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“I’m done being quiet.”

Below is a guest blog-post from Faye Treacy, a comedian, writer, presenter and good friend of mine, about misogyny and sexual harassment in the music world where she first made her name. (Her work is superb by the way: you can find her on Twitter at @fayetreacy and on her website.)

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So on Friday night I received a rather vile video on fb from a trumpet player I don’t really know or work with. He was aggressively exposing himself to me and his reasoning was ‘I’m drunk.’

Now this isn’t the first time I have received unsolicited photos/videos/messages. I could have guessed his age at being middle aged by the fact that he stupidly used the platform of Facebook messenger instead of snap chat so I’m sorry ‘mate’ but that video is now on the internet forever. You were drunk yes but you were also making a power move, like when other colleagues have shown me porn for fun on their phones over dinner or in WhatsApp groups. I also am aware this is a grey area and comes down to context. Sarah Silverman just thought Louie was being an idiot when he ‘asked’ (important word there) to wank in front of her, the open spots at their gigs obviously found this headliner way more threatening. A dickhead mate of mine sending me bad porn when we were younger for example, I don’t suddenly want him to lose all his teaching work if I chose to report him now but we need to look at it. We all do dumb shit. I grew up Catholic and used to call all bad things ‘gay’ even before I realised I liked girls as well as boys, which was a hard realisation and then insight into why I hated myself so much when I was younger 🤦‍♀️

I’ve been doing music most of my life. It’s opened many doors and satisfied my creativity, opened a world of better education my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford without the bursary’s and as a geeky kid in band I thought I’d found my tribe.. but as I got older, when puberty hit I noticed a trend… with geeky men, there come’s a lot of pent up resentment towards women.

Having a metre-long dick drawn on your locker at music college after your first stint of TV work, notes left in your case calling you a ‘slag.’ This wasn’t from children, this was from well educated middle class early twenty year olds. When are we going to stop making excuses for such behaviour?

I had a chat a few years ago with my favourite academic professor at the Royal Academy of Music and I giggled that I’ve probably grown a way thicker skin now.. he cut me off, he wasn’t laughing along and he said ‘no, since you’ve left we’ve got better at having girls in the brass department.’ I really hope that’s true as I can no longer giggle. It’s a disservice to my feelings and quite frankly my intelligence.

There has been a few sneers against the Royal Northern College of music for setting up a better pastoral care system, but honestly when I was at my lowest and I mean low, I could have really done with some support not just being told ‘oh he’s Scottish’ or ‘you can’t stop a pig grunting.’ I was aware by going to study I was putting myself in crippling debt for life and I was wondering how much then I was willing to put up with till I broke.

I then went onto study in America where I got fed up of the professor there massaging young female accompanists shoulders in his ‘weekly’ yes weekly masterclasses. I got tired so I returned to London and I went in search of other art forms to express myself cos I actually found the music world I’d experienced up till then quite toxic and it had left me with quite crippling stage fright.

And it worked, I’ve now continued to play with great bands and musicians and I’m proud to say have an up and coming comedy career. What ever people can call me from my college days, doesn’t hurt me anymore. Call me a slag, say I only get my gigs cos I’m a girl all you like but at least as far as I’m aware no one ever said I wasn’t nice…And I am nice but I just can’t be fucked any longer to be agreeable.

So Friday night after a 17hr teaching week, 7 gigs and 2 radio shows recorded I get into bed feeling proud with myself for once (and I’m so hard on myself) having had some lovely gigs at Top Secret comedy club I’m subjected to a video that was just disgusting.

Earlier this week I had a tweet asking how do we get more girls playing brass. I don’t think it’s a gender issue with who wants to learn a brass instrument, all little boys and girls love making fart noises, as the hilarious comedian Iliza Shlesinger recently put it in an interview little girls and boys find poop and farting hilarious as it’s funny BUT girls we’re just trained out of it, it’s for the boys to make jokes about.

I think we have a cultural problem that leads to many female brass students not sticking at it. I also think we have a massive class issue. When you can’t afford a car or a hotel when you’re building up your freelance work, as a woman you have to put so much trust in men. Some of us don’t have the older sibling looking out for us, some us didn’t come from Cheethams school of music/ NYO etc etc when you’ve got your old boy/girl club. (Although I am aware there has been some terrible stories to come out of some of those music schools.)

You have to share lifts with strangers, rooms and trust that you don’t wake up with some pervy function leader’s hand in your knickers. You have to make sure you don’t get drunk and put yourself in vulnerable situations, (why did you agree to share a room in the first place?!) walking home late alone cos you don’t want to spend half of your gig fee on a cab because you know already your rent’s going to be a week late.

I’m tired of being subjected to this.

Yes I’m a comedian, I take the piss out of myself and my failings on stage, I’m sex positive, I speak freely and I’m not easily offended but I’m tired. The world is moving forward but why does it appear the music world is still dragging its feet?

I’ve asked some male colleagues if they know this dude and their response has been, ‘he’s normally so sweet,’ or ‘have you slept with him before?’ Ffs!!!! Some of my female older brass mates have been like ‘oh ignore it,’ cos I’m sure they’ve seen it all before. You become desensitised when your a gigging musician to this type of crap. Some people have told me to share the video, however, I don’t want to subject it to people who really don’t want to see it. Some people have been like don’t share it, ‘HE might be having a bad time in life.’

Now, I’ve put shout outs before begging my male colleagues to communicate more, speak about their feelings. I think it’s devastating that suicide is the biggest killer of young men. But did you know the group that commits suicide the most isn’t actually young men it’s actually lesbians… yes women. My sister works with sex workers in Norway and shared that shocking stat with me. Another fact about women that isn’t shouted about.

So to my lovely men in the world of music if one of your mates is being a dick, have a word! Through hard work I’ve created a platform for myself where I will continue to speak up. The next hundred years isn’t going to be just written by men in the history books.

I’m done being quiet.

“Leaving Home (Citizen of Everywhere)”, my speech at the #BrexitWake at the Literaturhaus in Berlin, 29.03.2019.

I read the following speech at the #BrexitWake in Berlin, the night that the UK had long been scheduled to leave the EU.

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The strange thing about the UK leaving the EU is that a few years ago I left the UK, a place I called home, but now it feels like that old home is leaving me too.

Make no mistake, Germany is where I live now – not Berlin, but Germany; in its own way, I love Hamburg just as much as this city, with honourable mentions for Bremen and Dusseldorf. But when it comes to the heart, Britain is hard to quit. The UK is an ex-partner on whom I check up from time to time. We have long since parted ways, but I still care about them. Recently, though, I have seen them fall in with a bad crowd, and I am not sure that I recognise them anymore.

When the UK’s Prime Minister referred to people like me as “citizens of nowhere”, she meant to represent me as an outsider, as someone who roamed the vast global nowhere in search of their identity. The irony is that she is helping to make her own people citizens of nowhere. She has done her very best to ensure that they will be scornful outsiders, peering in from the edges of the world. Britain will still welcome investment from all over the planet, but its hospitality towards actual people has been questioned like never before. Though my Prime Minister has not been alone in her efforts, it is rare that a major politician has made politics feel so personal.

Part of me, a very small, quietly spiteful part, feels that perhaps Britain deserves to be an outsider. During its centuries as an insider, it did many things that shaped the world for the worse, and so maybe it will be less dangerous on the fringe. But there is is another far larger part of me, which remembers a more modern Britain which was better than that. That is the Britain I thought I knew, the Britain of my favourite teachers Janet Fallows and Andrew Robinson and Mark Freedland, who encouraged me to think critically and kindly at all times. That is the Britain of innovation in science and medicine and music, the Britain of compassionate legislation and the fierce defender of human rights, the Britain of my friends Justin in Norfolk and Tessa in Brussels and Jonny in Haiti. Recently, these better Britains have felt like a distant dream.

I have no gently poetic words to describe how I feel about the UK leaving the EU. Yes, the EU has its flaws. Look at the hard borders against Africa, the treatment of Greece. Yet it is still an institution that has protected us from the worst of what could have been, and could yet protect us from the worst of what is to come. If we judge the EU by those who would happily see it destroyed, then the UK’s decision to leave looks all the more worrying still. But we all know all this, that is largely why we are here.

I am very angry tonight. This is a time in history where we have never needed greater unity of purpose, and we are in an era where division grows by the day. And I do not mean political division between left and right. I mean division between people who want to have a plan about the planet we still seek to inhabit a generation from now, and people who don’t. I am disgusted by how climate change has become just another issue in the culture war. I am appalled by how ignorance has become a badge of honour. If recent years have reminded us of anything, it is that  “No” is not only an emotion, it is a political position. But “No” is very rarely a helpful solution.

In the UK we are faced, as is the rest of the world, with the prospect of catastrophic climate change within the course of our lifetime. We are fortunate because we are in a position to sit at a table and help to drive forward policies for progress. Yet we are walking away from that table, and in the process leaving our nation in disarray. Because this is not a dignified retreat from Europe – a bold stand taken by the brave British underdog. This is a daylight heist, which I believe will thrust my country’s politicians towards the arms of the rising far-right.

My country. Maybe I need to stop saying that. Maybe I need to stop reading so much UK news, and instead concentrate on what is happening here, in my slowly-improving German. I am no longer living in the UK, I am no longer paid in anything other than euros and dollars. Despite the very many challenges I have faced since arriving in Germany almost five years ago, I have found so much here that is truly special. It is not only my taxes that are here: my closest friends are here, Josh is here, Jennifer is here, Krisz is here. I hope that my future love is here. I have much that I adore in the UK, not least my beloved Manchester United, but recently I even have a new football team to support, the women’s team of Wolfsburg. (This week, we lost the Champions League quarter-final to Lyon – but we nearly beat them, and I can promise you we will be back. Next year, Lyon, we are coming for you. Next year.)

The British Prime Minister – not my Prime Minister, not anymore – was wrong about me. When she says I am a citizen of nowhere, I can reply, no, I am a citizen of everywhere. I belong everywhere all at once. I may not fit into many people’s traditional vision of someone from their hometown. Yet whether I do, or do not, I do not care. I am here to live, to love, to contribute to something much bigger and hopefully much, much better than myself. And, for as long as I am here in Germany, I always will.

This is why you shout racist abuse at black footballers.

You go to football matches and shout racist abuse at black footballers because you have paid your money and so for the next ninety minutes you own every footballer in that stadium,  especially the black ones. You own their strengths and their flaws and everything you know or suspect about their personal lives. For that time, your mouth becomes a firehose of hate. You look at this black man and you think: this is my victim, my ground, my England.

Why is this your England? Because just enough people tell you that this is so. There are plenty of people around you in the crowd who will listen to you roar abuse and who’ll still share a drink and a joke with you at half-time and after the match. In relation to racism, they’ll fall into a few different groups. A few will be just as vocal as you. Others will wish they had the courage to shout as loudly as you do but they won’t, not yet. Others still will have black friends at home but will act as if it’s not their problem – they won’t even report you to the stewards. They will know they are cowards and a few of them will later tell their black friends how awful it was, looking anxiously in their friends’ eyes for some form of forgiveness for their inaction, as if black people are suddenly the fairy godmothers of football.

You think this is your England because you read the most popular newspapers in the country and they agree with you – they agree with you that black footballers, like children, must be seen and not heard, that the second they decide to do anything more than score spectacular goals they become a threat. Those newspapers remind you daily that there is no aspect of criminality to which a black footballer cannot be connected.

You think this is your England because – well, why wouldn’t you? You have a political system whose immigration laws have long discriminated against the exact same social group from whom these black footballers claim heritage. You listen to your radio and one of its prime-time presenters has a history of racism stretching back decades. You watch your television and one of its most high-profile producers once edited the most popular newspaper in the country at a time when it was referring to African men women and children as cockroaches at the very moment that they were drowning in the Mediterranean. You log onto Twitter and you see one of the most-followed presenters rolling his eyes as if you are just some lone wolf of racism and have not been emboldened by the years of hard-boiled bigotry that his media outlet and others have been diligently pumping out.

But you are at this game screaming because, at some level, you are worried that this is not your England, and this stadium is the safest place you can take revenge on black footballers for making you feel this way. These black men are crawling all over your football teams and your TV screens and your culture. If you stop for a moment you will worry about how many people seem to love this England, even with all these black men in its national team – and maybe, to your dismay, that’s even why they love this team more.

The black footballer is within earshot so you call him a black cunt in the hope that your words will land with the force of a whip. You hope the black player will respond there and then, in your mind making a champion out of you, but he does so later, online and at length. Somewhere, in a newsroom or a living room, there are countless others with the same bile in them as you, slightly more confident today than they were yesterday.

You still think this is your England because there are not enough people in your immediate circle, even if they disagree with you, who have the courage to tell you differently. Your England is small, bitter, brutal and fearful, and it always has been. Your England thinks it has black friends but would never allow them to date your sons and daughters. Your England desperately needs one corner of a stadium, one section of an angry crowd, its safe space. You ruled the world and now you can’t even rule a touchline. You can never stop shouting because if you hold your tongue for long enough the appalled silence in the crowd around you will forever remind you of what you have lost.

“Keep Kicking”, a post about Pittsburgh.

You began writing today before 6am – it was the only way you felt you could react to what was happening. You couldn’t sleep, your guts were on fire with the news from Pittsburgh, the attack on the synagogue that left eleven people dead. This thing that is tearing at you is not new. It has been there since the day Trump was elected, an event swiftly following which your sleep promptly dropped from six hours a night down to four. For the first few months that you lost a third of your sleep you denied why it was happening, but then you accepted it – that your body was telling you to be ready. You have rested enough, it was telling you, and given what is coming you have so much work to do.

In the early months after the election of Trump you didn’t know best to do, nobody did – maybe not even Trump himself, delirious with the unexpected thrill of his dangerous new pulpit. All you knew was that you were reminded of that scene from Titanic, the awful pause after the ship, having struck the iceberg, had cracked in half and was perfectly poised above the ocean, prepared to plummet. You had to write, even if the quality of the words that emerged was terrible. You had to write, just as you are writing now. You do this because the very act of motion is resistance, that if you stop kicking you drown.

You bumped into two friends earlier this afternoon. You thanked one of them for his furious Facebook posts about Trump’s latest outrages, and he confessed that he felt they were futile. They weren’t, you told him. Everything matters. Your fury matters. Once you are numb to it, that’s the end. We need to keep feeling. It is not inevitable that the very worst is ahead.

You had a beautiful day, even though it is hard to remember that. You visited one dear friend to celebrate her wedding to a wonderful man, and then saw another on her brief return to the city. Both of them are flourishing, doing better than they have ever done. Yet when you woke this morning, you didn’t think of either of them, but of Pittsburgh, and of the hurricane of hatred that Trump continues to unleash.

Your sleep patterns have improved these days, because you have become better at ignoring Trump, of not allowing him to ruin your day, even though the horror of what he is doing often settles across the skies like nuclear winter. But Pittsburgh has happened and the lack of sleep is back. You remember people writing that talk of white supremacy was exaggerated, that the Democrats were crying wolf over the terrors to follow his election, you even remember one friend airily remarking that the Trump presidency, restrained by America’s formidable institutions, would be a quiet one. You remember reminding people, as had countless others, that the toxic levels of anti-Semitism being pumped into the atmosphere would one day thaw some long-frozen and rage-filled plains, allowing ancient viruses to arise from them anew. You and those countless others gain little comfort from having roared these warnings, because this was never a game, never a sixth-form debate where the winner takes home a silver trophy and is treated to a three-course dinner. Like climate change itself, the crisis of extremism, long denied, has always been existential.

Yet there is some comfort – not much, but some. There is comfort because you know that hatred of this nature is predictable, and that the success of this hatred is not guaranteed. You watched from New York with pride as, in your adopted city of Berlin, a quarter of a million people took to the streets to protest not only against the rise of the far Right but crucially in favour of progress and hope. You commiserated with friends from Brazil as they looked ahead in fear to the possible election of Bolsonaro, a man offering ominously simple solutions to complex social problems, but at the same time you marvelled at what fine people they were, and you gained even greater resolve to make the world better for them however you could. We have to celebrate the wins, you tell your friends whenever you bump into them in the street, and we have to celebrate the small things. Everything matters! Everything matters – the briefest act of kindness, the gentle eye contact with the homeless stranger, the channelling of pain into hopeful art, the warmth in the hug when you welcome or say farewell to anyone beloved. Everything matters, even the stream of consciousness I am typing now. Maybe the paths forward aren’t clear, maybe we are still forming a vision of the future where as many people as possible can enjoy health and happiness, and maybe dry land often seems nowhere in sight. But, in the meantime, we need to keep kicking.

My new post, on Redfish and Russia Today.

I feel sick, but most of all I feel naive.
 
Last week I spent a wonderful couple of hours in the company of a film crew, who interviewed me at length for a documentary they were making about xenophobia and austerity in the UK. A few days later, I was thankfully informed by Oz Katerji, an investigative journalist, that this company – Redfish, based in Berlin – was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Russia Today.
Charlie Davis of The Daily Beast had discovered this after some exhaustive reporting, and Katerji sent me a link from the article where Davis had published his findings
 
I didn’t quite retch when I found out, but my stomach certainly lurched. Yes, the referral came through a dear friend, but it is ultimately my own fault. I should have done my own due diligence – and a simple Google search would have revealed the above article.
 
Here’s the thing about the programme to which I contributed: I think that the topic is a vital one, and I think that the presenter did an excellent job of examining the issues in our conversation. I just don’t believe that Russia Today, given their stance on refugees, are honest brokers. In fact, I think that they are the opposite. Just the other day, they ran an opinion piece asking the Canadian government not to resettle Syrian refugees, on the grounds that they were either “potential terrorists or supporters of terrorists”. The article is here.
 
Yes, I know that Russia Today serve up entertaining segments about sport and other entertainment. But I object so strongly to their general political mission that, had I known of their involvement in this documentary, I would have declined the opportunity to appear.
 
I am very careful with the media appearances that I make, for three main reasons. First, I think it is very important not to become a talking-head, and become the “go-to guy” when it comes to talking about, say, racism in public life. I think that type of status as the “community leader” is very unhelpful. It implies one person speaks for a diverse group of people, which is dangerous. Secondly – though this might be hard for some to imagine! – I would quickly get sick of the sound of my own voice. But thirdly – and most importantly – I do not want to lend legitimacy to certain platforms. Though those organisations to whom I give interviews certainly have their flaws, the crucial difference is that they are not wholly owned by authoritarian states who jail and murder activists and journalists. (If you are not familiar with the following names – Natalya Estemirova, Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky – please Google them.) I do not know that I have always got the balance of my media appearances right in the past, but it is something I have come to care about deeply. The thought of my views being aired on Russia Today is deeply upsetting on a personal level and deeply worrying on a professional one.
 
Some people would say that I am an idealistic fool for turning down some of the media platforms that I have. Those platforms, after all, often mean more visibility and with it the possibility of vastly better earnings – speaking gigs, consultancy fees, and so on. There are some days – when I can’t send a relative a few thousand pounds to help with that operation or those couple of months of rent – that I agree with those people. I have turned down huge amounts of both exposure and money from people I have suspected to be unscrupulous. Why have I done this? Because, so far as I am conscious and not consumed by desperation, I don’t want to contribute to a worse world, and I think that we are being ushered into such a world by Russia Today.
 
Why am I telling you this? To learn from my example, really: to remind myself, and to remind you, that we have a choice. We don’t always have to say yes when someone puts a microphone under our nose. I don’t judge those of you who do – God knows that writing can be a precarious and thankless life, and if you have people who depend on you financially then it can be hard to reject that camera or that paycheque. Wherever possible, though, we should try to step away. Let’s do our homework, and find out for whose regimes or fiefdoms we may be the unwitting mouthpiece. Let’s at least know who we are working for, and make our judgements accordingly. Because if we are to be held accountable for ignorance and bigotry – as we should be! – then, at the very least, that ignorance and bigotry should knowingly be our own.

Black Panther: an emotional response.

So (no spoilers!) I watched Black Panther last night. My God. I’m not going to write a review, because I’m relatively late to see the film and a thousand majestic dissections have already appeared online. Instead I will only write a hopefully brief emotional response, since that’s the only thing I can add that might be somewhat fresh.

My favourite football player, in visceral terms, is probably George Weah. Not because he was the finest of all time – even though he had qualities which put him firmly among the greats. But because what Weah achieved on the field, where he was the most elegant blend of grace, power, speed and balance, was merely a fraction of what he achieved beyond it. Weah, a proud citizen of Liberia (a country with its own extraordinary place in world history) was one of the first male African footballers to stand at the very front of the world stage, and he was utterly apologetic when he did so. Weah was a man many of us could recognise; tall, dark-skinned, we could have seen him at the barber shop, he could have been an uncle. And yet there he was, gliding across our screens. He looked like us, spoke like us, and so we started to swagger like him.

Watching Black Panther felt like seeing George Weah at his peak. Visually magnificent, thrillingly unpredictable, with duel after beautiful duel against elite opposition. The land of Wakanda itself? A glorious vista of the old and the new. And the women were just as I knew them. In them, I saw my relatives: unfathomably strong and supportive, amazingly courageous at every turn, humbly and patiently building a better world each day. How they persevere through all the exhaustion, I will never know.

Will there be critiques of this film? Absolutely. I look forward to reading them, and after some time I may attempt one of my own. For now, though, I am especially thankful I saw this film in Black History Month, because it feels like a milestone of its own. After the movie, I sat with a friend of a friend who had come to the movie with us; an African-American woman, born in the early Sixties, who well remembered the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (and, with a further poignant nod to Black history, was closely one of the world’s greatest basketball players). She was overwhelmed at the representation of African-Americans on screen, particularly the women, and rightly so. All I could think was: this movie was excitingly broad in its appeal, and yet was also uniquely for her. Black Panther felt both intensely personal and at the same time universal in its appeal, which in my view is one of the pathways to great art.

As for me, it reminded me what a privilege it is to be an artist, and to wake up daily with the chance to create something, anything, which might give hope to anyone. This film not only reminded me but wholly convinced me of the importance of optimistic, forward-thinking art. For that alone, it is a masterpiece.

My cold take on that new Nike ad.

So, about that Nike advert, which was greeted with widespread ecstasy on social media when it was released last week. Some might say it was “just a commercial” – and, in one sense, it was. From one perspective, it was merely a three-minute celebration of some of the capital’s finest artists and athletes, a uniquely emotive seduction of the wallets of London’s young. From another point of view, though, it was particularly powerful. So many young Londoners, when watching this short film, reacted with an online euphoria that I hadn’t witnessed since the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. So many of them felt seen, and understood. Notwithstanding the passionate critiques made by several on Twitter – namely, that people of South Asian heritage were underrepresented in this commercial – it was a piece of work that struck a cultural touchstone.

At this stage, I had to take a step back and ask myself what was happening here. After all, we’d seen this before, this arrival of an optimistic new dawn and a brutal aftermath. Collective joy about the brilliance of the 2012 Paralympics didn’t stop the British Government from driving through a series of severe benefits cuts for people with disabilities. Nike has given us a timely reminder of how much young Londoners love their city – but, in truth, how much does their city love them back?

I don’t mean to be a party pooper. Really, I don’t. I’m based in Germany now, but having lived for many years in Hackney, Finsbury Park, Leyton, Brick Lane, Walthamstow, the Isle of Dogs and Croydon, this city and its surroundings are in my soul. It’s just that, overall, I think that London takes its young people for granted. In her recent report, “London’s lost youth services”, the Green Party politician Sian Berry observed that between 2011/12 and 2016/17 “the average council in London has cut its youth service budget by nearly £1 million – an average of 36 per cent”. Moreover, she notes that cuts of an average of 25 per cent are planned for the following year.

Elsewhere, the outlook seems equally grim. By the start of 2016, it was estimated that around 40 per cent of London’s live music venues, many of them important places for young people not only to go out but to cut their teeth as performers, had closed down. Seeing Giggs in that Nike advert, too, I was reminded that many of London’s rappers and grime artists have not only survived but thrived despite the city’s authorities, not because of them. Just a few ago, we saw the removal of the infamous Form 696, a police risk assessment procedure which for twelve years was used to cancel countless shows across London’s black – sorry, urban – music scene.

I think that Nike advert is significant because it shows us how much young Londoners have made a fightback against such considerable odds. Look how many of them, typified by the magnificent Little Simz, have looked at the difficulty of their circumstances and somehow made a huge success of them. But not everyone – in fact, almost no-one – is as gifted as Little Simz. The grind is brutal, and it shouldn’t be. Travelling around Europe, I am frequently struck by how much cheaper other cities are by comparison. London is a town where house prices are seemingly rising at the speed of sea levels, and where most young people can only look to home ownership as the vainest of dreams. (On bleak days, I wonder if some wealthy developers would be happiest if the city were one giant and pristine high-rise estate, surrounded by an immaculate lawn marked “NO BALL GAMES”.)

If London truly wants to encourage the youthful creativity so lauded by Nike, then it needs to subsidise it. It needs to provide a generation with far cheaper housing and robust contracts to protect them from rapacious private landlords. It needs to ensure that a simple journey from Zone 3 to Zone 1 isn’t financially daunting. It needs to prove to young Londoners from working-class backgrounds that they will be utterly welcome not only in its brochures and on its billboards but in its boardrooms.

Every week, it seems, I see a new article bemoaning the laziness of millennials – how they don’t work hard enough, don’t save enough, how they are ungrateful for what they have. How they are far too demanding. As I write this, though, I am preparing to teach a week of creative writing to a class of wonderful young Londoners – a group as nervous as they are determined, as gentle as they are inventive – and I am reminded that they are not nearly demanding enough. London must demonstrate that it deserves these people. I only hope that it accepts the challenge.

A tribute to Ian Toothill, a truly beautiful human being.

Ian Toothill climbed Mount Everest while he had terminal cancer – and that wasn’t the most impressive thing about him. Not even close. He was a truly beautiful human being – how strange it is to refer to him in the past tense – and for all his spirit of adventure, which was extraordinary, his greatest quality by far was his kindness.

I don’t know much about climbing Everest, and I don’t wish to find out. I get nervous enough looking out over a fifth-floor balcony in a stiff breeze. All I know about climbing that beast of a landmark, a feat which Ian presumably found no more difficult than a brisk walk, was that it was probably a journey far less painful and terrifying than the one Ian faced in hospital these last few months. Yes, we would all visit him: but every night, visiting hours would end, and he would be alone with the journey, ascending to the bleakest of summits.

Ian was – is – remarkable. The BBC, reporting on his death – the Everest feat, undertaken for charity, had won him widespread acclaim in the media – mentioned that he was childless and unmarried, a dispassionate description that might have implied he had no family. But like the footballer Cyrille Regis, who also passed away this week, I have rarely seen someone so loved. He was universally admired. His gifts as a musician were considerable, as I learned when he played bass for one of my previous bands. More importantly, he was what a man, what any human, should aspire to be – gentle, empathetic, compassionate. The only time I ever saw him upset in those last few weeks was when discussion focused too much upon the latest antics of the current American president, whose cruelty and narcissism could not be any further from who Ian was.

Ian was so considerate. In December, when I said I would visit him in hospital, he said I didn’t need to pop in for more than ten minutes – he didn’t want to take up too much of my time on my return to the city. He was wrong, of course; I could have talked to him all night. During that visit, he was the very soul of warmth, even as his health was deteriorating all the while. I don’t know how he managed to summon such positivity in the face of a fate so, so unfair. He was only 48. I would have expected and understood him if he had withdrawn into himself – and I suspect that, privately, he had several of those moments. Overall, though, I think he was furiously determined to wring every last moment of joy from this world before he left it.

Ian had something you don’t see often enough in a world this brutal: he had the courage to love. Not just his friends, or his partners, but life itself. His last gift to me, one of so many, is a message I will forever treasure.

A few years ago a close friend of mine, Nick Eziefula, once gave me a simple and vital piece of advice that I have lived by ever since he delivered it. Nick said: if you think of someone, contact them. I thought of Ian last week, when consuming the very latest of my beloved sweet treats in a Berlin cafe. So I dropped him a line, and he replied:

“Enjoy every single moment, you are living! Not doing deals, not worrying about making loadsa money, and what everyone else is doing, just “being”. It sounds beautiful. I have spent hours in cafes, escaping, dreaming, realising what I have to be grateful for… even getting excited planning impossible climbing/charity Everest climbs on there 😊. Enjoy x”

Enjoy. That was last Wednesday, when his already severe condition was getting steadily worse, though there was no sign of that in his words. It was the last time I heard from him, and is an instruction both vital and inspiring. Enjoy. I will, my dear friend. I will.

 

On #MeToo and my article on a crisis in masculinity: an excellent critique I received last night.

I received an excellent critique last night, following the publication of my piece about Harvey Weinstein and a crisis in masculinity. The message arrived on Facebook, and I have copied and pasted it below with the author’s permission.

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Hey Musa, long time, I hope Berlin is treating you well, and and sorry to get in touch with you in this way and about this thing, but… the Me Too stuff has me furious for a ton of different reasons, and I kinda felt like since you have a significant platform through your blog, this might have been one of those moments where you could’ve offered that to a woman. I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but I’ve seen a dozen ‘woke’ men get clap clap clap today and it’s complicated because I’m not saying ‘don’t demonstrate alliance’, but I’m not sure getting accolades, intended or not, is what is needed. I’m having a go at you because you have a larger platform than the rest, but ALL have got more comments/likes/whatever than the women I know who’ve bravely shared experiences of trauma as a result of this bullshit Hollywood engendered meme. Anyway. I hate all of it – seeing the raw hurt from the women, and the tiredness we all feel, and the cheers for the ‘good guys’. So you got picked on. My bad there. Hope life is good, I am glad these conversations are happening. I’m just really pissed off it took mainly rich white normatively beautiful women fingering a rich successful dude to make them happen, and that it’s mainly men who are getting attention as a result. Peace! xxx


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Following my friend’s suggestion, if any women want to share their experiences under the #MeToo hashtag they can do so using my blog at http://www.okwonga.com/. They don’t only have to share their stories, they can share however they are feeling about the hashtag too.

They would be welcome to do so under their own names or anonymously. Anonymity might be an attractive option – there might be women who would really appreciate the catharsis of just typing out some of the trauma and posting it there. Women who can’t speak out for legal reasons or because the situation is ongoing and just want somewhere to flush out some of the pain. As my friend points out, I have a sizeable public platform and it would be good to make it available for women who would like to use it and who might need it.

I have a female administrator, Andrea Scheibler, to whom I am paying a fee, so that women do not have to concede their privacy in order to post on my blog. Please send her a private message on Facebook if you have a story you would like to share.

The only thing I would need is that identifying details of the perpetrators were not revealed (lawsuits, argh) but otherwise I would be more than happy for that.

 

For the middle-class Trump voter, this must be glorious.

As a middle-class Trump voter this must be glorious. You’ve got your regular income from your job and possibly your buy-to-let, and your liberal neighbours and colleagues are going wild with despair or fury. You’re quietly delighted – this is the time of your life, isn’t it? Being, as you are, comfortable enough to sit back and watch the bonfire. It probably feels as Great as the good old days your grandparents talked about. Trump promised this, and he has absolutely delivered.

What has surprised you, though, is how thrilling the sensation has been. The hurt on the face of your fellow worker when Trump aims another cannon at their existence produces a surge of euphoria in you, almost erotic. And Trump is relentless, isn’t he? You knew he’d be this bad, or this good, but you never knew the hits would be so constant, almost daily, and you’re addicted. It’s worse and therefore better than you’d hoped. By the time he’s done, whether that’s months or years from now, he’ll have shattered the happiness of millions of people you don’t know, and – more importantly – the happiness of dozens you do.

What’s been more enjoyable, so far? The fearless words of a gay acquaintance, beneath whose defiance you detect that she is drained by it all? Or seeing that anxious black family on the school run the morning after Charlottesville? How deeply have you drunk of their terror? You’ll vote for him again, of course you will. Because each day has been a victory – for you, each social interaction with those you loathe is a zero-sum game, where their pain must directly result in your pleasure. This is the greatness you craved, and now it is manifest; for you, as fervent as you are furtive, this is the true American Dream.