The incontinence pad has twisted between my thighs, catching the skin of my testicles. My mother had a pad too, I remember now. Although in those days, her last days, those old times, then, they were substantially thicker. And I wonder now, each day, each hour, feeling the pad right there, whether the thickness would have made them more uncomfortable. A wodge of white absorbent towelling wedged up against her sagging vulva, stuffed between her slackening buttocks like an old cork rammed in to a bottle of rancid port. That must have hurt her, my poor mother. It’s the lack of muscle that makes it hard, the towelling pushing up to the bone, and they don’t mind a few bruises the nurses nowadays. But at least I am dying now, when they have developed the technology to produce incontinence pads as slim and absorbent as a slice of Mother’s Pride. The consolations of modern incontinence. Could they though, I wonder, put a slice of Mother’s Pride between my thighs to absorb the shit I produce? The constellations of modern bread. Not that there can be much shit, or much hard shit. I don’t even eat. How can you claim to be eating if you are being injected with liquidised food? I do not even have to swallow or chew or lick. I cannot even see it. I cannot turn my neck to look up at the plastic container hanging above me, that feeds me, that keeps me alive. What I see are the faces of the visitors who come in and who stare at it with some dose of disgust. It is injected into me, their dose of disgust, into my neck now because I pulled it from my arm several times because it was itching and because I don’t want to live any longer. If this is living. Did you hear that mother? I don’t want to live any longer. I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about anyway. I’ve been alone all for the most of it, and I only ever put bricks on top of the other and the other and the other, and I was not even very good at that. They say it is unskilled but my walls were unskilled unskilled. You know, I guarded the last inmate of Spandau Prison. Hess. Rudolf Hess. This old body stood guard over Hess. Where did I shit then? It’s funny isn’t it that we cannot remember where we have shat at important times in our lives even though it is a life-saving act: to open the bowel. Later, I was invited to be a mercenary in the Angolan war. They used to invite people like me, unschooled brickies, before we had wet wodges stuffed up our arses. A hundred and fifty quid to kill a few coloureds. I would have shat myself in the war. I would have shat myself properly. Not any of this processed food shit. It would have been proper shit. So anyway, so they put the tube in to my neck, at such a position that I cannot reach it because my arms and wrists are too stiff to twist the necessary amount to pull it out. I don’t have the strength at that angle. Yet I can raise my hand to my head. I raise it to my head and slap it down hard and heavy onto the small thinning pad of silver hair there. I feel that slap. And I can rub the hand to the back of the head and to the front. Aches. But that arm was always the best and it still moves and responds and is what makes me keep going in this life. Perhaps it is what makes them think that I must go on being injected with liquidised food through my neck that squirts out between the flaps of skin and onto the pad. My last Christmas.
“How are all your whatsits behaving?”
“Watch it. Here comes her who must be obeyed.”
“Well I got slippers anyway. Fluffy penguins from the kids.”
“Damn expensive. And the kids said they had to be Clarks did they?”
“Their mum.” She pours a glass of water.
“They still making a lot of noise at night I tell you.”
“And the frame? They use that to keep you in do they?”
“Put the sides up, that’s all. Support.”
“We all drank too much anyway.”
“Weren’t allowed anything in here.”
“Course. I don’t know how we got Lynne in though. She wanted to be in your bed.”
“You went round Linda’s for dinner then?”
“I slept on the armchair in the sitting room.”
“You never went to bed?”
“Watched TV through the night. It was Christmas wasn’t it.”
A large pile of emails have landed in my inbox during the overfed, overdrunk, overexcited Christmas break, most probably because I don’t have a comments facility here, and many of them in response to this post about the BBC Africa service’s Africa Have Your Say. Among many interesting bits of information, these two stuck out the furthest. First, that the Ugandan Parliament was in recess at the time that the offensively titled/headlined programme was transmitted and would therefore not be debating homosexuality on the Friday as stated in the show after all. This just goes to show how little importance is given to attention to detail and fact-checking in certain parts of Bush House these days, and also contradicts the argument by some of the senior Beeb eds that the show had to run the week it did because it was to be debated that Friday. Secondly, a note from a former BBC stringer from the continent (I won’t mention the region or the stringer’s name for privacy reasons), who wrote to say how accurate she/he thought the post was and also to remind me about one Mr Chiam, a former stringer for the BBC Africa Service in The Gambia, who was arrested in 2006 during the aftermath of an alleged coup against President Jammeh. Chiam was severely tortured. And yet an internal BBC memo stated that Chiam’s arrest and torture had nothing to do with the Beeb, despite the fact the reporter was reporting for the BBC World Service. They’re an awfully supportive bunch at Bush, as you can see.
‘But who cares….these Beebs as you call them are a bunch of time wasters.’
The picture has nothing to do with the post, apart from the fact that it’s Christmas and I was once given a SuperWoman mug in my stocking (not that long ago in fact).
So, to the post.
Nice Natalie Hanman has linked here with this piece that is really inspired by Nice Nina’s naughty book. Anyway, I’m very happy to enjoy the tailwind of free promotion: dear Guardian readers, you are most welcome here. And now I feel bad for being so nasty about Barbara Ellen’s Cif on the Africa Service. (But it was a little bit slap-dash wasn’t it?)
I wasn’t thinking about this at the time, but I am grateful to Stewart Home for the reminder.
Since I’ve lived in Walthamstow I’ve made lots of rather banal jokes about boy bands and E17. No more. This video makes me wanna take off my hat to the young lads (who are about the same age as me). There’s something about Brian Harvey’s lip curl (he was born in ’74) when he’s telling you everything’s gonna be alright and rocking his elbows as though humming a lullaby. Apparently he’s since been on I’m a celebrity with Janet Street-Porter with whom he argued and subsequently left the show. From Walthamstow to . . . to crap like that. But the man has had a tough time. He was attacked by another man who hit him in the head with a machete and has suffered serious depression. Gone are the days when I chuckle about the boy band land where I live. From now on: Respeck.
But actually, I wasn’t thinking about East 17 when I began this blog. I was thinking about this, the work of Martin Creed.
In 2001, I saw this (below) out of the back window of a flat in Hackney and made up my mind that it was where I wanted to live. And so I did. For the next eight years. Every day I looked out of my window and gazed into Creed’s work and muttered merry messages to myself. A little later I discovered I knew the woman who had ensured that Creed’s work came to Clapton: that’d be the impressive Ingrid Swenson of the equally impressive Peer gallery in Shoreditch. And then one day, I woke up and opened my curtains and the message had gone. Just Like That. My head hung low for many weeks and I moaned to the neighbours and the shopkeepers and anyone unfortunate enough to bump into me. Things were cheered up a wee bit when the portico was turned into a school and one of my favourite teenage friends went to it. Every day she hangs out under the arches where those wonderful words had shone. I wished for her they were still there, and all her mates at school, with all the difficulties teenage girls have when they are, kind of, ya know, teenagers.
Work No 203, Everything is Going to be Alright, 1999 Lower Clapton, London
And then a couple of weeks ago, when I was doing the shouting and bellowing and growling and all that stuff with Phil Minton’s Feral Choir – that’s me about half way along the back row behind the man with the specs who’s snarling – I discovered where Clapton’s Creed had ended up.
Yes. It was right there under my nose, decorating Tate Britain’s main entrance. And I muttered to myself: Who round here needs to know everything’s going to be alright? Bring it back to Lower Clapton. Or what about Walthamstow? Brian Harvey could do with that and so could the rest of us E seventeeners. Martin: help us! Do something! This work is not for big centre of town galleries: it’s for the outer edges of town, the bits that noone goes to unless they live there, the bits where feral might be a final way of being, not a pursuit.
More puppy pix from Alex.
In case you haven’t heard about it already, there has been a right old rumpus going down at Bush House, as a result of a chat show hosted by the BBC Africa Service of the World Service. The programme – Africa Have Your Say – was attempting to open a debate on an anti-homosexuality bill being debated in Uganda’s parliament this week. The programme-makers decided, apparently after much thought (something often lacking at the BBC in general, but anyway), to title this edition of the programme: Should homosexuals face execution?
Of course there is nothing wrong with hosting a debate about homosexuality and it should be welcomed that the BBC is giving airtime to African gays and lesbians to speak on the airwaves. (So don’t waste your time reading articles like this one by Barbara Ellen who obviously didn’t do her research properly.) The problem with this programme was the title (Barbara), which is, I believe, an incitement to violence.
Looking closer to home, it would be like holding a debate in the UK entitled ‘Should all non-white people be kicked out of the UK today?’ simply because a few lunatics who are members of the BNP say so? Or, looking to Ireland, ‘Should the Irish violently assault the Roma?’
For responses from the editor of the programme, David Stead, you can read up here. However, I can also tell you that one of the arguments put forward by a very senior editor in the World Service (in favour of the execution headline) was that the same question-headline might well be used if a ‘respectable’ government like Uganda’s (eh? does this person actually follow Uganda?) proposed executing Muslims or Jews. Really? Somehow, I don’t actually believe that. Should Jews face execution? Nope. I simply can’t see the BBC running that as a discussion programme title.
However the point I wish to make is to expose a much larger and more fundamental problem within the BBC, particularly within the World Service and, in this case, the Africa service, where a conservative and reactionary approach to programming has become the norm and was one of the reasons I resigned from the department nearly four years ago. The reason for this is largely – I believe – due to a very liberal form of racism among many BBC managers who seem to assume that (a) they can apply different editorial standards to programmes to Africa than other parts of the world and (b) any black African can make a decent journalist as opposed to seeking out the best journalists from the continent. So, for example, they have been known to hire former DJs to host political programmes simply because the individual is African and therefore, they seem to think, “must know” all about Africa. That is the logic. It would be a bit like hiring Chris Evans to host Radio 4′s Today programme. Lunacy.
Because many BBC managers are ignorant about the world beyond their north and south London pads, they tend to make crude generalisations about their African staff and the programmes that they and their British counterparts make. Don’t get me wrong: there are many very brilliant African journalists working on the continent (and elsewhere) right now. In Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Egypt etc etc etc there are exceptionally good investigative journalists hard at work. Some have gone to the USA, some have come here – but many remain in their home countries. Very few of them work for the BBC. Some of them used to but – and here is the catch – due to appalling pay, exploitation, a growing lack of respect from Bush (House) and increased ignorance among London-based staff, many of the best Africa service African reporters have left the BBC. Instead, they are trying to eke out a living doing other work with different employers. Some are doing extremely well, others are struggling (and I mean really struggling) to make ends meet. (And on that: forget the notion that living in Africa is cheap. This is also a fantasy that BBC eds hold to: once again, showing how little time they devote to understanding the regions they, er, edit).
Not that the Africa service and its departmental chiefs seem to give two hoots about how their stringers survive, or don’t survive. In the period that I have known the department, some of the best reporters have been dumped by the wayside and some producers in the section barely even notice. Such is the lack of interest in quality in-depth reporting of the continent, that I have been told by former colleagues that they were not even aware of long-term stringers who had lost their jobs. I found out before they did! The only reason I know is because I have kept in touch with the stringers themselves. Former reporters from Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia, Senegal and Angola – to name but a few – have all been lost due to budget cuts, a lack of communication and a complete lack of respect for the incredible work these people do.
There are African ‘local’ BBC staff working in cities like Abuja in Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya, who are earning between a seventh and a quarter of what the staffers in London take home each month. Some of these BBC staff live in shanty towns, with no clean water and the minimal living conditions. And yet, when the Beeb sends out a London-based staffer ‘to cover’ for a few weeks or months, they remain on their 25k to 45k job (or a hell of a lot more), with pension rights, with holiday rights, etc etc etc. It is very sad that even the African staff who land a job in London seem all too quick to forget their African ‘brothers and sisters’ in order that they can take advantage of the unfair and unequal system of the Beeb. So you will hear more noise made about the ‘right of staff to get an all-paid-for late night black cab back home’ than you will for the stringers on the continent to get their phone bills (used to carry out their work) paid for or to have any kind of health insurance. The lack of health insurance and healthcare might explain why some former stringers actually died of preventable diseases like malaria. Can you imagine the noise that we’d never hear the end of if John Simpson got malaria – and, God forbid, dropped dead? No. Nor can I. So spare a thought for the stringers who went that way and no one so much as blinked.
In its feeble bid to show that it is open to African views (as if we would ever talk about Europe like that), the BBC ends up running programmes such as the dreaded Africa Have Your Say (AHYS) – which has been loathed by many insiders for years – in some sort of skewed attempt to pander to cultural relativism: i.e. if enough Ugandans hate gays, we must reflect that in our programming. What about another great programme idea: if enough South Africans hate immigrants from neighbouring African countries so much that they slaughter them we must reflect that too. Should African immigrants to South Africa be burned alive?
Many of the staff (or former staff – loads of us have left) at the Africa service know full well that the reason AHYS was promoted by BBC managers is because it is cheap, quick, low budget programming (you don’t need to pay callers who want to have a rant) that covers a multitude of topics each week. Often the shows are thrown together with an increasingly inexperienced staff base and smaller and smaller teams. It was only ever a matter of time before big mistakes would be made. The same has happened in the BBC Africa service coverage of the entire African continent, as excellent stringers are lost due to cut backs and efficiency savings. The Africa service makes do with growing numbers of inexperienced reporters who neither receive the right training nor the carrot of a proper salary that would enable them to do their difficult jobs properly. Even the very experienced reporters struggle to sell their work because of the ever diminishing budget. The tragedy of this is that it makes a fool of people who want to work hard and want to learn – but are not given the right training or support, and often have not had the advantage of spending time in London at Bush House to understand how the system works. This has sometimes served to encourage backward BBC staff to allege that Africans are somehow less able than, say, British staff. Which is obviously utter crap.
This recent hulabaloo is just the tip of the iceberg in slipping editorial standards and massive financial cuts. It will get worse. And how very, very sad. The Africa service has let some of the very best journalists slip through its hands: not the best of Africa, but the best on a much grander scale. We had journos in Sudan, Nigeria and Ghana – to name a few – who could cut the mustard anywhere in the world.
What a shame the department has been reduced to the sham it is today. And not just a sham, but full of hypocrisy. The idea that the BBC gives a damn about the way the African continent is covered is utterly naive. AHYS is a false kind of doffing of the hat to some bizarre notion of democracy and free speech. And yet, how many of you have heard of the BBC stringer in the Gambia who had to run for his life in order to escape the dictatorship of President Jammeh, a man who has no interest on free speech whatsoever? This stringer, still alive thank goodness, was forgotten by the BBC and by the BBC Africa service. They hoped he’d be happy with his life, and not require any sort of financial support from the BBC after he lost his way to earn a living because he had to run from his country. There are plenty more similar examples if you’re interested.
So when the Africa service departmental heads talk about free speech, just remember that what they actually mean is ‘voices that say anything for no fee’.
P.S. Those who have argued that free speech should extend to any old homophobic fool who leaves comments on the BBC AHYS facebook page or BBC site, ought to consider that it has been recognised since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech that racist attacks (or in this case homophobic attacks) tend to increase when publicity is given to hate speech. Trevor Phillips, whatever his faults, is quite right to raise the questions he has. It isn’t naive, Barbara, it is reality.
Excited and juddery and jittery about Glass Hombre. I want to say ‘there’s quite a lot of inspirational stuff in there’ but that makes me sound like someone in search of selfhelp. It’s more like a small shot of acid into the arm. I get that feeling when I read Beckett too. Thanks to MJH for the link.
Thinking about the BBC having read this little post & heard the programme: one of the awful things that used to happen to me when I worked at the Beeb was sitting infront of the mic. My voice – already pretty fucking plummy – would go through the roof of plumminess. I became the BBC. It was as if every vein, every cell of my body was suddenly saturated with Mark Thompson, Greg Dyke, John Simpson and and and… God. Speaking into those BBC mics, in a studio with the green or blue canvas table top beneath one’s elbows, does something to everyone who goes near. You feel as if you are the embodiment of sane objective broadcasting and that this Is A Good Thing. Perhaps it is like the athletes who weep when they hear the national anthem from the podium. Even if they loath much of what Britain stands for, they’ve been wired to weep just as the Beeb mics are wired to turn us all into Sarah Montague.
Stephen Sackur makes it easy to see why the broadcast media today is, largely, such a waste of time. For every response Zizek gives, Sackur tries to mince it down into an easy take-home summing-up sprinkled with generalisations and cliché. This is the perfect example of BBC journalism, in which the programme – HARDtalk – claims to be tackling the ‘difficult topics of today’ and offering its audiences intellectual programming. And yet, what is serves up is a myopic presenter who continually interrupts the interviewee, refusing to allow him to answer with any subtlety or complexity. It’s a sort of liberal hegemonic Q&A that results in learning almost absolutely nothing at the end of it. Zizek seemed to capture the futility of the project when he said in the first half, I would need at least half an hour to explain this; and then, in the second half, that if people don’t understand they should read more. I have this vision of Sackur at a dinner party this weekend in south London somewhere, chortling with his friends about how he controlled Zizek and showed the HARDtalk listeners that communists and Marxists are just silly because Zizek admits he doesn’t have a solution right now. Sackur wants a ready-made world with ready-made answers. No wonder he’s such a Beeb celebrity.