Monday, 31 January 2011

Andrew is thinking about homosexuality

In autumn 2009 I visited Berlin with some friends. People asked what we were going to see and I mentioned Schwules Museum, partly because it was true, and partly because I liked to see their reaction. Schwules Museum is the world's first gay museum, opened in 1985, and the main display is "Self-Awareness and Endurance: 200 Years of Gay History". It depicts "the strategies, options and problems of homosexuals in seeking to live a self-determined life, find others and organise networks in the period from 1790 to 1990", and absolutely fascinating it is too.

People's reactions to the visit were interesting. Most people know me well enough, and are aware that the topic is one of my very many interests. Some looked very perplexed about why anyone would want to see that, and one said "I didn't know you are gay". Ho hum. All my adult life I've been quite interested in gay culture, noticing that many gay icons were in my own taste in art and music. Also, I've despised much of the macho straight culture, with those people fired up on booze, fast cars, violence and sexist attitudes.

So, for anyone out there sniggering at the topic of this post, get your "backs against the walls" comments off your chest, and don't flatter yourself that the gay man fancies you just because you're male.

And why have I brought up this topic today? A hero of mine, Graeme Obree, a world record holding cyclist, has today gone public that he's gay. I've followed his career, read his honest open autobiography "Flying Scotsman", and seen the film (and pretty good it was too). He has had a harrowing life, with problems of bullying as a child, enduring weak parenting, low self-esteem, bi-polarism, being an outcast of the cycle sport establishment, cheated by the dopers, close family bereavement, poverty, and attempted suicides.

I find the whole Obree gay story astonishing, and I hope he can now find some contentment in his life. He first admitted to himself that he was gay in 2005, aged 40. He blamed the repression on his upbringing in Ayrshire, where, Obree says, “I was brought up thinking you'd be better dead than gay. I must have known I was gay and it was so unacceptable. I was brought up by a war generation - they grew up when gay people were put in jail. Being homosexual was so unthinkable that you just wouldn't be gay. I'd no inkling about anything, I just closed down."

I look back on my own upbringing, and the attitudes of those around me, as Obree's comments didn't stack up at first. Obree's ten years younger than me, yet he's describing situations that I thought had passed ten or twenty years ago. But then not everyone is like me -  a Guardian reader fortunate to be surrounded by relatively tolerant people, for whom being gay is no big deal. And, for example, I have the sensibilities to be able to enjoy and be informed by Ricky Gervais challenging people's attitudes to homosexuality through his humour in "The Office" and "Extras". Many more much prefer the same old homophobic jokes.

Why am I cool about homosexuality? For a start, I am not from a religious family, which is a great help. Thank god I'm an atheist. Yet I have worked closely with a christian who considers homosexuality an abomination, and I have a muslim friend who has a similar attitude. Kylie Minogue and David Beckham. Male air stewards and barbers. Looking back, I had another colleague who despised homos, who thought they were all also paedophiles. Oscar Wilde. Another gay acquaintance who had taking a severe beating from a queer bashing. The Soho bombing. Following football, and witnessing a mass of foul-mouthed men hurling homophobic abuse at a player who they consider is gay, because he reads a book on the team bus, rather than play cards. Lesbians holding hands in the streets of Eastbourne during tennis week. Larry Grayson, Frankie Howard, Kenneth Williams. A good friend, who is gay, that has been subject to a gay-hate campaign in the workplace. Straight friends who couldn't care less if people think they might be gay. Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry. Don't worry, hetero people; tolerating gays isn't the first step towards making it compulsory. My mum still using "queer" in a non-gay sense. Morrissey and Stipe. Another gay friend who was a CofE church organist, and who kept his sexuality quiet after being hounded out of his church by the homophobes. Laughing at the poof in "Are you being served?". Liberace successfully suing a newspaper for saying the pianist was gay - did they get their money back? Stonewall and Gay Pride. Eavesdropping on young people's conversations, and realising that gay is still used as a derogatory term. And so my recollections can go on, and on, and on.

Meanwhile, there are so many more people out there living a lie, still unable to be true to themselves about their sexuality. Graeme Obree is the first top cyclist to come out as gay, yet clearly there must have been many more homosexual bike racers. In fact I would suggest that the usual ratio may be a bit higher in the world of cycling, with all that tight lycra, and people thrashing themselves, loners escaping the pressures of their other lives. And maybe that's another story..........

Thursday, 27 January 2011

It's haggis time

David Cameron walks into a hospital in Glasgow. A patient walks up to him and says "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face ...". He's of course taken aback. Then another says "Poor devil! see him owre his trash ..." and Cameron again isn't sure what to make of it. Finally, after a third patient approaches and says "Then, horn for horn, they strech an' strive ..." Cameron whispers to his assistant "Is this the psychiatric ward?" The assistant replies, "No, Mr Cameron. It's the severe Burns unit."
Yes, it's Burns' night this week, and I shot my own haggis in Sainsbury's. It's a Simon Howie one, with sheep's lungs, beef liver and beef heart in the principal ingredients. Sounds "aboot reet" to me. They also offered a vegetarian haggis, which would probably be very tasty, but not haggis. If it hasn't got the less expensive cuts of animals in it, it ain't haggis.

Vegetarian haggis is an oxymoron, and talking of morons, here's a couple of my pals hiking with me last May in the West Highlands above Kinloch Hourn. They're backpacking again this May, coast to coast. I'm not walking with them at all this time, but am planning a bike trip to Cape Wrath, maybe catching up with them at Drumnadrochit. "I like it when a plan comes together", as a mutual friend says, rather too often.

7 Hertz, the resonant frequency of a chicken's skull

"Come and see these guys, they're amazing" said Daniel Merrill, a friend whose opinion I listen to, especially when he's talking about music. The band were 7 Hertz, a trio from Leeds who gave an entertaining set to a sparse audience at the Swinburne Hall. And delightful it was too. Playing unamplified acoustic classical instruments (fiddle, clarinet, bass clarinet and 5-string bass) they played their own compositions and improvisations. Looking at the programme it mentioned the influences of Stravinsky, Bartok and Dolphy, suggesting to me that they had been listening to Frank Zappa! Lots of different styles in their "contemporary jazz/folk" set, but no direct quotes that I noticed, just the exquisite flavour of some of my favourite composers.

And why 7 hertz? I don't know. The guy that introduced the numbers had a strong "yark-shuh" accent, and I found him difficult to understand, unlike his music which spoke clearly to me. Googling it, it says that 7 Hertz is the natural resonance of a chicken's skull, thus proving the Zappa connection of "using a chicken to measure it".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

And the prize draw winner is..........

About a week ago I invited comments as it was my 100th blog, and offered a prize draw. I had six comments, so I didn't need to use a www random number generator; instead I used an old wooden one, aka a dice.

And the lucky winner is number 4, Siobhan. So, Siobhan could you please let me know where to post the prize to? Contact me at

There has also been some interest in the cider apple butter recipe, so here it is, based on one by Pam Corbin in the River Cottage Handbook No 2, "Preserves".

Take a bucket of windfall apples (say 6lbs). Quarter them if they are average size apples, no need to peel or core, but cut away any bad bits, or maggots. Cook gently in a large pan with a litre of cider and a litre of water, for about 30 mins. Apply hand liquidiser to make a puree, and allow it to drain through a coarse sieve. Most will go through, little is wasted. Weigh the good stuff, and add about two thirds of the apple weight in sugar, and add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a few cloves or half a tsp of allspice. Boil up while stirring, then boil rapidly for about 15-30 minutes as it thickens. Pour jam while still hot, into washed and sterilised jars - this will make about ten jars. Store in fridge after opening, and eat within a month. This won't be a problem, as it's very tasty, and can be used as a jam or syrup.

And I'd like to offer a jar of apple cider butter consolation prize to Alistair, as he's commented the most on my first 100 blogs. So Al, please get in touch too. And many thanks to all my readers, even the shy ones who don't comment!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Treasure Trove on Plough Monday

Today is Plough Monday, as celebrated in the East of England by aspiring middle class people from suburbia. It's the first day of the agricultural year, when work on the land resumes after the Christmas period. As we're now signed up as Radical Homemakers, Domestic Goddesses and Urban Homesteaders, I got myself a diggin'.

And look, there's some blue sky here, after the gloom since the snow and ice melted. This weekend we went for a walk in Friday Woods, and started digging the new veg patch. Some of the patch hasn't been dug for thirty years, so it was hard work, and I spent some of the spadework time catching my breath. Looking at the soil I saw a small dull disc, and recognised I'd found an old coin. And now it's time for a history lesson, explaining why I was a tad excited.

Three thousand years ago our garden was part of a sandy heath and woodland that covered much of what is now named Essex. Two thousand years ago our suburban patch found itself within the massive Oppidum (a very large defended area) of the Trinovantes tribe (ancient Brits). Half a mile away at Gosbecks  the Trinovantes King Cunobelin had his Royal Palace. Two miles away in the other direction is modern day Colchester town centre, which nearly 2000 years ago was the Roman city of Colonia Victricencis, which was made Britain's first capital city. The two local historical sites fairly happily co-existed during the Roman period, apart from the Boudiccan uprising. The Romano/Brits built the largest theatre in Britain, and a massive temple, about half a mile from our house. As we live between the two sites I reckon it's not too fanciful to suggest that Celtic and Roman people were tramping through our garden two millenia ago.

During subsequent centuries, the Romans went away, the Saxons came, and then the Normans. Slowly, over the last thousand years, agriculture spread over the ancient heathland, and eventually our garden became part of Prettygate Farm, as an orchard. Meanwhile the ancient town of Colchester expanded, the farm was bought, and our housing estate was built in the late 1950s.

So when you find a coin in our garden, you wonder who dropped it. As picked up, it couldn't be identified, and a quick wash under the tap revealed a fairly smooth disc. Further careful cleaning revealed that it was a half-penny of King George the Fifth's reign, dated 1930.

Not exactly treasure trove. And we can only guess if it was dropped in the orchard, or was mislaid sometime after the house was built. Still, we had a good Plough Monday, and we wonder what other riches might come from our soil, or will it just be vegetables?

Friday, 7 January 2011

Tenacious D - Diane Ranaghan (and don't mess with the D community)

Tenacious D? No, not the creation of Jack Black, this is a real Tenacious D. I wasn't intending to do "yet another diabetes blog" on my "A Flavour of Budd Living" pages. I've posted a fair few recently, and us Budds have a zillion other interests. But it has been a remarkable few days for the world's Diabetes Community, a species that inhabits a parallel planet to "normal life" where we also live when given the chance.

So who's this Tenacious D, and what's the story? It's Diane Ranaghan, a facebook friend of mine that I've never met on Planet Earth, but feel I know quite well from Planet Diabetes. She has a young boy with Type 1 (aka Juvenile) Diabetes, like us, which means we immediately have an understanding that completely outweighs all our differences, like the fact she is from the USA and is rather keen on footwear.

Anyway, on with the story. A couple of days ago the actress and TV presenter Ricki Lake appeared as a guest on "Good Morning America" on ABC, chatting about various things and said "juvenile diabetes is completely preventable" which is untrue, as it's a disease of the auto-immune system. She was possibly confusing it with (the nine times more common) Type 2 diabetes, which is linked with obesity and lack of exercise. (But it ain't necessarily so, lest anyone is going to jump on the "Type 2 is a self-inflicted disease" bandwagon).

OK, people can make mistakes, and who takes what celebs say seriously anyway? (Er, lots of people actually.) But Lake was promoting her book about health, thereby giving her utterances a certain weight to a less informed public.

The Juvenile Diabetes community were incensed by her view, and swung into action. To her credit, Lake issued an apology on her website and by twitter, but the damage was done, as a mistruth had been spread on prime time TV. And the mistruth is counter to the efforts of the D-community to educate people about our disease, seeking public understanding of the condition, warning others about the symptoms, and seeking funding for better management and A Cure.

Public opinion and sympathy is important in a competing market of shitty diseases clamouring for attention and funding. And the last thing it needs is lots of people being informed that these D-kids will have to lump it, because of their lazy, fat, ignorant parents.

Hundreds of people, mainly D-moms wielding insulin pens in one hand and laptops and phones in the other, bombarded the TV company and Lake's people. They lobbied at all levels, overwhelming customer care teams, complaints inboxes, and chief executives' answer machines. They used their knowledge, their personal stories and their passion, to put up a very persuasive case for the retraction of the comment.

But Lake's apology on its own was not enough. They wanted nothing less than a slot on the same show, spelling out that Lake had got it wrong, and what T1D is all about. And that's what they got. So thank you Ricki Lake, and ABC for listening to public opinion, and responding.

So what about Tenacious D? I have no idea how many people were involved in this campaign on behalf of our kids; it was all well beyond my horizon, at home, looking after our boy. But I do know that, from my vantage point, my friend Diane Ranaghan was in there fighting for us all, showing leadership, and tenacity, spiced up with a large dash of guile. As a result of Diane's and the others' efforts, they have turned round a bad story that damaged our community, into a good story with lots of controversy and publicity for the cause. And ABC have said they will come back for more on this topic. 

I'm proud to be part of the world-wide D-community, and proud to be a small part of Diane's world too.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

planetfrank - our JDRF fundraising in 2011

We belong to a super community that we hadn't even considered three years ago. From the time of our Frank's Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis 27 months ago we have met many wonderful people - medical experts, parents, and some actual diabetics! And they have helped us beyond measure. We're now in a position to put something back. First, we set up Colchester Circle D, a support group for parents of children with T1D.

And our latest project is to raise some funds in 2011 for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund), the world's top geezers looking at how to better manage diabetes, and seeking a cure..... But we're not just expecting you to just hand over your money, we want to do something that you will want to buy into. So we are putting together a series of events and initiatives for the year, which we will soon outline.

Meanwhile, we have set up a donations page at in readiness of our programme, and lo and behold some have donated already. And you will be pleased to know that I will not be following the fashion of posing for a nude calendar, even for charadee.....


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