maintain it and work to be less …. invisible !