Last night, we celebrated the launch of Coming Out by Jeffrey Weeks at Daunt Books in Holland Park. Here is what I said in my short address to mark the occasion.

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Ladies and Gentleman,

Since its inception Quartet has always been on the side of the underdog in our society and has supported many a subject which it believed needed to be reformed to the benefit of those who have been oppressed – particularly because of their sexual orientation.

A case in point was the publication of Coming Out in 1977 – a pioneering study of gay and lesbian lives. Greatly acclaimed, this classic prize-winning title has been newly reissued in a revised and updated edition at a time when LGBT issues are increasingly a matter of national and international importance.

From the barbaric legal and social oppression of the nineteenth century to the seismic impact of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s and beyond, Coming Out maps the story of British LGBT identities and the ongoing struggle for equality. A compassionate and moving social history written in an open and accessible way, it lucidly illustrates the resilience and grit of the LGBT community in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Jeffrey Weeks, an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at London South Bank University, has written extensively about gay and lesbian history over the last four decades and has an international reputation for his contribution to the study of sexualities.

Coming Out is a must for every individual in this country and abroad – those assembled here today must lead by example. Buy at least one copy of the book if not more and spread the good word around.

The author deserves all the support he can get for his tremendous efforts in writing this remarkable work which I’m sure will remain as topical as ever.

 

THE VAGINA: A NEW WAY FORWARD

Cara Delevigne never ceases to surprise me. Her rise to stardom has been swift and rather dramatic. She’s a free spirit whose behaviour and utterances seem to know no boundaries. She can amuse as well as shock the Establishment with her sexual, all-embracing diversity yet she remains the darling of a new generation of young people to whom she represents a sort of immutable iconic figure who defies the general comprehension of rebellious aspirations, interlinked with fast living and pleasurable dispositions.

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In an interview with the Sunday Times she unleashes her verbosity by saying ‘I want to be honest about who I am, by asserting that nearly half of the women never talk about their vaginas.’ She supports her sister’s cancer campaign, she tells her interviewer. ‘There is a taboo surrounding vaginas and I just want to get rid of it. It’s part of our anatomy,’ she continues. ‘It’s beautiful. I think everyone should be comfortable being naked, because everyone’s body is beautiful no matter how developed they think they are.’

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Discussing vaginas is not a subject that she’s remotely fazed by, which is exactly why she is the perfect person to front this year’s Lady Garden Campaign from the Gynaecological Cancer Fund. The charity was set up in 2014 by a founding committee which includes big sister, Chloe Delevigne, and the PR boss, Jenny Halpern Prince, (both of whom have had to have part of their cervix removed after precancerous cells were detected) as well as the actress, Mika Simmons, and the socialite, Tamara Beckwith, (both of whom lost their mothers to gynaecological cancers).

Cara’s role is to encourage women to be more open about their lady parts and to give them the courage to speak up about symptoms, so that the five gynae cancers – ovarian, uteriane-endometrian, cervical, vagina and vulva – may one day no longer be known as ‘silent killers’.

Cara’s participation in the campaign is admirable. Her remark that vaginas are beautiful I certainly agree with and endorse. They are women’s most cherished bits, where life’s passage begins. The mystery that surrounds the vagina gives it the ultimate desirability and the key to sexual gratification – a treasure that the Good Lord, in his infinite wisdom, has granted to his subjects.

Let us all therefore rip our masks off and admit our conversion to the Vagina League of Worshippers.

HAVING IT BOTH WAYS

I was not surprised to read recently that women enjoy looking at naked female bodies just as much as male ones, a study suggests. Talking over the years with my female friends I was given to understand that they too are attracted to look at the female form, and some admit to a sensual frisson whenever this occurs. Experts have now found that while the attention of red-blooded males is drawn to images of women, their female counterparts were more flexible.

Some experts say this is because women are innately more ‘fluid’ than men when it comes to their sexuality. Another theory is that women have lower sex drives, meaning they are not as immediately excited by seeing a naked man. Women also feel the need to look at female bodies so they can compare them with their own.

For the experiment, psychologists at Cardiff University showed 57 men and women a series of sexy images and asked how attractive they found the people in them. The volunteers then sat in front of a computer screen and watched as the same pictures flashed by in pairs – one female and one male. The images stayed on the screen for just one fifth of a second, less time than it takes to blink – before one was replaced with a faint dot. The more quickly the participants spotted the dot, the more attention they were thought to have been paying to the proceeding picture.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the male volunteers noticed the dots that followed the pictures of female bodies most quickly, suggesting they found these more appealing. However, the women’s attention was equally drawn to both the male and female images. This was the case even though, when asked, the women said they preferred pictures of the men.

In a second, similar experiment a different group of women actually responded more quickly to female images than male ones. The pictures flashed up so briefly that it is unlikely they were making a conscious decision about what to look at, the study said. This suggests women who consider themselves heterosexual are more fluid when it comes to sexuality than men. Some experts claim this trait evolved to reduce tension among co-wives in early polygamous marriages.

The findings come as bisexual women are gaining more visibility in the media with growing numbers of female celebrities discussing their same-sex relationships. Hollywood star Angelina Jolie – who is now divorcing  actor Brad Pitt – dated Japanese- American model Jenny Shimizu. Mother of six, Miss Jolie once said that in different circumstances she would probably have married Jenny. Supermodel Cara Delevingne has spoken out about dating musician Annie Clark, while actress Amber Heard had a long-term relationship with a female photographer, Tanya van Ree before her ill-fated marriage to film star Johnny Depp.

The Cardiff psychologists’ results are echoed in recent research from the US which found that women are more likely to describe themselves as bisexual than men. The poll of more than 9,000 young adults found that women were also more likely than men to choose the label ‘mostly heterosexual’. The participants were questioned on their sexuality three times around the ages of 16, 22 and 28. Women were more inclined to change their mind about their preferences over this time. But men tended to describe themselves confidently as ‘100 percent heterosexual or 100 per cent homosexual.’

Researcher Elizabeth McClintock, from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said the ‘male erotization of same sex female relationships allows women to experiment – for instance by kissing other women at parties – without being stigmatised.’ Her analysis also showed that attractive women were more likely to think of themselves as purely attracted to men. However, a separate study, from the University of Essex last year, went as far as suggesting women are never 100 per cent heterosexual.

This last study is perhaps nearer to the mark today. Sexuality seems no longer to have any set boundaries. Sex and money have become the motivating factor in our so-called ‘liberated society’ which demands too much and cares very little about anything else.

Are we, I ask, happier?

THE NEW FOIE GRAS?

A new discovery could eventually help to feed the world and beat famine. Hundreds of thousands of tons of duckweed in ponds, rivers and canals could be the answer to global food shortages. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust are studying whether protein-rich duckweed could be farmed for human consumption as part of a £75 million project to find new ways to feed the world. More than 70,000 tons of duckweed has been removed from canal waters in Camden, near the Trust’s headquarters in London, with each layer soon being replaced by another. Sarah Molton, the research project leader said: ‘How do you feed 9 billion people by 2050? We need innovative ways to address that challenge. Duckweed could be one of them.’
Duckweed is the world’s smallest flowering plant and one of the fastest growing the Trust said. ‘It has around ten times the protein content of soy, can be grown on waste water that it simultaneously cleans up and has hardly any disease threats.’

There is a growing need for protein around the world, according to researchers at Our Planet, Our Health, an initiative run by the Wellcome Trust. Farming of traditional animal protein sources such as chicken, cows and pigs is damaging the environment by greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Scientists will analyses the digestion of duckweed protein by humans and compare it to references like casein, soy and pea. They said: ‘The results will reveal whether the plant is suitable as a new healthy protein source for human consumption and identify the types with the highest nutritional value.’ Though duckweed is not harmful to humans, Wellcome Trust said that ‘dogs and other animals have been known to mistake it for grass and ended up in the water.’ It added that ‘if left to thrive it can cause problems for wildlife by starving it of oxygen and sunlight.’

Tim Mulligan, who steers the duckweed collection boat around the Regent’s Canal, said ‘some people say it looks like a garden lawn or pea soup or green porridge. The food references are interesting though as we found that the people in South East Asia regularly eat duckweed because it has got loads of protein in it. I see plenty of ducks tucking into it, so I guess it could be the next superfood craze.’

Well well, as long as it does not turn up to be the new foie gras of the next pampered generation.

I thought readers of my blog would be interested to read a review of Darling Baby Mine by Donal Trelford, former editor of the Observer, now living in Mallorca. This review appeared in his weekly column for the island’s large British community, The Majorcan Daily Bulletin.
Here is the review in full.

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JOHN de St Jorre is a man I have known for nearly 50 years in two different contexts – as a foreign correspondent on The Observer, covering Africa and the Middle East; and in Majorca, where he had a house in Deia for many years and returned there this year with his friends and family, including his American wife and two children, to celebrate his 80th birthday.
John has lived an adventurous life – as a soldier in Malaya, an agent of MI6, as a journalist in war zones, and as the author of a number of books. His latest, launched in London last week, is the most personal book he has ever written: about his lifelong search for his mother.
Darling Baby Mine (published by Quartet Books at £20), is a deeply moving story, essentially tragic, but also uplifting and compelling. Beautifully written, it is one of those books you can’t put down until you know how it ends.
From his early infancy John had retained a memory of a woman wearing “a loose blouse, half-open, revealing large breasts. She had blue eyes and blonde hair framing a full, plump face. Smoke curled upwards from her cigarette. She looked at me, threw back her head, and laughed…She sounded happy and that made me happy too. She seemed familiar, someone close to me, and I suppose that is why I thought of her as my mother. Who else could she be? Then she vanished.”
The book is the story of his attempt to recover that lost vision. After years of intermittent searching, he finally succeeded, piecing together his family jigsaw with the dedication of an investigative journalist. His father was from the Seychelles – when the author went there for the first time in search of clues to his mother he found himself surrounded by two dozen people named St Jorre on the boat from Mombasa.
His parents had married in London in 1934. It was a bad match from the start. His father was much older and too stern for his fun-loving wife, who told him on their wedding night that she had married him for security rather than love. There were hints that she had an affair.
Nonetheless, they had two boys. John and his younger brother Maurice were packed off by the father, at the ages of five and three, to an austere Roman Catholic priory in Kent, where they (rather pitifully) were made to address their letters home to “Mammy and Daddy,” until a nun brusquely informed them that they had no mother. They were then left with a succession of ageing landladies who looked after them kindly while their father visited at weekends.
The whereabouts of their mother was never discussed and John never dared to ask. They assumed she was dead. It turned out that she had behaved so strangely after the birth of her second child – there were some mental health problems on her side of the family – that the father had not only had her admitted to a mental hospital but agreed to a pre-frontal leucotomy, a fashionable operation in the immediate post-war years, though now medically discredited, which left her a pacified wreck. She was probably suffering from post-natal depression.
Eventually the father married a Scots school teacher, a decent woman, whom John was required to call mother, provoking in him an uncomfortable sense of disloyalty and a determination to find out if his natural mother could still be alive. The search could only begin after his father’s death. It was complicated by the fact the father had removed her name from all family records. As his step-mother said, while helping John in his search: “He was an unforgiving man.”
John finally located her through tracing her sister and they were reunited, in an emotional scene, in a mental hospital in Hertfordshire, one of several in which she had lived for 40 years. Grace had become so institutionalised that she could be persuaded to come out for weekends only occasionally. After the initial shock of meeting her long-lost son, she showed a rapid improvement and could hold a sensible conversation and even recall details from her distant past.
She died in 1979 while John was covering the revolution in Iran. When he went to look for her grave in Kensal Green cemetery, he couldn’t find it. His mother had vanished again.
John’s love for Majorca is shown in the book in a beautiful passage about his arrival home in Deia a description which many of us will recognise: “One last swoop and there is the village, perched on the top of a small hill in a valley and walled in by a great arc of mountains on all but the seaward side. The houses, with their stone walls, red-tiled roofs and green shutters, appear to lean on each other, old friends weary with age, as they climb up the steep hill to greet the church. A graveyard, guarded by tall cypress trees, shares the summit with the church and accommodates generations of farmers and fishermen and their families.
“At this point you can see everything – the mountain range clear and sharp against the sky, the countless terraces, sculpted from the living rock by the Moors centuries ago to nurture the precious olive trees; the occasional ancient, weather-beaten finca, high up on the mountain side; and the magnificent sweep of the pine-clad coast, fading away in a purple haze.
“The lock squeaked as I turned the key and the heavy wooden door needed a shove to open it. I stepped inside and inhaled the mixture of smells that I had grown to love: the linseed oil on the wooden beams; the dry, fusty odour of straw from the mattress stuffing; and a faint scent of jasmine, a reminder of hot summer days when the stone walls retained their warmth well into the night.”
John may live now in the United States but, as I could tell while having lunch with him recently in Pollensa, his heart will always be in Majorca.

ENDS

Last night saw the launch of Simon Crane’s first thriller at Hotel Café Royal Regent Street.
Here is what I said in my short address to mark this memorable occasion.

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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we are here this evening to mark the publication of The Secret Broker, a thriller with a difference; written by Simon Crane, a man of many parts, who excels in every sphere of activity that he undertakes, due to his enthusiasm and obsession to achieve the highest degree of professionalism.

An investment banker as well as an entrepreneur and financier at an international level for more than thirty years, he has now turned his skills to write this first book, which in the words of Andrew Neil is: ‘Utterly addictive. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.’

To summarise the story would be hard and could never adequately render it the credit this skilfully constructed tale deserves. And that’s the ‘difference’ I attributed to the novel in the opening words of this address.

However I will tell you that the action begins far out to sea, during a fierce storm when a Japanese ship is commandeered by mercenaries who kill one of the crew and then vanish. North Korea flexes it military muscle by firing a cruise missile into Japanese airspace, and an unidentified body is mutilated and dumped on the border between Russia, China and North Korea. And from there on, a crescendo of action begins to reach uncharted heights.

I can also tell you that Simon proves himself to be a masterly and inventive storyteller with an intuitive flair that keeps the reader absorbed until the very end, and then wanting more.

I’m in no doubt he will continue along this literary path and continue to thrill us with his new found talent as a novelist. We must hopefully expect more books to come from such a gifted writer.

There is an axiom in the book-trade that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and now’s the time to dip into your pockets and show us the colour of your money. Let’s all encourage Simon by buying as many copies of his first book as we can possibly afford or carry, both to spread the word but more importantly, to make him feel appreciated for writing his first exciting thriller. Let there be many more!

MY WOMAN OF THE WEEK

Stella Maxwell is just 26, but the older she becomes, the more ravishing she appears to be. Born in Belgium to Northern Irish parents she lives between Los Angeles and New York City and is now enjoying great success as a Victoria’s Secret Agent.

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Voted this year as number 1 in Maxim’s ‘Hot 100 List’ she exudes the kind of sexuality that combines elegance with an eroticism that is hard to describe, for it evokes a feeling of a comfort zone which we rarely see.

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Her recent photographs shows what a heavenly body can look like when beautifully presented with pieces of stunning lingerie, which take your breath away.

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In fact, here’s is a sizzling site that has an addictive yet magical ingredient. Worshippers of the female form will no doubt wake up, if only to glorify in her overpowering presence.

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