Tory Boyz?

31 August 2008

I’d heard a lot of good things about Tory Boyz before I went to see it last night and I can’t deny it is a good play. The acting and the performance (including some very cleverly choreographed scene changes) were particularly impressive and the funny well-written script was performed well by the National Youth Theatre.

The Play is essentially about a young Tory researcher, Sam, quietly gay. It links his struggle to express his sexuality with Ted Heath and the recently re-asked question, “have we already had our first gay prime minister?” – to succeed it’s necessary to suppress ones sexuality.

But it is difficult to connect with any of the play’s characters. It didn’t make me feel emotion for any of the characters – I neither despised nor particularly felt for any of them. I was neither repulsed by their views on politics or sexuality nor inspired by them. And, on the face of it, there were elements of the play that could have been wholly erased with little consequence allowing more time for the titled subject matter (there were far fewer of the Tory boyz than I expected).

Following the play I decided to look up a couple of reviews and articles. The play was developed after the director of the National Youth Theatre asked playwright James Graham to write a play about Ted Heath. This goes some way to explaining the large cast and multiple story-line strands which – I imagine – a play not in this context may trim. The play is also seen as quite an accurate portrayal of the way parliamentary offices work. Like Michael Billington in the Guardian, however, I’m not sure I agree with the premise – the need to hide sexuality to succeed in politics.

Perhaps I’m to blame for the faults I found. I was expecting something which confirms my perception of gay Tories, from the ones I’ve met. And they’re not quite as quietly contemplative as Sam. A play specifically about gay boyz in the Tory party would have been quite different to this if it was based in reality. As I imagine it would in any political party. But this wasn’t the premise of the play.

Right-wing sympathising theatre is rare. I think I was expecting something which showed the spectrum of gay Tories as I know them, reaffirming my opinions of the lines in the play that “If it is wrong, I can guarantee that somewhere there is a Tory doing it . . .” – but it didn’t. And while Sam’s explanation of why a working class, northern gay man can be Tory is eloquent and thoughtful it didn’t make me sympathise with him any more. But maybe that was the point. Maybe the fact that it didn’t conform to my expectations and prejudices is exactly what the play’s all about. In an interview with the Pink Paper, playwright James Graham said:

‘When I was commissioned to write the play, everyone assumed that it would be a satire. I’m from an ex-mining town near Manchester. I saw my community dismantled in the early 1990s, but I still came to this play with an open mind. Everyone assumed that I would draw the conclusion in the play that the part hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Actually, it’s more interesting than that. It’s boring to just bash the Tories, that’s been done. It’s far more interesting to challenge the liberal perception of conservatives.’

…and, while, from my experience I’m not sure my liberal perceptions are as unfounded as Tory Boyz would suggest, I’d expected to be more enraged, but maybe that means Graham succeeded. Maybe somewhere in my mind it did challenge my liberal perceptions.


A sign of the times?

28 August 2008

In a window, on my street, neon sign:

I tried it. Nothing. Then I wondered what it was all about.


Matthew Mitcham and Out Sports

27 August 2008

Following my earlier post about Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male in the Beijing Olympics, he won, much to my delight, Gold in a suitably impressive way. I knew little about diving until two weeks ago when the media-overhyped and pressurised British 14 year old was diving. But as time went on my interest grew, for obvious reasons, and because I realised what a technical and impressive sport it is. Matthew Mitcham’s incredible last dive was unprecedentedly impressive, according the the BBC commentary (although their follow-up news articles focused much more on the Tom Daley’s seventh position) – not bad to be seventh in the world though eh?)

In my mind, and responding to some of the comments on my last post, Matthew Mitcham’s sexuality shouldn’t matter in his sport (unlike sexuality in diving did ten years ago). But what having an out gay man at the Olympics does – especially one that wins gold – is it empowers others. It’s not just high profile life which benefits from such openness. It gives hope to the other gay boys at school, for example, who feel like their sexuality’s a barrier to them playing sport.

Only ten of this years Olympians were openly gay, yet it’s likely many more were open about their sexuality to other athletes. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if other gay athletes from countries where opinions on sexuality are more liberated could come out and inspire those who may not feel able to do so. What better means than through an international event where performance matters more than who you’re attracted to?

Matthew Mitcham shouldn’t be known as ‘that gay diver’. He says…

“I just want to be known as the Australian diver who did really well at the Olympics… It’s everyone else who thinks it’s special when homosexuality and elite sport go together”.

…but he should be known as an incredible diver, and someone whose bravery and athletic performance inspire others – regardless of sexuality.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Cup is on in London. Although this is unlikely to be seen as ‘elite sport’, the tournament has great aims behind it:

We are dedicated to providing a world class event which will show that London can provide a safe and welcoming environment, which pushes the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance and which encourages gay men and women to promote themselves in a positive and healthy manner.

We firmly believe that football should be enjoyable for all, free from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and accessible to people of all backgrounds and all sporting abilities.

So congratulations to Matthew Mitcham, and the IGLFA, for helping to remind us that whatever our sexual preferences we can play sport. It’s an inspiration to me that sport – something which, for many, is a euphemism for the closet can be inclusive. In a world where homophobia’s not dead and buried, where, in the papers today, prospective City employees, for example, feel unable to their sexuality, it’s good to know there are role models and people to look up to even whether or not sport’s your game…

…which reminds me, I should really go to the gym…


Food: London Tapas

16 August 2008

We finally got around to checking out a Tapas Bar just a short walk from our flat last night, and were very impressed. In some ways I don’t want to post about it as it would be great to say “i know this little tucked away place”. From the outside El Parador doesn’t look like anything very special. Time Out said that it doesn’t look like the kind of restaurant you’d travel across town for, until you try the food, and I agree. Located round the back of Mornington Crescent station, it’s small restaurant interior hides a much bigger outdoor patio. Seeing as it’s “summer” (erm) we ate inside. It’s a good quality family run tapas restaurant – although they wouldn’t book tables for two booking’s not a bad idea for bigger groups.

A wide selection of vegetarian tapas gave me a lot of choice (plenty of meat and fish too). Especially notable was the resfreshing Arroz con Guisantes y Puerros (Risotto style rice with peas, mint, leek, butter and manchengo peas) and Alcachfas al Argelino (Chargrilled artichoke hearts with broad beans, caramelised red onions, garlic & Harissa oil – for a bit of spice). Being used to Spanish prices when I eat Tapas this seemed a little pricey – but not compared to any other decent restaurant in London – the portions were sufficient for four tapas between two people. In fact, eating Spanish Tapas on a cold August Friday evening gave me a feeling of a bit of summer – Cost del Camden!


Twits!

15 August 2008

I had no idea Twitter had removed it’s SMS updates – I had noticed things had changed – until I read this. It’s a shame that they cannot manage this service successfully – SMS updating was the real advantage Twitter had over any other social networking facility (together with it’s ability to link in to other services)… I think I’m likely to use it less now – not out of choice, but because it’s usefullness to me is diminished.


Northern Scum

15 August 2008

I haven’t finished reading the Policy Exchange’s latest gem, Cities Unlimited. This is the report this week which – despite the PX being “the tories favourite thinktank” – David Cameron called insane. It’s the report that, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “let them move south” like Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” – ignorant of reality.

It’s a shame I haven’t finished reading it yet – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I do. The idea that, because “northern” towns and cities have had money poured into them and are still not doing as well as thriving places in the south we should help more people move south to work and live, is an interesting one. It’s based on pure geographic principles (our northern cities are in the wrong place – no more is cotton and shipping an economic driving force), but a rather ignorant and arrogant suggestion nonetheless.

But for a rather intelligent academic with a supposedly switched-on political mind, it’s a rather odd assertion to make. They say:

The reality turns out to be pretty stark. Margaret Thatcher famously declared that “you can’t buck the market”, we find that you can’t buck geography either. Cities such as Liverpool and Hull, for example, were perfectly placed for economic success in 1875 when Britain was a maritime nation, and imports, exports and even trade within Britain often went by sea. But today air, road and rail transport dominate, and suddenly places like Reading and Milton Keynes – awful locations in 1875 for business – beat our coastal cities hands down. No amount of regeneration spending can alter that basic reality.

It’s a rather stupid assertion to say that just because northern cities haven’t grown as fast as more advantageously-places southern ones means we shouldn’t seek to regenerate them (actually they don’t say this per se, but surely they should realise how it comes across). It would be much better, not to benchmark them about how they’ve improved in comparison to the south, but against how much they wouldn’t have improved if regeneration money hadn’t been ploughed in! But their craziest suggestions appear to be reserved for the south, and here I am talking as a town planner.

“We must stop reserving land in the south-east for low productivity industrial use” – I have some sympathy with this argument. But it’s overly simplistic. What about industrial land which is needed here – warehousing (where will our goods come from to get the the many more shops we’ll need?), recycling (we need to have space for this – not ship it all north) and the grotty uses people rely on (even now people have difficult finding a mechanic or car breakers yard in London) are just some examples.

Slightly more crazy is the idea that – assuming by the time you reach the outskirts of London you’re driving at 70 miles per hour, it would only add a minute of congestion onto your journey to expand London by a mile abd you’d have space for 400,000 houses. What about the services people need, what about public transport, what about green space, what about types of homes people (without cars? god forbid!) may want to live in? Is this a child’s approach to urban geography?

John Prescott (Labour’s newest and rather prolific blogger), however, has some interesting words on the “abandon the north” theory, and I’ll leave the last words of this post to him:

It reminds me of what my mother had to do. Daughter of a welsh mining family, she had to work in service in the wealthy homes of the Wirral when she wanted to stay with her family in north Wales.

The same policy was echoed later by Norman Tebbit in the Thatcher regime when he said “get on your bike and look for work.” And that was against the background of over 2 million unemployed. This gave us the highest level of unemployment in the cities they talk about, like Liverpool, Hull and Bradford. And what was their answer then? In Liverpool it was for Heseltine to take a bus-load of bankers up to the city and establish what they called Garden Festivals. Go there now, the Garden festival has been demolished, the city is rebuilt, public services improved and a new confidence, particularly as Europe’s capital of culture.

England’s cities are now better placed than at any time since the end of the 19th century to become motors of national advance. The years of decline and decay have been overcome.


Olympians Out in China

14 August 2008

It was with interest, and by accident, this morning I stumbled upon Matthew Mitcham. Not literally, but by noticing a number of facebook friends had become ‘fans’ of his. It wasn’t until I started looking into it I realised that it’s not just because he’s a good looking diver, like the others I’ve mentioned. He’s also gay and came out publicly in Australia this year.

Interesting reading how struggling with issues in his life has made him stronger. The Sydney Morning Herald said:

Mitcham thinks he would not be going to the Olympics if not for the hardship he endured.

He said: “I probably wouldn’t have as much of a fighting spirit. The more you have experienced, the more you have to draw off. I look at the last 20 years as a long, winding path of lessons and some hardship. I hope the rest of my life isn’t straight because that could be boring. I hope it continues to wind, but maybe not so tumultuous. I hope I do have a long and winding path and more lessons to learn. I look forward to that.”

He’s not the only gay olympian this year. It’s good to see out athletes who can compete alongside other athletes at the games. It’s great for sport, and it’s great for gay people growing up who may feel alienated, as I did, from sport.

And surely, it can’t be a bad thing for China where gay people in some ways feel the same in society as gay people around the world in sport can: that you have to hide who you are.

One of China’s gay campaigners says: “Many Chinese gays – burdened with ignorance, discrimination and fear – are unable to comprehend their homosexual yearnings and close themselves off from society, tormented by self-hate. After the age of 30, more than 90 percent of gays get married – because social pressure makes them believe they have no choice”. Intimidated by society and the police gay people in china tend to live secret lives. (more)

How great it is for gay olympians to be competing in China. It’s a wonderful way to show China and the world that gay people can be part of a diverse group of people. I wish them good luck and hope that young gay people all around the world realise that they can achieve what they want to and that sexuality should not be a barrier.


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