The Interview

Bloody Queer

Posted in Interviews, Journalism, UK, Uncategorized by rosalindbrabner on February 24, 2009

blooddonor1This month reporter Rosalind Brabner looks at why even though ever since 1999 the rapid increase in HIV has been caused by heterosexually acquired infections, gay men are still denied the right to give blood.

I’m not completely sure Winchester was prepared for the conversation my four friends and I was about to have. Speaking in our usual loud cackles to one another about our recent indiscretions, my friend Rob mentioned his latest embarrassing moment.

ROB’S EXPERIENCE

He recalled how he was turned away from his local blood service unit because he was gay, “I was so upset, mainly because I felt embarrassed and like some diseased promiscuous homo”. What seemed to be a further kick in the teeth for Rob was the fact he only went because he was told by his Doctor that the AB rhesus positive blood type he had was very rare. And although it did give us fantastic material for the weekly piss takes, ‘So rob let me get this right, you’re a rare species of gay that’s unwanted?’ I thought it was an issue that deserved exploring.

NATIONAL BLOOD SERVICE

According to the National Blood Service the reason men who have sex with men are banned from giving blood is because they are considered the highest risk group despite the fact that since 1999 heterosexually acquired HIV became and has continued to be the main exposure category.

International HIV and AIDS charity, Advert state on their website that “the major component of the rapid increase in recent years has been heterosexually acquired infections… in 1999, for the first time, the rate of heterosexually acquired HIV diagnosis overtook the rate of diagnosis in men who have sex with men.”

TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST

The UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust support the National Blood Service’s policy claiming that it is “a public health issue, rather than one of homophobic discrimination”.

Speaking to Rob about the situation over coffee a couple of weeks later he explained in a little more detail what he felt could be discriminatory about the circumstance, “I completely understand the implications of taking blood from a gay man however I am regularly tested and I have never had unprotected sex. Apart of me thinks the notion that HIV is a ‘gay disease’ drives this policy.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust insists “HIV has never been a gay disease as anyone can contract it”. However the Trust does put forward statistics which reflect how much more likely it is for men who have sex with men to contract HIV than other groups. “Around 1 in 10 gay men in London are now living with HIV and 1 in 25 gay men in the rest of the country”. These statistics certainly make the link between HIV and gay men hard to ignore.

The trust explains that even though it is true heterosexual acquired HIV is on the increase homosexual men are still the highest risk group. The trust claims that of the 54% of new HIV diagnoses were through heterosexual sex 85% of them were contracted outside of the UK. In contrast the 84% of men who have sex with men who were diagnosed in 2005 probably acquired the disease in the UK.

UNFAIR?

What Rob I and find it hard to get our head around is if you know you haven’t got it, absolutely sure, if you’ve been tested on a regular basis and partake in safe sex then why can’t you give blood? Rob even argues that the blood is always tested before use, “They test the blood anyway! I just find it unfair and another form of prejudice, I don’t usually care about any gay issues. Nothing ever offends me or upsets me but this does for some reason, probably because I think that blood donation is such an important issue”.

AN INTERNATIONAL EPEDEMIC

This isn’t just a British issue; due to the world health organization’s advice gay blood is globally unwanted. South African journalist Andrew Barnes had a similar experience to Rob.

Having circled ‘yes’ to the question asking, ‘have you ever had sex with another man?’ Barnes was immediately informed by the nurse his blood was ‘unwanted’. Telling the ‘Cape Argus News’ Barnes said, “I was shocked…homosexual men are not the highest risk group (in South Africa). I don’t think they should have a blanket ban on gay men giving blood”.

In response to this issue The South African blood service’s medical director Arthur Bird acknowledged, “I accept totally that with these types of questionnaires and safety margins we have do cast a net. We accept that we sometimes sweep in safe donors unnecessarily, but that’s the nature of the beast”.

The situation is also the same in the United States. Despite The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centre’s making an official statement which read that the ban “is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and that “it does not appear rational to broadly differentiate sexual transmission via male to male sexual activity from that via heterosexual activity on scientific grounds”, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) announced in 2007 that gay men will continue to be denied the right to give blood.

The overwhelming contradiction of all the information is one of the most frustrating aspects to this topic. Until all statistics concerning the link between homosexual sex and HIV correlate with each other the issue of whether men who have sex with men can give blood will never be changed.

A NEW CARELESS VIEW

Last month GT columnist, Paul Thorn shared his shock at how his ‘young admirer’ had such little knowledge of HIV. Paul’s impression is that because the HIV/AIDS issue is not as substantial as it was 10 years ago people aren’t as aware of it, “It is perhaps a side affect of pharmaceuticals allowing us to manage the virus that young people seem to be less informed these days about HIV, what is safe and what isn’t.” Perhaps what is the main issue here is re-vamping available information on HIV prevention.

By providing a constant stream of information so people are aware of the dangers of un-protected sex enables the amount of HIV contractions to decrease. I believe it will be then and only then that gay men will be given the right to give blood.

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THE ¡FORWARD RUSSIA! INTERVIEW

Posted in Interviews, Journalism, Music, Travel, UK, Uncategorized by rosalindbrabner on January 17, 2009

forwardrussia200820-20square20crop2SEEING THE UK THE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL WAY

 

Leeds band, ¡Forward Russia! cultivated murmurs of success in 2006 when the four piece released their first album, Give me a wall. Now in the middle of touring second album, Life Processes Rosalind Brabner caught up with lead singer, Tom Woodhead and Bassist Rob Canning to find out what life is really like on the road.

 

I was ten minutes early as usual. I always think there is a better chance of getting a cup of tea when you’re early. Turns out not so much this time, but I was greeted by an awkward guitar manager called Alan. I know his name was Alan because he told me. Twice. Alan and his beard walked me into what he called ‘the dressing room’ but what I knew to be the backroom of the Birmingham Barfly where people go to throw up on a club night. Once the band had finished their sound check Alan or his beard (I couldn’t tell) suggested it was best to find a quieter spot to do the interview so we walked up 3 flights of stairs only to find a room in the derelict club the Barfly adjoins which had seats and pigeon in it.

Rob: “This is possibly the only interview we’ve had with a pigeon in it”. At this point I knew I was on to a winner, Parkinson never had a pigeon.

 

Having toured their first album extensively around the UK, ¡Forward Russia! are no novices to the grueling traveling schedules, but Rob admits things have changed, “when we started off we had stars in our eyes and dreams that hadn’t been crushed, it was quite an exciting time really, we were quiet young and naïve to it all so it was just a sense of adventure and we’re a bit more boring this time round, the novelty wares off”. Tom adds, “We’ve been thrown by most things we could be have been thrown by so we feel like we’re pretty much prepared for anything to go wrong”. Literally, Tom really has had most things thrown at him on tour, “I got hit by an onion once, a whole onion, and it was one of those really big white ones”.

 

Unsurprisingly Tom reckons Leeds is the best place in the UK to play, “Leeds is always good, the northern gigs tend to be better although we’ve had a couple of good gigs in Brighton”, whereas Rob enjoys touring Scotland, “there is a certain atmosphere in Scotland that’s quiet unbeatable, you get a really, really good crowd in Scotland”. It seems to me that ¡Forward Russia! are just another northern band wary of southerners but Tom and Rob insist that “in general most bands will tell you the further north you go the crowd just loosens up a bit more, when you’ve been working down the mine all day you just need the escape of live music: being at a bank isn’t the same”, not a surprise that at this point my accent tales off into thicker estuary slurs.

                                                                                                                                                                                

“The worst thing about being on tour is that you get f**king ill, you get really rundown, I feel quite delicate today. It’s a total emotional rollercoaster, one minute you can feel really high and the next minute and can feel really, really low and down about stuff”. Emphasising this point with a sniffle, Rob didn’t do much to convince me that it’s not all just a case of the man flu but I’d thought I’d better give him the benefit of the doubt because he did just offer an alarming insight into the emotional stability of a bass guitarist.

 

Unfortunately but expectedly Tom and Rob admit they see more service stations than cities in the UK when they’re on tour, “It’s quite hard when you’re on a relatively tight schedule to look around, you arrive at the venue do your bits and bobs and then the sound check so its difficult to fit sight seeing in there, we have seen about a million and one travel lodges though, I could tell you loads about them”. It’s not until a day off comes along that they get to hangout in different places, Rob explains, “yeah when we’ve done a gig miles away, in Brighton or something we’ll stay down there but we haven’t had many days off on this tour”. With such a hardcore traveling programme and just one van for all four band members and Alan ( + beard)  I wondered if ¡Forward Russia!’s second tour was riddled with arguments, smelly feet and general misconduct especially as the other two band members Whiskers (guitar) and Katie (Drums) are siblings. “Everyone can be annoying at times, its like being with your family loads of pointless bickering, someone hates someone one day and then someone else the next, its that sort of thing” says Rob. Tom clarifies that touring with siblings “can be nightmare, it’s exactly what you imagine it would be”.

 

Katie caused a bit of a stir recently after rating how good the different crowds were on the Scottish leg of their tour, “we told her not to do that but she still did it” they both tell me, Rob adds, “Katie’s quite naïve in some ways, she doesn’t realise someone might offended if you call them a shit crowd”. Tom reckons that a good crowd is much more than how much noise they make, “sometimes you can tell when crowds aren’t even moving that they are really into it; it’s all about the atmosphere”. And the best thing about being a British band at the moment?, “it’s really hard to say, we are totally out of any scene at the moment, I guess the touring is much better, in America you have to travel miles and miles to the next venue- that would be hard”. ■

 

DAVID SHUKMAN

Posted in Interviews, Journalism, Travel, UK by rosalindbrabner on January 12, 2009

david_shukmanLast year I caught up with BBC correspondent David Shukman at a travel conference in Birmingham:

 

 

MY FAVOURITE PLACE

David Shukman

The Isle of Eigg

 

As BBC News Science and Environment Correspondent, David Shukman has travelled all over the world but one of his favourite places is one of the UK’s best kept secrets, The Isle of Eigg in the inner Scottish Hebrides.

 

“You’ll probably get sea sick trying to get there, and you’ll most definitely get rained on but if you get the weather it is just fantastic!”

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

The remote Island which only has 82 inhabitants was introduced to 24 hour power thanks to renewable energy in February. The island which previously ran on diesel generators for only a few hours of the day now has a system which uses a mix of solar, hydro and wind power. Maggie Fyffe, the islands heritage trust sectary explains “the new system has been totally valuable; it’s made a whole world of difference. From everyone relying on their own diesel generators which weren’t at all environmentally friendly to this really has made a huge difference”.

 

For more information about the Isle of Eigg visit http://www.isleofeigg.org/

The Nicholas Crane Interview

Posted in Interviews, Journalism, Travel, UK by rosalindbrabner on January 12, 2009

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Last year I interviewed the BBC’s Nicholas Crane about all things British:

 

MR UK

 

Adventurer, author and television presenter Nicholas Crane has trekked across Europe, cycled through Asia and has even slept in a tent on the top of the Alps but still regards the UK as one of the most interesting travelling destinations.

 

I haven’t flown recreationally for ten years. I’ve not taken holiday flights, and I’ve stopped writing about places that will encourage people to fly airplanes but I have for work. As it happens I’ve not been on a plane for two years.

 

Ten years ago is somebody said to me can you come to a meeting in Glasgow I’d have flown, well I went to Glasgow on Wednesday, I got up at five in the morning did five hours work on the train got back on the train at four thirty in the afternoon did another five hours work. Train is you can do it is a much more efficient way of travelling than airplane. It’s four hours of completely wasted work time and it costs the nation a fortune.

 

No one is going to tell me that flying internally is a better use of work time, it’s a complete hoax put out by the airline companies. I don’t know how modern companies trying to make money can possibly think that it’s efficient to fly employees internally in Britain.

 

By taking flying out of the equation you become much more inventive and the travelling becomes part of the holiday, part of the fun. The actual business of moving from A to B is fun; nobody can convince me flying is fun.

 

One of the joys of travelling in Britain is the pubs. Modern pubs are absolutely brilliant, you can get great food, if you’re into beer and I am then its great.

 

I feel very strongly that pubs are a national institution worth supporting because they are closing very, very fast. We are loosing hundreds a year.

 

My favourite place in Britain really depends on my mood. There are some really beautiful places to visit along the coast.