Tag Archives: London

First ever self defense programme for people with Dwarfism launched

A good friend of mine and occasional contributor to Hynd’s Blog, Eugene Grant, has launched the first ever self-defence programme for people with dwarfism. This is a cross-post of his article that explains why he sees the need for such a self-defense course. 

Eugene-2

I don’t even remember where I was going. All I remember is looking to my left, distracted by a homeless man asking for change as I walked past. When I turned my head back to the front, a tall man – about 6’ 0” – was advancing aggressively in my direction, just a few feet away, his hands outstretched towards me.

I have Achondroplasia – one of the most common types of dwarfism. In 28 years, I’ve had stones thrown at my head; I’ve been chased by youths on mopeds; I’ve been grabbed and assaulted by strangers. I was frequently bullied at school. The list of instances in which I’ve been verbally abused or threatened is too long to include here.

Now, I make no assumption that my experiences are representative of other dwarfs. But I know I’m not alone.

Throughout my life, I’ve studied boxing, self-defense, and martial arts: Karate, Kick-boxing, Ninjitsu, and Tae-kwon-do, to name but a few. Growing up, these provided a valuable outlet for me as a frustrated and isolated young man, who struggled to deal positively with an environment that felt harsh and hostile towards me.

And yet, over time I realised that so many of these forms of self-defence were completely inapplicable for people with dwarfism. Even at 4’6” – hardly small for a dwarf – my hips are at the height of most people’s knees. I’m never going to get my leg up high enough to kick an attacker in the head – as you’re taught in Taekwondo. Nor, at 7 and a half stone, would I try to grab, trip, and throw him to the floor – as you might in Judo. Like most dwarfs, my arms are short – making boxing difficult (but not impossible…).

I realised that what people with dwarfism, people like me, really need is a self-defense system designed for our body types and the sorts of threats and assaults (being grabbed, picked up, bear hugged, and so on) which, sadly, some of face all too often in our daily lives.

And so SPD – Self-Protection for Dwarfs – was born.

Designed and developed by myself, under the expert guidance and instruction of  Urban Warriors Krav maga Chief Instructor Kelina Cowell, SPD is a unique, practical, and applicable form of self-defense for people with dwarfism. For us, by us; tailored to the modern day environment (not the battlefields of feudal Japan!).

dwarfism dwarf boxing martial arts krav magaOf course there’s a desperate need for us as a society to re-evaluate how we treat those who are different; to think critically about how a dearth of real representations of people with dwarfism – and indeed other disabilities too – in the media perpetuate prejudices and spread stereotypes.

But as Kelina herself has said before, the world will never rid itself of violence, abuse, and discrimination. That we also need to address structural problems like poverty and inequality, social immobility and educational disadvantage, shouldn’t stop us from locking our doors at night to prevent burglars and home invaders.

Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs is a serious step forwards to helping people with dwarfism be better prepared to look after and defend themselves in times of crisis; to learn new skills and grow as individuals and as a community; and to build our self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

To me, that’s truly empowering.

All we have to do now is to spread the word, teach and train others, and watch the movement grow.

Interested? Want to know more? For more information about Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs, Please like the Urban Warriors SPD Facebook page, follow us on the Urban Warriors SPD Twitter page, or contact us urbanwarriorsspd at gmail.com

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The end of beer bitches in Lambeth?

beer
In October I wrote about the use of hired ‘beer bitches’ at London’s Oktoberfest.

I then tweeted this story to a series of London Assembly Members (AMs). Darren Johnson AM, to his great credit, responded and took the issue up.

As a result, his office has just forwarded me this response letter from Lib Peck, the Leader of Lambeth Council. In the letter, Lib Peck states:

“the terminology used at the event is unacceptable. Lambeth will be addressing this with the organisers as part of the debrief process. The events team will also be amending the terms and conditions to include a clause that Lambeth Events Service need to have sight of all promotional material associated with the event and anything deemed to be offensive will not be permitted.”

A success of sorts. This is now something to hold the council to account with come next Oktoberfest. 

Could this be the end of the beer bitches at public events in Lambeth?

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Filed under Gender, Politics, Social comment

Do I want to hire a “beer wench”? No thanks.

beer
Wench: “a young woman who is a servant” (Online dictionary).

Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it: “a dirty pirate hooker.”

Wench is a word you would think most businesses would try to avoid using. Most, you would hope, would be aware of both its literal (servant) and implied (prostitute) meaning.

But it is exactly this word that the tactfully titled website www.beerbitches.co.uk uses to describe the girls you can “hire” for their Oktoberfest themed parties. “Beer wenches for all occasions” they promise.

Nice huh.

Well one such occasion that has deemed it appropriate to hire some “Bavarian wenches” is the London Oktoberfest. The event which advertises itself as an opportunity to “let the entire family experience Bavarian culture” also has working the doors “hot Bavarian wenches”.

Apparently they see no antagonism in ethos there.

Interestingly, in the “family friendly” Oktoberfest they make no mention of the girls official title – beer bitches (definition of bitch given as “a malicious, spiteful, or coarse woman”). I wonder why?

To be abundantly clear, I take no issue with the girls working for beer bitches – if they want to make a bit of money and manage to have some fun at the same time then good on them. What I take issue with are companies like “Beer bitches” and the overt sexism they exude that helps perpetuate sexism both within the beer industry and in society as a whole.

The Every Day Sexism project has chronicled experiences of ordinary men and women who suffer sexist comments or actions through the day. One of these testimonies published in the Daily Telegraph reads:

I was on the bus telling my friend about the housework I have to do when I get home (I’m a young carer) and the man a couple of seats behind me said: “She’s perfect wench material.”

Another from the Telegraph reads:

“In one day I’ve been called a “frigid bitch” and a “dirty whore”.”

To think that you can run a business called “Beer bitches” that hires “wenches” specifically for men (they state they are for “Gents Events”) and that this might not be reinforcing some deep-rooted sexism within our society is extraordinary. But, that is essentially what Lisa Shepley who tweets from @Beerwenches suggests:

To clarify – feminism is not, and cannot, be understood as not condemning a woman for doing something she enjoys if you think it is negatively impacting on women in general. However, I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that says feminism entails an effort to tackle sexist language and imagery in society even if this is perpetuated by a woman.

I hope Lisa responds to this post. I would of course be more than happy to make space for a right of reply article if she wishes to write one.

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Filed under Beer, Social comment

As Gaza burns Londoners take to the streets

Hundreds of miles away, families are huddled up inside their houses fearing the next explosion. Across the south of Israel and throughout Gaza, civilians are suffering the anxiety of a war that they cannot escape.  The second day of fighting in Gaza has left a mounting death toll and an unknown number of people with life changing injuries.

This bloodshed seems a long way away from the Israeli embassy in north London. It is though, ultimately why around 1000 people gathered here on a cold November night.

As I approach the planned protest I am met first by a sea of blue and white – mainly in the form of the Israeli flags but also Union Jacks. A few hundred people had gathered to offer support for Israel. I quickly have two leaflets thrust into my hand; one entitled “Defending Israel from Terror” and the other urging me to donate to “Rocket Aid”.

I dither on the pavement as I read the leaflets. Some of the language on the leaflets attracts my attention. The first leaflet states “Operation Pillar of Defence is aimed at removing the threat to Israeli citizens. No innocent civilians will be targeted” and I think about how this aspiration seems to so routinely not be lived up to. Amnesty International has stated that two Israeli airstrikes in the last week alone have failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and as such constitute a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

My attention though shifts to a woman who is draped in an Israeli flag handing a small child a leaflet whilst saying, “it’s important everyone knows the truth”. I decide that now was not the time to discuss the philosophy of ‘truth’. Instead I start a conversation.

It would be fair to say that we don’t always see eye to eye on every issue. At times though we find common ground, “Israel’s external security threat is not to be underestimated” she says. At times though we had to agree to disagree, “I don’t know what more Israel could be doing to get peace”. I offer her a list. At times I am left speechless by some of her analogies – the bombing of Gaza, she said is like having children “you talk to them and you talk to them but sometimes you just lose your rag”. I bit my lip.

Despite at times finding her views unpalatable, she was friendly and engaging and our conversation attracted other around us. A young Londoner called Harry was hanging around the edge of the protest and soon we were having a good conversation. Harry is a 17 year old student who wants to study International Relations and oozes confidence and intelligence.

I asked Harry why he was there and he responded passionately about schooling and how he thought that every kid should have access to it without being scared of rocket attacks. Indeed, Harry who has family in Israel had none of the anger or angst that can sometimes be found in these situations and I believed him when he said “I’m also here for the Palestinians, I’m here because I want them to be free from Hamas, a terrorist government”.

As I worked my way through the crowd trying to make my way to the much larger “pro-Palestine” demonstration I briefly met a man whose son had gone and joined the IDF, a spokesman for the ZF and a young girl of about 6 who “just wanted there to be peace”- a diverse crowd.

All the time though I kept being distracted by snippets of less guarded conversations in the crowd. “Fuck human rights” “Those Arabs, they would kill each of us if we turned our backs” “Why do Arabs always smell like they’ve shit themselves”. I couldn’t help but to be appalled and I wondered what someone like Harry would have made of some of these comments.

As I made my way through the lines of police between the protests, one stopped me and asked, “Are you one of them?” I gave an oddly constrained answer as if under interrogation and said “I was looking to get into the Palestine demonstration”. To seek clarification the officer asked “Are you Jewish”? I answered honestly, “no”. This seemed to be enough to let me walk freely between the demonstrations.

Once through I was met with the swaying force of 1,000 people all shouting and chanting. There were Socialist Worker Party banners everywhere.  Almost immediately someone approached me and said “solidarity brother” and held out his fist. I replicated and we did, what I thought to be, a slightly awkward fist tap (like a high five but with your fist clenched). He looked at me smiled and said, “Yeah fuck the Jews man” and walked off.

With no sense of irony he turned and immediately started talking to a group of Jews who are anti-Zionist and can often be seen on ‘pro-Palestinian’ demonstrations. Language is used and abused but I still found the flippancy in which he muttered the phrase “fuck the Jews” to be deeply disturbing.

A wee scuffle broke out at one point between a young activist called Joe and a portly policeman. I approached Joe afterwards and asked what the problem was. Angrily at first he said, “They won’t let me confront them…the fascist scum. The EDL are down there and these pigs won’t let me through”. He looks through the policeman who is still hovering over us and says, “The Zionists are standing side by side with the fucking EDL”.

I asked around and indeed even went back to check, and couldn’t see any sign that the EDL had been at either demonstration.

All around me the crowd is loud. They chant in slogans that have been used for as long as the occupation and the mass of people seem to move with a collective pulse. The atmosphere is intense and the police numbers grow around the edges of the swelling crowd.

A young man with a scarf around his face sees me making notes and winds his way up to me. He tells me above the ambient noise that he is Indian and this is the reason why he has come here today. “I am here for myself because my country was occupied for hundreds of years. I’m here standing up for myself but also for the Palestinians – the oppressed”.

I ask him if he thinks it will work, if this demonstration will make any difference and he responds simply, “we have to try”. Even though he has a scarf over his face I can see his cheeks lifting and some wrinkles appear in the corner of his eyes. He exudes a sense of optimism.

Just as I finish speaking to him a small fight breaks out and two protestors are taken away by the police whilst chanting defiantly “Free free Palestine, from the river to the sea, free free Palestine”. The whole evening feels electric as if at any moment it could spill over.

After a gradual decline though, the cold takes most people back to their warm houses. Only a handful of anarchists and activist are left. One proclaims proudly “I’m only leaving in handcuffs” to which a policeman responds “did you bring any with you”?

As I arrived back to the warm of my south London flat, I turn on my computer and I am virtually reminded of the reason why we had all trekked across London on this cold November night. The Palestinian news agency, Ma’an News has on its front page a story that is grimly entitled “Teen brothers among 3 killed in Israeli airstrike”.

It states, “An Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday evening…bringing the death toll to 19 on the second day of fighting.”

No amount of goodwill on either side will bring back the dead and only the Israeli government and Hamas have the power to stop further bloodshed. Let’s hope the leadership was listening to some of the moderate voices out on the streets of north London  on this chilly November evening.

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Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

Brixton Village – “Pizza, but not as you know it”

Brixton Village

As a rule of thumb, when a chef wears sunglasses you know you are in for something different. Heritage Deli’s pop up restaurant in Brixton Village didn’t let me down.

As is customary in this covered food hall I walked a couple of laps to check out what was on offer before finally settling.

In the evening Brixton village is filled with wonderful authentic cooking. Aromas of blended Pakistani spices waft from the Elephant whilst just around the corner there is the unmistakable smell of quality cooked meat  coming from Brixton grill.

As I walked there was a low level of chatter and laughter coming from the young affluent and slightly alternative diners who seem to frequent Brixton village nowadays.

As I rounded the corner to Heritage café I saw a sight that convinced me to stop my wanderings.

Firstly there was a sign that simply read “Pizza, but not as you know it”. I was intrigued…I thought I knew pizza, we had been on many dates together. I saw Pizza as a partner that I could always rely on. Was I wrong?

The second thing to catch my eye was the staff. Wearing shorts and t-shirt our waiter was sat eating a slice of Pizza scratching his heavily tattooed leg. Stood behind him was his chef wearing a baseball cap and shades.

I hovered for a second before asking if it was OK to sit and wait for my partner to arrive. The waiter, who I later found out was called Dan, looked up from his pizza and beamed an “of course man” and nodded me to a free table. The chef slipped back inside to the kitchen without saying a word.

I cracked open my bottle of wine (it is bring your own drinks) and watched the medley of people meander pass. Sat sipping my wine I couldn’t help but to notice the number of beards and thick rimmed glasses walk pass.

I was snapped out of my people watching though by the arrival of my partner. We sat together as Dan explained to us Heritage Deli’s “Pizza system”. We were left with a note pad and a pen and had to write out the base type, cheeses and toppings we wanted (unlimited for £7 or £6 for unlimited vegetarian toppings).

I sat considering their promise “Pizza, but not as you know it”. I realised that of late, pizza and I hadn’t been on many dates together. I knew pizza, it was safely stored in my freezer alongside my friend’s ice cream and oven chips. When was the last time pizza and I had sat in a restaurant together?

I realised that of late I have come to accept pizza as a mediocre substitute for when I can’t be bothered to cook ‘real food’.

Selling nothing else on Thursday evenings, Heritage Deli’s homemade pizza was simply suberb though. The ingredients were fresh and full of flavour and the base and toppings were cooked to perfection.

There is much to praise Heritage Deli for, the price, the quality of their food or the friendly ambiance. But what finally won me over was the fact that we were allowed to sit at our table for well over half an hour after we finished our food without being rushed or hassled.

Whether or not this is company policy or just Dan being one of the most chilled out waiters I’ve come across I don’t know. All I do know is that I had a great food in a wonderful ambiance all for less than £10.

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Filed under Food and Drink

A walk of repentance for homophobia

Symon HillSymon Hill embodies the polar opposite of the sort archetypal Christian I address in my blog post “Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices“. In that blog I argued some Christians used their faith as a lazy excuse to perpetuate their own homophobic views.  This is stark contrast to Symon who is actively using his Christian views to question prejudice.

If some Christians are complacent in my previous criticism, then Symon Hill is there to challenge them (I might add from a far superior theological understanding to myself). On this occasion he is doing this by undertaking a walk of repentance for his previously held views on sexuality. He will walk 150-200 miles from Birmingham to London stopping at churches to raise awareness of the issue.

Symon has a powerful back story which adds weight to his walk. Earlier this year he told Pinknews, “I was fine with homosexuality and bisexuality before I became a Christian in my late teens. But after my conversion, I thought that opposition to same-sex relationships was ‘part of the deal’, even though my own sexual feelings had not been exclusively heterosexual (and still aren’t). This was partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. That church was very good in many ways, and had a very positive effect on me in other areas of my life, but I think they were severely mistaken about sexuality. Having adopted that view, I then campaigned against the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships and spoke out strongly against Christian acceptance of
homosexuality.”

Symon is now repenting for the hurt he caused during this time. Interestingly for me, he has attracted wide-spread support from across different denominations. Symon suggests that this “is a reminder that there is growing acceptance of same-sex relationships across nearly all wings of Christianity. Church divisions over sexuality are not – as the media sometimes imply – a matter of “liberals” on the one hand and “conservatives” or “evangelicals” on the other”. In his words and actions he is giving reformers within all denominations a focal point and a voice.

I find his boldness and strength of conviction heartening. I have had the pleasure of previously attending a training session that he was running (on a completely different issue), and can vouch for his passion, integrity and enthusiasm. I would encourage anyone who is free to go and listen to him speak. I am sure he would be able to tackle the potential antagonisms between Christianity and homosexuality with more grace, composure and eloquence than I can ever hope to muster.

I wish Symon all the best on his walk. I am sure it will be challenging for him both physically but also emotionally. Let me know your thoughts if you go to hear him speak.

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