The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing – BBC public service broadcasting at its best

Two programmes I really admire are Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop, both on BBC One. I’m not sure how to apportion credit, but Field Kean Films produces Money for Nothing and Ricochet produces The Repair Shop.

Steven Fletcher works on a toy battleship in The Repair Shop

Revealing a transformed armchair

Leanne reveals a transformed armchair to EJ in Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing is a about upcycling as social entrepreneurship. It always begins with Sarah Moore (sometimes Jay Blades or EJ Osborne) waylaying people at the boot of their car, intercepting objects they’re about to dispose of at their municipal tip. They can be lengths of fabric, old filing cabinets, chairs, sewage pipe, old wooden bowling balls – you name it. We find out the object’s story before she takes it away to a specialist artisan in her network, including Zoe Murphy who designs patterns in Margate, Jay Blades who makes furniture and may still be based in Wolverhampton, Bex Simon who’s a Guildford blacksmith, Rob Shaer who works with wood in Walthamstow, Chinelo who designs garments in Canning Town, and Anthony Devine who upholsters in Manchester. After negotiating a budget (materials and labour) for transforming the object into something saleable, she goes away again leaving the artisan with creative licence. Sarah works on one of the objects herself. Arthur Smith narrates satirically.

Each programme follows the decisions and subsequent work on three objects, nicely paced so by the time the last is intercepted at the tip we’re half way through the tranformation of the first. When each is completed, Sarah arrives with her van and there’s a dramatic reveal. She pays the artisan, takes the object away and markets it to vendors with premises or web shops. Then she returns to the original owner with an iPad to show them the transformation and, if the object has sold, she gives them all the profit which I’ve see range from a fiver to £200.

Money for nothing - Jay Blades passes profit to original owner

I find this format absolutely ingenious. All of the money seems to come from and go to the right places. Viewers see a demonstration of entrepreneurship (another word for initiative in one’s livelihood) as Sarah coordinates adding value to what was going to be landfilled or dismembered. While she is presumably paid by the BBC licence fee, the artisans’ work is paid for by people with the income to freely buy valuable bespoke pieces. Viewers watch respect and creative vision shown to junk everyone else had given up on. The original owner is delighted to be doorstepped with money conjured from nothing, and and more often than not a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. By intercepting objects from the tip the programme is saving local authorities (that’s tax payers) money on landfill tax and recycling. Viewers learn that almost nothing needs to go to the tip if you have access to skilled labour. And in a society which increasingly valorises science, technology, engineering and maths and diminishes the arts, viewers learn how inspiring and valuable the livelihoods of artisans can be.

On a similar theme but with a different perspective, The Repair Shop begins with people  bringing broken family treasures to a spacious workshop in the Weald and Downland Living Museum where Jay Blades triages them on a table and interviews their owners about the object’s history – this part is a combination of Antique’s Roadshow and Supervet. Each object is then allocated to one or more specialists for conservation and restoration. Steven Fletcher is a clockmaker, Suzie Fletcher works with leather. Lucia Scalisi conserves paintings, Kirstin Ramsay specialises in ceramics, William Kirk restores heirlooms, and Brenton West is a silversmith. They each work in sight of each other at their own station in the workshop. Like Money for Nothing there are three items, ranging from broken plates with grandparents’ portraits, an old aviator jacket from a relative gunned down in World War II, a battered silver purse owned by a beloved grandmother, a pouffe, and all manner of old clockwork including a copper rain gauge and a barometer that inks the air pressure onto a roll of graph paper. We follow the dilemmas and progress of the artisans as they dunk gunky clockwork in vats of cleaner, stabilise and repair fragile materials, steam clean ceramics, conserve flaking leather, create missing wheatsheafs for porcelain clock cases, and painstakingly match paint. As with Money for Nothing, the objects are staggered so each is at a different stage. Finally the owner returns, sometimes with their kids, and the restored object is unveiled for the next generation to inherit.

About to unveil a restored heirloom at The Repair Shop

This programme moves me deeply. Like Money for Nothing it’s a format that rescues objects that appear to be beyond salvage, and lays bare the painstaking work of artisans past and present. The exquisite acts of restoration surface the intense love people have for their deceased family members; their yearning to save these pieces brings a generation-spanning perspective to every episode which is unfailingly moving. Unlike Money for Nothing there is no discussion of the value of these items, because they are destined to be treasured in the family and not be sold. The BBC has funded the restoration so that viewers can learn British history, and how things used to be made, and how they can be made anew. We learn the history of amateur climate science, world wars, and how everyday lives were led. We also learn techniques – that you need to apply shellac with a soft brush, what kind of stitch you need for which fabric, how to mix the right glue for the job, and how to apply it, test it, and what to do when it’s dried. You can see how to clean anything, stabilise anything, and that it’s fine to wear two pairs of spectacles at once.

Badly damaged leather pouffe

Before I finish this, I want to talk about Brexit, a hugely divisive era which threatens to impoverish this society and throw us back on our reserves. Right wing Brexit supporters look forward to this because they believe that younger people today lack grit and initiative. They think they are in need of a salutary dose of adversity to bring out their mettle. Necessity is the mother of invention, they think. I don’t see things that way, but I see these two programmes appeal across the political spectrum for reasons which transcend politics. In Money for Nothing there is no moralising at all, but I see the inheritance of a financial crisis expressed as a sort of providential scavenging (environmentalists bring their own subtexts). In the enormous popular appeal of the The Repair Shop I see another sort of prudence embraced by a society that has become interested, late in the day, in conserving the last relics of the British Empire – its science, the glory it took in its victories, the artefacts it manufactured with its spending power.

I find it poignant that these objects are usually deposited by people whose families had a long enough history in this country to have benefited – if by default – from its extractive capitalism in other lands, and were able to accrue a few treasures to pass on. I can’t help noticing that all the energy in this programme is dedicated to easing their pain. And yet those objects may be restored by an artisan whose forebears could conceivably have experienced the degradations of the Empire.

Money for Nothing deploys vision, skill and graft to convert junk discarded by older people into profit which it then returns to them – which I find symbolic of austerity and perhaps of a gentle education. In the Repair Shop, heirlooms of immense emotional significance become labours of love carried out by sensitive and empathetic strangers. Very deftly and tacitly, these programmes look to me like social cohesion.

Racism of low expectations

Still pondering the implications of the near miss with gender segregation on university campuses.

In his 1950 book Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm made the following distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions which, though I can’t see where religion ends and politics starts, seems right to me:

“Man’s [sic] aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s own thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow or guilt.

“Inasmuch as humanistic religions are theistic, God is a symbol of man’s own powers which he tries to realize in his life, and is not a symbol of force or domination, having power over man.

“Illustrations of humanistic religions are early Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, Spinoza, certain trends in the Jewish and Christian religions (particularly mysticism), the religion of Reason in the French Revolution. It is evident from these that the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religion cuts across the distinction between theistic and non-theistic, and between religions in the narrow sense of the word and philosophical systems of religious character.”

I read that David Edwards (incidentally co-founder of Media Lens – a site I distrust because it views establishment media as corrupt propaganda by definition, irrespective of quality, principles and governance) developed this further in his book ‘Free to be Human. Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions‘ as the idea of ‘power religions’ and their mind chains,

“Power religion, unlike true religious endeavour, has nothing at all do with the search for fundamental, adequate answers to human life, but is purely a means of justifying, enforcing and facilitating the exercise of power. Power religion does not consist in a particular set of beliefs, but in a set of functions supporting power. Because these functions remain essentially constant, we discover close similarities between versions of power religion widely separated by historical time, geography and superficial appearance. The differences between these beliefs represent a sort of superficial clothing over an essentially identical framework of underlying function.”

Religious authoritarianism enforces practices in the name of religion. Examples are the strict subjugation and exclusion of women (Saudi Arabia), outlawing abortion (Republic of Ireland, USA, ongoing attempts in the UK), state-enforced child bearing (Ceausescu’s Hungary), restricting the education of women (most conservative religions).

There are plenty of practices associated with power religions that mainstream UK commentators are prepared to publicly condemn, criticise or satirise. The most striking thing about these practices is that they tend to be from the dominant culture. Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike show, which contains extensive material on the Pope and the Catholic Church met with some offended and wounded reactions to which he responded without compromise and in similar vein as before,

“A lot of things that Christians say annoy me (for example the Pope saying people should not use condoms in AIDS infested areas) but I believe they have the right to say them. The point of the routine is that it is a bit much for the Pope to tell us what to do with [our] sperm when some of his priests are having sex with kids – maybe it’s a priority to sort that out first.”

and although he has some material on Islam he points out,

“It’s harder as a non-Muslim to “mock” Islam and obviously it’s a different thing to concentrate on a minority religion, who are already the subject of prejudice and opprobrium (whatever that is)”.

This makes good sense and I am continually reassured by evidence that I live in a country where scruples about minority sensitivities have considerable influence. But, for the same reasons, it’s also tricky to criticise anything done in the name of a minority religion. This has led to the current situation, where many (most?) of the people who don’t pull their punches on authoritarian practices associated with minority religions are either open or crypto racists, the most organised of whom support the English Defence League, the British National Party, or their respective fragments.

The opinion that political left has ducked its responsibility is strengthening. A couple of months ago when campaigner against female genital mutilation Leyla Hussein took a sounding of cultural eggshells in Northampton by asking shoppers to sign a petition in favour the practice, she was appalled by her success. Signatories were prepared to support misogynistic violence against adolescent girls in order to express their ‘cultural sensitivity’. Another example, incompletely documented in some of my earlier posts, is the recent Universities UK recommendation that higher education institutions consent to segregation by gender if demanded by a presenter. The ensuing debate drew out the view – shared by a number of intellectuals including politicians and feminists as well as activists for an Islamic state – that to be worried about segregation is to be Islamophobic. For others – who themselves often face opprobrious charges of racism – this reaction confirmed their existing belief that there’s a thin spot where non-racist campaigns against religious authoritarianism should be, and in their place is the racism of low expectations.

Which finally brings me to legal scholar Karima Bennoune’s recent book ‘Your fatwa does not apply here. Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism’. The first review I read, by Julia Droeber, sociologist at An Najah University, Palestine, approached the book cautiously in the knowledge that its subject could make it attractive to political inclinations that are unfavourable to Muslims. However, her fears were quickly allayed:

“Bennoune admits that she is walking a tight-rope. She is painfully aware that right-wing elements in the West may use this book as a pretext for further discrimination against Muslims at home and abroad. However, she says that she  felt compelled to document these accounts for two reasons: her fight for global human rights and her disappointment with the too-complacent view of allegedly “moderate” Islamists by the political Left in the West. To a large extent it is the tolerant and secular interpretations of Islam the protagonists of this book are trying to promote as they contest attempts by fundamentalists to place restrictions on their day-to-day lives, and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here was prompted by the lack of attention paid in the West to those struggles.”

Droeber continues,

“… she takes issue with the view that Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists are victims (of the “War on Terror”, for example) and criticises governments for their reactions (or lack of reaction) to fundamentalist violence and its consequences for people’s everyday lives, for instance in Palestine.

“The final chapter’s title summarises the book’s message “Raise your voice while singing is still possible.”

Good advice – plenty more here.

Update

I wish Norman Geras was still here

At 70 this bright, clear, solid Marxist professor and teacher has died – Engage summarises how he got between the Jews and their foes. Neil D recalls his blogging beginnings. Haroon Siddique plots its rise. Martin in the Margins pays tribute to the man who started him blogging. Norm was a great profiler of less well-known bloggers. He had a whimsical side, attempting emails with Rosie using only one vowel. Nick Cohen calls him uxorious. Harry – the actual Harry – blogs about his methodical patience when dealing with people who could drive saints to mass murder. Ben Cohen, whom Norm taught, remembers him as patient, kind, and sympathetic to his students. I hear that tomorrow there will be a Guardian obituary worth reading.

I liked the way he didn’t allow comments on his blog, pushing people back to their own spaces to respond and let him know by email. This was unusual for the time – the vogue was for free comment. He was prescient about what chaff and distraction that can be on a blog which considers the political left, let alone the Jews.

Having given up 3 hours of my life – short, precious life if you are as ill as Norm was – to Slavoj Zizek’s Rorschach blot of a film this week, I just read this on Zizek by Norm back in 2009 with the warmth and gratitude of the vindicated. And so often vindication was Norm’s gift, which emanated from his blog and which I eagerly received.

I will miss him rubbing his hands over the cricket on Twitter, and I very much regret that he hadn’t heard from me for weeks. If I take nothing else from this it is that work is wicked if it steals your attention from your loved ones and comrades. I’m glad that Norm had such a loving family, and I am heartily sorry for their loss.

Thanks to them for being the keepers of the Normblog.

Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender unit Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

Update: Stroppyblog has Gita Sahgal’s statement. From it:

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.”.

It makes me really angry these days that it takes centre or right journalism* to expose fundamentalist Islamism in British institutions – Guardian, Independent where were you? True to form, The Times does a bad job of exposing Begg – for them it is enough to be campaigning for the rights of suspected terrorists – as if suspected terrorists weren’t due their human rights.

More on Begg and his associates at CagePrisoners, working to present properly convicted murderers as ‘prisoners of conscience’.

One thing Begg is not is a human rights advocate. To be a human rights advocate entails universalism. Begg is simply partial to jihadis. Sahgal:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner”.

Modernity pulls this quote from the post of Faisal’s I link to below:

“Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Amnesty has no business hosting Begg. In fact, it’s disgusting. This statement released by Amnesty’s Widney Brown is an inadequate response to the main criticism. The main criticism has nothing to do with whether terror suspects have rights – they do, and they need advocates. It has everything to do with whom Amnesty recruits for this advocacy.

Nick Cohen / Martin Bright (my emphasis):

The Sunday Times blew the lid on Amnesty International’s relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for the Islamist totalitarianism. Amnesty responded by suspending Gita Sahgal, presumably because they believe she dared to speak to the press. She is the head of the gender unit at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, and has been campaigning on women’s issues for decades. She is rightly sick of the lazy alliance betweenthe supposedly liberal human rights world and the decidedly illiberal world of radical Islamists. She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Begg is now an integral part of an Amnesty campaign entitled Counter Terror with Justice. In an email to her colleagues at Amnesty on January 30 she wrote: “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” she wrote. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community as she is now finding. She has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists. She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (We can’t say more or Carter-Ruck will sue us).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Like I say, Amnesty is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. But this will not stand. And it’s not entirely out of the blue. They host Chomsky, apologist for atrocities which don’t fit with his world-view. They give inexplicable prominence to Israel in their mag (which we get because we give to them, and this is why I write). I’m getting the general impression they are the latest progressive organisation subject to colonisation by the post-Left. Get it together, Amnesty. Reprieve, whom I gave a largish wodge of money last year, are implicated too. Fuck this shit.

Update: More from Faisal at The Spittoon, Stroppy, Alec, Terry Glavin, links out from Harry’s Place. Join the Facebook group whose members are trying to figure out what to do next.

Update 2: Over on Harry’s Place, Rosie‘s comment is right, I think:

“Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

Update 3: Moazzam Begg responds; Harry’s Place responds to his response. More on CagePrisoners’ mixed messages – where’s the credibility in saying you love human rights if you also promote and associate with jihadis?

Update 4: Sahgal and supporters have a site – Human Rights for All.

Update 5: Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Newswire, 9th Feb.

*This is not about left and right. Anybody who doesn’t burn with anger at the double insult of Amnesty’s appalling choice of representative and its treatment of its employee is under a delusion. I just checked – I’m not right of centre, I’m here – still here:

Bloggers are responsible for the comments they attract

I feel a deep debt of gratitude to Harry’s Place for reasons I set out in my last, and in more depth here, but basically I agree with Marko – Harry’s Place’s commenters are Harry’s Place’s problem. I’ve raised this – too mildly – in the past here and in messages.

I missed most of the examples Marko points readers to, but the Laurie Penny stuff particularly disheartened me – as well as being personal, it was aimless. I meant to say something, couldn’t quite grasp the nub of it, and I’m glad that Marko did. Following his experiences by reading the comments trails he links to is pretty dispiriting, too.

What is going on beneath the Harry’s Place posts – particularly those on Islamists – worries me, because British Jews need Harry’s Place, which is so vigilant about antisemitism, to be serious about anti-racism in its own back yard. Anti-Islamists need Harry’s Place to be serious about anti-racism. Anti-racists need Harry’s Place to be a serious opponent of the BNP, but I know at least one person who favours both.

Commenter Zkharya is broadly right I think:

“I like HP. I like the freedom. I like, by and large, the company. There is a problem with Islamophobia.

But if you like Israel, there aren’t too many internet forums to hang out that are vaguely as sociable or linked up to other issues.”

I’d qualify that. I think the gender mix on Harry’s Place is poor, and the linking to other issues has large gaps (environmentalism, a critically important movement which continues to harbour misanthropic and anti-industrial tendencies, needs Harry’s Place’s attention, for example).

Judy:

“One point I’d say she [Laurie Penny] does have is her focus on bullying on HP. Under the banner of free speech, HP is happy to have and sometimes encourage a degree of entirely personality-based vilification and abuse of individuals on the basis of their opinions (as opposed to any political actions) which has nothing to do with politics with either a small or a large p.

There’s no problem in my view with ridiculing and satirising of political positions, including inconsistencies and shifts therein. But it does seem to me that HP is complacent about personalised bullying on the basis of assertions about opponents’ insanity, encouraging others to bully, advocate violence towards and/or ostracise opponents on account of that or of opposition to a declared favourite or personal arbitrary preference of one collective member or another.”

I wish that Harry’s Place bloggers would look to their own back yard. Below the posts it’s like a frat party (yes I’ve been to a few during a year in the US – rarely felt so lonely).

The thing is, there’s a difference between attracting aggressive, obscene and bigoted commenters who pile in because you have interfered with their world view and they feel the need to disagree with you, and attracting the same who basically support your blog and feel at home there. The first is inevitable – when you are courageous and stick your neck out like Harry’s Place bloggers, your wages will include opprobrious comments. But if the people approving of you, defending you, or just hanging out, are aggressive bigots, and you don’t put an end to it, then, yes, it’s yours. You host it. You can’t disown it. You will be known for it. And it’s not feasible, as one HP author tried to do, to suggest a division of labour where you, the author, ask your moderate readers to take responsibility for the comments. You can’t rely on volunteers who haven’t volunteered – it’s your blog, it’s on your head.

Here is what Laurie Penny said:

‘you condone bigotry by allowing hateful, misogynist, racist, Islamophobic comments to be published on your site, and allowing bigoted, ignorant trolls to control the debate. I don’t apologise for that assessment: it’s you that needs to step up and look at what your site has become.’

I will limit my agreement with her to that.

Marko, defending this and told by Harry’s Place author Brownie to withdraw his “slurs” or “fuck off”:

“Here at HP, Brownie, you’ve provided a site in which pretty much anyone can make any slurs they want against anybody else. Slurs that should not see the light of day receive wide publicity, thanks to HP. When you provide a forum in which this sort of filth appears in print, and when you make a point about refusing to delete it, then you are condoning that filth as something legitimate; with a right to be heard. You are harrassing and victimising innocent people by allowing anonymous psychos to defame and abuse them in the name of ‘freedom of speech’.

So I’m sorry, but you have no right to complain about being slurred, when you have provided a forum that enables the slurring of so many other people.

For the record, I don’t think that you, Marcus, David T, Brett or any of the other regular posters here are racists. I do, however, think that your comments moderation policy is an utter, utter disgrace, and that you should be ashamed of yourselves. And I say this as someone who likes you as people and who mostly agrees with your politics.

Right, now I’ll fuck off.”

Harry’s Place has a problem. Unlike HP blogger Neil, I don’t think Comment is F***** – plenty of blogs manage to attract conversations which are respectful of the person, even while trenchant in opposition of their views. See for example Bob From Brockley, a blog with interests that overlap with Harry’s Place.

I think a more purposeful approach is in order on the part of the authors to putting themselves on the opposite side of the Islamophobes and bullies. I think it’s generally true of campaigns and things like campaigns that to define your support you have to frame what you’re against in terms of what you’re for. If this could be embedded into every post I think that would probably be all that was required.

In the absence of that, a moderation policy backed up with time taken to moderate.
Otherwise, it may be time to turn off comments. But that would be an act of defeat.

Weekend tales: Tom Paine, Stalin, why God loves vegans, gin, Breville joy, and birds

Last night was magic. Matt and I went to The Globe to catch the last night of A New World, Trevor Griffith’s play about Thomas Paine in America and in France. Paine, who suffered beatings and pariahdom for his beliefs and who, imprisoned without charge by fellow revolutionaries in France during The Terror, authored of The Rights of Man, the is one of my heroes. His pamphet of 1776, Common Sense, was instrumental in building support among ordinary Americans for the revolution which gained their independence from Britain. He was a man who fought for freedom when revolution lost its way, and for clemency – the life of the last Louis – against vengefulness. If he had lived today, he might well have been making common cause with Peter Tatchell, with cultural commons campaigners, and with the AWL.

It had rained quite hard all afternoon and I was going from work in rubber wellies with my ridiculous rubberised soldier’s poncho in my bag – but then it stopped. This was exceedingly fortunate because I’d got tickets for the Yard where you stand in the open to watch the play. The best seats in the house are in the Yard; the cast are in among you interacting with you – all the more incredible that tickets are £5 only. I stood looking up at slaves for sale on the platform next to where Matt and I were for most of the production, and stood at the feet – literally within spitting distance – of the man himself as he addressed the assembled crowd in favour of pensions and child allowance. Once a revolutionary whispered to be to be careful seconds before he and fellow cast members pushed the platform to the other side of the The Yard. The Yard was warm and full – in fact the whole theatre was full. This is the cult of the Last Night. Special things happen at Last Nights, as they did last night – the playwright was in the audience and there were speeches (I love speeches).

It was an excellent production – I’ll leave you to read the many positive reviews. One thing’s worth mentioning though. Watching, in this now-established English institution of The Globe, the Union Jack shot through by French Revolutionaries, defiant colonials railing against their English rulers, and the low evaluation of the English national character by Edmund Burke – watching all that, the morning’s news about Russia came to mind, where the Russian authorities have permitted a man called Yevgeny Dzhugashvili to sue the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, for libel against his murderous dead dictator grandfather, one Josef Stalin, for “calling into question his honour and dignity“. As historian Orlando Figes (whom I will hear speak later this month) observed on the Today Programme, it is valid to remember Stalin as a murderous dictator, and the Putin-Medvedev government of Russia is perpetrating revisionist historiography in the face of the law marks a turn for the worse. And I thought about what, by comparison, a solid, honest country I live in, and how good it is if your country’s national self-confidence doesn’t flinch from historical truth.

Meeting missionaries. I was out the front cutting the dead lavender to make lavender bags and talking to my neighbours, when two women walked by and exclaimed about the scent. I passed them some flowerheads and they took a few steps away before turning back. Because I had given them a present, said the more talkative of the two, she would give me a present. Out of her bag came a copy of Watchtower, the organ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I declined, citing environmental reasons – non-bait to most missionary minds, in my experience. Besides, my neighbours (still beside me) are Catholic and I don’t want to talk about God with them – for me God is a wedge which makes me feel far from believers. For example, my closest Catholic friends believe in flying monks which, to my mind, is entirely consistent with believing in God. But the missionaries wanted to talk more, so when my meat-eating neighbours had departed and I’d had enough, I swung the conversation round to an agenda of my own: veganism. This yielded a lesson in scripture – I hadn’t realised that we were vegans before the flood – and a fairly quick conclusion as I turned back to the lavender in silent frustration: how can you believe you are following God’s enjoinder to be kind to animals, and at the same time slaughter them for no reason? If there is a God, it wants those of us who can to be vegans.

Sloe gin. Pick and wash your ripe sloes. Get a large jar with a water-tight lid. Prick the sloes with a special technique so it doesn’t take you a year. Weigh them. Put them in the jar. Add half as much sugar. Pour in gin to the top. Agitate daily for a week and then occasionally after that. Drink no earlier than 3 months (and in my case make it three months before New Year).

Breville joy. Did I mention that my cousin mended my broken kettle, helping me keep faith with my 10:10 pledges? But that’s not what this is about. Since Redwood began to produce vegan melting mozzarella, I’ve been able to occasionally open the old Breville sandwich toaster. You have no idea how happy this makes me – I thought I’d never have a toasted sandwich again. So, I margarined one slice of the bread I’d made overnight in the breadmaker, then layered on thin slices of cheese, then tomatoes out of the garden, then shallot, then smeared egg-free Plamil mayo (which is blindingly good stuff) over the other slice to waterproof it, placed it on top, margarined it, then made another the same, then battened down the lid. It was so lovely. So, so, so lovely. Then you must scrupulously clean your Breville, not leave the fat to go rancid for next time.

Birds. My RSPB-approved cat deterrent/repellent (ha, Weggis, you must live in a district of hard-of-hearing cats) appears to work but I scan the rooftops in vain – not a birdy. Today Matt bought, from B&Q, one of those metal bird feeding stands with hooks for different types of feeder. I put it to the lee of the cat deterrent, between that and the house, in the middle of the lawn. There’s a grub tray which I’m reluctant to use, but when I searched for “vegan alternatives to grubs” that was kiboshed by the double meaning of ‘grub’, and when I searched for “vegan alternatives to maggots” I got a load of medical information. Do you think young blackbirds might make a go of Redwood melting mozzarella, perhaps grated?

Torture of Iranian reformists; international day of solidarity with the Iranian people

Mostafa Tajzadeh (reformist, former Minister of the Interior under Khatami) Abdollah Ramezanzadeh (spokesperson under Khatami) and Mohsen Aminzadeh (diplomat) are reportedly screaming in agony in Evin prison. Their friends say that the Iranian authorities are hoping to extract denouncements of the opposition candidate Mousavi. Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard may also have been detained. Efrafandays has news of another chilling disappearance. The possible purpose of the torture is to implicate Israel, the US and Britain in the post-election unrest and broadcast these confessions to the populace. A classic case of deflecting criticism outwards.

I hope I take a lesson from the fact that, while idly wondering over the past few days whether Twitter is the kind of safety valve that keeps people off the streets, I neglected to even mention the day of solidarity, scheduled before the elections on behalf of jailed Iranian trade unionists, with its hour-long lunchtime demonstration organised by Amnesty and the TUC at the Iranian Embassy in Knightsbridge. More here on Justice for Iranian Workers – the day is properly global, I hope this heartens them.

The trade unionists named by Amnesty are:

Amnesty have automated the sending of an email to senior Iranian government figures calling for their release.

It is good that the BBC is now broadcasting by satellite to Iran in Farsi (although it is illegal to own a satellite dish). ll reach many more people than mostly-Anglophone Twitter can, and the BBC with its charter and governance contrasts very  favourably with Iranian government TV here in Britain.

iRevolution is an important blog I’m going to look at as often as I can. So thankful for blogging academics.

Anna Hillman – Environmentalist of the Year

Anna Hillman is an eagle eyed photographer who takes portraits of the determined little plants which sprout virtually unnoticed – until you start looking – from any conceivable cranny the concrete of South East London.

They are the kind of small determined spurts of life which are so common as to go unnamed – weeds, moss, lichen – but which through Anna’s lens become incredibly photogenic and soulful.

Look at this forthright little chap, casting his shadow among the wire grille’s.

park-road-london-se25

Look at these young scamps:

milkwood-rd-london-se24

It’s hard not to get sentimental about these pictures – to be honest I don’t even try. Without them outside surfaces would be bleak and decaying – with them they become miniature landcapes. They make you wonder about the small accumulations of grot which sustain them – where do these tiny portions of topsoil come from?

I’m really chuffed to have bought a few of her pieces early because I probably won’t be able to afford her for much longer – she’s just won Environmentalist of the Year 2008 from Archant}London Environmental Awards.

Go Anna.

If you want to see more, she and various other artists and photographers, designers, textile makers, mosaicists will be opening their studios at Trinity Buoy Wharf  on the evening of Wednesday 10th Dec 08, 6-10pm. Anna will be in Studio S, on the third floor of Container City 2. Trinity Buoy Wharf is an interesting place to visit in itself and can be reached on foot from Canning St (Jubilee Line and DLR) and East India Dock (DLR). I really recommend going to have a look.

Not forgetting the Saudi hunger strikers

I’m re-reading Arthur Koestler‘s Scum of the Earth at the moment. It’s autobiographical reportage and reflections on his time as a political prisoner in France during World War 2. His accounts of the night terrors of his fellow detainees prompt this post.

“Each of us carried a weight in his memory to put in the Past scale of the balance and lift the Present scale. Yankel carried the weight of his two pogroms and the prison in Lublyana, where people were made to talk by introducing rubber tubes into their nostrils and pouring water through them; Mario carried the weight of his nine years of prison in Italy, including torture by electric shock during the preliminary investigation; Tamas, the Hungarian poet, had his three years of hard labour in Szeged – to quote only my three immediate neighbours in Hutment number 34 in Le Vernet. The fourth one, myself, had his hundred days under sentence of death in Seville.

Most of us had our periodical nightmares, dreams of falling once more into the hands of our persecutors, regularly recurring repetitions of the rubber tubes, the electric shocks, the death patio in Seville. Those amongst us who had no personal experience of torture replaced it by the fear of it. They had more acute, obsessive fear of the O.V.R.A and the Gestapo than those who had actually passed through their hands.” (p94)

He says of his Italian former-Communist friend Mario, whom he left in the appalling conditions of forced labour at Le Vernet shortly before the French turned it over to the Gestapo:

“I could never argue against that particular quiet smile of Mario’s; it made me feel futile and childish although he was younger than I. I knew it had taken nine years of imprisonment to form that smile – three years fermenting in solitary confinement and a further six years to become ripe and mellow while he shared twelve square yards of space with comrades. He had been nineteen when the cell door closed behind him – and twenty-eight when it opened again two years ago. This kind of experience either crushes a man or produces something very rare and perfect – Mario belonged to the latter category.” (p99)

See The Hub on the recent Saudi hunger strike to raise awareness of the Saudi human rights activists who have been detained without trial, several in solitary confinement for months. They went on 48 hour hunger strike earlier this month. Below is background and what has happened in the past week:

First a quick digression to say that the Hub – the media channel of human rights org WITNESS – is an impressive site as long as you keep in mind that mapping more human rights abuses for the US than the Democratic Republic of Congo doesn’t mean that the DRC is a better place to live, rights-wise. Imbalance and disproportionality dogs all participatory projects – in this case it’s probably explained by the fact that many human rights activists are from democracies and they – quite rightly – want to keep their own house in order. It kind of goes with the territory that the more restrictive the authorities in a country, the harder it may be to bear witness to human rights abuses. Taking that on board the untarnished records of Algeria and Iran don’t look quite so good. So basically don’t use the Google map mashup to judge concentration of abuse – it won’t tell you that.

So it’s important not to offer blind support to just anybody who is touted as a human rights activist. Some people and organisations adopt the human rights mantle to sow repression and hate. For example, we have the Islamic Human Rights Commission whose values are exemplified by the following (David T):

“What astonishes me is that the IHRC is regarded as a serious organisation, whose views on muslim issues should be listened to. It should certainly not be regarded as a Human Rights body. This is, after all, the group which shortlisted – as Islamophobe of the Year 2006

“King Mohammed VI of Morocco For his ’so called reforms’ aimed at removing Islam from the the Moroccan people.”.

The reforms in question were the prohibition of polygamy, and the legislation which made it easier for women to divorce their husbands. This the the IHRC’s definition of “Islamophobia”. This is the IHRC’s notion of “Human Rights”.

But shrugging and ignoring threatened human rights activists because we don’t have full reliable information about them risks depriving the people who need it most of international solidarity. The fundamental question should always be not who are they, but what do they want. And to look to trusted sources like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, and cross reference those with participatory sites such as The Hub (which has a conspicuous disclaimer acknowledging they can’t vouch for the veracity of the reports the host, but which has the potential to reach the parts that official NGOs can’t). End of digression.

The Saudi detainees on behalf of whom the hunger strike was observed are all political prisoners – academics, lawyers, writers, jailed for their opinions. Amnesty summarises how nine of them came to be arrested:

“The men are prisoners of conscience detained for their advocacy of peaceful political change and the protection and promotion of human rights, and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

All of those named above, except for Dr Matrouk al-Faleh, were arrested in the cities of Jeddah and Madinah on 03 February 2007 and are held in Dhahban prison in western Saudi Arabia.

These eight men were targeted because they had issued a petition calling for political reform and discussed the idea of establishing a human rights organization and challenging the impunity enjoyed by the Ministry of Interior’s arresting authorities. The Ministry of Interior, on the other hand, issued a statement claiming the detainees had been arrested because they were collecting money to supportterrorism.

Dr Matrouk al-Faleh was arrested in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, on 19 May 2008. He is held without charge in al-Ha’ir prison for political detainees in Riyadh. He has not been permitted access to a lawyer since his arrest and on occasions has been refused family visits. He is also reported to be denied access to medical attention.”

Human Rights Watch background – overlapping but going by the names, slightly different – I’m not sure how many campaigns are going on:

“In March 2004, Saudi authorities arrested al-Lahim, Ali al-Dumaini, Matrook al-Faleh, Abdullah al-Hamid, and eight other activists for having signed and circulated petitions calling for reform. Al-Lahim, who was released without charge, became the lead defense lawyer for the trial against al-Dumaini, al-Hamid, and al-Faleh, which started in August 2004. In November 2004, the authorities rearrested al-Lahim after he stated on Al Jazeera satellite television that he believed his clients to be innocent. A court in May 2005 sentenced al-Dumaini, al-Hamid, and al-Faleh to nine, seven, and six years in prison, respectively(http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/05/16/saudia10955.htm). Al-Lahim remained in solitary confinement in al-Ha’ir political prison until King Abdullah pardoned and released all four just days after acceding to the throne in August 2005. The other activists arrested in March 2004 also remain banned from foreign travel.

Al-Lahim quickly returned to human rights legal advocacy, defending two teachers in court against charges of blasphemy introduced by their colleagues and students who disapproved of their modern, unorthodox teaching methods. King Abdullah pardoned both teachers.

Al-Lahim was the first lawyer to bring a criminal case against Saudi Arabia’s religious police in a court of law. In 2005, he represented a woman, Umm Faisal, in a case against the religious police for wrongful deprivation of liberty. A court ruled that the religious police are “not to be held accountable.”

Religious policemen had stopped Faisal’s car, forced her driver out, and drove Faisal and her daughter at high speed through Riyadh before crashing the car, taking away the women’s mobile phones, locking them inside the car, and fleeing on foot. Al-Lahim is now representing Faisal in her lawsuit against the religious police for damages in that case in a civil court.

In 2007, al-Lahim also represented the family of Salman al-Huraisi in appealing a court’s acquittal of two religious policemen who faced charges of beating al-Huraisi to death in May 2007. The appeal is pending.

Al-Lahim came to prominence in Saudi Arabia and the wider region when he represented the “Girl of Qatif” in her appeal of a sentence to 90 lashes for having in 2006 illegally “mingled” with an unrelated man in a car, before a gang of seven men set upon her and the man and raped them both. After al-Lahim spoke out about the injustice of punishing the victim (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/11/28/saudia17433.htm), the appeals court increased her sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and confiscated his law license (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/11/16/saudia17363.htm).

Al-Lahim stood firmly in support of the woman while senior clerics, judges, and the Ministry of Justice besmirched the young woman’s reputation and others called him a “traitor to the country.” In December 2007, King Abdullah set aside the sentences of the woman and man. “

The prisoners, as listed on the Facebook site:

  1. Professor Matrook H. Al-Faleh, political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, detained by security forces in May 19, 2008.
  2. Attorney Suliman Ibrahim Al-Reshoudi, former judge and human-right advocate, detained in February 2, 2007.
  3. Attorney Dr. Mousa Mohammed Al-Qarni, former university professor and human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  4. Professor Abdulrahman Abdullah Al-Shomairy, former professor of education and human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  5. Dr. Abdulaziz Suliman Al-Khereiji, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  6. Saifaldeen Faisal Al-Sherif, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  7. Fahd Alskaree Al-Qurashi, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  8. Abdulrahman Bin Sadiq, Human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  9. Dr. Saud Mohammed Al-Hashemi, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  10. Ali Khosifan Al-Qarni, human-right activist, detained in February 2, 2007.
  11. Mansour Salim Al-Otha, human-right activist, detained in December 12, 2007.

Their defence teams who observed the hunger strike:

  1. Ayman Mohammad Al-Rashed, human-right activist.
    mobile# +966505288354
  2. Saud Ahmed Al-Degaither, human-right activist.
    mobile# +966559201964
  3. Professor Abdulkareem Yousef Al-Khadher, College of Islamic Jurisprudence, Qassim University.
    mobil# +966503331113
  4. Dr. Abdulrahman Hamed Al-Hamed, professor of Islamic economics.
    mobile# +966503774446
  5. Abdullah Mohammad Al-Zahrani, human-right activist.
  6. Abdulmohsin Ali Al-Ayashi, human-right activist.
    mobile# +966553644636
  7. Fahd Abdulaziz Al-Oraini, human-right activist.
    mobile# +966502566678 email: fahadalorani@gmail.com
  8. Fowzan Mohsin Al-Harbi, Human-right activist.
    mobile# +966501916774 email: fowzanm@gmail.com
  9. Dr. Mohammad Fahd Al-Qahtani, college professor and TV show host.
    mobile# +966555464345 email: moh.alqahtani@gmail.com
  10. Mohana Mohammed Al-Faleh, human-right activist.
    mobile# +966505388205
  11. Nasser Salim Al-Otha, human-right activist.
  12. Hashim Abdullah Al-Refai, writer and activist.
  13. Waleed Sami Abu Alkhair, writer and activist.
    mobile# +966567761788 email: abualkair@gmail.com

Others are listed too, 65 in total. These people are unbelievable courageous to stick their necks out in that authoritarian regime.  They could all end up in prison and worse. It is a very rare act of protest and it mustn’t go to waste. This is why it is important that the Saudi government understands that if they do they will not be forgotten. Amnesty (scroll to the bottom of the following link) lists the addresses of the relevant officials to appeal to by post or fax.

What did they strike for? Most immediately, the rights due their clients according to Saudi’s own Criminal Procedure Law and Arrest and Detention Law, specifically habeas corpus (an instrument to safeguard individual rights against detainment without trial by their state; an independent court decides whether a custodian has the right to hold the detainee; pivotal, in James Somersett’s case, to abolishing slavery in Britain), access to legal representation, periods in solitary confinement to be restricted to 60 days, visits, and a fair trial. More on Saudi law and these detainees from Emudeer on the participatory site Now Public (I wish he’d link to the odd source). Indirectly they were hunger striking for the right to continue their work on constitutional reform – the right for Saudis to gather and express themselves freely.

What happened further to the strike?

Nothing on Amnesty since 11th. Nothing on the Facebook site Recent News since Oct 25 – the Wall is alive but there’s no news.

The last thing I found was The Hub reporting blowback from the action:

From the Saudi organisers on 20th:

“As in example of the latest witch hunts against human right activists is the cancellation of Dr.Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani’s TV talk show (Economic Issues) in Al-Eqtisadiah Business Channel (a Pan-Arab satellite channel) in response to the interviews he had with the international media outlets during the hunger strike. The episodes of blocking blogs that belong to human right activists continue, the authority’s latest casualty is Mr. Esam Mudeer’s Blog which has been blocked because of his involvements in publicizing, publishing, following and participating in the hunger strike. Unfortunately, these suppressive steps become the inevitable fates for those Saudi activists who intend to uplift and call for human rights.

The activists’ responses to the government’s suppressive campaigns have been very remarkable. The crackdown on venues for expressions has drawn activists closer to one another, and attracts new waves of sympathizers who will eventually join the human right activities. In particular, young followers are fascinated by the culture of human rights and justice due to the fact that it is built around virtues of peace and civic means, their supports to that culture are clear examples of the solidarity and dedication they showed to such a noble cause.”

Why are things so quiet?

As mentioned above Amnesty gives addresses of Saudi officials. I have a hunch they’re not so amenable to grass roots action so I will be contacting my MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Death and violence: chessboxing, Halloween and Persepolis

Last night I went to a Halloween thing at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. There a friend and I got talking to one of the organisers of last night’s International Chessboxing Championship.

Chessboxing is a new (for London) combination sport consisting of four-minute rounds of chess interspersed with three-minute boxing bouts, up to 24 minutes or 11 rounds in total. Last night’s champion, who looked battered but less so than practically everyone else (what with it being Halloween), told me that his interest in chess had preceded his interest in boxing. He looked like a beaten-up chessplayer from the chin up and a boxer from the neck down. The neat thing about chess boxing is that the worse you box, the worse you will perform in the ensuing chess round. Brilliant! I think not. I object to it. I think that chessplayers who are fretting about their masculinity would do better to immerse themselves in, say, the pugillistic pursuit of political blogging where anybody can feel like a man regardless of gender. Boxing and the watching of boxing is simply one step back from lynching and public executions and no amount of chess will change this. The promoter did seem to understand me – he was merely unmoved. Would I ban it? Banish it to Essex with the pit bull and cock fights and the bare knuckle boxing? No. But it is complete idiocy to box.

The costumes at the Halloween thing were as fantastic as you might imagine in that neck of the fashion and media woods. There were some brilliant corpse brides, a man with a noose, a robot, a shipwrecked maiden with a deathly pallour and a tea clipper made of bamboo fixed to her head, a geisha with an opium pipe, a french maid cleaning up a murder, a huge pink rabbit, zombies, zombies, zombies, bandaged zombies, a witch and the crew of a crashed plane. Matt had a bloody eye applied by a make-up artist who was with our group of friends, and I had a bloody nose. Walking there from London Bridge I’d passed so many living dead that I thought my highly realistic nosebleed would be understood as bit of festivity. And so it was until we left (when the music started getting ironic) and walked onto an N8 on Bethnal Green road. We were on the top deck on the seats just behind the stairwell and everybody who left and looked up did a wide-eyed double-take. A few people – by all appearances the kind of people you’d imagine might actually bust your nose – even asked us if we were alright. Walking home from the bus stop we passed the police detaining somebody at Fullwell Cross and the look on the face of the policeman who noticed us was priceless – startled, appalled, confused by our equanimity, poised to take details and taking a few moments to realise we hadn’t just been attacked.

This afternoon Matt and I watched Persepolis, an animated film from last year based on an autobiographical graphic novel about the childhood and and early adulthood of the Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi. She lived through the revolution of ’79, the installation of the ayatollahs, the ensuing bloodbath of a war with Iran and the general repression of the Iranian regime. Marjane is the daughter of communist sympathisers descended from the Persian Shah Nasser Al-Din. Things were very hard for her family and several of were executed first by the Shah and then by the Ayatollahs.

It is a beautiful film of vignettes. As a little girl she order God out of her life after her uncle is killed by the clerics. The west arms both sides of the Iran Iraq war. Marx occupies the same part of the heavens as God, interrupts his conversation with Marjane, and their advice doesn’t conflict – “La lutte continue”, ventures Marx with one eye on God, who accedes. The anarchists in Vienna (where she is sent to school) complain crassly about having to spend Christmas with their parents. As she says, “The government had nothing to fear from these anarchists”. In the new Iranian regime, a pious window-cleaner who defers all difficult questions to God can rise to a position of dizzying responsibility. Marjane’s mother and grandmother are splendidly mutinous while outwardly acquiescent. The Ayatollah’s police officers are dedicated and unintelligent enforcers but entirely without sadism. Appealing to their humanity – whether empathy or bribery – gets people out of many dangerous situations. “Diabetes? Like my mother.” and they release the grandmother. And yet people are arrested and killed in huge numbers. A young communist woman is to be executed and because it is illegal to kill a virgin, a guard marries her first. Marjane’s courtship with her first husband Reza is fraught. By betraying an innocent man to the police she diverts their attention from the fact that she is waiting to meet him in a public place wearing makeup. Soon afterwards as they are driving together she is arrested as an unchaperoned woman and faced with a fine or a whipping. To escape this harassment she marries him prematurely and when they split her friend informs her that every man will expect her to sleep with him.

Watching Persepolis I realised that it’s not cowardice but graphic violence that has driven me from stories like these in recent years. I’m entirely susceptible to attempts to beat me round the eyeballs with soft vulnerable human bodies and tortured human minds, and in fact it’s the best way to mentally torture me. The episode of Spooks where the agent was ducked and eventually murdered in the deep fat fryer. The torture scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth. The beginning of Saving Private Ryan. I feel sick, I can’t sit still, I screw my eyes shut or leave. I don’t know why – it’s just me. But in my adrenal state I get angry that torture and murder should be faithfully reproduced, sold and passed off as entertainment, or even edutainment, for 60 or 90 minute slots after which the credits roll, we change channel and go on with our lives. Talking to almost everybody else they say “It’s just a film, it’s not real”, but this seems to me irrelevant. I wonder whether anybody who has actually been on the receiving end of violence would want to make a film like Spooks, Pan’s Labyrinth or Saving Private Ryan. Marjane witnessed sporadic violence and pretty near constant menace and yet Persepolis was a devastatingly clear film which left me upset and comprehending, rather than reeling with horror.

There was a time about ten years ago where everybody in my life seemed to be Iranian – my supervisor, my employers, the bloke I was seeing. The bloke I was seeing was a gynaecologist who had been denied by law the right to practice the family profession and was in England retraining as a medical informatician. My supervisor took his British wife back to Iran to visit his family and she was stopped by a police officer for having some hair showing. When my employer heard that I had seen Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple, he asked me what I thought and the first thing I said was that I had found it amusing, and I will never forget how his face fell. I didn’t know a thing back then.