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?