Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ham and High

I used to live in Hampstead before I moved to the United States (19 years ago this week). This local story (from the Hampstead and Highgate Express 7/28/2006 on reactions to a current tabloid press scandal surrounding George Michael is truly amazing. Britain has become another country from the one I left.

What is really of is that the various voices quoted are all being very tolerant and accepting but cannot bring themselves to say "used condoms." That is very British.

Support for George Michael's defence of cruising on Heath
28 July 2006

LOCAL groups have come out in defence of gay cruising on Hampstead Heath - but want visitors to pick up their condoms.

They have spoken out after pop legend George Michael defended an encounter with a middle-aged stranger at London's notorious gay hotspot.

The former Wham frontman laughed off the rendezvous with a 58-year-old van driver, who he compared to fat comedian Bernard Manning.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Highgate, said: "Sorry if people don't like the fact I cruise on Hampstead Heath but the police absolutely accept that it goes on at night. I'm not ashamed of it.

"It's the only place in London where that is the case - so it's generally a safe place.

The gay cruising scene centres on West Heath, which covers about 70 acres of the 800 acre-park.

Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: "Gay cruising on the Heath is the subject of international gay tourist websites. It's very popular. If this sort of thing is going to go on at night, it probably doesn't disturb the average Hampstead resident. But what does is the absolutely filthy mess left behind.

"Dog walkers, people with children shouldn't have to worry about what they are going to find behind the next bush."

He added that the society was part of the "very enlightened" Sexual Activities Working Group on the Heath and, rather like the successful campaign to get dog owners to pick up their pet's mess, the group was working to train gay cruisers to clean up their litter too.

He added: "The current budget for clearing up the mess, which is frankly disgusting, is £80,000 a year.

"They just have to be reminded there's a lot of other people who use the Heath."

The Camden's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Forum said: "There needs to be a clear public acknowledgement that the reasons many engage in public sexual activity are complex - in many cases reflecting personal experiences of homophobia. They need to be supported by police with a view to their own safety."

But visitors to the Heath were split on the subject of cruising.

Richard Hudson, 30, a nurse from Birmingham, said: "It's famous this place for it. Why not just let them get on with it? It's not illegal, is it?"

But Nathalie Benjamin, 17, said: "It's sort of obscene. At any time of day it's just wrong."

At times the Heath has proven to be a very dangerous place for cruisers. Several years ago, a notorious violent robber, known as Gold Tooth, targeted gay men visiting the Heath.

Richard Gentry, manager of the Heath Constabulary, said they patrolled the perimeter of West Heath.

He said: "We don't condone the activity and are working very closely with organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, trying to get the message across about people taking their litter home. Anyone acting inappropriately will be dealt with."

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