Hi guys, we are still trying to coexist with the Coronavirus and our future seems like it is hanging by a thread. At the end of such a tough year, I would like to dedicate this volume to the theme of Celebration, in order to inspire some positivity in our lives.
Feeling a bit battered by wind and rain, me and my housemate Caitlin ascended the peak of Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District. We looked out across craggy rocks for the famed view of the national park’s hills and plateaus, but instead saw nothing but pure white mist. Straining for a view through the heavy fog, I remarked to Caitlin that it was probably a very different view that 400 ramblers saw that sunny April day in 1932 when they took part in arguably the most successful direct action in British history: the Kinder Scout trespass.
Modern day Britain is a beautiful hodgepodge of cultures and characters; but modern day Britain lies on the dirty bed of its past. The sheets are neglected, the pillows muddied and sullen, in a desperate pit of forgotten-truths. And yet, so much of our present is reliant on our past, so much of our intricate, British DNA is woven with the souls of those we conquered, or terrorised (perspective dependent) that there is a heated and ongoing debate around the education of our past in schools.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided East from West, on the 9th of November 1989 is one of the most impactful and moving events of the last 35 years in European history; five million people gathered in Berlin to celebrate this moment. The border was accidentally opened due to a confusion during Schabowski’s speech stating that East Germans could now apply for travel visas to West Germany; thousands of East Germans rushed to the wall to travel across the border, to the point that East German guards could no longer control them.
The English have been famous through the ages for their binge drinking, but when the government tried deregulating the beer supply to working-class areas, as a means to stem demand for gin in 1830, they badly miscalculated. Accounts of the resulting disorder suggest that the worst Saturday night brawl today would pale by comparison. Trying to engineer solutions to social problems by steering the market for alcohol had led to a crisis, and a Northern campaigning movement emerged with a radical alternative strategy: reduce demand instead of tinkering with supply.
In the famous account Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup says “if ye wish to look upon the celerity, if not the poetry of motion upon genuine happiness, rampant and unrestrained – go down to Louisiana and see the slaves dancing in the starlight of a Christmas night.” Now, celebration is certainly not a theme that immediately springs to mind when talking or thinking about the topic of slavery, and is in fact the complete antithesis to the view of slavery as an institution that prevailed prior to the ‘cultural turn’ of the 1970s.
Every year on 21st December the tallest stone at Stonehenge lines up with the rising sun. The midwinter solstice would have been a very important day for Neolithic people. Archaeological evidence from around Stonehenge shows us that they had immense feasts – from pork and beef to mead made from honey. They probably sang songs, accompanied by the whistle of bone flutes as bonfires were lit on the frosty ground to honour the sun.
There seems to be an incorrect assumption within the LGBTQ+ community that before the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969, queer individuals lived in secrecy. However, we only have to turn to the vibrant night-life of 1920’s Berlin and the pioneering work of the Institute of Sex Research to uncover a thriving gay scene and powerful political activism that challenged the rampant homophobia of the era. There was hope for a better life despite the hardships.
In light of the confusing and unpredictable times we find ourselves in, it seems appropriate to look back at an epidemic which primarily affected the LGBT+ community – a societal group who endured hardships through the oppressive discriminatory laws and attitudes embedded in the twentieth century. The AIDS/HIV epidemic remains one of the most significant health crises in history, with the discovery of the first treatment method in 1987 being regarded by many as a significant move forward for not only the scientific community but also the LGBT+ community, notably homosexual males. Such discovery provides us with a sense of hope not solely in regard to resolving the coronavirus pandemic, but also to the fact that there is potential for marginalised groups in society to be alleviated from their suffering.