Monday, 23 December 2013

The Union Jack

I was at home visiting my mother in Hampshire this weekend and noticed several people in her area had put up 15 foot flag poles with Union Jacks* on them.  To put it in geographic/social context: it's an affluent, middle class area: a massive suburban sprawl of massively overpriced late 60s bungalows that always returns a Tory MP with a huge majority.  It was Thatcher heartland, though since the "glory days" of the 80s I've noticed the area looking a lot more down at heel than it once did.

The sight of the flags (there were several in short distance of each other) evoked a feeling of mild repulsion in me.  "Mild repulsion" is quite a strong reaction.  Why?  Well, I'm afraid I just don't believe someone goes to the length and expense of putting up a 15 foot permanent flagpole in their garden unless they want to send out a very deliberate message.  It's not, in my opinion, and in this context, a neutral message.  It makes me think, rightly or wrongly that a xenophobe or racist lives in the house.

Union Jack Flying Outside Bungalow

What's Wrong with Our Flag?

Absolutely nothing, per se.  It's an attractive, eye-catching design.  Subjectively it's much more pleasant than say Albania's, which is quite rubbish.  The colours clash on that one.  The Union Jack looks great on British Airways tail-fins.  It looks lovely emblazoned on the Team GB Olympic uniform.  It looks even better on Tom Daley's trunks.  Yes, there's a mixed colonial past associated with it, which I understand evokes reactions, but not having experienced this time myself that aspect is pretty much absent for me.  It's more recent general associations for me are connected to "Cool Britannia".

But what matters is the context.  A Union Jack displayed on top of a building in Whitehall is what you expect and I've absolutely no issue with it.  During the Diamond Jubilee, I put up Union Jack bunting outside my home: I remember thinking that the village decked out like this was a fun, joyful display of celebration.   Likewise, a St George's flag flying on the church in the village is part of our landscape and tradition.  When you see a car bedecked in them with aggressive, chanting football fans inside the flag carries a different meaning.  It's not a simple case of I hate the flag: it's about the context and the intent of the display.

Jubilee Bunting. Yes, I was one of THOSE people

We are not a country, like say Switzerland, Denmark or Sweden, where national flags are to be seen routinely all over the country on private properties.   Because there are so many of them there you don't tend to make any sort of judgement about the people flying them.  It's part of the national culture.  Here they are a rarity.  I just cannot imagine any middle of the road person who realises the benefits that immigration brings with it hoisting a bloody great Union Jack up in their front garden.   That covers Labour supporters, Tory supporters and people of all social backgrounds.

I was born in this country, I am British, I am white, I am blond haired and blue eyed.  My father served 23 years in the army and fought in 3 armed conflicts.  My brother was in the army.  My grandfather served in the Boer War, First World War, and in the home guard during the Second World War.   Yet I found these flags outside people's houses mildly threatening and mildly aggressive.  They say to me "we don't want anyone who's not like us around here".   It makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

That's my view.  I might be right about the flag fliers' motives or I might be wrong, but I know I'm not alone in it.  The National Front and the BNP have permanently sullied the flag of this country and it's a rare occasion (such as the Diamond Jubilee or on top of a government building) when it carries neutral associations.  Anyone growing up in the 70s remembers the chant "There ain't no black in the Union Jack".  It's the far right that has created this situation, not me.

UKIP Pile On

I therefore tweeted something this weekend along the lines of "when I see a Union Jack outside a house, I wonder if it's UKIP or BNP who lives there". 

Any regular user of Twitter knows that there's a body of UKIP fanatics who have a permanent search out against their beloved party, as well as any mention of Nigel Führage's name.   Within moments a conversation I was having with a friend was interrupted and I was hit with this charming invitation to his 1200 followers to send me abuse:

True to form, and confirming to me in large part everything I'd assumed about the type of people who do put these flag poles up in their gardens, I was called "scum", told that I was "everything that's wrong with this country", "obv. NOT British", that if I object to flying my own flag I should "go home"; and if I don't like it it, I knew "where the exit is" etc.

One guy said he flew the Union Jack to show his support for a "relative" serving his country.   Funny enough, my Father, (a Tory) who actually fought for this country and risked his life, didn't feel the need to shove a bloody great flag pole up in our front garden.  I'm actually sure would have found it unbearably crass.  Likewise, he was the last person to become a fascist about people wearing or not wearing poppies around Remembrance Sunday. 

Nevertheless, despite my army background, I was now a traitor who should leave the country for making a judgement about a Union Jack outside a bungalow.

Snobbish Judgements

Am I a snob for tweeting what I did?  I don't think there's any inherent link between someone's social background, and whether they want to display the British or English flag outside their house.  There are stacks of both working and middle-class people who would agree that nationalism has been a negative force in recent history.  This is about the negative connotations around national symbols that has been created by the far right.  It has absolutely nothing to do with class.  It has nothing to do with being part of a "metropolitan elite" or anything else.  It's about seeing a symbol and realising that context colours our reaction to it and makes us reach judgements. 

These people have a perfect right to display the Union Jack in their front garden: I also have a perfect right to feel uncomfortable and to reach negative judgements about them.  I'll continue to do so.

* I know that technically it's a Union Flag, not a Union Jack. But whatevs, it's what everyone calls it and knows it as.  It sounds tediously pretentious to call it anything other than the Union Jack in normal speech.  So there.


It's been a super busy week for me here on the Lava Rock, pretty much all good stuff. For starters, I was on BBC World Service again last Tuesday. I was sitting in my kitchen nursing a rare cold brought home by my son from school and feeling a bit blue the way colds make you do, when an unlisted number called. I don't know who I thought it would be, but definitely not a producer from an international radio program! She introduced herself and asked if I'd be willing to go live on World Have Your Say in two hours' time, and I said yes.
The next two hours were spent getting my voice smoothed out  with tea and lozenges, and then the Skype call from them came in and we went live. You can hear the episode, which focused on women in politics, here (I'm introduced at about 10 minutes in.)

Secondly, my first shipment of my book 88 arrived last Thursday, and it's more beautiful than I dared to hope. I have to admit that I'm in love with how it came out. Whether readers will love the content isn't up to me, but I hope that most people will at least find something that inspires them inside. 

And then there's been the normal holiday meet and greet, with those who are leaving the city for the holidays being replaced with those coming home to celebrate with family and friends. Both of my children are with their fathers this Jól, one in London-town and the other in Akureyri, so it's just my parents and I for our traditional hamborgarahryggur (which I found translated as 'smoked pork rack' - not such a sexy name, but very delicious!) This will only be my second Christmas without my kids around, but they have their own siblings on their fathers' sides to spend the holidays with (my daughter has two little sisters, and my son has two little brothers!) so of course I'm way happier for them than I am sad for me. 

Finally for this post, I had promised on the Facebook fanpage to share photos of the bus ride that Óðinn (my son) and I went on last week. He wanted to take a random ride somewhere, so we walked down to Lækjargata and jumped on the first bus that came up, Line 13 into Seltjarnarnes and up past Kringlan. It was actually a very cool little adventure, and the bus driver was so sweet and helpful to eveyone. Ticket prices have gone up since I last rode (350 krónur for everyone) but he gave me a discount for Óðinn, which he really didn't have to do. I grabbed this cool shot along the ride. 

Oh, and tonight is Þorláksmessa, which I'll let this older post explain. We've had great weather these past few days which means that downtown filled up with suburbanites over the weekend, and I think the locals boutiques and stores must have done great business. We are, though, expecting a storm in this evening (an arm of the Canadian ice storm system?) which might mean that the tradition of coming into town for last minute shopping could be hindered a bit this year. 

P.s. Please be careful out there this holiday, and remember to hug the ones you're with! 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Smooth Radio

When I was in Glasgow, I used to play Fly FM music online. Then, I discovered Smooth Radio which was a UK radio and I have been listening to it eversince. U get to choose which part of UK u want to listen to and I usually choose 'Central Scotland'. Smooth radio plays similar songs to Lite & Easy but there are less advertisements on Smooth radio. Get the app now!

Listening to Smooth radio brings back memories of Glasgow when the daily news, weather report or traffic report comes up :)

Friday, 13 December 2013

Menthol crystal for nose block/ sinus

Eversince returning from Glasgow, I have been suffering with a blocked nose due to allergy to temperature change. Nasal sprays worked for awhile but I did not want to continue taking it forever. The gp also said once I stop taking the spray, my mucus secretion will be higher.

This week I was down with a fever and a really bad, painful sore throat. It also does not help that the nose decides to be blocked too. So, sleeping at night can be a hassle because I have to breathe through my mouth, which makes my throat hurts more.

The gp recommended some allergy tablets and also menthol crystal for my blocked nose. They really look like crystals!

I was told to put a few pieces of me thol crystals into hot water in a cup and breathe from it. Being my first time, putting one or two tiny crystals didnt feel like it would work. So, I added five more! When I added the hot water and inhaled the steam, woosh it went straight up my nostrils. It felt like i was having a mint sweet. It was very minty and when the steam gets into the eyes it hurts.

Miraculously, my nose was completely cleared in ten seconds. It was like magic.

But the cleared nose didnt last long. As I fell asleep my nose blocked again:( 

Will try a lower concentration of menthol tonight with more inhalation to see if it works.

Thursday, 12 December 2013



I met Keira on the last night of Airwaves and we pretty much bonded right away. Music does that, it brings people together. She showed me this soulful photo and we agreed that it was a beauty. I asked her to write about the story behind the shot, and here's what she had to say:

Standing near the front of the stage at Airwaves whilst renowned and Mercury Music nominated producer Jon Hopkins was performing, I was intrigued about the crowd’s response to his set. Hopkins, from the UK, who has previously worked with friends of mine including Kenny Anderson, clearly has an international presence, which he is still actively building. 
I took a moment here to capture the audience during his set in Harpa, Reykjavik, as he had this large mob in his palm, convinced that his gig is worth holding out for until the very end. At no point of this gig does it feel that the listeners are disappointed, and that to me is what is highlighted with this shot. The sheer intensity on the facial features on the gentleman to the right of centre, along with the powerful arm punching the air accurately depicts a chaotic gig which will no doubt see Hopkins back in this city yet again.

Keira, a Scottish music and book reviewer with a well-read blog (Always Read the Small Print) and strong Twitter presence, is one of those wonderful people (like a lot of you, dear readers!) who fell in love with our island and who intends to return as soon as she can. Iceland awaits!

As far as Icelandic music goes, I also ran across this excellent news: the Icelandic Music App just reached third place on Spotify! For all of you who love stuff like Of Monsters and Men, Ásgeir, Múm, Björk and so much more (including metal, folk, pop, jazz, to name a few genres), with 22,000 tracks to choose from you'll definitely find tones to suit your taste. And though there's been some controversy  about the platform, in my humble opinion anything that helps spread great musical sounds around the world should be given more than a a fair chance.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Colonialism and Homophobia

Today we discovered that the Supreme Court of India recriminalised gay sex ("sodomy") - a ruling which will have a potentially devastating effect on gay men in this country of 1.3 billion people. 

The Indian statute that prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" dates back to two years after the establishment of the Raj, namely 1860.  It is widely interpreted as referring to gay male sex.  My understanding is that lesbian sex continues to be ignored, as under Victorian British law - women are incapable of having "carnal intercourse" together.  The law has been criticised by Human Rights Watch to harass HIV activists, gay men and other LGBT groups.  It is in their view a "continuing threat to public health" as well as a violation of protections in India’s constitution for the rights to equality and to personal liberty.

The Indian Supreme Court

Before British colonisation there were differing, often far more ambivalent views towards homosexuality in India.  The obvious example of the Karma Sutra shows a very inclusive relationship towards all aspects of human sexuality.  This is a common theme in many countries around the world that became part of the Empire, specifically including Africa.  The outlawing of consensual same-sex male acts was an export of the British, along with their desire to Christianise indigenous populations.

I don't think the preceding paragraph is too controversial.  The question is then to what extent, if any, state sponsored homophobia today can be seen as a lasting legacy of British rule.  The Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation carried out a report in 2011 that identified some striking facts:
  • There is "state sponsored" homophobia in 40% of nations worldwide
  • Gay sex is illegal in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth nations (with India now included)
  • Non-Commonwealth states where gay sex is illegal make up just 24.5% of the total
  • So, as Kaleidoscope puts it "the Commonwealth has a big problem"
France legalised gay sex in 1791.  The Netherlands did so in 1811.  The experience of countries which were part of the French or Dutch empires is markedly different to those under British rule.  That is not to say that homophobia does not exist in those places - of course it does to some extent - or that it the British empire was the sole cause of it: consider, for example, Saudi Arabia.  But it is a fair, broad-brush generalisation to conclude that where the British were the imperial power, they brought with them legalised state sanctioned homophobia and this has clearly, by the numbers above, left a lasting legacy.

The brilliant historian and writer, Alex von Tunzelmann, put it extremely succinctly for me this morning - this is in her opinion an example of "internalised colonialism":

Earlier today Sunny Hundal picked up on a tweet of mine that quoted from the Guardian report of the Kaleidoscope report and commented that:

Note the "partly".  No one is saying that today's decision in 2013 is the exclusive fault of Britain today.  The judges were the ones who made their decision today - nobody else - and successive parliamentarians in India since 1947 who decided not to decriminalise gay sex are the ones who are responsible for the law still being on the books.  Sunny was, however, quite rightly pointing out that the British left behind a cultural legacy that continues.  The legacy of homophobia that was exported under the long period of Empire still shape attitudes and affects people.  I really don't see what is so contentious about that.

Louise Mensch apparently disagrees - along with various other right wingers who then joined in the fun.  I'm puzzled why this should evoke such a reaction - presumably it's somehow unpatriotic or offensive to suggest that Britain did some bad things and the effects of these linger on. 
Louise incidentally clearly missed the "partly" when she read Sunny's tweet. 

In response, I asked Louise whether she believed colonialism had left behind any positive enduring legacy anywhere.  Clearly it has: right wingers are normally ever so keen to point out the railways, education, infrastructure, church building and all that jolly stuff that Empire brought with it.   Yet Louise didn't answer.  I wonder why.  Perhaps it was because she knew she'd fall right into the trap of admitting that if it's possible and valid to praise previous governments for the legacy they've left behind, then one can also "blame" them.  It's two sides of the same coin.  Either Empire left some kind of mark that endures to a greater or lesser extent today, or it didn't.

It's fairly clear to me that decades, and sometimes hundreds of years, of Empire leaves a cultural legacy on a nation and on a people.  Some of this will be positive, some of it will be negative.  In the time since independence nations will make their own decisions and go their own way.  But to dismiss out of hand the finding that homosexuality is illegal in 42 of 53 Commonwealth states, and to fail to see any causation when it was Britain that introduced these laws is just a bit baffling to me.  

So to conclude, yes, Britain has moved on and I'm tremendously proud it has done so.  What it should be doing now is to speak positively to seek to influence its fellow member states in the Commonwealth to realise that what was considered acceptable in 1860 is not in 2013.  We - in part - created this mess.  I'd like to see us attempt to help clear it up, if that is at all possible.



Monday, 9 December 2013


This is my book ~.~ It's a love letter to my favorite island home, written over the course of 88 days in Reykjavik, Iceland, during one glorious and apocalyptic autumn season.

I've known for years that I would write it in 2012, starting on my birthday, but I didn't really understand how much it would mean to me. I'd like to share with you all, and give you the chance to purchase your own copy via the Blurb Online Bookstore.

Since I was 17 I've known that I have the same birthday as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that we're both born in the Year of the Monkey, he in 1896, me in 1968. I knew that he died far too young of alcoholism, at age 44, and so decided that I'd try starting up where he left off and begin to write with dedication at that same age.

A few years ago I discovered something that frankly boggled me: F. Scott passed away on December 21st, 1940, at 44 years and 88 days old. It just so happened that I would turn 44 years and 88 days old on December 21st, 2012, the famous end day of the Mayan calendar. So a decision was made. I'd start writing on our birthday. And because he drank himself to death, I'd even try living a bit of his lifestyle while writing. So I had a plan from the start. But what I didn't account for were all the things that happened during those days, and how they were to influence how the story unfolded: life, death, sex... and love.

Buy yourself a copy and take the journey I took, experiencing the autumn season of a white girl living on a volcano who knew she was supposed to die.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


It's been an intense week* for our big little island, and because I try to keep this space more news-free than not it's been a bit of a challenge to imagine what to write. Too peppy a tone, and it would be an insult to all those here who have been affected by loss these past few days (loss of loved ones, of jobs, of privacy), while getting too deep and dour would dampen what we most need right now: hope.

I also wasn't so sure about a photo, so I took a walk around the neighborhood in -10°C weather last night for inspiration. We're having our first real cold snap of the season and there's dry crunchy snow covering pretty much everything, making for a beautiful winter-in-Reykjavik ambiance that we actually rarely get these days. Still, I was mostly just cold and hoping to find something groovy to photograph before my fingers went numb. Then I remembered the tree.

Located at the junction of Laufásvegur and Skothúsvegur, this 100 year-old Sycamore is covered in thousands of fairy lights and is mildly famous, with its own Instagram hashtag (#islenska) and all. I was pleasantly surprised with what I got, and more excited about this image than the full-view photo, which I'll post on our Facebook page.

There's something intense and alive about the shot, like lifeblood pulsing through veins, or like a neural network. And I think that's what we need to focus on now: our network of family and friends. Caring for the loved ones still in our lives and saying a sweet prayer for the ones who are gone. And we need to remember the heartbeat of our society, and let compassion and love flow through us, and forgiveness. It's how we'll heal ourselves, our national soul and, ultimately, our land.

*If you'd like to know more about what's been going on here, as usual I'll direct you to read the great reporting at both Grapevine and Iceland Review.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black

So the front page on the Sun is reporting that Tom's bf is the Hollywood screenwriter and director, Dustin Lance Black.  The rumours about the pair were already circulating back in October.  This very amusing and clever nudge-nudge piece reported it months ago.  Of course the first thing the Sun does is to emphasise that Dustin is 39 and Tom is 19.

All that tolerance and happiness for him couldn't last could it? Cue the homophobic subtext: gays are predatory cradle-snatchers who lead helpless young men "astray" etc. Never mind the fact that Tom is clearly an exceptionally intelligent, self-possessed guy who has dealt with the extreme media pressure he's been under since he was 14 in a phenomenal way.  Never mind that he's managed to put out an extraordinary 5 minute unscripted video about his feelings and sexuality with a level of maturity and eloquence that many of us never achieve.  No, he has to be some kind of victim in all this.

Whilst this picture was circulating (since identified in all likelihood as a fan) it was all "oooh, ahhh, aren't they cute?" / "aww look at them: pocket sizes gays" but that seems to be ending abruptly.  No, we can't deal with an age difference on top of his being gay.  Heaven forbid that our tolerance be stretched that far.  If the pair don't look like they could doe-eyed characters in a Disney cartoon, start the judgement.

Disney Gays: yeah, they're acceptable

Last night I pointed out that his grandparents, whilst broadly supportive, told the Daily Mail that they felt Tom was "too young for this kind of decision".  It's great they said they will always be there for him: wonderful in fact.  I asked, though, whether his announcing that he had a steady girlfriend that would have resulted in the same reaction that's he's too young for this "decision".   What decision, exactly, in any case?  Tom's said he still fancies girls.  The decision was to go public on his relationship, which he has every right to.  Straight people get engaged and married at 19, routinely.  You might think that too young, but would you as a family member announce it to the Daily Fail of all people?  To me, it just underlines the different standards that are still applied to young LGBT people.  Straight people can decide they're old enough for relationships, but there's still a view that you're doing something wrong if you're involved with the same sex, until you reach some undefined magical age.  Don't just blame it on the generational gap: my 80 year old Lutheran grandmother simply said "It's genetic, there's nothing wrong with that.  I read it in a magazine" when I came out. 

This exact same "it's not quite right" subtext is present in the discussion of his (alleged) boyfriend's age.  A 39 year old Hollywood male legend dating a 19 year old girl might get the odd comment, but really we can all reel off the dozens of heterosexual relationships that fit this mould and still get our approbation.  It's a handy way for people to let out their disapproval of the situation to comment on the age difference rather than to be overtly homophobic, I guess.  People are catching on slowly that the latter really isn't that on in 2013.

And be clear, if Dustin is Tom's boyfriend, he is going out with an absolute legend.  Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech at the Oscars for his movie "Milk":

It's not just straights doing it.  I'm sure DLB will love to read the following tweet and the many other personally abusive ones you've put out this morning, given the media scrutiny he's under of this story breaking at the moment (whether it's true or not).

So, *LGBT solidarity to you* "Jane" of Queerights.

Worse, perhaps, than the blind ignorance about the age gap are the snarky gays who are attacking Dustin for not being "cute enough".  Oh GAYS.. are we really going to go there?  Not had enough judgement in your life that you need to ply it on to others?  Your verdict about his haircut, his age, his face really aren't that important.  What matters is that someone has come out and given an incredible role model to young LGBT kids around the world.  Whether the alleged boyfriend is cute or not matters to only one person.  And that's Tom.  What's more, for what it's worth, look at those pecs, you dozy twits :P

"Not cute enough": Gays, Everywhere

Tom is hugely in the public eye at the moment.  He must be acutely sensitive to negative comments.  Any relationship when you're 19 is hard work.  God, any relationship at any age is hard work, let's face it.  If Tom were going out with the "cute, ordinary boy" in the shopping centre, the difficulty for the pair of them to have any sort of a normal existence would be huge.  If he is with DLB as the reports suggest, he has someone who is used to media attention, the way the celebrity world works, and all of that pressure.  He is, by all accounts, an exceptional man.

If the story is true, I wish them both the very, very best.  Tom has done a remarkable thing.  He's a remarkable guy.  And he deserves remarkable happiness.  I hope whoever he is with will provide that and people will stop with the snarking.