More to Me Than HIV

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More to Me Than HIV

First published in Gscene July 2020 For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library.For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being           Read more

More to Me Than HIV: GScene post Aug 2020

More to Me Than HIV is a project that aims to breakdown the stigma that has historically been attached to this virus.  When I saw my piece in last months Gscene to promote the More to Me Than HIV project, I was extremely proud, but a small part of me was filled with anxiety; but why should I feel this way? I have been on effective antiretroviral therapy since the Read more

More to Me Than HIV: first published in GScene July 2020

For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being             diagnosed HIV+ 32 years previous. Back then there was no treatment and a lot of fear and misinformation concerning how HIV was transmitted. As such stigma was rife, Read more

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Gothic Literature: A Snap Shot

The 18th Century saw the birth of novel. There was already a readership for autobiographies, journals and memoirs; however, the novel brought a new style to the emerging middle classes. Daniel Defoe is credited as the founder of the English novel, with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Both novels were written with a sense of realism and human dilemma which proved extremely popular to his readership.

By the middle of the 18th Century, Horace Walpole: English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician was also keen fanatic of all things Gothic, and is acknowledged as the person who invented the Gothic novel, with his tomb, The Castle of Otranto (1764). In the first edition Walpole claimed the story was a translation based on a found manuscript dated from 1529. Once the Novel was received positively, Walpole would confess that the work was from his own imagination.

For the 21st Century reader,Walpole’s story lends themselves more to an episode of Scooby-doo, with his over the top characters and cliché plot devices. These include the family curse, a haunted castle, and of course, a maiden in distress. What is interesting to note are that many of the elements that Walpole created are reimagined in many modern-day Gothic novels. For example Stephen King’s The Shinning (1977) replaces the haunted house on the hill with an out of season hotel. The main protagonist, Jack Torrance, becomes possessed by the hotel’s curse, while his wife becomes a Twenty-First Century maiden in distress.

Although common now, it would take a few more years before the Gothic genre would truly be embraced by the reading public. In fact it would be another thirty years before the next celebrated Gothic tale would make any impact. This time the tale was penned by celebrated writer Ann Radcliffe and her equally over the top Gothic offering, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Once again a young woman is holed up in a cumbering castle, this time her tormentor is her evil aunt and the aunt’s lover. Radcliffe already had a large female following among the upper-classes and the newly emerging middle-classes. It was these readers that would champion the gothic style, embracing the high (camp) drama, knowing that by the final page the hero and heroine would both live happily every after.

Two year later, Matthew Lewis would release his own Gothic tale, titled The Monk (1796). In comparison to what had come before, Lewis’ novel was more explicit in its subject matter, but as with all good Gothic tales, it made its mark. At the time, literary giant Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that Lewis was, “the offspring of no common genius”

            Around this period a selection of artist abandoned the traditional landscapes and portraits for something darker. One of the most iconic paintings to embrace the Gothic elements came from Henry Fuseli and his 1782 painting, The Nightmare. The painting depicts a young woman draped provocatively on a bed. Sitting upon her stomach sits a ‘Mara’, an evil spirit that brings nightmares to those it visits.

These images of sexuality and horror are key to many Gothic tales, particularly in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, were ‘the other’ contaminates the innocent Mina and her friend Lucy. Interestingly, the character of Mina is less submissive, but it is the gallant male protagonists who once again save the day.

In the 21st Century the Gothic tradition is as popular as ever, with contemporary writers like Stephen King, Clive Barker and Anne Rice showing the dark side of the modern world, where the monsters no longer live far away in castles, but may just be in the house next-door.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Fiction & Books, film, Flash Blogs, Gothic horror, Leisure, Literature Leave a comment

Edgar Allan Poe, The Man, The Madness, The Movie.

When it comes to great literature, gothic horror is usually classified at the bottom of the pile. This genre is often seen as little more than pulp fiction to amuse teenage boys, where they can delve into a place filled with crumbling castles and damsels in distress.  This is particularly true when discussing the works of Edgar Allan Poe, whose short stories and poems hang heavy with bleakness and dread, where the reader can be pretty sure there will be no happy ever after, but there is sop much more to his work than the usual clichés

To dismiss the work of Poe’s as little more than a throw away read would be doing this man a great disservice as his work has gone on to influence some of our greatest writers and helped bring dark stirrings into some of the best-loved literature. It was Poe who invented the detective genre, with his shocking short story, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue, (1841) which in turn led Arthur Conan Doyle to stand up and say that Poe was a major influence on his own tales in detective fiction. One doesn’t have to look too far to see how Poe has influenced other writers, including Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre where the pages are littered with gothic images, from the imposing building of Thornfield Hall, to the terrible secret locked away in the attic. (no spoilers, just pick up a copy and find out just how dark celebrated romantic Bronte was).

To understand Poe’s work, one only has to look into his life, filled with great tragedies and heart ache. Edgar Poe was born on 19 January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe. Before he reached the age of three his father had abandoned him and his siblings; further gloom fell upon when their mother died after a short illness. Soon after Poe would find himself separated from his brother William Henry Leonard Poe and younger sister Rosalie, and would be brought up by a wealthy merchant John Allan and his wife, moving to Richmond, Virginia. Although Poe done well with his studies, he would later become estranged from his adopted family after accumulating huge gambling debts.

Unable to pay his college fees or debts, Poe enlisted in the United States Army, although he had been writing for some time it was at this stage he started to take his role as writer seriously and paid for his first set of poetry, called Tamerlane and Other Poems (1831), published. Later that same year he published a second book of poetry called Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane with growing success. Around the same time he left the army and moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm. Poe’s brother Henry was also living at the house but died shortly after from tuberculosis.

When Virginia turned thirteen, Poe proposed and married his cousin; back then neither her age or relationship to Poe were considered out of the ordinary. However, for Poe, his marriage to Virginia and her subsequence period of ill-health would prove to have a massive influence on his work. For many months Poe would have to watch the woman he loved slip onto the brink of death. Poe would sit by her bedside and watch helplessly waiting for the love of his life to leave him forever, only for her to make a near partial recovery giving him hope that Virginia would be back in his life again. Time and time again Poe was put through these agonies, as Virginia fell dreadfully ill and again Poe would watch on in horror as death waited patiently on the other side of the bed. The experience would lead Poe to revisit these horrors in some of his most celebrated work, including, the poem, Lenore, (1831) and his brilliant short stories Ligeia, (1838) and brilliant short story, The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) where within these dark tales the heroine would come back from the dead to haunt the living.

Although Poe wrote prolifically throughout his life, he never had copywrite to his own work. So although he was celebrated during his own life time, he would struggle financially throughout. Alcohol would also play a large part in Poe downfall.

Throughout the early 1970’s Poe’s tales became the bread and butter for the films directed by Roger Corman   where their main star Vincent Price reveled in bringing Poe’s creations to life with such classics as The Fall of the House of Usher, (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) Tales of Terror  (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death  (1964), and The tomb of Ligeia (1965).

As camp and fun as these films are, nothing compares to Poe’s words. In a rather tragic, although very Poe way, Edgar Allen Poe died in mysterious circumstances, with no one really sure how he met his demise. A film released next Friday called The Raven (2012), directed by directed by James (V for Vendetta)  McTeigue, where some of Poe’s best known stories are brought to life. For those who have never read a word of Poe, get yourself a copy of his tales and see what you’re missing, for as much as he’s work is considered pulp, the world he has conjured will stay in your mind long after you have put down the book, now that is a true master of literature.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Fiction & Books, film, Gothic horror, Leisure, Literature 4 Comments

Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!

“Politicians, ugly buildings and whores, they all get respectable if they last long enough.” These words from actor john Huston in the film Chinatown, feel rather appropriate when considering the release of The Iron Lady, starring the scarily convincing Meryl Streep, as Maggie Thatcher.

Now that Thatcher no longer has the ability to breathe fire of fear into anyone, there will no doubt be those who will watch this film, championing the girl of a grocer, who came to power and promised her voters to make the world a better place…

Of course there are many who benefitted from Thatcher’s breaking up of the unions, selling off our utilities, and giving many people the opportunity to buy their council homes; but all to quickly the dream turned sour, with a generation now paying for a decade of excess and greed. But there is also a more sickening legacy from Thatcher’s era that the film makers have glossed over. These include; the introduction of Clause 28 and the lack of care or understanding regarding the devastating effect the AIDS crises would have on the UK’s gay community.

At the beginning of the AIDs epidemic in 1981 when large groups of gay men, drug users and hemophiliacs, began getting rapidly ill and dying, both Thatcher and Ronald Regan decided to ignore the impact this new disease was having. The national press was quick to flame the fire calling AIDS a ‘Gay Plague’. Those diagnosed with HIV found themselves treated with fear by the general public as well as the health professionals. For example in the early days of the disease, those seeking treatment would find health professionals using the  barrier method, wearing gloves, masks, gowns and hats; making those already feeling alienated even worse. However, there was a huge response from the LGBT community, with support groups springing up, doing much of the work that was lacking from the Conservative Government.

Six years into the epidemic, the Conservative Government brought us the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign, which basically said ‘Abstain from sex and you’ll be fine.’ The campaign failed to address the real issues and year on year those diagnosed HIV+ has continued to rise.

In 1994 a new AIDS campaign was produced at the cost of £2 million pounds including a pocket guide “Your Pocket Guide to Sex” aimed at educating 16 – 25 year olds on safer sex. However, the Conservative Government got all hot under the collar and had the whole project deleted from existence, much to the disgust of its author, Nick Fisher.

“I don’t believe this government has teenagers’ interests at heart, it has become a political exercise to be seen to be stamping on things that are considered rude. Have they actually thought about how many teenagers are getting pregnant, how many are screwed up because they don’t know whether they are gay or straight, how many are not using condoms because they don’t know where to buy them or how to use them properly? If people are so messed up about sex that they deny its existence on such a massive scale, then there really is something wrong.”                             Nick Fisher.

Fast forward to present day and we find that once again Thatcher’s legacy living on, with the Conservative Government unwilling to provide funding for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

With funding for HIV treatment costing the NHS 1bn per annum, there seems little reason to celebrate the mass destruction Thatcher has caused in her lifetime; and then there’s section 28.

Things first kicked off with the Daily Mail newspaper ranting that there was a campaign by the liberal left to pursued children to be homosexual, feeding the public with the idea that homosexuality was a choice which people could be persuaded to make. Books like Jenny lives with Eric and Martin were used in the propaganda war, with suggestions that such books were being used to undermine the heterosexual family.

Although no school was prosecuted, Clause 28 stopped many schools from teaching or talking about alternative sexualities, which without doubt had an effect on many young people growing up as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender with feelings that they are in some way wrong to have these feelings. It is all too easy to think there are many support groups like the brilliant Diversity Role Models for young LGBT teenagers to get in contact with, but back then there was no internet and just a couple of gay magazines which were only marketed at the older LGBT groups.

One of the best things to come from Section 28 was the way the LGBT community pulled together, stood united and fought back. Lesbians assailed into parliament, while others stormed onto the live set of the BBC’s Six O Clock News, with one woman managed to chain herself to Sue Lawley’s chair. From here, MP’s and famous actors like Sir Ian McKellen came out, as did film director, Derrick Jarman about being HIV positive. These high-profile people added their voices of support and helped form LGBT action support groups including Stonewall and OutRage and even a couple of protest songs

When the Labour Government came to power, they began to pave the way for the Clause to be removed from the statutory books. It is worth noting that those unelected people in power in the House of Lords tried time and time again to keep Clause 28 in place, however, the Clause was eventually scrapped by the Labour Government pushed through the abolishment of the clause on the 18th November, 2003.

Interestingly, when David Cameron was an unelected Conservative member, he spoke out against a repeal of Clause 28 and accused Tony Blair of being ‘anti family’. Although he has since apologized and said equality should be taught in schools, the new legislation, Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), guide mentions that schools are obliged as a minimum to talk on issues of HIV and AIDS, but there is still no legal requirement for schools to talk about LGBT relationships. This may certainly leave many young people believing the way they feel is wrong and unacceptable, showing just how Thatcher’s legacy continues to do more harm than good.

Instead of spending money on seeing Meryl do an impersonation of Thatcher, I have invested my money in the Chumbawamba single, a celebration of Thatcher’s demise to be released on the day she pops her steely clogs.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in film, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, LGBT, Zhoosh 4 Comments

Gothic Literature: A Snap Shot.

The 18th Century saw the birth of novel. There was already a readership for autobiographies, journals and memoirs; however, the novel brought a new style to the emerging middle classes. Daniel Defoe is credited as the founder of the English novel, with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Both novels were written with a sense of realism and human dilemma which proved extremely popular to his readership.

By the middle of the 18th Century Horace Walpole, a keen fanatic of all things Gothic, published The Castle of Otranto (1764). In the first addition Walpole clamed the story was a translation based on a found manuscript dated from 1529. Once the Novel was received positively, Walpole would confess that the work was from his own imagination. Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Fiction & Books, film, Gothic horror, Leisure, Literature Leave a comment