Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ramblings: No Ho Ho


 
I’ve lived through too many festive seasons to mention and for those of you without a wise older (and slightly forthright and occasionally downright rude) relative to guide them here’s my top tips for festive survival. Forget the zombie apocalypse; this one is more dangerous than you can even begin to imagine:

1)      Don’t Spend it Hung-over: During my drinking days, I’ve spent many a bleary day retching over the stench of softly dissolving Brussels over-boiling in a steamy kitchen and clutching my head whilst weeping softly. Do: Avoid the demon drink the night before or better still, stay drunk. No one minds at Christmas time. You’re not classed as an alcoholic unless the bender stretches on till at least mid January. Just check that your insurance is enough to cover rehab. Being drunk might even make Noel Edmonds seem bearable...well...maybe not. That would need Class A’s.

(Seriously people: look after your liver and sanity by avoiding excessive alcohol and Mr Edmonds).

2)     Don’t Spend it With Your Family: Unless you come from Walton Mountain or are working on keeping enough goodwill going to seal an inheritance, then these people are best avoided. They’ll only grate on your nerves and remind you of something embarrassing you did when you were six. You’ll be wincing at the fact you share genes with these people by the time the Queen’s Speech is on and demanding that they tell you that you were adopted. Do: Spend time with your chosen family: your friends. They say blood is thicker than water but unless you’re like one of those creeps from those pappy “Twilight” films, then blood isn’t as refreshing to drink.

3)     Don’t Break Up With Anyone: I got dumped once at 6pm on Christmas Eve and it wasn’t pleasant: for anyone. I sobbed through Christmas Dinner, drank my way through a bottle of wine during a Disney Pixar film whilst proclaiming what a tragic story it was and then collapsed in a heap. The next day, I was fine again, if a little embarrassed. He was a knob anyway. Do: Keep some perspective. It’s not easy to remember this with a million advertising images of joyous plastic families and smiling couples everywhere, but not everyone is happy on Christmas Day. It would be a true miracle if they were. It is after all, just a day and like any other, it passes: slowly, but it passes. Lots of people are alone, unwell, bereaved or heartbroken. Huge arrays of people are working too. If you want cheering up then look up the stats on the darker side of the season. I’m not giving the plot away if I reveal that your chances of breaking up or down and running up crippling debts are significantly increased by Yuletide efforts.

4)     Don’t Spend One Final Christmas With Someone You’re About to Split Up From: I tried this once as a misguided emotional gesture and ended up with a scenario akin to that of a bad Christmas soap plot. I ended up with a plateful of turkey in my face and actually got smacked with a Christmas tree and had a mild concussion. Luckily the gravy washed out of my good clothes. Fact: Soap operas may be fun to watch but not so thrilling to enact. Do: Escape well before December even rears its ugly head. It’s infinitely better to be single than in a bad relationship. I just wish I’d known this when I was younger. Get yourself out of there and on the market again or spend time recovering. It’ll be more fun than picking pine needles out of your scalp.

5)     Don’t Feel That It’s Compulsory: You do have a choice. If people disapprove of what you want to do on the 25th of December then that’s their problem. It’s your life: assert yourself. Do: Try to enjoy whatever you do with your time off and if you’re working, then feel smug that you’re missing out on all that bickering over the TV remote and enforced games of drunken Charades.

As for me, I’ll be the one hiding in an old Anderson Shelter, slowly sucking a vintage Valium and waiting for it all to be over, before emerging, triumphant, and slimmer in late December. Enjoy!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ramblings: The Twelve gays of Christmas


I wrote this article for last week's column at www.thegayuk.com and it seems to have gone down well. Unusually festive for me, being a Christmas phobic, but a gay has to write what a gay has to write...and besides, it enabled me to subvert an irritating little song into something vaguely funny.
 
"The festive season can be a perilous time for the single gay man. I’ve navigated the dating circuit from time to time and have had more relationships than the late Liz Taylor, so thought I’d share the benefits of my experience on the pros and cons of the festive gays.

12 Drummers Drumming: (A.K.A.) New Age Gay. This is the man who owns his own set of bongos and can navigate a chakra or two. He’s kind and thoughtful, good with his healing hands, but won’t buy you a present as he’s totally against consumerism. Unless you want to spend Christmas Day munching on tofu and chanting with an absolute lack of television then these gays aren’t for you. The sound of those tribal drums will have you reaching for your Valium long before Winter Solstice is over.

11 Pipers Piping: (A.K.A. Home-maker Gay) He’ll be waiting in the immaculately ordered kitchen, piping bag in hand. This is the man who owns a full set of Martha Stewart cook books, has watched every episode of “Great British Bake-Off “ twice and has hand made his own decorations. Avoid him if you don’t want to gain three stone and receive hand embroidered gifts.

10 Lords a Leaping: (A.K.A. Camp Gay) Can you control this boy’s excitement? He’s had the tinsel up since November, Kylie is on a loop singing “Santa Baby” and you’ll spend the festive season learning Steps routines in matching outfits. This could be exhausting and may lead to a potential massacre before Yule is out.

9 Ladies Dancing: (A.K.A. Disco Bunny Gay) Toned and topless, he’ll make your winter paunch look positively hideous by comparison, as he spends December gyrating in a series of darkened nightclubs with no shirt on. By the time you’re done trying to keep up with this one, you’ll have an assortment of blisters and a sweat rash from skin tight Lycra. Do yourself a favour and favour the sofa instead.

8 Maids a Milking: (A.K.A. Sauna Gay) Wondering why he has such clean pores? It’s because he’s milking for all he’s worth in the saunas day and night. Unless you want to join him and that’s your thing, then steer clean or you may have to cope with a serious case of verrucas and an over-developed right arm, amongst other things.

7 Swans a Swimming: (A.K.A. Sporty Gay) He’ll be up and at it by 6am every day, hitting the pool, doing his lunges and cycling around the park. He’s got a great torso and thighs that could crack a festive walnut but beware: he may want you to join in. Be prepared for early starts, no booze and a lot of muscle pain. Be prepared and buy in a stock of anti-inflammatory pills.

6 Geese a Laying: (A.K.A. Sex-Addict Gay) The short days are so tiring. If you’re anything like me then you’re too tired and nippy to be putting out every five minutes. If, however, you can manage it five times a day, have a handy supply of Savlon and don’t mind his occasional forays into Grindr sex meets whilst you’re out buying the turkey, then this man is for you. He’ll certainly keep you busy.

5 Gold Rings: (A.K.A. Pierced Gay) This man has more holes than a colander and a huge sex toy collection. If it moves he’s pierced it. O.K., he’s easy to buy for but watch those nice wool jumpers, one wrong move and you’ll be covered in snags. On the plus side: it’s somewhere to hang your spare baubles and the after dinner party games could involve more fun than you’d have with charades.

4 Colly Birds: (A.K.A. Technology-addict Gay) He’s on Twitter and is tweeting like a bird with an egg jammed up its lady pipes. Be prepared to be ignored as he Instagrams all his food, photographs all his gifts,  captures your special “ooh, what a lovely gift” face and is sending it all out for everyone to see. He’s tweeting every 2 seconds and in between is Skyping, messaging, texting and talking on his mobile. Be prepared to be lonely this Christmas and totally lacking in privacy.

3 French Hens: (A.K.A. Euro-gay) He’s sleek and stylish and his mother is called Collette and is never without an Hermes scarf. He opens doors, has an accent that melts your underwear and is utterly charming. Just be prepared for the disdain. He won’t understand our tedious English Christmas food rituals and will affect the kind of face you want to slap as he repeatedly fails to see the joys of that Iceland Prawn Ring, the Yule Log and the pickled cabbage which you queued for hours to get.

2 Turtle Doves: (A.K.A. Grumpy Gay) Like a turtle, he hides in his shell and avoids anything festive. He’ll drain all the joy from any gathering, refuses to leave the house from mid November and will be holed up with a set of DVDs, a bottle of Cognac and a pile of books. (This describes me, by the way). Avoid him, unless you’re a kindred spirit and also think that Santa is just an anagram of Satan.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: (A.K.A. The Keeper) This gay man is right where you need him: in his nest. He’s loyal, homely, faithful and kind. He’s also a rarity but worth searching for. I always say a gay in the home is worth two in a bush. If you haven’t found him yet, then don’t give up. He’s out there somewhere.

 Whichever type of homosexual male you choose to spend your Yule with or whether you choose to spend it alone, at work, with good friends or with family (brave, but I understand that some intrepid people do this), then have a good one."

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ramblings: The Ugly Truth


There are certain facts about me which I know aren’t actually true, yet a small part of me still believes them, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

1)    I can still fit in miniscule clothing: I was way too thin in my teenage years and throughout my twenties. I had to buy tiny belts from children’s wear shops to hold my trousers up and tops in small or extra small were the size of choice. My bones would hurt when I sat on hard seats as I had not an ounce of excess fat as a cushion. Thanks to a combination of walking hours a day to and from work and with my dog and working in a heavy physical job (nursing on a geriatric ward), I remained emaciated.

Fact: I still forget that I’m more average in my size now and still occasionally buy clothes which whilst fine whilst standing up, will burst buttons if I ever sit down. I’m no longer dangerously thin.

2)     My hair isn’t going thin on top: I have a double crown. For those who don’t know what this means, it means that I have two of the whirly bits of hair where it grows outwards on the top of the head. Naturally that’s why when I have those hideous moments where I catch sight of the back of my head on a CCTV camera or in a changing room, it looks like my hair is getting very thin at the back. Baldness runs in families. All the males in my line had great heads of hair. It can’t be that I’m losing my hair

Fact: I’m losing my hair.

3)     I’m not very tall: This stems from teenage insecurity and inferiority. On an intellectual level I knew I wasn’t short. In terms of logistics I could see that I towered over a lot of people. It’s just that in my own mind I felt small and vulnerable. My inner voice told me that I was petite and weak. It’s not so bad now that I’m older and more confident but I still get moments where I feel tiny and frail.

Fact: I’m six feet tall.

4)     I can be anything I want to be: I’m over 40, have spent 25 years smoking too much and am also pretty slow to pick up physical tasks. I can understand concepts and theories easily but give me a simple physical thing to do and I’m very puzzled. A recent example is trying to tie a bowtie.  To me, it’s like the hardest riddle invented. Whilst it may be true that I could re-train for a new career at any age; certain careers (Olympic athlete, world class ballet dancer or Formula One driver) are beyond me. I often see contemporary dance pieces and leave thinking that with a week or two of training I could do that too. I see myself flying around gracefully, in singlet and shorts, wowing audiences worldwide. I then remember that they are probably twenty years my junior and started training soon after vacating the womb

Fact: I’m not 16 still. Some of my potential (if it ever existed) is gone.

5)     I’m still 21: I look at learned media experts, experienced senior doctors at work and government officials and automatically feel younger than them. I’m not. Lots of older people say that they still feel like a teenager inside. I’m not sure that this is true of me as I’ve felt 85 inside since I was about 12. I do however equate authority with age and it comes with a jolt when I realise that I’m older than lots of politicians, police inspectors and hospital consultants.

Fact: I’m officially middle aged.

I’m not sure I’ll ever have a true grip on reality. I think our inner selves will always struggle to keep up with physical reality. For now I’ll go with it: signing off here as a very petite, teenage future ballet star with an amazing head of hair.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ramblings: Media Shutdown


Socrates’ iconic quotation that “the unexamined life is not worth living” has been ringing in my ears for the past few weeks. I’m sure my ruminations are a long way from his intention when making that statement but they follow a similar path. I feel less examined than usual.

The thing is, I’ve given up social networking. It’s nothing permanent, just a hiatus till the end of December. I’ve grown increasingly sick of seeing adverts on T.V. and billboards, listening to endless dull chatter on the bus and at work and having stuff rammed down my throat about a two day festival which I don’t celebrate and actively hate, for a number of reasons. The bombardment began in October and had reached a frenetic level by November and as Christmas actually approaches and it becomes slightly more appropriate, it can only get worse.

As usual, the T.V. has gone in the cupboard to spare me the hideous sight of fake bonhomie and incinerated poultry corpses and music radio is totally out of the question in case I catch a whisper of Slade, Wizard or any other such annual tortures. Those people should be tried like war criminals in my view. I’m avoiding shops (crowded and full of tat), cafes and restaurants (hastily rustled together food, clueless temporary staff and office parties) and am not even online shopping (lengthy queues at the parcel collection office). Cheers, festivity for knocking the joy out of so many of my usual pleasures.

I was happily using Facebook as usual until October. Around this time, the C word (Christmas, the word “cunt” is fine by me and less horrifying) started to rear its tinselly and tasteless head. By last week the amount of kittens in Santa hats popping up on my news feed was leading to so much nausea that I risked starvation. I decided to suspend my account and stay away till it’s all over and the scary fat man (who exists to advertise a caffeinated drink), has stopped frightening children and greed and rampant consumerism recedes to its usual level.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m missing it. I find myself thinking up comedy one-liners as I stand in the bus queue. I get caught up in a ludicrous situation and am dying to share it with the world. I buy something and want to photograph it and show it off online. I want to share my views on T.V. and films, wax lyrical about theatre or art I’ve seen or regale people with tales of who I’ve shushed in a cinema.

I found a really beautiful 1950s coffee set in a charity shop at the weekend and my first thought was: “I must put this on Facebook” My second thought was: “What does this say about me as a person?” Am I a terrible show off? Do I fail to value anything unless the rest of the world tells me it’s beautiful too? Am I just generous and want to share the beautiful things I have? It’s probably a combination of all the previous questions. We humans are complicated beings. I will remain restrained though. I won’t tell you anything about what a bargain it was or how handsome it looks in my house. I’ll just enjoy it for me.

I miss the gossip too. Divorces, deaths and trips to Ikea, all get equal billing on Facebook and Twitter. Like my late grandmother, I like to be the first to know and a small part of me worries what I’m missing out on. On second thoughts, its December, people will be posting pictures of tedious parties or animals in fancy dress. I doubt I’m missing anything. I think this temporary separation will do me good.

I’m not entirely succeeding in avoiding all the Christmas crap. I got caught in Oxfam with a tape of festive tunes and the hospital where I work is festooned with enough gaudiness to make Liberace seem like he was an icon of restraint. I also got wished “Merry Christmas” four times so far this week, which is unsettling as its only the start of Advent,

I’ll carry on filling my time with watching DVDs on my laptop, blogging, writing and ploughing my way through a pile of novels. I’ll be back with plenty to say on the F word after the C word has ended. For those of you that are practising Christians, enjoy it. For the rest of you, whatever it is you might be celebrating and for whatever reason you’re doing it, I totally fail to understand you, but hope that you enjoy that too.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Ramblings: Lost


There’s a legend that it always rains in Manchester. The city didn’t disappoint. My umbrella was the most useful item I had with me. I travelled up on the train and, for once, it was a blissful journey. There were no loud mobile phone conversations or tinny headphone reverberations, just a peaceful journey through the dramatic Peak District in low wintery sunlight.

I have an amazing capacity for getting lost and this time I was to excel myself. I managed to get lost the minute I arrived in Manchester Piccadilly railway station. I needed the loo and somehow managed to circle the station five times following the signs but always somehow missing the destination. I asked a cleaner in the end.

The city was beautiful and as usual filled me with awe at the grand architecture and historical oddities which still remain so prevalent in the city. Paul, knowing me well by now, had advised me to pace myself and not to overexert. I’m sure he also knew that I wouldn’t listen.

I trailed round back streets, avoiding the Christmas-screaming large shops with their glitter, bad music and twinkling lights, and found the things I like. I eventually staggered back to the hotel carrying my purchases and rubbed the newly formed blisters that I’d acquired.

I’ve gained the ability to haggle, thanks to emulating Paul, and managed to knock £40 off a suit and tie-pin. I’m surprised how simple it is and regret not doing it before in my life. I came away with a suit which is definitely fit for a Queen, whether regal or just plain queenly camp. It’s made by Hardy Amies, the Queen of England’s dress maker, and is a sight to behold. Its classic three-piece from the late 1950s in dark green tweedy wool. It fits perfectly, although I could perhaps do with removing a rib or two to make breathing easier in the waistcoat. It makes my torso look very svelte though.

I flopped down, exhausted, on the bed in the hotel which had a lift like one from a black and white film. I actually went up to the top floor in the lift, a caged affair with brass buttons, just to play. My room was actually on the first floor but it was worth the pointless journey.

I got lost looking for the theatre but managed to interpret the map I’d printed. I’m not good with maps. Their intricate folding methods vex me and I tend to get them the wrong way up. I then got lost looking for the art gallery and asked a man sitting on some steps. Maybe the two empty cider bottles by his side should have alerted me to the fact that his directions were less than reliable, if not the slurring of his words and blank eyed stare. I gave him a cigarette for his trouble anyway.

I was lost again and had strayed fatally off the map. Luckily the people of Manchester seemed happy to give directions. I asked a young couple who pointed and happily explained. I got lost again and an elderly man helped. I walked round the gallery (tentatively on my blisters) and then got lost looking for the theatre. I asked a car park attendant. I saw the play, which was amazing, and had sensibly memorised the route from the theatre to the hotel. My memory failed though. It was now dark, blowing a gale and there was torrential rain. Everything looked different and my Google map was getting soggy. I asked a postal worker who was sheltering in a doorway.

I got lost again (his directions were confusing and I was momentarily distracted by an interesting shop window). I asked a woman in a raincoat. Finally I reached the hotel and felt like I’d completed a marathon. I think my ineptitude at finding my way around had added an hour of walking and the impressive gallery and play had left me cultured out. I needed to collapse into bed.

I walked along the corridor and tried my key in the hotel door. It didn’t fir. Squinting, as vanity precludes wearing my glasses all the time, I realised that I’d taken a wrong turn. I was actually lost in the hotel too now. This had to be a record.

Maybe now I have a suit fit for royalty I need a maid of some kind, if not a Sherpa, to navigate me. I may put out an advert.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Ramblings: Perfect Gentlemen

I met an elderly couple the other day whose son had just entered a civil partnership. They were incredibly proud of him, in spite of the fact that he hadn’t invited them to attend the ceremony. He hadn’t invited anyone to attend the ceremony except a close female friend and they were fine with this: it was what he wanted.  I found that touching, the level of acceptance. They could accept him being gay as well as the fact that he hated fuss. He went through the ceremony privately and had a quiet lunch afterwards with the man he’s loved for decades. That’s the way I think I would do it too, not that it’s on the agenda, I hasten to add.

I’ve only ever been to one civil partnership ceremony and although it wasn’t what I would have chosen to do it was also very moving. The couple, who were old friends, got a standing ovation from the, largely heterosexual crowd. It struck me as a defining moment in how I saw the way gay people fitted into society and in my acceptance of my own sexuality. A room of over a hundred people clapping a pair of gays for being in love was not something I ever expected to witness. If you’d told me that was what would be happening when I was fifteen or twenty then I’d have laughed in your face. I’m not naive enough to think that we have equality and that bitter and twisted homophobia doesn’t still run through society in a deep dark seam, but it made me feel good that day.

The after party was naturally tasteful. It had all the hallmarks of a traditional wedding, except the tackiness. There was no fat Uncle dancing to “Come on Eileen” with a toddler, bad speeches or chocolate fountains. It was all canapés and cocktails. However, a couple fell out, a table of drinks got knocked over and people drank way too much and vomited: a traditional wedding in many ways.

I was newly sober, having recently stopped drinking and it was an eye opening event. Without the alcohol to blur the edges, people were both more and less interesting. Unwise confidences were shared and I managed to recall them the next day. Rambling drunks regaled me with tales and I was sober enough to have the wisdom to escape quickly. Single, and feeling like I needed to be, I was able to affect a cunning foxtrot from group to group, passing from the interesting and fascinating through to the dull and garrulous, unhindered. It was a long and exhausting day and my tie grew more like a noose as the afternoon wore on into evening. An unwise linen outfit became more crumpled and my views of humanity veered from jaded to affectionate.

I went outside to the courtyard of the classy wine bar where we were celebrating and was sending a text message when a moderately attractive Scotsman started chatting to me about my phone. He wasn’t part of the party. The bar had opened to the public now. To my mind, a phone is a phone is a phone. It makes calls and accesses the internet; maybe takes the odd photo. Any more than that, I couldn’t care less. As mentioned, he was moderately attractive so naturally, I feigned phone interest. It was an easy conversation. He was faking it too.

He bought me a drink, we talked a little and he told me he was straight. He drank more. He told me he was straight. He went to the loo, came back and told me he was straight. He drank more and told me he was straight but had enjoyed the gay clubs of Berlin during a long hot summer working over there, but purely because of the “fun” atmosphere in gay bars.

He told me about the time he’d had group sex. Naturally, being straight, he’d only done it for the women but there had been gay men there and he’d accidentally engaged in being “blown off” by one in “the general melee of the whole thing” and quite liked the experience. He was straight of course, but did I think that gay men gave good head? Did I also happen to know where the toilets were at the bar?

He drank more and I was getting a little bored. There was a brief window of maybe five minutes when I first met him and I thought that I might leave the ceremony accompanied but he was starting to bore me. I like a man to be more direct and a lot more sober. I was starting to lose the will to live and coming to the conclusion that my linen wasn’t worth getting my linen clothes more crumpled for a man who couldn’t ask for a blow job in a pub toilet without 47 indirect requests and a hundred protests that he was a 100% heterosexual.

I left the ceremony quietly and I’m not even sure he noticed. I was glad not to be drinking and glad I’d got through the day. There was irony to the fact that a day that started with an open expression of gay love and commitment could end with a “heterosexual” man inviting me to chow down on his salami in a toilet. My dignity was intact but not for long.

In spite of my sobriety I managed to open the door of a waiting taxi onto a raised pavement. Such was my clumsy force that the door stuck and it took three cab drivers to lift it off to get me in the car. They were very polite though. Some men are perfect gentlemen.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Ramblings: Mad Man


I’ve just spent four days in total hibernation which is highly unusual for me. My usual frenetic whirl of running around everywhere, trying to cram in as much entertainment as possible, was replaced by some quiet reflection, catching up on episodes of “Mad Men” and reading some Graham Greene novels whilst stretched out on the sofa.

I’ve been feeling slightly fraught lately and quite sensibly (for me) didn’t make grandiose plans for the week off work which I had booked. Instead I spent four days growing a beard (I did however shower daily, of course), wearing pyjamas and only left the house once to go to browse some charity shops and stock up on cigarettes and Paracetamol (three shirts and a beautiful 1960s silk tie acquired). Human contact has been limited to daily calls to Paul and I’ve even spent less time on social networking sites.

It’s felt difficult to step back a gear and to rest a little. I’m just not good at relaxing. In fact, relaxation is the least relaxing thing I can do. Doing nothing makes me feel panicky; like I’m missing out on something. Whale music and soft lighting makes me positively psychotic.  I relax by being frantic and running about in a mindless whirl of activity. It felt like things were coming to a bit of a crunch though. My sleep was poor, my appetite had left the building and I was more irritable and resentful than usual. I could see the signs of an “episode” looming. An all consuming lack of pleasure and flat outlook was invading me.

It suddenly came to my attention yesterday that I have absolutely no food in the house. I was down to a scraping of butter, 2 slices of bread and an onion and an inspection of the food cupboard revealed the following: a box of cold remedies, hand cream, cigarettes and several tins of soup. This caused me no worry. At least my hands will stay soft and I’m prepared for winter bugs. I briefly considered changing my kitchen into something more useful such as a personal pharmacy or library. I abandoned the idea again, as I only had it all re-tiled a couple of years or so ago and I need somewhere to heat my tins of soup.

There’s an irony to the fact that I’m actually a pretty good cook. I can rustle up great meals when needed, be inventive with random ingredients and my techniques are sound, thanks to a grounding of expert cookery lessons by my food loving father. I just don’t see the point of it all. I’d rather be able to make hand cream and cold remedies. They’re more interesting to me.

Maybe it’s a sign of maturity, years of therapy or bitter experience, that I’ve finally been able to recognise the signs and take corrective action when my mood is plummeting and I’m getting fragile and low. Hopefully it will work.

I’m finally leaving the house today. Shaved and dressed and pressing a tissue to the nicks where my razor caught against the lengthy stubble, I’m off to Manchester to see a play and stay overnight. Perhaps it’s for the best. One more episode of “Mad Men” and I may turn into a chain smoking cynic with a collection of suits and pocket squares. One more Graham Greene book and I’ll be a guilt ridden ex-Catholic with mental health issues. Hang on: that happened years ago. I may just watch a few more episodes and wade through another novel when I get back.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ramblings: Raw Like Sushi


It’s 2008 and I’m stuck in London with a man I don’t love. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up in this situation. We met online, went for a drink and I didn’t really like him an awful lot initially, finding him pompous and irritating. He has nice legs, his clothes are good and he makes me laugh but apart from that there’s nothing much there. I certainly don’t love him.

I’m still not sure how we’ve ended up going out with each other for so long. My mental state is bad at the time following the recent death of my father and I’ve been single for a while. My guards were down. That’s the only explanation I can think of. He’s younger than me (which I hate), very religious (which I hate more), prone to exuberant fits of childish enthusiasm every five minutes and he walks round wearing those horrible plastic Croc shoes. The shoes are the worst thing. We aren’t well suited.  He does make me laugh a lot though and is incredibly attentive and nurturing. I need attention and nurturing at this point in my life. I lap that up, for once. My usual state is to reject nurture attempts.

We’ve spent the night in a friend’s flat. His friend is a single woman who can’t find a man. I’ve never met her but on entering the flat I can see why she’s alone. Being me, I comment sardonically on it. There are pin boards full of pictures of her grinning and making faces, positively screaming: “Look at me! I’m crazy!” If her bookshelves and ornaments are anything to judge her by, she’s actually thoroughly ordinary and probably quite dull.  It was kind of her to lend us her flat though. I appreciate that, but secretly think she’s insane. I wouldn’t let a stranger sleep in my bed whilst I was away.

There are upwards of 150 soft toys in her bedroom and I understand why she’s not getting any sexual action. No man could maintain a decent erection with that many stuffed bears, cats and dogs watching his every thrust. She will surely stay single for a while. I manage to avoid intimacy too by drinking wine till I pass out.

The next day we see “Cabaret” on stage. I love the production. Its camp, sexy and dark as is possible. I leave feeling uplifted. My partner feels thoroughly depressed by the show and tells me so as we enter the afternoon sunshine. I fail to understand why. Yes, the characters all end up being gassed in a concentration camp at the end but they had fun along the way. Isn’t that just life? You make the best of it then it ends, somehow. He fails to see my point or approve of my philosophy.

He talks about the future as we stroll around London and I desperately try to remain calm. He mentions again that he’d like a partner who was his “soul mate”. He wants someone who shares all his interests, likes everything he likes and is keen to enter a commitment endorsed by the church. He knows my views on marriage but fails to understand that a huge part of my horror is that he’s talking about this after only four months together. I shudder a little.

He’s insistent that I will like his favourite restaurant in London and adamant that I must go there. It’s a sushi restaurant. I protest. I hate sushi. I hate ginger (unless it’s in a cake), soy sauce and all Japanese food I’ve ever tried. He insists there will be a curry on the menu which will suit me.

We’re seated at a refectory table, with ten other people. We’re in the middle of the table with ten strangers. The only thing rawer than the sushi is my nerves. I do not approve of communal dining, however funky the restaurant is. I look through the menu. There is nothing I can eat. Everything contains meat, fish or the banned ingredients: soya sauce or ginger.

He tries to be helpful and points out that there’s a vegetable curry. I point out the fact that in brackets below the description it says “Cooked in chicken stock”. I become disproportionately cross about this. I order an avocado salad with no dressing. It arrives and it’s half an avocado on a lettuce leaf. There’s no cutlery; just chopsticks. I honestly believe that no one really uses chopsticks in Asia. I think they’re an invention to fool pretentious English people into looking more stupid than they already are whilst waiters conceal contemptuous laughter. I also think that there’s this amazing invention (the knife and fork) which has superseded chopsticks. He’s less than impressed when I ask for cutlery.  

He eats his raw fish and I nibble at my avocado and we run out of things to say. The only thing I want to say is; “I told you so! I hate Japanese food. Why do you have to try and make me into a satellite of you? I don’t have to like everything you do. That’s not how relationships work for me. I’m not pretending to like stuff to please you” Instead, I say nothing. He also likes opera, heavy classical music and religious iconography. This is doomed to fail.

The bill is £120 and we’ve barely eaten anything and I’m horrified at what a rip off the place is. I voice this. We’ve had to share a table with a load of stick wielding chattering morons and I’ve not eaten enough to give me the energy to walk to the nearest chip shop for sustenance.

We get the train home, ready to limp on for another two months before we finally and thankfully split up. He’s the one who ends it and although I feel hurt and rejected, I’m also relived. I’ve never been in a sushi bar since. I’ve also not listened to classical music, been to the opera or admired religious icons. I don’t intend to either.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Ramblings: If the Shoe Fits...




At the age of 14 I decided that I wanted to earn some money and embarked on a paper round. I needed cash to buy Agatha Christie books and Kate Bush tapes to play in my bedroom. I wasn’t prepared to get up at 6am and deliver morning papers so I plumped for the evening round straight from school. Mornings were for blow drying my bouffant 80s hairdo and applying Cucumber toner from the Bodyshop. I didn’t have time to mince about with a paper sack.

It didn’t last. I started in November and finished in January, having pocketed a few hefty Christmas tips from heavily powdered old ladies. The first day I was shown round by a boy who was a year older. He was stocky, masculine and muscular and I had a major crush on him. We trudged along silently and I sneaked glances at his long eyelashes and surly pout and wished he would push me up against the hedge on one of the long driveways and kiss me.

It was lonelier on my own. I’d buy bags of Strawberry Bon Bons to chew on the way round, to distract myself from the tedium and would get through a bag a day. After a couple of weeks I realised that I was spending more money on Bon Bons than I was earning and resolved to ditch the round. It was an arduous and thankless job (except for that Christmas week). My round was the unwanted round, covering an area where all the houses had long snaking drives. I’d be twitchy in the dark, expecting to be raped and murdered at any moment (I was reading a lot of crime novels). I also had to walk miles, up and down driveways. I’d make up stories in my head and invent elaborate fantasy situations where it was OK to be gay and I was a long way from my family. I dreamed of being a journalist or working in publishing and having a London apartment and a smooth suit wearing boyfriend.

My next job was better but equally dull in many ways. It was in a shoe shop. It was 1986 and I was 15. My wages were laughable. I worked every Saturday all day and would come home exhausted and with aching legs and feet.

On my first day I was introduced to the manager and his assistant. He was nearing retirement, uncouth, had one eye and hated all Asian people. He blamed an Asian doctor for a botched operation which lost him his eye. He would spend most of his time in a constant diatribe against ethnic minorities which was initially horrifying but eventually merely tedious. I’d never met anyone like him before (although my parents were casually racist in a Daily Mail kind of way) and was quite perturbed by him. There were lots of Asian people at my school and it had never crossed my mind that it was possible to hate an entire continent of people. He was a true relic, stuffy and sweaty in undersized suits and insisting that women were addressed as “ladies” at all times. I found him distasteful and embarrassing to be near.

His deputy was equally mystifying. She was tiny, with a huge mullet of badly dyed hair. The mystifying thing was that she totally loved her job. She was passionate about selling cheap and nasty shoes made in Portugal. She was excited by low heeled court shoes, pixie boots, men’s brogues and all the “thrill” of selling. Her favourite thing was to try to sell polish and brushes. She’d won a trophy for her polish and brush sales. Her daughter worked there too and she was grooming her to take her place, teaching her all she knew about suede cleaner. I was bemused by their excitement about selling foam cleaners.  

The work was either dull or exhausting. You were either standing in the shop pestering the occasional customer with unwanted advice or running up and down stairs fetching shoes for people from the stockroom. Every time anyone wanted to try a pair of shoes on you’d have to run up three flights of stairs and get the left shoe for them. You’d stand there, praying that it would fit so that you didn’t have to go back up and get another size. It rarely fitted. The carpets were cheap nylon and we’d accidentally collide with each other as we ran to fetch shoes and give of little blue flashes of light accompanied by pain.

Shannon, the Youth Training Scheme girl, made the static her own. She’d slide across the floor and then run at you delivering a searing painful shock as she laughed a wheezy asthmatic cackle. She’d been in a borstal and was very troubled. Her favourite game was to hide in the stock room and jump out and thwack people with the heel of a stiletto. I was a favourite target due to being a “poofter”. Years later I was watching a crime documentary which was about a murder. The police broke down the door of a grimy flat to apprehend a murderer. He cowered under a duvet which the officer pulled back and there lying next to him was Shannon, wearing a grimy bra and pants. I was glad to see she’d done well for herself. She certainly got herself on TV anyway.

My favourite people were the twins. They were two quite posh girls who were identical twins aged 16. They were pretty in an obvious way and came across as classy and sweet. They were not sweet. They were both very naughty. Like a lot of twins there was some rivalry and there’s centred around men. They would share little secrets with me and vie for my attention.

Twin A: “I shagged a bouncer in town last night who my sister fancied. Don’t tell her!”

Twin B: “I slept with a holiday rep in Mallorca who my sister had a crush on. Don’t tell her.”

This went on ad nauseum but kept me amused. I kept their secrets, mainly because I couldn’t tell them apart to divulge anything.

I stayed there a couple of years and my wages went up by pitiful amounts each year. I started smoking and learnt to smoke out the toilet window by standing on the lavatory. The supervisor got pregnant and lost interest in polish. Her daughter took her place. The twins finally fell out when they found out they were both sleeping with the same man. The manager got older and more bitter and Shannon got sacked for stealing a suede brush.

I look back fondly but it was tiresome and a recipe for varicose veins. People’s smelly hosiery turned my stomach and I hated measuring the feet of restless children and having to run about satisfying the demands of their mothers. I still love shoes though. Just don’t ask me to ever sell one again.

 

 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Ramblings: London Calling


I get on the train, unpack my belongings and sit back. I’m very uptight about my rituals. Firstly, I have to have the ticket out ready for the inspector. I hate it when people have to search frantically for their tickets. It’s never a major surprise when they come to check your ticket, is it? My food is lined up in the order I’ll eat it, along with a neatly folded napkin, my book is squared precisely on the table with my glasses in line on top and my bag is safely bestowed so as not to cause a public nuisance. I like to behave well and be orderly.

The couple across from me are distracting me from my novel. The novel is a bit weak. They’re in their late forties and she’s a disordered mess of lank hair and multi-layered flowing garments. He’s crammed into too-tight stone wash jeans and has an unwisely chosen ponytail. They’re not happy. I can’t help but listen. They discuss their visit to Neal’s Yard and their recent trip to a vegan food fair. The stereotype would say that this couple should be brimming with good karma and have balanced chakras. They don’t. They’re snippy and mean; taking every opportunity to belittle each other and gripe about each other’s failing.

She demands a hand massage and roughly thrusts a tube of lotion at him. He passive aggressively pummels her hands and they continue to row. I’ve never seen anyone argue during a relaxing hand massage before. I recall my days in bad relationships and the way it eroded me and left me smaller. I want to get up and cross the aisle and tell them kindly that it would be best if they just split up now. I don’t. I listen to music instead, to drown them out.

London is bright and the recent rain reflects the sun into my eyes. I walk quickly to the tube station. The first play I see is in a basement theatre off Trafalgar Square. It’s a tiny theatre and the set is a convincing motel room. Three actors re-enact a tense scene between old school friends. The play is funny in parts but not as funny as the man across from me finds it. He has a long face and is swathed in a woollen scarf and laughs heartily with his head thrown back, at all the wrong moments, displaying equine teeth. The seats are in twos and I’m sitting next to a plump teenager. Every time the man laughs either she or I struggle not to giggle and our seat moves a little, setting either me or her off again. Laughing can be contagious.

I go for walk after the play and eat in a cafe watching a succession of people drinking coffee and watching each other. We all watch each other. It rains while I’m inside and the sun shines when I go back out. I feel oddly content. The next play is a three part series of thirty minute plays set in hotel rooms. The plays are also staged in real hotel rooms. I’m in a 5 star hotel in Holborn which is a little ostentatious for me. There’s a lot of white marble and glittery chandeliers; heavy on cost and low on good taste.

Me and nineteen other people file into a medium sized hotel room and sit on chairs around the walls, like ghosts. On the bed are a young couple in 1950s underwear. Hers is flesh coloured with buckles and straps and screams discomfort. He wears cotton boxer shorts and dog tags. He’s a soldier on leave, it’s post war New Orleans and they’re newlyweds. The room is littered with empty bottles and smells a little of fresh sweat.

The play is about to start and I have my usual panic that I’ve not turned off my phone. I open my bag and the check and the clasp of the bag clicks loudly and the noise echoes across the room. A woman in front in a tapestry jacket turns and shushes me. I’m incredulous. Shushing is my job. I’m slightly astounded that I’ve been shushed. I feel like I’m the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The play begins and the actors shout, argue, romp, caress and storm from bed to bathroom, slamming doors. It works well as a concept and I feel voyeuristic but amused and entertained. It’s a good play. At one point the man sits on a chair and I can’t help but notice that one of his testicles has fallen out of his boxer shorts. It sits there, rosy and plump and moves as he shouts. I want to tell him but am too polite. It would ruin the atmosphere. I can’t help but look but wish I hadn’t.

The other two plays are good too and I take the tube back to Kings Cross. There’s a bowler hat on the line and as I look a tiny mouse runs across it. I wonder, briefly, if it’s there for the tourists. London so often feels like a big theme park, designed to dazzle and entertain. I wonder if a businessman dropped his hat or if that all that’s left of him after a tragic accident.

The train back goes to Sheffield and is full of large groups of Northerners. They seem warm and friendly and I wonder if this is just a myth perpetuated by Northerners. They’re probably as mean spirited as half the people where I live. Behind me a couple kiss loudly all the way back, making loud slurping and smacking noises. This is almost as bad as the bickering couple but not quite.

I get home tired.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Ramblings: I Was a Gay Zombie



Halloween is fast approaching, there are Christmas adverts all around and everyone at work is queuing to heat up soup in the microwave. It’s definitely Autumn.

My parents, being thoroughly British and Middle Class, dismissed celebrating Halloween (along with Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day) as being American rubbish which is best ignored. We were also banned from going to Bonfires after a nasty incident where a rocket went down my brother’s jumper. It could have been nasty. It was the 1970s and clothes were mostly constructed from manmade fibres. I continued this family tradition of ignoring Halloween and am usually to be found sitting with the TV and lights off and hiding from Trick or Treaters.

The thing is though, I love horror. Ever since a teenage baby sitter allowed me to stay up late and watch the terrifying Hammer Horror shows, I’ve been hooked. As a child I always ran straight for the ghost train at the fair. I was dying to own a Ouija board and loved a pretend séance. I passed through the usual teenage phase of loving gory slash-fests and was hooked to John Carpenter and Wes Craven. I ploughed my way through Stephen King novels and spent sleepless nights feeling twitchy and jumpy. I grew to appreciate the campness of horror too. There’s nothing quite like a vampish Bride of Dracula or a Victorian heroine screaming in her white nightdress. I also love zombies. I can happily while away an evening watching a Zombie Apocalypse.

A couple of years ago I was invited to take part in a world record breaking attempt for the most people around the world dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller simultaneously. I definitely liked the idea, even if I did find Michael himself a bit perturbing and saccharine. I watched the clips on YouTube of the video and it looked simple enough. It wasn’t.

My colleague and I had to go to dance classes to learn the moves. I’d forgotten that I have very little grace. I’m not a natural. Cue lots of sulking. We were given links to a “Teach Yourself” thing on the internet and I set about learning the dance. It’s horribly complicated and I always ended up red faced and sweaty and cursing my smoking habit but I finally learnt it, after many hours. We drove down to the place where the record attempt was being held (a deserted roller disco at midnight, you couldn’t make it up) and got a few funny looks on the way there. I was in scrubs, green make-up and was splattered with copious amounts of blood and a few gunshot wounds. I was zombie nurse. We did the dance, raised money for charity and I didn’t fall over, much.

The thing was, it was a liberating experience: all those years ignoring Halloween when I could have had such intense fun just by pretending to be a member of the living dead. I was definitely doing this again. Last year I took part in a Zombie Walk where about 200 of us ambled slowly around the city centre, groaning. It was amazing. We even mobbed a bus. I went as a zombie priest and “married” two zombie brides in their tattered Miss Haversham dresses (a real life married couple). This year I’m considering an Olympic themed costume. Maybe a javelin through my back with drips of blood, a sign saying “Team ZomB” and the Olympic rings in blood? It’s topical.

So, I’m reclaiming Halloween. I’m advocating it as the gayest festival of the year. Forget Easter, it’s about children and eggs and religion. Forget Christmas with its wholesome family values and the depressing Valentine’s Day (terrible if you’re single). Halloween is definitely one for the gays. We can dress up and frighten people. Pretty much like a normal Saturday night in some parts of the UK. Go forth and horrify.

Ramblings: Bad Nose Day


I used to enjoy shopping. I mean clothes shopping, of course. Not food shopping; I’ve always found that dull and hateful and don’t really get off on trying to push past people who are studying the packs of bacon like it’s fine art they’re buying.

I ventured out yesterday to buy a pair of shoes I’d seen on line. I came to a sudden decision that were I to shell out my cash on this particular pair of brogue boots in tan leather, my life would suddenly become complete. It wasn’t to be. I’m ashamed to say this but I’m a failed ex-shopper.

First I had to brave the autumnal chill and rain and was dressed accordingly. This was fine until I entered the shopping mall. The huge grey box looms above the skyline of the city, looking about as tempting as an ugly grey box can i.e. not very. Bright lights, shiny floors and oppressive heating and within minutes I was sweating and irritable in my jacket. This wasn’t a good start. I felt like I was on the set for “The Stepford Wives”.

The shop didn’t have the boots. They also didn’t know why they didn’t have the boots. “Unavailable” was the only answer they could give. I scowled and set off in search of alternative boots and of course, having something in mind means it doesn’t exist. Tan boots have become as common as virgins in Soho.

Walking into the shoe shops became a minefield as assistants lunged at me asking if I needed help. I didn’t need help. I’ve been in shops before. They told me that if I needed any help or advice I could ask them. This was not news to me. I’ve been in shops before. I’ve learnt how they work. Trying anything on is also an invitation for pestering and I become belligerent. The minute I took off my brogues to try on a shoe I was accosted.

Smiling blonde woman: “Would you like any help?”

Me: “No thanks, I’ve tried shoes on before. I’m kind of OK with it.”

After 15 minutes I started to feel trapped in the hot house of the shopping centre. It all looks the same: coffee chains, clothing chains and pasty shops. There are so many coffee chain stores in the city centre now that I have to think hard where I am when I see one. It’s all become so homogenised.

I managed thirty minutes and successfully bought a tie rack and a bottle of vitamin B tablets. My tie collection is growing and I needed some storage as well as some energy from the pills. I then made a foolish mistake. I tried on a shirt and a pair of trousers. The changing room was claustrophobic and starkly lit. There were too many mirrors. I’m at an age now when I don’t really want to see the back of my own head. The gradual onset of male pattern baldness is not something I like to remember. I was also having a bad nose day and became distracted by how big my nose looked in side profile. I didn’t buy the clothes. I never end up buying the clothes on a bad nose day. Nothing looks right with a bad nose. I looked at my nose from several angles though. It stayed bad.

On the way out I was stopped by a man trying to get me to sign up to a TV package, a woman wanting to wash my hands and apply some lotion (my hands are already clean and Fairy-soft) and a teenager being over-familiar in order to try to get me to gift money to a charity. I politely declined their offers.

Leaving the shopping centre, I lit a cigarette and inhaled toxic fumes which felt preferable to the dead air inside. In need of an antidote I headed into the nearest charity shop where I instantly spotted a vintage 50s vanity case in a soothing blue and a checked jacket which would suit a leather elbow patch. The charity shops were comfortingly stale and grubby with subdued lighting. The people weren’t over made up and felt somehow more real for their oddities.  They also ignore me. I’m happier being ignored. The jacket was too small and besides, my nose was still too big. I bought the case to use as storage. This lifted my mood but didn’t complete my life (as the boots surely would have). The tattooed assistant smiled a yellow gap-toothed grin as his hairy paw slammed my change down.

Arriving home I decided to do the sensible thing and buy the boots on-line. OK, I have to pay for delivery. I’ll probably be at work when they arrive and have to make a trip to the depot to collect them but it’s still less bother than facing the shops. I should have stayed at home and done this in the first place. I tried to log in to the site and upon entering my password it locked me out, demanding an account number. I’d lost the account number. I tried to call them and was instantly stuck in a queue.

The boots can wait. I’ll think of something else to make my life complete. Where can you buy offensive weapons these days?

 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ramblings: Corrupting Influences

 

It’s a common misconception among lots of my straight friends that homophobic bigotry is almost non-existent in modern society and that people are generally pretty tolerant.  I’m sure they’d be shocked to read that a peer who sat in the House of Lords has branded the website I write for (ww.thegayuk.com) as displaying an “aggressive type of behaviour”, being a “perverse pressure group” and having a “corrupting influence on susceptible and vulnerable young people.” Bigotry clearly stalks the corridors of power and is pretty poorly informed.

Personally, I wouldn’t call myself perverse or corrupting. I’m certainly not aggressive either; assertive, maybe. I can stand my ground. I work hard in the public sector, pay my taxes and keep a clean house. I even subscribe to the Radio Times, listen to Radio 4 and like walking in the Peak District. I’m thoroughly wholesome, mostly. Just because the gender of the person I sleep next to and have sex with is the same as my own, it doesn’t make me a degenerate. I don’t go around spewing venom and hatred either. That, to me, is the hallmark of an aggressive bad influence. Hatred aimed against whole groups of people is a true evil.

As a younger gay man, the corrupting influences which affected me adversely did not originate from the gay community. They came from the mouths of bigots and zealots. I was continually told by teachers, the government of the day and by religious groups that I was sick and depraved and an abomination. This didn’t make me feel warm inside. The eighties were nasty in many ways, not just because of the bad clothes. The positive influences on me were gay celebrities, gay literature and gay films, which showed me that actually they were all wrong and being gay did not equate being the spawn of Satan. It was just something I was born being.

If only the internet had been around then. I feel heartened that young gay men and women can now access internet forums and sites like this to help them learn that the way they were born is not a crime and doesn’t make them wrong or bad.

The city where I live hit the news in February of this year when three men were jailed for homophobic hate crimes. It was a case that made me feel physically sick. This was a test case using the newly amended laws from 2010. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which came into force in 2010, made it an offence to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. These three men chose to distribute leaflets in the street and through letter boxes which were intended to insult and abuse gay men and to stir up hatred against them. The leaflets called for the death penalty for homosexuality and suggested we either turn straight, burn in hell or face execution. Thankfully these dangerous bigots were jailed for their actions. I know I would have been disconcerted and felt threatened to receive one of these leaflets.

You only have to keep a faint eye on the news to see that bigotry is still big business and hate crimes exist in many forms and at all levels of society across the globe. I know who I think are the real bad influences here and I have just one thing to say: Bigots, bugger off.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Ramblings: Miss Manners

 
 

I suspect that I’ll die in a shushing incident. Someone will take exception with me for telling them to stop talking during a film, eating noisy crisps during a play or playing music out loud on a bus on a tinny mobile phone. They’ll draw a knife and I’ll be done for. Of course, I’ll then become a Saint. Beatification will beckon and I’ll become the Patron Saint of Good Manners. My house will become a shrine and people will come to lay their hands on my cravats and polish my china poodles for hope of an endowment in the form of a Blessing of the Manners. Paul will sell tastefully painted knick knacks.

Damn. I’ve just looked on Google and there are already several patron saints of manners. There’s always someone in the 16th Century who got there first. Apparently, I also have other certain unsavoury qualities which exclude me from sainthood, but hey ho.

I love shushing. It’s become my mission. I was delighted to read that at a cinema in London they now have a set of volunteers who act as theatre ninjas. They stalk the cinema waiting for people sending text messages, talking or eating loudly and dive in and shush them. I want this job.

I met my match in London recently. I’d had to shush someone and was glad to have assumed the mantel of responsibility. Someone has to do it. People tend to shy away from it. I get abuse but also get commended. I like the commendations. (Recently I was applauded on a train after telling a girl to turn her I-pod down. The rest of the passengers were also irritated by the relentless Beyonce and were also glad it stopped. Strangely none of them had asked her to stop.)

I was leaving the theatre and a man shot down rapidly from a few rows behind and stopped a youngish woman: “Excuse me? Do you have a relative about to die or a friend in labour?”

The woman looked puzzled: “No. Why do you ask?”

Man: “Well, I just assumed there was no other feasible excuse for the rudeness of constantly checking your mobile phone during a play and irritating everyone around you.”

I like this man. I also like his line. I shall also be stealing his line.

Recently I saw an incredibly dull film. It left me unmoved and dragged limply towards a dull finale. During the film three middle aged woman were sitting two rows in front of me. They seemed matronly, respectable and well to do but had very poor manners. They talked at normal volume throughout the film.

I accosted them afterwards in the foyer: “Hello. I’m very sorry to trouble you but I wondered if you’d realised that you were talking all the way through that film? It’s quite rude.”

Bossiest of the three: “No we were not.”

Me: “You were.”

Woman; “We were not.”

Me: “Well, the thing is, I’m not psychic at all. In fact, I don’t believe in that stuff. I do however know that you recently had some gynae surgery and your problem is now much better, your daughter is about to get married and you’re mum hasn’t been too well. Explain that one?”

She couldn’t. I shall continue with my mission.

Ramblings: Hush Again

 
 

We arrived at the theatre in a state of near exhaustion, buoyed up on caffeine. Paul and I were dressed up as usual, although both feeling bedraggled after a day travelling on the underground. He was wearing a fetching bow tie and I sported a favourite cravat. The seats were expensive, as is often the case in London, and as it’s a boisterous play we’ve gone for the cheaper ones on the balcony. It’s not so bad to be away from the stage if it’s a musical but terrible in an intense drama. You miss the nuances.

The theatre was faithfully restored Art Deco with black and white leaded fittings and sweeping staircases. We wheezed our way up the stairs and picked our way through to our seats. The walk along the row was vertiginous as we were so high and we both felt we might fall. We didn’t fall.

We settled in and the women next to Paul make light conversation. They were mother and daughter from Lancashire on a trip to London. They were both Michael Ball fans (we’re not), had travelled down especially to see “Sweeney Todd” and were both celebrating significant birthdays. Neither Paul nor I responded correctly and asked what their birthdays were or politely underestimated their ages. They were clearly 70 and 50. It wasn’t worth asking: they looked 70 and 50. I didn’t care if they were 70 and 50, anyway. We both smiled politely and I marvelled that someone would come for a night out at the theatre wearing a fleece.

The play started and it was superb. A familiar excitement built in me and I knew it was going to be entertaining as the hairs rose on my skin. Incongruously, they’d updated the musical from Victorian times to the 1950s. It didn’t make sense (people weren’t deported to Australia in the 50s) but looked good. I liked that it looked good.

It was almost the interval when she started. A woman behind me began to sing along. There was a lack of timing and a slight sibilant lisp. She was a little off key. It was a little irritating but I coped. I would rather have listened to Imelda Staunton singing the part but I gritted my teeth. I had actually paid to listen to the actors singing.

The interval ended and the woman behind was talking to a man. The music began and she still continued talking to her companion. She regaled him with tales of the time she was in Sweeney Todd in am-dram. The play started and she was still talking; explaining the psychological make-up, history and motivations of the character Mrs Lovett. I thought to myself: “What! It’s a musical theatre show. It’s not Ibsen. People don’t have motivations that require analysis. She’s building her part up.” I suspected she’d had a glass of wine.

I pondered for a moment and wondered what to do. I wanted to hear the play and not her and so I did the obvious thing. I turned in my seat, stared and shushed in a gentlemanly manner. She was curled up in a balding man’s lap, talking loudly to him and she started when she saw me shushing her. She then stopped talking. I’d caught a good glimpse of her. Nearing fifty, slightly on the plump side and cheaply dressed. Her legs (across his thigh) were squeezed into silvery toned tights. It was not pleasant to see. Drink can do bad things to you.

Sadly she decided to retaliate. People can’t bear being told that they’re wrong. It’s a strange thing but whenever you point out to someone that they’re behaving badly it becomes your fault. Ten minutes in, I felt something slap my shoulder. It was the strap of her handbag. She’d decided to exact revenge on me by regularly slapping me across the back of the head with her bag. It wasn’t too annoying and I decided to cope with it. I must admit, I did once or twice try to grab the offending item but she was quick. It was a shame as I would have loved to have sent the bag tumbling onto the row in front but perhaps also for the best as I do hate a commotion. The thought of the tawdry contents of her bag spilling across people’s laps amused me. I visualised sanitary items, spare pants and fluffy mints scattering across the aisle. The intermittent slaps to the back of my head were painless and if anything added to the tension of Act Two. I decided to accept it and wait.

The play finished and she gave a final slap on my shoulder with the strap as we all applauded. We all stood to leave and she probably thought that was over. It wasn’t. Her back turned to me slightly as she made to leave the row; I rolled my tweed jacket into a weapon and swung it artfully at her huge ham of a calf. It ricocheted off her silvery tights with a satisfying whack and she started, almost enough to make her fall. I must admit, there was velocity in that whack.

I smiled at her; “I’m terribly sorry. I seem to have accidently flicked you with my tweed. Isn’t it terrible when one is accidentally flicked? Very alarming. Amazing show, though. Did you hear any of it or were you too busy talking?”

She coloured and her plump face looked beaten as she looked down at her battered court shoes and left the theatre hurriedly.

Score: Me: 1    Silvery-tights Wearing Twat: 0