18th April 2013
It was set to be one of the most politically controversial events in recent British history, a £10 million ceremonial funeral with full military honours for the woman who many regard as an evil destroyer of many industries and families. Add to this Monday's terror attack at the Boston Marathon, and it's safe to say I was feeling fairly nervous about spending the day in London to photograph the historic morning. However, I needn't have been.
On arrival at St Paul's at around 9am, I found the non-VIP attendees of the funeral queueing in Paternoster Square. The atmosphere was calm, with a few other photographers and TV crews milling around and taking snaps of the entrance gate. Even here, security was visibly very high, with guests passing through a rigorous police checkpoint and body-scanners on their way into the iconic building. A perimeter of perhaps 20-30m was fenced off in all directions around St Paul's, with police, army and royal military guards working together to keep the area secure.
As 10am approached, I made my way out of Paternoster and onto Fleet Street, where crowds were already lining the route very thickly. I decided to move down-street away from St Paul's in hope of finding a front-row spot and on a bustling crossroads, distracted by anti-Tory protesters waving their signs and banners, I practically walked straight into Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, who had also spotted the protesters and was making his way over to grab some interviews. All protest was peaceful, with demonstrators wondering around almost silently with their placards and banners of disagreement. One particular young man in a red hoodie was attracting a lot of attention from the media, with his enormous "TORY SCUM" sign held proudly over his head. Overhearing Jon Snow interviewing him, I learned that he was just about old enough to remember Thatcher's time, and the damage her policies did to people he knew. I continued down Fleet Street, and before long I found an opening in the crowd and managed to sneak in to the front row, against the fences.
Waiting patiently for the procession to arrive, entertainment was provided by the royal guards, marching authoritively along the route and lining the fences. Overhead, office workers leaned out of their third-floor windows, much to the envy of those of us on the ground. By now, the sun was trying very hard to show it's face, and the mood of the crowd was very positive. I had expected a hostile day of protest, arrests and violence, but it was clear that these people were Thatcher supporters. Many wore blue ribbons or clothing. Three young men on the opposite side were fully-suited, their hands clasped in front of them and their heads slightly bowed. Some women even wore full funeral dress, complete with veils. Those who supported Thatcher, or at least respected her with dignity in death, certainly outnumbered those who wanted to show their hatred of the woman, and that was good to see. At around 9.40am, the military band could be heard approaching.
As the funeral procession passed, the crowd was dutifully quiet. The royal guards stood with arms dropped, while an armed police officer kept a beady eye on the crowd. I snapped away as much as I could, as did other photographers, but other spectators stood quietly, some with heads bowed, as the Iron Lady rolled by. By this point on the route, the coffin had been transferred from the hearse to a horse-drawn gun carriage, and the gentle clip-clop of horses' hooves echoing through the silent street was incredibly eerie. The procession passed and we all watched as it continued down Fleet Street. Then, as it reached the crossroads, there was a noise. It grew louder and louder, until people started to realise it was applause. The wave spread back towards us, and soon we were clapping too. Nobody seemed quite sure whether the show of appreciation was for Thatcher herself, the fact that she was dead, or merely for the work of the police and soldiers in the procession but everyone joined in for their own reasons, and for many it was visibly a heartfelt show of support for the lady herself.
With the procession over, I made my way out of the crowds and back towards St Pauls, where I joined hundreds of others in waiting to see the guests leave the cathedral. The Queen was the first out, followed by party leaders and a whole host of military generals, Arab Sheiks, and British celebrities including Katherine Jenkins, Jeremy Clarkson, John Sergeant, Andrew Lloyd Webber and many others. You can see my photos of the guests leaving the cathedral, and all other shots from the day, on my Photography page. Prints and publishing rights available.
2nd April 2013
I spotted this in a church in the small village of Lacock today. A rather amusing example
of how religion likes to mould itself around new scientific and social discoveries.
9th March 2013
7th March 2013
Orwell's universally famous depiction of a dystopian political nightmare is certainly my favourite book of all time. The story is simultaneously a gripping thriller, an emotionally-draining love story and a deeply thought-provoking political statement. It is frightening how much of Orwell's 1940's prediction is today a reality, with the constant surveillance and technological infringements of privacy of North Korea rapidly arising in Britain and the United States too. I read Nineteen Eighty-Four several years ago, but I have just bought a new copy with Penguin's brand new 'censored' cover (see left), and I look forward to reading this timeless masterpiece again and again.
This is my current read, and one that I am very much enjoying. While Hitchens' forthright and outspoken tone may be too much for those to whom religious faith is valuable, it is a great read for anyone who opposes religion, or is even impartial to it. Hitchens' argument against organised religion is staggeringly persuasive, with strong point after strong point being made with historical context and examples. I've always loved his eloquent and confident use of the English language. Though challenging, God is Not Great is an enlightening and stirring read.
Half of the youtube pair 'vlogbrothers', John Green is one of the most talented writers of teen literature out there. Paper Towns tells the tale of Quentin and his eccentric childhood friend Margo, and their wild adventures one summer in Orlando, Florida. I challenge any boy to read this story without falling absolutely head-over-heels in love with the confident and quirky Margo, feeling everything Quentin feels and egging him on throughout his pursuit of this fantastic girl. I'd also recommend Green's latest work, the highly-acclaimed The Fault In Our Stars.
24th February 2013
On Saturday 23rd February, hundreds of Cambridge residents marched through the historic and diverse city in protest of the EDL's presence. I have been asked why, with my negative views on religion, I joined the march.
(Photo: All Rights Reserved)
If you know me personally or on Twitter, or you read this blog, you will know that my views on religion (including Islam) are far from complimentary. Theistic faith is completely bizarre to me. I fail to understand why people believe in this superstitious nonsense, and I believe that organised religion is a dangerous force that does more damage to humanity than good. Why, then, did I join hundreds of muslims and non-muslims in standing against the EDL, whose principles you might think I would sympathise with? It's a fair question. The EDL stand against the world-conquering wave of Islam and Sharia Law that threatens our largely secular society. This I agree with. They also oppose Islam extremeism, and of course I strongly oppose this too. So what's my problem with them?
There's a few things. First of all, the way in which the EDL go about spreading their message and carrying out what they consider to be 'protecting tradition'. The group have developed a notorious reputation for violence, and often attack people based purely on their skin colour or nationality. Violence against those you disagree with is never excusable. Secondly, they are outright racist in their blanket-hatred of other nationalities. While the leader of the group, Tommy Robinson, is at least semi-educated and probably wants to make a genuine political difference, it is clearly observable that the majority of EDL "members" are nothing more than drunken football hooligans who make Darwin's theory of evolution seem unlikely. These representatives of the EDL at city protests target all non-white-British people with digusting racist language and abuse. While it's true that I am against organised religion and think that faith without evidence is barbaric, I respect the individual's choice to follow it. I always say that it is the institutions and the concept of religion that I take issue with, not the innocent followers. When someone starts teaching their children creationism or denying people health care on religious ground, that's different. But I respect those who innocently follow religion. The EDL do not share this view. They believe that immigration must be stopped completely and that all non-white non-British do not belong here. This is nothing short of neo-Nazi fascism. Perhaps these thugs lack the intelligence to have a more balanced, complex opinion. And finally, if you're in any doubt over the nature of the EDL ... they use the Nazi Swastika as an emblem of their cause.
As it turned out, the whole day was a big laugh for those of us opposing the EDL. Of the hundreds of fascists who planned to turn up, there were just about 20-30 in total. There were over 600 of us, and before long the hate-mongerers had asked the police to escort them away and had disappeared. The march was a wonderful celebration of unity and diversity, and a clear message that the EDL are not welcome in Cambridge. Watch my short video from the march below, and click the button to see my photos!
7th February 2013
I like to challenge religious faith, not because I want to take the comfort and happiness of religion away from people, but because it frustrates me greatly to see people have absolute trust in something without using their own power of thought and reason to question the information. To me, blind religious faith is frankly ignorant of, and damaging to, scientific progress. But what angers me more is when a person who holds such blindly faithful views claims that it is me who must prove them wrong. That is, religious or theistic belief is the default position of truth, until science can prove that God does not exist. (Bill O'Reilly is guilty of this ridiculous position of argument, in his interview with Richard Dawkins. See my blog post below). This idea that science must provide proof is absolute poppycock, as best demonstrated by the great Bertrand Russell in an unpublished magazine article from 1952.
In the piece for Illustrated magazine, Russell made the hypothetical claim that there is "a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit", adding that the pot is "too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes". The teapot represents God or any deity, equally invisible to us humans. Quite rightly, Russell says that if he were to claim that his undisprovable claim were true because nobody could show otherwise, he would be thought mad. However, if the teapot's existance were supported by a centuries-old book, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday and instilled into the minds of children at school, people would be much more ready to believe and to condemn those who doubted. This is one of my favourite analogies of all time, showing why the burden of proof is absolutely on those with a belief, and not those without one. Believe in the existence of God if you like, but do not claim that your view is true until proven untrue. Christians and other theists really ought to accept that there is no evidence for their point of view whatsoever, and that a single book with no citation or reference whatsoever does not constitute evidence. But more importantly, they should realise that the burden of proof lies with them, and not with atheism. If I tell a believer that I think there really is a teapot orbiting the sun, they would surely not take my belief as fact until they could prove the teapot didn't exist. As was famously said by the legendary Carl Sagan:
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".