To the Barbican, to the Alvar Aalto exhibition curated by Japanese paper loving architect Shigeru Ban. It was well worth it. Aalto is not as celebrated a modernist as Le Corbusier or Mies, but in many ways he was the more accomplished architect (perhaps in all ways). He was first of all a deeply humanist architect, believing that the role of architecture is to create better conditions for living, if not to try to create paradise - rather than architecture-as-machine or architecture as celebration of the empty box. His private residential commissions were always an opportunity to experiment, in the hope of applying new ideas on a larger social scale. His main themes are the creation of internal spaces that produce a sense of flow and encounter. For him, the inner courtyard is a way of bringing the outside in - a transitional space that reflects the dual psychological need for we humans to feel safe at the same time as in the midst of things. He was a master of light, using skylights to fabulously soothing effect on many projects. In stark contrast to Corb, he was also an architect of curvilinear flow in the context of the contours of landscape, creating what I like to think of as a lyrical modernism. He was also an obsessive with details, which you can see in the many examples of door handles, light fittings and furniture that he designed that are on display. His work is at the origin of an alternative modernist tradition, that reaches all the way to the present with the likes of the increasingly celebrated American architect Steven Holl. In both cases, a humanist preoccupation with resolving the conflict between man and nature lends itself to a strongly functional yet poetic moulding of space: a phenomenological classicism of sorts. Alvar Aalto: yet one more reason to visit Helsinki.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Someone has got me into Kasteel Cru. Brewed in Alsace with Champagne yeast, this beer is the clearest and freshest beer you might ever drink. It tastes a little like cider. Imagine you have stopped awhile at some Alpine way-station, with Strasbourg at your back, your boutique hotel in Torino some hours ahead, the Aston Martin DB8 parked outside, your beau by your side, resplendent in a polka dot cravat, cigarette holder nestled through her shapely fingers a la Dietrich etc. The comparable beers you might know are the Japanese lagers, Asahi and Saporo, but the comparison is lame: it is not quite like comparing Mont Blanc with Mount Fuji. It is altogether the connoisseur's choice, deserving of its 3 star 'cru' status, to be drunk out of a fluted beer glass while you are wearing your best bespoke shirt and your favourite cuff-links (this post is un peu pour les hommes), if not your finest pinstripe from Saville Row. Talking of ciders, the trendy thing in town is Magners, a fine Irish cider made from 16 varieties of apples. It feels that we've been missing something all this while: that beer should be about high quality in small quantities, rather than the opposite. It reminds me of my days in Belgium, perusing menus of 900 beers or more in one bar..
Intriguing thought, in this article on World cinema in today's Guardian. (Don't get too excited - Nollywood only gets a brief mention).
Also something on Tony Allen in today's paper.
Also, a piece on the gay film Rag Tag that was shown in Abuja recently. Another article on the same film the same day here.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
A book yet to be written is a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which the slave trade took advantage of/exacerbated various internal disputes across Nigeria. I've heard that a major impetus behind the Yoruba wars of the 19th century was that of who sold who into slavery. Does anyone know any specific texts which explore the Yoruba wars in this context?
Pierre Verger is sadly becoming a forgotten figure outside of Salvador, Bahia, where he made his home for the latter part of his life. A photographer, anthropologist and babalawo originally from Paris, more than anyone, Verger studied and highlighted the relationship between the Yoruba in West Africa and Yoruba cultures in Brazil and Cuba. I have with me a copy of his magnificent book Ewe: the use of plants in Yoruba society, a beautifully illustrated book with recipes and incantations in both Yoruba and English. This knowledge of traditional herbal remedies, within the context of a Yoruba cosmology, is largely being lost in Yorubaland. At least the Pierre Verger Foundation in Bahia is working to archive this understanding. One day, perhaps the Yoruba in Nigeria will appreciate their heritage in a similar fashion by setting up a foundation for Yoruba culture, before all traces of the culture disappear or are reduced to tourist attractions.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A deeper and yet more problematic and controversial issue related to the previous post is the question of whether black people living in the West deserve special treatment in order to heal the historical wounds of the past and the ways in which they impact negatively on the present.
In the UK and US since the 1980's, there have been various policies, principally focused on education and the job market, that focus on "positive discrimination" (UK), or "affirmative action" (US). Alongside these practical policy options, there has been the continuing discourse of reparation. The NGO founded by yesterday's demonstrator, Ligali, is a good example of the kind of background political stance that such pressure groups take.
The framework belief is that the playing field is simply not level: a combination of racism and white supremacy continue to make access to education, jobs and resources more difficult for blacks than for whites, therefore there must be forms of structural redress in the form of pro-black intervention mechanisms. Running alongside the specific lobbying points, there is often a pan-African theme which aims to provide softer forms of support, spiritual, psychological etc. See Ligali's chat rooms for examples of this. More recently, the South African government has developed its own "Black Economic Empowerment" (BEE) initiatives which have tended to focus on education and business networking and support.
It must be said that both positive discrimination and affirmative action discourses are on the wane in the UK and the US, in the sense that the words are no longer in prominent currency. That said, the consciousness of black participation (or not) in various sectors is often present, in the form of job adverts that stress that "such-and-such organisation is an equal opportunities employer keen to receive applications from ethnic minorities." There are also the occasional news stories about a specific sector being a white enclave, such as the article on the BBC's website about the UK publishing industry yesterday. Only last year, there was a furore about the BBC itself being 'hideously white'. In many ways, it still is.
As with the logic of the apology, there are two entrenched viewpoints. On the one hand, it is clear that slavery has a tangible legacy, in the plantocracy that is America today, and to a lesser extent, in the terminally disempowering council estates up and down the UK, such as the concrete monstrosities in Peckham and Elephant and Castle. One only has to wander around Roxbury in Boston, or the precincts of South Chicago, to see communities that continue to be ravaged by inequity and injustice. Although Boston has a subway system, Roxbury ain't on it - it literally is not on the map, even though it is just a few miles from one of the centres of New England liberalism.
In these circumstances, relying on the individual's will to succeed will never be sufficient. The combination of lack of access to quality education, the pyschological stain of living in a dirty, disenfranchised and under-resourced area, the media's incessant negative stereotyping and a heavily biased penal system will do its best to ensure a disproportionate number of black men go to prison, and black children grow up fatherless. The case for a positive and progressive structural intervention rings loud and clear.
On the other hand, there is the sense that if one positions one's community as always needing external intervention and support, one's community is perpetually framed as weak, vulnerable, in need of support. This is often the stance of Nigerians to issues around positive discrimination, affirmative action and BEE. With the in-built self-confidence that many Nigerians are blessed with, the idea that one goes around asking for help is anathema. Being labelled as someone who needs special treatment is viewed as patronising and automatically disempowering.
This is just one way in which the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK is put at odds with an ascendant African (most especially Nigerian) community. Its easy to see that the demographic trend of increasingly more Nigerians in the UK and the US making the West their home, setting up businesses and generally applying an energetically entrepreneurial 'can-do' attitude to their circumstances is challenging the racial status-quo. Rather than hand-outs or interventions, Nigerians are showing what cultural and psychological self-confidence can do. More significantly, they are undermining the basis for affirmative action programmes, by demonstrating forms of economic and cultural autonomy that disrupt the liberal agenda.
What to make of all this? Which stance to take? While black empowerment programmes may be critised for unwittingly sustaining a black-as-victim paradigm (and falling within a liberal hand-out control agenda), at the same time, superabundantly confident Africans/Nigerians need to reflect on the psychological difficulty of the homeless feeling of many black Britons (and equivalent psychological/symbolic challenges in the States): "this is not my home, the Caribbean is not my home, Africa is not my home, therefore I have no home". It often seems almost impossible for Nigerians brought up amongst their own, grounded in a strong sense of home, to appreciate the difficulty of growing up within an historically excluded racial group in the context of a white supremacist society (as in the UK and the US).
Perhaps what is most needed is an internal dialogue between the two communities: the difficulty of living close to the wound of slavery and a plantation economy on the one hand, and the sheer power of collective self-belief on the other.
What do I know about all this? More than ever, I welcome your comments.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Toyin Agbetu, a human rights activist, held up a commemorative service marking the end of slavery 200 years ago earlier today. Toyin shouted that the Prime Minister should apologise, just a few metres away from the Queen. He was led out and then arrested. The Very Reverend Blair shook his head, with a pained expression etched across his face.
The issue of issuing apologies for crimes from previous generations is a difficult one, not least because prima facie, the logic of the apology is that it is the perpetrator and only the perpetrator who can apologise for any committed action. Of course, if the action is in recent history, then one can justify accepting an apology by a representative, specifically a representative delegated to do so by the perpetrator. However, when the perpetrators are long dead, it is not possible for any apology to issue forth in this way. More to the point, an apology from someone not directly responsible or delegated runs the risk of sounding trite - something said to quiesce, to stifle or to silence as a superficial gesture, rather than a genuine act of contrition.
The flipside of the argument is that the perpetrator remains one and the same entity: the Anglican Church, Parliament, the British Government and so on. In addition, one need not necessarily be delegated to apologise; apologising on behalf of someone is an act that may originate in the representative rather than the perpetrator, just as the family of a murderer may want to apologise to the bereaved. If one can apologise on behalf of someone else - even against their wishes - then why can one not apologise on behalf of previous generations?
It is precisely this ambivalence about the genuine significance of the apology, and which causal logic is valid (direct apology, representational apology, apologising on behalf of) that leads some to apologise for the slave trade (such as Ken Livingstone, on behalf of London's involvement), and others to fall short, with expressions of remorse and regret, as with Tony Blair.
Those who demand that Tony Blair and others should apologise (such as Toyin Agbetu) confuse the refusal to apologise with the notion that the issue is not being treated as seriously as it should. For them, expressions of remorse are a lesser act than a full blown apology. In fact, I find myself agreeing with Blair (yuch, weird feeling). An expression of remorse and deep sorrow can be seen as the equal of an apology, if one takes the line that it is only valid that direct and representational apologies can be genuine apologies.
Perhaps most importantly, the issue of whether expressions of remorse are a diluted form of apology should not cloud the more pressing issue: how to end modern day slavery, such as the trafficking of young Nigerian girls to work as sex workers in Italy, Spain and the UK.
The University of Ghana now has semacode stickers. Take a picture with your mobile phone, and you are linked automatically to a semapedia page (part of wikipedia) which gives you information about where you are, linking physical and virtual spaces.
It wouldn't work in Nigeria yet, as the telcos have for the most part failed to set up easy to use GPRS services, let alone 3G.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Embattled and impeached (ex) governor of Plateau State makes a Bin-Laden style video on the run. Instead of paying US47,000 to get it broadcast, he could have just uploaded it onto YouTube and reached a far wider audience. Disgraced public servants really need to get with the times..
Nigeria's leading sculptor (Ghanaian but based at UNN) El Anatsui is currently showing at the October Gallery in London. Click here to go to the microsite. If you've not been to the gallery before, I strongly recommend it. Its near the British Museum, there's a nice place to meet for tea and coffee inside the space, and the gallery has perhaps the loveliest toilets in London. Take a book in with you.
Meanwhile, Soyinka is speaking at a Royal African Society event tonight on slavery. As usual with these kind of things, its sold out. One should never underestimate how many eager culturati beavers there are in London and book early. I remember when Derrida came to speak at the ICA years ago - the tickets sold out in 15 mins. Perhaps I should try and crash it anyway?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
To a friend's friend's party with a Nigerian journalist friend. Just outside the house as I was arriving, not far from East London mosque, two Bangla boys chased a white boy, and started beating him with a stick as he tripped and curled on the floor. A gang of about eight Bangla guys looked on. The atmosphere was a little tense. Intervention seemed fraught with risks. All of a sudden, another white guy started screaming from a car. He parked at speed and ran straight for the asian lads. Something in his movements intimated powerful physical intent. He caught one and bent his arm far back up his back and led him off. Undercover dude. I wonder how many security personnel are now wondering around London looking for these kinds of things. I wonder also if there's a special unit attached to overseeing muslim areas..
At the party, I quickly became nestled into a conversation in one corner about black British men and families and father figures. A couple were in open disagreement: the woman (a Canadian caribbean comprehensive school teacher) arguing that the reason why black British men seldom stay around to be fathers has part of its origins in slavery - divided families, men used as breeders etc. The man (a Nigerian banker) vehemently disagreed, arguing that it is a simple case of economics. Any suggestion that overwhelming statistics plus anecdotal evidence indicates that it is something otherwise was not absorbed kindly, to say the least. The argument tossed and turned like a caffeinated insomniac. It is not easy for a white man to talk to an African man about the plight of black British man, so I kept my guard.
Later, I talked to the chap solo. He is interested in bringing sizeable sums of private equity investment into Nigeria, having worked in India recently on various national-scale transactions. As he was saying, its only a matter of time before the old guard die off, and the children of the corrupt elite (such as he) take over. It can only be good for Nigeria that guys like him are turning their attention to Sub-Saharan Africa, abi?
Again, my friend and I talked to the woman solo. She is passionate about her work, but also utterly frustrated. For her, part of what goes badly wrong in inner-city schools is that certain black boys are not excluded. Apparently, it is almost impossible to exclude someone from school due to bureaucratic procedure, which means that they stay and slowly poison the rest. Given that they are almost certain to go to prison whether they stay and disrupt, or whether they are finally exluded and sent on special programmes, it makes sense to exclude them. For her, black boys in London have too many pressures on them already - from rap videos and their peers to behave a certain way (the swagger, the mouthyness, the dress), as well as dysfunctional life at home. Drop a disruptive child into the mix and everything quickly plummets. As usual, the liberal attitude gets in the way of a more effective solution, it would seem. Not everything in the world can be solved by a listening ear and a sensitive approach..
Later, we wandered around Hoxton looking for a lounge bar that no one knew about. Despite being ridiculously trendy, Hoxton still manages to be a little edgy, but mostly edgy in the provincial-town-late-Friday-night sense: people falling over, vomiting, mauling at the world in the hope of a fight. A plump woman looked like a cartoon as she stilletoed down Great Eastern Road, a young black gay guy with a horizontal band of silver make up around his eyes, leaning casually against a door. Sometimes London reminds me of Huddersfield on a wet Wednesday, mildly provincial, Protestant. New York it is not.
The evening ended with a cab ride home with another friend of my friends. A hedge fund manager, he began to outline the information ecology within which he operates. Something in his tone and multi-layered analysis suggested a keen intelligence. Earlier, I had found out that he is a fourth dan black belt in a rare martial art. At least London has this: an attractor for extraordinarily talented people.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
This site is kicking up a storm in Lagos. Lagos big girls spill all about their sexploits..
Update 19:30: hmmm - the site was up this morning, but now has been removed!
[Specially commissioned by Bitchy-in-the-city]
A monologue in Brixton Rec sauna in the late 1990’s. Three Jamaican guys and myself are sweating it out. Our speaker speaks in a rich and twangy patois:
“Me, I like fresh pussy. I like a sleep wid at least tooh or t’ree gyals a week. Sometime wan gyal de afternoon, anoder de evening – why naat claat?
What else is life for mon? I like my women you kna?
But you kyan beat de pussy when it come off d plane; streert off d plane. I mean she jus walked down de steps to de hearcraf. The pussy jus leave Jamiyka and arrive here in de cold – it bound to have effects mon!
You’ve got to catch de pussy before it cool down. Dat’s de trick! You know de pussy cool down within wan week??
H’even de Montego Bay punani cool down mon. It true, believe me broders.
But when it just off de plane, it still warm and moist and rich; it know how to satisfy you mon.
You can take your time, all night long with de punani jus off de plane. Nice an slow, or fast as you wan.
But when it get col, you gatta just leave and move on. Nothin’ to do mon...
We idled and sweated and listened, as the Adonis of Kingston continued to bestow his carnal wisdoms into the enclosed intimacy of the wooden space. One of my companions grunted in envious approval.
As is widely known, the British cricket coach for Pakistan, Bob Woolmer, was found naked, strangled in his hotel room in Jamaica a few days ago, the morning after Pakistan's defeat against Ireland in the cricket World Cup. The toxicology results are yet to be publicised, so it is not known whether he was poisoned as well. There is an Agatha Christie murder mystery aura about the whole tragic event, with many puzzling questions unanswered: how come he was found naked? Why was there no sign of struggle? How come nothing was heard by the chap in the room next door? Was it someone Woolmer knew?
It is believed that Woolmer had knowledge about match-fixing that would go into a book he had nearly finished writing, that others wished were not made public. Ireland's historic victory over Pakistan is now cast in a new light. If match-fixing is the reason for the murder, both the bribed members of the Pakistan squad, and the criminal network behind the bribe will surely be exposed. There is already speculation that D-Company, the Indian mafia network run by Dawood Ibrahim from Dubai, maybe behind the hit. Suketu Mehta's book Maximum City has a detailed analysis of D-Company and several of the main players.
What is sure is that the genteel image of cricket has lost its pure white sheen forever. Just as the International Cricket Council's move to Dubai from Olde England a couple of years ago signalled a repositioning of the game in a global context, so too this sad event shows that as a sport played across the planet, cricket is no longer immune to global flows of money.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Appeared today on the Pew Research Centre's site.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
To Manchester (50 mins by car up the M6) to see Tinariwen, a Touareg group touring the UK. The sound superficially resembles Ali Farka Toure, with the Moorish trills and arabesques that characterise his guitar playing (and link his sound across the Sahara to flamenco). However, with five guitarists, an ululating female singer, electric bass and Djembe/calabash, the ensemble produce a broader and more intricate whole. Something about the rhythm is different too; on some of the numbers I simply couldn't work out the time signature (I usually can for western music, jazz etc). The closest I could approximate is a syncopated 6/8 time, with a strange delay effect created between the two sets of triple beats. The effect is nomadic; the rhythm of the camel. They sing in Tamashek and arabic (there was even a Tamashek rap-griot number at one point). The new album, Water is Life, is in part an account of the suffering the Touareg during the drought of recent years. They're keen to support the continuing use of the Tamashek script, tifinar - it features on their album artwork (see image below). It is apparently one of the oldest continuously used scripts on the planet. A beautiful script for mesmeric music. They are at the Barbican in London tomorrow..
Here. Looks like someone from City People has set up a blog.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
One of our Cassava Republic staff. She's cool. Click here to swim in her world.
A few of the papers today mention the latest progress on creating genetically modified mosquitoes to defeat malaria. See for instance this front page headline article in today's Guardian. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Imperial College have been testing the new breed of mosquitoes, and have so far found success. The GM mosquitoes have their genes modified so they cannot carry the plasmodium parasite. The idea is that they would be released (in their millions) to quickly become the dominant species. Trials in West Africa are feasible within five years, should the scientists prove that a) the risk of creating a new superstrain of the parasite is minimised and b) the parasite does not switch to other carrier animals.
Of course, a focus on sewage and sanitation systems in Sub-Saharan Africa would also do much to destroy the parasite's effectiveness.
Monday, March 19, 2007
There's quite a lot of stuff on the BBC on the end of slavery (legally abolished in England 200 years ago this month) - newsreader Moira Stewart travelled to Hull and Jamaica, meeting local historians who vehemently reject the emphasis placed on Granville Sharp and Wilberforce, a piece in The Guardian by rapper Ms Dynamite on retracing her roots - including her interest in the Jamaican resistance heroine Nanny Maroon - Jamaica's equivalent of Boudica (I sense a Spielberg film in the offing). This evening on Radio 4, Henry Bonsu goes in search of his Ashanti ancestors' involvement in the slave trade, which should be one to listen to (on air or online). If only someone bothered to do something on the Osu in Nigeria, and the stain that slavery continues to bear on the outcasts in the East..
Click here to go the Beeb's Abolition microsite.
We’re here to stay
Foremost Nigerian gay movement, the Alliance Rights, Nigeria (ARN) led by Dare Odumuye makes a bold strive to stay alive, as it celebrates five years of existence in a largely homophobic society, writes TONY IYARE
Not many in this clime would touch his pet project even with a long spoon. But undaunted, Dare Odumuye, who presides over Nigeria’s first publicly known gay movement, Alliance Rights Nigeria (ARN) as chief executive officer is forging ahead with his strange homily in a largely homophobic society.
Odumuye whose ARN got a Red Ribbon award recently from the Journalists Against Aids (JAAIDS) in Lagos for its effrontery to publicly raise its voice on this issue, narrates the story of his organisation set up to defend gay and lesbian rights five years ago
“I was living in Lagos. Within the gay and lesbian community, we were just having parties. After that, my friend and I sat down and said we needed to pursue things about sexual health and rights of gays and lesbians. Prior to that, a lot of people were sacked for being gay and lesbian. One was a manager, he was sacked and harassed. Another was a bank senior executive, he was also sacked. At social gatherings, area boys would come and harass people suspected of being gay or lesbian. Because of information we had about rights, we felt this was an integral part of the human being. Why should people be harassed for their sexual orientation? We now sat down and said this cannot continue. We had the same ideals and then the name Alliance Rights Nigeria came up”.
Continuing his moving story, Odumuye, a former administrative manager in Lead Assurance says the ARN which started as a membership based organisation on July 2, 1999 has now evolved into a service provider as an NGO.
“With the advent of democracy, we thought we had the constitutional leverage to operate. So we started exploring contacts and issues with friends. We started at my house at Alaka Estate in Surulere, Lagos. When the number increased, we now moved to now defunct Surulere Night Club around Shita area. From there we moved to the National Stadium where we had more space. That was how we started. There was also a place around Kuramo beach in Victoria Island where we used to meet. On an average night, we had 400 people who usually come and enjoy themselves. We started pursuing issues of sexual rights. We used to have lesbians and gays but right now we are focused more on issues that affect gays. The lesbians now have their own organisation”.
With seven “reputable people” on its board, Odumuye says the ARN is trying to engage the Nigerian society so that it can be less homophobic. Out of the four men and three women who make up the board, only two are said to be openly gay. The ARN also has a five-member expert advisory committee. “These are friends who identify with the aims and objectives of the organisation. They are the steering wheel of the organisation. They’ve been very instrumental to the modest achievement we’ve been able to do.”
On the objective of the foremost Nigerian gay movement whose work has touched more than 10.000 people across the country, the ARN boss says,“The World Health Organisation WHO talks about health for all and you can’t do that if you exclude some part of the society. Our contribution is to ensure sexual and health rights for everybody. If we focus on just a part, there will be problems. We need to do a dynamic study of the needs of the gay/lesbian and bisexual and trans-gender issues”.
Contrary to the belief of many here that gay and lesbian culture is foreign inspired, Odumuye, who also worked in a finance house in the 90s, would certainly stir the hornet nest with his treatise that this phenomenon predates colonialism in Nigeria. Hear him,
“Something that can be found in the language pattern of the people is part of that society. In Remo language, it is called gbowo. In Hausa, it is called dan daudu while the word langwa is used by the Ngwa in southeast Nigeria to derogatively abuse people who engage in homosexuality.”
According to the ARN chief executive officer, “It was actually colonialism that criminalised sodomy or sex that is against the order of nature.”.
“There’s a lot of misconception out there. When we talk of homosexuality, it is not just anal sex. Some people do not have anal sex. Some do masturbation, some do thy sex, some just comfort each other and stay together.”.
Odumuye argues that while Christianity and Islam frown at homosexuality, traditional African religion does not. According to him, in traditional Yoruba society when boys are approaching puberty, they are usually taken to the bush by older men who teach them how to have sex. Some of these young men grow out of it and become bisexual while some continue with the act of having sex with men. He also says some aides of the Oba who usually take care of the harem in the palace were eunuchs who had sexual urges but had no children.
The son of a former deputy registrar, University of Ibadan, Odumuye says he has the support of his highly educated family for his not too warm project.
”My people are very educated. My mother has a PhD. My father (late Femi Odumuye) who retired as a former deputy registrar, University of Ibadan was the first graduate from Ilishan Remo. My mother retired as a civil servant. She’s now into private business and also does some consultancy. My grand parents were also educated. They impacted education in every sphere”
Just a little over 35 years, Odumuye who describes himself as “single on both aspects”, says he gets a lot of pressure from the extended family members to get married but prefers to enjoy “my life as I am”.
“There are other people who are not homosexuals, who are older than I am and are not married. As long as you don’t go and steal and you do your work and you are getting public award and recognition, they feel you are doing some service to society.”
And the ARN which operates a small apartment office in the serene of Bodija, Ibadan, actually has its hands full of advocacy projects. One of them is a 12 month project called the Alliance Aids Initiative which is commencing from July 2004 to June 2005. This is an HIV/AIDS prevention education project for and with men who have sex with men (MSM) which is to be carried out in Ibadan metropolis.
The project which takes after the one held earlier in Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone, is being funded by Network in Ethics, Law, Human Rights HIV/AIDS Prevention, Education Care and Support (NELA) based in Ibadan in conjunction with International HIV/AIDS Alliance (IHAA) based in London. Says the ARN chieftain,
“it involves pair education. When we train the core group, they will go and train other people. We give them information of where to go for treatment. We want to capture this community and improve their sexual health condition. We hope we would have been able to reduce the sexual hazards among MSM.”
The mission of the ARN in line with this project is to distribute more condoms.
“We want a situation where they (MSM) will be safe and the general population will be safe. MSM are advised to use stronger condoms. Once you use condoms, that are not strong, there’s a problem. It depends on how they use it. They must use it right. They must have the skills because these men also have sex with women”.
The ARN which also has partnership with Hope World Wide based in Lagos and Family Health International envisages to kick start a very big project with three other organisations around the last quarter of the year. Estimated to cost over N20 million, this project will cover some selected sites in the country.It has not been smooth sail for the ARN whose membership is said to cut across different regions of the country. Between 2000 and 2002, six members of the executive died of HIV/AIDS related cases. Odumuye, a 1988 BA English graduate of Ogun State University, Ago Iwoye says,
“Membership cuts across the different ethnic groups. We had slightly more Igbo members. We’ve attended parties in Kano, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin, Enugu, Owerri, Ijebu-ode and so on. There’s a preponderance of membership from the south east and south south. Unfortunately these areas are where the stigma is more”.
Not done with his gospel which many would prefer to see as heresy, Odumuye says the prevailing stigma on homosexuality in Nigerian society is misplaced because sex is a universal language of the human being.
“The release is there and the joining of the physical body, the passion that is aroused. It also plays on emotion. It brings down tension. It’s about the highest expression of the attraction to one another. It is used as a form of covenant, contract and procreation in some instance. MSM comes down to the same issue. All the passion and emotion that goes on in heterogeneous sex is also their in MSM. It is more emotional, and passionate. It is possible to have multiple partners without any sexual act. They just have more time together over drink in what they call serial monogamy. They do help each other and so on.”
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Click here to check it out. They are inviting questions and comments. Together with this article, it appears there are strong grounds for hope in an acceleration of the reform process, should PDP win the elections..
Out of 114 MD/CEOs and Executive Directors of Nigerian banks, there is only one female MD/CEO (Cecilia Ibru of Oceanic) and eight ED's (that's a sliver over 7%):
- Guaranty Trust Bank – Catherine Echeozo
- First Bank of Nigeria – Bola H Adesola
- Intercontinental Bank - Abiola Otaniyi
- UBA – Susanne Soboyejo-Iroche and Faith Tuedor-Mattews
- Spring Bank – Tolu Fadahunsi and Bisi Afolabi
- IBTC Chartered Bank – Olusola Adejoke David-Borha
Friday, March 16, 2007
My parents were village hippies. They ran a folk club in the 1970's. My sister Victoria and I didn't see them from Friday till Monday (a little family joke). I was named after a South African singer songwriter, Jeremy Taylor (you can download some of his music at this site). I'm chuffed to have been named after an African protest singer, banned from his country because of his criticism of the apartheid regime, recorded with Miriam Makeba etc. He's coming back to Wheaton Aston this year for the ever more popular festival. Long may he sing.
Mugabe acts like a cornered animal, sending his goons to crack heads. With the world looking on and inflation at 1800 percent, it feels like this time his apparatus may finally disintegrate. But we have been here before. Despite almost complete collapse of the economy, institutions, agriculture, 5 million plus fleeing to South Africa, genocide in Matabeleland to his name, the 83-year old may stagger on for a few more months.
Now is the time for the African Union to end its queasy complicitious silence and make the Peer Review mechanism meaningful. The embers of Mbeki's leadership (a litany of errors) could be stoked back into a degree of respect by something approaching direct criticism. Ghana's former President John Kufuor (now President of the AU) was on BBC radio a few days ago prior to his speech at Chatham House, sounding needlessly brittle when faced with Today anchor Ed Stourton's criticism of the recent spinelessness of the AU, from Darfur to Zimbabwe. African governments need to get out of the habit of associating criticism of their neighbours with external neo-colonialism, a trick that Mugabe has played tirelessly to his advantage in the past few years. The AU is the one body that can most effectively start the process of change in Zimbabwe. Let's see if Kufuor grasps the nettle.
Would that the South African government could use the AU and the Peer Review mechanism to critique the impending homophobic legislation in Nigeria..
Click here for a good Zimbabwean-in-the-uk blogger, Cry Beloved Zimbabwe. Scroll down and read his trenchant post, South Africa is a Disgrace, or go straight to it here.
I am chez my parents in the Shires. I bought an ADSL wireless router to fix their BT broadband service up to a wireless LAN (for purely selfish reasons - so I can surf in bed when visiting), only to hit insurmountable technical problems late last night. Four hours of phone calls later (to BT's India call centre, to BT's UK sales call centre, to the manufacturer of the router's UK call centre) I find the source of the problem: my parents' BT broadband package is out of date and doesn't work with a wifi router - they need to be upgrade to the 8meg TOTAL package, which will take 5 days minimum to set up. Meanwhile, I now know more than I need to know about ADSL wireless router configuration.
Its good to know that even if life in Nigeria can frustrate, life back in Blighty can infuriate. Although not a nerdy tecchie type, I can usually solve technical problems with computers from a conceptual perspective before handing over to a grunt to solve the fiddly codey stuff. If I'd been Joe Bloggs customer with less technical understanding, I would have thrown the computer out of the window by now. It was far easier to set up wifi in our place in Nigeria than it has been here.
As many of the UK banks have found, people here simply don't want to talk to an India call centre to fix their problems or talk about their account. Its not racism that fuels the preference. Rather, it is simply the combination of a gap in pronunciation (dialectal difference leading the ear to strain to interpret on both sides) plus an inevitable lack of empathy - how can someone thousands of miles away know what it is like to deal with BT and their myriad inadequacies, or understand banking arrangements in the local context of a life? I'm not sure that any amount of cultural training can bridge the gulf between customers in one continent and support staff in another.
But the sun is shining and it is early spring, so it's all ok really.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Read the story of Dorothy Aken'Ova - a Nigerian sexual health worker and Nigerian hero (in an interview with the BBC's Linda Pressly):
In her office in Minna, northern Nigeria, Dorothy Aken'Ova breezily unlocks the door to an inner store room. Inside, next to hefty academic tomes on sexual health, gender and development, is a simple wooden display cabinet.
I am momentarily startled by the brightly coloured rubber and plastic articles on show - especially as this is a Sharia state where jurisdiction is based on Muslim law.
Dorothy takes me through her collection of sex aids and toys. "We have dildos, vibrators, nipple ticklers, clitoris massagers, gels, lubricants, condoms," she says. "This is the beginning of our sexual health shop."
Dorothy is the founder of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights - Increse, a non-governmental organisation.
Fundamental to Dorothy's approach to sexual health is a commitment to teaching people about sexual pleasure.
So her collection of sex toys and aids has a very serious intent: she believes that enhancing sexual pleasure not only improves communication, but crucially, also minimises domestic violence.
"If people want and believe in sexual pleasure," she says, "they will know that battering a woman is certainly not romantic and isn't one of the ways of achieving pleasure. So teaching sexual pleasure may be one way of ensuring women aren't beaten in their own homes."
We head out to the predominantly Muslim community of Paiko, a 20-minute drive from Minna. Dorothy has an appointment with the local government council to discuss the progress of a new couples' support centre - the first of its kind in Nigeria.
The initiative came about after Increse did a survey in the area, and found that many people highlighted a lack of harmony between couples, and anxiety about the number of divorce cases.
For Dorothy, the most surprising thing about the study was how open people were.
"There's an assumption that in the traditional north of Nigeria, people won't tolerate discussions about sex. But we found the community very open and willing to talk about many issues of sexuality, including sexual intercourse."
Local council chairman Baba Salihu Danjumo is supportive
Despite coming from the permissive, "anything-goes" capital of the UK, even I find Dorothy's directness occasionally disarming.
But her passion to promote sexual health and well-being leaves no room for coyness. And in an office crammed with local council members, only one of whom is a woman, the chairman, Baba Salihu Danjumo, is equally unfazed.
There will, he says, be private counselling sessions at the new centre where people can discuss pleasure, sexual dysfunction, infertility and family planning.
In fact, the council is so impressed with the project conceived by Increse, it is putting extra resources into the centre, and renovating a further building for young people.
Dorothy is cock-a-hoop, and tells me: "It's such a misconception that people in the north are closed and don't welcome development. This community is ready for a new start. I'm really impressed."
In Increse, Dorothy has created a unique organisation. Apart from teaching the young people who flock to the Increse centre in Minna from all ethnic and religious communities and doing outreach work in places like Paiko, Dorothy is committed to challenging taboos.
Nothing is off-limits. So there are workshops on unsafe abortion, seminars on rape, discussions about teenage pregnancy. And recently she created a network for bisexual women and lesbians.
There are no public meeting places in Nigeria, like cafes or bars, for women who are attracted to other women, and nowhere their health needs can be addressed.
Through Increse, Dorothy has chosen to challenge the prevailing silence around homosexuality.
So far, she has organised three secret meetings of Igonet (Increse Girls Only Network) in a hotel in Abuja.
The general manager of the hotel, Idris, has decided the risk he runs in hosting the get-togethers is worth it.
"The hotel could be set ablaze if the word got out, but I'm proud to be assisting Dorothy in her work", he tells me. "She's seen things lacking in the Nigerian system and she's trying to change them."
I was introduced to some of the women who had met in Abuja. Fortune, a 20-something student from Lagos, told me how wonderful it was to be with other women like her in a safe environment, and get reliable information about sexuality.
Pamela described how her self-esteem had risen as a result of being part of the network.
These women feel safe in Dorothy's company. She throws her head back and laughs uproariously at their stories, but her mission is deadly serious: to challenge the inequalities she believes exist in Nigeria, and fight for an end to discriminatory practices.
More info here and here.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I'm so happy to find my all-time favourite Python sketch on YouTube. Watch it here.
Other classic sketches are:
The argument clinic
(loyal readers will remember who he was compared with on an earlier post)
Ahhh, life with 10mbs broadband...
Its Glasgow vs Abuja for 2014. Click here for more.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I’m in London. I went to see Bamako, Abderrahmane Sissako’s latest film, at Curzon Soho. If you’re at all interested in Africa and development, it’s one to watch. The film is set in a sleepy courtyard somewhere in Mali. Beautiful women saunter about, a goat shrieks, bored men listen to the radio outside. A courts is in session, putting the World Bank and the IMF on trial. Through a succession of powerfully eloquent speeches for and against, one is left in doubt about the verdict.
Beyond creating an easy straw-figure victim, the film suggests that the international institutions do not have malign intentions; rather they are merely the means by which the global system of capitalism continues to perpetuate under-development in Africa. Bamako marks such a strong contrast with most Nollywood fare; where one provides a consciousness-raising critique of the conditions of everyday life in Africa, the other merely embellishes an already exaggerated stereotype.
Interestingly, Bamako features a Nigeria pastor (with an RCCG logo in the background), converting desperate Malians. Another memorable moment occurs when the former Minister of Culture talks about the colonial "rape of the imagination".
Perhaps depressingly, Bamako proffers no solutions. This is not, I think, because Sissako does not think there are solutions; merely that the extent of the problem must be fully understood, before the task of finding answers can begin. At least in Mali, thanks to Sissako, there is an honest appreciation of the multi-faceted dimensions of the problems facing Africa. In Nigeria, it is rare to see any form of social or political critique, in the face of a blanket denial of the scale of the problems..
It's estimated that about 80% of trafficked children to the UK are from Nigeria, while 60% of prostitutes in Italy are Nigerian girls who have been trafficked. Please do what you can to support this important event coming up in London later this month. Thanks AS for the link:
NIGERIANS IN LONDON: WORKING TOGETHER TO SAFEGUARD TRAFFICKED
AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse is the premier charity promoting the welfare of African children in the UK. We are also the main charity campaigning against the trafficking of African children into the country. We work with practitioners and others to identify and support child victims of trafficking, work with policymakers to influence policy and engage with different African communities to raise awareness and highlight the issue.
Child trafficking is a growing global problem. UNICEF estimate that 1.2 million children worldwide are trafficked annually. More than 200,000 children are enslaved as a result of cross border trafficking in West and Central Africa. As a country, Nigeria unfortunately has a reputation for being one of the leading African countries with cross border and internal trafficking.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that over 40% of Nigerian street children and hawkers are victims of trafficking. There are over 1 million Aids orphans in Nigeria, most of them prone to being trafficked. More than 60% of street prostitutes in Italy are women and girls of Nigerian origin most of whom have been trafficked for that purpose.
In the UK, various agencies including the Metropolitan Police, Social Services across the country and others are reporting a rise in the number of children coming to their attention as victims of trafficking from different countries in Africa but predominantly from Nigeria. As an organisation, AFRUCA has worked with a wide range of young people trafficked for different purposes here London. These include domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, benefit fraud and other forms of forced labour. Over 80% of the young people we work with as victims of
trafficking are of Nigerian origin.
Clearly a lot of work needs to be done – and urgently too.
This community event is being organised by AFRUCA in partnership with CAN-UK to raise awareness of the growing problem of child trafficking among the Nigerian community in London. We all have a key role to play in protecting and safeguarding our children who are victims and in preventing other children from becoming victims. The conference will highlight key issues within our community that foster child trafficking, enable participants to ddebate relevant issues and identify ways in which we can act to help safeguard vulnerable children.
Date: Wednesday 21st March 2007
Time: 6:00pm – 8:30pm
AFFORD - African Foundation for Development
London SW8 1SJ
(nearest tube Vauxhall on the Victoria Line. The venue is one minute walk from the
tube station, right opposite Vauxhall Bus Station)
Event Chair: Dr Mark Abani, President, Confederation of All Nigerians in the UK (CAN-UK)
- An Overview of Child Trafficking in the UK and Experience of Working with Nigerian
Victims - Debbie Ariyo (Director, AFRUCA)
- Working with victims of Child Trafficking from a legal point of view - Fiona Lindsey (Hackney
- Working with victims of trafficking through the media – Dr Kurt Barling (BBC Journalist)
Nigerian High Commissioner (represented by Mrs Kate Igbodike)
Admission is free and dinner will be served, participation is strictly by registration only.
Please contact AFRUCA to book your place at the event.
Contact: Elvina Quaison, Child Advocacy Officer at AFRUCA email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
telephone: 0207 7042261
Please come and have your say at this important event. We look forward to having you.
AFRUCA - Africans Unite Against Child Abuse
Unit 3D/F Leroy House
436 Essex Road
London N1 3QP
tel: +44 (0) 207 704 2261
fax: +44 (0) 207 704 2266
AFRUCA is a UK registered charity number 1093027 and a company limited by
guarantee number 4306536
AFRUCA - Promoting the rights and welfare of African children
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Friends of Africa
A Tribute to the late Chima Ubani
17 March 2007 – 2pm to 5pm.
Venue, Room G50, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), Thornhaugh Street , London WC1
Join us on Saturday 17 March as we celebrate Chima's life.
At the time of his death Chima was the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) where he worked for 15 years. A committed human rights activist, Chima was remarkable for his unwavering dedication to social justice for ordinary Nigerians. Since his university days, Chima has been actively involved in shaping political events in Nigeria . He held a number of key positions: general secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD), 1992 – 1994, joint secretary, United Action for Democracy (UAD), 1997 – 1998, general secretary, Democratic Alternative (DA), 1994 – 2001. He will long be remembered as a skilled and effective mass organiser and strategist.
He co-ordinated a trip of a representative from the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC) based in London to Nigeria in 1994. His last few months were taken up with coordinating the response to another increase in the price of petrol introduced by the federal government. Plans included the organisation of 16 rallies across Nigeria . Chima was killed in a car crash on the way back from a rally in Maiduguri on 21 September 2005. His untimely death is a terrible loss for his family and a huge blow to the movement in Nigeria .
- Dr Raufu Mustapha: Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University , talks about Chima and the context of his political intervention in Nigerian politics
- Dr Paul Okojie: Manchester Metropolitan University , School of Law , talks about The Challenges for Nigeria
- Dapo Awosokanre: Formerly of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria (CLO)
- "Chima in pictures": A slideshow of photographs of Chima at work and with his family.
- "Chima speaks": Film footage of Chima in Nigeria
- Dike Chukwumerije: A Poem for Chima
- A time to remember: Messages from Chima's friends, colleagues and comrades
FURTHER INFORMATION : friendsofafrica_ soas@yahoo. co.uk or 079 844 05 307
Friday, March 09, 2007
An editorial from the New York Times, yesterday:
Denying Rights in Nigeria
A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation - proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo - has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria's powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.
Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies - as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill's vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a "same sex amorous relationship" - which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex - would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.
The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.
Efforts to pass the bill last year stalled in part because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. Now its backers are again trying to rush it through, and Washington and Brussels need to speak out against it. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Humanity, after just a few thousand years of civilisation, has yet to achieve its full potential. We scrabble round, dominated by ego, competitiveness and hatred. At the centre of our problems is the way women are treated in all human societies. Today is a day to reflect on how far the feminist struggle has come, and how far it has to go. Today is the day to love the women in your life (whether you're a man or a woman).
There is a Sanskrit saying: ‘God exists where women are respected’.
God therefore doesn’t exist in many places on our planet just yet..
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The maverick French philosophe, most famous for declaring that the (first) Gulf war 'n'existe pas' has died. I am happy to report I had my little moment with the homme du simulacre. He came to London to give a lecture a few years ago, hosted by the Bartlett (the University of London's architecture school). He had just brought out a collection of photographs, mostly of old chairs and decaying living rooms. In front of over 1,000 eager beavers, I queried him about the absent other that is always implied as a form of presence in his pictures (classic continental philosophy type question). The question gave him pause. There, I'd made a famous French philosopher think. I think he more or less agreed with me in his response.
It does feel like an extraordinary era in French philosophy, which began with Althusser, graduated to Foucault and Derrida and then Deleuze, has finally closed with the transition of Jean Baudrillard.
See African Shirts latest post. The BBC Hausa service spoke to him in hospital 30 mins ago. Yet again, the Nigerian media fail not only to keep a lid on a fast moving story, but to even notice it in the first place. The fact that rumours can so easily be distributed via radio and mobile phone is pretty disturbing. Marshall McCluhan yet again shows his prescience from the grave, when he labelled radio a 'hot' media and television a 'cold' one.
I give in. Who knows? Without an efficient news management information system and an effective media, everyone can get drawn into the rumour mill.
With Yaradua most probably dead, NTA national news is interviewing some guy about sport, AIT is showing an old premier league match, Silverbird... well its not clear what Silverbird are showing because the station is covered beneath layers of electric snow but it looks like a fashion show, and Channels is showing a nice cosy bit of David Attenborough. Issues such as whether the elections will be postponed, an interim government installed, did he die an entirely 'natural' death etc will just have to wait..
As a muslim, if he has died he will have to be buried soon, so the official news will also have to be announced soon. It will be interesting to find out the gap in hours between speculation of his death via phones and blogs and any announcement on tv.
It is announced on the radio in the morning that Presidential hopeful Yar'adua has flown to Germany for a health check-up. Almost immediately, a mobile-phone-tree rumour kicks up that he has gone to die, or that he is dying. It seems more likely that it was in fact a routine check up on his ailing kidneys, and that the rumour was created by his opponents within the PDP. Apparently,most of the PDP governors are not supporting the Yar-adua campaign and pushing for alternatives. All the while, the spectre of IBB casts a shadow over proceedings. He is reported to be there celebrating OBJ's 70th today, the sub-plot being that he is back in favour. Yar'adua will have to play a careful game from now on if he is to stay on course within the PDP, as it enters a potentially fratricidal final phase before the elections.
Can't find anything on the public wire-services. The only online news covering the story just now seems to be here.
14:22 local time. Just noticed African Shirts reporting that he has heard from 'very good sources' that Yar'adua is dead!
14:31. The rumours that he is dead crash in from all sides at all levels from text after text, without anything appearing on the news! It is not looking likely now that he is NOT dead.
There's a few events planned this weekend for the Nigerian poet Niyi Osundare to celebrate his 60th birthday. He's at Jazzhole this Saturday (10th) at 5pm. Click here for a bit more info on the events. Click here for the widipedia entry.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
A few people sent me this article on the Beeb's site today - about the dog meat eaters of Abuja. Although I knew eating dog is popular in parts of Nigeria, and of course amongst the Korean community in Lagos (there's a dog market for this purpose near Falomo bridge on the VI side in Lagos), I had no idea there were dog meat joints (pardon the pun) here in Abj..
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Interesting Radio 4 examination of the story of the reasons behind the coup against Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. You guessed it, t'was the good old Central Intelligence Agency, plus a little bit of help from MI5. Plus ca change. Listen here.
CNN has been showing Sorious Samura's latest documentary The Blood of Diamonds in rotation for the past week or so. It does make you wonder about whether Africa as a continent is improving at all. We see images of still young boys who executed others on suspicion of stealing diamonds in Sierra Leone, crying into the grass over their memories. We see images of lynch mobs in Congo, of desperate men spading mud for decades in the hope of finding one diamond. DCR is in a low-density war situation, with a vague internal enemy called the Suicidals waiting to pick people off at random. We see panoramic landscapes of rust red earth and livid green, dotted with ant like figures in the middle distance, scavenging in the water and the mud for a glimpse of the white gold. In other words, a continent torn apart yet again by extraction, with the Kimberley Process a polite mask for business as usual.
Best of all in the film, Samura followed the supply chain to its delta, the backstreet diamond shops in New York, to show that the lust for stone is not the preserve of a specifically African rapacity. If only more films linked exploitation in developing countries to the consumer fantasmagorias they enable in the West, there might be a desire en masse to utterly change the configuration. Or maybe not. Maybe desire, in all its bloody forms, will always drown out the struggle for justice and a fairer world.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Across the road from the Xelencsio nightclub, next to Amigos supermarket here in Abuja, an MTN kiosk has a flyer reading, "Nigerian Army recruitment forms for sale." Apparently, Unity Bank next to the kiosk sells them. A form is not a form in Nigeria unless someone can sell it to you. Thanks OI for the eagle eyes..
This should happen in Nigeria, to break away from the dependency on oil and the local bane of increasing prices and irregular supply. Brazil has signed an MOU with the US to increase ethanol production from sugar cane. Brazil is apparently talking to African nations to extend production. Nigeria has the land and the labour to more than compete globally. Carbon trading schemes could be use to fund start-up ethanol ventures. Everybody, including the planet, would win.
Wurzel had lived in the village for as long as anyone could remember. He lived in a caravan in a field down a lane. He made a living of sorts by doing the odd job or manual labour, and also by acting as the middle-man between village need and village supply. Someone needed some bricks to finish an extension; Wurzel knew exactly where there was a stack of bricks going elsewhere in the village. Another needed to borrow a wheelbarrow and some tools for the weekend; again, Wurzel knew where such implements could be found and lent. In all this, Wurzel’s role was not especially onerous for either side. So long as he had enough to buy a couple of cans of lager in the evening, he was content. Wurzel lived in a state that was semi-permanently one degree beneath inebriation. The only moments that punctured this veneer of continuity were those days (most evenings in fact) when two of cans of Fosters had been drained, and he entered the unalloyed state of being utterly pissed. With a ruddy face, he would fail magnificently to walk in a straight line as he made his way back to his nest at eleven o’clock, in noisy dispute with himself. He would stagger, half-fall, then jump up and start laughing, a one-man band of tragicomic proportions.
My earliest memories of Wurzel come from when I used to go on my Sunday evening errand to the Coach and Horses, to buy Strongbow cider, crisps (the ones with the salt bags inside) and walnut whips for each member of the family. Wurzel would be there, in a befuddled state, propping up the side entrance where the outside bar was. A few years later, Wurzel was banned from using the pub (let alone entering it). He then had to buy his beer from the Spa.
Dad never called him Wurzel. He called him by his real name, Tony, or sometimes the more gentle Wurze. I think he felt a sense of responsibility over him. His mother, who lived somewhere in the West Midlands, used to send money to our house for her son. Dad tried not to give him too much of it all at once, to avoid sending Wurzel on a destructive bender. When the end came, it was Dad who had to make all the arrangements..
There was tragedy, hidden beneath the village bumpkin surface. The story was that Tony had been a long-distance lorry driver, and that he was involved in some kind of accident, which involved fatalities. This was cited as the reason for his ‘turn.’ Another rumour was that Tony had been a skilled craftsman, with a flair for woodwork. He had made something for someone – I think it was a doll’s house – which had impressed the recipient. There was I think a sympathy about in the village, fostered onto him from these stories, which stopped him ever being seen as a nuisance, let alone a pest.
Returning to the village for holidays, seeing Tony wandering about was part of the template of my familiar. He was part of the moving furniture of the village. Dad would complain that sometimes stuff would go missing from the garage, only for it to re-appear a few days later. Wurzel was simply going about his business, oiling the wheels of village life. Everything was quickly forgotten and forgiven.
The end, when it came, was suitably absurd. Tony was found one morning with his legs sticking up stiff through the water in the canal, by the other pub in the village. He had apparently been drinking, leaning against the low wall of the canal bridge, when a combination of gravity and intoxication pulled him backwards, head first into the four-foot high water below. There was some suspicion around the event. The police came to the village to interview people. But in the end, it was agreed that it was a very accidental death.
When Tony died, something in the village died. It became that bit more anonymous, that bit less a village, that bit more a suburb of an anonymous elsewhere town. Perhaps his ghost is there, wandering chaotically about, too jagged a path yet for anyone to notice.
Here in today's Guardian. What has happened to Kundera? It seems that he has not been dead, only sleeping, more or less since The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Which reminds me. Gilles Deleuze once wrote about the gaps in people's lives being more interesting than moments of activity: times of subterranean genesis, when new patterns of being are slowly unearthed. Why do people who have made such noise suddenly fall silent? Sometimes the muse has just walked away. Sometimes new muses have created a cacophony, that needs the slow growth of new ears to unravel. Perhaps some form of occult creation has been occuring for the Czech maverick?
Strangely, although I distinctly remember reading the passage in Deleuze, I have not been able to find it again. It has become its own gap in his oeuvre.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Singing Lazarus Man at a gig in Berlin. I think this is the best aspect of YouTube - archival footage of saints and heroes from around and about.
See for instance this classic exchange between Chomsky and Foucault from back in the day.
Meanwhile, the wind is up. There was thunder yesterday. The rain is nearly upon us.