Thursday 11 June 2020

'Coming out' with Mixed feelings

Little Mix's fifth album
No one could ever accuse me of being a Little Mix fan; apart from anything else, I am definitely not part of their target audience, and until I decided to write this post, I couldn't name any song they've recorded. However, while I don't usually pay much attention to acts that come through TV talent shows, I've always had a certain respect for this group.

When they were doing well on X Factor, the name proposed for them was Rhythmix. At the time I thought this sounded very like the Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart band Eurythmics, but an even closer similarity came to light: when X Factor tried to trademark the name, it turned out that it was already being used by a children's music charity based in Brighton, who quite reasonably didn't want their name to be appropriated. I read at the time that Simon Cowell was all for brazening it out - clearly no one tells Simon what to do - but the young women themselves decided to change their collective name to Little Mix. "Good on them!" I thought, genuinely impressed.

Last week in the aftermath of the worldwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, the group's Leigh-Anne Pinnock published a video, now gone viral, in which she talks about her own experiences of racism. She described one particular incident as the biggest awakening of her life when she was filming the video for the group's single 'Wings'. The director and choreographer Frank Gatson, himself black, told her: "You're the black girl. You have to work 10 times harder." She said: "Never in my life had someone told me I would need to work harder because of my race", but in time she found he'd been right.

Other artists who have publicly described similar experiences have lost fans as a result, but Leigh-Anne's attitude is: "I don't care if I lose fans. Now the whole world is speaking about it and hopefully there is going to be a change. I feel hopeful." [More about this on the BBC news site here.]

Her band mate Jade Thirwell has also described some of the racism she had been subjected to, saying: "If you weren’t evidently black, you were called the P-word or called 'half-caste'. I would get so confused because I’m not from Pakistan. One time I got pinned down in the toilets and they put a bindi spot on my forehead – my mam was fuming!... I’d identify myself as mixed-race; if I delved deeper, I’d say of Arab heritage, I guess. I’ve had an inner battle of not knowing where I fit in or what larger community I fit into."

Jade was rightly incensed when media coverage of her description of this racism was illustrated by a photograph of Leigh-Anne, telling them: "You might want to make sure you're using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group." A good example of casual racism - almost certainly unintended, but racism nonetheless.

Although I'm a white male, I can to a very limited extent identify with some of this. During the height of the 'Me Too' movement, I became sick of reading comments by people - mostly but not exclusively male - asking why it had taken so long for some of the accusers to tell their stories, with more than a few sarcastically suggesting the motive was money. I was so incensed by such stupidity that I 'came out' myself in a post on Facebook about my own experiences of being on the receiving end of sustained domestic violence. In response to anyone who questioned why it had taken some of these women perhaps 10 or 15 years to come forward, I pointed that my own 'coming out' had taken nearly 40 years.

I'm not deluded: I do understand that I don't have the public profile of Leigh-Anne and Jade, but I also know it is not easy to put something so personal and painful in the public domain, so I admire the steps they have taken: it cannot have been easy, but if my own experience is at all relevant (and I leave others to judge that), I'm sure they won't regret doing it.

[Read more in this Metro article.]

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Lockdown thoughts & pubs

One of the rooms in the Guest House (floor not shown)
The last time I went for such an extended time without going to the pub was forty years ago when I was on the dole. That spell of involuntary abstinence ended on 7th July 1980 when I began working for the DHSS in Liverpool which, as I used to say at the time, involved me jumping from one side of the counter to the other.

Back then I'd sometimes walk past busy pubs in which it seemed everyone was having a really great time. They probably weren't especially - it would have been just another day to them - but forbidden fruit does have a special allure, particularly when you can observe others enjoying it seemingly without a second thought.

The big difference is that today, while everyone is currently excluded from pubs, abstinence has not ensued: off sales have gone through the roof as people resort to drinking at home. This includes me, even though previously I rarely did so as I view having a pint as a social activity. Home drinking is easier today than it would have been had this pandemic occurred 40 years ago. In 1980, only heavily-regulated off licences were allowed sell alcohol for consumption off the premises. The current situation whereby supermarkets, corner shops, petrol stations and other retail outlets can sell alcohol in the same way as any other goods was still years away.

I remember in the 1980s when a supermarket in Southport applied for a licence to sell alcohol, rigid restrictions were imposed: the alcohol had to be confined to a separate room with its own till, and you couldn't wander into the main shop with a bottle and pay for it at one of the normal tills. This controlling, paternalistic approach to the sale of alcohol was based on a mistrust of ordinary people who, it was thought, would go on wild booze-filled orgies of destruction if restrictions on selling alcohol were eased. I recall worried letters in the local press about the dire consequences of allowing that particular supermarket the licence it wanted. Images were dreamt up of of drunken crowds in the streets and tipsy housewives neglecting child care and household duties - the ultimate horror of paternalists everywhere: no dinner on the table!

Curiously, the world didn't end, and I'd expect that younger drinkers today would regard the restrictions on alcohol sales that I grew up with as a quaint, ancient curiosity as remote from their own lives as rationing or the BBC Home Service.

A demo to save the Roscoe Head in September 2015.
Licensee Carol Ross is centre front.
I've had quite a few chats with friends who, like me, are looking forward to when we can go to the pub again, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that we won't be returning to the way things were. Most of us realise that some pubs will be unable survive a loss of trade for so long and will never reopen, but there will be two other causes of permanent closures. After restrictions are lifted, I anticipate that home drinking will remain significantly higher than it was pre-CV19, and I've little doubt pub-owning companies will use the prolonged closure to argue that reopening some pubs is not viable, allowing them to implement lucrative redevelopment schemes that have previously been successfully opposed. For example, Liverpool's Roscoe Head, which has been run by the same family for 35 years and is the only pub in the North to be in every edition of the Good Beer Guide, was under renewed threat even before we'd heard of lockdown. For this pub, the timing of the pandemic couldn't be worse.

I have read in the CAMRA newspaper that it is possible that we may lose as many as 40,000 pubs. I sincerely hope this is wrong, but am not much reassured by the fact that such worst case scenarios rarely come to pass.

► I was pleased to see on the Facebook page of my local, the Guest House in Southport, a photo of the newly-varnished floor. It had been looking rather tired, and the fact they have used the closure to improve the pub is encouraging news, suggesting it is not in line for redevelopment or conversion to another use. I hope so anyway.