blog · Misc · Uncategorized

Guyana, the drama of the small country with the highest suicide rate in the world

 

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(English version of article published by the BBC in Spanish and Portuguese)

In a tiny corner of GuyExpo, Guyana’s leading trade fair, the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board is trying to entice passersby to its stall. A display of glass beakers containing bubbling liquids in the country’s national colours – red, black, green, white and yellow – proves eye-catching. Some stop to take a closer look or pick up one of the leaflets urging ‘Remember! Pesticide stored wise – save lives’. Amid the excitement and optimism of the event, part of Guyana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence celebrations, it’s a stark reminder of the many lives that have been ended here by people ingesting readily available poisons, herbicides and pesticides.

Perched on the northern coast of South America, Guyana has a small but diverse population numbering just over 750,000. But it also has the highest rate of suicide in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 44.2 people in every 100,000 commit suicide – compared to just 6.2 in the UK.

“It’s a statistical way of computing the rate, because nobody knows the true number,” admits Dr William Adu-Krow, country representative for the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO. “And the fact that we have some institutions reporting suicides does not mean that’s the true number. Someone may drink poison but when they go to hospital, because of the stigma, they only say they’re feeling sick or cannot breathe.” Without a toxicological centre, getting accurate data is made even harder.

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“Suicide is very taboo here in Guyana,” says Bibi Ahamad, Vice President for the Guyana branch of New York-based NGO The Caribbean Voice (TCV), who uses social media such as WhatsApp to keep in touch with people who contact her for advice and support. “The number of attempts is very, very high. I spoke with a teen who attempted suicide six times, and no one sought help for her, no one paid any attention to her.”

With little research available, pinpointing the reasons behind the high rate is difficult. A survey of suicide survivors by the Georgetown Public Hospital found key driving factors to be family discord, couple problems and domestic violence. Others cite peer pressure, attitudes towards the LGBT community, poverty, unequal access to education and healthcare, even the glorification of suicide in Indian films and soap operas – or “the Bollywood effect” (reportedly more than 65% of cases are from the East Indian community). “Last year our focus [at TCV] was primarily on raising awareness of the warning signs, myths, the misinformation,” says Ms Ahamad, “but also we decided to focus on issues like drug and alcohol abuse, rape and incest, and teen pregnancy.”

Unfortunately Guyana’s mental health system is, according to a WHO report from 2008, “fragmented, poorly resourced, and not integrated into the general health-care system”. The country has just five psychiatrists and one psychiatric hospital, located in East Berbice-Corentyne – the region with the highest rate of suicide in Guyana. Established by the British in 1867 as the ‘Lunatic Asylum’, the renamed National Psychiatric Hospital is in serious need of attention – with the Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton, describing its current state as “disgraceful”, following a visit last year. A smaller psychiatric unit also exists at Georgetown Public Hospital.

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The scale of the crisis is significant, particularly among Guyana’s youth. According to the Ministry of Health, between 2006 and 2008, suicide was the major cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds in Guyana. “I think one of the reasons is because they don’t have many people to talk to,” says Daniel Ali, a medical student who last month started coordinating in-school suicide prevention workshops for both teachers and students through Give Foundation Guyana. “They find great difficulty in trusting someone. Because they’re afraid the first response they would get is, ‘Why are you trying to do this to yourself?’ They’re really afraid of the stigma and discrimination against them. The other thing is the issue with confidentiality. They’re afraid that their personal lives or whatever they say might get out in public.”

Guyana’s media is frequently accused of being overdramatic and insensitive in its coverage of suicide and mental health. “Every day, suicides are reported, how they did it, what they did before…” criticises Dr Jorge Balseiro, consultant psychiatrist at Georgetown Public Hospital. In November, when the bodies of two young people were found in an apparent suicide pact, a number of outlets published photos of the pair, laying near the sea wall. Dr Balseiro hopes that a Media and Suicide Prevention Workshop held by PAHO last month may encourage more responsible reporting.

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Engaging with the media is just one of the interventions proposed in Guyana’s National Mental Health Strategy 2015-2020 and National Suicide Prevention Plan. “The idea is to move mental health from a central institution into the community and primary health care,” says Leslyn Holder, Public Education and Training Coordinator in the new mental health secretariat, set up just last month. Plans include opening a new Mental Health Institute and turning the psychiatric hub at Georgetown Public Hospital into a dedicated inpatient unit. There are also efforts being made to introduce training for NGOs; a Masters in psychiatry for doctors; and additional mental health training for clinical doctors and nurses – with a pilot programme already underway on the island of Bartica. “We’re starting from scratch,” says Ms Holder, “which might not necessarily be a bad thing.”

But the government will have to work hard to convince the population that these steps will be implemented, properly funded and have an impact. “For too long,” wrote mental health rights advocate and lawyer Anthony Autar in a recent blog, “our silence has created an environment where the powers that be feel comfortable making lofty public proclamations about plans to address the mental health crisis in Guyana, but follow-up with sloth or inaction.”

One practical step forward has been the creation of a suicide hotline. The 24-hour service was launched last year by the National Police Force, which claims it has had a “100% success rate” in terms of response and referrals. “Attempted suicide is considered a criminal offence in Guyana,” acknowledges Police Sergeant Sherry Mason, “but because it was on the rise we’re not going to charge them any more, because we realise that if someone tries to commit suicide that person is in a crisis. We’re trying to extend our hand to them.”

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Current Miss Guyana World and suicide prevention campaigner Lisa Punch, who set up Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) in 2012, is also calling for more school counsellors. “The new government are getting counsellors to various schools but it’s not enough … let every school have their own counsellor and not have them rotate. They need someone to confide in, to talk to, to let them know that everything is ok – this is part of growing up, because they feel like they’re the only ones going through what they’re going through.”

“I think the best person that can identity with a situation and be able to express it is a person who went through the ordeal,” adds comedian Kirk ‘Chow Pow’ Jardine, who has been breaking through the taboo to share his story of surviving suicide. “I was an active drug addict for 21 years and in those 21 years I started giving up on life … I thought all my problems were more than me.” But after seeking help through rehab, Mr Jardine was able to turn his life around. “Now I am the number one stand-up comedian in Guyana. And instead of bringing tears to people’s eyes, I bring laughter and smiles.”

Carinya Sharples

Misc · Travel

Escaping from Devil’s Island

La Guyane

[Real Travel] Carinya Sharples journeys to French Guiana’s Salvation Islands to explore the empty cells of one of the world’s most notorious ex-prisons…

The most eerie part of Île Royale was the children’s cemetery. It was deathly silent apart from the rustle of monkeys in the trees and the loud chirping of crickets. The epitaphs on the crumbling gravestones were pitifully simple: ‘Jean Girault. Décédé à l’âge de 9 mois. Le 18 Janviers 1915. Regrets’. Suddenly the grim history of this strange, James Bond-esque island – with its shark-filled waters, picturesque ruins and wild nature – became uncomfortably real.

Together, Île Royale, Île du Diable and Île Saint-Joseph form the Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands), also known as the Devil’s Islands because of their treacherous surrounding rocks. This triangular archipelago lies 15km off the coast of French Guiana, or La Guyane to locals – a French overseas département perched on the top of South America. Once a refuge for 18th-century French colonists escaping malaria and mosquitoes on the mainland, the islands later became a notoriously brutal penal colony and the setting for one of the darkest ever periods in French history.

Today, the little-known islands are overgrown with lush, green vegetation and dotted with tall palm trees. On Île Royale, guinea pig-like agoutis scurry between the crumbling ruins, carrying chunks of coconut shells in their teeth, while Île du Diable has its own population of iguanas and even a few wild goats. Instead of prisoners, there are small groups of travellers, peering into abandoned cells and dodging the warning signs of ‘INTERDIT!’ placed liberally along the rocky coastal path.

I’d vowed to visit the Îles du Salut some months earlier when a friend – hearing I was off to French Guiana – mentioned Île du Diable. How could I resist a place called Devil’s Island? As it turned out, exceptionally sharp rocks prevent boats from docking on Île du Diable itself, so I settled for a two-day trip to nearby Île Royale instead. One-day trips are available but it’s worth staying overnight if you can.

LAUNCH PAD

Île Royale is a short 50-minute boat ride from Kourou, a coastal town best known for its Centre Spatial Guyanais. This state-of-the-art international space centre attracts many French professionals to the country, who live, somewhat uneasily, alongside the rest of the population – a fascinating mix of Maroon (the descendants of escaped slaves), Creole, East Indian, Chinese, Amerindian and Laotian, to name but a few.

I stopped off in Kourou for a few days towards the end of January, when the weather alternates between beautiful sunshine and heavy downpours. A savvy French traveller had recommended staying in the Amerindian Village at Chez Taliko, a residential house with a carbet out back. A carbet is essentially a shack where you can sling your hammock (and mosquito net) – a common concept in French Guiana and a popular option for adventurous travellers, plus those, like me, scandalised by the ridiculous Paris-style hotel prices. The carbet at Chez Taliko cost just €8 a night and was a simple structure of wood with flimsy metal sheets as low walls. It was also right on the beach.

I arrived in Kourou just as dusk was settling, with no booking – in fact, no idea where Chez Taliko was. Luckily the minibus driver knew, and when Taliko himself appeared at the door he was unfazed by my unexpected appearance, although a bit surprised I was travelling alone. Not being able to properly suss out my surroundings in the dark, I spent the night on edge. Every crash of the waves, swish of leaves and clank of the metal sheets had me imagining someone was approaching. In the morning – after little, if any, sleep – I woke to find someone had been there after all and was still perched nearby, staring at me intently… Then it squawked, and I realised my intruder was a parrot.

The next few days were spent visiting the space centre on a fascinating tour, walking along the beach and visiting a local market on Avenue de France, which sizzled with the delicious smell of rotisserie chicken and offered up a tantalising array of food, representative of the diverse populace. There was everything from fresh Vietnamese summer rolls and local honey to fresh fruit and accras de morue (a fried snack I remember from Accra in Ghana – hence the name, presumably). Another day, I wandered through Saramaca Village – a newly urbanised area populated by Saramaca (a group of Maroon people) with a strange mix of cabin-style terraced houses and roads with names like ‘Rue Rosa Parks’ – only to be warned later not to go there alone.

THE HARD CELL

On the day of my trip to Île Royale, I left the Amerindian Village at the same time as Taliko and his wife, so they offered to drop me on Avenue Général de Gaulle, a popular street lined with restaurants and bars, at the end of which is the Ponton des Pêcheurs or fisherman’s dock – my point of departure. Public transport in French Guiana is practically non-existent, other than expensive cabs and the odd minibus or taxi collectif, so I was glad for the ride. Later in my trip – when travelling through the wild nature reserves of Kaw and Tresor, the capital city of Cayenne, and Cacao, home to a farming community of Hmong refugees from Laos – I was to discover another money-saving custom of the country: hitchhiking.

I’d already booked my €39 return ticket at the Guyanespace Voyage travel agents in Kourou, opting to travel by Royal Ti’Punch’s sleek catamaran. As the departure time inched closer, its smooth, white seats were filled by a lively mix of soldiers on leave, young couples and older travellers. Everyone was French – bar the friendly crew who were Guianese. British visitors, I soon discovered, were something of a rarity in French Guiana. The ride was choppy and the military troupe, whose members had immediately stripped down to their bikinis and trunks to lie on the trampoline-like net, squealed in delight as the waves splashed over them.

From the Île Royale jetty, it was a steep, sweaty climb to the hotel with my backpack. It wasn’t until the next day, when I was leaving, that I discovered the pick-up truck that carries guests’ luggage. There are three different types of accommodation to choose from on Île Royale: the well-restored prison administration building that now serves as a hotel, where prices start at €166 (including two lunches, dinner and breakfast); the more basic former guards’ block (from €60); and the carbets, costing just €10. I’d opted for the final option, not realising that I’d be staying in one of the original prisoners’ quarters. When I peered through the heavy door, I found row upon row of army-style hammocks identical to my own – except these were actual military hammocks, owned by the 30 or so French soldiers stationed on the island at the time. Bunking down in a room full of French squaddies? Not tonight, Napoleon!

I marched back to the reception desk, explained the situation and was relieved to be given a key to my own ‘cell’. After the near al-fresco carbet in Kourou, this long building with faded pink paint and a fully tiled bathroom felt like the presidential suite. I tied my hammock to the metal hooks embedded in the wall – trying to forget that they had once held prisoners’ chains – and enjoyed a long shower, sidestepping the seed husks or insect wings (I couldn’t figure out which) that littered the bathroom floor. Maybe ‘presidential suite’ was a slight overstatement.

GRIM FINDINGS

Île Royale covers just 21 hectares so you don’t need a guide, although tours are available. One of the boat crew had promised to show me around but then disappeared as soon as we docked (for lunch, I later found out), so I set off alone. Luckily when I’d booked my tickets, I’d picked up a leaflet with a map of the island, which proved indispensable and helped me identify all the different buildings. After happening on the disturbing children’s cemetery, I retraced my steps past my ‘bedroom’ and headed towards the picturesquely ruined former military hospital and the new-looking red brick chapel – part of the restoration project of the French government’s space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), which took over ownership of the islands in 1965.

Just reading the names of the buildings as I passed them was chilling – ‘le pénitencier’ (the condemned prisoners’ quarters), ‘la maison des fous’ (the mad house) and the ‘asile d’alienes’ (lunatic asylum). In 1923, journalist Albert Londres visited Île Royale and was taken to this asylum by the island’s doctor. In a later report, he would recall encountering an inmate who threw stones into the sea from the same point on the island every day. His plan, Londres explained; to build a bridge from South America to France so he could walk home. The more I read about the prisoners’ inhumane existence on the islands, the more I understood the wild desperation the man must have felt.

The first prison ship docked on 10 May 1852 and by the end of that year there were some 1,000 inmates on the islands. Between 1852 and 1862, an incredible 12,780 convicts (including 329 political prisoners) were sent from France. Soon other penitentiary units took precedence, including ones in New Caledonia, Saint-Jean du Maroni and Saint-Laurent du Maroni, a small town on the Maroni River at the French Guiana/Suriname border.

Then in 1887, the passage from France to the Îles du Salut was revived and new waves of prisoners, condemned for crimes ranging from espionage and treason to desertion and forging currency, flooded in – troublemakers and escapees were sent to Île St Joseph; common-law convicts to the colony’s administrative heart, Île Royale; and the rest to Île du Diable, the smallest but most feared of the three islands. And so it continued until 1947, when the penal colony finally closed.

BASE CAMP

While I was in French Guiana, I visited the sleepy town of Saint-Laurent du Maroni, just three hours from Kourou by minibus. Most of French Guiana’s main attractions lie on or near the 350km coastal strip, so travelling from one town to the next rarely takes longer than a couple of hours.

As the main processing point of the penal colonies, Saint-Laurent du Maroni is best known for its Camp de la Transportation (Transportation Camp). Although you can enter for free, you don’t get access to all areas unless you go on one of the guided tours – and for €5 a pop, it’s worth it.

The camp contains a chapel, clothing store, court and even an anthropological room, where prison doctors once studied inmates to put together a ‘criminal profile’. Some of the former administration buildings have been restored and, somewhat bizarrely, now serve as a public library and theatre.

But it’s the prisoners’ quarters that proved the most fascinating – and disturbing. The long blockhouses, which officially housed around 40 men (although often held double), are lined with long stone ‘benches’, each with iron bars embedded on top. While the individual cells drip with water and decay, the wooden planks that once served as beds still fixed with feet shackles. After years of abandonment, the walls are black with mould, sprouting with moss and missing their doors – though conditions probably weren’t much better when they were in use.

Cell number 47 caused everyone the most excitement, as it is believed to be where Papillon (see boxout) had been detained at one point. Clearly a highlight of the trip – I hadn’t known who Papillon was until about five minutes before – the rest of the group snapped away. Inside, we took turns to see where the name ‘Papillon’ had been scratched into the stone floor. I dutifully photographed it – fully aware that the chances of it being an authentic ‘tag’ of the infamous escapee were pretty low.

At the far end of the complex, our Amerindian guide led us to a stone circle flanked by cells. This was, he told us, where the guillotine once stood – a constant, visible reminder to all the convicts that their lives hung in the balance. The kitchen, he pointed towards a building nearby, was where their final meals would have been prepared. We looked on solemnly. I tried to stop picturing what my final meal would have been.

LIGHTS OUT

Back on Île Royale, I continued down the coastal path – strewn with coconut shells and palms – to a square pool formed by rocks, which turned out to be the prisoners’ swimming pool. The next turning took me to a rocky cove scattered with sunbathing tourists and soldiers with regulation haircuts and tropical tans. I’d already been warned that the rocks were slippery but still managed to lose my footing and end up sitting down rather forcefully with a wet thud. Still sitting, I gradually edged my way forward until just my head bobbed above the powerful waves. After a while, I slid my way back up to dry off in the sunshine and look out for the sea turtles that live off the coast.

Later that evening, as I was sitting in my hammock eating the rations I’d bought in Kourou – baguette and butter, bananas, papaya and biscuits – there was a knock at the door. It was one of the soldiers from the first ‘salle de hamacs’ inviting me to a birthday do they were holding. I’d already planned to visit the hotel restaurant, but watching other people tuck into fresh fish, grilled chicken and mouthwatering desserts while drinking a €2,60 can of peach iced tea turned out not to be much fun, so I headed back towards my room and on the way got sucked into the party.

A barbeque had been set up, the smell of sizzling sausages filled the air and a long table of drinks was being steadily consumed by the chattering troops. I was plied with fruit juice, sausages and breadfruit, before being joined by a welcoming party wanting to find out why I was on the island and keen to list everything they knew about England – which mostly seemed to consist of Mr Bean. Turned out they weren’t soldiers after all, rather the French equivalent of the Royal Marines who had recently finished a tour in Afghanistan. After their questions and my French had been exhausted, I decided to turn in – not entirely reassured by their parting promise to shoot any monkeys that came to my room.

The next day, I continued to explore the island, escaping a sudden burst of rain by taking refuge in the museum located in the former Director’s House, where I discovered a series of fascinating displays (in English and French) about the history of the islands and their most famous prisoners.

I emerged after the rain had subsided to find everything looking even more lush and green than before and headed back to browse the hotel gift shop before joining some of my new military friends for a final lunch of fish soup. On the way down to the shoreline I got chatting to a Chinese-French woman travelling with her boyfriend and another couple, only to discover I’d missed a morning expedition to Île Saint- Joseph. She described it as even more wild and rundown than Île Royale, and I was gutted to have missed out. At 4.30pm, the catamaran pulled away from the jetty and we began the return trip to Kourou, sipping complimentary glasses of red punch and watching the islands until they sank back into a sea of memories. ■

[BOXOUT] Devil’s Island’s famous inmates

PAPILLON

Convicted murderer Henry Charrière’s autobiography chronicling his daring escape from Île du Diable captured the attention of the world. The book, entitled Papillon after his nickname (meaning ‘butterfly’), was later adapted in the 1973 film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Although now thought to have incorporated experiences of other prisoners, Papillon’s adventures continue to fascinate, and a remake of the film is said to be in the pipeline, with Robert Downey Jr. and Philip Seymour Hoffman tipped to play the lead roles.

DREYFUS

In 1895, France was captivated by the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was condemned of treason and sentenced to life on Île du Diable. He was kept in solitary confinement, confined in the day and shackled at night, for four brutal years before finally being found innocent in 1899.

View PDF: Escaping Devil’s Island

Misc

The trash khan of history

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(Spiked Online, 4 July 2008) ‘Do not scorn a weak cub; he may become a brutal tiger.’ The wise old Mongol saying, which introduces this portrait of the thirteenth-century Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, may be a genuine, if hackneyed, attempt on the part of Russian director Sergei Bodrov to bring a sense of authenticity to the film; it’s just a shame the rest of the film is so historically disingenuous.

Faced at the age of nine with the death of his father – who had been the Khan, that is, the leader of his tribe – Temudjin (aka Genghis Khan – no, they don’t explain the name change) is cruelly cast out by the same people who once served his father. Temudjin’s subsequent meteoric rise from slave to ruler of all Mongols and commander of the largest contiguous empire in history – four times the size of Alexander the Great’s and twice that of Rome – is an incredible story, yet it’s tacked on as an afterthought, like those ‘where did they end up?’ credits at the end of TV documentaries about children’s hospitals or troubled teens (1). Admittedly, this is just the first in a trilogy of films about the life of Genghis Khan. Yet whether anyone will want to sit through the next two after this slow start remains to be seen.

The film begins strongly, depicting Temudjin when he was a child (played with conviction by the young Odnyam Odsuren). Self-assured and fearless, the composed expression with which he greets every danger or obstacle is what we expect of someone deemed worthy of yet another film some 800 years later. It’s just that the moment of glory we’re waiting for never quite comes.

The film does portray a number of key battles in the rise of Temudjin, complete with spraying blood, sharp swords and more stomach slicing than your average episode of 10 Years Younger. Unfortunately, Tadanobu Asano, who plays the older Temudjin, fails to fully capture the ambition, charisma and brilliance that inspired so many men to follow Genghis Khan into battle. And because this is only the first instalment of the trilogy, the final showdown is not the ruthless and triumphant seizure of territory across Asia – including China, Russia, Persia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe – but a half-hearted fight between Temudjin and his ‘blood’ brother Jamukha.

With his quirky neck-cracking habit, tendency to sing after a few drinks and a mohawk where the other men have long plaits, Jamukha (played by Honglei Sun) brings a touch of ‘character’ comedy to the proceedings – although you do half expect him to roll his eyes mock-despairingly at the camera, don a pair of sunglasses and start using the silver jewellery piece on his ear to make hands-free calls to one of his ladies. Although the two men’s love/hate relationship or rather love/troubled-but-with-mutual-respect relationship is a welcome break from Temudjin’s dull worthiness, it shouldn’t take up nearly all of the script. This is Mongol warfare à la Oprah.

The women take more of a back seat in the film, as they probably would have done in Mongol life at the time. So, although Temudjin’s wife Borte (Khulan Chuluun) is feisty and sticks by her husband throughout, she still spends most of the film either watching him leave or waiting for him to return. The tension of ‘will they ever see each other again?’ is overused to the point where I couldn’t have cared one way or the other.

Besides, Genghis the romantic hero? Hardly. He may have loved his wife and rescued her after she was kidnapped, but he’s also said to have taken on a number of other wives. Moreover, according to recent research, through harems, concubines, not to mention raping captured women, Ghengis’ demographic contribution was such that nearly eight per cent of the men who now live in what was the Mongol empire share near-identical Y chromosomes (2). His descendents are even thought to stretch to our Royal family, Iranian royalty and the family of Dracula (3). Presumably true love gets higher points with the film focus groups.

Such a varnished portrait is problematic. The film blurb promises to deliver the untold story of Genghis Khan ‘based on leading scholarly accounts and written by Bodrov and Arif Aliyev’ yet it seems that they’ve chosen to pick and choose the most sentimental parts from the academic research and leave out the rest (4).
One spectacular element to the film – and perhaps the reason why it was nominated for an Oscar in the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film of the Year category – is the scenery. Like an extended episode of BBC2’s Wild China, the camera (and horses) gallop across endless deserts and steppes, over lightning-lit rocks and through lush green grasses and forests. Filmed around remote steppes and forests in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, which was once part of the Mongol empire, it stays true to Genghis Khan’s roots.

Despite being only two hours long, this biopic manages to feel both much longer and not long enough, with many unanswered questions, unexplained escapes and loose threads. It would have been far better if Bodrov had taken a lead from Genghis himself and brutally chopped the three-part script to make one fast-paced film with an engaging and fluid narrative. In some ways the film is similar to Ridley Scott’s fantastic Gladiator – also about the fall and rise of a man from leader to slave to leader again, and the love he has for his family.

The thing is, Gladiator makes no real claims at historical authenticity. And this is Mongol’s problem. For it would have worked far better as fiction than half-baked history, especially if you too struggle to accept the perfectly timed good fortune frequently bestowed on Temudjin by Tengri, the God of the Blue Sky, in times of danger. Since when is that a fair fight? What next? Moses rustling up another sea-parting for God-fearing Nelson in Battle of Trafalgar: the Movie?

http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/5428/

Misc

Cafe culture costs too much to bear

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(Birmingham Post, 28 May 2004) Birmingham may have lost out on the title of European Capital of Culture but trying to make up for this by imposing the al fresco chic of Paris on Broad Street is not only unrealistic but also untrue to the lively, exciting nightlife that is already on offer.

Brindleyplace, The Arcadian and The Mailbox at present cater for the more affluent business sector of the community. If we are to make Broad Street a basic extension of these spots then surely we can expect the same sense of exclusivity and the same high prices?

This suggestion totally ignores the majority of night-time revellers who do not go out to cause trouble, as many seem to assume, but instead to have a fun evening out and not break the bank while doing so.

I understand and sympathise with the arguments made about Broad Street’s rowdy, drunken and troublesome image. However, I do not see how something that has become so ingrained in our society’s culture, namely drinking, can be legislated out of existence.

Problems of excessive drinking, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour are to be found in every city all over the country. It just so happens that with the majority of Birmingham’s central bars, pubs and clubs clustered on one street, any trouble is bound to be more concentrated.

Banning drinks promotions or seating people at elegant cafe tables is not the answer. Binge drinking and any of its side effects will continue, just at greater expense to the already debt-stricken students and less well-off sections of society.

Broad Street’s current difficulties will not be solved but instead simply moved and exacerbated somewhere else. What will be the high-handed consensus when this happens? That there is to be a total ban on drinking and that continental cappuccinos are the future?

It seems that the group behind the ‘cafe culture’ proposals is trying to butter up business visitors to the city while making sweeping generalisations about other less affluent members of the Birmingham community and ignoring their needs and wishes.

Not everyone likes, or can afford, to spend a night at the theatre or an expensive restaurant. Many people, including some of the so-called ‘suits’, prefer a night dancing in a club, unwinding with a few drinks, or meeting new people in a busy, sociable environment.

Birmingham is a hugely popular city and the diverse entertainments on offer is what attracts the range of people who choose to party here – whether that be the groups of friends who visit to celebrate a stag or hen night, the students from Birmingham’s three universities inevitably looking for a cheap night out, or the majority of Birmingham’s working residents looking to let down their hair at the weekend.

A night out on Broad Street, for most people I know, is spoiled right at the end by having to wait for hours for a taxi or by the few individuals who cannot handle their drink or who are looking for trouble. Zero tolerance on such people, as has been suggested, sounds more like the way to go forward.

Why should everyone be punished for the thoughtless actions of a few troublemakers? Improvement, not complete redevelopment, is the answer. We should clean up, not be cleaned out.

http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100localnews/archive/tm_objectid=14282878&method=full&siteid=50002&headline=cafe-culture-costs-too-much-to-bear-name_page.html