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 canap├ęs 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.