Article “Busker ‘almost there’ for an engagement ring”

Londoners and tourists spotted some unusual busking in Trafalgar Square on Sunday November 15.

People walking past could not resist tipping with admiration, since there was a little note on the ground stating “Saving for an engagement ring”.

The busker on Trafalgar Square

The bagpiper, who asked to hide his name for his fiancé, has been playing the traditional Scottish musical instrument for three years, and has been busking for an engagement ring whenever possible in his free time since the end of the summer. He says: “I’ve got my fingers crossed that my girlfriend doesn’t come walking by.” When he was asked whether he was prepared to propose to her once the ring was ready, he replied: “I’m almost there. Fingers crossed that I get there.”

A couple from Portugal, Ramiro Mendes and Sofia Dias, happened to see the bagpiper on their touristy day in London. Ramiro says: “I am also saving up for an engagement ring,” bringing a surprise to Sofia, who was listening to the bagpiper next to him. A passing Londoner, Emma Walker, says: “He is saving up for the right reason. Things are so expensive nowadays so why not? He can get away by the looks of it.”

Jewellery Shops on Hatton Garden see more people struggling to get engagement rings.

Muhammad Cimark from Aneeka Gems London says: “There was a time when people spent £5,000 easily. It’s not happening much at the moment. A customer last week took one year to save up for an engagement ring, and he spent £1,600. So nowadays people do need a long time to save up.” He sees customers coming to Hatton Garden area for cheaper rings. “More people are coming here than to Bond Street – the culture of paying for brand is dropping.”

Jacob Gertner from Hatton Diamonds Jewellers says: “More people are wanting smaller carats on engagement rings; they often ask for a ‘halo’, which are smaller diamonds surrounding the main diamond to make it look bigger.”

People are happy to support the bagpiper and it seems from their reactions they do feel his pain.

Article “Residents furious after riot”

The morning after the riot, in front of the derelict fire station

Lambeth residents revealed their built-up anger over an abandoned fire station after a riot that occurred on Halloween.

The riot happened on the night of 31 October, when the police confronted attendees of an annual Halloween party, ‘Scumoween’. It left local residents sleepless as it became violent over night.

The party took place at an abandoned fire station, owned by the London Fire Brigade. It is not the first time the building has seen illegal occupants – a group of squatters have taken over this place before, infuriating local residents.

A resident of Newport Street says: “I’m so glad the children were not out on the street during the riot. They keep saying for years that the building will be renovated for future use, but it doesn’t seem to be happening at all. We have an art gallery just around the corner and this is meant to be a civilised area.”

The morning after the riot; on Whitgift Street

The annual ‘Scumoween’ festivities saw this building amongst all derelict sites as a prime venue for this year. The party attendee from Surrey says: “It’s more exciting that way – in the past, it has been in abandoned warehouses and factories away from the residential area so that we don’t disturb neighbours. There are abandoned buildings everywhere in London. We are trying to make the most of it.”

“You would call a phone number given by a friend of a friend and an automated voice would tell us the venue. But you’d have to keep calling the number for updated information of venue, because police can track it down.”

It was by chance that the party this year chose this site as their venue. However, the local residents cannot deny the vulnerability of the derelict building in their area, and they are tired of dealing with the trouble caused by the site. The London Fire Brigade refused to comment.

The morning after the riot; on Whitgift Street

Scattered bits of glasses were seen on neighbours’ streets the next morning – bikers carried their bikes instead of riding them, and morning runners took a different route only to find a Mercedes-Benz’s back-window smashed into pieces.

Review “Deep Trash: The Animal Farm”

Deep Trash: The Animal Farm organised by CUNTemporary | 24 October 2015

Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

If you have ever wondered in a modern art museum, “What is going on inside those artists’ heads?” this event would have definitely given you some answers.

I look back on the surreal experience I had that night, and I have to keep telling myself that it was not a dream…or a nightmare. A nightmare can be eye-opening for sure. You get a massive shock just because it is your first time. Who could have imagined that I would end up seeing a fully naked man dancing on the stage?

Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

One step inside the Benthal Green Working Men’s Club, I felt like I stepped into a backstage of a circus. People with four breasts, horse heads, unicorn horns, people with their bottom showing, people with colourful frizzy hair that takes up more than their body – my eyes were confused as to what to look at. I certainly did not know whether it was fine to say, “Oh, that’s a lovely outfit!” because I wasn’t sure if it was meant to look lovely or scary. Then you hear a happy scream from the corridor, because a person won a butt plug at a hook-a-duck game… no, a “Hooker-duck” game – an interactive artwork aimed to raise awareness of prostitution laws.

The event was comprised of seven art performances, five video screenings, artworks, and dancing. It was an event based on the theme of Orwell’s Animal Farm, opening up conversations on gender and animal rights.

Vera Boitcova performing “The Loneliest Whale, or Unicorns and other Animals that don’t exist” | Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

First, let me talk about my favourite performance of the night by Vera Boitcova. Dressed up as a unicorn, she talks about her friends Whale, Unicorn, and a mixed breed of Whale and Unicorn. What they all have in common is that they were socially ostracised because of their gender status. Based on a saying in Russia: “Lesbians are like Unicorns – they don’t exist”, the performance tells experience of being categorised as socially unfit.  Screening a video clip of a protest on her body was effective and both visually calming and powerful.

Kirsty Mckenzie performing “Cat Lady” | Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

For the rest of the performances, I don’t know which one was most unique:

1) the Cat Lady, the artist herself, being in love with cats and allergic to cats at the same time, starting acting as a cat and starts munching on cat food
2) a massive egg with legs, singing on the stage, that later becomes a chicken
3) an almost completely naked woman eating a roast chicken hanging from her body and spitting on her arm to make a sticker tattoo work
4) a pig headed man with a little cloth just to cover his privates, dancing while pouring ketchup and mayonnaise and smudging his entire body – at least, he was giving sausages out to people before he got completely naked!

I also enjoyed the artworks, especially some of the photographs and paintings. But more than that, I had fun seeing the variety of responses by the audience. Some were absolutely loving them all and seemed like they were enjoying being part of everything; some were absolutely confused at what they were seeing. Among the latter was a family dad who happened to find out about the event after he entered the circus. Although he seemed to be disturbed at what he was seeing, we were all bursting into laughter at the surreal night.

This strange dream can be a once in a lifetime experience, but it was one worth experiencing.

Edythe Wooley performing “Your Mother’s Milk Runs Pink” | Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

Thanks to:
Deep Trash (‘Like’ it to get updates for future events!)

*Featured/thumbnail image: Gareth Chambers performing “Dick/Glitter Pig: the Dance of Love”; Thomas Hensher © 2015, courtesy of Cuntemporary

Review “The Sound Man – screening and Q&A”

“The Sound Man” (27mins) directed by Chip Duncan.
Q&A by Abdul Rahman Ramadhan (the soundman), Salim Amin, and Patrick Muiruri

The documentary, the Sound Man, is a story of a 62 year old professional soundman called Abdul Rahman Ramadhan who has witnessed and recorded the sound of crisis including Rwandan genocide, famine and revolution in Ethiopia, civil war in Sudan, the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, and tribal conflicts in Kenya. He has been working for more than thirty-five years with journalists, some of whom have been killed during their recording on the field. Abdul speaks his experience of what is it like to be a soundman and a witness of a scene at frontline.

The film opens its scene with the sound of a train going through a narrow way of slum of Nairobi, Kenya, where Abdul grew up. The story is told by Abdul himself, a journalist/producer Salim Amin, a journalist/producer Patrick Muiruri, and Abdul’s wife – members of a close professional or family relationship with Abdul. The documentary tells more than the words spoken as the story is being told with the archival footages they took. Some of them are so brutal you want to cover your eyes yet a scene that is invaluable. The duration of the documentary also tells us how a documentary film does not necessarily have to be three hour long to tell a story. Maybe it is more powerful when it is short and direct.

A line, “Sleep among the dead bodies of the soldiers so we don’t get spotted and killed,” describes the frontline where they can be regarded as enemy at any moment. At Q&A, Patrick Muiruri says that they were once arrested by helping a person on the street. Even giving a hand to a person is a risk to them, since it might appear that they are taking the side of the group the person belongs to. “How much you get involved in the story as a journalist is a very difficult question,” Muiruri says.

It is their recorded sounds and images from frontline that we see on media in the West, but the Western media has always had power to choose what footage to show on their screen. The footage of US armies’ atrocities during their intervention for example, was declined by the Western media. Since their footages had been mainly for the use of outside media, they say that their task now is to deliver news towards their own countries’ audience as well. As a chairman of Africa 24, Salim Amin says “I believe our work has an educational purpose. Along with that, I want to send out positive image of Africa both within and outside the continent.” Meanwhile, Abdul answers to the question why he keeps going back to frontline, “there are more stories to be told,” showing his enthusiasm of continue being a soundman. It is their words filled with enthusiasm that made the audience excited for their future journey. I was very lucky to be part of this audience.


*Featured/thumbnail image courtesy of ©, some rights reserved

St Andrews Foreign Affairs Review “Ebola: Challenges to Media”

Read “Ebola: Challenges to Media” at Foreign Affairs Review website.

*Featured/thumbnail image courtesy of UNMEER © 2014, some rights reserved

While Ebola has been a recurrent headline on media for months, it poses a challenge to media in terms of their content and framing of the topic. A number of online news, paper press and cable channels have been criticised for their fear-mongering coverage: FOX broadcasted that Ebola was soon to become airborne without evidence to support the claim;  CNN report questioned whether Ebola could be considered as the “ISIS of biological agents”. Both examples are only few amongst many that asked for the audience’s fear through claims that lack substantive evidence. As a result, the contradiction between public opinion and medicals’ opinion became apparent in US. A Harvard School of Public Health poll (August 21) demonstrated that the public had an inaccurate understanding of how easily Ebola can spread. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll (September 29 – October 5) moreover suggested that the more people follow the outbreak, the more inaccurate information they are likely to hold. Both results showed the close link of public opinion with media and the necessity for more accurate information.

Image courtesy of UNMEER © 2014, some rights reserved

Ebola healthcare workers are one of the victims of the media coverage. In addition to the quarantine policy debates, the wide-spreading fear and misconceptions generated by media has further contributed to stigmatizing and discouraging healthcare professionals and volunteers to West Africa that has been suffering from a medical staff shortage. The lack of medical staff has been reported from places such as Kerry Town in the Freetown district where 60 beds out of 80 were left unoccupied due to lack of staff. Local newspaper in Sierra Leone did not make the situation better for existing staff with the headline of “Why are British here? To end Ebola, or party?” The paper read, “While their American counterparts are working hard to end Ebola in Liberia, our so-called colonial masters are busy living the life of Riley”, which was a baseless claim that British officials later denied. The fact that Ebola responsibilities are distributed according to past colonial divides was emphasised and expressed in local media in a way that enabled the spread of mistrust for medical staff among the locals. Ebola healthcare workers in West Africa were named as TIME’s “Person of the Year 2014”, for their “sacrificing and saving”, and have been praised publicly by state leaders. Despite all the efforts of encouraging more healthcare volunteers to West Africa, media have not always acted in their favor.

The divide of the West and West Africa has also been aggravated by the media, discouraging the cooperation between both parts. False image was delivered by Newsweek when its cover page was filled with a picture of chimpanzee with the title of “A Backdoor to Ebola: Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark A U.S. Epidemic”, which was criticized as an act of racism and ‘othering’. Othering is an act of separating ‘us’ and ‘them’ – dividing the people into familiar and unfamiliar, people around us and people far away, people without Ebola and people with Ebola – often making communication and cooperation harder. This was the case with AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when “infected children were barred from schools and some health professionals wouldn’t provide care”, notes Richard E. Besser in The Washington Post, describing how isolation of people dealing with Ebola resembles with isolation of people who dealt with AIDS.

Local news reports in West Africa, too, has a capacity to deprive the possibility of cooperation. Daily Observer, one of the largest newspapers in Liberia speculated that Ebola outbreak is the product of the US Department of Defense being introduced by United Nations. For Liberia, a destination for a number of American healthcare staff, this news has meant that they have to make an effort of regaining trusts. Soon after, this ethical issue of media attracted attention of the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson, who requested to the national legislature for enhanced power to control false media reports, which sparked a national debate over media ethics and press freedom in the country.

While many media attracted criticisms over their media ethics, there are also attempts of media that have been praised. BBC utilised a mobile phone application called WhatsApp, an application that is widely used by locals in West Africa, in order to provide people with multi-lingual health alerts and updates. Ebola Deeply – a new single-issue website – has also received international approvals, which has been providing audience with an in-depth stories including social, economic and medical aspects. It was formed by Lara Setrakian who also founded Syria Deeply and the parent site News Deeply in 2012. This movement has introduced a new form of news coverage. With experts on the field, Ebola Deeply has taken a role of organising information instead of overloading with unreliable information.

It was in late July when two Americans in Liberia were reported to be infected by Ebola. This was the moment when the American media took notice followed by the British media. It might be inevitable that the media attention depends on the proximity to their national people, and on how ‘us’ are close to ‘them’. However, we must know that the issue is still ongoing despite the fluctuating media attention. Over 7500 deaths have been reported to WHO and is expecting to grow. The media has brought about epidemic of ignorance, resulting in the spread of baseless fear. This is not a new issue: the same problem was experienced at the outbreak of 2009 epidemic known as swine flu. It is media’s responsibility to inform reliable information and also to explore what is not known in order to avoid unnecessary spread of fear. However, when media acts irresponsibly, the audience’s critical viewpoint becomes crucial. With social media, it is becoming easier for the audience to share news stories or even to become a storyteller. It is a fine line between alerting potential issues and encouraging danger and fear, and its acknowledgment is becoming more necessary for both audience and the media.

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