A portrait of the dangers in the sex trade

March 29, 2010

When Natasha Gomperts went for a job interview to become a “hostess” in a Mayfair club in London it was an eye-opening and brief introduction to a world in which men paid for women’s company — at the very least.

“I had no idea what the job involved,” Gomperts says, reflecting on a brief teenage adventure. Now, decades later, she is a portrait artist and a middle-class mother of three. But a forthcoming exhibition in a London gallery has led her to once again consider the silent voices of sex workers, and how changes in the law this week will affect their security and livelihood.

The faces of dozens of prostitutes stare incongruously from the debris of her North London family life. The pen-and-ink sketch of a “maid” in a brothel is tucked under a violin case.

By tradition, buying sexual services in the UK has been a relatively straightforward commercial transaction, mired in legal complexit… [more]

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Life's a pitch in the Homeless World Cup

February 20, 2010

They have the badge. They have the football strip. They even have the WAGs. Louis Garvey, a coach at Manchester United, reckons that the only differences between the top-flight pros that play for England and his international squad are “fitness levels and the cost of the haircuts”. Well, that and the fact that they are homeless.

Garvey, the head coach of the Old Trafford club’s Football in the Community programme, has been training England’s Homeless World Cup team since its creation for the inaugural tournament in 2003. Today, he prowls the indoor turf of The Cliff, the United training ground in Salford, barking instructions to the men on the pitch. After six months of selection, this is the final team trial; 14 players are present, but only eight will make it to Melbourne for the competition in December. Each team consists of four players on the pitch and four substitutes, and can be all-male, … [more]

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The No 1 Muslim Ladies' Cycling Club

February 20, 2010

Pull your brakes. Put your foot under. No, under. Set the pedal. Now release the brakes…” Most people remember learning to ride a bike. It is easier when you are 5 and not wearing a full hijab. It is also easier when small boys are not whizzing past on mini-BMXs laughing at you as their parents, on the way to Saturday morning shopping, stare and mutter under their breath.

The participants in Britain’s only known Muslim women’s cycling club are having their weekly lesson in a small park close to the East London mosque. “Most have never ridden,” says Erika Severina, their cycling instructor. “Some make excuses, such as saying their clothes aren’t suitable, but we’ve found bikes to accommodate that. Others don’t want to ride outside. But now we’ve got them in parks and on back roads.”

Learning to ride turns out to be one of the lesser hurdles the group faces. Women from other backgrounds and faiths h… [more]

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How to embrace fear

January 07, 2010

Good news for thrill-seekers. Scientists are adapting rollercoaster technology to bring us the ultimate ride

For seven mesmerising tenths of a second, the summit of the Eejanaika rollercoaster affords an unrivalled vista of the northeastern face of Mount Fuji — snow-capped, majestic…and upside-down. Then the screaming starts.

I am riding in the foremost “seat” (a sort of free-wheeling iron maiden) of the coaster, but the shrieks come from all quarters: from behind, from the side and, after we perform a second demented somersault, from in front.

My synapses crackle with the ransacked logic of inversion, but soon abandon the job to work on a more pressing problem. Most of my nerves have made an emergency return to jungle principles and seem fairly convinced their owner is about to die. That, I suspect, is the point.

The orderly Japanese screaming subsides, leaving one primal roar spiralling hopelessly in the … [more]

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Spirituality for kids: a Kabbalah project supported by Demi Moore

June 05, 2008

How Hollywood’s A-list stars are bringing the cult of Kabbalah to inner-city schools in London. Is it sinister or safe?

The room is dark. Giant oversized pencils hang from the ceiling. It’s a crazy upside-down world full of crayons that are 3ft long, Lego bricks bigger than loaves of bread and huge geometry sets. Then there is the light. Demi Moore is on stage with two candles. She spreads the flame from one candle to another: “About ten years ago I was in an enviable position. I was making $12 million a movie. I was at the top of my career. I stepped away from all that to spend time with my children. Now I make $125,000 for a movie, but do I have less?”

Well, obviously she does have less – “but there is no accounting for spending that time with my children”. It is all about finding your light and sharing it. At this point more people emerge from the darkness with cand… [more]

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