Traditional Marriage (revised edition)

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2013 by Miche Tagged: , , ,


In the debate – or what passes for debate – about marriage equality, on both sides of the Irish border, a lot of breath is being wasted in re-enactments of civil liberties battles already won and lost. Some of the opponents of marriage reform are opposed to homosexuality itself, and would like to turn back the clock to a time when gay people had the decency to live out their lives in fear, shame and concealment, so that the rest of the world could pretend they weren’t there.

Those people can’t really be argued with in any constructive way. As soon as you try, they whizz about like Daleks shouting <LEV-IT-I-CUS!> or <AD-AM-AND-STEEEEEEVE!> and you just have to walk away.

They will never be persuaded. But they can be outvoted. And to do that, we might well need the help of what I’ll call the sympathetic objectors – the people whose views might be expressed thus:

I have no quarrel with gay people. I totally accept that your sexuality is different from mine. I respect your right to live your life, and love who you love, and I oppose discrimination against you. But I think it’s a step too far to ask for a redefinition of marriage: the centuries-old institution of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

If that’s you, I have some observations to make. They’re not original, but they might be worth considering.

When people talk of “traditional marriage” they are, I think, talking of a bond freely entered into by two people who are equals. That’s actually a very modern idea.

For centuries, in the great institution of traditional marriage, a husband became the possessor of his wife’s property. The line in the marriage vows: “With all my worldly goods I thee endow” was a monstrous hypocrisy. A wife had her paraphernalia – her clothes and her jewellery and various bits and bobs that she could dispose of as she saw fit – but that was all.

Indeed, for centuries, in the great institution of traditional marriage, a husband was the possessor of his wife and any children. He could SELL THEM.

For centuries, in the great institution of traditional marriage, it was almost impossible to escape from a marriage that had broken down. A woman who fled from an intolerable marriage could not hope to have custody of her children.

All of those things have changed. And the trend has always been towards greater justice, equality, fairness. Society’s norms and expectations change faster than institutions can keep up. But every now and then those institutions are revised, reformed, redefined to bring them in line with what people want, need and expect.

So. Yes, extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples is a significant reform. But not the first or the greatest. Just another step in the right direction.



Mike Moloney

In Life & Stuff on April 23, 2013 by Miche

I remember the last time I saw Mike Moloney. It was on the Dublin Road – he was walking south towards Shaftesbury Square, I was heading north towards the City Hall – and we didn’t stop to have a chat. But I walked on feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit happier. He was a good man, Mike. Just seeing him put a spring in your step.

Like so many in this town today, I feel adrift, nonplussed. As if someone told me Shaftesbury Square wasn’t there any more, or the City Hall fell down.

I remember one time we did have a chat, in the back bar of the Errigle, years ago. He wasn’t long back from Australia, and he told me he’d been there when 9/11 happened, and that he’d felt a pang of longing to be in Belfast. Why? “For the jokes, Miche. I wanted to be here for the jokes.”

Well, Mike, I know you loved our gallows humour but I’m afraid I’ve let you down. I’ve racked my brain to think of a joke. There aren’t any.

I remember the first time I met him. I was a young scared actor doing Shakespeare for the first time, and I had to dance on stilts. I couldn’t have wished for a more patient and kindly teacher. He talked me through it, walked me through it, reassured and encouraged me. And as I progressed from tentative to confident, he shared my pleasure in discovering that I could, indeed, do that thing I’d been afraid to try. A proper teacher, that man.

You walk around Belfast and, now and again, get a glimpse of those big yellow cranes. I think I’ll always half expect to turn a corner and see Mike in his Drizabone coat and hat, and nod hello, and walk on with a spring in my step.


Cruelty to royals

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2012 by Miche

Sooner or later, a child (not yet born, but whose conception is front page news) will be taken aside and given The Talk.

Not the “birds and bees” talk. Not the “While you are living under one of one’s roofs you will abide by one’s rules” talk. Not even (or at least not only) the “For god’s sake be careful what you do when there might be cameras about – don’t be like your uncle Harry” talk. No, it will be the “You were chosen by destiny to be the nation’s sovereign some day” talk.

Poor kid. Mama or papa, or grandpapa or great-grandmama, or Explainer Pursuivant or some other lackey, will sit it down and tell it the unpleasant truths.

“You will be head of the Church of England, so you’ll have to believe in God. No, let me rephrase that: you’ll have to profess a belief in God, and attend religious worship every Sunday until you die. You can be a secret atheist, like half the bishops in the C of E, but you must never breathe a word of it. Not even to a Dimbleby.

“The good news is that you can now marry a Catholic. You can’t be one, but you can marry one. Indeed you can marry anyone you like, subject to approval and vetting. The bad news is that you have to marry and have at least two children. No, you don’t have a choice.

“What do you mean, ‘What if I grow up to be gay’? Not an option. If you had an older brother or sister, that might be OK so long as you were discreet and took care to breed. But then if you had an older brother or sister you wouldn’t accede to the throne. Swings and rindabites.

“Everyone you meet will have formed an opinion about you beforehand. They might love you or hate you, but nobody will ever judge you on your own merits. On the plus side, you’ll definitely get into Cambridge. Or St Andrews, or Aberystwyth, or wherever we decide you’ll go. Oh, yes, you’ll need to learn a bit of Welsh.

“You’ll serve in the Navy, of course. Oh yes you will.

“‘Choice’? Why do you keep using that word? Take my word for it, the only choice you’ll ever make is whether to have jam or marmalade.”

Hereditary monarchy is absurd, but it is also cruelty to children.


Flaunting it

In Life & Stuff on June 17, 2012 by Miche Tagged: ,

“They’re out on the streets! …Flaunting! Flaunting this deviant practice!… We’re coming down with gay parades, for goodness’ sake.”

I’m not going to go off on a rant about Lord Maginnis’s Radio Ulster appearances lately. The fallacy of his “rung of the ladder” argument is obvious, as is the hypocrisy of saying “I respect…” a group of people he repeatedly called “deviant” and “unnatural.” If there’s a coherent case to make that marriage equality would undermine civil life, he was unable to present it. I just want to say a word or two about flaunting.

"Muppets" at the marriage equality march, Dublin 2011

I’ve just been to Tesco (don’t judge me). There were lots of different-sex couples doing their shopping, bickering gently about which cereal to get, giving their kids a ride in a trolley, one couple absent-mindedly holding hands as they looked at televisions. Heterosexual and not caring who knows it. Is that “flaunting?”

Sit down round a table with a group of men who don’t know each other well, and within ten minutes each will have revealed his orientation. He’ll mention his wife or girlfriend, comment on the shaggability of a female pop star, or make sure his admiration of some footballer is not misconstrued: “I bloody love him – not in that way, like!” There may be an element of insecurity sometimes – a need to assert masculinity, which is erroneously equated with heterosexuality – but mostly it’s just what happens when people talk. We reveal things about our lives, looking for common interests and common ground. Our partners and our orientation are likely to be revealed unless we’re being careful not to. If there’s an exception at the table, it’s likely to be a shy gay/bi guy who hasn’t yet worked out whether he’s going to be welcomed.

I never wander round Tesco and think “Look at all these people flaunting.” I never sit at that table and think “Why oh why do they have to harp on about being straight? Do they have shove it in my face?”

Belfast Pride, 2011

As for the Pride parades with which Northern Ireland is “coming down” – one a year in Belfast and one in Derry, out of hundreds of marches every year – of course they are part protest, part celebration, part campaign and part flaunt. I suppose there’ll be no need for them when we’re equal, when we’re not made to sit at the back of the bus. When we know our young LGBT friends are able to speak about who they are as matter-of-factly as anyone else, we won’t need to make a noise about it once a year. Maginnis may yearn for simpler times when men went out to work, women stayed at home and made traybakes, and homosexuals stayed furtive and lonely (or at least took the boat to England), but we’re going to carry on flaunting.

Dublin 2011: "I have a sign."


To Margret, with best wishes, Sgt. Ham

In Books, Words on April 29, 2012 by Miche


First, read this, by @BellJarred. It struck a spark with me. There’s a lot about ebooks that I love: I carry Chambers Dictionary and all of Shakespeare in my pocket every day, plus a hundred-odd texts I’ve bought from Amazon or Apple, but I retain a fondness for those physical objects called books.

BellJarred writes: “Some of my books are coffee stained and haggard because they have been on a rough journey across the world. They hold wrappers of foreign sweets, postcards, leaves, train tickets and hastily written notes in the margins.”

I have bought books, from second-hand shops, that had German train tickets and Johannesburg boarding cards tucked into them. There was one that, halfway through, had a card sayng “I have lit a candle for you at Lourdes.”

The Luck of the Bodkins, by  P. G. Wodehouse, is an enjoyable and funny book. It has a great opening sentence: “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

But what I really love about my copy of this book is the dedication from Sgt. Ham to Margret.



In Me on July 30, 2011 by Miche

1991. I hear that there’s going to be a gay pride parade in Belfast. The first one ever in Northern Ireland. It’s a year or so since I left Belfast to live in Dublin (for better work opportunities, mostly, though I’ve been pleased to find that while homosexuality is technically still illegal in the republic, people are way more relaxed about it than in the black north). I’ve been on pride marches before, but not in Belfast.

I decide I want to be part of this march, so I take the train to my home town the day before. That night, there’s a fund-raising disco in the student’s union at Queen’s University. Over the course of the evening I keep meeting friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen in a year. I have the same conversation several times over:

“So, you going on the march tomorrow?”

“”Oh god no. I can’t go on the march. Somebody might see me.”

I’m crap at estimating crowd numbers, but I’d say there are a couple of hundred of us setting off on the Saturday afternoon. We’re nearly outnumbered by protesters from the Free Presbyterian church, and they certainly have more placards (and better hats).  One lone voice among the marchers cries “We were all made by the same god, you know!” but mostly we just grimly ignore them. They don’t follow us for long. Maybe they think they’ve made their point, or maybe they need to take their Leviticus placards to Marks & Spencer to protest against prawn sandwiches and cotton/polyester mix.

The press and TV cameras disappear pretty quickly too. They’ve got the shots of a couple of drag queens. Besides, the actual Queen is in Hillsborough today, so we’re not going to be the main story.

Royal Avenue. We’re just passing the Central Library, and among a family of shoppers going in the opposite direction is a girl of about 12 or 13. She sees the banners and says “GAY!?” She is consumed by laughter. Gay people don’t occur in Belfast! They’re only on the television! And now there are people walking down Royal Avenue – plain people, handsome people, old people and young people – claiming to be gay! Her uninhibited laughter is, to be honest, the only piece of gaiety I’ll see that day.

And everybody else? Well, they’re ignoring us. As I walk along, on this march that might better be called a trudge, I keep my eyes on the passers-by. Nobody meets my eye. Their glances bounce off the banners, and the Pride teeshirts some of us are wearing, and focus on the middle distance. They are willing us not to be there. They have decided not to have seen us, or at least not to be seen to have seen us.

I’m walking up the middle of the road, and I’ve never been more invisible in my life.

March over, I head back to my parents’ house to pack and go back to Dublin. But I’m keen to see how the event was reported, so I turn on the BBC Northern Ireland evening news. It’s all about yer actual Queen, of course. I know we’re going to get less than a minute out of a ten-minute bulletin. Are we just going to be an “and finally” with a shot of a drag queen and a quick soundbite from one of the organisers?

We’re not mentioned. Not at all. The people at BBC NI news and current affairs have decided that the first ever gay pride march in Belfast isn’t news.

2011: I’m going to march today. I don’t always: did last year, didn’t the year before. For one thing, they don’t need me to make up the numbers. My presence or absence won’t be noticed. I’m going today for selfish reasons, really. I’ll enjoy not being invisible. I’ll enjoy the contrast between that dismal ignored trudge of twenty years ago and the more celebratory aspect of Pride today.

There will be straight people on the march, too: some there because they want to support their gay siblings, or children, or parents; some because… well, because they just know that fair is fair, and that equality is A Good Thing. And that’s the biggest difference between 1991 and now. Straight people’s support for LGBT equality is, I think, the biggest social change I’ve seen in my adult life. It took the support of straight people to make civil partnerships possible (not enough, but that’s a subject for another time) and to pass anti-discrimination legislation. But that change in attitude on the part of teh straights happened because of the gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people who decided that they would, for example, walk up Royal Avenue and Great Victoria Street and not care who saw them. Pride.

I have such a vivid picture in my mind of that girl reduced to breathless laughter at the sight of gay people on a Belfast street. She must be in her thirties now. I’ll bet she has a gay friend or two. Or six. Maybe she now knows that a brother or a cousin or an aunt is gay. She’s probably OK with it: most people are. I’ll think about her when I march today.


A few words about Elisabeth Sladen and Sarah Jane Smith

In Doctor Who on April 20, 2011 by Miche

I feel as if I’ve lost a friend. That’s preposterous and presumptuous of me, because I never met Elisabeth Sladen, and only “know” her through her acting: almost exclusively in the role of Sarah Jane Smith (though she was also delightful as a witty, pretty Lilliputian in a BBC serial derived from Gulliver’s Travels.)

When Lis Sladen arrived in Doctor Who, the stereotype of the “Dr Who girl” or “assistant” was – not entirely fairly – of a miniskirted screamer. As Sarah Jane Smith, Sladen didn’t scream a lot. Instead she did something that I don’t recall anyone else in Who doing so well: she gave a committed and convincing performance of someone who is scared out of her mind but determined NOT to scream. She whimpered, she gulped for air, and she kept on doing whatever it was that had to be done. When the peril is represented by a man in a rubber suit, it’s all the more important for the actor to commit to the emotional reality of the scene. She delivered every time. Sarah Jane Smith was not fearless, but she was courageous. Also determined, curious, loyal…

When Sladen returned to Doctor Who in School Reunion, I would be lying if I said I was on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t sit down at all, so exciting was it to see her back. Older, of course, but there she was again. Still brave, still curious, still capable of demolishing the Doctor with a single word.


I’m not exactly in the age demographic for The Sarah Jane Adventures, but I watched and enjoyed it anyway. And how fabulous that there should be a kids’ show whose main character was an energetic, independent, smart woman of 60!

Tom Baker wrote: “Sarah Jane dead?  No, impossible!  Impossible.  Only last week I agreed to do six new audio adventures with her for Big Finish Productions.” How cool would that have been? So sad that she’s gone. So sad that never again will Matt Smith, or one of his successors, turn a corner and say, with pleased surprise:

“Hello, Sarah Jane!”