ON FIRE – Cover Reveal

BURN, BABY, BURN Capable of creation and destruction, fire burns within us. Behind the thick, black smoke of our lives, we blaze with our own unique flame. While love compels some, others feed greed and lust into their hearths. A tool for the deft hand, used with magic or as a weapon, but irresponsibility leaves […]

via ON FIRE Cover Reveal — Transmundane Press

Advertisements

Of Mosquitoes and Men

 

Temptation of St Anthony Jost de Negker 1500 1520 small

The Temptation of St Anthony – woodcut by Jost de Negker (1500 – 1520)

 

We need to talk about the HPV vaccine. In that one sentence I’ve probably lost most of my male readers. HPV is a girl thing, right? Something about women’s health, nothing for us to get involved in.

I thought so too, but as you’d expect nothing in life is that simple. Brace yourself, it gets uncomfortable. The HPV vaccine protects against various types of the Human Papillomavirus. It is mostly harmless but can cause genital warts, and various forms of cancer, in both men and women. It is most commonly associated with the risk of cervical cancer, and because the vaccine is most effective if it is given before there is any risk of infection, it is given to girls in the UK around the age of 12.

HPV is the most common STD.

There is a world of meaning hidden behind those acronyms.

HUMAN papillomavirus

Sexually TRANSMITTED disease

The virus is transmitted through sexual activity. Both men and women get it. The same vaccine (Gardasil) is effective most of the time for both. But only women are vaccinated in the UK. Until recently I was oblivious to this, as I guess most men are. The cancer risk for men is low, and genital warts, in the rare instances they occur are treatable. The risks are greater for homosexual men.

The risks for women are greater still, and the consequences devastating.

Here’s my question. Both sexes get the virus, both transmit it, so why do we only vaccinate those most affected, not all the vectors? Vaccination works best if you treat the whole herd, and in other countries (Australia for example) they do.

We all learn at school that it is the female Anopheles mosquito that transmits the malaria virus, We’re oddly silent about this virus.

I see in this a manifestation of a deeply ingrained sexism in British society. It does not matter who is the cause, ultimately our society accepts that only women should bear the burden of it.

It is in our language, it is in the way we think: boys sow their wild oats, girls are slags.

It is an invidious form of victim blaming, of slut shaming that most men aren’t even aware they are being taught. And therein lies the essence of male privilege. Every human has the capacity to be the carrier, but in Britain, it is a woman’s problem, a girl thing, something men don’t have to concern themselves with. We’re protected from the consequences of our actions and we don’t even realise the world is organised around our convenience.

I wonder if any of my male readers have made it this far. Did you know your role in this? If you didn’t what will you do now you know?

END

You can find all my published works at this link.

Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

HPCC Banner

Image Source: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/uk/

We finally got to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a year after the curtain first went up. We weren’t disappointed.

It is a fabulous spectacle, and a must see for all Harry Potter fans. My daughters (12 and 10) were enthralled, and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Go and see it, but if you are a regular theatre goer be prepared, the production and the audience might not be quite what you are used to.

 

The Play

The material is very strong. It is tense and taut story, with a strong emotional core. It was not written solely by JK Rowling, so it is a strange piece of uber fan fiction blessed by the author and with her input, but nonetheless not quite the real thing.

It lacks a certain Potterishness in its texture, Harry and Hermione in particular have lost a little of their childhood charm, and age seems to have robbed Harry of some of his furious energy. Ron remains Ron, although the character owes a great deal the written portrayal of Arthur Weasley, and the performance in the films by Mark Williams. That is a good thing.

Of course, regular followers of this blog will know there is better fan fiction out there.

In addition to the constant Potter theme of friendship conquering adversity, there is an added focus on parent/child relationships, which was necessarily largely missing from the books, only appearing in poignant vignettes. There is nothing wrong with this story being different, or that the old characters have grown, but there is the sense of something missing. The two way dynamic of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy lacks the richness of the Harry/ Ron/ Hermione triangle and while adding Rose Grainger-Weasley to the mix may have been an homage too far (and so well done for avoiding it), I could not shake the sense that the central pairing needed something more.

Enough of what it isn’t, it is a cracking story. The elements weave back together to form a satisfying conclusion, and the pacing is excellent throughout.

 

The Acting

In general the standard of the acting is good, unremarkable in that positive way that means you are not aware of it. There are some notable exceptions. Scorpius Malfoy steals the show, he has the best lines and has a fantastic energy and presence on the stage. His interactions with his father Draco are superb, and those moments outshine Albus & Harry.

Harry himself was difficult to read. Was it that the bright young wizard had dissolved into a middle aged, Floydian “hanging on in quiet desperation” or was it just an unnecessarily overwrought performance?

Hermione in part 1 was a let down, breathless delivery and variable pitch, but settled to give another competently unremarkable performance in part 2.

That said the whole thing lacked some of the intensity and precision of high end productions. There was, every now and again, a whiff of pantomime, most notably if Delphi was on stage. I got the impression that if the shackles were off someone would break into song.

On reflection I don’t have a problem with that. This was not a regular, serious material, theatre going audience, and Ibsen it ain’t. If theatre is to survive it needs to become more democratic, and HP&tCC may be the kind of gateway drug needed to lure in fresh audiences. For blazers and pin drop silence we still have The Old Vic.

 

The Production

The visuals were stunning, the set design clever, and the scene changes with swirling robes and spinning staircases were a delight. The Dementors are awesome.

I was however reminded of an early Omid Djalili sketch, because there was quite a lot of random unnecessary dancing. The sequences were well choreographed and powerfully executed, adding to the spectacle, but they added nothing to the story. I suspect it was just a way to stop the extras smoking backstage by keeping them busy, and giving the principals time for costume changes.

 

The Venue

The Palace Theatre is a venerable old building. I strongly advise that only those of less than average height or girth to get seats in the balcony, and certainly not anyone with a heart condition. There are a lot of stairs, there is no legroom and the seats are narrow. We had a slightly restricted view, but being tucked in a corner with no one behind we were free to stand when the action moved the front right corner of the stage.

We booked a year in advance for £15 a seat, and that is the entertainment bargain of the century. A friend paid a small fortune more to sit in the stalls and had no complaints about the price.

There are security checks on the way in, leave plenty of time. The merchandise stall is eyewateringly expensive, and has a queue to join its queue. But it is only West End price inflation, not the open wallet surgery you will get at the Harry Potter experience, so think of it as an investment.

 

Verdict

If you are a fan, go and see it. There are no excuses. Buy a plane ticket (I have a friend who did just that), walk if you have to. If you are not a fan, but you enjoy a great, if long day out, go and see it. It is a marvellous spectacle and worth the admission. If you have not read the books, or seen the films, send me a picture of the rock you have been hiding under, but I’ll be honest, this is not the best place to start your Harry Potter journey. Come back to it once you have some of the canon material under your belt.

 

Disclosures

I’m a fan of JK Rowling as a human being, and of her work. I’ve read the books more than once. I’m in my 40s. Bite me (but go and see the play).

END

 

Links

The Lesser Evil

and the theorising that spawned the story:

The Harry, Hermione, Ron Triangle

 

The Price of One – Short Story on Scarlet Leaf Review

IMAG1449_1.jpg

The Price of One – my ghost story / lyrical tour around London’s South Bank is in this month’s online edition of Scarlet Leaf Review.

The narrator is dead, and still very much in love. When a street vendor offers him a potion that brings him temporarily to life he and his heartbroken paramour grasp it with both hands.

Please head over there, give it a read, show it some love.

http://www.scarletleafreview.com/short-stories1/category/ali-abbas

 

Muslims are in Crisis

Muslims are in crisis. We are a religion of over two billion adherents, blending cultures that encompass Berbers, Malays and Mongols. Converts and diaspora are in every country of the world. And yet we are all, collectively, held hostage by a tiny minority. Their black flags and unkempt beards fill the screens and newspapers of the world, while the vast and rich heterogeneity of the faithful goes unreported. Their intolerance drowns the universal message, their brutality masks our charity and compassion.

Muslims are in crisis because unless we understand the source of this vicious parasite, and how it draws strength, it will consume us.

Muslims are in crisis because in our apathy and ignorance we have allowed this thing to gnaw its way through the body of the Muslim Ummah. We may wince when it strikes another part of the body, but we bear the pain and keep going, thinking it will not come for us, unaware that those around us only see its festering form, and turn away from its diseased stench.

Muslims are in crisis, but not because of a terrorist wielding a gun under a black flag, or because a bearded madman preaches hate from a pulpit. The parasite is one of belief. There is a creed that promulgates an Islam shorn of humanity, and whose adherents see difference as something to be scoured from the earth.

Muslims are in crisis because the periodic plague that has ravaged the faith from its earliest days has risen again. It is an infection that has no purpose other than to consume its host, and this time, fuelled by lakes of oil, it has run rampant. It has adopted the forms of the religion without understanding their spirit, it has taken the words and robbed them of context and tone. It has even turned on the lunatics that let it loose.

Muslims are in crisis because of the Wahhabis (who may also take the labels Salafi and Deobandi). Their austerity is not a noble denial of the self, but a joyless, inhuman existence that hardens the heart. Their piety is a ritual empty of the soul soaring height prayer can offer. Their purpose in this incarnation was as a prop for the House of Saud to impose itself on the Arabian peninsula, a tool of power. It is the lifecycle of such tools to turn upon their wielder. If ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Lashkar e Jhangvi scream their hatred for the hands that shaped them, it is the natural puberty of their development.

The House of Saud and their fellow Emiratis have done a deal with the devil for their power and status, and the devil always gets his due. Don’t pity them cowering in their palaces. They have sold out our religion while wearing the robes of guardians, and they may cost you your soul as well.

All of this is known. Here is a shortened version from The Telegraph. There is a world of difference between being known and being accepted, and several more steps along the road to recovery before any action is taken. But like any parasite this one can be removed, like any disease it can be cured, as long as we don’t let it go too far.

Stop. You’re about to say this is nothing to do with you. The abomination that is ISIS does not speak for you. You abhor its actions. You put the “Stand with…” pictures on your Facebook newsfeed, what more could anyone ask for?

You are deluded.

This thing has grown up within the bosom of the Muslim Ummah. Yes, Wahhabism is a construct that was planted to serve a political agenda, but it is the Muslims that have enabled its growth, the Muslims who turned a blind eye to its crimes, and now it is the Muslims that have to act.

Your silence has been its enabler. Keep your Facebook posts and the watercooler comments at work. I mean your silence when that guy in the mosque, you know the one, makes his violent comments about the kuffar, and you shrug your shoulders and move on. Or maybe you cringe. But you say nothing.

Perhaps you tune out during Friday prayers, when the sermons turn to injustice anywhere in the world being cause for retaliation anywhere else. Others are listening, and without a voice raised in protest there is no one to tell them you cannot defeat injustice with more of the same. Or maybe you have more courage than the rest. You ask questions and the preacher says, “just believe”.

Islam is bigger than your curiosity. Ask. Ask. Especially about the things they tell you not to.

You’ve seen your mosque grow. The buildings refurbished, and the committee members slowly changed. The beards grow longer, the trousers shorter and suddenly all the double glazing and central heating can’t take the chill from the air. There are new books on the shelves, but you don’t read them. You don’t question where the money came from, and at what cost.

That brother with the uncomfortable views, the preacher you try not listen to, the money you don’t want to know the source of – they are all part of the same disease that is subverting everything you hold dear. It thrives on your reticence, it multiplies in your apathy.

Do nothing, because it is none of your business. You fast, and you pray and let everyone else to their own conscience.

So you watch as that brother, who rants against the kuffar, goads another and another. The brother huddles with the preacher. Suddenly there is money to fund a study trip to Pakistan, or reconstruction work in Somalia. You kid yourself that the boy will come back a man strengthened in faith. Someone with his face comes back, strengthened in something that makes your skin crawl. But his wild-eyed speeches are just words, they won’t hurt anyone.

Some time later there is a bang. You stand with wherever it was, but it was nothing to do with you.

Except it is everything to do with you.

Muslims are in crisis. You have to speak out to save us.

END

Update 25th May: since I wrote this see the following from Patrick Cockburn on the Wahhabi roots of terrorism and this on 1000 revolutions: The concentric circles of blame for the Manchester attacks

Related thoughts of mine in previous posts:

The Diversity Deal

J’accuse… the Muslims

I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller

The Cancer Magnet