Blog Archive

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Why the dressing-down, officers?

When I took part in a coastal walk with some fellow naturists, the police turned out in force - and some brought their prejudices with them.

What we are and what we do are quite different. We are what we are, and the law tends to protect our indisputable attributes from abuse. What we do, however, is what, in the main, we choose to do, and the law protects others from our more threatening and downright dangerous acts.

What we all are is unavoidable: naked apes. Yet we choose to clothe ourselves, and then judge states of dress and undress as if they were acts. What clothing we wear is, of course, a matter of choice and often makes a statement about the wearer. In this, as in many areas, each society has its norms and generally people abide by them. But sometimes norms are built on habits, habits can be questioned, and the habit of teaching human beings that their bodies are shameful is surely pernicious. So if a dress convention seems unnecessarily restrictive, why not break with it while in peaceful and well-intentioned activity pursued for reasons that seem good and in situations where, on consideration, no one will be harmed?

When British Naturism (slogan: "Nothing's better") chose the Marine Conservation Society as its charity of the year, it envisaged its supporters getting sponsorship for walking parts of the British coastline for the MCS's Coastal Challenge appeal. And, if conditions were suitable, no doubt naturists would want to walk with fewer clothes than most. Some of us rose to this challenge in Dorset this summer.

The south-west coast path between Swanage and Lulworth runs along a spectacular stretch of cliffs, including many steep rises and falls between beaches and abandoned seashore quarries (where the Purbeck stone of Westminster comes from). In any conditions, the walk is marvellous, and on June 2 the weather was warm and sunny. About 15 of us (and a dog) assembled at the start - but, wait, why all these police officers?

The walk's organiser had advised Dorset police of our plans principally so that, should any member of the public ring them to report the unusual sight of several walkers naked between rucksack and socks, then the boys in blue could reassure them that it was known about and broke no law. Unfortunately the police took the view that the public would be so distressed by us that they mounted Operation Thistle to chaperone the walk (boys and girls now in yellow) with vehicles and changes of shift along the route. Officers videoed us, ordered us to don clothes on a whim, approached passers-by to solicit "complaints" and even arrested one of us for not obeying an order to dress.

The charge was under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which police now use as a catch-all for behaviour they don't like by calling it disorderly, and was dropped when the CPS realised there was no evidential support. Submissions are being made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and Dorset taxpayers can take a view on whether police resources were spent wisely.

So what do I take from this? That some police apply their personal prejudices when defining acceptable behaviour, and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to frighten unconventional people. As counterexamples, I would cite police assistance in both Spencer Tunick's mass nude photo shoots and in the annual event of the World Naked Bike Ride (which hundreds of riders attended in central London this summer).

I'll let Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the former home secretary, have the last word: "If you want to stop people doing something which they enjoy doing, which they believe is within their liberty of action, then you've got to have an overwhelming social case. If you're going to stop them, you shouldn't do it out of prejudice or out of habit, but only because you can show that a definite social evil results."

Naked ramblers in police fury

Naked ramblers today slammed heavy-handed police tactics in marshalling a fundraising charity walk.

The group of walkers set off on a 20-mile hike along the south coast path from Swanage to Lulworth Cove, Dorset, to raise money for the Marine Conservation Society.

But police decided the group of up to 20 people posed a public risk and reportedly deployed 10 officers, patrol cars and a helicopter to marshal the naturists under a carefully-planned operation codenamed Thistle.

Naked walker Bernard Boase, 63, was asked to cover up by a police officer half-way through the walk on June 2.

He was arrested and charged with harassment when he refused but the case was later dropped because of a lack of evidence.

The retired IT consultant from Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, plans to complain to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

A fellow naked rambler has already lodged a complaint with the IPCC.

A third walker has also written to Inspector Ashley Adams, of Dorset Police, but received an "unapologetic" letter back, Mr Boase said.

He added: "It was completely unnecessary and such a waste of resources. I'd be interested to know exactly what it did cost.

"In a word, the police harassed us far more than we could have harassed anybody else by our presence."

He said passers-by happily greeted the ramblers, who were wearing just rucksacks and hiking boots, but halfway through the walk officers began "soliciting" complaints.

"The second shift of officers got very heavy-handed, going up to passers-by suggesting that they might like to make complaints," Mr Boase said.

"This kind of solicitation is unacceptable."

A Dorset Police spokesman said: "The Jurassic Coastal path is a busy tourist area with the path being used by more than 200 people on a summer Saturday, including significant numbers of children and older people.

"We received a total of 18 complaints from the public about nudity during the walk."


November 2, 2007 -- You could barely see him - and that was the problem.

The latest streaker to traverse the Crossroads of the World had New Yorkers and tourists gaping at around 9:30 p.m. last night as he made a mad dash from the Times Square subway station at West 42nd Street.

"I heard everybody saying, 'Wow!' " reported pretzel vendor Tawfik Abdel Rehim, 39.

A security guard said the man was darting alongside traffic, muttering "something about he was on his way home."

Video: Relive the original Times Square Streaker experience

According to police, the 44-year-old White Plains man, who has a history of psychiatric problems, took a MetroNorth train to The Bronx, where he switched to the subway and gradually began to disrobe.

"By the time he got to Times Square, he was naked," an NYPD spokesman said. After being apprehended next to a vendor's cart marked NUTS 4 NUTS , he was taken to Bellevue Hospital.

It's becoming a Times Square trend. Three weeks ago, Brooklyn resident Josh Drimmer, 26, took a naked stroll along Seventh Avenue .

He later told The Post he'd had "a bad day."

Additional reporting by Perry Chiaramonte

Friday, 2 November 2007

'Desperate' to prove a point about gay couples

ABC's Desperate Housewives (Sunday, 9 ET/PT) has its first desperate houseguys. And they may be the most unconventionally conventional gay couple on broadcast television.

The relationship of Bob (One Life to Live's Tuc Watkins) and Lee (Judging Amy's Kevin Rahm) is less than idyllic. There's marital tension. One likes the city, one likes suburbia. One's conciliatory, one's acerbic. One tries to blend in, the other couldn't care less. They have secrets. In other words, they're not that much different than most of the straight couples on Wisteria Lane.

"In capturing the gay suburban experience, the joke is they have the same issues as everyone else," says series creator Marc Cherry, who eschewed stereotypical characterizations of gay men. "The politically correct thing would have been to have everyone get along with them. But there's a lot of comedy to be played against type."

Gay characters and couples are nothing new on TV. But typically, broadcast TV gay roles have been played for laughs, flamboyance and fashion acumen.

Bob and Lee make their Desperate debut to a surprised Susan (Teri Hatcher), who extends her physical clumsiness to the social graces. "I've seen a lot of cable, so I get it. You're just great," she tells the perplexed pair upon finally realizing the couple's sexual orientation.

Cable TV has been kinder and more realistic in gay couple portrayals on such programs as HBO's Six Feet Under and The Wire, notes Damon Romine, entertainment media director at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

"It's great that Desperate Housewives— a clever, funny, high-profile show — is expanding its diversity by having a long-time committed gay couple. It taps into an audience that already enjoys the show," he says.

Cherry, who named the characters after ABC journalist Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, after meeting them at a dinner, says he and his writers are still developing Bob and Lee's story lines — which, in keeping with the neighborhood, include at least one secret between the couple and a story line involving their roles in helping rebuild the community after a tornado.

That plotline may help them in a community that ostracized them in last Sunday's episode, after they placed a huge, hideous, metal-sculptured fountain in their front yard. They blackmailed neighborhood association president Katherine (newcomer Dana Delany) from having it hauling away.

Both actors relish the high-profile roles.

"Marc should be applauded for creating gay characters who aren't issue-oriented. A lot of the time, gay characters are known through issues — coming out or health problems," Watkins says. "There are a few cliché gay jokes on Desperate Housewives. But Bob and Lee aren't stereotypical. They have horrible taste. They have a sense of humor. They're a little mean. They're certainly not PC."

Watkins continues to play David Vickers on ABC daytime soap One Life to Live, a role completely opposite to Wives' Bob. "David is an inept con man who's been married four times and sleeps around," Watkins says. "Bob is a conservative husband who is just trying to keep to himself. It's great to play both."

"Tuc's character wants to be the good guy, to be part of the community," Rahm says. "What's great about Lee is there's no filter on the stuff he says about the suburbs or what he says to other people. It's a great dynamic."

It's unclear how long the couple will remain on Wisteria Lane; currently, the pair are cast as recurring characters. "We're having fun with them," Cherry says. "I hope to keep them as long as I can."