Category Archives: Miniluv

Bulletins from the Ministry of Love

Peter Tatchell Flagship lecture: the unfinished battle for LGBT equality

The University of Liverpool continued its celebrated Flagship public lecture series in May with ‘The Unfinished Battle for LGBT Equality: The flaws of same-sex marriage law and other inequalities that remain to be overturned.’

LGBT Flagship logoThe event was hosted by The School of Law and Social Justice. The talk was given by the exemplary activist, Peter Tatchell. Tatchell last visited Liverpool in 1984. A very different social and political landscape.

Peter Tatchell

Peter was born in 1952 in Melbourne, Australia, and has been campaigning since 1967 on issues of human rights, democracy, civil liberties, LGBT equality and global justice.

In an interview with ten minutes hate after his lecture, Peter Tatchell discussed his years of campaigning and the influences that have shaped his outlook:

Parliament has usually been the last place to get the message. It’s taken extra parliamentary action to push MPs to legislate equality and civil rights. My inspirations are people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, they pioneered non-violent direct action as a way of pushing human rights issues onto the public and political agenda. Their strategy was very effective, the strategy I sought to pursue pushing forward LGBT rights.

10mh: Can you discuss your early campaign work with OutRage! and  its impact on LGBT rights?

With a protest every other week, it helped normalise LGBT issues, raising public awareness about the scale of discrimination, putting political leaders under pressure to change their policies.

10mh: UKIP and other far right parties are gaining votes due to public disenchantment with mainstream political parties. What would your advice be to non-voters?

Support for more conservative right-wing parties is still significant, a worrying trend if that is sustained over an extended period of time. The support UKIP is getting is a protest vote, people disaffected by the main parties.

My response is if people are disaffected by the main parties, why not vote for a more progressive party like the Greens? It is worrying that people who are disenchanted by the political system choose to gravitate towards a party that certainly has a lot of prejudiced members, even if their policies are not avowedly negative.

10mh: The T in LGBT is sometimes overlooked, what are your views on this?

Transgender rights are the new frontier, the new front line: gender identity, not just for Trans people, for everyone. ‘Behave a certain way because you are a man, because you are a woman’ impacts on the spontaneous nature that we may have.

People should be free to express their gender and sexuality in whatever way they see appropriate, we need to break down masculine/feminine – it inhibits people from fulfilling their true potential.

10mh: Some Universities have allowed far right Islamist preachers, or hate clerics, into campuses to provide lectures on the grounds that they can talk but cannot preach hate crime. Is this acceptable?

These organisations have a right to hold their own meetings in their own premises or to hire a hotel but they certainly should not be given publicly funded premises like Universities.

Those who host meetings and insist women are segregated from men, extremist preachers who advocate killing gay people should not be allowed to speak. The Federation for Student Islamic Societies is not doing enough to block those speakers and not practice gender segregation.

Universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment and equality. It clearly sends the wrong signal – making LGBT people feel under threat in some universities.  Some of these extreme groups advocate punishment for women who have sex out of marriage who are not veiled, also preach that Muslims who turn away from their faith should be killed.  These kinds of reactionary views need to be challenged and blocked from taking place on campus.

Hate preachers should not be given any platform, no place at a university. Organisations like the BNP, Nick Griffin, given his past record, even if he was going to talk about his love of flower arranging.

Fascism has no place in a University. Free speech does not include inciting hatred and violence to other human beings.

The lecture looked at the significant legal LGBT changes in the last decade. Celebrating victories that have been won only by a collective effort and illustrating the work that still needs to be done.

Peter Tatchell 2

It is assumed that the United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of positive change; however, it was alarming to note that most aspects of gay life remained criminal until recent years. Tatchell highlighted how in 1999 the UK had the most anti-gay laws in the world. The Draconian law that imprisoned Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency was only repealed in 2003. A law against buggery that was drawn up in 1533 was only repealed eleven years ago, under the term ‘unnatural offences’. Even the very language of the law was bigoted.

Surprisingly, the 1949 Marriage Act was the UK’s main marriage law. It does not stipulate that marriage partners have to be male and female.  In the early 1970s, there was no ban on same-sex marriage: it was de facto legal. The prohibition was introduced in response to the emergence of the gay liberation movement and the fear that a lack of legal impediment would allow transgender and same-sex couples to marry. Marriage between two people of the same gender was outlawed under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Realistically it would have made perfect sense for the government to just revert the seventies law, instead of creating a new one. So-called ‘Gay Marriage laws’ still have discriminative elements attached. With regards to pension schemes, the bill does not grant LGBT married couples the same entitlements as married heterosexuals. It allows companies to limit surviving same-sex spouses’ pension payouts to post-2005 accrual only, even if the deceased partner had been paying into their pension since 1970. This perpetuates pension inequalities enshrined in civil partnership law.

The talk underlined campaigning that still needs to be undertaken.
Schools should be a safe environment. All forms of prejudice need to be challenged. Bullying in schools needs to be tackled, specifically addressing LGBT. Children are not born bigoted, they become bigoted and this should be challenged. Lessons in equality and diversity should be required by law in primary schools onwards. Tatchell proposed that equality and diversity need to be exam subjects and put into school reports, as important as core subjects. Sex and relationship education should be a mandatory requirement.

Training is the key and it has to come from the top, Michael Gove, it’s not fair for teachers to just know.

The speaker also highlighted the mistreatment of LGBT refugees in asylum detention centres, with just 14 days to fast track their asylum case. A process which ignores the time it takes to collate evidence. The aim seems to be to fail as many refugees as possible to appease The Daily Mail. It is a sad indictment of our society and values that questions are proposed to asylum seekers like ‘do you read GT magazine?’ or ‘Do you go to Heaven nightclub?’ Stereotypes being crassly applied.

The assumption that you can tell a person’s sexuality on the grounds of how somebody looks is ridiculous. Comments like, ‘she doesn’t look like a lesbian!’ or ‘We don’t believe you are gay’. It is a horrifying factor that people are photographing and or filming themselves having sex to prove that they are of a certain sexual orientation. Some of the cultures are very private and nudity is inappropriate.

The coalition government promised it would end some of the injustices but have only conducted some home office training on equality. This needs to change.

Then there is the work to be done with football. The Football Association is not using its power and wealth in an exemplary way. Positive ways forward could include putting adverts with anti-homophobic slogans in programmes. A video needs to be made with famous footballers talking about homophobia.

Homophobic hate crimes still exist 1 in 3 people have been subjected to insults, abuse or threats. In London in the last year there were over 100 homophobic attacks and that’s just the ones that were actually reported. So it is still a major problem. All hate crime should be unacceptable in a democratic civilised society.

To help combat these battles, he urges people to vote for LGBT friendly candidates to wipe out the vicious behaviour of the likes of UKIP and the BNP.

The young LGBT are growing up in a Britain worlds apart from the one of the past. A world where there was hardly any LGBT visibility and no out public gay figures. So essentially we have moved mountains but there are still a few hills. Tatchell encourages solidarity and community activism as the way forward:

I am one, we are many.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF) seeks to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, communities and nations, in the UK and internationally, in accordance with established national and international human rights law.

Meriel Box, Peter Tatchell and John Maguire

Peter Tatchell is a pioneer and a distinctive voice in British politics. His portfolio of campaigning includes opposing Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988,the controversial addition of Section 2A to the Local Government Act 1986 (affecting England, Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland), enacted on 24 May 1988.

The amendment stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. It was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland as one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of Great Britain by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.

Tatchell has boosted tolerance and understanding, a human rights approach to personal but political beliefs.

  • In 2009, he co-proposed a UN Global Human Rights Index, to measure and rank the human rights record of every country – with the aim of creating a human rights league table to highlight the best and worst countries and thereby incentivise governments to clean up their record and improve their human rights ranking.
  • He coordinated the Equal Love campaign from 2010, in a bid to challenge the UK’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. The following year, he organised four gay couples and four heterosexual couples to file a case in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law is unlawful under Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • He has proposed an internationally binding UN Human Rights Convention enforceable through both national courts and the International Criminal Court; a permanent rapid-reaction UN peace-keeping force with the authority to intervene to stop genocide and war crimes; and a global agreement to cut military spending by 10 percent to fund the eradication of hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment and homelessness in the developing world.

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Their Spirits Gone Before Them

A provoking piece of art has sailed into the International Slavery Museum in the Port of Liverpool. The mesmerising installation, ‘Their Spirits Gone Before Them’ is a five metre-long cottonwood canoe with 1,357 resin figures. Each figure represents the loss of a life to the slave trade.

Resilience resonates from the canoe and the stoic figures represent universal traits that underpin all humankind.

It’s not about ropes, chains or torture but rather, it is a sculpture that communicates transcendence, reverence, strength and unity,

cites the artist, Laura Facey.

This unsettling installation is part of Their Spirits, an exhibition showcasing the portfolio of the acclaimed Jamaican craftswoman and running until 7th September 2014.

redemption-song-monument-in-emancipation-park-in-kingston-jamaica-1600x1066

In conversation, Facey reveals the story behind the creation,

The inspiration for Their Spirits Gone Before Them has a bit of history. The piece began with the Redemption Song Monument, which I was commissioned to do by the Government of Jamaica. I won a blind competition and in 2003 that piece was unveiled at the ceremonial entrance to the Emancipation Park in Kingston in Jamaica.

And after that piece was unveiled the Government asked me to make miniature souvenirs pieces of the monument, which I duly set about doing. And partway through that project I became rather frustrated, but then I started to see these miniatures in a cotton wood canoe. We have these wonderful cotton wood canoes that fishermen paddle around the island and I just kept seeing these miniatures in the canoe and I went, though I had a little bit of a struggle, how can I take my healed figures and make them… put them back into a slave canoe.

And then my husband was reading a book called The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson and he just read a little passage, which said “though the slaves were in the valley of the ship their spirits had gone before them into the Blue Mountains” and that was my permission. You know I realised of course we are eternal and that’s what I believe and so I set off looking for a canoe. And as soon as I found it I installed 1,357 of the miniatures into the canoe.

So I took these exact Redemption Song figures and put them in the canoe and made them face each other because I’m carrying the same message as the Redemption Song into the canoe. The Redemption Song piece is prayerful in its essence or I think of it as such: two people in communion with the divine and also with themselves.

My piece is, though it’s initially as you look at it, it is about slavery but it’s, when you look closer and you see that the people are actually whole, the little figures in the canoe are whole and full and you know in a divine sort of feeling space, they are proud, they have come through it, above it and that’s what’s important. We touch on the past but we need to heal the patterns of the past, break from the past.

Their Spirits Gone Before Them was awarded the UNESCO Slave Route Project logo in 2013.

their spirits gone before them faces

The artist hopes that the vessel will continue on its journey to other destinations, particularly those ports that were directly involved with slavery.

I would love people to take away hope, change, that we can change our lives that we can heal, that we are in fact healing and the fact that the canoe is even being shown here is a statement about that.

their spirits gone before them

It’s a poignant reminder that, of all the many thousands who sailed to and from the Liverpool Docks, not all did so willingly.

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To Russia With Love

John Maguire brings a message of love to thaw the most snow-covered of hearts…

When Cupid draws back his bow this year, I am firing the arrow right into the heart of Mother Russia. I am dedicating my Valentine message to Vladimir PUTIN.

I am not going to write a lyrical ballad of love.

I am not going to try to pen a rhyme crime of the roses are red style.

I am going to state plainly how deeply disturbed I am at the human rights abuses and discrimination against LGBT people in Russia.

I spent the entirety of the weekend in Paris, wandering, mulling over the whole controversy around Sochi 2014. Like a true flaneur, I was trying to assimilate what I want to say about the Winter Olympics. In particular the attitudes to individualism and sexuality that are as bitingly cold as the necessary elements for this sporting event.

John Grant sums it up in his emotive ballad Glacier.

Listening to the debates around the brutalities that are currently taking place fills me with a deep sadness. The gut reaction I used to feel when someone mentioned a queer in school, a shirt lifter, a queg, a fanny…… (fill in your own derogatory term). I knew what was coming next.

But I am not going to rant, I am not going to state the obvious. I welcome Putin’s Draconian philosophies, his take on the modern jungle. Like the leader of the BNP, another dinosaur of a man, Putin’s views only serve to make him look like a Les Patterson-esque figure, a crass, crude caricature, his words and actions serve to highlight idiocy. But I don’t know the Russian translation.

russian-profile-pic
A man who sadly I thought in these more enlightened times had become  extinct. Yet I am lucky to live in the United Kingdom, knowing other countries do not always have the luxury of free expression.

WISH YOU WERE NOT HERE

A is for Antigua, where its fifteen years.

B is for Barbados, lifetime for all the queers.

D is for Dominica, ten years or sectioned for life.

G is for Guyana, prison for those who choose not to take a wife.

J for Jamaica, hard labour there.

K for Kenya, fourteen years thrown away without care.

Mauritius just five, Morocco just three.

St Lucia and St Vincent, a decade is robbed from thee.

Seychelles and Solomon Islands, jail for fourteen.

Singapore two, being ever so lean.

Trinidad and Tobago, a quarter of a century to eradicate the disease.

United Arab Emirates, deportation or the death penalty for living the life you please.

Social Networking has often been criticised, but over Sochi, it has been used positively, to show support, broadcast outrage and create a digital community to generate positive messages to LGBT Russians. From the ‘How to ask for a Rainbow Flag in Russian’ tutorial, endorsed by Derren Brown, Stephen Fry, Paloma Faith, Rupert Everett and  Neil Gaiman, to the Canadian tongue in cheek response to Russia’s Anti-Gay laws.

What is normal anyway, how is it measured? We are all different and there is no such thing as normal, just the people you don’t know that well. The United Kingdom may well be drowning but the good thing about this country is its happy to let people be. Thank the Universe for freedom of expression and speech in the place that I call home.

The thing I do find extremely disturbing is what will happen once the world’s media turn their attention away from Russia.

sochi image

Progressive change is not going to suddenly occur. Yet small drops make the ocean. Let us not forget it has taken 25 years to get to where we are in Britain, so we need to support activists worldwide on their long journey to equality. What goes on between consenting adults should be left to consenting adults. It’s an often quoted cliché but it really doesn’t matter who you love. Ignorance is not bliss.

I think of Jack Nicholson as President Dale in the film Mars Attacks! (1996)

Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along?

So I send my message with a kiss, Happy Valentine’s Day, Comrade Putin!

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Once by Morris Gleitzman

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Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

John Maguire with an evocative review of a book that demands space on any ‘to read’ list…

Edvard Munch - Anxiety, 1894

Edvard Munch – Anxiety, 1894

Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Grey, has the inquisitive strapline brandished on the front cover, “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?” But please do not be put off by this somewhat cliché, tugging at the heart-strings sentiment. The tale focuses on Lina, a young intelligent Lithuanian girl who has a passion for drawing and art, heavily in awe of the painter Edvard Munch and his ideas,

From my rotting body flowers shall grow, and I am in them and that is eternity, isn’t that beautiful?

One night in 1941, Soviet guards usurp Lina and her family out of the family homestead. The clan are separated from Lina’s father, an Academic, and hurled into a dilapidated cattle cart shamelessly labelled Thieves and Prostitutes. So begins their savage journey northward bound, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the desolate land of Siberia. The book highlights the cruel psychological, mental and physical torture that forced labour brings. The barbaric pain that the people suffer emanates off the very pages. The verisimilitude is indubitable.

Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk, Siberia, 1949

Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk in the region of the Laptev Sea, Siberia, an area with permafrost north of the Polar Circle. The photo is from 1949. These deportations started in 1941. In 1942-43, a third of the deported people died, mainly children and elderly people. Photo: The Museum of Genocide Victims, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Lina’s escape is through her creativity and the story illustrates the redemptive power of art, the way it can turn negative experience into positive. The very impact it can have on the human soul. Beauty in amongst horrific chaotic conditions of wrongness. It reiterates the words of Albert Camus,

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

By using first hand family accounts and the memories scarred in the minds of the survivors from Stalin’s atrocities, Sepetys makes real an epoch in history that one would definitely like to think was unreal. Lina’s imagination allows her to vent her spleen,

I painted a rug being lifted and a huge Soviet broom sweeping us under it.

It is estimated that Josef Stalin killed more than 20 million people during his reign of terror and Lina’s story is one of many unspoken. In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Shortly after the Kremlin came up with lists of people, lawyers, teachers, doctors, military servicemen, writers, musicians, artists and librarians  all accused of being anti-Soviet. These people would be sent to prison, exterminated or deported into slavery in Siberia.

The Baltic States lost more than a third of their population during this season of annihilation.

wire

Those who survived ten to fifteen years in Siberia returned in the mid-fifties to find their homes pillaged and occupied by Soviets. The returned people were classified as criminals and put under surveillance by the KGB (formerly the NKVD).

To discuss the past atrocities would result in immediate incarceration.

The horror stories were kept silent. In this modern life, there are many current continual pressures, but I would suggest consuming this provoking piece of literature, just to refresh you on how lucky some of us are in this world.

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Sex crime

John Maguire reports on an insightful lecture on an often-overlooked piece of recent history.

A surge of creative electricity charged up the University of Liverpool last week.

To conclude LGBT History Month for 2013, the academic institution invited celebrated author John Sam Jones to deliver a lecture as part of their Flagship series. The talks are created by LGBT staff and the postgraduate student network, designed to facilitate dialogue with the local LGBT community and advocates. To provide enjoyable yet thought-provoking activities that engage people with LGBT issues.

LGBT Flagship logo

The discourse titled, ‘Don’t compromise yourself, you are all you’ve got’, saw the author read from his autobiographical/fiction novel describing the therapy in use in one North Wales asylum in 1975, to help cure him and unlock his heterosexual potential.

John Sam Jones opened with abstracts taken from newspaper articles and journals from the Sixties discussing the contagion of homosexuality. A blatant derogatory rhetoric embedded deeply in the social-scape. Themes of moral corruption, mental illness, abnormality, destruction to morals and public health, echoed around the theatre and seemed almost antiquated. The not so complimentary extracts were from diverse sources ranging from The Church Times, psychiatric periodicals and even The Guardian.

John Sam Jones Sam Heath LGBT History Month

Aversion therapy and behavioural disorder was to cure and assist to ‘repress the deviance’. In the 1930’s this type of ‘help’ started to be used to treat and cure male homosexuals with chemical and electrical treatments. Jones highlighted how in the nature of experimentation the Nazi’s kindly assisted with surgical castrations and injecting individuals with female hormones. The depiction of a penis transducer sounded like something out of a sadistic sci-fi movie, straight out of the stills from a darker version of the flick, Barbarella. This nifty device was used to measure penile erections, to gain so-called objective data, patients would receive painful electric shocks in fifty-second blocks, with a maximum of five shots given to assist with the cure.

The novel Crawling Through Thorns, describes his personal testimony with a very graphic, yet not sensationalist approach; literature that shocks the reader with its raw honesty, making it at times an uncomfortable read.  The descriptions could have been catapulted from the pages of a gothic horror or trickling straight out of the medieval history books detailing barbaric torture.  Behaviour not expected in a democratic society. The doctor’s insistence that ‘We need to see your responses’, sends a shudder down the spine and the details of the sessions depict an almost sexual ballet with the learned medical monsters in the role of sadomasochistic voyeurs, probing and observing the patient. The irony is that the therapy requires the individual to be ‘turned on’ to be ‘turned off’, to execute the homosexual identity.

John Sam Jones started his writing career with a series of short stories, Welsh Boys Too and has published Fisherboys of Vernazza and a novel, Of Angels and Furies. His gay characters are presented in a non-stereotypical way. They are gay, yes, but this is not the principle factor that defines them, they are quintessentially all journeying through life, experiencing what it means to be a homosapien, not just a homosexual.

His tales flow with a passion for nature that enriches the reader’s mind’s eye. He paints a canvas of rural Wales illustrating a sheer beauty, his palette of literary paints cramming with adoration. His subtle, yet evocative sentences employ brush strokes that reveal a storytelling genius. Where Armistead Maupin uses his to pen tales from the city, John Sam Jones’ could be dubbed tales from the country.

It took Jones time to heal before he could face penning Crawling Through Thorns. He wanted to write HIS story to preserve history and act as a stark reminder to this black period of pink history that is somewhat hazy. Many people have not had the courage to discuss the humiliation of this form of therapy. We have advances in equality, fostering and adoption and soon marriage, but we must not forget the lollapalooza of trying to find an elusive antidote to not being you.

Nor should we forget that even in a world now populated with LGBT role models who are out and proud, Gareth Thomas and Clare Balding to name just two, there are still many parts of the world where a lack of deeper understanding is blazingly obvious.

In Barbados same-sex relations can land an individual a lifetime in prison and in the United Arab Emirates in some cases it can bring the death penalty. Closer to home, problems still arise, such as the  cases of Michael Causer and Justin Fashanu. The day before the lecture, Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to quit the Church amidst allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards priests. The same chap who claimed that same-sex marriage was the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and would lead to the ‘further degeneration of society into immorality’.

John Sam Jones’ brave and revealing novel will serve to fit a piece in the LGBT History jigsaw and ensure we do not obnubilate the past.

We must be proud of who we are and we cannot be proud if we hide.

Photographs courtesy of Sam Heath

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Going missing

A grey sky, making it too easy to feel miserable. The heel fell off my boot as I walked into work, leaving me limping all day. Over-tired, I had slept too long, veering from one lucid, unsettling dream to another without any pause, so that I found it difficult to escape from the feeling of having disappointed some faceless authority, failed to measure up to what was expected of me and faced down accusatory tones, even after the alarm had intruded.

Days like today it is impossible to fight the urge to go missing for a while, even if it only is in the virtual sense. Turn off the internets, pick up a book, a notebook, a pen. Write letters, listen to music loud enough to have the neighbours cursing your name and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine again. Perhaps that is enough.

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Top 5 doomed literary loves

Perhaps it isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the season, as everyone loves a happy ever after, but sometimes it has to be acknowledged that the really great literature lives elsewhere.  With that in mind, and with Valentine’s wishes to all readers, here are ten minutes hate’s favourite star-cross’d lovers…

1. Anna and Vronsky – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The fairytale prince (though really a Count) escapes his destiny to marry the sweet-as-sugar Princess Kitty and skips off with the more captivating Anna instead.  Russian society at the time taking its cues from Paris, they might have been forgiven for carrying on behind her husband’s back.  Yet it is when the pair decide they can’t breathe without the other in the room and decide to throw career (him), family (her) and sanity (both) on the bonfires of love and lust that all hell really breaks loose.

Anna watching her lover fall from his horse mid-race and having to contend with his possible death under the suspicious eye of her husband is one of the finest scenes in the book, or possibly ever written.  And while the parallel story of Kitty and new love Konstantin provides a more realistic portrait of the early years of a marriage as well as acting as counterpoint, it is the raging, ultimately destructive, passions between Anna and Vronsky that linger long after reading.

2. Helene and Jean – The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir

Few things are more tragic than the discovery of crucial knowledge too late to do anything useful with it.  Witness reluctant hero Jean Blomart’s night of remorse and reflection as he only realises how deeply he cares for on-off girlfriend Helene after she has taken a bullet helping her ex escape from the Nazis.

The long vigil allows him the chance to reflect on the choices he has made in his life, politics and behaviour towards Helene – while wrestling with the decision over whether to send others out on a similarly dangerous mission – all in a suitably existential manner, of course.  But the philosophy never detracts from what is a cracking tale of betrayal, deceit, love, and ultimately, death.

3. Jake and Anna and Hugo and Sadie – Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Perhaps not since A Midsummer Night’s Dream have the forces of love got it so spectacularly wrong, with emotions in Murdoch’s first novel entangling to such a degree that no-one seems likely to get what (or who) they actually want.  Perfectly capturing the often comic choices of still-young-but-old-enough-to-know-better hero Jake Donaghue as he attempts to sort his chaotic life out enough to get the money, the acclaim and – of course – the girl he deserves.

His continuing mis-steps on that path to contentment, made due to his unvarying misconceptions of his world, are handled with such a light touch that it is impossible not to sympathise, even while desiring to give him a good shake!  A scene where he trails Anna through Paris, seeing her without her ever realising he is there, is beautiful in its longing and sense of loss.  This is another philosophical novel which never betrays the humanity of its central characters.  The inadequacies of language in conveying our perspectives – the ‘net’ of words we are all caught in – will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to tell someone they love exactly how it is and how it’s going to be.

4. Robert and Maria – For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

The whispered conversations, while curled in his sleeping bag, their hopes for their life together, the brutal intrusion of their final goodbye.  It is a short yet grand passion, full of idealism and beauty, despite – or perhaps due to – the death and horror that surrounds them.  The earth even moves.

Yet, like the Republic they are fighting for, it is not destined to last.  As with The Blood of Others, Fascist bullets ultimately prove too strong for even this perfect love to overcome.

5. Winston and Julia – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

What else could it be?

Boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy realises that is because he wants girl really.  Boy gets girl.  Boy convinces girl to join him in overthrowing a ruthless dictatorship.

Fails.

Looking back over my choices I realise that perhaps there is a common theme, that love can’t survive in a world bedevilled with totalitarian regimes, Fascist atrocities and the stern disapproval of a rigid society.  Those structures will always be incompatible with such deep feelings because, as noted by Jonathan Carroll, in his excellent tale of un-doomed love, White Apples:

…real love is always chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective. You lose the ability to protect yourself. The greater the love, the greater the chaos. It’s a given and that’s the secret.

The idea of love as anarchy works better for me than all the diamonds and flowers and chocolates paraded at this time of year.  Perhaps Saint Valentine, killed for his opposition to the Roman Emperor, would approve.

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Hate your job?

Hate your job?  Trying to use that hatred as fuel to propel yourself closer to where you know you should be?  Then you need to read Max Dunbar on The Two, The Five.  Expertly coalescing all those random thoughts you have on the commute to work into one glorious paean to why you should get the hell out of there.

The last line alone should have you running for the door, throwing your coat over your shoulders.  There has to be more to life, if you aren’t too crushed to discover what that could be.

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Worry not, all things are well

I am probably too late getting to The National, as I would bet they already pick up quite an amount of praise in the right quarters, but given that I don’t really listen to any radio stations or music shows these days, I am often to be found a pleasing couple of months behind the hype machines.  When I was a kid it would have filled me with horror not to have an opinion on the latest band on the day of their album release, or at the very least, one day before you had one, but I suppose letting go of all that ‘now, now, now’ crap is one of the true joys of getting older.

This song I first found via an Andrew Weatherall mix which I wrote about a while ago and so is probably unavailable now (or try searching the internet, you may be able to hunt it down).  I have not stopped playing it since that day, and this beautiful song is one of the many reasons why it remains so essential, never failing to up my joie de vivre.

The next time I fall for someone, I want this to be on the soundtrack.  The search for love essentially does boil down to looking for someone to hide behind the sofa with, in winter, having slept in your clothes.  Right?  What else is there?

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