Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hillsborough: The Truth at Last

15th April 1989 is one of those dates that stands in the memory of football fans across the UK; one of those 'What were you doing at the time?' days.

The tragic events of that day changed the game forever. Smart safe grounds, the influx of television money, the profile of the game across the class structure of the nation.

Today we learned the truth.

Actually most of us knew the truth on that Saturday evening. The inadequacies of the police leadership, the failure to identify the packed nature of the pens, the shocking state of the stadium which had seen similar, if smaller scale crushes at semi-finals in previous years. Surely nobody believed that the city of Sheffield only had one ambulance.

The memories of that day are indelably etched. I am used to an era of live football only being on the radio- Radio 2 it was in those days- and I clearly remember the great Jimmy Armfield describing the atmosphere 5 minutes before kick off, including a seemingly throw away comment that the pens seemed very full. Eleven minutes later the game stopped, and I switched the television on to see the horror unfold.

The manner of the deaths and injuries, the instantaneous cover up begun by the police, the story that The Sun ran; having just delivered an incredible Olympic and Paralympic summer, in is difficult to believe that within living memory sports fans had been treated so poorly.

The story ran of fans urinating on each other. In being crushed, bladder control is going to be lost. As for pilfering the bodies; had nobody heard of looking to identify people.

We are all indebted to the families for the campaign for the truth. Trevor Hicks, who lost both daughters and his marriage as a result, has been an eloquent spokesman. Anne Williams, whose son Kevin may have been alive well after 3.15, equally strong.

Names and ages of some of the victims are inscribed on the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield Stadium, the home of Liverpool Football Club

Today we have more questions to be answered. How can 164 witness statements have been changed and nobody notice? How is it that 41 people could have been saved? What did the politicians of the time really know?

This afternoon and evening, Liverpool has shown the great dignity it has always had. Steve Rotherham  has told us firmly that the fans were not to blame. Alison McGovern was clearly emotional in her response, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Andy Burnham for his part in the campaign.

Now the truth is out, only one thing remains to be asked for. Justice.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fifty More? Surely not!

Yesterday I commented on my views about the Fifty Shades books in general. Today I went to W.H.Smith, no different from any other branch, and very similar to any High Street/mall/retail park bookshop I am sure. Nothing unusual about that you might say; a typical middle aged retail visit for a Sunday afternoon! I am no typical middle aged man remember!

There were two six foot high displays of books, the second and third set of shelves from the door, of the Fifty Shades series and the associated ‘copycat’ literature.

This is to be expected of any best-selling genre: there are several Scandinavian style crime dramas on show of varying degrees of sophistication; books about young teenage geniuses at obscure Scottish or North Country public schools; even the occasional entirely original text. Imitation or parody is, I suppose, the ultimate accolade of one’s talent.

These books are clearly there to build upon or exploit the market created by the Fifty Shades phenomenon. However I believe, from the title alone, that these further promote the kinds of abusive and disrespectful behaviours that the original series appears to promote.

‘The Diary of a Submissive’: excuse me, but no decent, self-respecting woman would submit to the will of any man, however strong willed, if they had any sense of honour.

’12 Shades of Surrender’: Surrender in Japanese belief in World War II was the sign of fear, failure, and lack of respect for oneself.

‘Haven of Obedience’: ‘obey’ is barely present in modern wedding celebrations; ‘respect’ and ‘honour’ even as very old fashioned terms, have more credence, even in an age where so many marriages barely last beyond two-three years.

‘With My Body’: oh please; if I was younger, single and desperate, the implications of that would be too much. As someone more mature in years, married, and with a deep held respect for women, I find such a title beyond belief; the term in the old Anglican marriage service is about respect, duty and loyalty, not anything remotely suggestive.

There was a further section of books entitled ‘Tragic Life Stories’. I was quite inclined, as I have been in the past, of moving copies of Mr Blair’s book to ‘True Crime’. In the end I didn’t, as nobody appeared interested in these books on this occasion.

However I believe, through the suggestion of the titles and the way the content is discussed, that these books only encourage the negative, submissive and repressive attitudes that the original books suggest. Don’t buy them!

Fifty Shades of Abuse

I first became aware of Fifty Shades in the US on a family holiday last Easter. We were in Boston, one of the most literate and creative cities in the States, and there was an article in the Boston Globe about this phenomenon- they called it 'mummy porn', and explained that what had started as an e-book had become such a talking point amongst California housewives that the text went to print. Later that day several of the bookshops had displays of all three volumes. I dismissed this as an American trend, but on returning to the UK discovered that it was on sale here and that ELJames was a Brit.

Now for any writer, word of mouth recommendation, the 'Tube Book of the Moment', and people following a trend is manna from heaven. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, One Day, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the Millennium Trilogy and of course the Harry Potter series all sold, it could be argued, in the volumes they did because of this particular channel of communication.

In June 2012 however Fifty Shades took off and copies were being passed around  and conversation about the 'raunchy bits' were rife. I am no prude, but I found the way in which these were described in conversation bawdy at best, uncomfortable at its worse.

An initial thought was 'at least they're reading' even if it was only because everyone else was. We are in a more sexually liberated and egalitarian society than some decades ago, and women are just as entitled to talk  openly about sex as men so often do. However the more that I listened to conversations, it made me realise that these were not just 'books with some shagging'! I haven't read them, but have seen enough on blogs, in synopses, and being next to a woman on the plane this summer reading it, where the words 'he tied me up, and f***ed me hard up the a***' caught my eye. I am no literary fascist either; people need to make their own minds up about what they read.

I used to work in the City of London, and a more sexist, misogynist and repressive atmosphere couldn't be imagined. Extra-marital affairs seemed not only the norm, but compulsory, strippers brought in for birthdays, and always someone who appeared to be the source of hard core, illegal and quite depraved  pornography. As a young man, single and I was told 'not bad looking' it was assumed that every woman I spoke to I was trying to get into bed. Any notion that I was talking to them as friends or equals was beyond many people. Any attempt to explain myself was often met with a harsh 'You must be a poofter then!'. 

So, we can see; deeply held opinions about the role of women from a large section of men in UK society. Which brings us back to Fifty Shades. is the website of a group which campaigns against the domestic and sexual abuse encouraged in this book. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that behaviours and attitudes amongst women are changing as a result of these books and that some of the things that the female lead allows to be done to her are becoming commonplace. Yes I did write 'allows to be done to her'; in an era of Germain Greer and Erica Jong I perhaps mistakenly thought that this was a thing of the past. Consider this alongside the evidence that teenagers and even younger children are getting their sexual education from internet pornography, and that threesomes, anal intercourse, and encouraging girls to experiment in faux lesbian sex are regarded by many younger people as acceptable, as too it would seem is the use of violence in sexual conduct, or the use of it if sex is refused. As a father to two pretty daughters, that concerns me, though my wife and I have encouraged them to be tough, independent and to know their own minds.

I have a writers blog  I have included  on there three parodies of Fifty Shades, as a bit of gentle mocking of the tastes of some of my colleagues.  I sincerely hope they are reading it only for some light relief and have no desire to be involved in some of the activities described within.  

Domestic violence, sexual violence, rape; it's not rocket science to say it is unacceptable. None are about sex, they are about power. The one time I served on a jury, we convicted a man of rape, of his own sister believe it or not, but that was about power within a family, and not about sex, even though it was a sexual act. He objected to the majority of women on the jury, tried to appeal to the feelings of the three of us, not realising we were of similar opinions to each other, probably more strongly held than some of our female jurors.

It would be naive to suggest that the sexual revolution has ended abuse of women by men, though it has highlighted it's existence. 

I have few close male friends, mainly because I don't associate myself with attitudes like that ones so described. I have many close female friends, strong, intelligent and beautiful; my former colleagues and a number of other men couldn't get that concept, and of the notion of loyalty and fidelity that goes with it.

I am not alone in this though. There are plenty of like minded men out there who would not dream for one minute of treating a woman in such an abusive way. The behaviours that Fifty Shades encourages may only be acted out by a minority, but one case will be one too many. I sincerely hope that the legacy of this trilogy is just in the volume of book sales, and not in a case of someone meeting an untimely end as a result of what it seems to make acceptable.

Whatever Happened to the 'New' Man?

Two weeks after my youngest daughter was born I was introduced as 'our token new man'. Never a term I was truly comfortable with; on reflection though, I could see why I was described in such a way. Though never the 'token man'  I was the one who could cook, ('You're a man who knows his way round a kitchen'), who read, talked about World Cinema, appreciated the pain of childbirth, wore pink without being self-conscious, knew something about female emotions, yet didn't try anything on with my female colleagues.

The term 'New Man' has very much disappeared in the modern vocabulary, but the 'principles' of the movement, if there ever was one, are values which should hold true in modern society.

I am going to use this blog to share my opinions, values, interests and observations on  a range of events, issues and matters of current concern to the World or myself. Feel free to share or ignore as you see fit.