EDITOR’S As we walk into 2020, what events will define the next ten years? The latest issue of Artefact will provide you with wide ranging pieces of journalism that will give insight into what the new decade may have in store for us. From the newly found Church of Kanye West to the sex robot takeover, our third-year journalism students are telling stories that explain the state of our societies and cultures today. The last decade bought us the emergence of streaming culture and online media as Netflix, Instagram and Spotify were born, marijuana continued its legalisation breakthroughs and Superhero films became king of the box office, with Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, grossing over $2.7 billion worldwide. Despite the Mayans' prediction, our world did not come to an end in 2012, although we were all met, in one way or another, with occasions in which the possibility was second guessed. Devastating extreme weather, prolonged wars, incurable disease and corrupt government regimes are still prominent in many people’s daily lives. Whatever the next ten years will offer us, boundless progression and innovation is always ensured and will continue to benefit mankind in ways we can only imagine. Inside our latest issue we offer another collection of insightful writing; Aaron Gonzalez investigates the
horrific wildfires that have recently swept across Australia and what may have caused the blaze in the first place [page 44], while Oliver Jameson explains how open access television paved the way for online media giant YouTube [page 74]. Carlotta Proietti questions whether sex robots are the future for human intimacy on [page 38] and Sapphi Littleton meets Aloysius Ssali, an LGBT refugee who has created a charity to support fellow LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK [page 22]. Inside our lifestyle section, Oliwia Dworakowska explores the production of natural wine and its growing popularity around London[page 60]. Sanja Vedel takes us to Egypt to meet Sarrah Saeed and uncovers what life as a woman in Cairo struggling with gender equality is like. [page 26] With a growing prominence and interest in marijuana legalisation in the UK, Aaliyah Facey explores the CBD market and its health benefits[page 18], while Giampietro Vianello Doretto investigates the ‘mysogonistic online community’ at war with modern day feminism [page 19] Plenty more stories can be found inside this decade defining issue of Artefact magazine. So, how will you let the 20s define you and how will you define the 20s?
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PEOPLE 05 PLACES 27 LIFESTYLE 51
Contributors Magazine Georgia Boyle, Aaron Gonzalez, George Janes, Megan Lily Large, Sapphi Littleton, Fergus Matheson, Harry Myles, Carlotta Proietti, Oliver Goodwin, Freya Starr, Giampietro Vianello D Social media Sadia Ali, Cherie Anderson, Lara Anisere, Cree Brown, Oliver Jameson, Liza Neziri, Maggie Scaife, Anezka Turek Website Emil Brierley, Kesia Evans, Aaliyah Facey, Tess Belgrove, Hannah Blissett, Rebekah Brookes, Connor Davidson, Oliwia Dworakowska, Franziska Eberlein, Hiba Hassan, Bella Hope, Emma Jepsen, Holly Johns, Livia Likurti, Mischa Manser, Emilio Molave, Laura Scheepers, Maarten Van Brakel Garcia-Cos, Sanja Vedel Tutors Simon Hinde (magazine) Russell Merryman (website) Art Direction & Design Oswin Tickler, Smallfury
Jesus is King: how Kanye West got religion 10 Womanhood isn't just about having children 12 Sage flowers: the female front runners 16 Cannabis and health 18
From the realms of the unreal 6
On the front line of online misogyny 19 A day in the life of an Egyptian Cinderella 26
FROM THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL The remarkable imaginary world of the American outsider artist Henry Darger
In April 1973, alone, penniless and seemingly forgotten, an 81-year-old man passed away in a home for the elderly in Chicago, Illinois. Not much was known about the man who collected copious amounts of trash and spoke in a multitude of voices behind the door of his rented room, but soon after his death, Henry Darger would become one of the most well-known and celebrated outsider artists of the 20th century. He had spent his life working as a hospital janitor, by all accounts a shy, reclusive and eccentric character who despite his oddities, was liked by those who knew him. In the months before his death, however, Darger’s landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner discovered a series of densely filled volumes, scrapbooks, sheets, journals and ledgers, much of which detailed a complex fantasy novel on which Darger had worked since 1910, immersing himself in a world of warfare, child slavery and child-like freedom. In the Realms of the Unreal, or to give its full name: The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, has since become one of the most celebrated examples of outsider art, and has been exhibited worldwide following Darger’s death. Outsider art is defined as art created by individuals who are self-taught, with little or no contact with the mainstream art world. Darger’s inspirations lay in his own childhood, which was beset by loss and hardship, his desire to protect children, both in his work and real-life displayed the level in which he blurred 8
the lines between the reality in which he lived and that of his creation. Henry Darger created an imaginary universe, complete with its own history, languages, nations, races, and geography. He envisaged a host of characters, some drawn from life, along with their backstories, relationships and beliefs. He created vast pages of illustrations, collages and paintings depicting the events of In the Realms of the Unreal and described a war between freed child slaves and the fictional race of the Glandelinians. In modern psychology, the term paracosm has been used to describe such behavior, in which the subject has such an intense and entwined relationship with their creation. “We never conversed or had a dialogue. As a landlady I did take care of his needs when he needed me, as did Nathan,” Kiyoko says about Darger. “He had no close friends. The only one we know of that he called a friend was a man called William Schloeder, but aside from William, he had no one else.” Aside from menial hospital work, Darger spent his time alone, collecting items from around the city from refuse bins and pavements. Many of the items he hoarded such as photographs, newspaper clippings and children’s models would be used as inspiration and materials for Realms of The Unreal. “I saw the room,” Kiyoko recalls. “From the door to where he worked on a long table, there was only a one-foot wide passageway, the rest of the room was covered with stuff. It had never been cleaned; he didn’t cook or eat in that room, so there were no bugs, rotten food or smells.”
Words: George Janes Images: Han Meng (after Darger)
“Henry Darger’s artistic accomplishments transcend the definitions of outsider art.”
Kiyoko helped Darger with tasks such as changing lightbulbs, giving her brief access to his room. Even as landlords, Kiyoko’s husband Nathan insisted that they leave Henry be, saying; “He doesn’t hurt anybody, so just leave him alone.” Despite often being in contact with Darger, Kiyoko and her husband rarely found Darger willing to speak with them. “We never conversed, or had a dialogue,” says Kiyoko. “He didn’t really engage if you spoke to him; he would respond with something else most of the time, never looking into your eyes, and he would always talk about the weather.” Details of Darger’s life such as his repetitive behaviour, fixation on certain objects, and inhibited ability or desire to interact with those around him bear striking similarities to the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a disorder that may have been exacerbated by the trauma he likely suffered from an early age. A relatively recent psychological diagnosis which bears striking parallels to Darger’s life and work is that of maladaptive daydreaming, in which the subject becomes fully immersed in an imaginary world or reality, leading to detachment from society, and an inability to function on an emotional and social level. The creation of imaginary worlds and realities, along with excessive daydreaming and detachment forms society can be an indicator of emotional stress, abuse or lack of stimuli in childhood and adult life. Darger had certainly encountered loss and trauma in his childhood. Darger scholar and outsider art expert Michael Bonesteel has written and lectured on the works of Darger since discovering his work during his time at the Madison Art Centre in Wisconsin. “In my opinion is his artistic accomplishments transcend the definitions of outsider art and, for that matter, art itself,” Bonesteel says: “He was world-building full time for decades and the separation between his real life and the Realms of the Unreal is fluid. He entered into his novel as many different characters and played roles that reflected his real-world concerns. I have long held the notion that Darger daydreamed about the Realms while doing his day jobs and worked on it at night. 10
His daydreaming may have started as early as his teenage years at the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children.” At the age of four his mother passed away during childbirth, leaving young Henry in the care of his father, Henry Darger Senior. By 1900, his father could no longer care for him after becoming lame, and so Darger Junior was placed in the care of an orphanage in Chicago. By the age of 12, Darger had been sent to the Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, with the reason stated as ‘selfabuse,’ a euphemism for masturbation. By all accounts, Darger was an exceptionally intelligent child, but also exhibited unusual behaviours, such as odd noises and disruptive habits. It was during his years living at the asylum that Darger is suspected to have been the victim of sexual and physical abuse. Abuse and mistreatment were rife in institutes like these during the early 20th century, with the Lincoln Asylum having a particularly notorious reputation, as states Bonesteel: “It is highly likely, given statistics regarding institutional upbringing in the early 20th century, that he was physically, emotionally and/or sexually abused. There is no proof that exists of this, however, but the loss of his mother and sister at the age of four, and the abandonment by his father at the age of twelve are enough in themselves to account for the trauma he experienced.” Following his father’s death when Darger was 17, be began a series of attempts to escape, the third attempt being successful and resulting in him returning to Chicago, where he found employment over the following years as a hospital janitor and dishwasher. Over the next 50 years of his life, Darger lived in the same neighbourhood of Chicago, aside from a brief period in which he was drafted into the United States Army in 1917, during World War One. He became a reclusive and lonely individual, thought to be a traumatised and shell-shocked war veteran by his landlord in the 1930s, police captain Walter Gehr. “Captain Gehr was not alarmed by the sometimes-gruesome images and simply thought Darger was shell-shocked from the war.” Bonesteel states. “After all, that would explain why he always wore
the same old army coat year after year; why he was a reclusive loner; and why he didn’t like Mary Catherine [Gehr’s daughter] or her brother snooping around in his room and touching his things.” Darger did not share details of his writings or artwork with anyone whilst he was alive, the only glimpses of his work were in clandestine excursions to his room by Gehr’s children or brief interactions inside Darger’s room between him and his landlord and neighbours. He is only known to have had one close friend, a man by the name of William Schloeder, who Darger wrote into his work as a fictional character, but even William may not have been privy to the details of Realms of The Unreal. “It has long been my suspicion that Darger may have read passages from his Realms novel to his only close friend William Schloeder, but this is only conjecture,” Bonesteel claims. “My theory is that he was rather ashamed of threatening God over the loss of his manuscripts and photographs of Elsie Paroubek [a child murder victim whom Darger immortalised in his work], as well as becoming angry about not being able to adopt a child, and because of these losses, extending the carnage in his Realms over a period of decades. There is no better explanation than this for the fact that in his semi-autobiographical History of My Life he never once mentions writing the Realms — even though it occupied his life for more than a quarter of a century.” The storyline and subject matter of Realms of The Unreal point to trauma within his own life. The graphic nature of some imagery, such as executions, torture and war scenes depict the torture within the story, but also within himself. “His art has been universally praised, although his more disturbing images of tortured, strangled and disemboweled children have been condemned for their graphic violence,” says Bonesteel. The development of Realms of The Unreal, especially its characters and storyline changed dramatically with the ebb and flow of his own emotional state. For Darger, religion was a key component of his life, and so when he found his faith tested, the fates of his characters often hung in the balance, before his distress abated and calm returned to the pages of Realms of The Unreal. There is a revealing series of “Prediction and Threat” entries that first appear in a personal journal and are then reproduced twice in the Realms novel. Darger’s proclamation is unequivocal and uncompromising when he writes about the fate of the Christians in his magnum opus: “No mercy will be shone [sic]. Am an enemy against the Christian cause, and desire with all my heart to see to it that their armies are crushed, and that I
will see to the winning of the war for the Glandelinians. Results of too many unjust trials. Will not bear them under any conditions even at the risk of losing my soul or causing the loss of many others and vengeance will be shown if further trials continues. God is too hard to me. I will not bear it any longer for no one.” [Realms of the Unreal, Volume I, p. 301].” Darger’s work has now been exhibited worldwide, with many scholars citing him as one of the greatest examples of outsider art. His work is heavily licensed and sparsely available outside of temporary exhibits. Like Darger, many other outsider artists also suffered from abuse, trauma or mental health disorders throughout their lives. Individuals such as Willem Van Genk, and Pierre Vuitton both incorporated elements of their own past, trauma and frustration with the world around
them into their work, albeit without the seclusion and reclusiveness that kept Darger’s work hidden for so many years. With an increased awareness about mental health in society, individuals such as Darger now find themselves able to flourish within the creative arts, and with effective support. Even those suffering from the most severe cases of social disorders can find levels of comfort and stability within their lives; a far cry from the horrific conditions of asylums and sanatoriums of the past. Events such as World Mental Health Day are supported through social media, TV and social events, whilst workplace support and community outreach are of rising importance in many countries worldwide. There is no way to say whether Darger’s work would have truly changed had he had effective institutional support,
nor whether he would have even wanted support. It is likely that his childhood trauma was scarred too deeply into his mind to allow him to escape beyond the pages of Realms of The Unreal for any length of time. His life was a harsh and lonely one, filled with pain, suffering and neglect. For now, and the future, however, Henry Darger will be remembered and celebrated as an outsider art great, never again allowed to fade into obscurity.
Henry Darger's work is renowned for its surealism, use of graphic and sensational imagery and use of children as primary characters. These illustrations have been designed to evoke those of Darger, retaining elements of his striking, collage-inspired style. 11
Jesus Is King: How Kanye West got religion Kanye has managed to divide everyone with his latest album release. We talk with its producer, Federico Vindver
Words: Megan Lily Large Image: Russell Fry
Kanye West has been impossible to pin down over the last decade. From titling a song I Am A God to starting a church, it comes as no surprise that West has received much bad press for his ever-changing views. On October 25th last year, he released the long-awaited Jesus Is King, a self-proclaimed gospel album littered with bible references, religious themes and West’s own gospel choir. The record quickly reached the Number One spot on the Billboard Album Charts, and its 11-songs climbed the Billboard Hot 100. But music critics did not receive it as well. Consequence of Sound’s Wren Graves titled his review ‘Kanye West Even Bores God with the Passionless Jesus Is King.’ He described its religious themes as “vague gestures”, while in Pitchfork’s review, which wasn’t as direct but equally sceptical called his interpretation of the gospel “more dogmatic than faithful.” Though most of the mainstream media slated the album, numerous Christians have come to West’s defence. This was something unforeseen says Federico Vindver, one of the producers who worked closely with West to make the album. Vindver has known West both before and after his conversion, so we caught up with him to talk about the response he’s seen, and why he genuinely believes in West and his new-found faith. “He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with,” he told us. “After the Christianity element appeared in his life intensely, I think he just changed completely. He became even more aware of everything that was happening around him. So many times, you see people who call themselves Christians but pick and choose what parts of the bible they want to obey, and I think Kanye is on this mission to be 100% accurate on biblical terms and everything, from his lyrics to the way he acts in day-to-day life.” The album process was different from anything Vindver had previously produced. West took everyone working on the album out to his ranch in Wyoming where they “separated from everyday life problems, and just focused on God, day and night. “The music took a whole different meaning. It started becoming, ‘is this track good enough for God?’ That became a completely different conversation. It became about analysing line by line, lyric by lyric, every single
going up since this album came out. A lot of people who were maybe at a distance to Christianity, due to the judgemental nature of some Christians are thinking, ‘if Kanye can do this, I can do it too’, people are really getting into the faith more.” A survey found today less than half of millennials are Christian, so whether West’s fans are truly turning to Christianity due to Jesus Is King is undetermined. However, after the album dropped, Christianity-related Google searches spiked and Christian organisations started to get involved too. The American Bible Society, who publish, distribute and translate the bible recently gave away 10,000 free bibles to West fans. Meanwhile, West has been traveling around America accompanied by his Sunday Service Choir, a.k.a. The Samples, performing a range of minimalist covers, including West’s own songs (minus the
thing in the album to make sure it’s the best thing we could possibly do.” The making of the album began to revolve around God, from Bible classes to pastors coming out to the ranch. West’s personal pastor, Adam Tyson guided him throughout the process to make sure the album was spiritual enough. “We had Bible classes, so we were studying the Bible together. It was just a beautiful thing. [It was] very communal, based on love and based on the love of Christ. It was just a dream come true.” Though the road to release Jesus Is King was no easy one, the album was 12 hours late to its third release date. Initially entitled Yandhi and set to come out in September 2018, leaked tracks were being uploaded to YouTube weekly to indicate the album’s current state. The first sets of songs, which can be listened to online as a bootleg, included copious amounts of swearing and a completely different set of featured artists, including the late XXXTentacion and Nicki Minaj. It’s clear there was some indecision within the making of the album. Vindver told us one time in the studio, West nearly quit rapping completely: “Kanye said, ‘maybe I shouldn’t rap anymore’ and there were a few people in the room who were like ‘man, no, you have to rap’ so he was like ‘Okay, let me do some raps.’” The result of this ended up on the definitive tracklist, a song titled Hands On. “He was literally sitting on a little wooden box and hitting it, creating his own drums,” Vindver said. “It was all done acapella, no beats or tracks. He wasn’t miked, he was doing it almost for us.” Both West and Vindver understood that there would be criticism from the public after its release: “Not only did we have to come with this project for God, but we knew we were going to have a lot of backlash from Christians and non-Christians and a lot of people questioning Kanye’s faith and the whole project.” After the album was finally released, the response from Christians turned out to be very different than they had first predicted. “I go through YouTube, and social media comments and every Christian is saying ‘Oh my god, Kanye, we are with you, and we support you 100%’ — they’re so proud of him,” Vindver told us. “I spoke to some of my old pastors who have said attendance in church is
swearing), every Sunday since the start of the year. Titled Sunday Service, the performances started as an invitation-only event that drew celebrity crowds from the Kardashians to Brad Pitt. Eleven months on, it’s turned into something far greater. From a Coachella crowd of more than 50,000 people to following in the footsteps of Johnny Cash and performing in Harris County Jail — something West described as “a mission, not a show” — a line taken from one of the album’s tracks, God Is, arguably the most spiritual song on the album. West’s jail visit came just a day before he performed in pastor Joel Osteen’s megachurch, Lakewood. Osteen is a controversial figure who made headlines in August 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, when he refused to open his 16,000 capacity church as a shelter. Described by the Financial Times as a “preacher for
Trump’s America”, Osteen is known for his televangelism and has racked up reported the net worth of over $50 million. This brings up many questions, not only about the authenticity of Osteen, but also on the authenticity of the born-again West, who recently made a guest appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke where he openly admitted he received a $68 million tax return this year. West described it as a “gift from God”, something that was highly criticised due to his on-going support of President Trump. Though this isn’t the first time West has flirted with the notion of religion and spirituality, it had a prevalent place in his music since the beginning of his career. From his renowned breakout track, Jesus Walks, taken from his 2004 debut album The College Dropout, which included the line: “I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long”, to his
polarising LP The Life Of Pablo, something West, who is never one to shy away from controversy, defined as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing.” Although the album featured highly-respected gospel artist Kirk Franklin, many Christians were offended by his comment and unimpressed with the ‘gospel’ title put on the album, with Christian rap website Rapzilla describing the album as “muddied with cussing”. The article goes on to say there is a ‘spark’ in The Life Of Pablo that suggests he may one day turn to Christianity and three years on; they couldn’t be more on the nose. New-found faith may just be the tip of the iceberg for West, who plans to run for president in 2024. In his most recent Zane Lowe interview, he warned: “There will be a time when I’m President of the United States, and I will remember — I’ll forgive, but I’ll remember.”
WOMANHOOD ISN’T JUST ABOUT HAVING CHILDREN “I don’t want to have children.” It’s a phrase that is often seen as the defiance of nature, something that prompts disgust or even halts a conversation
Words: Kesia Evans Images: Luna Sue 14
The idea of women having children is so ingrained in our social consciousness that any shift away from this may seem unthinkable. However, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that the birth rate in England and Wales has reached its lowest level since records began in 1938, falling from 11.6 to 11.1 live births per 1,000 total population. In other terms, there were only 657,076 live births in 2018; a 3.2% decrease on the previous year and nearly a 10% decrease on the last peak in 2012. This trend is not unique to the UK and Western Europe. According to data from the CIA World Factbook, 101 countries had a birth rate lower than 15 (live births per 1,000 population) in 2018. Many governments have resorted to using population control strategies in an attempt to reverse this, but it is unclear whether or not they have been completely successful. During his election campaign in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to invest $8.6 billion (£6.56bn) in programmes that encourage people to have children. This included mortgage subsidies and payments to new and growing families, but the birth rate is still fairly low at 10.7 live births per 1,000 population. South Korea’s birth rate stood at 8.3 in 2018 and the National Assembly Research Service in Seoul predicted that at the current rate, native Korean’s would be extinct by 2750. The government previously invested $90 billion in several pro-natalist policies and introduced cash payouts to encourage people to have children. In 2009, Japanese authorities introduced the Plus One Policy to assist and encourage young couples to have children by providing parent-friendly working conditions and 50,000 new childcare facilities. However, the birth rate still only stands at 7.5 live births per 1,000 population making Japan the country with the fourth-lowest birth rate in the world. These figures highlight an increasing number of women who are choosing to be childfree. But what does this mean? The term childfree is fairly new and was not coined in the English language until the late 20th century. Whilst childfree is defined as being without children, often by choice, it does not explicitly state that all those without children have decided not to have them. Childless, on the other hand, generally refers to a woman not able to conceive or carry a child to full term. In previous years, academics dubbed women of childbearing age who did not intend to have children as ‘voluntarily childless’. This has been heavily criticised in recent years with some suggesting that ‘childless’ infers that children are an asset and that women who have chosen not
to have them are at a loss. (It is for this reason that we use ‘childfree’ throughout this article.) Women around the world have made astounding progress in recent years; the #MeToo campaign gave a voice to thousands of women who have been silenced by the stigma surrounding sexual harassment, the Women’s March triumphed in demanding political and social change, and most recently, after years of campaigning, abortion has finally been decriminalised in Northern Ireland. Such movements have marked a new wave of female empowerment. But whilst the notion of being childfree may be a topic of enlightenment for some, many women are still criticised or made to feel inferior for taking control of their reproductive capabilities. Rachel, who is married and childfree by choice, explained that whilst the: “majority of [her] friends and family have been mostly supportive, acknowledging that it is simply [her] life choice, which doesn’t impact on or hurt anybody else,” she has had several people asking “quite rude and personal” questions about her childfree status.“One person asked if I didn’t want children because I simply didn’t want to get up early in the morning? As if my decision was based on something so mundane and ridiculous as not wanting to get fewer than eight hours of sleep,” she told us. It could be argued that society’s perceptions are changing and that previous constructs are actively being challenged but for childfree women, this often isn’t the case. Growing up, women are constantly subjected to expectation; it’s always a question of when we will do something, rather than asking if we actually want to do it. Motherhood is a prime example of this. “The healthiest and happiest population sub-group are women who never married or had children.” Keilah Billings suggests that “whether we are consciously aware of them or not, gender roles are clearly defined in our society. The social construction of women, as portrayed in the media and acted out by the majority in society, reinforces the stereotype that they will become mothers, whether or not that is their main desire.” Drawing from her own experience, she states: “It is socially accepted that as a woman, I should be nurturing, I should not only want children but should plan for them as much as I would for my next meal.” And this still rings true, even in 2019. Sophie, a young woman from Leeds, said: “We are brought up being taught that we will become mothers one day. Nobody ever taught us that we might not.” Similarly, Kimberley, a recent graduate from South Wales, explained how the
expectation of motherhood has changed: “It’s gone from being a beautiful thing to being expected. As soon as women are of a certain age, we’re asked ‘when will you be having kids?’, ‘how will kids fit into this?’ or ‘what’s next, kids?’ No one seems to be very accepting, it’s been 10 years since I first told someone I didn’t want kids and nothing has changed.” This is something that Rachel experienced too, and something that no doubt other women will face in the future. She recalled a memorable occasion when she was questioned by someone completely dumbfounded by her choice to be childfree: “A friend of a friend simply kept repeating, ‘but you will have children at some point in the future? But you will in the future, won’t you? No, but, you will in the future, right?’ said in the same incredulity as if I’d just told her that I planned never to wear clothes again for the rest of my life.” This questioning and disbelief often undermines our stature as women and implies that motherhood is a defining quality of feminine identity. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, states: “Dominant mothering ideology suggests that mothering is an essentially selfless act,” which insinuates that the decision not to be a mother must be selfish.” When ideologies such as this have even been disseminated by Pope Francis, the prospect of being childfree becomes even more problematic: “These ideologies serve as lenses that filter, and to varying degrees, distort our experience and understanding,” Glenn adds. Rachel experienced the effects of this first hand: “I’ve had friends who stayed silent when I’ve discussed the topic online, but then when I’ve expressed an opinion on something child-related, told me that I have no right to as I don’t have children. Another few have described the childfree as ‘selfish’. Selfish to whom? Well, it isn’t clear.” Unfortunately, Kimberley had a similar experience. She remembers feeling “belittled” and recalls that it made it seem like having children was her “sole role as a woman.” She added: “Mums are incredible and everything they do for their kids is great, but having kids is not all that women are capable of doing, there’s so much more we bring to the world than birthing children.” Luckily, not everyone is as narrow-minded. Sophie explained that her parents: “understand the financial and demanding strain [mothering] can put on your life. They’re happy I can make more choices that will suit me rather than a person I have to look after. I can make decisions for myself and myself only.” When asked how this made her feel, she 15
said: “It made me feel supported. And not pressured into the “norm” in society.” A stark contrast from the experiences of Rachel and Kimberley, and something that hopefully more women will experience in the future. When considering the changing perceptions of motherhood are shared by many younger members of society, Sophie said: “Most of my friends agree with me and also don’t want children. We regularly discuss and plan girly holidays that we are going to have every year, even when we reach our 50s!” So why are women choosing not to have children? Maura Kelly, associate professor of Sociology at Portland State University, suggests: “The demographic shift toward increasing childlessness reflects a variety of social trends, these include access to contraception and abortion, women’s increased opportunity for education and labour force participation, and changing attitudes towards mothering.” More women are working than ever before. According to the ONS Labour Market Overview, more than two thirds (72.1%) of women aged 16-64 are employed. This is the highest percentage of female workers since the ONS started recording this data in 1971. While the gender pay gap is slowly decreasing, falling to 17.3% this year (ONS Gender Pay Gap in the UK), the fact that women still only make 80% of men’s median hourly wage could be a deterrent for starting a family. This becomes more clear when combined with the ever-increasing costs of raising a child. A 2014 study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that the average cost of raising a child from birth to the age 21 is nearly £230,000. Parents’ outgoings for the first year of a child’s life saw the biggest increase, rising by almost 4% compared to the previous year. This is largely due to the surge in childcare costs and expenses associated with education. The study found that 71% of parents had been forced to make cuts to meet the financial demands of raising a family. On top of this, children really aren’t that great for the environment. A study by IOP Science in Sweden recommended four “widely applicable high-action” approaches and having one fewer child per family came out on top. They reported that doing so would save an equivalent of 58.6 tonnes of CO₂ per year, compared to just 2.4 tonnes saved by living car-free, 1.6 tonnes saved by avoiding travel by plane and 0.8 tonnes saved by having a plantbased diet. Population Matters, a UK-based charity whose patrons include Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, suggest that “biodiversity loss, climate change, 16
pollution, deforestation, water and food shortage are all exacerbated by our huge and ever-increasing numbers.” They also advise that having fewer children is the most effective way to reduce our environmental impact. It took until the 1800s for our global population to reach one billion, but since then it has increased exponentially. Perhaps one of the starkest revelations is that in the 1970s, not all that long ago, the world’s population was roughly half what it is today. And according to the latest projections estimated by the United Nations (UN), our global population is set to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050.
“The happiest and healthiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs note that whilst the population is continually growing, there are huge regional variations. They estimate that just nine countries, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia, will make up more than half of the projected population growth between now and 2050.Such rapid growth and changes in distribution are likely to have an impact on the success of the Sustainable Development Goals — in particular, eradicating poverty, combating hunger and malnutrition, strengthening the coverage and quality of health and education systems, and achieving greater equality. At a time when our population is proliferating, perhaps we should be making more conscious decisions about human reproduction. But is motherhood really such a clear-cut and definitive choice? Research suggests that women’s reasons for not having children are complex and multi-faceted. However, Rachel’s explanation is simple: “I just have no desire, emotionally, physically, hormonally, maternally, to become a mother. It’s like asking somebody why they are straight or gay, why do you identify as a woman. They just are.”
Similarly, both Sophie and Kimberley feel like they have always known that they do not want to have children. “I’ve never had the desire to have children. I’ve always been very independent and enjoy my own company,” Sophie explains. “The thought of having someone else to look after for 18 years minimum does not appeal to me. I like being free to do what I want when I want.” Kimberley would rather travel and work on her career: “The option is always there but I wouldn’t actively choose to have kids, especially right now.” “It is quite a feat to be so closed-minded to other ways of life, preferences, orientations, and cultures.” So perhaps motherhood is more of a feeling and the idea that it is a choice is one that should be quashed. Rachel describes her decision to be childfree as more of a realisation: “It wasn’t a decision I came to in the same way that you would weigh up any other life choice, like moving house, getting married [or] taking a new job. “I guess what I’m trying to illustrate with that is that it wasn’t a conscious decision, one that I’ve agonised over, [and] weighed up the pros and cons,” she says. Entering into motherhood and having a child is historically considered to be one of life’s greatest gifts and for a lot of women and parents alike, this is true. “I’ve had many people with children tell me about the joy that their [children] bring to their life, and I am genuinely delighted for them — everyone needs and deserves happiness,” Rachel says.However, she has: “also had people with children tell [her] that if they could rewind the clock, they wouldn’t have chosen to become parents.” A study published in the American Journal of Sociology in 2016 looked at the happiness of families in 22 countries. Researchers found that having children makes people significantly less happy compared to those who don’t have children; something they labelled the “parenting happiness gap.” This is something that is becoming increasingly prominent in literature. Paul Dolan, professor of Behavioural Sciences at LSE and author of Happy Ever After, told the Hay Festival recently: “The healthiest and happiest population sub-group are women who never married or had children.” He said that whilst having children is “an amazing experience, for a lot of people it isn’t, and the idea that we can’t talk openly about why that might be, is a problem.” So what needs to change? When speaking about how other peoples’ reactions have made her feel, Rachel explained that she has: “come to the realisation that many people simply cannot, or will not, see how anybody else could choose a life without having children of their own.
“It is quite a feat to be so closed-minded to other ways of life, preferences, orientations, and cultures. I wonder what other judgements they are making against others, for other life choices? What is going on in their head to ‘pitch’ their decisions against mine?” Having one fewer child would save an equivalent of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 per year. It’s clear that many women are up against it and that it can be incredibly hard to combat pre-existing ideologies within society. Sophie expressed that changing such views would be a start: “As women, we shouldn’t have to feel bad for wanting to be ‘selfish’. I’d like to change the view that it’s ‘weird’ to not want children and it’s ‘wrong’ to want to be happy alone.” Again, when talking about change, Kimberley’s focus was on people’s attitudes and expectations: “The age-old attitude of ‘you’ll change your mind’ is awful and presumptive,” and she thinks people should “let women do what women wanna do.” Women should be able to be women in their own right and having
or not having a child should do nothing to change that. Maura Kelly notes that: “voluntary childlessness [being childfree] may serve as one way to actively challenge the centrality of motherhood to feminine identity. This challenge need not reject mothering but rather should seek to distance female identity from mothering in a way benefits all women.” Considering the future and moving forward, we asked Rachel what advice she could give Kimberley, Sophie and other young women who are weighing up their options concerning motherhood: “If you don’t feel that you want children, in the same in that way that I feel, just don’t have them. Don’t do it because you feel pressure from others, your partner, family or otherwise. “Most other life choices are reversible to an extent: you can have a divorce, sell your house, get a new job. You can’t un-have a child. If you’re not sure and are weighing it up, all I can say is: if you really feel that, when it comes down to it, you want to have children then you will find a way to make it happen.” This
is an important message and one that we should all consider. Ultimately, it is OK to want to have children, it is OK to not want to have children and it is OK to be unsure. No woman is right or wrong for feeling any of these things. Rachel noted that the most important discussion she ever had on this subject was the one she had with her husband: “Thankfully he is very much childfree just like me, with no desire whatsoever to have children. I wouldn’t have been able to marry him otherwise, despite the fact that we love each other very much. It would simply be too much of a deal-breaker.” Womanhood isn’t just about choosing whether or not to become a mother, it’s about women supporting women; it’s about starting a conversation. Women can, will and absolutely have the right to make their own choices when it comes to having children. At a time when women all over the world are making astounding progress, let us celebrate each other for our own existence rather than questioning the future of our bloodlines. 17
Sage Flowers: the female front runners The Peckham duo turning floristry into an art form
Words: Maggie Scaife Image: Rory Griffin
Perched upon plinths like sculptures, these aren’t your mediocre ‘that’ll do’ daffodils and tulips. Exhibited in all their glory are neon pampas grasses, speckled ornamental gourds, hydrangea clouds and waxy flamingo lilies. A refined pick and mix selection, SAGE flower shop provides a cocktail of colours and textures within one conceptual retail space. Big windows allow natural daylight upon every leaf and petal. An impactful shopfront, lacquered in matte black paint, leaves Peckham passers-by with a lasting impression. Iona Mathieson (25) and Romy St Clair (28), co-owners and brains behind the brand, were originally introduced by mutual friends in 2017. As their friendship flourished, they forged a vision for a floral company they felt filled an untapped gap in the market. In May 2018, the hard work began; the pair worked as freelance florists, hosting pop-ups, nomadic workshops and commissioned requests until March the following year when their shop opened its doors to the public. “I wanted to start SAGE to be able to explore contemporary floral design through my own lens, instead of executing other people’s ideas as freelance,” explains Iona, Romy chimes in, “we had to go for it!” SAGE sits tight on the corner of Peckham’s ever evolving Rye Lane. “I hadn’t even dreamt about opening a shop 10 months into our existence. We didn’t even celebrate our first anniversary because we were too busy!” says Romy. SAGE is in tune with the DIY attitude of the area. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to do this anywhere else,” says Romy. Iona elaborates: “South London is in my blood and a huge inspiration for me,” highlighting the fact they themselves are residents and want the business to be a fruitful addition to their community. In a competitive market, their success relies upon their attention to minor details, personalising each twine tied bunch, and logo stamped paper bags that are all lovingly hand finished. What makes their company differ from other high street florists is their keenness to constantly be collaborating with other creatives. “We see floristry as a much wider offering than flowers for special occasions, so we make a lot of effort to work within different creative spheres, be that film, food, art, fashion or music; it can really enhance all of these things,” says Romy.
being more established, so they are able to invest in many more brands: “I can’t wait to introduce the next lot,” she says. As the pair keep busy running the shop day to day, they continue to work on side projects. They’ve acquired an impressive repertoire of collaborations from Paul Smith, Christian Laboutin, Matches Fashion, Evening Standard to Neneh Cherry at Glastonbury. “Glossier was a big tick off our list,” says Iona about their bouquets for the progressive, New York beauty brand’s first London event adorning Mortimer House, Romy describes this particular job as a “dream gig.”
Their shop is brimming with other goods — pro-cannabis independent magazine Broccoli, MALIN + GOETZ apothecary and perfume, ceramics by Londoner Milo Made and romanesco shaped candles by Brooklynite native Piera Bochner. “Our shop is a beautiful space and using it as a platform to showcase the art and works of others, as well as our own, has always been important to us,” says Iona. In the future, Romy explains that their plan is to pack it full of SAGE-curated products including beauty, apparel, chocolate and scent: “We’d honestly consider anything!” This will come along with
The desire for their services doesn’t stop there, Gucci commissioned the pair last spring to work on their Gucci Bloom fragrance campaign with Dazed magazine. “I’d love to work in fashion more, doing a runway would be great,” says Iona. “A Fenty show would be sick.” Little did she know when interviewed that Rhianna was to hire SAGE to cover three floors with their flowers for her brand’s British Fashion Awards after party in December. Romy wishes it were possible to do flowers for a Hype Williams film/music video: “Those deep blue tones… I’d love that” but she settles for working on a campaign for French brand Jacquemus as a sufficient alternative. The pair use Dutch suppliers @ hoekflowers when dealing with large events but are keen to source as much of their stock as locally as possible. This involves regular early morning trips to New Covent Garden wholesale market. Iona says that the effects SAGE has on the environment definitely impact the way in which they choose to run their business. “We’re aware of the carbon footprint some of our flowers have, having come from faraway places, and we try to offset this by being as green as we can be,” she explains, confirming that all of their green waste is turned into biofuel. Houseplants and flowers have become vital interior enhancers and Iona believes this is down to our increased screen time: “A lot of people spend their days in front of computers, or constantly on their phones. Having plants/flowers in one’s home can be an escape from that,” she says. Romy says we’ve seen this trend crop up again and again over the decades. “It’s cyclical. In the late eighties/ early nineties people loved house plants, like a big monstera, and huge vases of lilies were my Mum’s favourite.” Inspiration takes shape in diverse forms. Iona says she’s into “art that’s kind of gross but very beautiful” name dropping two food artists Jen Monroe AKA @badtaste.biz and @paid.technologies’ botanical cakes, expressing her admiration for Masie Cousins’ work too. Romy is influenced by architecture. She cites art deco interiors at Greenwich’s 1936 Eltham Palace, the embellished halls at Holland Park’s Leighton House, the Sardinian Cupole di Antonioni and the fusion of industrial metal and glass on rotating screens at Maison de Verre in Paris.
“I take a lot of inspiration from the atmosphere, palettes, textures and shapes, there’s such a seductive romanticism and history in these places.” So different to one another, yet these two visions seem to fuse seamlessly in their combined practice. Owning your own shop is often just a fantasy, especially in a time when businesses are thriving without the need for bricks and mortar.Romy tells us: “It is hard competing with the big discounted floral retailers, especially when it comes to deliveries, but we believe we offer such an enhanced product and experience that we sort of occupy different lanes!” Iona thinks accessibility is the key to success: “We charge a lot less per stem than other flower shops to try and be as accessible as possible to our local community.” Running regular, varied workshops from their shop space also allows customers the chance to hear it straight from the source in an informal, intimate setting. They work alongside local charities, youth clubs and other businesses, aiming to share their passion and knowledge with as many people as possible. In August, SAGE worked with 13 young locals to build a largescale floral sculpture which wrapped around a CCTV pole in the street for Converse’s #sparkprogress initiative. Converse also teamed up with Refinery29 in November to provide the duo with outfits to wear at work. Together they created a limited run of beige, durable workwear jackets stamped with their red graphic across the back, available to purchase while stocks last. “We’re so grateful for our regulars,” Iona says. “They come in every weekend, they pop their heads in on their way past from picking their kids up from school, we’ve even been sent a couple of postcards from them when they go away!” Clearly their personable, face-to-face approach is paying off. “Everyone always asks us how we’re doing and genuinely wants to support us, and that’s amazing.” They get even more positivity from their growing Instagram community, posting each and every new venture they undertake as the brand develops. “I’m definitely surprised at how quickly it’s grown. I feel very very blessed,” says Iona. Romy tells of “big plans for the next 12 months” explaining that as time goes on, she has “learnt to think big and just roll forwards with the momentum.”
SAGE is particularly supportive of other women in business. “We have the pleasure of working with such incredible females all the time. Girls running their own things, like our friends Bossy LDN (a music and fashion based creative agency) and Claire Burman (creative consultant) who have worked with us from the beginning and have always been a huge help, we should support each other as much as possible,” says Iona Both girls recently featured on Bossy LDN’s new podcast ‘Bossy On Air’ discussing contemporary female issues. Having both decided to take the plunge and switch careers, this ambitious pair show a huge amount of bravery. Iona says that she was “very ready to leave restaurants behind.” Counterpart Romy was initially in healthcare consultancy and so owning SAGE provided them both with a necessary creative outlet and the opportunity to be their own bosses. Being branded as a failure, lazy or indecisive if we’re unsure about our current career path is too big of a risk for many women: “I definitely feel like society makes it hard to career change,” says Iona. Romy adds: “It’s so hard to feel like you haven’t wasted time and money when you’re thinking about taking the leap. But the truth is you haven’t, all of the experience Iona and I have gained from our previous roles have definitely contributed to our success in this one!” According to Romy, success means “being able to run a viable business with fair pay for everyone” and for Iona, it’s “being able to go somewhere every day and create beautiful things and call it ‘work.’” However, their jobs do involve hardships. Constantly inventing visual merchandising methods takes its toll: “Sometimes practicality defeats creativity, you’re working with such a perishable product; it will restrict what you can do and how long for,” explains Romy. Dealing with particular briefs from clients also has limitations according to Iona, “but we always manage to get some SAGE in there! It’s hard being super creative when you’re tired, which we are a lot of the time! Tiredness is a real creativity curb-er.” The duo are rightfully taking up an large amount of space amongst rising London-based creatives. Proving flower arranging can push boundariess, Romy and Iona will continue to intrigue. Their calendars for 2020 are filling up fast! 19
Cannabis and health How CBD-infused products are moving into the mainstream market
Cannabidiol (CBD) is making a name for itself away from the typical stereotypes that come with talking about the cannabis sativa plant. It is increasingly becoming a health product which claims that it can help with stress, anxiety and relieving pain. Over the past couple of years, this ingredient has been trending in the health and beauty market even though there is little evidence to support the benefits. However, this is starting to change as more scientists are putting time and research into the ingredient. Sue Massie, Marketing Director and Co-Founder of Greyhound Chromatography, says CBD products are making an impact: “There is no evidence of the benefits of using CBD oil over a long period of time. It’s a very new market in that respect, although there is evidence of people using CBD oil as a food supplement. Its benefits are currently a hot topic amongst the scientific and medical community. “I don’t believe that it is just a trend, the early signs of significant success of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy and pain relief related to cancer leads me to have faith in the pharmaceutical industry developing CBD oil as a routine medicine. A lot of the stigma associated with taking cannabis has been lessened by education, although in general, people have a better understanding that CBD oil is not the same as taking cannabis,” she told us. “We are in an age where people expect to have available everything that will help with their health, and government restrictions on the use of cannabis as a medicine are seen as out of proportion to the benefits of taking it. I personally use CBD oil, I buy it on the high street at 5% strength, it has greatly improved the texture of my hair, noticeably so, and I will continue to take it for that benefit alone.” CBD is the part of the cannabis sativa plant that is non-psychoactive, making it a legal ingredient to use. As it grows in popularity, more mainstream beauty and skincare retailers are releasing ranges that incorporate the multi-use drug. This includes Revolution Beauty and BodyShop’s new CBD-infused skincare and make-up lines. Retailers including Holland and Barrett have also stocked up on CBD or hemp-infused products. Around six million Britons have
It is clear that CBD is having a positive impact, although the benefits listed are yet to be supported by scientific research. “It definitely has a long-lasting impact on the majority of our customers otherwise they would not keep returning. Hemp is not a new plant, but extracting full-spectrum CBD from it and making it available to the masses is for sure a game-changer to our ageing society that is seeking new ways to manage all sorts of chronic diseases and psychical issues,” Daniel said. The market around CBD is growing and according to both Sue and Daniel the trend is not stopping anytime soon: “The impact CBD is having on the quality of life and the continued growth of the UK market speaks for itself,” Daniel said. “Many products have their moment in their spotlight but few continue to hold that spotlight and grow to become mainstream. CBD is now available on every high street, it is available in supermarkets, pharmacies and I have even seen it in Doctors surgeries and pharmacies,” he added. CBD is definitely here to stay and big brands are finding new ways to use the product in order to branch out to wider audiences,only future research can determine whether CBD has the health benefits many companies claim it has.
tried CBD or made a purchase of an infused product in the last year, the Centre for Medical Cannabis has revealed. The ingredient can be found in many products, from sweets to creams. Adding CBD to make-up is a newer phenomenon which started in the United States and has since made its way all around the world. Daniel, chief executive of the website ‘For The Ageless’, explained the type of products his company sells to consumers: “[We] only stock CBD products produced from organically-grown hemp. Another feature we prefer is a product made from whole-plant extract. Whole plant extract contains all ingredients present in the plant, raw oils are the most natural form the extract can be. This makes oils that are viscous with a strong hemp flavour but they are also more beneficial due to the entourage effect,” he told us. “We personally test all products before we feature them on the site. Every CBD oil, gummy, balm and capsule has been tried by the team. We also pass them onto our friends and family to gain further feedback on their effectiveness and quality. This ensures we feature only high-quality products that we know inside out. If the feedback is poor, we do not stock it. If standards slip or we think a product is no longer providing good value we stop selling it," he adds.
ON THE FRONT LINE Meet the men who banished women from their lives to escape society’s “gynocentric evils”
OF ONLINE MISOGYNY Words: Giampietro Vianello Doretto 21
“This is your last chance. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Blissful ignorance or harsh truth: this is the choice that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) presents to Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the blockbuster sci-fi film The Matrix (1999). Eventually, Neo chooses the red pill and becomes cognisant of the Matrix, the shared, simulated reality that the majority of humankind has been forced to inhabit. When writing the film screenplay, directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski could hardly have foreseen the infamous legacy the scene in question would leave in Western culture. Truly, we can only imagine the distaste that the Wachowskis (both transgender women) must have felt upon finding out that red and blue pill had become two key concepts of a misogynistic online community known as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW, to be pronounced “migtau”). The members of the community, who go by the name of MGTOWers, divide men into two categories: “redpillers” and “bluepillers”. In their view, the former are those who have found their way out of the “simulation” and have opened their eyes to “society’s gynocentric evils”, whereas the latter are those who remain oblivious to their enslavement to the opposite sex. As other groups within the “manosphere” (a loose network of online misogynistic groups), MGTOW believes that feminism has created a society which is designed to oppress men and trample their rights. Seeing the balance of power irreparably tilted in womens’ favour, the community refuses to engage in any type of pro-male activism and rather advocates for men to distance themselves from women, with its most devout disciples going as far as abstaining from sexual intercourse altogether. As writer Mack Lamoreux once put it, MGTOWers “are grabbing their balls and going home”. The history of the online community is murky and strewn with a profusion of quasi-mythical tales that make it hard to record the development of MGTOW over time. What is certain is that the community’s birth dates back to October 2004, when three Internet users going by the aliases of Ragnar Jensen, Zed the Zenpriest and Meikyo met in Hickory, North Carolina and laid out the bases for the creation of MGTOW. In the years immediately following its establishment, MGTOW lived on as a relatively small community, counting no more than a few thousand acolytes. It was only in 2011, when MGTOWers 22
“colonised” Reddit, that the movement started gaining momentum. Since then, the number of followers has been steadily growing to the point that the r/MGTOW subreddit currently boasts 135,000 members. Most MGTOWers live in North America (US or Canada), although, in recent years, the UK has witnessed the growth of a sizeable MGTOW community. Who are the people joining MGTOW though? Usually, middle-aged men who have gone through acrimonious divorces and have had issues related with child custody or child maintenance. In the case of Ben*, a MGTOWer since 2014, a particularly bitter divorce was the reason for joining the community: “I was the perfect husband, the perfect father, the ideal breadwinner, but that still wasn’t enough for my wife. MGTOW provided all the answers. It was a revelation.” Despite claiming to be a decentralised, non-hierarchical group, MGTOW is in effect coordinated by a small circle of users (Sandman, Howard Dare, MGTOW is Freedom, TFM) who regularly publish content across a variety of online platforms and channels. According to Ben, reading or watching that content was “a billion times more effective than going to a psychologist or a marriage counsellor.” Over time, the “teachings” of the MGTOW community have apparently given him an imperturbable peace of mind: “I now watch [other men] haplessly flounder about, wondering what the causes of their confusion and suffering in the world of women, dating and sex are.” Ben’s words, like those of thousands of other MGTOWers, seem to come from a place of spiritual enlightenment. After all, the MGTOW community does not fit the criteria of a traditional online community as much as it does those of an online cult. One need only think that there are five different levels of “devotion” to the cause. These range from “situational awareness”, whereby members simply reject marriage and any form of cohabitation, to “social exile”, wherein adherents drop out of society (“going ghost”)
and avoid any contact with both women and so-called ‘bluepillers’. Despite currently hovering over the first two levels, which still include relationships with women, Ben did not exclude “going monk”, i.e. forgoing sex with anyone other than oneself: “The more you learn about female nature and behaviour, the more difficult it becomes to be in a relationship with one. It’s a double-edged sword type of situation. You almost sabotage your own relationships due to your in-depth knowledge.” For any respectable MGTOWer, the knowledge Ben speaks of also includes flawless proficiency in the MGTOW jargon. Unlike deep-web cults, over time the community has developed its own lingo, which new proselytes can quickly get familiar with by accessing the glossary section of the official MGTOW website. On the same website, the group’s dogmas are laid out with unerring solemnity. Men Going Their Own Way is described as a “statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else”. Similarly, those who join the group are praised as men who “refuse to bow, serve and kneel for the opportunity to be treated like a disposable utility.” At the heart of these statements lies the conviction that today’s society is largely biased against men. From double standards in family courts to unjust paternity obligations, MGTOWers claim that the current societal mode is designed to subjugate the male gender and that patriarchy is a lie perpetuated by the feminist movement in order to keep the “misandrist system” in place. Based on these views, the MGTOW community shudders at the thought of having any legal entanglement with women, starting from marriage. In the MGTOW foundational document, an “essay” by Zed the Zenpriest titled Ignoring Women, marriage is described as “too corrupt and too foul to be fixed” and likened to a “derelict building that MUST (sic) be torn down”. Most MGTOWers also openly reject procreation except by means of
Most MGTOWers openly reject procreation except by means of child surrogacy, an option that seems to be increasingly popular within the group.
child surrogacy, an option that seems to be becoming increasingly popular within the group. According to MGTOW members, these attitudes towards marriage, cohabitation and procreation are nothing new; on the contrary, in their opinion, MGTOW ideals have been around for centuries and they might actually be “as old as man’s discovery of fire”. Nikola Tesla, Arthur Schopenhauer, Niccolò Machiavelli, Galileo, Jesus (yes, you read that right): these are just some of the historical figures that the community identifies as precursors of the MGTOW movement. Although history is indeed replete with examples of men who embraced celibacy, MGTOWers’ pretence to be somehow associated with prominent individuals from the past seems like a preposterous attempt at lending themselves credibility. It is upon these far-fetched claims of authority that MGTOW builds its most outrageous theories, including its views on female nature. In particular, according to the community, all women are inherently promiscuous and manipulative. Ben was particularly outspoken on the subject: “Women wilfully whore around and waste their youth and fertility on the Chad/Tyrone bad-boy types. They then pass their 20s, have no loyalty whatsoever to any man and only profess their love fleetingly when they are desperate to marry. What good, decent, upstanding man with any shred of dignity wants to pay an arm and a leg for something 30 other men got for free?” In the community’s views, the promiscuity of today’s women (something that the most “enlightened” members of the group refer to as “cock carousel”) is once again to be chalked up to society’s super-villain: feminism. Notably, MGTOWers believe that the “sexual liberation” accomplished by the feminist movement turned women into “sexual objects with less value than a handful of sand”. If you’re thinking it can’t possibly get worse than this, well, it does. In fact, the community’s ideology reaches its apex when it comes to discussing rape allegations and the gender pay gap. Michael Jones, an English MGTOWer who joined the community after being falsely accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, brushed off the #MeToo movement as a “load of shit”: “How can that only relate to females? If a woman was to spike a guy’s drink and then go to have non-consensual sex, then that should be classed as rape, but, as it stands, a woman cannot be charged with rape in the UK.” Equally controversial statements are usually made with regard to the wage gap between male and female professionals. “If you count up all wages and
differentiate only by gender, of course there is a wage gap. So what? Men work more and harder, do scalable and dangerous jobs, negotiate salaries more aggressively and do not take years off work to have babies. Someone has to pay for the welfare state and for consumerism,” Ben said. Now, if the members of the MGTOW community really went their own way, views like the ones above would have little or no effect on the rest of the world. Sadly though, rather than embracing the “female-free” life they evangelise, most MGTOWers seem to be actually spending the majority of their time ruminating about women and uploading overtly misogynistic comments online. Every hour, hundreds of spiteful remarks find their way onto the Internet, feeding a relentless cycle of anti-female online bigotry. The toxicity of the content regularly uploaded by MGTOWers is, if possible, exacerbated by the fact that this content rarely remains confined within private forums and platforms; it is very common for the members of the community to carry out online attacks against other web users, whether those are prominent feminists or other women that they perceive as a threat. According to Debbie Ging, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Dublin City University and leading expert in online misogyny, these attacks are in all respects “current-day witch hunts” whose aim is to “punish women for transgressing patriarchal boundaries”. The tactics used in the online assaults can go from hacking and cyberstalking to rape and death threats. Although online hatred is often dismissed as “just words”, the psychological and emotional impact it has on its victims is dire. As an example, in 2017, an Ipsos-MORI poll conducted across eight different Western countries found that 55% of women who experienced online abuse or harassment suffered from anxiety or panic attacks as a result of it, whereas 66% had trouble sleeping after the event. Unfortunately, the harm caused by
MGTOW does not end with the severe effects its online abuse has on female users. Back in May 2017, Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, expressed his concerns about the “pernicious influence” MGTOW has on “relatively bitter and resentful young men who haven’t had great success in the dating market and are looking for a rationale to write off all women.” Dr Peterson’s statement indirectly referred to the events occurred in Isla Vista, California on 23rd May 2014, when 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers killed six people and injured 14 others before taking his own life. Prior to carrying out the massacre, the perpetrator, an active member of a number of misogynistic online forums and subreddits, had recorded a YouTube video where he had explained his planned actions as a way to punish girls for not being attracted to him. The Isla Vista killings are just the most notorious case in a string of misogyny-fuelled mass murders constituting irrefutable proof that online anti-female hatred kills. Alas, so far, most Western countries, including the UK, have failed to acknowledge the danger posed by online misogyny and to address the issue accordingly. As a result, the current legislation on the subject is deficient and web policing is in most cases negligible. Given the seriousness of the matter, legal interventions and changes to Internet policies and protocols are of the essence. Perhaps, a good way to catalyse that shift would be to finally outlaw online misogyny as a hate crime, something that several grassroots organisations have long been calling for in the UK.
Every hour hundreds of spiteful remarks find their way on to the Internet, feeding a relentless cycle of anti-female online bigotry.
* The interviewee’s name has been changed at his request. 23
Words: Sapphi Littleton Images: Say It Loud Club
PAVING THE WAY FOR LGBT REFUGEES Having fled persecution for his sexuality, Aloysius Ssali set out to help others in the same situation
Aloysius Ssali was granted refugee status in the UK in 2010, five long years after he first fled here to escape the oppressive anti-LGBT regime of his home country, Uganda. â€œI lived here from 2005 until 2010 without the right to be in the country. My visa had expired, and I was scared to even look at my passport. Every time I looked at it, it reminded me of home, and it became a symbol of torture that this was supposed to be my country, but this is what they did to me.â€? 24
Aloysius and I met for the first time in his office space in Kings Cross, a place worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Kampala, Uganda where he was arrested for being gay. He met me with a huge smile and a meaningful handshake, offering a consolatory cup of tea for being held up in a mentoring session. Aloysius is the founder of the Say It Loud Club, a charity who provide support to LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. The club was originally formed in 1994, when Aloysius was a student in Uganda.
He explains to me that coming to terms with his sexuality in an LGBT-repressive environment was incredibly difficult. With a lack of understanding about what was happening to him and no one to talk to, Aloysius began the Say It Loud Club, in the hope of ending his loneliness. In 1997, he came across Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a UKbased lobby group made up of LGBT people who formed in support of striking miners in the 80s. It was the discovery of this movement that opened his eyes to the existence of the active LGBT community, making him realise there were other people out there like him. “That was the first time I came across the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — before that, we just had these feelings, we just had the attraction, but we couldn’t define what it was and that was very disturbing,” he recalls. By 2000, word had spread fast, and the club, which started out with just six members, had now registered more than 400 students from different colleges and universities. But as membership numbers grew, so did Aloysius’ anxiety about word getting out to the authorities. “At this point, it was still a secret organisation, well it was supposed to be. As the numbers got bigger, we couldn’t control it like we used to when we were a group of only 50 or 60 people. I began to feel concerned about the number. People would turn up, but it was now very difficult to know from where. It was exciting, yes, but not in that kind of environment.” The situation for LGBT people in Uganda in the early 2000s was not much different to what it is now, Aloysius tells me pragmatically. According to Amnesty International UK, it is illegal to be gay in Uganda, with the law stating that if you are found having same-sex relations, you can expect to spend around seven years in prison.
“When they saw the LGBT leaflets, they started punching me, slapping me, kicking me, it was terrible.”
Laws have become even harsher in recent years. In December 2013, an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed by Uganda’s parliament which meant longer sentences for consensual homosexual sex, and more severe punishment for those ‘promoting’ homosexuality. Information from the Human Dignity Trust shows that there are actually still 72 jurisdictions that criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. On top of this, there are still 12 where samesex sexual activity is punishable by death. Last month the Independent published a story explaining that MPs in Uganda are pushing for new laws to bring in the death penalty for homosexual acts, with a bill shockingly referred to amongst hardliners as “Kill the Gays”. As identifying as LGBT in Uganda now carries a potential life (or death) sentence, for Aloysius, it certainly felt this way too. He tells me that whilst living there in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was no open talk of homosexuality and there was hostility from colleges, religious institutes and local communities. The Say It Loud Club soon realised that the way they identified themselves was not welcome — members were being arrested and young women associated with the group were forced into heterosexual marriages. By 2003, the authorities began looking for Aloysius, after identify-
ing him as the founder of the group. Calmly discussing this distressing period in his life, he explains to me: “I decided ‘I need to get out of here’ because it was becoming extremely dangerous.” In 2003, he applied for a student visa to come to the UK, admitting: “to be honest it was because I was on the run.” After completing an IT course, Aloysius went back to Uganda to see what the situation was, as there was little information flow between there and the UK. During his return, he was accused of spreading homosexuality and propaganda: “I don’t know how they found out that I was back in the country and up until now it still disturbs me.” During a meeting with friends at an internet café, Aloysius was approached by some men shouting: “This is the guy, you are under arrest!” They checked his bag and found leaflets he had picked up in St Thomas’ hospital about promoting safe sex for LGBT people. “When they saw the leaflets, they started punching me, slapping me, kicking me, it was terrible.” In Uganda, this hostile situation still remains. Reports in The Guardian from October explain that 16 LGBT activists were arrested on suspicion of having gay sex. The men, who worked for the sexual health charity Let’s Walk Uganda, are believed to have been between 22 and 35, a similar age to Aloysius when he was arrested. Officers found condoms, lubricants and anti-retroviral drugs at the charity and all 16 of the men had been subject to ‘medical examinations’, which established their supposed involvement in punishable sexual acts. When Aloysius was arrested, he was held in a cell for about a week and after this time he was able to pay his way out. He tells me: “It was £50, so you can imagine how cheap life is there, that somebody can save a life just for £50.” With three months still left on his student visa, Aloysius fled, and returned to the UK. “I was lucky that my passport wasn’t confiscated, they never even saw it, I had it under my sock. Normally people put their valuables in their socks when travelling around Kampala because of pickpockets. Nobody checked otherwise I would have lost the only way that I could have escaped.” 25
Coming back to the UK this time, Aloysius was not the same person that he was before. He began to suffer from loneliness, isolating himself from the people he knew, which lead to stress, depression and a long line of mental health issues. Without any legal documents allowing him to claim housing rights, Aloysius lived with friends and was occasionally forced to spend a night outside. Returning to this difficult period, Aloysius explains his frustrations with the system, telling me: “All this time, I couldn’t even go to a GP and say, you know what, I’m struggling, I need help. I could just think, maybe it will go away.” It took Aloysius five years of homelessness and emotional turmoil to muster up the strength and justifiable grounds to apply for asylum, which he did in 2010. “I remember I was on a bus, the number 29 from Wood Green to Trafalgar Square. Somebody had stepped on a Metro newspaper and when they walked away, I could see the story of a case [of an LGBT asylum seeker] which was in the Supreme Court that had been accepted. For the first time, I thought, maybe I need to speak to somebody.” The case marked a huge milestone in the progression of LGBT asylum seeker rights. It involved the stories of two unconnected men, known as HJ from Iran and HT from Cameroon. Before the 2010 ruling, the UK Home Office could lawfully deport LGBT people seeking asylum, as they believed they could return to their countries and hide their sexuality in order to be saved from prosecution. HJ and HT’s cases had previously been refused on these grounds. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees intervened and began an appeal process. The case was heard in May 2010 and in July the Court unanimously ruled that the men did not have to return home and conceal their sexuality but instead stay in the UK as LGBT refugees. A few days after reading about the case, Aloysius called the Home Office, who asked him some basic questions and gave him an appointment to come in. The screening took place in a big open room where he stood behind a pane of glass and spoke into a microphone; a nerve-racking experience for anyone, let alone a person applying for the right to stay in the country. He was asked on what grounds he was claiming asylum and after a few goes at guessing his situation, the immigration official pushed him for an answer. “There was a pause and I said: ‘because I am gay’,” he explains to me, but this time he says it with pride. “That was very difficult, to say that out loud. It was like torture and she made 26
“It was a big thing for people to be able to speak to someone who looks like them and someone who identifies like them, that was inspiring for so many people.”
me repeat it.” For the first time, Aloysius was saying who he was in front of another person, a stranger. Before this, he had never spoken about it outside the safety of discussions with his peers in Uganda. After a few months of spending nights on friends’ sofas and on the streets, Aloysius was invited for his main interview. He was kept waiting for some hours and was eventually approached by three men who told him he was being arrested and detained due to the unclear nature of his case and that he could face deportation. He was put in a van and taken to an immigration detention centre. Recalling the scale of the compound, but also the situation he had found himself in, Aloysius tells me he was led through a number of doors, the sound of them clanging still haunts him today. According to the Home Office, in 2018 approximately 24,700 individuals entered immigration detention in the UK. Of the 25,587 leaving detention in 2018, 44% (11,152) were deported from the UK to another country; 55% (13,945) were released on bail; 0.2% (47) were granted leave to remain in the UK; and 1% (343) either returned to criminal detention, were released unconditionally, absconded, sectioned under the Mental Health Act or died in detention. There is no set time limit for how long a person can spend in immigration detention in the UK, which leaves many of those entering, like Aloysius, with a lack of hope for their future in the country. In 2018, around 65% of those leaving detention were detained for between one and 28 days, 17% for 29 days to under two
months, 15% for two months to under six months, 5% for six months to under one year, and less than 1% were detained for a year or longer. Met by people with lots of keys and walkie talkies, Aloysius compares his experience at the detention centre to a prison stay, as if his claim for asylum was being treated like a crime. After four days in the centre, Aloysius was sent for another interview where, once again, had to recount his whole life, sexual history and trauma to a complete stranger. And still, he had not been able to see a GP or receive any kind of emotional support or counselling. The interview was brought to a premature end, with the immigration official admitting that Aloysius should not have been in detention in the first place. The newness of LGBT people claiming refuge for their sexuality meant that there were no real procedures in place at the time and the complexity of the case meant he got lost in the system. Aloysius was released and sent to Leeds, where he stayed in a hostel for a few days. Eventually, he was transferred to Barnsley, where he was given temporary accommodation while they worked on his case. He had never been to those places prior to living there and did not know anyone in the area, so he struggled to fit in. In October 2010, Aloysius received a phone call from the Home Office, telling him that his case had been concluded and he had finally been granted refugee status. “Wow,” he tells me, the relief still fresh on his face from that monumental day nine years ago. “You don’t understand the meaning of freedom unless it has ever been taken away from you and then somehow it comes back. I was jumping up and down, I was shouting on my own, it was overwhelming.” As overjoyed as he was, Aloysius tells me that the real problems began after he was granted asylum, in what he refers to as the “moving on period.” Coming back to London to restart his life, Aloysius tried to register with a doctor, open a bank account and apply for housing, all of which he struggled to do because the system did not recognise his unique history. Without proof of address or a stable income, Aloysius was once again let down by the rigid and traditional refugee support services that were in place. In 2010, he restarted the Say it Loud Club, this time as a London-based support system for people who were living underground, being exploited and facing similar issues in their asylum and moving on processes. Starting out as a Facebook page with just five likes, to holding meetings
in Finsbury Park where they would have a chat and play football, the Say It Loud Club quickly gained a loyal and trusting following in the city. With many members unaware that they could apply for asylum in the UK on the basis of their sexuality, Aloysius guided a lot of people through this process by running mentoring events. This has helped many of them get out of their cash-in-hand jobs just to get by and has allowed them to start a legitimate life here. “It was a big thing for people to be able to speak to someone who looks like them and someone who identifies like them, that was inspiring for so many people.” For years, Aloysius balanced a job in the NHS with running the club and attending tribunals, as many cases were being refused. His commitment has paid off, with the Home Office making some changes based on campaigns Aloysius has worked on. For example, LGBT asylum seekers no longer have to stand up and talk into a microphone during their case or answer intrusive questions. They can now sit in an office where they can speak privately about their situation. However, Aloysius believes the Home Office can still work harder to understand people from backgrounds that do not fit their inflexible system. Today, the club has more than 300 members, some already with refugee status, and some seeking it with the help of Aloysius and his team. The Say It Loud Club helps more than 100 people every month in workshops, social events and educational programmes where they provide aid and information to help integrate their members back into society. This support covers finding a safe place to live, opening a bank account, finding employment, starting or re-entering education and improving on written or spoken English, all things Aloysius wishes he had help with when he was finding his feet after gaining refugee status. They also provide confidence-building workshops, amongst many others, which help with and encourage recovery from trauma and mental illness. “It’s a very present project and we serve the ordinary people. It is what I experienced myself, the people who are making the policies don’t know what ordinary people on the streets go through. I believe that because we have lived the experience, we are able to tell the story and influence others.” Since last year, the club has had support from Help Refugees, and together they launched the successful Choose Love campaign, which raised enough
funds so that Aloysius can now run the charity full time. They also have backing from Notting Hill Genesis, one of the largest housing associations in London, who provide them with a free space, so they no longer have to meet in the park. Looking to the future, Aloysius feels hopeful and recognises that attitudes towards refugees like him are slowly changing for the better. “I believe the campaigns we do here and the way the world is opening up a little bit means that we can clear the way so that other people coming after us don’t have to go through what we went through. But the task is big, and the progress is slow, especially in Africa.” Between 2015 and 2017, government figures show that 6.6% of all asylum applications made in the UK had a sexual orientation component. During this period, 1,540 of these people were granted asylum or an alternative form of protection. However, the rate of successful asylum claims for this group fell from 39% in 2015 to 22% in 2017, mirroring an overall downward trend in all asylum applications. It’s hard to know exactly how many people come to the UK as LGBT asylum seekers for many reasons. Some people are not ready to talk about their sexuality, for others the burden of proof is too high, even though a genuine claim exists, and many in between become a casualty of the ‘hostile environment’. What we do know, however, is that the work of Aloysius and the Say It Loud Club means that more and more LGBT asylum seekers and refugees are being provided with a safe space to express themselves away from any oppressive regime, where they can be accepted and celebrated for who they really are.
A day in the life of an Egyptian Cinderella Life as a woman in Cairo: wearing a curfew and struggling with gender equality
Words: Sanja Vedel Image: Sarrah Saeed
Sarrah Saeed wakes up at around 8:00am, gets dressed and has breakfast with her mother, brother and sister. She then takes her car down to Road 9, Maadi, South of Cairo on the East side of the Nile, only 12 km (7.4 miles) from Downtown Cairo, to have coffee with her friends. During the day she leads a pretty normal life, with ordinary things to keep her busy — buying groceries to cook dinner for her friends, or visiting the Nile. She also had a job, which she recently quit, as a PR agent. However, Sarrah’s daily routine has one important element: she needs to be home at 1:00am and no later. Many women in Egypt live with a curfew, because their families expect them to stick to one. Sometimes it is because of their young age, other times because of a failed marriage or that their parents want them to get married before they can move out. “My curfew started when I was 24 years old when my dad lost his trust in me. That’s eight years ago now. My dad didn’t like my ex-fiance and didn’t want me to marry him and when I called off the wedding only a month before, he got very angry and put this curfew on me. He said I was irresponsible and should have listened to him before everyone knew about the marriage,” Sarrah told us. When you look at her you do not see a covered lady in a black hijab. She wears modern clothes — crop tops, sleeveless tops and dresses, has a belly piercing and uses red lipstick and black eyeliner that emphasise her big brown eyes. Sarrah was born into a well-educated family and as a result has a certain freedom. “I’m free most of the time, I just have to be home at 1:00am. I can do whatever I want when I leave the house in the morning ’till I get back home at 1:00am.” In ancient times, Egypt was known for its women being free and valued. For thousands of years Egyptian women had the same legal rights as men and far beyond the liberties enjoyed by women elsewhere in the ancient world. Looking at women in today’s Egypt that follow Islam excepted appearances, is far different. Greece colonised Egypt in the fourth century BCE, where many of the freedoms were curtailed. Before that, women could live independently; decide who to marry, sell land and had many freedoms not seen in Egypt today.
glance whenever I was confronted with someone?” Sarrah has never been outside Egypt and there is no way that she can, before she gets married. If she takes off by herself, she will risk losing her family, whom she loves too much. “I sometimes dream about leaving Egypt and seeing the world, but I’m too scared to do that. I’m scared that my family will never talk to me again and I’m scared to leave if they die while I’m gone,” she says. “I know many Egyptian women with a curfew but they are more strict than mine. Often they have to be home at no later than 10pm and they are not allowed to dress like I do or to drink alcohol. I feel like it isn’t fair if I complain about my curfew.” Sarrah has been seeing a psychologist to deal with the pressure from her family, mainly her father. She says that although she loves her father, they have had a very silent relationship after she called off her wedding; living with him without talking was depressing for her. However, she says that the relationship between them is slowly improving. One of many issues facing Egyptian women is the pressure of conformity — one of the reasons Sarrah’s father felt that he had to put a curfew on her. The pressure of a family’s reputation is very important in Egypt and if you have daughters, there is more pressure to uphold this image. Sarrah is currently applying for jobs but explained that it is difficult to find a job in Cairo, and it is not possible for her to find a job outside the city as her parents will not allow her to stay in an apartment. “Before my curfew I was working outside Cairo, where I stayed at my own place during the week. I would only come back to Cairo Thursday evening and then back to my apartment Saturday evening. They accepted that because I was supporting my family financially.” Where Egypt goes from here in order to address gender inequality among other problems in Egypt remains to be seen. What is clear is that Egyptian women, daughters, and wives pray and fight for the gender issues. Sarrah moves on with her life happily and not too nervous about her future, however, something needs to be done soon for the future of all of Egypt’s women and daughters.
Islam came to Egypt in 640 AD and the Qur’an at the time described men and women as equal in their spiritual value and obligations. Through the years the leaders of the country, judges and imams (all of them men) downplayed gender equality and interpreted Islam to emphasise women’s inferior status. The 2011 revolution was celebrated as a movement, of women and men fighting together for a New Egypt. However, it failed to implement change in the most conservative of institutions in Egyptian society, the family. Women may earn
If Sarrah takes off by herself, she will risk losing her family, whom she loves too much. their own living, educate and develop skills, but her power, status and honour at home may never change, as the family itself does not value those things. “Why did they favour my brother as regards to food, and freedom to go out of the house? Why was he treated better than me in all these matters?” asks Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian writer, activist, and psychiatrist. Her books Hidden Face of Eve is one of many written about women in Islam. “Why could my brother laugh at the top of his voice, move his legs freely, run and play as much as he wished, whereas I was not supposed to look into people’s eyes directly, but was meant to drop my
The greenest club in the world 34 Sex and robots 38 Can Egypt survive being free and corrupt? 40 â€œI can't ignore the weight of such a macabre practiceâ€? 42
A land lost: China's oppression of Tibet 26
Australian wildfires: climate change or crime? 44 Eating out: Nanashi 45 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall 46
A LAND LOST:
CHINA'S OPPRESSION OF TIBET With over a millennium of history and culture, Tibet finds itself at the mercy of yet another foreign power in the 21st century High upon the roof of the world, in sight of the imposing peak of Everest and deep amongst the vast jaws of the Himalayas, lies the remote and wild frontier of a nation under siege. Stretching for more than one million kilometers, the region of Tibet has long been a land of mystery, written about in semi-mythological terms by explorers and travelers throughout the centuries. It has always been a closed and unexplored world of myths, legends and gods, unreached except for a select few who traversed the plateau, often in disguise and at great risk. Its capital, Lhasa, was a symbol of exploration and mystique, being the seat of the Dalai Llama and a destination for Buddhist pilgrims. The Tibet of the past is now consigned to the pages of history, instead replaced with a land seething with unrest, torture, repression and intolerance. Long a protectorate of the Qing Dynasty, Tibet was granted high levels of autonomy by the emerging Republic of China in 1912, in line with the freedoms it had enjoyed in the previous centuries. However over the next thirty years, the unstable civil situation within China slowly escalated, leading to fractures and divisions, culminating in the Chinese Civil War and the rise of the Chinese Communist Party — whose policies, in turn, led to the forced incorporation of Tibet into the People’s Republic of China in 1951. As the last portions of the map were filled in and catalogued, western explorers, aided in their endeavours by the spread of empire, turned to the peaks and plateaus of Tibet on the wild borders of Bhutan, India, Nepal and China. What they found was a land untouched. Whilst 30
the mountains of the Himalayas fell one by one, and the tide of the modern world grew ever higher upon its border, Tibet remained the last true bastion of adventure within the region. There had been a number of western expeditions throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries which charted swathes of Tibetan territory, but Tibet in its foreign policy was wholly reserved and notoriously reclusive. In 1921, Tibet officially agreed to allow the British reconnaissance mission of Mount Everest led by George Mallory. Up until this point, many individuals entered the country disguised as pilgrims or traders. Tibet had relied on British support regarding China throughout the 20th century, but beyond a smattering of border skirmishes and the brief Sino-Tibetan war in 1930, large-scale conflict in the region was generally rare. By the 1940s, Western influence had penetrated Tibet in small forms, with the presence of foreign dignitaries being an uncommon, but intermittent sight in Lhasa. Indeed, a selection of European and Asian nations had representation in the city in various forms, mostly as a result of the first and second world wars and political upheaval throughout China. In his book Seven Years in Tibet, Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer recounts his own experiences following his escape from a British internment camp in India in 1944. Of Tibet, Harrer wrote: “There is one last mystery — a large country on the Roof of the World, where strange things happen. There are monks who have the ability to separate mind from body, shamans and oracles... and a God-King who lives in a skyscraper-like
Words: George Janes Pictures: Gunther Hagleitner, Ankit Tanu, Free Tibet, Mondo79
â€œOnce you enter the torture centre, you feel your life is over. Death awaits you.â€?
palace in the Forbidden City of Lhasa.” Harrers’ journey took him from the Indian border, through Shangste, Lelang and eventually to Lhasa, a route of over 1400km. He traversed a land much unchanged by modern life on his arduous trek to Lhasa, documenting encounters with bandits, monks, oracles, gods and even a brief allusion to the mysterious Yeti. His book gives staggering insight into the customs, traditions and society of Tibet, and in particular, Lhasa, as Harrer becomes an important member of their society and eventually a companion of the Dalai-Llama. Harrer, was also present when Tibet fell, fleeing in the face of Chinese invasion. Tibet, now defined as the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) by China, was invaded and annexed by the Chinese communist government in 1951 and has remained firmly shut to foreigners — bar those on strict guided tours — ever since. Lhasa, once a city of allure which attracted so many, is now a shell of its former grandeur, a pale reflection of the city described in journals and books before the Chinese invasion. Tibetan culture remains, but the Chinese influence and presence is heavily obvious across the city. Harrer richly described Lhasa in the years before its fall, as do the writings of Alexandra David-Néel, the first western woman to enter Lhasa several decades earlier. Both Harrer and David-Néel, upon reaching Lhasa for the first time, would have scoffed to think that within 50 years, the nation would be changed forever. Today, many of the monasteries which once perched high upon mountainsides, or stood deep within snow-swept valley floors now lay in ruin, or have vanished without a trace — ransacked and destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In recent years, a number of these have now been re-established, ostensibly in a show of tolerance by Chinese authorities. Tourism is encouraged, albeit it is closely monitored and often limited to Chinese citizens. Some advocacy groups have raised concerns that China’s continual repression of Tibetan monasteries is a blatant crackdown on religious and cultural freedom. Beginning in 2017, Chinese authorities began an enforced dismantling of the vast Buddhist complex of Larung Gar in eastern Tibet. The complex, which has previously been the site of forced destruction of homes in 2001, is one of the largest and most famous, being home to an estimated 40,000 inhabitants largely made up of monks and nuns from across Tibet. A statement issued in Beijing a year earlier stated that the population must drop to 5,000 inhabitants owing to safety and social concerns, a move which has prompted allegations of repression from
groups such as Free Tibet. Founded in 1987, the advocacy group Free Tibet campaign for an end to China’s occupation of Tibet, challenging propaganda and advocating for the rights of the Tibetan people. “The founders of Free Tibet had a vision of a Tibet in which people are free to decide themselves the future of the country, either independent or as an autonomous part of China,” Campaign and Advocacy Manager John Jones says. “At the time, and today, they are not. They are subject to an occupation, with everything dictated to them by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).” “The other part of the vision is that of a Tibet the human rights of all the citizens there would be protected,” Jones said. Allegations of torture, kidnap and murder continue to be levied towards Beijing, with a number of escaped Tibetans, monks and civilians alike, giving testimony to the conditions imposed upon them by the Chinese authorities. Golog Jigme, a Tibetan monk and human rights activist escaped from Tibet in 2014, following over six years of harassment from the Chinese authorities. Initially arrested in 2008 following a series of riots and protests across Tibet, he endured imprisonment and torture, before escaping from imposed detention and fleeing into India. He gave testimony detailing the abuse he suffered in an interview with Free Tibet. “I was re-handcuffed with the hot chimney of that stove between my arms… My arms, chest and both sides of my face got burned and blistered. I was tied to the iron chair, with both legs and hands shackled. Now the weight of my whole body was born by my shackled legs and wrists. I was removed from that iron chair occasionally, but then faced beatings on the floor. Then they put me back onto the chair again. In total, I was put onto the chair seven times.” Golog Jigme endured physical and mental abuse over a period of several months, ostensibly for the crime of producing a documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, a film which examined the treatment of Tibet by the Chinese government during a time of intense international attention — the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was arrested on false charges and during his eventual escape to India, was accused of murder and had an arrest warrant issued against him. Golog Jigme’s story may be shocking, but it is just one of many told by Tibetan escapees. “Once you enter the torture centre, you feel your life is over. Death awaits you.” The filmmaker who worked alongside Golog Jigme on Leaving Fear Behind, Dhondup Wangchen, was also imprisoned from 2009 to 2014. He had previ33
ously worked as an activist, championing Tibetan rights through the printing of books detailing the teachings of the Dalai Lama — a topic heavily restricted by the Chinese government: “I remained in informal detention until I was tried and sentenced on December 28, 2009, to six years in prison for subversion of state power,” Wangchen testified to U.S. Congress in 2018. “There are thousands of Tibetans like me, actively involved in the struggle. Tibetans in Tibet are not victims but agents of change trying to explore and use every opportunity to fight for a better future. We need support and partnership from the outside world.” The abuses suffered by the Tibetan people have culminated in a number of protests and demonstrations. Most recently, the 2008 uprising, which originated in Lhasa before spreading across Tibet in March of that year. Over 300 monks from Drepung and Sera monasteries marched towards central Lhasa, demanding the release of six imprisoned monks. Initial arrests of a number of the monks escalated tensions within the city which erupted into violent protests. Tibetans turned on Chinese residents of the city, whilst police response was swift and brutal. Peaceful demonstrations across Tibet were violently suppressed by government forces, leading to the detention of thousands of Tibetans, and hundreds of deaths. Self-immolation — the act of setting oneself alight in protest — has been performed by many Tibetan monks and citizens, with over 140 individuals dying in this way since 2009. Just why the monasteries and holy men and women of Tibet drew the ire of Beijing before and during the Cultural Revolution lies in their historical and cultural significance within Tibetan culture. Traditionally, it was common for Tibetan families to have one or several members serving as monks or nuns, and the close relationship between monasteries and the local population became focal points in life within Tibet. Monasteries issued loans, levied militias, enhanced trade and dispersed wealth across their respective regions. Monks were strongly represented in local government and often acted as arbitrators during disputes. To the invading Chinese, they, along with the monasteries in which they lived were rival bases of power, and stood as ideological barriers in their cultural conquest of the Tibetan plateau. Whilst the arguably more tolerant policies of today have reportedly moved away from the forced labour, wholesale destruction and banning of religious practice experienced in the 1960s and ’70s, Beijing continues to exert almost total 34
control over religion across Tibet. Freedom to teach, to recruit and train monks and administer leadership changes are all heavily restricted, and imagery of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, are banned. Monks and nuns face ever growing numbers of Chinese tourists as their complexes become a key part of China’s methods of cultural tourism, whilst protests and demonstrations are banned and swiftly suppressed. The trend of dismantling religious complexes and alienating monks and nuns continues across the rest of Tibet. Labrang Tashikyil, an often visited site in the province of Amdo has become known as ‘Little Tibet’ owing to its rebranding as a tourist attraction. The complex has suffered heavily as it and many other monasteries have been renovated in recent years to make room for hotels, shops and facilities, constructed for the new wave of tourists encouraged to visit the region. As recently as September 2019, Free Tibet reported that almost half of Yarchen Gar, one of the largest Buddhist sites in the world, had been demolished, displacing thousands of monks and nuns. In the same report, the reason for the destruction is indicated as being a move to create space for new hotels and car-parks, something which many Tibetans have decried as one way in which their culture is being ‘Disney-fied’ in the pursuit of Chinese tourism. It is now possible to visit Tibet with greater ease than ever before — however many strongly believe that to visit the oppressed nation is to support China’s ongoing stranglehold. Independent travel is not allowed, and any person wishing to visit must be issued a permit and be part of a guided tour. Whilst the Dalai Lama has encouraged foreigners to visit Tibet, to do so is to see a country and people through the lens of a government accused of human rights abuses, repression of culture, widespread murder, false imprisonment and beatings. The future of Tibet remains uncertain — aspects of Tibetan culture are now dictated by Beijing, including the appointment of the next Dalai Lama, and its people are severely under-represented in local and national government. “China needs to be pushed for negotiations, the last of which was in 2010,” Jones finishes with. “If those parties could be brought to the table to discuss Tibet’s future, it would probably be the most constructive thing that international governments could do.” It is unlikely that the Tibet that Harrer and David-Néel found themselves in will ever be fully re-kindled, but the people of Tibet are resilient, and remain un-cowed in the face of their continued oppression.
THE GREENEST CLUB IN THE WORLD How Forest Green Rovers of League Two are blazing a trail for eco-friendly football
It might not feel like there's ever any good news for the planet, however, 2019 did see some pretty important progress — Extinction Rebellion protests, school climate strikes worldwide, a ban on a wide variety of single use plastics and, last but not least, Time’s Person of the Year was 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg. For the first time ever it looks like we’re at least starting to head in the right direction. Everyone needs to help and football clubs are certainly not exempt. It can seem a million miles away from the environmental crisis as you look out onto the perfectly kept, green playing surface; but as an industry, football’s carbon footprint is big and things need to change. No-one in the world of football is as environmentally conscious as the Forest Green Rovers. Nothing matters more to them than the environment (and the football obviously). They’ve even been described by FIFA as “the greenest football club in the world.” They are the worlds first completely carbon neutral football club, achieving accolades from the United Nations, and along with this, the only completely vegan football club in the world. Impressive stuff, right? That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what these guys do: they have a solar powered lawn mower, their shirts are bio-degradable and made from recycled material, they have a ban on harmful plastics, their rainwater is collected to be reused and they even use bamboo shin pads. It’s probably not like any football club you’ve seen before. Their home pitch, the New Lawn, is tucked away in the rolling hills of the Stroud Valley. The ground is located in the picturesque village of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. It has a population of just 5,800. Certainly not your stereotypical League Two club, 36
but, after all, who wants to be normal? Choosing what you eat carefully is one of the biggest ways you can impact the environment — one of the main reasons why Forest Green made the decision to become the only vegan football club in the world. “Since working at Forest Green I’ve been a lot more conscious of my carbon footprint,” said Jade Crawford, head chef at the club. “I think it’s really important football clubs take the environment seriously along with any sports ground that has the power to make a difference,” she told us. “I think if Forest Green (a small town team) can do it and make a huge name for themselves then it should be easy and necessary for larger clubs to go green.” Jade’s been running the all-vegan kitchen for a couple of years now. Dale Vince (owner of the club) kick-started the green revolution at the Rovers by turning the club vegan five years ago. We chatted about good food, veganism, the planet and how she ended up working at the Rovers. As an on-and-off vegetarian throughout her older life, Jade turned vegan almost three years ago. She explained that looking carefully at the food she eats has always been on her mind: “Nutrition and looking after my body is a big part of my life, cooking came alongside that and I am grateful every day that I get the opportunity to do cook every day in my career.” Like most chefs, Jade loved cooking from a young age. She worked in restaurants for parts of her life, then after some time away in Australia in a Health Food cafe, her love for cooking was renewed. “I fell back in love with cooking, when I started cooking with plant-based foods and realised how much you can do, I never looked back,” she said. It was here she began seeing just how good a vegan diet can be for both for the planet and for your health. I was studying plant-based
Words: Oliver Goodwin Images: Forest Green Rovers
“It’s clear these guys are going above and beyond for the planet. It's just what they do.”
nutrition in my own time and that really interests me, I wanted to challenge myself and change my body, I want to see if I could do it, and it’s great, highly recommend.” Owner of Forest Green, Dale Vince, a green energy mogul, became the club’s major shareholder in 2010. His company Ecotricity provides the club’s electricity produced entirely by green methods, they also serve as the club’s main sponsor. With the planet in mind, he revolutionised Forest Green. “It breaks my heart thinking about what is happening to our planet. I don’t have kids but one day I might. What kind of future are they facing? We need to think of our future generations,” Jade told us. The Green Rovers seem to be smashing it on and off the pitch by coupling good food with good football and an eco-friendly ethos. Vince has taken the small club to all new heights, and his ambitions continue to grow. “I guess not everyone has the same mind as Dale, well no-one has the same mind as Dale!” Jade said. “He blows my mind with the things he comes up with, and he makes them happen.” It’s clear these guys are going above and beyond for the planet. It’s just what they do: “We reuse the oil from the fryers, that will be recycled into bio-diesel for the tractors. The pitch is organic and chemical free, the majority of football pitches are treated with chemicals.” It never stops and even the playing surface is environmentally friendly. “Our groundsman, Adam, is amazing at what he does, he really knows his stuff, he uses natural nutrients from other plants and sometimes even herbal teas!“ Jade said. But Forest Green is a football league club, and you can’t win football games just by being green. Jade has the same job as any other football league chef: feeding fans, players, the chairman and everyone in between. “We have a lot going on at the stadium, from matches to large events, children’s education and cooking classes,” Jade said. It’s non-stop. Football clubs are always fast-paced and Forest Green is no exception. “All week
I’ll be cooking, I prepare a lot of food throughout the week that I can freeze. Obviously not fresh things like curries and chillies, but things like pies, sausage rolls, things like that. I’ll get them prepped in advance,“ Jade told us. “But on Fridays, if we’ve got a match I’ll just be cooking. To be honest, I’ll be cooking non-stop! I’m just constantly cooking or writing menus.” It’s a big job. “We have lots of events up here, it gets pretty hectic and every week is different which is amazing. I love a challenge!” she told me. “The football club opens peoples’ minds, people that would never usually think to try vegan food. If you’re coming to Forest Green to watch the football, you’re going to be vegan for the afternoon and there is so much good in that!” It’s a long way from the stereotypical burger and chips that the normal pre-match meal, but as Jade says it will certainly open people’s minds to eating vegan options. Cooking for the players is a huge responsibility. But unlike other clubs, Jade needs to meet the players’ nutritional requirements without using dairy or meat products. “Athletes have special nutrition needs to support a high level of performance,” she told us. The squad need to be fuelled, recovered and ready to go again week-in week-out for the whole season. If they aren’t the season could fall apart very quickly. Injuries can often cripple a team. Eating right along with solid training are key to avoiding injuries and being prepped for games. Luckily for the Rovers, Jade knows what she’s talking about. “There are reports on scar tissue healing faster on a plant-based diet. When done properly and taken seriously an athlete will thrive on a plant-based diet. The players have said they have noticed a difference and their energy levels have increased; however not all of the players are full-time vegans, it’s their choice, but when they are working home or away they are on a strict vegan diet,” Jade said. The push for promotion from League Two is well underway at Forest
Green; Jade and her team are a key to this success. “I’m not the one scoring goals and doing the training, the food doesn’t win football matches, but what it does do is keep the players fit, healthy and ready every week which is a huge part of any successful team, plus it gives our fans a totally vegan, eco-friendly experience which hopefully they’ll take away with them and make changes of their own.“ Forest Green’s profile continues to grow. As well as climbing league tables, the number of off-field accolades is constantly rising. “It’s pretty amazing isn’t it, it’s such a small little stadium making such a big difference. I absolutely love meeting new people in general, especially people I’ve looked up to in the past like Jamie Oliver,“ Jade told us. Forest Green are a perfect example of what football clubs can do to help the cause. They’re game changers, trailblazers, doing things that no one has even thought of before and people are starting to take note. “Larger stadiums are now adding vegan options to their menus. People from other stadiums visit to learn more about the sustainability principles we follow here. It’s all about reducing your carbon footprint one step at a time — but its certainly possible, no matter how large or how small!” Jade said. Learning about what they do at the Rovers was such a great insight into all the things not just football clubs can be doing, but all of us. “We run a community programme called ’Fit 2 Last’. Local schools will spend the morning learning about Forest green, our sustainability, recycling, the football and the food,” Jade told us. “The children will then learn to cook a vegan dish taught by myself. I think it’s very important to teach children about plant-based nutrition from a young age, so that they can make an educated decision on what to eat.” All the work they do here is important. Education, sustainability and reducing as much waste possible. Even from the short amount of time I spent talking to Jade, I learnt so much. It’s even inspired me to try being a vegetarian, and not just for footballing reasons. The club has recently had plans for a new all-wooden stadium approved as they move onto the next stage of their innovative environmental mission. Other football clubs certainly have some catching up to do as these guys are sitting top of the eco-football table.
Follow Jade and Forest Green on Instagram @jadesgreenkitchen @fgrfc_official 39
Sex and Robots Could artificial intelligence be the future of human intimacy?
Words: Author: Carlotta Proietti Images: Kate Davis
Imagine a hyper-realistic female robot customised to choice, with whom you can act out your weirdest fantasies and who will replicate human sexual response at your touch. She can start a conversation, memorise your words and smiles at you when you come back from work — she looks, sounds and acts like a person you could only dream of. The concept of creating a dream companion who fits our personal needs has crossed the mind of many generations. The idea of an artificial and controllable lover first emerged 25,000 years ago in an Ancient Greek myth. The Greek myth about Pygmalion is the most classic example of a man who sculpts and falls in love with a nude ivory statue. His obsession with the statue led to him to sleep with her, give her baths and use her for sexual pleasure. Until one day, his dream of the perfect woman came alive, when Aphrodite turned the statue into a real woman. Today, this is no longer a dream. The sex-tech industry, currently valued at $30 billion (£23 bn), has accomplished this dream by inventing an animate life-size doll composed of artificial intelligence and enclosed in a silicon body. It is on the market to enhance sexuality like any other sex toy, virtual porn or immersive entertainment. The sex-tech industry, according to writer and producer Bryony Cole, is something rarely talked about. For many people, sex is still a taboo subject and the idea of relating sexuality to software can be disturbing. “By putting ‘future’ at the front or ‘tech’ at the end of it, it’s suddenly becomes something that removes it from the individual, so it doesn’t seem as scary to talk about,” Cole states. Technology and social media have already changed the way people interact with each other. This has contributed to the coining of a new term, ‘digi-sexuality’, which refers to the interaction between partners through technology, such as texting, video calling and dating apps. The latest innovation of the AI (artificial intelligence) sex robot is leading to the second wave of ‘digi-sexuality’, claims Fast Company, implying the possibility of intimate interaction between human and technology without the necessity of a human partner. A 2017 survey with 263 male partic-
ulate and position and pose,” he stated in an interview with Channel 4. This has brought McMullen to start working on creating anatomically correct, silicon made dolls and he has done so since 1997. Alongside technological advancement, his focus has shifted towards robotic innovation in recent years. Harmony is the first human-like sex robot Real Doll has produced and presented on the market. She is an artificial intelligence animatronic head with an attractive silicon made female body. She can be found on the market for $20,000 (£15,400). She is a 4’10’’ blonde female with blue eyes and a light tan with freckles. She is able to speak English, American, French, Scottish and switches between 10 personality traits by request. Harmony can play out sexual fantasies and is capable of replicating human sexual responses. However, sexual pleasure is not her only capacity. When requested, you can switch on her ‘family mode’, and she will help with the housekeeping or assist your children. Users can interact with the avatar by connecting to an app on their phone, computer or tablets, via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This way, the user is able to shape her character and personality. Additionally, the user can build a relationship with the avatar thanks to her advanced technology. She is capable of memorising information and recognising faces. Despite the discomfort that the new advances in AI have caused, McMullen is certain that their robot’s main goal is not just to sexually satisfy the owner. “I think that there are people who struggled greatly to connect with other people and this is a perfect thing for them. It makes them happy and fills that empty spot they have. I think that’s all that matters,” In regard of emphatic engagement between a sex robot and its user, Trudy Barber, Art Practitioner and academic researcher exploring sex and technology, believes that: “There are people who form strong bonds of attachment to their devices such as mobile phone. People who own sex dolls can also have strong bonds with the dolls as there is a certain amount of self-reflection projected on the doll.” After all, who does not remember the old Tamagotchi? The Japanese invention of the egg-shaped virtual pet by Aki Maita and Yokoi Akihiro represented one of the earliest forms of affection between
ipants on the ‘influences on the intention to buy a sex robot’ suggested that almost half of Americans (40.3%) would buy a sex robot, suggesting that having sex with robots might be a common practice in 50 years’ time. The survey also showed that relationship status and sexual fulfilment do not have an impact when buying a sex robot. Matt McMullen, founder of the American tech company Real Doll, has been focused on developing the robotic sex doll by tech firm ‘Realbotix’ since 2016. Their purpose is to incorporate technology to humanoid dolls through artificial intelligence, robotics and programming, combining aesthetic and AI learning in order to enhance the existing experience. In an interview with Forbes magazine, McMullen explained: “My background was special effects and animatronics so I was always interested in potentially animating the dolls. But the technology was not really there, until the last few years when all of these technologies really started to take off. “The fact that people talk to their phones and it’s just a normal thing now, that was a big step because I thought, the engine is there to create conversation. If you could put all that through [an] animatronic figure, what kind of cool experience would that create?” McMullen, 48, has been creating inanimate and realistic sex dolls for more than 20 years. He started his career as a designer working for a Halloween mask factory, where he got inspired by mannequins and sculptures. The traditional model of a mannequin, McMullen finds “a very static display.” “I wanted something that was dynamic, that people could actually manip-
"I think there are people who struggle greatly to connect with other people and this is a perfect thing for them." humans and machines in the late ’90s. The game demanded a real and active attachment between the user and the virtual pet, that would only survive thanks to human’s attention and care. This semi-real digital connection took the name of the ‘Tamagotchi effect’. During her PhD researching people’s engagement with technology during
sexual interaction, Barber explores that “with artificial intelligence, when we start having a sort of ratification of identities felt back to us, we are going to have [an] attachment to that intelligence.” If we are able to emotionally attach to a mobile phone, how can we, in the future, not be able to do it with a hyper-realistic doll that blinks, talks and smiles at us? Fighting the programming of sex robots is the ‘Campaign Against Sex Robots’, launched in 2015 by professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots, Kathleen Richardson. The campaign aims to publicly voice the ethical implications of robots to a broad range of people; those involved in the field of robotics, academics and the general public. Kate Davis, a member of the campaign and a London-based multimedia artist said: “We should be careful because people are creating stereotyped images of a human without thinking about the repercussion this will have on society.” She truly believes that no one should encourage a relationship that she
defines ‘anti-human’. “Emotionally, the misconception is that robots will offer companionship when in reality the user gains complete dominance over the robot.” According to Davis, the fact that the robot does not have the ability to express disagreement or consent will probably lead the user to a major difficulty in relating to real human beings and an increase in violence. “Machines are an illusion, they are programmed to give you what you need and this is just a fantasy. There are a lot of fields where robots can be beneficial, like in healthcare, manufacturing. When it comes to relationships and social experiences, I do not believe that robots can do a better job than a person. Humans are spontaneous, unpredictable and their emotions cannot be controlled.” Davis’ interest in robots and relationship replacement led her to start an ongoing multimedia project, called Logging on to Love. Her intention, to open people’s eyes to the topic and make them reflect on their behaviour on using technology and how such could unconsciously affect human relationships. Davis does not restrict herself to a particular method, but rather she plays with a different range of devices such as lenses, cameras and microphones. “I know that my images can be considered creepy, but that is the pure representation of technology. The fact that it enters the most private spaces it is already creepy itself.” Logging on to Love tends to create an uneasy feeling when looking at the subject; the resemblance of an object to a human being is uncanny. In a way that the viewer needs to question themselves and ask: ‘Are these real people?’ This is what happens in everyday life when an individual interacts with others through technology. Recent advances in the digital era have enabled us to facilitate the connection with people around the world improving our life, simultaneously shaping our way in which we interact with each other. Such technological advances seem designed well enough for the user to develop an addiction, in order not only to be useful but also to make it impossible to live without. It remains to be seen whether or not shifting our everyday technological devices to a humanoid robot could ever replace a real human connection. 41
Can Egypt survive being ‘free and corrupt’? Egyptians laugh at the idea that their country could ever be a true democracy
Words: Sanja Vedel Image: Simon Matzinger via Unsplash
It is hot. Too hot. The dust and the flies are busy invading your private space, crawling everywhere and way too close to your mouth, your nose, eyes and ears. There is traffic everywhere, and goats, horses, donkeys, cats and dogs cross the streets between the intense chaos of scooters, buses, and cars. The amount of car horns you hear within an hour competes with the number of flies you fight off. The traffic itself is chaotic; the number of people driving and riding in between each other. Egypt’s population crossed the 100 million mark in 2019, but while the number of people keeps on rising, the other measures of economic health are low. More than 40% of the Egyptian population live below the poverty line. 30% of all young men are without a job, and this is one of the reasons that ISIS, which is still occupying the North Cost of Sinai, have no problems recruiting new soldiers. So what does Egypt’s future look like? When you mention democracy to any locals in Egypt they laugh at you. “We don’t think like Europe. Our country is free and corrupt. We do what we want and we help each other do it. If you
organisation and was later banned and some of its members were sentenced to death by an Egyptian court for violence and the killing of policemen. El-Sisi won the presidential election in May 2014 with 96.9% of the vote. His opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi received 775,000 votes, fewer than the 1.4 million invalid ballots cast. The turnout was just 47.45%. In 2014 a Sinai-based jihadi organisation, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group which gave the organisation a foothold in Egypt. The following years were filled with terror attacks; a bomb brought down a Russian airliner that had taken off from a resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. A suicide bomber inside a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo killed at least 25 people. In 2017 two suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in a church close to the costal city of Alexandria. El-Sisi declared a state of emergency nationwide. There is no doubt why people laugh at you when you mention democracy in Egypt. Around 40% of women in Egypt are illiterate and 80% are circumcised, a form of genital mutilation. It goes without saying that the unequal rights for women and men in Egypt need to be changed, to
know rich people, then you’ll be rich. That’s how it works here. There is no way we’ll have democracy within the next 50 years.” said Moataz Elhomy, who lives in Maadi, a suburb to the south of Cairo. After 18 days of nationwide protests against president Hosni Mubarak and his near 30-year rule, the autocrat stepped down and the military took over. In 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood won nearly half of the seats in multi-stage elections for the first post-Mubarak parliament and Mohammed Morsi became the president. As early as 2013 the campaign Tamarod (meaning rebel) gathered signatures calling for Morsi’s removal. The same year demonstrations demanded his resignation and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced Morsi’s removal and installed Adly Monsour as interim president. El-Sisi then retired from the military and ran as candidate for president. After 2011 many people were killed during the protests and demonstrations and in 2013 suspected Islamic militants killed 25 policemen in the Sinai Peninsula and escalated over the following month with shootings, bombings and suicide attacks against security officials and troops. The same year, the Muslim Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist
have a chance to move out of poverty. “In the Middle East, we see more women ambassadors, judges, CEOS, ministers, etc. But does that mean they are equal to men?” This is the question posed by Firas al-Altraqchi, professor, journalist and editor who has covered the Middle East since 1992. “The challenge here is to determine whether women carrying out jobs and positions once exclusively dominated by men means there is a social contract which guarantees equal rights. I don’t necessarily think so. I do believe there is increasing momentum to put women in better situations. In 50 years, the situation may be upside down, who knows?” Many children are taken out of school after a few years and the ones that stay in school only learn a limited curriculum due to the number of children in the classroom. The media in Egypt are owned by the government and freedom of speech does not exist. In August 2019, Egyptian security forces blocked access to Tahrir Square, the highly symbolic focal point of the 2011 revolution, to stop any protests against the president. Roads were closed and during the day social media channels were shut down for hours. El-Sisi’s expansion of security has led to a rise in torture and police brutality that could constitute crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch, who estimated that 60,000 political prisoners languish in jail, including journalists. Nevertheless, Egypt has been experimental and innovative by generating new jobs for its growing population. Everything in Egypt can be delivered, even if you cannot find it online, you can call the shop next door and ask them to bring whatever it is that you need. If they do not have it in the shop, they will find it in another store and bring it to your doorstep. You have to be patient, but the luxury of being able to order online 24/7 and receive it to your doorstep at any time is incredible and this allows more people to have a job. The simple experience of going to a hairdresser is an interesting one. Whilst one person is washing your hair, another one is cutting it, and a third person is removing the cut-off hair with a gentle breeze from the hairdryer, and a fourth removing the hair from the floor.
"If you know rich people, then you’ll be rich. That’s how it works here. There is no way we'll have democracy within the next 50 years." Then there is a fifth person you have to pay, after your treatment. These people are not a necessity for the business, but it demonstrates how important it is for the community, that more people are able to have jobs and make their own living and so stay out of poverty. Despite the repressive regime, with its massive population, Egypt is becoming one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial start-up hubs in the world. Nafham, an online education portal for children that are interested in learning, is one of the start-ups that focus on the future of Egypt. Its founders are ambitious entrepreneurs who see new opportunities to make money in the digital age, but they are idealists as well and argue that they have a social responsibility. Nafham is free and therefore allows everyone with access to the internet, to enter the platform. Despite the fact that Egypt has very little regulation, endemic corruption and a 19th century bureaucracy which is still largely paper-based, 2018 was a promising year for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt. At least 80 start-ups raised investment and positioned the country among the fastest-growing in the region, according to Magnitt Data. In the top list of the start-ups was SWVL, an app that provides buses to every neighbourhood in Cairo and allows people to share a ride for a flat fare with no surge pricing. Another start-up is Basharsoft which is an online job site to help people finding jobs, similar to job platforms like Jobnet or Jobindex: “We do what we want and we help each other do it.” Of course, startups like Nafham,
SWVL, and Barsharsoft are not going to help Egypt out of poverty on their own. Improving the education system and getting more people into work will require comprehensive political reforms, but it will slowly help some of the issues in another direction. Recently we published an investigation of Cairo’s treasure of trash, which featured the trash collectors in the Garbage City, one of the suburbs of Cairo. How is it possible that a country with very little regulation, endemic corruption an a 19th century bureaucracy has a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem but in contrast still rely on the people of Garbage City as their trash collectors? “This is one endemic to almost all of Africa where the informal economy is not only growing but indeed thriving.” said al-Atraqchi. “Trash collectors, or permit me to also classify them as trash sorters for recyclables, are adding to the informal economies of major African cities. It is the new trend of 21st Century Africa and Cairo is no different. “With the trash sorters there is a grassroots economic momentum that is so far void of the type of systemic corruption of major corporations and companies. They pay no taxes, but at the same time get no social and economic benefits. “The question is how to move them into a position where they can reap the benefits (if such exist, and which differ across Africa) of the formal economy?” He explained. What al-Atraqchi is referring to the digital recognition — the ability to be able to apply for digital citizenry platforms and apply for bank accounts, social welfare, health, and so on. “Will Egypt move in that direction? Maybe, if the entrepreneurial train stops at a station and picks them up as passengers. This would require a whole new approach to the political economy of the country,” he concluded. The recognition of being alive is the instant feeling you get in Egypt. The lack of planning is a freedom in itself. If you do plan, you change the plans at least twice and postpone another two times. This country is fully functioning with the presence of all the issues discussed here and more. But there is also a certain charm to the lack of structure, it is a mystery how Egypt does it, but they do. 43
“I can’t ignore the weight of such a macabre practice” An insight into the ethics of taxidermy art
Words: Anezka Turek Images: Harriet Horton
The Abyss, three birds bathed in neon green light, wings outstretched, frozen in time and enclosed peacefully in a glass box. “That’s my favourite piece,” 31-yearold artist, Harriet Horton, recalls: “I have it at home, it’s the only piece I have of mine.” Bringing a second lease of life to creatures as unusual as the octopus, or the tiny, delicate prawn, Harriet has found herself extremely successful in her creative field. Despite never attending a conventional art school and with a self-proclaimed “dislike for press”, she has created a name for herself, largely due to a unique self-taught approach to taxidermy work. As an artist in residence for Saraband: The Lee Alexander McQueen foundation, Harriet’s work is sold in commissions across the world and has featured in numerous solo shows and
that, I had loved it so much and spent so much money on collecting it, so I thought why do I suddenly not like it anymore?” After writing down all of the cons associated with the art form, Harriet challenged herself to start experimenting with creating taxidermy first hand, in an attempt to shake some of these negative elements. “I wanted to get away from the trophy hunting element that taxidermy was associated with. It’s very disrespectful to the animal itself,” she explains. “It was such a historically bizarre industry, and obviously very negative.” With animals from trophy hunts purposely killed with the intention of being placed upon display as a symbol of success from a hunt, Harriet’s work provides a perspective from the opposite end of the spectrum. “My work is strictly ethical,” she continues: “Anything that comes my way I’ll use. In the UK, mostly small birds, they come from domestic cats or window casualties.” With the common magpie, song thrush, house sparrow and swallow just a few of the feathered subjects used in Harriet’s work, spectators of her art are encouraged to appreciate the slightly more everyday animals, that are not often used to getting a second glance. It seems Harriet’s ethical stance is not only limited to creatures that can fly, be it from sky or sea, her taxidermy extends beyond traditional parameters. “Prawns I just thought would be really funny to do,” Harriet explains, noting their menacing appearance, often dishevelled on a dinner plate. “They’re also really sustainable, I keep the meat and it’s eaten in the kitchen, I’m pescatarian now but doing taxidermy actually made me
collaborations. With a unique emphasis on the use of neon light, her work highlights colour palettes that provide a contrast from the traditional, natural environments taxidermy is often associated with. A black and white magpie, beak positioned sharply downward and back neatly arched under a circular bar of neon green light. Two song thrush poised mid-flight, claws curled above a neon strip of yellow, provide just a couple of examples of the use of light in full effect. Following a recent Instagram post announcing her retirement from taxidermy and after opening up about an on-going internal battle with the ethical side of the practice, Harriet reflects on where her journey began, nearly 10 years ago. “I had a massive collection [of taxidermy], and then one day I sold it all and decided I hated it,” she explains. “Before
“I cannot ignore the heavy weight of such a macabre practice. It just doesn't sit well with me anymore.” 44
go vegan for a long time. It’s dealing with meat and animals which really makes you think about meat and eating it.” More often than not, the smaller the animal, the more complex the taxidermy process. The case for the delicate exoskeleton of a prawn is no different. Each of the back legs is carefully individually pulled off, then with a tiny syringe the prawn is emptied and its meat is removed. After being injected with a paint and silicone mix, a metal rod is placed inside the prawn and the legs are fixed back into their original position. The antenna and front legs are crafted from sharpened steel, leaving them sculptural to look at, in a pointed samurai sword-like style. It’s a carefully conducted and painstakingly long process that often gets mistaken for a casting rather than the original product: “The biggest compliment to
me is when somebody says, ‘I don’t really like taxidermy but I like your work.' That I quite like because then I feel like I’ve gone out and done what I had originally wanted to achieve,” Harriet states. Despite achieving this positive recognition from so many, dissecting and breaking away from the stereotypes associated with traditional taxidermy, the niggling doubt about the negative implications of the practice never fully went away for Harriet. The 2018 creation of a crystallised octopus, sourced as an out-of-date food product, provided an opportunity to reflect about the ethics of the practice itself. “The octopus is obviously such an intelligent creature, but I still think you should treat every animal the same,” Harriet says. “I think you have a responsibility and I didn’t want to make it [the
taxidermy of Octopi] more popular because I didn’t want to encourage them as a piece. It just felt wrong and is one of the millions of reasons why I am stopping. “Even though my work is strictly ethical, it’s still dead animals and although I only use ones that have died naturally, the planet is under such threat, I can not ignore the heavy weight of such a macabre practice. It just doesn’t sit well with me anymore.” After a growing ache for change more ever present in the last two years, 2020 marks the year where Harriet’s taxidermy chapter will come to a close in order for a new, and currently unannounced, artistic venture to begin. After acknowledging the constant pressure within the artistic world to have a specific theme or style in order to be consistent, it’s hardly surprising that changing art form, particularly once being labelled as a “taxidermist” rather than an ‘artist’ or ‘maker’, may be difficult. “Stopping is not me proving a point because I genuinely wanted to park taxidermy to move onto other interests that I have been studying on and off for the last year.” Harriet explains. “I’m quite tempted to start my new work under an alias, just for fun. I’m not really worried about changing my audience, I think my new work will actually have a lot of interest from the same people.” Despite the new beginnings, there may be one very last taxidermy pursuit in store for Harriet’s future. With a nod to the seaside surroundings she now calls home, one more particularly slimy and boneless venture could potentially be just within reach. “One thing I have actually always wanted to do is a jellyfish,” Harriet explains. Despite meetings with the Natural History Museum and a couple of trial tests, this dream is yet to be perfected. “I have always said that if I do a jellyfish I won’t do anything else with taxidermy, that would be the pinnacle. I mean, it’s 99% water and almost impossible to do.” With time now devoted to studying for future work to come and spending time with family, she pays homage to the sea, a romantic element to be living around during a transitional period. Perhaps this surrounding will give one last inspirational push to complete this final journey and inspire many future artistic pursuits away from taxidermy. 45
Australian wildfires: Climate change or crime? Where does responsibility for the crisis lie?
Words: Aaron Gonzalez Images: Maria Thi Mai, The Bureau of Land Management
Australia has just faced one of the most brutal and relentless bushfire seasons on record. Around 30 people have lost their lives along with an estimated 1 billion animals, with some endangered species under threat of extinction. During every Australian summer the fire season hits, with hot, dry weather making it very easy for fires to start and spread rapidly. So, is this devastating event a climate issue or a human issue? Many have been quick to blame climate change with many celebrities voicing their opinion on the matter during the recent Golden Globes awards ceremony; “When one country faces a climate disaster, we all face a climate disaster,” Cate Blanchett declared. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted; “Australia’s bushfire emergency, spurred by climate change, has killed 24 people, destroyed thousands of homes, and led to the loss of an estimated half a billion animals.” The assertions of climate change come after nearly 200 people have been accused of starting the fires over the past few months. 24 people have been arrested for deliberately starting the bushfires in the state of New Wales alone. Dr. Paul Read, co-director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson, explained last year; “About 85 percent are related to human activity, 13 percent confirmed arson and 37 percent suspected arson…The remainder is usually due to reckless fire lighting or even just children playing with fire,” A 16-year-old boy was found to have started a fire that destroyed 14 homes in Queensland. Two more teens, 14 and 15, were charged with endangering property by fire that destroyed two homes and forced hundreds to flee the area. Lack of prescribed burning and fire break management are also being blamed. Environmental groups have are alleged to be responsible by prohibiting controlled or prescribed burns - fires set intentionally for forest management. This technique is known to increase the germination of some trees in the forests and reveals mineral layers that increase seeding, therefore renewing the forest. Unless forested areas are managed with burns, out of control wildfires will continue to occur. Back in September ABC released a story to Facebook focusing on locals who
ed in controversy. No significant long-term decrease in rainfall or increase in temperatures has occurred in the affected regions within Australia. It has been dry in New South Wales where the majority of the fires started. Although pre 1960 but there have been several years where the region has been a lot drier. There is currently little to no evidence in support of the claim climate change was the cause of the wildfires. The claim is contradicted by the temperature and rainfall record of the Australian continent. Authorities in Australia have formed Strike Force Indarra, comprising of detectives from homicide and arson units to find the culprits who started these terrible fires. They have stated other causes for the fires include lightning strikes and a natural weather phenomenon called The Indian Ocean Dipole, again neither of which have anything to do with manmade climate change. While climate change may be an issue of concern for many people, this should not allow the truth to be warped when disastrous events like this take place. If it is, we run the risk of seeing another tragic event like this happening again, due to the fact the decisions made to willingly ignore the real prevention methods and causes. Our mainstream news and climate change activists are doing the world a huge disservice lying to the public on the true nature of the Australian wildfires.
were protesting the prescribed burns which were “killing baby birds alive” according to protesters. Local protestors managed to stop the burns. Breitbart journalist James Delingpole claimed; “If this is the kind of obstructive idiocy that the mainstream media and the junk-science climate alarmism industry have created with their global warming propaganda, then the mainstream media and the junk-science climate alarmism industry have blood on their hands.” Shockingly, in large parts of Australia, it remains illegal to remove trees from your own land even to a create fire break to protect your property. Trees have been selected as a ‘carbon sink’, which supposedly offsets Australia’s CO2 emissions. A volunteer firefighter was fined $100,000 in 2002 for creating a firebreak on his own property in Australia. The mans house was the only one not to burn down in around the area during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. . A debate among Australian politicians is now under way, as to whether more hazard reduction efforts and back burning could have lessened the impact of the blazes. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and North South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian have both refused to be drawn into the debate. A decision by the New South Wales Government to cut funding to fire services based on budget estimates, as well as a holiday taken by Prime Minister Morrison, during a period in which two volunteer firefighters died has also result-
Eating out: Nanashi The independent Japanese restaurant that makes for perfect weekend dining
Nanashi is an independent Japanese restaurant tucked away on Rivington Street in Shoreditch. If you did not know it was there, you could risk walking right by it. On each side of its front door is a full-length window where customers can sit and people watch the world go by while they enjoy their sushi. The inside is a modern western twist on a Japanese style restaurant. Tables line every wall, standing close together, making for a tight squeeze with your neighbouring diners. There is also the option to sit by the bar and watch the chefs prepare various dishes. Nanashi is both chic and casual in style and atmosphere, the kind of place that you could wear heels to and bring your parents, or show up in jeans and sneakers for a night out with friends. The menu is varied in price. For a first visit, it is recommended to splash out and try Nanashi’s most popular dishes: the Nasu Dengaku, sushi sliders, and soft-shell crab. Nanashi offers a wide range of alcohol with a detailed taste description, as well as sake tasting menus starting at £20 per person. The Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo Bizen (£30 per bottle) comes highly recommended: “Smooth and easy drinking full-bodied fruity sake with banana and honey aromatics.” Alternatively, the Masumi Okuden Kansukuri (£25 per bottle) is: “mellow and mild-mannered in all aspects, with subtle, organic flavours and a hint of rice’s sweetness.” Not sold on sake just yet? Nanashi is also known for their inventive cocktails, notably their signature Matcha sour (£9.50), Wasabi Margarita (£9.50), and Umeshu Negroni (£8.75). Each of these cocktails are brilliant in flavour and in presentation, having graced many Instagram posts in the past. Ordering at Nanashi is like any other Japanese restaurant, where you order multiple dishes at once to share with your co-diners; there is of course the option to order more dishes at a later point in the evening. I started off with Agedashi (£7.50), a traditional fried tofu that sits in tempura sauce. I have never been a huge fan of tofu in general, however I was a big fan of this one. The tempura sauce was excellent, I had to restrain myself from asking for bread to soak it up — the thought of
the remaining sauce going to waste was almost emotional. Next came Yellowfin Tuna Nigiri (£7.00 per piece), the price per piece may seem outrageous at first, but there is no denying the quality for price. The tuna was so soft to taste that it felt like butter melting on your tongue — the sign of high quality fish that you would not be able to get at most places. It was a moment of impactful taste that was over much too soon, but worth every pence. Following the softness of the tuna, came the Nasu Dengaku (£8.00), also more commonly known as Sticky Aubergine, creating a huge jump in texture and flavour. Nasu Dengaku is aubergine prepared in sweet miso sauce. Cooked to softness that is just firm enough to stand upright on the plate, but breaks apart in a stringy manner once it is in your mouth. The dish itself is a wonderful way to serve aubergine, intense and new in flavour but not enough to scare off anyone who is averse to the vegetable. The Soft-Shell Crab Maki (£11.00) and Sushi Slider with Tuna (£5.00) arrived at the same time. The sushi sliders are a novelty dish. The buns are replaced with lightly fried sushi rice — crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, garnished with spicy mayo, spring onion, and ginger. The tuna was prepared as a tartar, chopped into tiny little pieces and formed into a patty. Much like the yellowfin tuna, the tuna used for the slider was soft and high quality. The flavour of the fish pushed through the other ingredients and
Words: Emma Jepsen Image:Henry Gorn
was not over shadowed by intensity of the spicy mayo, which I feared that it may have been otherwise. Soft shell crab is another novelty dish that you must try no matter where you are, it is one of my favourite dishes and never ceases to amuse me with how insane it looks. The surrounding maki rice looks tiny in comparison to fried gangly legs of crab — it almost gives you the feeling that the legs could give a sudden jerk at any moment. It is the type of dish that makes you feel like an adventurous eater no matter how retrained you actually are. During a last-minute decision between getting another savoury dish or a dessert, despite fullness, I ordered the Tuna Tataki (£13.00). Tuna and truffle are two of my favourite things to eat, and the combination of the two made it even better. Once again, the quality of the fish, and the truffle, was well worth its price. The flavours did not overpower the other, but instead meshed really well. I was yet again overcome with the need for bread to soak up the remaining sauce or to ask for it in a to go container — the Tataki was a great way to end the dinner at Nanashi and made for a memorable last few moments. Nanashi is the kind of place that keeps you wanting more — after leaving I wanted to eat everything again and to try all the new dishes from their changing menu. I would highly recommend Nanashi if you are looking for a place to take your parents or a place that will impress your date, but also yourself. 47
Words: Franziska Eberlein Images: Franziska Eberlein and Tom Stoddart
S R A E Y 30 L L A F E H T R E T AF OF THE B E R L I N WA L L Germans reflect on how far theyâ€™ve come
30 years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down after three decades of separation. The division that was once imposed on the country by the wall that dissected East and West Berlin for 28 years is still felt today. The anniversary has been a time for the people to reflect, remember and celebrate. The wall was built in 1961, splitting the sectors occupied by the United States, United Kingdom and France (West) and the Communist Soviets (East). The communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) was losing more and more people to the Western capitalist state, following increasing numbers of suppressed and enraged citizens. After an impromptu wall, made from barbed wire and concrete blocks, was built overnight on August 14, 1961, conditions in the GDR began to get worse. East Germans were not allowed to travel, had access only to state-run media and were closely watched by the GDR state security, the ‘Stasi’, which was spying on all its citizens — they had no political or physical freedom. For 28 years the Berlin Wall separated families, ruined lives and took them, including those of the 140 people who died trying to cross into the West. “The wall destroyed by many families, including my own,” says Karola Stumpf. Now 60, she spent her childhood and early adulthood living in the shadow of the wall. Although she lived in the West, a large part of her family was confined in the East. Stumpf’s mother was born in East Germany, but after meeting her father she moved to the West before the wall was set in place. Stumpf’s mother
was the only family member living in the West — she did not know when she was ever going to see her family again. On November 20, East German construction workers started building the 45 km (28 mile) long concrete wall, lined with barbed wire and more than 300 watch-towers, that fully encircled East Berlin and cut the city in two. Her uncles, cousins and grandmother all lived in the East, specifically on Kremmener Straße, parallel to the infamous Bernauer Straße, which was, again, directly parallel to the wall. When the houses on Bernauer Straße were demolished because the GDR feared people were jumping out of their windows to cross the border, the apartments in Kremmener Straße were now directly overlooking the 3.6 metre (12 feet) high wall.
“For 28 years, the Berlin Wall separated families, ruined lives and took them.” 49
“Once in a while, we would send a letter to our family on the other side of the wall, with a location and time. We would walk towards the wall from the West and stand on an observation tower. My father would whistle loudly, and my family on the other side would stand by the window. We stood there and waved at each other. When we were lucky, they could open their windows. When we weren’t, the border soldiers demanded they shut their blinds and our meeting was over.” Following the ‘Passierscheinabkommen’ (Permit Agreement) 28 months after the closing of the border, West Germans were allowed to travel to the East over a short period during Christmas — the first time any contact was possible since the wall had been built. In the following three years, the permit agreement’s regulations fluctuated and allowed more visits into the East, under strict observation. “My grandmother moved a few houses down so that the border guards could no longer watch her through the windows. We then started celebrating Christmas there once in a year, my whole family crammed into her tiny one-bedroom apartment,” Stumpf remembers. Several years later, at age 12, Stumpf and her mother had the opportunity to visit her grandmother in hospital. “I was wearing tight pants with a zipper on the side. Beneath I was hiding medication wrapped in the silver foil of a chocolate wrapper. When we were stopped at the border crossing, the guard became suspicious of our intentions to enter the East, so a soldier carrying a machine gun escorted us to my grandmother’s bedside. Luckily, I could secretly pass 50
“57% of East Germans felt like second class citizens and only 38% of East Germans see reunification as a success.”
the medication onto my grandmother in private,” she recalls. Another vivid memory Stumpf has is of travelling to the East when she was 14 and spending the night at a disco: “I was wearing a suede jacket with tassels and sheepskin. Immediately, I was surrounded by people touching my jacket saying, ‘You’re from the West!’ and asking me if I had chewing gum.” Protests had been taking place for years, but the ‘Montagsdemonstrationen’ (Monday protests) that started days before the collapse became especially significant — led with the slogan “we are the people,” and were aimed at fighting for political reform. The government’s response was to implement new travel regulations. In the evening of November 9, 1989, communist party leader Günter Schabowski held a press conference . When asked when the policies would take effect, he stumbled into uncertainty, flipping through the pages laying before him and answered that he believed they would take effect immediately. People from both the West and East (who were watching the channels illegally) took this as a declaration that the wall was open and demanded to cross. By the end of the evening, people were stood on top of the wall with champagne, taking sledgehammers to the wall and driving across the borders as the guards stood aside. It was a moment of peace that everyone felt and, with reason, this became the ‘Peaceful Revolution’ written in Germany’s history. When the Wall fell in 1989, it was a triumph for the people and ultimately it was individual courage that manifested itself against the government. “When the 51
wall fell we did nothing, we were overrun by our family from the East,” Stumpf explains. “The next morning, I went to work,” she continues. At the time Stumpf was working at a bank, responsible for handing out the ‘welcome money’ given to East Germans moving to the West. “I remember my boss at the time giving the first man in line 100 Deutschemarks (€51, £43) and told him to go buy hot drinks and cake for everyone waiting.” For East Germans, the period following the fall was a time for new experiences. Author Heike Geissler, who was born in the GDR in 1977, told The Guardian: “I was embarrassed about going into shops in West Germany and being a grey and dark-blue complex of drab timidity amidst all the colours. With my first western money I bought myself a neon-coloured rucksack and a cassette recorder. I ate yoghurt for the first time and liked it, and I draped myself in colours.” After years of physical separation, the wall left its mark on the space between Stumpf and her family. “Before the wall came down, meeting our family was so important. As soon as the wall came down, it got less and less important. The East Germans in my family stayed in their neighbourhoods and eventually we all drifted apart.” This is not an uncommon phenomenon in Germany. Whilst the reunification, a year after the fall of the Wall, had an extremely enlivening effect on generations to come, many still feel the separation between East and West. Although the difference has greatly decreased, income levels remain higher for West Germans. Statistics by Frauke Suhr show that 52
whilst the average monthly wage for a West German is €3,340 (£2,860), East Germans only make €2,790 (£2,389). On top of this only 1.7 % of the top professional positions in politics, administration, economics, science, culture and in the military, are occupied by East Germans. Germany’s political landscape is another reflection of this division, where right-wing politicians are consistently gaining more popularity. Recent polls in the district of Thuringia, a rural former East German state, showed the AfD, Germany’s right-wing ‘Alternative Germany’ party, rise by 12.8% since 2014, making them the second-largest party there. The aftermath of the far-right riots in the eastern city of Chemnitz in 2018 further reinforced the image that the East remains radically right-wing. “This is often attributed to the anti-leftist worldviews after the wall fell and the economic downturn in East,” an article in the Washington Post stated. After the Wall fell, the East was neglected: over 800,000 people left for a better life in the West, leaving the people who remained somewhat deserted in what had been their home for the last three decades. A recent study by Reuters showed that “57% of East Germans felt like second class citizens and only 38% of ast Germans see reunification as a success.” Although politics are changing, Chancellor Angela Merkel remains certain that “the values on which Europe is founded — freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, human rights — they are anything but self-evident and they have to be revitalised and defended time and time again.”
“No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high that it cannot be broken down,” she added, during her speech at the Berliner Kapelle on the occasion of the anniversary. Thirty years on, installations and events in and around Berlin were aimed at remembering and celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, whilst encouraging people to learn and reflect on today’s society. With 200 events scattered all around the city, it was a memorable celebration not just for Berliners, but people from all around the world. Alexanderplatz, became the canvas for 3D light projections — a 15-minute dive into the events leading up to and on the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall, including moments like the Shabowski press conference. On November 4, 1989, Alexanderplatz became one of the most significant places in the history of the Peaceful Revolution. The biggest protest in the history of the GDR took place there, with half a million people calling for a better state of society. Standing there, being reminded of the magnitude of the Peaceful Revolution, makes one reflect on how much the country has changed and how important unity is. The Visions in Motion installation at Brandenburg Gate showcases exactly how desirable a unified future is for everyone. More than 30,000 individually written messages expressing hope for the country and the world formed the ‘sky-net’ created by artist Patrick Shearn. It seems that for many the Berlin Wall is a representation of unwanted segregation and for that reason it resonates with people from all around the world, especially in today’s disunited political landscape.
The crippling disease you have never heard of 54 Fixed gear: fighting the fear 58 Natural wine culture 60 Our plastic problem 62 Terror in the night 64 The anti-social justice warriors 66
A sport where you can compete against the Queen 52
The legacy of Apollo 68 New York's TV free for all 74 Fashion and skate culture: an uneasy relationship 80 Walk on the wild side 82
A sport where you can compete against the Queen Inside the world of pigeon racing
Words: Flavia Wright Image: Juan Cuervo/flickr
Sat down at Eric Fry’s large oak dining table in the quaint, hard working suburbs of Tooting I came in just as Eric was watching his football: “Half time or after” he said with a grin, referring to when we can get down to business and talk pigeons and all there is to them. We settled for after. “I started racing pigeons in 1964, with my late brother Reg and he raced with my late Father. It was a family thing,” Eric told me. Pigeon racing has had a long history: the first recording of these events were captured through Roman times, during the original Olympic games. The pigeons would soar across lands holding important messages of winnings with the ability to ‘return to sender’, leading to the beginnings of pigeon racing. The game and hobby of pigeon racing also became a go to sport during the 19th century in Belgium. The racing homer, a breed of bird that is born to race, is bred to become more enriched, faster and smarter. This type of pigeon is commonly flown throughout the sport and trained at a young age by their fanciers, also known as their owners. Training the birds typically starts when they are six weeks old. The pigeons are released a mile from their loft, as their owners patiently wait for their return. The mild increase with every successful return. Those with the quickest of instincts will be the chosen racers for their fanciers. An amazing feat alone that these pigeons can return home is still a mystery among scientists with only theories available on how this occurs. Despite its long history, Eric is sad as he turns to me and says “It is a dying hobby; it is slowing up all the time. Less clubs, less pigeon flyers, no new young people.” A common trend in hobbies that have the reputation of being more of a “retired club hobby” rather than an “all ages welcome hobby”. These clubs are not as strong as before with plenty being disbanded due to lack of members and a number of members signed up being majority relatives as a bonding experience. Younger generations are welcome “If anyone wants knowledge, I can show them,” Eric states with open arms. British Homing Magazine (BHM), a comprehensive booklet, “gives you insight on how to feed, race and take care of the pigeons,” says Eric. The magazine is filled with
en’t competed in it though.”. These cash prizes across various competitions in the UK can vary from £20 up to £40,000 along with other prizes, such as cars, to be won as well. Competitive streaks can kick in, a much-reported case is a well known fancier named Eamon Kelly who tricked everyone in the pigeon community. He had cheated by falsifying his birds fly time and keeping a chipped pigeon in his loft, claiming he was the winner. Through calculating speed times, his story unravelled and was caught. The ruthlessness can be shown more so in human nature through this sport rather than the birds themselves. And Eric says it’s not as simple as stealing someone else’s winners: “They may even go into someone’s loft and keep them but this is a small percentage that do this, however, the pigeons that get stolen would not be able to compete because they only go back to their own loft.” These perpetrators would most likely be using the pigeons to breed others but it is not completely sure why this occurs. I asked Eric if there is an undercurrent of any sabotaging within the pigeon world. “There has been in the past, not sabotaging, people do not sabotage the pigeons, but there has been occasions where someones loft has been set on fire and the pigeons have been killed. It is only what has been reported in the BHM and I hear it straight from there.” The hint of possible theft or death is a cruel truth dealt by human hands. The results of these actions are prosecutions by the police, being reported by the governing body Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) and eventually being reprimanded. There is also a life ban from the sport if caught. With these disparities through the sport there is a great deal of nipping violations in the bud through informing law enforcement and taking the correct protocols. However, the actions of these few bad seeds should not deter anyone from a long time hobby. The pigeons themselves are the stars of the show and their fanciers who hatch them from young work tremendously with them. There is a care and skill that Eric possesses that not only he holds but is shared with like minded fanciers who truly love and respect the sport. The pigeons are constantly cared for and
pigeons to purchase, news of what’s going on across all UK clubs and other useful information; a perfect starting point for any young newcomer. Just keeping pigeons is not enough though: “If you want to compete, you have to belong to a club,” Eric says. He’s a member of the Mitcham, Merton and Thornton Heath club with his total of 42 pigeons. Some of his birds were purchased young from the BHM, although he says purchasing prices can depend on many things: “It can be expensive,” Eric says about the cost of his beloved sport. For those of us with short stacked pockets the good news of the rise of pigeon gifting could bring you closer to the action. “It does happen more so now, some guys retire or can’t afford it anymore and they just want to pass them onto someone else.” With the birds out of the way, there is a full on responsibility that comes with owning pigeons and racing. The cost alone goes across a membership fee, a loft for the pigeons, feed, the clocking system — a register that clocks the birds race time — training and a fee to pay for each race. Eric estimates the total starter kit would be £2,000 depending on if you buy it new or secondhand. Eric owns his own loft which is settled in his bright floral backyard maintained by himself. Understandably, not everyone has the space to own a loft filled with pigeons, it is also popular to rent on an allotment which is arranged through your local council. You have to lose some to win some; Pigeon betting, cash prizes, weekly club wages and breeder sales are a common foundation which makes being part of the club that much juicier. The possibility of winning money for yourself and your club ignites the competitive nature that all pigeon fanciers naturally have. Every year from April through to September is when the weekly racing runs in the UK: “In the club the programme is 22-23 races, you can compete in loads of races and there is a national flying club,” Eric says. There is a possibility of racing against other countries too: “I only compete in this country but there is an international race and they do big races competing against France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, etc. They are released at the same race point and the first one home wins, it is very prestigious, I hav-
"It is a dying hobby; it is slowing up all the time. Less clubs, less pigeon flyers, no new young people." during the off season, when they moult their feathers, they are exercised and kept in the loft. Looking at his 40 or so plumped pigeons in their respectable lofts, which itself is bigger than some rooms I have had in London, it is easy to see the love he has showered them with. These humble birds are more than just pigeons, they are an addition to his life and he shows them off proudly. As proud as Britain was by awarding 32 pigeons the Dickin Medal, a medal given to courageous animals in
war, in World War ll, when they were used to relay messages to and from. “And the Queen’s got pigeons too! She has a loft manager and she races pigeons!” With the Queen being a patron for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and being a long-time enthusiast, she continues to race and wins regularly. Her pigeons are kept at her private home on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. I took a pause and wondered what the Queen would do with her winnings, perhaps a round of dubonnets, the Queen’s favour-
ite cocktail? Along with the Queen, other well known names who are or have been pigeon racers: the notorious Mike Tyson and late Pablo Picasso to name but two. Eric hopes to win as many races as possible next year, his advice to future young racers is to purchase young birds or contact the clubs as they are always willing to help new out members and can set them up for races to come. Some also look for clear healthy eyes within the pigeons but he mainly focuses on the most important factor above all, performance. “This is what makes a great pigeon,” says Eric. “Win, lose or draw I still look forward to racing them. I get nervous, thinking they should be back now, (wondering) it’s good, if its bad.”As he explains the process of the wait for his pigeons to come back home. Pauline, his wife laughs and says: “That is when you start coughing a lot when you’re waiting for them.” “I do not know, suppose I do, must be a nervous trait,” Eric says, with a cough at the end of his sentence. 55
THE CRIPPLING DISEASE YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ME affects one in 500 people in the UK, but NHS services are poor and funding is negligible compared to other chronic conditions 56
“Have you ever laid in bed and felt so ill that you truly thought you were going to die?” That’s what teenager Ellie Bunce wrote in a letter published by the Huffington Post on April 13, 2018. A little more than two years earlier, she had been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly referred to by its acronym, ME*. ME is a chronic disease that manifests itself as unrelenting fatigue, muscle pain, malaise and cognitive dysfunctions. It is a profoundly disabling illness that leaves one in four patients bed-bound, with the most severe cases requiring tube feeding. To this day, the cause of the disease is unknown and there is no approved treatment for those who suffer from it. In about 60% of cases, ME is preceded by a viral illness such as gastroenteritis or glandular fever. In Ellie’s case, it was the latter that was to “trigger” the disease. At the time she fell ill, in April 2015, Ellie was a second-year student at Durham University and had dreams of becoming an Olympic rower. Although more than four years have gone by since then, she still remembers clearly the first stages of her illness: “One day, my whole throat swelled up and I was having difficulty breathing, so I went to the A&E. There, I was told that it was just a viral infection and that I would be OK.” In the following weeks though, after a short-lived and much illusory recovery, Ellie’s health kept deteriorating to the point that her rowing coach suggested she get tested for glandular fever. After she tested positive for the virus, the then19-year-old tried to go back to her daily life but soon found out she simply couldn’t. “I had a sore throat all the time and I felt extremely tired. I would literally do the tiniest things, like sitting up, and would be exhausted shortly after.” On account of her precarious health, Ellie chose to take some time off rowing and asked for extensions on her university work. Despite her best efforts to recover though, over time her condition kept getting worse to the extent that she could no longer get out of bed. “Sometimes, I would have to crawl to the bathroom because I couldn’t stand,” she recalled. Eventually, Ellie was forced to leave her university course and move back to her home town, Oxford, where her parents started looking after her day and night, occasionally feeding her when she was too tired to even move her arms. Ellie was only diagnosed with ME in January 2016, after receiving two wrong diagnoses. The first specialist she was referred to ascribed her condition to a personality issue. “He told me that my health problems were due to me not being motivated to get better,” she recalled. “As a treatment plan, he suggested I wake up every morning at nine, have a shower and take a long walk.” The second specialist Ellie went to diagnosed her with post-viral fatigue. Only later in time, given the persistence of the symptoms, would he change the diagnosis to ME. Sadly, Ellie’s late diagnosis is not an isolated occurrence. It is very common for ME patients to be diagnosed poorly, the reason being not only the absence of a direct diagnostic test but also the fact that the disease shares many of its symptoms with a number of other pathological conditions. Both these factors, frequently combined with a poor understanding of the disease on the part of healthcare professionals, contribute to ME often being diagnosed through a process of elimination.
“I had a sore throat all the time and I felt extremely tired. I would literally do the tiniest things, like sitting up, and would be exhausted shortly after.”
When asked about her reaction to the diagnosis, Ellie said: “I didn’t really know what ME was at the time but I had been ill for such a long time that I remember thinking: ‘Well, at least there’s something wrong and there’s a name for it.’ I wouldn’t say that getting the diagnosis was a relief but at least I knew that something wasn’t right with me.” In the months following the diagnosis, Ellie’s life kept being disrupted by the disease. When asked to describe her typical day while being ill, she said: “I would wake up at midday and I’d have my mum make me breakfast. Some days I’d be able to eat it myself, some others I’d have her feed it to me. Then, whenever I could get up for lunch, I’d get up but most of the time I’d just stay in bed for the whole day.” Bed-bound by fatigue and acute muscle pain, Ellie was regularly denied even some of the most physically undemanding pastimes such as reading, listening to music and watching TV. As with many other patients, ME significantly reduced her attentiveness and heightened her sensitivity to noise and light. Stripped of even the simplest life pleasures, Ellie soon developed clinical depression and anxiety. It is not uncommon for ME to have a serious impact on the mental health of its patients, with the stigma that partly still surrounds the disease often being responsible for further psychological distress. Those circumstances, alongside the incontestably high level of physical impairment caused by the illness, make it so that “the well-characterised ME sufferer may experience on average greater disability than those with Type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, sciatica, lung disease, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis and even most cancers.” However, not only does the disease destroy the life of those who suffer from it but it has also been shown to seriously affect the lives of carers too. Speaking on how her illness impacted on the wellbeing of her parents, Ellie said: “It was really traumatic for them to see me in that awful situation. They thought I was going to die quite a lot of times, especially when I had fits and couldn’t breathe. Even now, although I’ve made a full recovery, they’re paranoid that something might happen to me at any time.” Although her parents were the people Ellie leaned on the most whilst being ill, she also received considerable support from the National ME Association. In particular, they put her in touch with other young patients: people her own age who she would regularly chat with and share updates. Although she has now fully recovered, Ellie is still in contact with a number of young adults suffering from ME: “People still message me on Instagram and Facebook all the time. Some ask me questions, some 57
“I just want to do everything that I can now that I'm better. I justwant to grab life a bit more.”
others just need somebody to talk to. I just love being able to offer that support and advice.” Prior to her recovery, Ellie had also engaged in a number of media-related initiatives aimed at increasing awareness about ME: “I did loads of interviews. I was on a lot of radio programmes and I was also in publications like The Sun, You magazine, and I was on BBC Oxford as well.” Considering the devastating effects the disease has on the lives of sufferers, media coverage of ME is ridiculously low. Although a film released in 2017 and titled Unrest paved the way for the illness to become more talked-about, much still needs to be done for public awareness to rise to the due level. That is exactly why it is so important that stories like Ellie’s one find their way into major media outlets. Besides fighting to get ME greater attention, Ellie’s biggest focus is now travelling. When we interviewed her, she had just returned from the US and was getting ready to leave for a tour of South East Asia. Speaking on her new-found passion for globe-trotting, she said: “I just want to do everything that I can now that I’m better. I want to grab life a bit more.” Suffering from a disease as disabling as ME significantly changed Ellie as a person: “I’m a lot more positive and appreciative of things that my friends would look past. When I go away travelling, I could literally just be sitting in the car, looking out of the window and be really happy, whereas other people would be really bored. I’m definitely a lot more thankful for things,” she concluded with a smile. ME affects one in 500 people in the UK and its financial burden has been estimated as £3.3 billion every 58
year (£13,200 per patient), although it could actually be as high as £4.8 billion. In addition to that, ME incapacitates one in four patients and has been shown to have a greater impact on the well-being of the sufferers compared to many other chronic pathologies. In spite of all these factors, the services provided by the British healthcare system to those affected by the illness has long been largely inadequate. In 2014, of the 49 NHS English specialist services for people suffering from ME, only 27 (55%) provided support for severely ill patients that was compliant with the guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). That piece of data is all the more alarming when considering that half of all people with ME need “input from specialist services”. Other than that, a study conducted at the University of Bristol between 2008 and 2010 exposed the inequality of access to ME specialist centres by showing how patients from deprived areas were half as likely to be referred to specialist services compared to people residing in more affluent areas. The system-wide deficiencies are frequently aggravated by a poor clinical understanding of ME on the part of GPs and other healthcare professionals. The evidence validating such claims is plentiful and once again pretty discomforting. To cite one example, in 2014, national charity Action for ME asked 50 GPs from Dumfries and Galloway, Fife and Highland what their training background on ME was. The results of the survey revealed that 82% of GPs had not received any training on ME at all. Albeit partly attributable to chronic diseases being a “soft target in an age of NHS austerity”, poor knowledge of ME within the healthcare industry is indeed a by-product of past scepticism over the reality of the disease. During the 80s, most GPs didn’t accept the existence of ME as a pathological condition. Even as late as 2005, 227 out of 811 English GPs didn’t accept or were doubtful of ME as a “recognisable clinical entity”. Speaking on the repercussions that such widespread disbelief in the disease has had on NHS services for ME patients, Tony Golding, ME sufferer and leader of a London-based support group Network MESH, said: “Unfortunately, the NHS doesn’t devote many resources to ME. There are very few specialists around and even fewer clinics. ME definitely doesn’t get a fair share.” According to patients, the NHS seems to also offer very little in terms of counselling and patient support programmes, with the gap having been filled thus far by national charities such as the ME Association and Action for ME, and local groups like the Network MESH. While national organisations tend to provide online support for youngsters and adults, local groups organise activities targeted at older patients, especially those who don’t have access to the internet. Sadly, the survival of many of these local groups is constantly endangered by the shortage of funding: “[Network MESH] are very lucky because a few years ago a very wealthy man joined our group and gave us several thousand pounds. Most of the other groups really struggle with fundraising and live off whatever they can get hold of, whether that comes from raffles, sponsorships or private donations,” Tony said. This situation raises inevitable concerns as to how severely the potential dissolution of local support
groups might impact on those ME sufferers that cannot get help online. Those concerns are all the more justified by the unlikeliness that NHS services for isolated patients will grow anytime soon. “The problem here is that there is no biomarker (a molecule or gene by which a particular pathology can be identified, ed.) for people affected by ME and there’s also no treatment,” Tony explained. “Finding a biomarker and a cure is the key to mobilise NHS resources. I’m afraid ME won’t be a priority of the healthcare system unless that happens.” Analogously to healthcare services for ME patients, UK-based biomedical research into ME has long been substantially underfunded. Data shows how in the past, the disease received a disproportionately small amount of research funding compared to other, less-prevalent pathological conditions. For instance, between 2007 and 2016, despite affecting 150,000 more individuals than MS, ME received one seventh of the funding accorded to the former. The situation was even worse worldwide, where, over the same time period, ME was given one twentieth of the research funding received by MS, although it affected 14.5 million more people. The shortage of research funding for a disease as crippling and as financially burdensome as ME is once again to be ascribed to the clinical misconceptions the illness was subject to until not very long ago. Luckily, according to Kathleen Mudie, a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), there is evidence this is changing: “The situation is improving in the US and in Canada. We are hopeful that the same will happen in the UK and Europe, where the funds made available for ME research have been almost negligible in comparison to the funding available for other chronic diseases.” The improvement Kathleen spoke of has only recently gained momentum; a few years ago, “it would be very common that you would submit a grant proposal to a funder and they might not have an expert who was qualified to tell them whether or not the project was actually of merit, whereas now there are a number of specialists in the field.” The pioneering work of the CureME team, a London-based group of researchers whose Kathleen is currently part of, started long before this advancement could finally come about. Founded in 2007 thanks to a grant awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, the project’s initial aims were to assess the prevalence of the disease across England and to evaluate its impact on the
wellbeing of patients and carers. Following the success of the first phase of research, in 2011, through additional funding provided by national ME charities and private donations, CureME established the first British ME biobank: a repository where biological samples from more than 600 donors (including healthy controls and MS sufferers) are currently being stored for research purposes. Since its creation, the biobank has significantly reduced the costs of research into ME, something that, in Kathleen’s words, “is paramount in a field that has been underfunded in comparison with other chronic diseases”. By sparing researchers the time to recruit study participants, biobanking has also considerably accelerated medical investigations into ME’s potential biomarkers. One of such investigations, namely a gene-expression study, is currently underway at LSHTM. It is a common opinion among ME researchers that the identification of a biomarker would be a giant step towards a greater understanding of the disease’s physiological mechanisms and, possibly, towards the development of an effective treatment. Other than that, finding a biomarker would also be vitally important for the following three reasons: firstly, it would lead to the creation of a diagnostic test, which would in turn favour early diagnoses; secondly, it would remove, once and for all, the stigma that in some areas of society is still attached to the disease (as recently as January 2016, The Sun referred to ME as “yuppie flu”, a derogatory term dismissing the illness as a form of burnout for young urban professionals); finally, it would unlock resources for the provision of additional healthcare services both in Britain and in the rest of the world. As efforts to identify ME’s biomarkers continue at LSHTM and in other labs across the UK, questions inevitably arise as to how and to what extent Brexit will affect British researchers. “It is very difficult to predict [the impact of Brexit] in the current climate. In general, I think the UK will have difficulties getting funding from European bodies. That will make it harder for us researchers as well,” Kathleen said. Regardless of this though, there is a chance that the CureME project and possibly other UKbased researchers will continue receiving EU funding through their involvement in the European Network for ME/CFS (EUROMENE). Started in 2016 by the Cooperation in Science and Technology Association (COST), over the past three years the EUROMENE has successfully fostered collaboration and data-sharing between a large number of research centres across Europe. According to Kathleen, the connections that the CureME team has established within the EUROMENE “will be thriving irrespectively of potential political changes”, allowing researchers at LSHTM to keep carrying out crucial biomedical studies into ME. It is to be hoped that, in time, these studies together with other investigations being conducted in the rest of the world will yield the expected results, leading to the identification of ME’s biomarker (or biomarkers) and, ultimately, to the manufacturing of a cure. * ME is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). We have deliberately chosen not to adopt this nomenclature as it is regarded as offensive and inappropriate by the patient community. According to those who suffer from it, the term “fails to reflect the diverse symptomatology and severity of the illness”. 59
Fixed gear: fighting the fear A no brakes, fast-paced adrenaline ride: the story behind fixies in London
No brakes, fast-paced, adrenaline-laced. Riding a bike in the city can be hard enough if you are not used to the ebb and flow of the traffic coursing through its concrete veins. London cyclists are a mixed bag and get mixed reviews. There are those who dress in full Hi-Vis and put mirrors and lights on every surface possible, and those who aim to be so minimalist, they remove their brakes. The latter are usually those who receive the most media attention for running unofficial races across the city; they’re known as ‘Alley Cats’ and take risks that can sometimes, have disastrous consequences. They ride ‘brakeless’ on fixed gear bikes, fixies or track bikes. These are illegal to ride anywhere except on a closed track or circuit. ‘Brakeless,’ however, is not necessarily the entire truth. Without getting too technical, a fixed-gear bicycle has a ‘fixed’ drive chain mechanism. You may be used to riding a bike and cruising down a hill without pedalling, this is not an option on a fixie. The spinning motion of the rear wheel is attached to the motion of the pedals. This allows the rider to lock their legs (stop pedalling), stopping the wheel from spinning and consequently skidding to a halt without the need for conventional brakes. The law states that bicycles without two working brakes are illegal for street use. If you place a front brake on a fixed gear bike however it becomes ‘roadworthy’. The issue with this logic is that it does not take the rider’s behaviour or experience into account. In 2017, 20-year-old Charlie Alliston was riding a brakeless, fixed gear bike down Old Street in East London. Kim Briggs, a mother of two, was crossing the road when the light was showing green, in favour of traffic. The result of Kim’s decision left her panicking in the middle of the road. Alliston hit Briggs with his bike and she died from her injuries later that day. Alliston, although acquitted of manslaughter, faced 18 months in a juvenile detention centre. This was partly due to his behaviour in court, blaming Briggs for stepping into the middle of the road. Judge Wendy Joseph QC had this to say to Alliston in court: “throughout [the trial you] sought to put your blame on her.” The Department for Transport and Cycle Safety review, states this about the case: “Whilst one can never truly 60
ascertain what was in a jury’s mind, the Alliston case could perhaps be taken as an example of a jury being reluctant to convict of manslaughter. In this case, the unlawful act giving rise to unlawful act manslaughter was said to be the fact that he was riding a bike with no brakes; which is a criminal offence.” Alliston was given his sentence not solely for the type of bike he was riding, but his actions as a road user. The judge said: “On your own account you did not try to slow any more but, having shouted at her twice, you took the view she should get out of your way. You said in evidence ‘I was entitled to go on’.” Alliston made an error on the road and his actions and attitude saw him pay the price in the eyes of the law. Having spoken to fixed gear riders riding in the streets of London most will admit that a brake would provide more stopping power, but most will likely never go back to riding with brakes as many riders do not think that it would make it any safer. One of these riders is 20-year-old Gabriel from Brixton, South London. He’s been a courier for Stuart and Deliveroo for over two years, and started riding fixed after his old bike, with brakes and
Words: Mischa Manser Image: Micheal Gelespie
gears (a road bike), was stolen and a friend pushed him towards buying a fixed gear bike. Soon after, Gabriel removed the brakes and began riding brakeless. He believes riding fixed and brakeless can be safer than riding a bike with brakes. “I feel like it makes you a lot more aware of your surroundings. You develop this sixth sense and you can read the traffic. I think that’s why I haven’t crashed.” As Gabriel said this he leaned to touch the wooden bench next to us. Essentially Gabriel’s argument is: if you have brakes on your bike you are going to be less aware of your surroundings and not as vigilant. “A brake is safer, but I still think it’s dangerous, being comfortable, feeling like you have something there to stop you is gonna make you unaware. You see people riding with their phones out, not aware, then someone steps out into the road and an accident happens because they have their brakes and they don’t know what’s happening.” This idea that road users become too comfortable and are easily distracted whilst driving is an issue on the road for cyclists and drivers alike. In 2017, a SatNav test was introduced to the driving test to stop new drivers from being
distracted by their phone whilst driving. This is a rule that is frequently broken by some cyclists who are happy to put others at risk, mapping their way around with their mobile while riding. Equally pedestrians are distracted by their phones while crossing the road. The Guardian reported in 2018 that more than 430 moped-related thefts occurred a week over the year. Moped thieves prey on those who are distracted and have their valuables within easy reach. Crooks across the country saw the opportunity and decided to cash in on the new supply of expensive smartphones, almost handed to them by pedestrians who are not paying attention while walking near a road. The Metropolitan Police offers sound advice for avoiding being victim to moped theft: “If you need to call or use your phone on the street, look out for anyone on a bike or a moped near you. Look up, look out. Make it quick so you don’t become distracted. Don’t text while you’re walking — you won’t notice what’s going on around you.” However, the police do not offer the same advice to pedestrians as they attempt to cross the road. The problem that has become a goldmine for thieves is also the scourge of London’s road users, as pedestrians, staring at their phones or being unaware of their surroundings, step out into the road or a cycle lane. Sometimes, in cases like these, having brakes or not is not going to stop the inevitable from happening. “However good you are at riding your brakeless fixie, if a pedestrian decides to run in the road and you hit them because you could not brake in time and avoid them, not having a mechanical (conventional) brake will not help your case,” says Stephanie from the London Courier Emergency Fund (LCEF). Perhaps one of the most baffling aspects of couriers choosing to ride fixed is that it is very important for couriers to remain fit and healthy. If a courier is injured or falls ill and become unable to work they do not receive sick pay as couriers are considered to be ‘independent contractors’. In this case, organisations like the London Courier Emergency Fund financially support couriers who have been injured on the job. Stephanie has been riding fixed in the city as a courier for years, but always with at least one brake. Even so, Steph-
anie and the LCEF do not discriminate against those who choose to ride brakeless: “I never ask riders who come to me for assistance what type of bike they are riding and would not withhold financial help if that person was riding a brakeless fixed gear bicycle.” Stephanie also claims that most companies run check-ups for their riders every three months: “to ensure that everyone has at least one working [conventional] brake. They have been doing so since the Charlie Alliston case.” So, the community has taken the incident seriously regardless of the personal beliefs of their riders. Stephanie also states that when it comes to riding brakeless she believes: “Cycle couriers usually have the skills and good knowledge of traffic to do so. Every cyclist must be very aware of all traffic around them at all time, even more so if you’re only means of braking is your legs.” The fixed gear phenomenon, much like skateboarding, has created an underground culture where riders meet up to practice their skills, ride and race together. Fixed Beers, a riding meet-up group that has been running every two weeks since its inception in 2015, represents one tight-knit community of riders in London. The group started as a shop ride from Cycle PS in South London. When the shop closed a group of friends got together and continued doing the ride out. The Fixed Beers group was born and has since expanded to a racing team, with sponsorship deals and an international following. The group ride is a place for cyclists from different disciplines of cycling, from road to BMX, to meet up with like-minded individuals and ride bikes together. The ‘beers’ element of the ride emphasises the social aspect of the group. As the name suggests the following is largely fixed but everyone is welcome to join. The three founders, Fraser, Stephen, and Dale, all ride fixed. “When I was younger I used to do a lot of skateboarding and I ended up snapping my ankle. That gave me the fear. I couldn’t work for three months, that changed the direction I was going in,” says Fraser, who works as a civil engineer by day. “It’s a bit edgier and risky and without wanting to sound like a fucking wanker, it feels a lot freer.” Fraser adds: “Any idiot could ride a bike
around London but to ride a fixed gear bike around London with any speed at all is pretty fucking ballsy.” Although the ride itself is not exactly fast-paced it is not the type of ride a novice should partake in as some of the cutting through traffic, weaving in and out of pedestrians and sudden bursts of speed can be a little hairy at times. One of the reasons this is the case is the size of the group that can range anywhere between 12 to 50 riders strong. “I think the group protects you in a lot of ways. When you are riding alone you have to take a lot more care and be. A lot more careful.” Fraser has fears that if the ride becomes too big it could change the group’s image: “One of the things that concern us is that with a large volume of people it starts to feel like a protest. We start to become a traffic wedge.” On the rides, however, to support the group and make it as accessible to every type of rider, you are responsible for your own actions and their consequences. The organisers are always careful to make sure the rides remain safe “If I’ve got a group I will stop at a light. I’m not going to do any dangerous stuff." Fraser says. “You have to make your calls when you’re at the front. I’ve made bad calls and I’ve gone for it and traffic has arrived and that’s been a nightmare.” Plenty of couriers frequent the ride outs and they are generally regarded as the most talented and ‘ballsy’ riders in the group. “It’s the hierarchy. The messengers have always been the coolest kids on the scene, they’re doing it day-in, day-out and people want to emulate that. Not always the style but the mess of it all. They also throw the best events. Those guys know how to party and have a good time.” Fixed gear has been a grey area for the law for a long time but, much like skateboarding, the more it is pushed underground the further these issues around what happens on our roads move away from healthy debate and tensions continue to rise between road users. However, demonising a sport like this is going to push more young people to make some poor decisions like Charlie Alliston, while cycle couriering will continue to be a part of city life, and with this will come new generations of fixed gear riders who are willing to push the limits of what is possible on two wheels. 61
Natural wine culture The growing popularity of wine produced without unnecessary chemicals
Drinking and exploring natural wine has been a significant trend in many social circles for a few years. More and more wine drinkers are reaching for natural wine instead of generic supermarket brands, as they are becoming increasingly aware of the number of chemical additives that are often added. According to federal regulations in the US, there are more than 60 extra ingredients that wine producers can add to their products, without having to place them on the label. Therefore, most of the time wine consumers are not aware of all the components that make up the wine that they are drinking. Wine can be manipulated heavily during its production, but one of the biggest benefits of natural wine is that the process is said to be completely transparent. During winemaking, are three major steps — growing the grape on the vines, picking the grapes and then beginning the fermentation progress. ‘Conventional’ winemakers will often grow grapes that are sprayed with chemicals (pesticides or herbicides) and use machines to harvest them. Instead, natural wine is usually produced by a farmer who cares about the sustainability of their grapes and who avoids the use of chemicals whenever possible. This means that they need to follow specific rules; when growing vines, for example, they need to adhere to the principles of organic or bio-dynamic agriculture. The grape harvest is done manually, which allows a more accurate selection of the best grapes. Using native yeast is also crucial; yeast naturally found on the skins of chemically untreated grapes allow the wine to ferment properly during wine making. There is no use for flash pasteurisation, adding sugar, egg white, flavouring yeast or acid, which would change the natural qualities of grapes. The only additives necessary are minimal amounts of sulphite, which is used during bottling to preserve the taste of the wine. There has never been such a large selection and such easy access to good quality wines as we have now, however the demand for natural wine is still growing. Over the years, common winemaking techniques have led to a generic taste for a lot of wines. Although they come in different bottles, we often have the impression of drinking the same wine. Instead 62
Words: Oliwia Dworakowska Image: Lasseter Winery via Unsplash
The passion behind the owners of the restaurant is inspiring and it encourages people to treat wine drinking as a ritual and time to explore different and unexpected flavours. of the grapes primarily determining the taste of wine, winemakers can add up to 200 different ingredients, which impact the flavour greatly. According to EMBO Reports, ‘conventional’ wine has only been on the market for less than 100 years. The main change in wine production happened after World War II, when pesticides and commercial yeast came on the market. In the 80s, wine critic Robert Parker created a wine rating system that affected the wine industry and its economy for years to come, as many winemakers changed their wine recipes to fit his taste. Some of the downsides of natural wine are that they require more work, attention and above all, financial outlay. Producers that want to make natural wine need to follow organic certification standards, which are expensive to uphold. In London, natural wine drinking culture has been growing rapidly. Many wine bars and restaurant offer natural wine to accompany sustainably sourced food. One of those places is The Remedy. The restaurant and wine bar, located in Fitzrovia, is run by two friends Renato and Andrea, who wanted to open a relaxed and intimate bistro where they can share their passion for food and wine with customers. “The restaurant’s style is inspired by traditional European enotecas and has a cosy atmosphere. We wanted to create a place that feels nice and homely,” they tell us. “All of our dishes on the menu are made from fresh products and the wine we serve is imported from different small producers all over Europe. We love explaining the history behind every wine we sell and make the customer feel they can transport to the place the wine is made
in just for a few seconds,” explained Lai, who has been a part of The Remedy team for a few years now. The Remedy has a broad selection of wine from red and white, to orange and rose, champagne and dessert wine. The food menu suggests a sharing platter concept. It changes weekly as the kitchen bases its dishes on the season, to make sure they serve food using the best available ingredients from their local suppliers. The wine that was recommended to me, Le Combal, is a natural red wine from Cahors in South West France. The taste is powerful and earthy, but it was a perfect match for a tuna tartare and grilled octopus with potatoes and paprika. Another venue that offers natural wine in London is The Other Naughty Piglet in Victoria, the sister restaurant of the Naughty Piglet in Brixton. The owners Joe and Margaux Sharratt decided to open a place above The Other Palace Theatre that has a similar atmosphere, but more space than their first establishment in Brixton. The Other Naughty Piglet is a modern European cuisine restaurant that also offers natural and organic wine. Its main focus is small fusion meals made from seasonal, fresh and organic products from local suppliers. The wine list contains carefully chosen wines from independent producers that create low intervention wine. Louise, a wine specialist in the restaurant, introduced the concept of The Other Naughty Piglet. “Our restaurant is created with passion and love for food and wine. Every dish has a rich and exciting taste and is prepared from the best products available. We decided to go for the concept of
the sharing plate because it brings people together and allows everyone to try many different recipes.” “Every wine we sell is natural, bio-friendly and has an independent history. We work with small producers that make low intervention wine because introducing this concept to customers is important to us.” I decided to try the 2018 Le Temps Retrouvé, Michael Georget from Roussillon, France. It is a natural dry white wine with a floral flavour. Both places offer a unique experience with delicious food and excellent wine. The restaurants also host many events, including wine tastings and
nights with special chefs from all around Europe. Visiting The Other Naughty Piglet and The Remedy is an experience that helps understand the natural wine culture and concept of enjoying clean, organic, food and wine. The passion behind the owners of the restaurants are inspiring and it encourages people to treat wine drinking as a ritual and time to explore different and unexpected flavours. The emergence of The Natural Wine App: Raisin, also aims to encourage the natural wine drinking culture by offering a mobile app that helps guide people who want to know more about natural wine.
It shows all the bars, shops and restaurants in your area that serve natural wine with customers review and important information. You can create your own profile and interact with other users. Raisin has a label scanner so you can get information on the wine you’re drinking and a map of winemakers all over the world. Many people say that natural wine is just another ‘trend’, that will disappear sooner or later. The truth is that natural wine has been and always will be a part of our culture and exploring this world can be a fun and exciting journey that reveals our taste and preferences.
Our plastic problem Are UK supermarkets doing enough to reduce the use of plastic packaging?
Words and images: Harry Myles
“We have removed as much plastic packaging as we can without affecting the quality of fruit and veg. And we’re continuing to work on how to remove more.” The above is stated atop one of the fresh produce plinths at a Waitrose in Oxford and is one of the numerous signposts scattered throughout the store advertising a plastic-free approach to shopping. In June last year, a Waitrose & Partners store located on Botley Road was the first Waitrose store to trial an alternative way of shopping called Unpacked. Recently, supermarket giants have been under increased scrutiny for the unnecessary use of plastic — fresh produce items packaged on plastic trays and sealed in crinkly single-use plastic bags are a familiar sight. Unpacked aims to break free from something we have all become accustomed to. The scheme, with the aim to save thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging, gives a greater availability of loose fresh fruit and veg in attractive displays. It also provides customers with the chance to bring and fill their own containers with dry goods such as coffee, pasta and other grains, as well as beer, wine and household detergents. Many of these refillable items are 15% cheaper than their packaged equivalents. As the 11-week trial was received positively by shoppers, it has remained. Consequently, Waitrose has expanded this initiative to three other stores: Cheltenham, Abingdon, and Wallingford. The Oxford Waitrose store is not the first outlet to operate a plastic-free approach to shopping. Traditional grocers, farm shops and zero-waste stores have become particularly popular and more readily available, albeit typically premium. It is a model that gets a vote of approval from most consumers. Various supermarkets have expressed they are committed to reducing the amount of plastic they use, as well as implementing more reusable and returnable alternatives. Reusable produce bags, bringing your own containers to fresh food counters and removing plastic sleeves from flower bouquets are some of the small steps taken by Sainsbury’s, who say they are to halve plastic packaging by 2025. Similarly, Tesco state that they are to: “remove one billion of pieces of plastic from products by the end of 2020.” While
suppliers, but all of them have made the decision to package milk in a single-use plastic bottle.” He adds: “If all the supermarkets got together and told the dairy suppliers, ‘we don’t want to use single-use plastic bottles anymore’, then they could do it. They don’t because they don’t all want to move as one. That's because it’s very difficult to get them to do that without legislation.” In February of this year, Greenpeace campaigners paraded a 29ft plastic bottle sculpture through London — their destination being, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The protest was held due to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove’s, stance over the deposit return scheme (DRS). The scheme which can be described as a ‘reverse vending machine’, would introduce a levy such as 10p, on drinks sold in all types of containers: plastic, metal and glass. The levy acts as a deposit, which is returned to the consumer if they were return their drink bottle to a deposit station location such as a shop or restaurant. An overall incentive for consumers to recycle. Gove’s stance was criticised because it was unclear if he would back an all-inclusive DRS scheme, one which would have the widest possible impact or instead back a: “watered-down” and “onthe-go scheme.” It was feared the latter would happen after talks of corporate lobbying. “It [a watered-down scheme] would unnecessarily restrict billions of plastic bottles every single year from being part of the scheme. People don’t just buy 500ml bottles, they buy 2 litre drink bottles too, so to just unnecessarily exclude those is just absolutely mad to us,” Sam says. The UK Government’s latest Environment bill was released this October. Whilst it positively included a DRS scheme, there is still strong scepticism among Greenpeace campaigners who argue there is still no clarity over how the scheme will be implemented: “Theresa Villiers, the current environment secretary, has not been specific on her position about those two things [all-inclusive DRS scheme or a watered-down version]. “The government have said they are going to do another technical consultation in February. But really in our mind,
it is evident that supermarkets have a strong desire to act on plastic, said pledges by supermarkets are not legally binding. Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign, says that whilst supermarkets do need to do more, government legislation needs to be implemented: “Companies are going to start setting targets but it is fundamentally down to government to ensure that firstly, there are minimum standards and secondly, to push ambition much further and to overhaul the packaging system.” Overhauling the whole of the UK’s supermarkets packaging system, to an ideally plastic-free and recyclable alternatives utopia-like state, would be an intricate and lengthy process. There are definitely more steps that could be taken by supermarkets and these would likely occur if legislation was put into greater effect. In most supermarkets, milk is still typically sold within single-use plastic, rather than supermarkets seeking alternatives such as glass with returnable schemes. Sam details: “The UK has a really remarkably small amount of dairy
“If all the supermarkets got together and told the dairy suppliers ‘we don’t want to use single-use plastic bottles anymore', then they could do it.”
particularly since Scotland has already confirmed they are going to do a much more ambitious version of the return scheme, it seems crazy to have an unnecessarily less ambitious scheme here in the UK. Organisations like ours are still advocating for government to do it properly,” Sam adds. It is evident that through more robust government legislation, issues such as plastic pollution can be tackled further. The introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge back in 2015, requiring all large retailers to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags, indicates this. According to Defra: “the average person in England
now buys just 10 bags a year,” compared with: “140 bags bought in 2014 before the charge was introduced.” The DRS scheme is one piece of legislation that, if put into practice fully, would be able to turn the tide regarding the issue with plastic water bottles, a large offender of single-use plastic. A recent report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee details how within a 15-year-period, the consumption of plastic bottled water has doubled, putting unnecessary strain on an already outstretched recycling regime. “Water bottles now make up around half of all plastic bottles. To reduce the
7.7 billion plastic water bottles used each year in the UK, a culture of carrying a reusable bottle should be embedded through the provision of public water fountains and access to free tap water.” Some individuals are of course, more engaged in practices mentioned — using reusable bottles, coffee cups and bag for life, helping to work towards a reusable culture. However, enforced legislation such as the 5p bag scheme, shows that government intervention is necessary, not only to highlight the problem of single-use plastics but to enable the much-needed changes to tackle our recently declared ‘climate emergency’. 65
Terror in the night For many of us sleep is a welcome respite. But for some it can mean taking a glimpse into real life nightmares
Frozen and frightened, the unsettling feeling of someone uninvited in the room. Suffering in silence, unable to move or make a sound, trying to wake up and escape the darkness. You feel completely incapacitated with the fear washing over you. This may occur every night or once in a while, nevertheless, each time will be more terrifying than the previous one. On a night in mid-January David could feel a heavy disturbing presence on his chest; He tried to scream but no words would materialise, he felt helpless and terrified. As he woke the feeling of confusion and unsettlement came over him. Was it a paranormal experience or an especially horrific and realistic nightmare? “I wish I could put into words the fear I felt that night. I have never been scared of ghosts or had any paranormal experiences. But this. This was the only thing I thought it could be, I am not religious at all, but that is what it was. “This is the only way I can explain it: it was dark around five in the morning, I could see a figure clearly, it was a man around seven foot, huge and terrifying. At first I thought he was a burglar, but then he started to come closer to my bed, closer to me. I could feel it had bad intentions, he felt threatening like he was going to hurt me.” I tried to scream for help but no words would leave my lips, I tried to move but my body wouldn’t let me. I was stuck and forced to live out this terrifying scene that was taking place in my bedroom, in my bed. I woke again this time able to scream, the man had gone leaving without a trace.” David felt anxious and afraid to sleep at night for the following weeks in case the same nightmare would occur. After googling and watching youtube videos David found that many others had also experienced similar night terrors. Weeks had passed by when he was visited by the same dark presence, equally as terrifying, if not more. But this time he knew what it was, a sleep disorder called sleep paralysis. “To be honest at first I felt uneasy about sharing my experience with anyone, even my girlfriend. I was afraid of them laughing or judging me. It did take over my life for a period of time, mainly because I was exhausted from avoiding sleep. I had read online that sleep paraly66
sis is common if you travel a lot, which I do. I tried to avoid taking naps but I just ended up feeling exhausted. “It really helped reading about it and other peoples experiences, kind of confirmed to me that I wasn’t actually going insane. I will go weeks without having sleep paralysis and then one night it’ll just creep up on me. The same haunting feeling comes to me. I feel trapped, frozen and vulnerable.” Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is in a state of rapid eye movement sleep (REM). REM is when the brain is active and awake but your body is still asleep, this is why you are unable to move. REM sleep tends to happen when you are waking up or falling asleep. It can affect people of all ages but is most common in teenagers and young adults. Sleep paralysis should not last more than a couple of minutes, theoretically it is harmless however can be extremely terrifying and leave long term effects. For instance, a person who experiences sleep paralysis more than once may become anxious and afraid of sleeping. David is 27 years old and his occupation requires long hours and demand him to travel, therefore his sleeping pattern is irregular. These could be some of the factors that are causing him to have regular sleep paralysis. The main symptom of sleep paralysis is being completely aware of your surroundings, but temporarily being unable to move or talk. This is especially disturbing because you are somewhere
“I tried to scream for help but no words would leave my lips, I tried to move but my body wouldn't let me. I was stuck and forced to live out this terrifying scene.”
Words: Tess Belgrove Image: Heng Hsu
familiar and not somewhere imagined. It makes it harder to understand the differentiation between dream and reality. According to the NHS website during an episode of sleep paralysis you may: • Find it difficult to take deep breaths, as if your chest is being crushed or restricted. • Be able to move your eyes — some people can also open their eyes but others find that they can not. • Have a sensation that there is someone or something in the room with you (hallucination) — many people feel this presence wishes to harm them. • Feel very frightened. Many people refer to sleep paralysis as a sleep demon or incubus, something that has dark and bad intentions. There are many interpretations of what sleep paralysis is and many cultures believe that it could be the work of supernatural beings. Some Arabic cultures attributed these symptoms to encountering a Jinn, a mythological spirit. In Japanese tradition, sleep paralysis is due to a vengeful spirit who suffocates his enemies while sleeping. A more terrifying interpretation of sleep paralysis comes from a Brazilian folk tale, an entity known as ‘Pisadeira’ is described as a crone with long fingernails who lurks on roofs at night and tramples on the chest of those who sleep on a full stomach, which is facing upwards. It is clear that people have been experiencing sleep paralysis for centuries, each culture has its own tale to explain the spooky events. Sleep paralysis affects less than 8% of the general population and often occurs when a person is extremely stressed and highly anxious. People who are frequent travellers, work long hours and have an inconsistent sleeping pattern are more likely to experience this phenomenon. David joined a group that tackles the subject of sleeping disorders that meet up once a fortnight. Groups like these are set up by the council and give people who are struggling with sleeping disorders the opportunity to talk to like-minded people, where they can share their own experiences and how they have overcome these issues. David says his mental health has improved significantly and is able to control and understand his sleep paralysis. 67
The anti-social justice warriors How academics and writers are waging war on 'grievance studies' in universities
Words: Lara Anisere Image: courtesy of Reid Nicewonder
Conceptual penis? Rape culture in dog parks? An intersectional-feminist remix of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf? These were topics produced in papers given the go-ahead in respected academic journals covering gender studies, critical race theory and queer theory. Yet they were all parodies, produced by assistant professor of philosophy Peter Boghossian, author and doctor of maths and physics James Lindsay and ‘humanities-exile’ and editor-in-chief of Areo Magazine, Helen Pluckrose. The trio submitted the fake papers to a range of academic journals to show issues within the critical theory and cultural studies faculties. All were successfully published. The authors, who met through the New Atheism Movement, were concerned with areas of scholarship that they facetiously nicknamed ‘The Grievance Studies’, due to their common goal of “problematising aspects of culture to diagnose oppression in identity.” The academics targeted niche critical theorist pockets of study including gender studies, identity studies and fat studies. They infiltrated these areas by adopting à la mode social justice jargon. Speaking about the parody papers on controversial YouTube talk show Triggernometry, Pluckrose, who is fluent in social justice vernacular, admitted to “targeting journals with ideas that should have been very clearly nonsense and unethical.” One of the 20 hoax papers published in Gender, Place & Culture, a journal of feminist geography was titled “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon” and claimed that dog-humping in parks was proof of the rape culture that many academics and students claim is widespread throughout society. Perhaps the most disturbing, hoax paper of the three, thanks to its overtones of totalitarianism, was titled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism”. Here, the trio re-wrote the 12th chapter of the first volume of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf but “replaced ‘our movement’ with ‘intersectional feminism’ and just made the rest work,” Lindsay said. The piece was accepted by Affilia:
hand, this global social awakening has made people more aware of how imbalances hurt marginalised groups. At its best, social justice activism has successfully shown the biases which are inscribed into the small print of our interactions. It is thanks to social justice activism that minorities have been brave enough to discuss hurtful assumptions or deductions made about their culture, like describing African hair as rough or assuming an Indian couple’s marriage was arranged. The work of social justice activists and their sharing of prejudiced stereotypes online has taught those with more privilege how to be kinder. In this new climate, where minorities speak openly about the minor and major offences they have faced, dominant groups, brands and corporations are more mindful of discriminatory bias they may carry. In short, social justice activism has made for a more mindful society, especially towards groups that were not once a primary consideration. Those against social justice activism often make the argument that society has moved past the prejudice of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation; laws have been passed that protect women, non-heterosexuals and other minority groups from discrimination. So social justice activism is not needed. Right? Wrong. New laws reflect new times, but do not stop the existence of prejudice, casual stereotyping, or the belief that minorities “must work twice as hard.” Instead, these ‘new laws’ set up to oppose discriminatory practices, offer only a superficial pretence of true ‘social acceptance’ but don’t address the deeper, underlying sources of discrimination. Although social justice activism does some things right, the movement, as well-intentioned as it may seem, is not without fault. As Portland State University’s (PSU) professor of philosophy, Peter Boghossian later found out for himself. He came into contact with the ungracious methods of social justice activism in 2017 after inviting former Google engineer and author of Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, James Damore, to speak as part of a panel discussion at PSU. After a diversity conference, Damore believed the reasons for Google’s 20% female workforce could not be simply
Journal of Women and Social Work The hoaxes, as funny as they first appear, reveal the ideological bias in the very institution where it is least acceptable. In 2017, prior to the addition of Helen Pluckrose, Boghossian and Lindsay produced “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” which they later described as “ridiculous by intention. The paper essentially argues that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions.” To add salt to the wound, they looked at “The Conceptual Penis” through a black, feminist, criminology lens, and described “penises as concepts of masculinity that are causing global warming.” The thought of respected academics, nodding in agreement while reading this paper, seems like something that could only exist in an episode of Bojack Horseman or South Park; the downside being, this particular show unfolding before our eyes is not one we can switch off from. It is a frightening display of the rippling effect of a majority opinion in a minority field. The jovial mood in the famous Gladstone Library, home to the National Liberal Club, soon grew stiff with seriousness as Dr Lindsay professed: “A huge cultural shift is taking place right under our noses and this could end badly for some people.” He went on to say, “it comes in a pretty box. I want you to come away today, seeing what’s inside that box and to see that it doesn’t match what’s on the picture on the outside.” On the outside of the box, social justice activism focuses on the power of narratives and the existence of power within dominant cultures. It seeks to repair unconscious bias that has merged with the ruling cultural practices of the time. The problem is, those who hold the reins in society shape the stereotypes and assumptions of wider society. Many of these belief systems favour an elite creed to which they belong, whilst turning their nose up at those beneath. Social justice activism recognises that social influences are also a form of power. The movement aims to do more than just hold a magnifying glass to the intolerant composition of society; its goal is to eradicate the structures that favour some groups while oppressing others. But it’s not all bad. On the one
explained away with micro-aggressions and unconscious bias as his employer had suggested. He argued that the gender gap at Google could be partially explained by biological differences, saying “women are more naturally inclined to opt for careers which offer better work, family and quality-of-life balance, and in the interest of men to find work which offers high pay.” Damore had even suggested solutions to make his workplace more appealing to women. But when the memo was leaked and published to the press, Damore was branded as a racist and misogynist, and was fired from Google. Activists at Portland State avenged Boghossian’s invite by leaving a bag of faeces on his desk and putting Swastikas on the bathroom walls. The motive of such ruthless harassment is to frighten to the point of submission, a tactic often used by a minority of social justice activists. Perhaps the most perplexing issue of social justice rhetoric is this expectation to surrender what we knew to be true yesterday for progressive empirical ‘truths’ dressed up as fact. Prior to 2015, biological differences between men and women were widely accepted as truth, backed up by biology and psychology. But in this high octane social justice climate, opposing the ‘social construction’ of society is to welcome the threat of physical violence and harassment. Social justice activists act out what Christina Hoff Sommer’s described as “reverse Cognitive Behavioural Thera-
py.” If Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps people become more aware of behavioural patterns that reinforce distorted thinking, social justice endorses power-structure-centric distorted thinking and catastrophising. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “speech is violence” in social justice spheres on the internet. Conflating violence with discomfort highlights a disconnection from language and distances language from its purpose of being truthful. If differing opinions feel like violence, then real violence can be an appropriate response. Violent responses to language, such as the ones produced by the PSU panel with Damore, are a tactic used by the activists and are justified by labelling opposing speech as violent. Boghossian’s treatment by students and Damore’s dismissal are common goals, sought after by those frightened by differing ideas, to punish people who challenge the so-called “New Woke Order” into silence and submission. Boghossian is no stranger to the methods of the more extreme end of social justice activism came up with a list which, and he highlights “the seven ways social justice activism destroys freedom of speech.” At the top of the list was name-calling; labelling people Nazis, White Supremacists, transphobic etc. Name-calling “stops conversation where it should begin”, says Boghossian, making people stop listening to ideas that a progressive crowd have labelled dangerous. Another was “claiming speech is
violence” which manipulates organisations to stop giving platforms to people who challenge social justice ideas, as both Boghossian and Damore along with many others have faced. Boghossian later went on to say: “And because it’s violence, [they are] not going to do the intellectual work and take time to figure out what that person is talking about.” One of the widely debated tactics the online activists use is ‘cancelling’ (also boycotting) a person (usually, but not always a celebrity) because of their un-progressive ideas, past and present, which are not only unacceptable but punishable offences. The downfall of a career or even small businesses is considered to be social justice through consumer awareness of good and bad, who to support and who to withdraw support from. Revenge and being responsible for the teardown of a celebrity or even someone with followers and therefore a ‘platform’ are some of the more radical social justice activists’ most proud pursuits. The conference made clear many of the resounding concerns about social justice activism crystal clear, but the most poignant was how, if we allow it, social justice activism has the power to corrode factual information, truth and reason through, as Boghossian put it, “idea-laundering.” The act of creating falsities which parade as fact, just as the hoaxers successfully accomplished. At its core, social justice is a noble idea. Who doesn’t want a society that is fairer for all? Their methods, rigid fixation on identity and not character, the laborious task of scanning every interaction for discrimination, are a counterproductive means of effecting positive change. Social justice has made society more mindful of what can be considered ‘the other’. But seeing people only as their cultural signifiers focuses on labels instead of what is underneath, and the progression of society has always depended on uncomfortable conversations. A future where only the truth itself is debatable is one that erodes the necessity of logic, fact and reason whilst relying solely on observation and personal experience. And at it’s core, no matter the good intention, the quest for social justice will not be achieved if its methods regularly result in the injustice of others. 69
Words: George Janes Pictures: NASA
THE LEGACY OF APOLLO Looking back, half a century on, from when man first set foot on the moon and to what our presence in space is like today
“Houston, Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.” Neil Armstrong’s first words from the surface of the Moon crackled through the speakers of millions watching worldwide fifty years ago. On July 20, 1969, the Apollo lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, landed on the surface of the Moon, transmitting a fuzzy and pale video link back home. As the world held its breath, the two astronauts inside, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, tentatively left the relative safety of Eagle and took mankind’s first steps on the lunar surface. Placing his foot onto the grey moon rock, Armstrong reported back to Earth using words which would be immortalised in popular culture: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Apollo 11 lunar landing was the culmination of the so-called Space Race, the Cold War competition between the United States of America and the Soviet Union which commenced with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. The Soviets initially led the race sending Yuri Gagarin, the first man, into space in 1961, closely followed by the first woman in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova. As the race heated up and the Cold War stakes grew, the sights of both nations became firmly fixed upon our closest celestial neighbour — the Moon.
In his now famous speech, given in Houston, Texas in 1962, American President John F. Kennedy sought to allay fiscal fears over the recently announced Apollo missions, proclaiming the race for the Moon as a showcase of American spirit, invoking the grit that enabled the first pioneers to carve their nation out of the wild frontier. Seeking to salvage an image of the United States damaged by recent failures in the race with the USSR, Kennedy ended his speech by saying: “We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He succeeded, instilling a romantic notion amongst the American people and creating a vast new frontier in space, in which all of mankind would face a common enemy in its environmental challenges. His goal of a lunar landing was achieved within a decade, albeit after his assassination in 1963. A total of 12 astronauts would step foot on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. We have never been back, but within the next two decades, that is set to change. “It just becomes more and more mind boggling and impressive to think about what those teams accomplished at that moment in history with the technology they had. I think that it’s just a testament to what humans can accomplish when they put their minds to something,” says NASA astronaut Richard
“To see the earth and the stars through your visor, in your own little spaceship, is a remarkable experience.”
‘Ricky’ Arnold II. Arnold, most recently spent 197 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS), returning to Earth in October 2018. Even with his own experiences in space, he holds the astronauts of Apollo in highest esteem. “I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like, even with my experiences on the space station. To come around the lunar surface and see the Earth smaller than the Moon, rising over the Moon’s horizon, it’s still hard for me to image what that would be like, and what it took to accomplish that back in the 60s and early 70s!” Whilst the ‘Space Race’ of the Cold War era has long ended, mankind’s exploration of space has continued to evolve with the advancements of modern technology. Great orbital telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 1990 and 2003, now point outwards from Earth’s orbit, furthering the limit on what we can see in the murky fathoms of space. In 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to be launched — the direct successor to the older generation of space telescopes. Space stations have been blasted into orbit around our planet. The Soviet space station Mir operated from 1986-2001, whilst the Chinese Tiangong programme orbited between 2011 and 2019. Today, only the ISS remains — perhaps the most well known and celebrated example of international cooperation in the exploration of space. Creating sustainable and liveable environments beyond the safety of Earth is a vital step on the path to colonisation in space, be that another planet, or within space itself. Missions to the ISS continue to be frequent, with teams of astronauts spending varied lengths of time aboard, undertaking scientific experiments, technical alterations to the station or performing essential maintenance. “It’s very nice living on the ISS,” Arnold recalled of his times spent aboard. “Being part of an international crew, doing cutting edge science in a really unique location is a wonderful experience. Our days were about 12 hours long, starting the day with a morning conference at around 7:00am GMT. We then have a daily schedule that goes to about 7:00pm.” To many, life aboard the ISS may seem idyllic and surreal, with the Earth passing by beyond the station’s portholes, giving hours to gaze and wonder at the stars glittering in their millions. In reality, it is very much a working station, with the demands of the mission ever present in an astronauts life. “You have an entire ground team who manages your schedule, and they uplink it to you. There is sometimes flexibility, the ground are very sensitive on that and try and give you as much as possible, but they’ve got a mission they want to get done, and you’re up there to execute it for them.” After being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004, Arnold served on two space missions. The first, STS119, was a 12-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the shuttle which carried the Hubble telescope into orbit. Arnold and the crew of STS-119 performed a vital install of the S6 truss, a portion of the ISS which carried the last set of solar arrays, thus allowing an increase from a crew of three to six. It was also during STS-119 that Arnold performed his first space walk, 72
“They were a remarkable group of individuals, the astronauts and the people on the ground.”
otherwise known as an EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity). “I remember my very first space walk, it was time-lined to the minute. Installing the S6 truss was our primary mission objective, and so after we got all of that done, around six hours into the space walk, I’m just sitting there tethered to the space station, and I kind of just let go with my hands and watched the Earth pass beneath my feet, and I remember thinking ‘I can’t believe someone is paying me to do this!’” Preparing to leave Earth aboard Discovery was an experience which Arnold recalls with excitement, whilst remembering the psychological pressures which he and the rest of the crew felt in 2009. “To launch is a very surreal experience because you know, you’re preparing to leave Earth. When you’re getting ready to launch, ‘surrendered to the madness’ probably isn’t the right term, but it’s close, you know, you’ve committed to what you’re going to do.” “Then, it’s quite a ride; it’s just a pure ride of exhilaration, to travel at speeds when you think you can’t go any faster, but for eight and a half minutes you’re just accelerating!” The Space Shuttle blasted its way into space with the aid of huge rocket boosters which separated and fell away as the shuttle reached micro-gravity, a feeling which Arnold describes in sci-fi-esque detail. “With the Space Shuttle you definitely feel it. You’re secured in your seats, but things would start to float. there are explosive bolts holding the exterior fuel tank and you would feel that as it separated form the space shuttle and the main engines cut off.” “The staging in the Soyuz was rather dramatic too, when you reached micro-gravity, you knew it. You
were kind of thrown forward in your seat a little, and stuff started to float, there was no question about it!” Soyuz is a Russian spacecraft on which Arnold flew during his second mission to space in 2018, this time to the ISS. “Once those main engines have been shut off, a fair amount of risk has been removed. You’re no longer sitting on top of a controlled explosion, so the atmosphere inside the cabin is one of excitement and happiness!” During his 197-day stay aboard the ISS during Expedition 55, Arnold and his crew-mates undertook experiments relating to DNA sequencing, something which is vital in furthering our understanding of the effects micro-gravity has upon living organisms. “We have micro-organisms living on the space station since it was first launched, so generations of bacteria have been living in low-Earth orbit. So, we wanted to perfect how we identify these bacteria genetically to get a sense of how their genome has changed due to radiation in that micro-gravity environment.” The crew of Expedition 55 were also the first crew to sequence RNA on the space station. The on-going work to maintain and develop the ISS represents an important aspect of the future of space exploration, which will likely see manned and unmanned missions expand to the further reaches of our solar system. Ahead of a mission to Mars, or the futuristic ‘Von Braun Wheels of the Future’ station, NASA announced its intention to return to the Moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis Program and announced that this time, they “want the world to come along.” But why does the Moon hold such significance in both the context of interstellar exploration,
and the human psyche? Mankind’s obsession with the Moon and the stars has existed since the dawn of conscious thought in our species. For thousands of years stories have been passed down across generations, depicting the countless stars that litter our skies as the embodiment of important deities, or long-dead relatives and ancestors. Our celestial neighbours became harbingers of drought, rainfall, harvest and the seasons. Looking to the stars become a focal point of early religion, with pre-historic sites such as Stonehenge believed to have been used for a variety of social and religious functions in alignment with astrology. As civilisations progressed and technology evolved, as did our understanding of what lay beyond our small world. In ancient Babylonia, the progress of celestial objects were observed and recorded, the most famous being Halley’s comet, first recorded in 164BCE and returning every 76 years. The planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were also identified, and rudimentary studied long before the era of the astronomers Huygens, Galileo, Herschel and Cassini. The ancient Greeks invented and devised a variety of objects and mechanisms designed to track and chart the movements of objects beyond Earth. The best known of these is the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancestor of the modern computer which was used to calculate the positions of astronomical objects. With the coming of the modern age, the list of known planets began to grow larger. Herschel also discovered Uranus in 1781, before a slew of moons were discovered orbiting the outer planets such as Saturn and Jupiter. Neptune was sighted in 1846, before the
discovery of Pluto in 1930 made our list of local neighbours complete. The great discoveries of the 18th and 19th centuries widened our scientific grasp of the function and formation of local space, as well as our place within it. The Moon allowed many of the great astronomers to cut their teeth in a burgeoning field of discovery. They used knowledge gained in the relatively easy viewing of the lunar surface to expand their gaze into the depths of space. A recent exhibition at the Royal Greenwich Museums detailed the complex relationship between humankind and the Moon, charting its importance from the ancient past, to its conquering by Apollo, through to the modern day and a new era of lunar exploration. Showcased at the exhibition was a concept of 3D printed Moonbases, created by the European Space Agency (ESA). This technology may allow the construction of resilient structures using materials gathered and sourced locally on the moon, dramatically reducing the amount of fuel needed to transport materials too and from Earth. 3D printing is already in use on board the ISS, where it is used to build tools needed during missions. “It’s a remarkable technology that I think we need to take advantage of,” says Arnold. “If you have the raw materials and send the file, the printer will just build you what you need, rather than building it on the ground and then having to send it on a rocket; it could have huge implications.” With a current global push for environmentalism, NASA and other space agencies recognise that the missions of the future cannot follow the same models of the past. The future of space exploration must lie within sustainability and a model which recognises and addresses challenges as effectively as possible. NASA and the coalition of private space agencies and companies may have grand plans, but are they achievable? The cost of manned missions to the ISS, let alone the construction of lunar bases and missions to Mars, are huge. An estimate of the cost of the space station over 10 years is around $100 billion, which includes its future development, assembly and running costs. “It’s just a fiscal challenge, we were able to do this 50 years ago with technology developed in the 1960s, so technologically we can certainly go to the
Moon and build a base,” says Arnold. “I think we can go on to Mars from there, it’s just a question of how do we do it in a sustainable way. We can’t follow the model of Apollo where you go, land, and leave everything behind and then have to build everything from scratch. I think we are going to have to take advantage of the power of innovation that our private partners have. So when we go back to the Moon, we’re giving private corporations the opportunity to come partner with us, and think about ways we can do things differently,” Arnold says. Private companies such as SpaceX and Lockheed Martin are one of a number of corporations under the umbrella of the Artemis Program, all with their goals set upon the Moon and Mars. China, Japan, Russia and the United States have all announced manned missions to the Moon within the next two decades, and other international agencies continue to develop unmanned missions to the Moon and beyond. We are living in an exciting time for space travel and only by international co-operation can humanity journey deeper into the stars and establish colonies on other worlds. It is important we look backwards, as well as forward, and recognise the immensity of the successes of Apollo, the strides which humankind took in such a short space of time. “They were a remarkable group of individuals, the astronauts and the people on the ground,” Arnold says of Apollo. “Those who put everything together and accomplished it in such a short period of time, it’s just mind-boggling.” For Arnold, whether he will walk upon the surface of the Moon in a future mission remains unknown. For now, he maintains a belief that whoever next steps onto the lunar surface, be it he or another, will represent an exciting new generation of space exploration. “I want to see us go to the moon, and from there, head onto Mars, and have the person who first steps on Mars, step as a representative of all humanity.” So this evening or the next, take a moment when the sky is clear and the Moon rises. Look to the stars and to the planets twinkling in the twilight. You may spot the International Space Station travelling silently across the night sky, gleaming in the glow of the sun. Look ever outwards, because it appears that a new space race may be upon us. 75
NEW TV FOR 76
Public-access television in the 80s and 90s was sleazy, anarchic — but unexpectedly influential
Some time in the late 80s, Eric Seltzer appeared on television. For a twenty-something with dreams of Broadway stardom, it was a breakthrough of sorts; certainly a departure from serving baked Blue Point clams to made men in New York’s Little Italy. Nobody can be sure how many people saw Seltzer’s first TV appearance, or even exactly when it was shown, but one thing is certain; he was in his underwear. In the 1970s, New York City made an agreement with several cable television providers, granting them permission to lay physical cable under the streets of the city’s boroughs to improve broadcast quality. The city added a stipulation to the deal; a number of channels were to be dedicated entirely to public use. Time on these channels was to be offered free of charge, almost totally uncensored, on a first-come, first-served, non-discriminatory basis. In other words, anybody could get on TV. All you needed was a video camera and an idea. What followed was a video free-forall. The platform created space for a new breed of often experimental programming that pushed the boundaries of television in an unprecedented manner. “It was something that wasn’t mainstream, which was part of its appeal,” Seltzer says of the unorthodox platform upon which The Eric in his Underwear Show made its debut. “You basically had an audience of insomniacs and stoners. At that time, that was my target audience.” For the budding actor, comedian or host, public access was a golden opportunity to bypass the entertainment industry’s gatekeepers and get seen. People from all walks of life could make themselves heard and seek out fame, without concern for budgets, executives or professional connections. In Seltzer’s case, his scantily clad skit would make up part of a sketch show called The No Budget Comedy Show that came together amongst friends. Seltzer’s underwear-toting character would prove popular with producers at Comedy Central, then a fledgling channel desperate for content. After cameraman Mike Posner sent in a
tape of the sketch show, the network flew comedian Fred Willard to New York for an interview with ‘Eric’. Seltzer left the host bemused with an impression of The Godfather’s Don Corleone eating a hot dog, performed sans underwear, in the middle of Times Square. “My friend Jonathan convinced me that I had to do something outside the box to get noticed, after which he quipped, ‘after you get noticed, then you can put your pants back on’,” Seltzer recalls. He was eventually able to get dressed, going on to play roles in the likes of The Sopranos and The Devil Wears Prada. Not everyone who appeared on public access can boast such success. Much of the platform’s programming is now lost to time, or lives on only through scattered YouTube clips. But with a dedicated cult following, the borough’s three channels had their own stars; self-made media personalities not unlike the YouTubers of today, albeit without the sponsorship and with a far more local fanbase. A number of the colourful cast of characters who appeared on access cable in the 70s and 80s would go on to become New York icons and contribute, in some small way, to making the city one of the world’s cultural capitals. ‘Slumgoddess’ and political provocateur Coca Crystal opened every episode of her variety show — memorably titled The Coca Crystal Show: If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution — by lighting up a joint before launching into an hour of content rooted in current affairs and activism, as well as music, phone-ins and what the New York Times described in her obituary as “spontaneous nonsense.” Crystal emerged as an irreplaceable figure of the city’s countercultural scene. Her life would eventually be immortalised in a stage play, testament to the impact her show had amongst a small but impassioned local community in spite of the technical chaos that tended to unfurl every week. “This is not a test. This is an actual show” said writer Glenn O’Brien in the
Words: Oliver Jameson Images: Annie Rhinestone
“You basically had an audience of insomniacs and stoners. At the time that was my target audience.” 77
opening of an episode of the long-running programme TV Party. O’Brien was drawn to the public access having appeared as a guest on The Coca Crystal Show, putting his own spin on the television format with a live and largely unfiltered window into the underground New York scene of the time. Once a member of Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ studio, O’Brien hosted the likes of Debbie Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Iggy Pop on the air, using a talk show format to bring together some of the city’s most electric art and music personalities. TV Party captured the spirit of Manhattan and the East Village with an intimate, chaotic hour with some of New York’s biggest characters of the era, at a time long before the age of instant online celebrity gossip. Audience interactivity was a popular approach to hosting on access cable. Steve Gruberg’s The Grube Tube took a simple yet captivating format; a man sits in a room with a phone number on
screen and answers calls, live. What followed was a display of New York at its most unfiltered. Gruberg would fend off everything from shocking racist abuse to cringeworthy jokes and on-air serenades from the late night audience, eager for their five minutes — or, should Gruberg cut them short with the simple press of a button, five seconds — of fame. Perhaps, in retrospect, like a proto-YouTube comments section; utterly unrestrained, anonymous and exposing. The nature of public access makes success a difficult thing to gauge. If any metric is to be examined, it would be the longevity of certain shows despite being thoroughly amateur productions. In Gruberg’s case, 35 years on the air would evoke jealousy in the most seasoned of network showrunners. Perhaps even more envy-inducing is the prospect of a lasting cultural impact to match. Despite its thoroughly amateur production, Concrete TV managed just that. The show took the form of a chaotic video art piece,
featuring erratically collected clips of everything from fitness videos and fetish pornography to pro-wrestling violence and low-budget horror films. all set to a thunderous hard rock soundtrack and with a seemingly total disregard for any copyright law. Only in September 2019 did the show come to an end after 28 years on Manhattan’s channel 67, where it filled the 1:30AM slot every Friday night. The show’s creator, ‘Concrete’ Ron Rocheleau, is hailed as the father of video collage. The format would be appropriated by MTV throughout the 90s. Right up until the very end, Rocheleau championed traditional editing techniques, relying solely on cutting up VHS video. Embracing the anarchic medium and all of its visual quirks would contribute to making it a cult favourite with a lasting aesthetic influence. Public access was a pioneer in the field of community-driven entertainment, but its long-term impact goes far beyond influencing who can create the media we consume. One programme in particular,
a weekly magazine show called Midnight Blue, brought interviews with pornstars, sex-themed features on celebrities and other erotically charged content to the air, boldly flaunting the rules as to what could and couldn’t be shown on TV at the time. The programme served as both a champion for the sexual revolution of the 70s and a showcase of Times Square’s then sleazy geography. Its creator, the pornographer Al Goldstein, had made a name for himself publishing Screw magazine; a tabloid filled with hardcore pornographic spreads and reviews of adult films, peep shows and escorts. Public access provided a lucrative opportunity for Goldstein to expand his Screw empire; by law, the cable company could not Alex Bennett, pictured right, created a unique identity for Midnight Blue by taking the show out of the studio [photo by Annie Rhinestone][/caption] refuse to air his program. Initially launching as a video counterpart to the magazine titled Screw Magazine of the Air, the thrice weekly series would soon 79
If certain eras were defined by what the revolution was, the revolution at the time was a sexual revolution. reinvent itself when radio broadcaster Alex Bennett became involved in the project as a producer. Bennett saw untapped potential in the erotic serial. He sought to take advantage of the video format, differentiating it from Screw with a new vision that brought the show out of the studio and onto the streets in hope of capturing an authentic take on New York’s sex scene. “Screw magazine had pictures of blow jobs and women getting screwed. We couldn’t do that on cable, they wouldn’t let us! We had to create our own reason for existence, in other words our own identity.” said Bennett of his motivation for bringing a new direction to the show. Midnight Blue was its own animal, as was cable, so an entirely different approach was necessary. “The cable company had to stop at the point where the law was being broken. We could have nudity, we could have swearing, we could have a lot of other things; frank discussions of sex, whatever. But we couldn’t have hardcore sex and I was happy with that, because I was a professional in the radio business and I didn’t want my brand tainted by porn.” Far from tainting his brand, Midnight Blue provided Bennett with an opportunity to innovate. Weekly ‘video centrefolds’ expressed an at times avant-garde take on softcore erotica, whereas revealing interviews, interactions with the public and documentary-style features such as Midnight Blue Goes to the Movies — a three part history of the porn film — were journalistic in nature; a far departure from Screw’s brand of smut. Midnight Blue would become noteworthy for its innovation in more than just presentation. A provocateur, Goldstein had already established himself as an unlikely champion of free speech and the first amendment, fighting and often winning costly legal battles to defend his right to print whatever he pleased. Bennett furthered these efforts on public access, unashamedly focusing on the ‘scandalous’ sexual issues that were very much front and centre of the growing cultural changes of the day. “If certain eras were defined by what the revolution was, the revolution at that time was a sexual revolution,” he explained. “Not that it was everybody running around having wanton sex, but
the issues were all sexual. Whether it was gay rights or women’s liberation, they were all kind of sexual issues. We were simply dealing with the issues of the time that no-one else was dealing with!” But this rebellious attitude did not sit well with the cable companies. Bennett speaks of particular ‘altercations’ with the TV giants, who at a time when the show was the most popular item on public access went to great lengths to try to censor its content. “I had [pornographic actress] Marilyn Chambers on doing a dance with a guy who was naked. They said we can’t put that on the air because his penis [was] bobbing up and down. I said ‘so are her tits, but you’re not complaining about that, right?’ and they said ‘right’. So I said this was a sexism issue. They let us put the thing on the air.We had little fights like that a lot!” Bennett still takes pride in the impact the show had in not only influencing the conversation and portrayal of sex on the screen, but by opening the door to change across the wider media world. What were once taboo but very real subjects are now commonplace in our news and entertainment, in part thanks to unlikely pioneers such as Bennett. “One day this guy from NBC came up to me, a reporter, and he said ‘you’re Alex Bennett. I know you from the radio, but I also know you from Midnight Blue’. He told me ‘I want to thank you… for opening up what we can do. You’ve made it easier for us to cover stuff that we weren’t able to cover before’. So I thought ‘I’ve done my job!’” Bennett still works as a broadcaster to this day. His talk show GABNet streams live on YouTube, a platform that Midnight Blue and its access cable cohorts unwittingly paved the way for back in the mid 70s. While the freedom to publish is one perhaps taken for granted in the social media-dominated 21st century, the importance of online video sharing’s humble, characterful predecessor cannot be understated. “There were these flashes of brilliance. It gave everyone this ability to be seen. It was kind of like the internet is today. Anybody can go on YouTube. Anybody could go on Manhattan cable,” Bennett fondly recounts. “There was a lot of really interesting stuff being done. I look upon it as a very important experiment.” 81
Fashion and skate culture: an uneasy relationship Designer brands are inspired by skatewear but they don't always treat it with respect
Words: Holly Johns Image: Simon Hajducki/unsplash.com
The fashion of skate culture has taken off to a place people never would have imagined in recent years. Skating has always been a sport which has distinguished its own culture, it’s an adrenaline junkie’s dream, full of challenges, excitement, and thrills. These are just a few of the factors that have enticed people since it emerged in the 1940s; this, and the effortless coolness that comes with it. It didn’t take long for the fashion industry to recognise that and use it to their advantage. From high fashion photoshoots to runway debuts, they have not been secretive with using skate culture as an inspiration in their work. They’ve often used skatewear as props and some designers have created similar designs as popular skate brands; the only difference being the unaffordable price tag. This has been sure to create conflict amongst the two industries. In 2016 Dior Men had their Autumn/ Winter show in Paris, their runway was transformed into a skatepark with illuminating LED lights outlining skate ramps and half-pipes. The designer, Kris Van Assche, had evidently taken inspiration from skate culture in his collection; something very unexpected for a fashion house like Dior. The collection was praised for being “more free” by Vogue Runway due to its cool everyday choice of clothes, however it still lacked a real correlation to the culture. There were crisp white shirts with sharp bow ties, black cargo trousers and leather, as well as bold black and red checkerboard prints. Jeremy Scott had taken this approach even further with his Moschino collection in 2013, to such an extent that he even received a lawsuit from leading skate brand Santa Cruz for copying Jim Phillips’ iconic artwork designs in his Autumn/Winter collection at New York fashion week. Scott showcased clothing and handbags on the runway which seemed to represent a very similar design to Phillips’ well-known work on skateboards and surfboards. Bob Denike of NHS Inc, who distribute Santa Cruz in California, spoke to Highsnobiety about the reaction to the show: “It may just be artwork to Mr Scott, to be used and thrown away by next season, but these artists and brands mean a lot to many people around the
as a skate brand and a hang out spot for the subculture based in New York City but now has transformed into one of the biggest streetwear brands in the world. With stores in London, New York and Japan, millions of committed fans take to the streets to queue for their latest weekly drop. The likes of Drake, Rihanna and Justin Bieber are just a few of the many celebrities who have sported the brand for years. Fast forward seventeen years, the creative director of Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones, joined forces with Jebbia to create a collaboration between both brands. Jones told The Fashion Law: “You can’t have the conversation of New York menswear without Supreme right now, because it’s such a global phenomenon.” It was showcased at the Palais Royal in Paris during the Fall 2017 menswear fashion week. The collaboration contained a mixture of accessories which all incorporated Supreme’s bold red and white branding. People weren’t surprised when this left a sour taste for the fans of both brands, especially the lovers of Supreme who were disappointed in the unattainable price tag. One anonymous buyer told Women’s Wear Daily: “They started the brand as a fuck you to fashion, and now they’ve become it.” Similarly, Dan Bishop, an avid skater, told Artefact: “The brand has very much grown out of their skating ties in the recent years, they were pretty well respected but I’m not sure anymore.” So how can the relationship between the two industries be resolved? Perhaps the fashion industry could try and approach it differently by being more authentic and realistic with their creative visions. “I think the big problem really stems from a lack of honesty. However, I think if a fashion brand were to approach skate culture responsibly it might not work so well for them, even though they would have a better reaction. If they did it properly and had models in helmets and shin pads it doesn’t come across as well with that visual shorthand they are looking for,” added Keith. There does seem to be a generational problem which is slowly but surely changing. Many of the younger generations of skaters have become more open to the collaborations between both indus-
world.” Scott was later forced to stop any future plans he had for using these designs and the pieces that already existed had to be recalled. Keith Martin has been hooked on longboarding for the past 10 years, so much so he created his own online magazine based on the industry called Thane, and he can see many reasons why the fashion world is so drawn to skate culture: “Underneath pretty much all of it is about being a little anarchic, it’s about doing your own thing and not joining bandwagons. “Fashion is very much the opposite of that, it’s cherry-picking visual bits and pieces from cultures and trying to create something interesting from it. The fashion industry uses this but a more sanitised version in order to sell clothes [and] that’s what pisses off a lot of skaters.” It has become easy for the fashion industry to take inspiration from different subcultures and use this in the creation of forthcoming collections, but this is evidently going to cause conflict and dislike towards the fashion world, especially as they often fail to represent subcultures in a realistic manner. Many magazines including Vogue have published photographs of models posing with skateboards while sporting inappropriate full glam looks, even Céline’s Spring/Summer 2011 ad campaign showcased a model posing topless while flaunting a skateboard with rhinestone trucks and baby pink wheels. Besides this, the fashion industry isn’t all to blame. Back in 2000, the skatewear brand Supreme received a cease and desist letter from the leading fashion house Louis Vuitton. They had created a series of skate decks, beanies and T-shirts using the iconic Louis Vuitton monogram print. While still trying to make a name for themselves Supreme didn’t fight back. Instead, they took the decidion to stop all production and the skate-decks which had already been showcased were all to be recalled, amid reports that the French fashion house had demanded the products be burnt to avoid them getting into the hands of collectors. Since creating the brand in 1994, James Jebbia the founder of Supreme has made a huge stamp in the fashion industry; you could even go as far as saying the brand has changed it. It started out
tries compared to the older generation who weren’t as accepting. Dan started skating at the age of 14, now at the age of 26, he told me what attracted him to the skate world in the first place: “At the time it was considered an ‘extreme sport’ which as a young kid was very cool. Also, I played a lot of Tony Hawk video games and I loved the music associated with the skate scene back then.” When asking him why he thinks skaters dislike the fashion industry so
much, he told us: “Personally I’ve come to enjoy the fashion industry much more than I used to so it really doesn’t both me when the two partner together. I think the problem is that the older generation see it as not a very ‘skater’ thing to care about. “Through sports history, it’s been known as a very punk thing to be a part of, and to be punk is very anti-fashion. Skaters can be stubborn and want skating to stay innocent to change just like it was back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but
that’s just not what it is anymore.” Now that newer generations are becoming more inclined to the fashion industry, there may be a shift in skaters’ attitudes. But the fashion industry needs to take responsibility and stick to being transparent with the inspiration they gain from skate culture. It can only be hoped that this will establish a more understanding and respectful relationship amongst them while producing content and clothing all can appreciate.
Walk on the wild side From coyotes on roofs to leopards in parks, mother nature always finds a way to prosper
Words: Fergus Matheson Image: Mibby23
For many of us, cities are a force against nature, keeping out the green in favour of the grey. However, across the world, there are many animals who are not just adapting but thriving in and around the concrete jungle. Here in London we are used to seeing foxes and pigeons on our streets. One creature, you might not be aware of, gracing the skies above us is the peregrine falcon. London has the second largest urban population of the birds , beaten only by New York, and a lot is done to accommodate them. Battersea Power Station has spent over £100,000 on taking care of the pair that nest there and a specially built habitat has been installed on top of the Cheesegrater. However, the reception that these 200mph birds received wasn’t always so nice. During the war, the MoD had a programme in place to shoot them to protect the messenger pigeons used to communicate with the front lines. Over the remainder of the 20th century, habitat loss and the chemicals such as DDT in the air meant peregrine flacons were thought to be extinct in London. Their recovery has been slow but their numbers have grown year on year; from only two pairs in 2001 to over 30 recorded in 2014. First reported by Londoners taking shelter during the Blitz, are the Undergrounds’ own, genetically distinct, mosquitos. After construction finished and the tunnels were sealed, the insects were separated from their friends on the surface. This led to a noticeable change in their genes and behaviour. These mosquitos like to feed on human blood, while closest relation above ground prefers birds and other small creatures. Across the pond, coyotes have been seen taking up residence in the Big Apple. Much larger than the red foxes we are used to here in the UK, the animals have been increasing in numbers across many parts of New York. Research shows that there have been six times as many of them spotted this year compared to 2017. There have been reports of people being charged at or stalked by them, usually when out walking their dogs. In June 2018, a mother and her infant son were attacked by a coyote and saved by an off-duty police officer. Coyotes used to be found was the American plains; here they had wide open spaces to roam. In that sense, they would seem to be ill-suited for life in a city but,
and adults were maimed. The population, naturally, was very angry and demanded that the authorities remove every leopard from the city. This led to over 30 of the animals being captured and released into nature reserves away from civilisation. But now, they are back and seemingly with a different attitude. Nothing on the ground has changed to facilitate this, no walls built around the park or streets cleaned up... Yet attacks from the leopards have reduced significantly. When examined, it was found that around 40% of the average leopard’s diet consisted of stray dogs. This is significant in Mumbai as there is a large population of strays, estimated to be over 95,000, and many of them have something canines in the UK don’t — rabies. Almost 75,000 stray dog bites are recorded annually in Mumbai and statistics show that the instances of these attacks are lower around the parks leopards call home, saving the city around $18,000 a year. Without a doubt, people live in caution of these big cats and across the globe there are many examples of nature finding a foothold in man’s world. With our destruction of their habitats and pollution rampant, perhaps seeing these furry friends in amongst our homes might make us all think about theirs.
their territory has been expanding massively. One of the big reasons is that at the start of the last century, the American government began a programme one of the coyotes' direct competitors in the animal kingdom, grey wolves. This, in turn, has led to their expansion into areas that would otherwise have been dangerous for them, such as the north of the country. Another factor in their success is their ability to eat almost anything, just like our red fox, from small mammals to fruit or veg and, of course, rubbish. So far they are seen as a novelty in New York, but they are getting a foothold in an increasing number of cities. Perhaps, in the not so distant future, they could become a common sight and more of a problem. On the other side of the world in Mumbai, India’s second largest city, residents are sharing their streets with a much more dangerous animal — the leopard. Having taken residence in the city’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, they are highly concentrated in this small area, much more so than they would be in the wild. With an average of 22 per square kilometre, this is double what is seen in their natural forest habitat. In the early 2000s, a crisis erupted in the city with a large number of leopard attacks taking place; children were killed