Monday, 24 February 2014


"I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music." 

Maya Angelou, 1999. 

I could not agree more. 

                  ...upon those two words, judge not, but read her works. 

Night-club Dancer. 
Civil Rights Activist. 
Anti-apartheid Activist. 

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” 

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. The recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.

She has also received nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. 

She served on two presidential committees. Awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and in 2011 President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

She has also received over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the World. 

Her son, Guy Johnson, says he is often asked what it's like to be raised by the woman hailed as one of the most influential voices of our time. Did Johnson, a writer and author himself, ever feel he was growing up in her shadow? 

"No, I didn't. I grew up in her light." he says. 

"Sometimes I wasn't worthy of it, but it has always been an experience that expanded me. She thinks that the divine hand is in all things. She has faith that's like a rock -- you can stand on it. She speaks to our humanity and she reminds us that we are both brother and sister to the rest of the human race." 

What a powerful, moving, inspiring and true statement. 

You can see the short clip here:

With one and a half minutes that, I trust, will stay with you always, I leave the final words to The Lady herself:

Thursday, 6 February 2014


First, a little history.

It was, given a decade or so, about three thousand years ago that the first Olympic Games took place; dedicated to the Olympian gods and staged on the ancient plains of Olympia.

By all accounts, Olympia was a place of unique natural and mystical beauty, a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices. So rather akin to Sochi by all accounts, though perhaps with cleaner water and bedding. The many elaborate buildings and sporting facilities were dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus, with the temple of Hera parallel to it.  

Although the Olympic Games were closely linked to Zeus, they were not an integral part of any religious observance. The Games were a direct outgrowth of the values and beliefs of Greek society, who idealized physical fitness and mental discipline, believing that excellence in those areas honoured Zeus, the greatest of all their gods. So The Games held a secular character, solely aimed at showing the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people, as well as encouraging good relations between cities.

They continued for some 12 centuries, until the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a Christian, decreed in 393 A.D. that all such "pagan cults" be banned.

The first Olympic Games since that time were held, once again, in Greece in 1859, though it was the Athens games of 1896 that were truly international and more as we know today.

Looking back once again to the origins, another notable aspect of the Greek culture, and indeed through much of the Ancient World, was that love between males was not only tolerated but actually encouraged, and expressed as the high ideal of same-sex camaraderie.

Such terms as 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' had no equivalent in these times, simply because it was assumed that a person would have both 'hetero'- and 'homo'- sexual responses at different times. Sexuality was fluid, and was certainly not a marker of one's worth or standing in society. Over subsequent centuries much has been written to negate this; with a knowledge it cannot be completely denied, many historians and the like have done their best (inevitably fed by their own beliefs) to pigeon-hole it into matters of status and the like.

It wasn't.

Furthermore, let it not be forgotten that for several hundreds of years during this time there were two deities vying for worship. Yes, two.

One was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth who died upon The Cross to save his people, and the other was the handsome young lover of the Emperor Hadrian who drowned in the Nile to save Egypt: The Christians eventually took power over The Pagans, so Jesus won and Antinous (who most people will not have heard of) lost. Incidentally, Antinous was the last Roman to be deified, a practice normally reserved for Emperors, and there were more statues of him made than of any figure throughout the whole of Roman History. He was worshipped throughout the vast Empire for several hundreds of years.

'The Olympian Ideal'

One of the most famous statues is the colossal 'Antinous as Dionysos-Osiris' in marble, which stands in the Museo Pio-Clementino, Sala Rotunda of the Vatican Museums.

This does not open a debate here about religion and faith, but it does clearly illustrate that which character who is most worshipped, be they myth alone or legend born from reality, has deep root as to who is in power as much as anything else.

So the Pagans were, generally speaking. much freer in their approach to sexuality. It goes without saying that same-sex relationships of the kind portrayed by this 'Greek love' ideal were increasingly disallowed within the Judaeo-Christian traditions of Western society, and eventually became highly taboo.

Two of the greatest names in history, both from the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, are good examples of not following such constraint. But there are many more besides.

So, to today.

None of us can be ignorant to what is happening over in Russia, the call for change, for retraction of laws, for boycotts. Russian law bans the promotion of 'non-traditional' sexuality, and yet it could be very strongly argued that the very sexuality they are against is the most 'traditional' of all, particularly in the long history of the Olympics.

What is disturbing to say the least is that even if Putin ordered a complete reversal of his government's stance on homosexuality tomorrow, the seeds have already been sown. People invariably seem to be inspired more by hatred than love, and the mentality of prejudice has now been so firmly set in stone that it will no doubt last for generations.

The Russian government only yesterday called on all warring parties around the world to observe the Olympic truce during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in a statement that mentions the "...building (of) a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal". A peaceful and better world... quoted... from a country whose government condones the abuse and torture of individuals simply because of their sexuality.

Perhaps rather odd to quote myself here, but I wrote this in another piece about the modern slave trade, and it is fitting to place here: "It is the right of every person to be born in freedom and live in liberty. It is the duty of every person to fight injustice and oppression."

In mind of that, let me set out 'The Olympian Ideal'.

It is a life philosophy, promoting three core values:

Excellence, Friendship and Respect.

All Olympic Ideals flow from these three core values.

The aspects of these Olympic Ideals are:

The balanced development of body, will and mind.

The joy found in effort.

The educational value of being a good role model.

The respect for universal ethics, including:

• Tolerance
• Generosity
• Unity
• Friendship
• Non-discrimination
• Respect for others

Developing a better and more peaceful world by the educating of young people through sport, free of discrimination and in the Olympic spirit.