Friday Arts Diary | 8 November 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


World Press Photo 2013

Friday 8th November – Tuesday 26th November

Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall

This year’s World Press Photo winners capture a world in jarring transition, at scales ranging from the intimate to the industrial. The winner of the Spot News category may well become an enduring image of the Israeli-Palestine conflict; ‘Gaza Burial’, taken by Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, depicts the chilling scene of two dead toddlers, killed by an Israeli airstrike, being carried by their weeping uncles to a mosque, down a hazy, narrow alleyway.



I'm Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Monday 11th November, BBC Radio 4, 6:30pm

Series 60, Episode 1

The preeminent and completely silly Radio 4 panel show – or, as it calls itself, the ‘antidote to panel shows’ – started in April 1972, and it shows no sign of slowing as it begins its diamond jubilee run. Prepare for the usual surreal, witty musical diversions from Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, joined by guest panelist John Finnemore. Jack Dee morosely chairs the affair, and Colin Sell ties the whole thing together at the piano. As the wonderful Humphrey Lyttleton once ended a round: ‘All good things must come to an end, so let's carry on.’
Recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.


Music Festival

London Jazz Festival

Friday 15th November- Sunday 24th November

Various venues around London

This year marks the 21st birthday of London’s biggest city-wide music festival. All grown-up, the festival is now spread across ten days, and takes in an extraordinary range of live music played in venues of all varieties, from Snarky Puppy’s slot at Shoreditch’s red-bricked Village Underground to the soulful voice of Natalie Williams playing the once-smoky, still-venerated stage of Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.




Released: Friday 8th November, 2013

Critics and audiences are falling for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort, which has just broken the all-time box-office record for an October release, grossing over £250m, and has so far earned a meta-rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as greenhorn medical engineer and grizzled astronaut forced to work together after a straightforward shuttle mission goes drastically wrong.

Or, if sci-fi isn’t your thing, and you’re in London on Monday 11 November, you can head down to Leicester Square to try and catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.



Stewart Lee: Much a-Stew About Nothing

Leicester Square Theatre

4th – 30th November, 7:15pm (Mon to Sat), 4pm (Sat)

Tickets £17.50 (Mon to Thu), £20.50 (Fri & Sat)

The dry, sardonic and obnoxiously meta comedian - once proudly ranked the 41st  best stand-up of all time, and made infamous after penning ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ - will be in residence at the Leicester Square Theatre this month, presenting ‘a mixed bag of unrelated ideas, read off of some crumpled bits of paper’ in preparation for his new TV series in 2014.  If jokes about William Blake and 20-minute Beckettian digressions about a man made of carpet remnants sound like your kind of show, grab a ticket now, as it’s likely to sell out fast.

Paul Hansen accepts his World Press Photo award (Getty Images/Robin Utrecht)
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The conflict in Yemen is a civil war by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood