Shaun Dykes

I think I want to write a lot more blog entries from now on, but I always get writer’s block. However, although I’m happy to be an emigre, I keep up with the UK news every day by reading The Times online and the BBC News (plus, I can’t yet speak decent enough German to read a newspaper here), and so I thought I could start writing up some of the thoughts and discussions I’ve had regarding what I have read over the past month or so in the British e-papers. I wish some of this news had been good news, but I honestly couldn’t find any of that in the British press over the last month. However, even though this occurred over a month ago, I wanted to write something about the death of Shaun Dykes – and from now on, I’ll be a bit more punctual.

28 September 2008: A mob goads suicidal teenager Shaun Dykes to his death. Dykes jumped from the roof of a multi-storey car park after attracting a crowd of onlookers, some of whom filmed the event on their cameraphones and jeered him to jump, encouraging him to ‘get on with it’, and subsequently photographed his body. This is an indictment of the police, who were unable to negotiate with the young man sufficiently to discourage him from suicide, or to disperse the crowd. More so, it is a shocking indictment of a minority of the British people who have become so inhumane, bloodthirsty and desensitised. To me, the saddest thing about this story was that it was neither impossible to believe nor a horrifying anomaly, but another signifier of the shift which has occurred in the British public over the past five or ten years and which suffuses so many towns with an atmosphere of aggression and nihilism. Although the reasons for the suicide of this young man are not known, it is possible that he was motivated to kill himself because of his homosexuality. This serves to remind that we cannot yet risk apathy regarding the difficulties which some people, and particularly young people, still suffer due to their sexuality. It also reinforces a need to change the lexicon which has made homosexuality an object of derision and which associates the term ‘gay’ with anything negative; a term which is used in this context with a frightening abandon. It’s interesting that the reactionary tabloids which reported this story (The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail) did not mention Dykes’ sexuality; although the latter suggested that he had been depressed by the breakdown of a relationship. There were no plans to pursue inquiries into those responsible for goading Dykes. As an aside, one of the strangest things about modern tragedies like these is the ease by which information about the people concerned can be discovered by looking at their pages on personal networking sites. It is so eerie and melancholy to see the banal elements of their lives and the sudden cessation of their posts and comments.


Congratulations America

… most of the population of Europe wanted to be there voting alongside you. And thank you very much for making the right choice. You scared us for a moment there, what with Melted Action Figure and the Succubus, but we knew you’d see sense.

More good news: Colorado and South Dakota voters rejected stringent anti-abortion measures; penalties for the use of marijuana have been reduced; dog-racing was banned in Massachusetts and improved conditions for farmed chickens demanded in California.

But: Proposition 8 is still being debated in California…

It’s a rainy, dark evening here; the pavements are slick with fallen leaves, and the streetlamps blur through the mist. I take out two members of the Pack; neither of them want to walk out in the rain, but it momentarily stops the new ones from eating sponges or doing giant Mr Hankey-style poos on the kitchen floor. It is drizzly, foggy and slippery. Walking, through the slush of foliage, is difficult and treacherous.

So WHY THE FR*G is the pavement completely crawling with joggers? At least ten passed us during our brief toilet stop; almost all of whom were dressed completely in black, with no reflectors, so they swished out of the darkness like wraiths. It is hard enough to walk on a night like this. Why would anyone be so masochistic?

To be honest, I just don’t understand the lure of jogging. I can see that it makes a lot more sense than running on a treadmill, but there cannot be anything enjoyable about it. Baudrillard stated: ‘Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead… Do not stop him. He will either hit you or simply carry on dancing around in front of you like a man possessed.’ …makes a lot of sense. Plus, there is severe risk of jogger’s nipple. But then, I am pretty excited about getting my Wii Fit board, and surely there is nothing more apocalyptic than doing virtual exercise in a tiny space in front of the TV. What do you think, which signifies the end of the world more?

Proposition 8

My good buddy narrioch and I have been discussing ‘Proposition 8’ over the last few days, and I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and post my own thoughts on this matter. In a few weeks, a Californian ballot will be held to determine the success or failure of Proposition 8, which intends to deny the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Over here in Europe, it is quite difficult to fully comprehend the nuances of this matter, because it simply seems so bizarre that this could even be an issue in California; a state which not only encompasses the gay mecca that is San Francisco, but which is regarded by many to symbolise the encapsulation of the American Dream of freedom. It is illogical that the proponents of Prop 8 are demanding a regression, a move backwards in time. Most disappointing of all is the fact that opinion polls suggest the likelihood that the Proposition will indeed be passed.

The fact that Proposition 8 is even being entertained as a possibility compounds that humanity still has a very long way to go, but it would be inexcusable to reverse progress in this way. It is staggering to think of just how recent have been the fights for equality by all ‘minorities’, not just those defined by sexuality. Already, it is sufficiently abhorrent to consider that the rights and desires of a supposed ‘out-group’ are denied. It will be as perplexing for future generations to consider that same-sex marriage was disallowed as it is for us to imagine that inter-racial marriage was illegal until a few decades ago. That is, of course, to make the general assumption that humanity progresses through time, and that future generations will be increasingly enlightened. If Proposition 8 is passed, that will be one obstacle to such progress.

Supporters of Proposition 8 contend that marriage is a sacred and sanctified union which may only be valid between a man and woman. Many of these supporters simultaneously claim that they do not wish to deny the rights or privileges of those in same-sex relationships, and that their standpoint is not indicative of homophobia on their part. Of course, it is perfectly evident that the opposition to same-sex marriage is entirely indicative of homophobia, albeit covert. It makes no logical sense whatsoever to suggest that the participation of same-sex couples in marriage will somehow corrode the significance of this sacrament. The marriage of same-sex couples neither devalues nor intrudes upon that of heterosexual couples; it is merely a mutual participation in the same activity. Nevertheless, it evidently proves problematic for many that heterosexual and non-heterosexual couples are engaged in the same activities. This is because the long-held belief that non-heterosexuals simply do not have the same rights as heterosexuals has not yet been eliminated; and still has sufficient cultural currency to be accepted by a significant part of the population. To see non-heterosexuals assuming a ‘privilege’ which has previously only been the purview of heterosexuals evidently still rankles too many people. This is perhaps because marriage, supposedly, legitimises a union – to ignore for a moment the fact that countless marriages, between same- or opposite-sex couples, are less than legitimate. Apparently, then, it is distasteful that a same-sex union should be legitimised in this way; that it should become not only officially sanctioned, but visible, tangible and even celebrated. It is distasteful that non-heterosexuals should be as open as  heterosexuals about their relationships and their joy in each other. And it is definitely distasteful that the visibility of such relationships might offend and intrude into the lives of others – particularly the impressionable children who will subsequently be so indoctrinated into the well, gaiety of gayness that they will instantly choose to be homosexual. These are the anxieties which have allowed Proposition 8 to get as far as it has, and these are the indicators of an insiduous homophobia which is made all the more dangerous by its insiduousness, and by the failure or fear of its proponents to openly articulate their true beliefs.

No doubt, many of those who support Proposition 8 would argue virulently that they are not homophobic. Some would even support the concept of union for non-heterosexual couples in the form of civil partnerships; but, to my knowledge, those have a long way to go before they truly afford the same rights as marriage to those who participate in them. And it is almost more ludicrous to suggest that civil partnerships should be entirely synonymous with marriage. If the difference is in title alone, then it merely compounds the invalidity of the concept that same-sex couples should be allowed certain privileges, but not others; when the difference is only one word, it only illuminates the groundless paranoia and fear of those who want to keep marriage to themselves.

It would be interesting to know of the gender bias in the arguments surrounding Proposition 8. I would speculate that there is a much greater anxiety surrounding the union between two males than that between two females, as has always been the case (think of Queen Victoria, who penalised ‘homosexual contact’ but contended that there was no such thing as lesbianism). Contemporary culture does little to contradict the notion that a union between women can be more than an extension of a desexualised friendship – or a fantasy for heterosexual men. However, fear of the threat which homosexual men are perceived to contain, however, is still terrifyingly prevalent. The occasional film of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ proportions aside, the media does very little to encourage society to overcome these anxieties – and there is no doubt that the media is the most significant educator for most of humanity. The idiotic statement , ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’, which is so often repeated by opponents of same-sex marriage, mentions nothing of Eve and.. er.. Niamh. This is because, two decades of ‘Cosmopolitan’ aside, women’s sexuality still matters very little – and the traditions of marriage do nothing to encourage change in this respect. The customs with which marriage has traditionally been associated – for instance, the ‘giving away’ of the bride by her father, or the union between ‘man and wife’, are abhorrently misogynistic and are by no means made innocuous by their prevalence, or their relegation to the status of quaint tradition. Many couples, of course, choose not to include such elements, which are regarded by many as out-dated and unacceptable. Therefore, it is acknowledged that times have changed since the institution of marriage was first conceptualised. To enable same-sex couples to participate in such unions is only to further acknowledge the progression that our society has made. Similarly, the reversal of this  progress would be, to adopt the rhetoric of Prop 8 supporters, a truly illogical and unnatural action. It seems increasingly likely that a true signifier of social progress would be the dissolution, or gradual abandonment of the institution of marriage. Despite that, we should defend the rights of anyone who wishes to participate in it.

Edited to add: links to some other sites which are also discussing this matter.

Bamboo Nation
The Liberal OC
Chouchou, this site (linked from The Liberal OC) elaborates on the differences between civil union and marriage.

Bouszchi, Skelp, Ferkel

L to R: Bouszchi, Skelps, Ferkel

Welcome to the first of (no doubt) many posts about our new pack of three. Gigi (Bouszchi, preferably said in a silly smoochy voice) has already been with us for a few months, and I had always envisaged that we would get her a buddy when the time came. Well, that time came a little sooner than expected… I found out about a charity which re-homes rescued dogs from the Greek island of Kos, and specifically about a little Pointer cross called Bony, who had been saved from starvation. The work performed by this, and other similar charities, is incredible. The suffering undergone by the animals they rescue is terrible beyond words. Hearing stories about animals abandoned at the Berlin sanctuary is upsetting enough, but this is another level entirely. Anyway, I am glad to say that we have been able to take in two of the many, many animals who are in need of help.. so, I present to you:

FERKEL (a.k.a. Bony, a.k.a. T-Bone)

This little boy was named Bony due to his emaciated condition on discovery. Thankfully, he has since turned into a chubby little piglet. He is a bolshy little guy, but he backs away from people on the street who think he’s cute. He will need a little work to build up his confidence after his difficult experiences, but he is adorable. Perhaps because his growth has been stunted a little, he has giant paws which he likes to slap up and down when he gets excited – which happens a lot. Nothing stands in between him and food, not even a closed door.

SKELPS (a.k.a. Kelpie)

Not too much is known about this little girl. She was found wandering the streets and thankfully was taken in; she can’t be more than a few months old. She is like a little monkey and manages to climb everything – especially the dogs’ giant food bag on top of which she stands like a mountaineer. In the two days that the dogs have been here, she has only been to the toilet three times (once on the floor) so hopefully she’s going to get over her nerves soon. We will keep on being very quiet and patient with her – she’s not too anxious though, and she holds her own in the playfights which she often starts!

The last thing to say is… all three of the dogs smell suspiciously like Digestive biscuits. T-Bone flips onto his back for a belly scratch and this biscuit smell just floats up – bath time I think…

Oh the cananity

Now, not that I want this blog just to be about everything which bewilders / annoys me about people.. there isn’t enough space on the internet (it’s running out of room you know). Plus, I am extremely happy at the moment because two new dogs have joined our little pack! Both rescue dogs from Greece; one is a fat little Pointer cross of some sort, and the other is a little black puppy of indeterminate breed. Both of them are pure class.. pictures to follow!

However – although I am very happy – I really have to write about my annoyance at the ‘lady who cleans the yard of our apartment block’. I don’t know what else to call her. I can’t call her ‘cleaning lady’ or ‘maintenance person’ because neither of those terms would be remotely accurate. All that she does is sweep the yard once a week, and leave all the sweepings in a corner where they are instantly blown back all over the place by the prevailing winds from Russia. Oh and also she sometimes mops the yard (?) in a very erratic fashion, and then uses the same mop on the windows. Anyway; she hates us.

Let me explain. Our (first) dog can sometimes get a little irritated by people in ‘her’ territory; i.e. people walking past the apartment making a bit too much noise – we live on the ground floor, facing the yard. She also wasn’t too keen on visitors in the apartment, at first, and would show her annoyance by making a loud warbly growly noise – a bit like if Shirley Bassey and Barry White had a canine lovechild. She’s getting better now, but not every visitor has the time for her ‘gentle introduction’ phase – so we put her in another room sometimes if she’s warbling too much. Well, we had to do this when a couple of guys turned up to fit the new washing machine. (The old one was an ancient toploader with a manual which informed us that ‘WOMEN OF FIFTY LANDS SAY YES TO THE EFFICIENCY’.)

Anyway, the guys are fitting the washing machine, the dog barks for about 1-2 minutes. Yes, I know it’s annoying – I’m sorry. We’re working on it. She is a rescue dog who has had no previous training.. and yes I know that doesn’t mean other people should have to suffer her. But come on, a bit of barking.. What absolutely does not help was the fact that IMMEDIATELY the workmen leave, the ‘cleaning lady’ starts pounding on our door. The dog is just about calm, realising they’re gone, and suddenly.. BOOM BOOM BOOM and she’s yowling again. So, narrioch asks whoever is outside to wait for a moment. No, obviously this is crucially important – BOOM BOOM BOOM. Narrioch hops outside and this lady is standing there, yelling about how the dog was barking and how it was disturbing everyone. Narrioch apologises but the lady won’t go.. she changes tack and starts shouting about how she had cleaned the yard that morning and we had ruined it by having our washing machine fitted. Now, about four miniscule pieces of polystyrene were visible on the ground just outside our apartment, which must have fallen off the packaging for the new machine. Well.. okay. Clearly we would have cleaned those up as soon as we had become aware of them, but the old washing machine was still warm in its bed and the guys had left about 2 minutes before. Again, narrioch apologises, but that’s not good enough – now she wants to know whether we own the apartment or rent it, and what happened to the previous occupant. SHE’S IN THE CELLAR… I have no idea, she moved out about a year ago, were we supposed to get permission from you before we moved in? Anyway – she wandered off shouting incoherently and since then she has amused herself by banging her mop against our door every time she goes past. Until today!

So, today we had a non-event of an event with the dogs. We have subsequently realised that we need to get a stairgate, because they’re slippery as eels. Anyway, one of them (T-Bone, the fat little tank) slid out past us today and started trotting around in the yard. I dash out straight away to get him, but of course he thinks this is a great game and gallops about faster with his little John Wayne bowed legs. The dog is out in the yard for no more than one minute when suddenly, cleaning lady appears and starts howling: ‘your dog is in the yard! Your dog is in the yard! It is not on a leash!’ Oh, thanks, I thought that was a pigeon. ‘Your dog is in the yard!’ So.. a relatively easy situation becomes mega-stressful for all concerned, and T-Bone is wondering why the hell this woman is having a meltdown over nothing. He trots up for a treat and goes back inside the flat. Woman walks off again, banging her mop, bellowing, no doubt to report us to.. well, I don’t even know who she could report that to.

Now.. I love this place.. I just really resent having to feel awkward that we’re going to bump into this woman when we could quite easily have got along fine (and we did, on our first brief meeting). I absolutely understand that it is a problem if my dogs bark or run about in the yard, but those events have occurred, respectively, once; and each time narrioch and I have been doing our best to stop them from happening. I can’t stand irresponsible dog owners. I also understand that people might be alarmed by dogs, but it’s not as if fat little T-Bone is a huge Cerberus with babies’ limbs hanging out of his slobbering chops. What I can’t understand is.. why people feel the impulse to complain so readily and so openly. Many’s a time that I have observed people behaving in a bizarre or annoying manner, but I can’t imagine having a temper short enough that I would instantly start shouting at them. For example, when cleaning lady yelled at narrioch about the dog (who was being quieter than she was at the time), she kept repeating ‘there is a baby, there is a baby’ as if this was supposed to be of some great importance. Yes, there is a baby living in our apartment block (so? Why does everyone have to be so obsessed with babies anyway?) It is living right above us, in fact; and it bellows and wails enough to wake us up and keep us up, staring at the wall, getting Vietnam flashbacks from the screams. Do we rush upstairs and pound on the door to scream back at it, or at the parents? No. And I know that babies are made out of white gold and their hair is threads of phoenix spit, and I will just never get it because I don’t have a baby, nor do I have any desire to ever do so. And I also know that my dog shouldn’t bark. But what does the porcelain baby have to do with it? The little darling screams bloody murder all day and everyone thinks that’s charming. I just don’t get it.

What also makes me laugh about the whole situation is that there is another dog living in the building, who this very morning was in the yard running about happily – and that dog is never leashed, and has run up to ours with its teeth bared more than once. But it’s okay, because that’s a poodle. Pretty much everyone else here is great, though, and doesn’t mind the silly warbly dog even if she does grumble at them in the yard (because if they are calm, and let her smell their hand and everything, she wags at them like a lunatic).  

I love Berlin, and I love the fact that it is one of the most dog-friendly cities there is. Having my new dog, Gigi, has allowed me to meet far more people than my terrible German would otherwise have enabled. She’s from the city’s animal shelter and is a fantastic little buddy, albeit with an incredibly stubborn streak. She has met some great doggy friends here and has improved dramatically since we picked her up six weeks ago. However… our walks together have generated some very bizarre encounters, and for fellow dog-owners everywhere, here are a few of my favourites!


ONE: Bakery Man

One from narrioch. One of the first people that she met whilst walking Gigi was a respectable-enough looking man sitting outside a bakery. This man watched with great interest as the two approached, and when Gigi was secured outside the bakery he decided to impart the following gems: the best way to educate a dog is to tug constantly on its lead so that it thinks it is surrounded by strangers, and will therefore be submissive; and even better, when the ‘war’ comes, Bakery Man will be there to save all the world’s animals. He will apparently be doing this by opening a tunnel from Siberia to Spain which all the animals can ‘run through’ and he will subsequently live in paradise with all his four-legged friends. Apparently he looked quite respectable to narrioch at first, until she noticed the dirty fingernails and missing shoes.



TWO: Leads are Evil

And another from narrioch (I wonder why I don’t meet so many… characters). Two bulked-up guys walking a Chihuahua (!) stopped her as she walked Gigi along the street. One of them proceeded to tell her how wrong it was to walk a dog on a leash, and started trying to tug at the leash to encourage her to set Gigi free. He said that he was an authority on dog ownership because he had previously owned a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. What happened to the Staffy? It ran off one day whilst on a walk and never came back.


THREE: Your Dog is Rabid
One of many, many ‘unleashed dog’ stories. Whilst out in the park, we were all happily playing a game of catch (or search and destroy as Gigi plays it) and saw a huge, mouth-frothing Rottweiler mix pelting toward us at the speed of sound. Gigi wasn’t too worried, but the dog leapt all over her, slamming her onto the ground – we tried to lead her away, but the Rottie kept on coming. The owner was in view about 500 feet away, sitting on a park bench heavy-petting his girlfriend with his legs spread wide open as if he just lost his horse. Rather than getting up and trying to remove his dog, or at least asking if we minded the dog’s presence, he just sat on the bench and continually hollered his dog’s name at five second intervals for several minutes, to no avail. Eventually the dog got bored and wandered off, so we started up our game again. Rottie came galloping back, stole the ball we were throwing and took it back to Roy Rogers, who thought this was totally hilarious and threw the ball for him a few times before whistling at us and threwing the ball back towards us. Okay, it was only a tennis ball, but… words fail me.

FOUR: Your Dog is the Devil

Another unleashed dog one; a snappy, growly rat-dog leapt on Gigi as we were walking and tried to bite the bejeezus out of her. It might have been smaller than a handbag but it was a nasty bastard (not the dog’s fault, though). Did the dog’s owner intervene? No.. she stood back and watched while Gigi got attacked, narrioch got scratched legs and I grabbed the rat as soon as I could and pushed it back toward her. We asked her for an apology and told her that her dog should be on a leash, but all we got in response was that it was our fault. Not sure how she worked that one out.