The Ebony Tower
There seems, at last, to be a replacement for the “Passion from Protein” man who for so many years promenaded the West End inveighing against the sexual depravity provoked by eggs and cheese. Nowadays I often see an elderly Afro-Caribbean man on Oxford Street, who declaims his own brand of Christian gospel using a curious portable PA system: a tiny speaker hung round his neck like sonic bling, a microphone rasped by his mobile lips. On Saturday this peripatetic preacher came towards me through massed crowds of frenzied consumers: “Life is but a dream!” he squawked with a Jamaican inflection. “An’ dis is not your real ‘ome!” How sage, I thought, how just. “In the midst of life,” he continued, “we are in debt!” Sometimes, I reflected, the truest revelations are quite unintentional.
A curious phenomenon in Trafalgar Square needs remarking on. Since the installation of Marc Quinn’s monumental statue of the nude and pregnant disabled woman Alison Lapper, there’s been an avian redistribution. Formerly General Napier, Sir Henry Havelock, George IV, and even the Big N himself, all had an even share of the available pigeons and seagulls. However, these bronzed oldies cannot compete with the cool marble form of youthful Ms Lapper, and the birds, doubtless mistaking her for some particularly cuddly looking cliff, have deserted their old perches. Now the Dead White Males stand alone, while the defiantly alive and considerably whiter Ms Lapper has an entire flock clustered in her rounded lap. It’s an arresting image, and further confirmation — if any were needed — of why Quinn’s statue was such a great choice for the fourth plinth.
To the Barbican for the Michael Clark Company’s production of O, a ballet that reworks Balanchine and Stravinsky in radical and entrancing ways. Clark remains the doyenne of modern British choreographers — his work leaps from the prissy precincts and strikes bold poses which all can appreciate. Certainly the audience were as diverse a bunch as it was possible to imagine in a London theatre. Sitting in front of me were a couple of dumpy punks, sporting so much face-metal that I was amazed they could keep their heads upright. But they could, and this meant that I saw the op-art set through the pinkish haze of a couple of brightly dyed mohican tufts. Meanwhile, next to me were a pair of fearsomely erect ladies of a certain age, who looked as if they might once have shared a barre with Margot Fonteyn. Clark’s company features non-standard body types as well — tall women dancers and squat men — so audience and performers were engaged in an arresting pas-de-deux.
Sue Axon, a Mancunian mother of two teenage daughters, is taking on the Government in the High Court over its guidance allowing doctors to provide confidential abortion advice and contraception to young people under 16 without their parents’ knowledge. At first glance there seems reasonable grounds for her challenge: surely every parent has a right to know what is happening to their children, especially when it’s a vital health issue of this kind? Mrs Axon is basing her case on the Human Rights charter, which in the last few years has become a versatile stick in the hands of protesting litigants. She claims breach of her human rights — while lawyers on behalf of the Department of Health will argue that breaking the children’s patient confidentiality would be in breach of theirs.
The case is essentially “Gillick Lite”: a rerun of the Christian campaigner’s unsuccessful move, 20 years ago, to prevent underage girls being prescribed the pill without parental consent. But whereas Victoria Gillick demanded consent, Sue Axon only wishes knowledge. I don’t wish to impugn Mrs Axon’s motives, although her own guilt and regret over an abortion she once had seem a poor basis on which to pressure for a change in the law.
The truth is that the current guidelines have sufficient flexibility for doctors and health professionals to breach patient confidentiality where there is a serious threat to a child’s health. Any 15-year-old girl seeking an abortion will be encouraged to speak to their parents about it, and if she absolutely refuses the doctor must make every effort to help her find an adult mentor to offer support. As things stand, the large majority of underage girls seeking abortions do tell their parents in advance.
It’s tough for the Mrs Axons of this world to take it on board, but for young people having sex is something they don’t want their parents to know too much about. Curiously young people take very much the same view of parental sex! Our sex lives are conducted for the most part in private, and regardless of our age that’s the way we like to keep it. The problem is that this quite reasonable need for privacy shades imperceptibly into the secrecy surrounding self-destructive and high-risk behaviour among the young, whether that be drink, drugs or sex. But the harsh facts are that if a child substantially under 16 engages in unprotected sex it is almost certainly too late for her parents to reimpose control — especially through the agency of a nanny state.
Britain currently has the highest proportion of teenage pregnancies in Europe. The Mrs Axons of the world seem to believe that this is because of our enlightened and child-centred approach to the consequences of underage sex. Instead they should concentrate their efforts on the social, cultural and emotional pressures which lead girls — and boys — to such precocious rutting. If Mrs Axon did so she might be surprised by the common ground she shares with her ostensible opponents.