Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Alan Turing: a Queer Hero

[Image description: statue of Alan Turing draped in rainbow flag and bedecked with cards, flowers and candles next to which is the writer in his wheelchair.]

Last weekend was the 100th birthday of Alan Turing (see Wikipedia for a good, full, in-depth article). Perhaps many will never have heard of him. However, if it had not been for him, we Brits might now have been under the rule of a NAZI régime and you the reader and I might not have been reading this blog on a computer right now.

[Image description: mosaic of rainbow flag situated on the ground in front of Alan Turing statue]

If the reader has not heard of this great man, it may be due to the fact that he was a homosexual and he was hounded by the state he served and helped save, the fascistic Britain of the 1950's. Some would argue that the witch-hunt initiated in the UK was at the behest of the USA. We none of us come out well in this sorry tale.

Who knows what insights we might have gained had he not died of cyanide poisoning. This is generally believed to have been an act of suicide; but the BBC recently released an article (Gay codebreaker's defiance keeps memory alive) that suggests it could have been suicide or an accident or even murder. His untimely demise was so badly mishandled and investigated that we shall probably never know why he died nor the background to his death.

As a resident of Manchester for much of my life, I consider myself an honorary Mancunian and as such take pride in our recognition of this great fellow:

"Turing has been honoured in various ways in Manchester, the city where he worked towards the end of his life. In 1994, a stretch of the A6010 road (the Manchester city intermediate ring road) was named "Alan Turing Way". A bridge carrying this road was widened, and carries the name Alan Turing Bridge. A statue of Turing was unveiled in Manchester on 23 June 2001 in Sackville Park, between the University of Manchester building on Whitworth Street and the Canal Street gay village." (Wikipedia, op. cit.)

[Image description: commemoration plaque which reads:
Alan Mathison Turing
Father of Computer Science
Mathematician, Logician
Wartime Codebreaker
Victim of Prejudice
"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth
but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere
like that of sculpture." - Bertrand Russell ]

It also pleases me that city councillors, such as Kevin Peel, and local MP's, such as John Leech, paid tribute to him, both in their Twitter feeds and by attending a commemoration ceremony. However, the fact that ordinary citizens did so, is a mark of the esteem in which Mancunians hold Turing.

[Image description: Mancunians paying their respects at the Alan Turing statue.]

I actually went on the anniversary of his birth to pay my respects. I was hoping to see the Olympic flame arrive for reasons I shall explain below. Unfortunately, the torch-bearing was delayed, and I was too ill to remain. Nonetheless, the torch did indeed detour through Sackville Park, the location of the Turing statue, and made obeisance to Alan Turing (see photo below). This included war-veteran Capt. Martin Hewitt kissing the statue. What better than a military man seeking forgiveness for the way one of theirs was treated and simultaneously paying respect to our long-fallen hero.

©LOCOG/Getty Images

Above all, the most important symbolism for me, is that of the NAZI creation of the Olympic torch relay (Olympic Flame) having to pay respect to the man who helped bring them down. Exquisite!

Perhaps the fate of Alan Turing is a modern morality tale. In our rush to condemn and destroy, we may actually be harming ourselves and our futures. (See also my article on Genetic Discrimination.)

[Image description: the decorated statue of Alan Turing sitting on a bench holding his nightly apple.]

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Compassionate Photo-Art of Manuel Delgado

A couple of days ago, by happenstance, I came across a lovely photo by a Malagueño (a resident of Málaga in Andalusia) though originally from Cáceres (a mediæval city in Extremadura). His name is Manuel Delgado. But it is the photograph of his visage and mien that drew me in.

I have since written to this sensitive artist with my interpretation of the image:

"I love your profile photograph with the come-hither demeanour (well to my eye anyhow!). I cannot decide whether the pillow iterates this position or contrariwise it adds a sensitive perspective of a more vulnerable self. The red of the fabric of your attire, the peach of the pillow and the orange tones of your skin all underscore the passionate. You do not state the colour of your eyes. Initially I thought they were black, but on a closer look they appear hazel. Whilst your mouth is definitely not forming a smile, I suspect those lips do so more than do not. I really like this photo."

Some artists can be a tad prickly about interpreting their work. Personally, I write poetry, it does not bother me what interpretation the reader places on the poem. It means what it does to me. But like a child, it has its own personality and must be allowed the freedom to express itself. Thankfully Manuel took no umbrage whatsoever at my comments.

The portrait had a link to Manuel's photographic website (Manuel Delgado) where copies of his works can be purchased. I am slightly hesitant to add below some of his œuvre, because Manuel wants to see which images I have chosen - no pressure then!

The first is from a series entitled "Banderas" ("Flags") (#27):

This initially made me think of the UN flag; but it is also reminiscent of imperial banners with eagles and such like upon them. Some of the flags look almost recognisable; others are more abstract: but they fascinate nonetheless. Personally, methinks the collection should be viewed as a complete corps to extract full meaning and significance. So why not take a good gander (scrutinise them)?

Next photo is from a compelling (for me) series taken of just one spot on a pavement, "Pasos en la acera" (Steps):

Naturally, this completely appeals to my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). However, additionally, it speaks to me of notions of time & space, transience and the ephemeral; and, more specifically, reminded me about humanity's recent appearance in geological/cosmological time. Of course, to you they may hint at something entirely different!

My next choices are from a series called "La Habitación Secreta" or "The Secret Room" (Room). The images include nudity and subjects that some may take offence at. If so, cease reading this article at this point.

What I find interesting about these images is that they have caught men in quotidian activities that are rarely photographed. Manuel, however, demonstrates an honesty and frankness in this series that recounts a complete narrative without cloying romanticism nor Hollywood glitz nor pornographic brashness. I suspect he has a compassion almost tenderness for his subjects. This is rare as many photographers aim for the photojournalistic dispassion that merely observes rather than interacts with its subject.

And finally, just to demonstrate that the artist is not afraid of colour, here is one from his series "Trabajo en la calle" or "Work on the street" (Workers), Estela the florist:

If one has been to Málaga, one will be all too aware of the wonderful array of blooms available from the street vendors, particularly in the old historic part of the city.

I hope Manuel approves of my choices. I hope the reader's interest has been sufficiently piqued that s/he will want to visit Manuel's web gallery. %)

Thursday, 14 June 2012



griping pains
tighter than butterflies
but not quite a punch
now twisting quickly
now swaying slowly
as if on a roller-coaster
building up for
an imminent purge
and then
all is calm
stomach noises
beginning to relax
farting indiscriminately
not quite there
then resurge
the tumbling restarts
my butt-crack
and sacrum
briefs sticking
to clammy flesh
and I rush
to the water closet
an odd mix
of constipatory
before the release
to flatulent
and the acrid stench
screwing my nose
in disgust
then more
several repetitions
my bladder
releases its store
of unwanted waste
at this point
beginning to pull off the reams
of toilet tissue
a requirement
for cleaning off the mess
of excrement
on my buttock cheeks
my much abused rosebud
begins to feel raw
from the roughness
of even the softest
sometimes so sore
that I bleed
having removed
sufficient detritus
I start to use
the wet wipes
at any fæcal matter
still clinging
to anal hairs
noting the all-clear
no more lurid smears
I can pull up my pants
and flush
catching unwanted sight
of expunged flotsam
once the torrent
has passed
I am
to scrub
the dirtied bowl
and a final rinse
of disinfectant
or bleach
killing all known germs
and re-instating
just waiting
for the next event
as daily
multiple trips
to the lavatory

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Quaker Meeting & Worship

On Sunday I went to church, well Quaker Meeting actually. I have been attending my local Meeting House sporadically for a couple of years now, often with an old collegiate friend. However, I have dipped in and out of various Meetings around Cheshire/Lancashire (NW England) over more than two decades. Due to my ill-health and especially my disabilities, I cannot get to a Meeting by myself and there is not always someone who can transport/take me. However, when I do attend I love it. The meditative communal silence is nothing like personal meditation: there's a vibrancy; a sense of a living entity; a oneness that defies explanation. I suppose one might call it an hour of the numinous (Numinous).

During this week's service part of Quaker Faith & Practice was read out. Below I cite 10.3 from Chapter 10 (Quakerweb), a long quotation which really is worth reading through:

The Religious Society of Friends is organised into local meetings, each of which should be a community. It is our search for God's way that has drawn us together. In our meeting we can each hope to find love, support, challenge, practical help and a sense of belonging. We should bring ourselves as we are, whatever our age, our strength, our weakness; and be able to share friendship and warmth.
Some of us now live away from our families; some of us move house quite often. Although surrounded by others we may be leading isolated and lonely lives. It is important that our meetings welcome newcomers warmly and that we include them in invitations to our homes
Our sense of community does not depend on all professing identical beliefs, for it grows from worshipping together, knowing one another, loving one another, accepting responsibilities, sharing and working together. We will be helped by tried and tested Quaker methods and procedures, but the meeting will only live if we develop a sense of community, which includes children and adults alike. If all those who belong to our meeting are lovingly cared for, the guidance of the spirit will be a reality. The celebration and commemoration of life's great events draw us together as we share the occasion and rejoice or mourn with one another.
Our shared experience of waiting for God's guidance in our meetings for worship and for church affairs, together with careful listening and gentleness of heart, forms the basis on which we can live out a life of love with and for each other and for those outside our community.

The sense of love & oneness, unity if one will, is tangible, despite many folk being strangers to one another. This is an active living embodiment of the sentiment Jesus expressed to John and his disciples and followers. John 13:34-35 states:

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. / By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Quaker worship differs from many others' religious acts in that what binds us together in worship is not what we believe or do not believe, but what we do. It is an expression of agape (ἀγάπη) or love-in-action. It is the inclusivity that Christ preached, but which is so often lacking in the exclusivist denominations and religions, where one can only belong if one does, says and believes exactly the same as others. We Quakers allow for individuality within communal worship, it adds to each Meeting's distinctiveness. It is a given that we are all at different stages in our spiritual walks. No-one is looked down upon including the atheist, the agnostic or the doubter: for even they have something to contribute to the holistic unity.

During the Meeting I shared a picture of us all playing Ring-a-ring-o'-roses, a game where all hold hands in a circle and which allows for new players to join in simply by the outstretching of hands towards one another. A simple act of welcome and inclusion. At the end of our hour we shake hands with one another much like the sharing of peace in some churches. This is a physical expression of our shared humanity.

I am not saying that Quaker worship is best nor even better than this or that. It suits me, my personality, my individuality; and my ego is added to the collective identity. I am at once an individual and a part of a community, a member of a body of worshippers.

Quakers do not sing together - at least I have never experienced such. However, during last Sunday's get-together the words of an old song (©Kingsway) from the seventies came to mind:

"Bind us together Lord;
bind us together,
with cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together Lord;
bind us together;
bind us together with Love."

Saturday, 9 June 2012

In/accessible Europe (2): Benalmádena (Andalusia)

The silence over the past couple of weeks has been due to my having been on holiday and recovering from it! I paid a visit to somewhere I should dearly love to reside: Benalmádena (Benalmádena), a town very close to the city of Málaga; in other words the Costa del Sol.

[Image description: map of the civic area.]

Monarch Airlines (Monarch)

Monarch is my favourite airline since the demise of British Caledonian (British Caledonian) having also travelled on SAS (In/accessible Europe (1): Stockholm), Austrian Airlines, KLM, Air France, Thomson (the worst ever from my perspective as a disabled passenger - but that's another story!) and naturally British Airways (tho' I prefer to call it London Airways these days...). As a disabled passenger I always feel like royalty for I am regally looked after by Monarch's staff. I need a wheelchair to get to the æroplane (airplane), but can shuffle up the aisle with one stick and holding on to the seats. However, if one is completely chair-bound, they arrange for one to be carried aboard with as much dignity as is possible. Bless them!

Málaga Airport (Málaga Airport)

Once all the argy-bargy (pell-mell) of the passengers who MUST get off the 'plane asap had passed, I arose from my seat, shuffled to the front, et voilà, my wheelchair had arrived with a very pleasant and affable assistant. The assistants sport very distinctive orange & logo'd T-shirts and are always very simpático/a. This time my male assistant went beyond the call-of-duty and not only pushed me past my recently disgorged fellow-passengers and through passport-control like some VIP, but arranged for a luggage trolley for me & my travelling companions and escorted us all to the airport train-station. All this was deserving of a decent 'propina' or gratuity (tip).

Cercanías, the Suburban Railway (Railroad) (Cercanías)

The local trains are fully accessible and very cheap (low-cost) - unlike their British counterparts. Buying a ticket from the machine was straightforward. Wheelie's can pass thro' a gate operated by the friendly assistants. The rest pass thro' electronic gates opened with one's ticket and which give sufficient time for hobblers to shuffle thro'. The surfaces, as in the airport, are all smooth: so no trip-hazards. A lift (elevator) takes one down to the platform, where one finds a plethora of seating whilst one awaits the train's arrival. When it does come (every fifteen mins.) there is a disabled entry-point with low-level access and only the tiniest of gaps. Wheelies should have no difficulty accessing. Apart from wheelie space and seating for disabled/agèd folk, this is also the location of the WC. This is accessible to some wheelies - if you can use a Virgin Trains' loo, you'll be able to use this. And none of that horrid Virgin stench either as these conveniences are always spotless! The destinations are announced in plenty of time in Spanish and then English; but there is also an electronic read-out on the multiple screens throughout the carriages (railcars).

[Image description: schematic map of the local train network.]

Approximately twenty minutes later we arrived at Arroyo de la Miel station, the commercial hub of Benalmádena. This platform seems quite narrow, so I advise that one hangs back whilst the rushers rush off. The lift (elevator) is not well sign-posted, but can be found under the escalator. Take care here if you are a motorised wheelie - use low-speed! If you are in a heavy chair, I should recommend you go up solo due to weight restrictions for this particular lift.

Taxis (Cabs)

Alas, there is no direct route to the taxis directly to the left from the exit of the station. Do not be fooled by what looks like a ramp at the side, it is actually gentle(-ish!) steps. There is an accessible route ahead and round to the left, near the pedestrian crossing. Take your time, there are always loads of taxi-cabs. There is no queueing system either for passengers nor the taxistas. If the drivers do not point to the sequent one, just ask. If one does not speak Spanish, just raise open hands in a pleading gesture and look the row of taxis up and down! Most taxis use a log-book that shows the prices, so one should not be overcharged. All the taxistas I have ever encountered in my twelve visits to Benalmádena have helped with luggage and wheelchairs, etc.

Parque de la Paloma

Our hotel (one really does need to check with individual hotels/apartments whether or not they can accommodate one's needs and one really does need to think this thro' and be specific) was located right next to the Parque de la Paloma (Parque). The park can be very noisy to those not used to fauna as it has a veritable ménagerie of free-roaming wildlife including rabbits, wildfowl, terrapins, peacocks, chickens and a profusion of cacophonous cockerels (roosters) in addition to cooped emus, goats and llamas. Many of the pathways are suitable for wheelies and the mobility-impaired; others require mountaineering skills and/or assistance. Electronic chairs, unless specially adapted/designed, will need to keep to the main paths as the older routes are only gravelled.

There are several cafés within the park environs, some better suited to the needs of the disabled than others. Do not be surprised to see children playing late - it is cooler, Spain is family-friendly and the kiddies will have had a siesta in the afternoon. My photo below is of a café that has ramped access at the back and an accessible toilet.

Paseo Marítimo (esplanade/promenade)

The panoramic view from the balcony of my last hotel overlooked the Mediterranean as well as the long walkway that stretches along most of the Benalmadenan coastline. For much of the way this is marbled and easy to shuffle along on or manœuvre a wheelchair. One of the beaches or 'playas' has disabled parking, and especially adapted showers, WCs and changing facilities. Most of the playas have ramp access - tho' some may be a tad steep for manual wheelies! I have seen wheelchairs left stranded in the sand whilst their previous occupiers lie on a sun-lounger on several of the beaches, for after the ramps many areas have wooden paving to assist one in reaching the playa or a café-bar.

[Image description: view of esplanade looking towards the marina.]

[Image description: the castillo on the promenade.]

My personal favourite beach is the Playa Bil-Bil next to the castillo because I have returned every year to Maracas (Maracas) where I happily sit in the shade - you can choose to sit in the hot sun if you so wish, but do recall Noël Coward's song "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"! - watching the world go by sipping my cafe con leche (white coffee), caña or cerveza (draught or bottled beer), vino tinto (red wine) which comes chilled, or mojito. They also serve a wide selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Or go half-and-half and order a tinto de verano, a chilled mix of red wine & Sprite. Most refreshing! No-one will come to move you on, even if you are there a couple of hours with a single beverage. Alas the WCs here are not accessible to wheelies and some mobility-impaired: so if this is you, don't stay too long...!!!

Arroyo de la Miel

Arroyo, as it is abbreviated to, is the commercial centre of Benalmádena, where the main shopping area is: although, shops can be found almost anywhere. The main areas have either broad pavements (sidewalks) or are pedestrianised. Be careful going up side-streets tho' as the pavements can disappear completely or lack the dropped kerbs (curbs) (hope North American readers understand that term as I have no idea what they are called in the US/Canada) found elsewhere. Also, it is not advisable to wheel on the narrow roads as drivers tend to be impatient with all pedestrians not just the disabled. Expect to be peeped/honked at at some stage and do not take umbrage! Some shops are accessible, others not so. However, if you see something you want but cannot access the store, the assistants are always more than willing to come out to you, at least in my experience.

Arroyo has many eateries. I have used Gambrinus a few times, famed for their Cruzcampo beer but their rosé is good too! Here one has a choice of eating inside with the air-con on or outside with the central heating... Again WCs are not wheelie accessible but the even floors mean they are fine for the mobility-impaired. I have to say I have not yet found any bar/eatery with a wheelchair accessible toilet, so some research will be required prior to visiting if one does not have the constitution of a camel.

Benalmádena Pueblo

Referred to as the Pueblo, this is the administrative part of the town and situated half-way up one of the local mountains. DO NOT try to walk/wheel it. Grab a cab or take the 'bus. There about three 'buses that can drop one off in the Pueblo. The fares are very cheap. And the 'buses can lower to kerb level as well as having a wheelie space and seats for the disabled. The 'bus will conveniently drop you off at a row of shops which are mainly cafe-bars. I always start and stop at the first!

[Image descriptor: me enjoying a glass of chilled wine opposite the Danish institution.]

The Pueblo has recently been remodelled and this has meant the main areas are now disabled-accessible. For many years the Danes have had a recuperation centre (Montebello Institute) here, so one will see lots of disabled folk. Indeed the whole of Benalmádena is much more disabled-friendly than even the city of Málaga, just up the coast. There the inhabitants tend to stare discomfitingly at one; whereas for the Benalmadenans disabled folk are common-place. Indeed the Pueblo actually has a shop on the main through-road (at this point named Calle del Clavel) which has a large window-display of disability aids, footwear, etc. and the staff, as ever, are just lovely as well as helpful.

If you like pizza, then the Italian restaurant next to the Maskar supermarket is a must-visit. When the square outside is not filled with diners enjoying their repasts, it looks like a bit of a rough bar. However, if one walks through it opens up into what one expects an Italian ristorante to look like. However, when it's hot - most of the time - you are more likely to want to sit outside at the front. Recently a wooden sun (rain?) shelter has been erected if one prefers the shade.

One might like a stroll/wheel over to the Parochial Church and the Jardines del Muro. Whilst the gardens are accessible, part of the route is not suitable for those without an assistant to push non-electric chairs. En route pass thro' the Plaza de España to see the famous fountain, el Fuente de la Niña - the symbol of the whole civic area. The effort to get to the gardens is well worth it, especially at night, as one can see for miles/kilometres.

Overall, I adore Benalmádena. Its folk are amiable. It is family-friendly. It is disabled-friendly. It's a great place for a holiday. I came back totally chillaxed. I hope if you visit, you do too. %)