Friday, 13 September 2013

Reviews: Autumn 2013 Books


I’ve been pretty slack of late when it comes to blogging. I have no excuses. I’ve just fallen out of the habit of posting. I’ll mark my work in red pen with “Must try harder”.

As it’s starting to feel decidedly autumnal, I feel it’s about time we all snuggled up with the central heating up high and a pile of good books. Maybe the odd leaf kicky, squirrel observing walk would be good too.

Here are my recommendations for the best books that I’ve read recently.

1)    Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter




This is a novel that examines the tricky business of human relations and displacement. In the 1970s Alice has just got married to her boyfriend during a prolonged holiday in India and wakes up the day after her wedding to find that the village she is staying in has been hit by a tsunami and her husband is missing. Her mother, Violet, with whom she has a brittle relationship, is shown back in the 1940s when she has to leave the village, which is the entirety of her world, when the Ministry of Defence take over her home to utilise for army training exercises.

Rossiter handles difficult concepts and the end result is a very astute reflection on emotion and longing that is written in a poetic but very readable style.

2)    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter



In 1962 in a small island village in Italy a frail young actress arrives by boat and makes a remarkable impression on a young man. She is in exile from the set of the Burton/Taylor epic “Cleopatra” and is apparently dying. The book flits between 1960s Italy and present day Hollywood.

This novel is actually wryly amusing as well as being moving, evocative and atmospheric. The book is part satire, part reflection on love and unrequited desire. It’s well worth the effort to read this engrossing book.

3)    Londoners by Craig Taylor


Craig Taylor spent several years interviewing hundreds of people who live in the capital. This book is akin to the war time mass observation tales where a snapshot of people’s lives were recorded for social research purposes. It’s actually a really compelling read and I devoured this in a couple of sittings. Taylor interviews a huge array of characters including a Tower of London beefeater, a dominatrix, city traders, the woman who is the voice of the underground, a bewildered tourist etc. What results is a very revealing and at times hilarious book.

4)    Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

 

If you aren’t familiar with impish David Sedaris then you definitely need to get yourself down to the nearest bookshop and get the whole back catalogue. American humourist, Sedaris, is an incredibly funny man. This book of essays is a dangerous book to read on public transport, as people will stare at you as you sit chuckling at inappropriate moments.

5) The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore



Hammer Horror has commissioned a number of famous authors to pen horror/ghost stories. Dunmore has come up with a stunning tale of a woman adrift in post war Britain who is haunted by a dashing airman. It’s a dark and sinister tale that made me feel jumpy and enveloped me in the creepy and mournful scenario. Dunmore is a writer at her peak. It’s a short read (a novella in fact) and one that you’ll probably swallow whole.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ramblings: Something for the Weekend







I'm trying to be leaner. I don't mean slimmer, more taut or fitter. I'm quite happy as I am if it means I can carry on sitting down a lot. I mean that I'm meaner.

I've recently moved house and my expenses have rocketed out of all control. The cost of moving hasn't just been on my mental health but has hit my pocket quite hard too. My savings have been battered out of existence.

In a spirit of trying to rationalise my finances, I've been loitering round the reduced bread section in the supermarket in the early evening, buying unbranded products and taking my own lunch to work. I'm not exactly poverty stricken but my thoughts are that the less I spend on food then the more I can spend on clothes, DVDs and books. I can eat like a pauper and attend the theatre and the ballet like an aristocrat.

Last week I went a step too far though. I decided to go for a cheap haircut. I'd spotted an unusual looking establishment on the bus to work which advertised 'Any haircut: £5!". I decided that as I was passing I'd give it a go. My hair style isn't complex, just short with a side parting and a bit of grading. What could go wrong? Why do I need to spend £20 or £30?

I walked in, sat down on the grimy plastic sofa and instantly regretted my rash decision. Firstly, it was warm and I was liable to stick to the cheap sofa. Secondly: the pictures on the walls threw me into a state of panic. Displayed on the walls was a picture of Gareth Gates circa 'Pop Idol' with his ridiculous spikes, a fair few thugs sporting mullets and some interesting shaved patterns on the heads of what looked the inmates of a young offenders institute. I was considering leaving when a squat Turkish man frogmarched me into a chair.

"Wha you wan?'

"Well, I like the sideburns trimmed to a number two with clippers and up the sides I like a...."

Before I finished with my admittedly slightly pedantic requests he grabbed a set of clippers and ran them up the side of my head, ensuring there was no going back. I decided to go with it. I felt I'd reached a point where I had no other option. I was certain I was going to leave there looking like some odd 90s throwback or someone with a rare medical condition.

He pushed my head forward and down, in a way reminiscent of a gay porno. He planted his palm on my face and pushed me sideways one way, then the other way. I felt like I was in a wrestling match. He reached for a huge razor and flicked off a used blade into a dirt speckled glass and deftly slotted in a blade and started shaving round my neck and sideburns at an alarming speed.  I wondered just how new the new blade was and considered the fact that Hepatitis B is prevalent in the Borough where I live. I nervously waited for the nick, reassuring myself that like any sensible gay man, I'm vaccinated against Hepatitis B. This reassured me till I remembered about Hepatitis C which there's no vaccine for.

There were no cuts, luckily, but there was a liberal amount of water sprayed onto my head and face. Within less than 10 minutes he'd done and grabbed the gown off me, holding out his hand for the fiver.  Where was the drying of my soaking hair, the showing me the back for approval (I hate that bit actually, I'm 42. No 42 year old wants to see the thinning bit at the back of his head) or the basic pleasantries?

I staggered out of the shop, water dripping down my face, razor burn smarting on my neck and a rising sense of horror at what my hair would look like once I got home. You may or may not be surprised to learn that actually my hair looks great. It's the best cut I've had in ages. Who needs niceties? Its a fiver. I think I'll remain prudent for a while longer. I'll be back there in a month. Stale bread anyone?

Ramblings: What a Drag!




I can remember being fascinated by Danny LaRue. I was a child of six and sat transfixed in front of the TV at this strange looking lady who was actually a man.

I accepted it as a commonplace, ordinary thing and a totally acceptable lifestyle choice. It was on the TV after all. My main ambition was to grow up to be Wonder Woman but growing up to be a drag queen seemed a close second. Of course, I now realise that I could have combined the two options, although my knees are a bit knobbly for satin tights.

I experimented with my mother's make-up as a teenager and quite liked how strangely androgynous I looked in a full face of badly applied slap. I didn't graduate any further and resisted trying on her clothes. This was for no other reason apart from the fact that she had terrible taste in frocks. It was the 80s; everyone had terrible taste in everything. As I grew older I became seduced by the Goth culture and by androgynous gender defying singers. It was the perfect excuse for black nail polish and the odd touch of ghostly pale make-up to make me look like a resurrected corpse. I never considered dragging up though. My drag queen ambitions of early childhood went out of the window and with the advent of puberty and the masses of body hair that accompanied this, i just couldn't have afforded the razors anyway.

As I got older and ventured onto the gay scene, I grew to love a bit of classy drag. I adored David Dale, Lily Savage and Lizzy Drip with their witty repartee and clever routines. I even liked the tacky acts with their cheap innuendo and their caterwauling along to 'It Should Have Been Me' whilst wearing an ill fitting yellowing wedding dress and swinging a dildo. I'd watch the drag queens and think: 'I could do that!' This ill placed confidence in my abilities surfaces whenever I watch any kind of show, whether its a trapeze artist, frenetic tap dancer, ballet or a heartfelt Shakespearean performance; I always think that given a couple of hours tuition I could master that too. I suppose that's the mark of a skilled performer; making it look easy.

I didn't drag up until I was in my late 30s that is very late for a gay, I suspect. Straight men drag up even earlier. They grab every chance they can to pull on a bra and wriggle into a frock, whether it’s pub-crawls, stag nights or just the night the wife is out. My first outing in drag was not at all glamorous. I decided to go as Barbara Woodhouse. For those too young to recall, she was a famous dog breeder who appeared on TV being brusque in tweeds and yanking on poor little pooches leads. I thought it would be absolutely hilarious to tweed up and have a toy dog on elastic that I could vigorously yank around whilst shouting 'Walkies!'

Finding the clothes was a nightmare. I trawled the charity shops and eventually found a tweed two-piece in one shop. I asked to try it on, explaining it was for fancy dress. The woman shouted down the shop: "Enid! Can you get the changing room key? This man wants to try a skirt on. He's going to dress as a transvestite.'

It didn't fit. All I could find in my size was an array of foul frumpy dresses. I thought laterally. Which celebrity looked frumpy? I went as Susan Boyle. There was no depilation involved. One cheap wig, sturdy court shoes and a nylon dress plus a pair of stick on eyebrows and a handlebar moustache and I was SuBo.

My next attempt was a little bit more glamorous. I went to an 80s themed party. As you may have guessed, I loathe the 80s and call it the decade that taste forgot. I really did not want to wear the hideous fashions that make me shudder and recall my unhappy childhood. Again I thought laterally. I wanted a cheap outfit and wanted to go as someone or something I liked. I fired up YouTube and watched Debbie Harry singing along to Atomic in a bin bag. My outfit was born.

The bin bag proved a bit sweaty and the huge blonde wig was heavy. Worst of all was the heels. I almost broke my neck in the heels. I think I may stick to my brogues for now and leave the dragging up to those who have the gene of utter fabulousness. I seem to only have half of that gene.

Ramblings: Starey Mary




 
My partner and I made a rare sortie into a central London gay bar the other evening, on our way to see a play. He was craving a cool pint of beer and the nearest decent bar just happened to be one where the more stylish boys hang out. I’m pretty accustomed to gay bars and am a jaded pub goer, having launched myself on the gay scene at a slightly scandalous 16 years old but my partner has never really partaken in the scene much at all, being a much later starter and having lived in more rural areas. It sometimes takes an outsider to spot something and pinpoint a factor that you take for granted.

My partner noticed the constant staring. Being slightly vain, he loved it. Its normal practice in a gay bar to be appraised and I don’t even notice this anymore. The quick look up and down, the sideways glance and the full on full body scan are all perils that you face when entering a bar. It’s habitual, standard practice and is done without thinking and with no terrible breach of etiquette. In fact, it is the etiquette. I wouldn’t even think it rude were someone to look down pointedly at my crotch to see what I was packing or to perform a lengthy examination of my buttocks. It’s just the way of the gay. It often ends in dismissal (I’m with a partner, I’m over 40 and therefore unavailable/decrepit and not necessarily worth the effort) but can end in a brief eye contact, a mutual appraisal or a mutual disdain.

We talked about it and I explained the code of practice in a gay bar to my partner. I explained that it’s often meaningless; that gay men appraise men, just as straight men appraise women and it’s as much a habit as biting your nails or chewing gum.

I have a thousand sneaky ways of looking attractive men up and down in the street. Lechery has to be a skilful art at times. There’s the brief sideways glance at a hot businessman on the tube, over the top of a paperback novel. The window reflection study of a scantily clad hottie in shorts on the top deck of a bus is a classic manoeuvre. The distracted ‘just casually looking around but my eyes have accidentally taken in the lycra cyclist with the muscles and I’ve noted that he appears to have a massive penis’ is a very retro one which is easy to perfect, provided you can feign the right level of nonchalance.

Let the Starey Marys stare in the bars. It’s not at all intimidating unless you let it be so and is actually, quite flattering should their facial expression register a glimmer of approval or lust. If they dismiss or grimace, then just let it amuse you. They clearly have no class or taste or you’re just in the wrong bar.

 

Ramblings: Turkish Delight



I made an embarrassing revelation recently about my shameless quest to save cash and how I had a £5 haircut that was like total carnage. Recently, I upgraded and went for a £10 haircut. I’ve not only upped but have doubled my ante.

I was feeling slightly sticky after a brisk stroll from work. The weather was hot and stark and I couldn’t face the bus with its heaters constantly blasting out in spite of the 30-degree heat. Walking felt like the better option. Every bus journey of late has left me on the brink of throwing up in the aisle. I stopped off by the station near where we live at a light and airy barbers which looked clean and vaguely stylish. Being greeted by a hot six-foot bloke in his early 30s with olive skin and good arms made me forget the sweat pooling in my crevices.

He was a talkative barber. I never know which is worse: the surly ones who ignore you or the prattling ones you have to make an effort with. This one was entertaining and to be honest, he had such a handsome face that I really couldn’t have cared if he read out the cricket scores. I’m a fool for a swarthy man brandishing tools (or scissors).

He began the snipping and was actually very nifty. My eyes occasionally noted his handiwork although I must admit that he did appear to have what looked like a small mammal nestling in the front of his trousers that drew my eye. I started to feel very warm indeed under the cape type thing.

“I am from Turkey! I am living here one year and I practice my English. Do you mind me practice talk?”

“I’d love it!’ I exclaimed with a smile, like he’d just offered me a winning lottery ticket.

We began to make small talk and I tried hard not to look at the ageing pink thing in the mirror that was being groomed by this Adonis.

“Is very hot in Turkey. Is hot here too, no? For Irish man like you is bad when you are very pink.”
I wasn’t offended. Irish is fine with me. They have great writers there and the drinking culture is great.

“Is also very bad in the day. Turkish people sleep from perhaps 12 till 5. Is 42 degrees there today. For a man like you is very hard to go outside when he has a patch of…what is the saying!...on his head. What is it I say?’

“Bald patch?” I replied, instantly feeling just a little more humiliated.

He nodded vigorously: “Yes! Big bald patch!’

I smiled coquettishly in spite of dying a little inside.

We carried on like this for a while: me getting pinker, him getting more unfeasibly handsome in spite of his casual lack of tact in front of this aging red faced sweat machine: “You have very hairy neck! Do any barber tell you that you have very hairy neck?”

I decided there and then. I’d rather he’d spoken to me in Turkish. I wouldn’t have understood a word, but in my mind he’d have been telling me how beautiful I am and how he wished the men of Turkey were so fair and ravishing.

As it was: it cost me ten quid, I got to glance sideways at a hot man with what looked a massive schlong in his slacks and my hair looks great. Everyone is a winner but my poor pride. I’ll be back for more in a month.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Ramblings: Natural Selection




I was standing outside yesterday (having a sneaky cigarette, naturally) when a flock of parakeets flew past me. I thought I was hallucinating for a moment. I'm not in the Tropics but in South East London. Then I remembered, there are colonies of parakeets all over London. The urban myths are that they originate from a pair released by Jimmi Hendrix or that they escaped from Pinewood Studios during the filming of The African Queen. I prefer the latter explanation and like to think that these parakeets may be descended from a celebrity bird who perhaps had his stomach tickled by the steely Katherine Hepburn.

This is the kind of nature I like. Nature that's close to a 24 hour shop, is in a grimy urban environment and in a place where there's full reception on my mobile. It's much safer that way.

Every morning a heron flies past my flat at about 7am. He's huge, like a creature from pre-historic times. He glides over the courtyard at the back of my flat and I assume he's on his way to work. I think he may be a commuter. He works long hours though. I've seen him returning at 7pm. He needs to get on to the ornithological union about his terms and conditions.

Two minutes walk from us is a little park which is the grounds of an old manor house. The lake is a water bird reserve and contains a variety of newborns at the moment. There are goslings with dense yellow fluff, clumsy little moor hens and a group of miniscule ducklings. These bring out the inner child in me and I can stand and watch them for ages. There's a sign by the lake advising against over feeding the birds and this sign is a picture of a huge rat. This brings out the inner panicked housewife in me. I want to find the nearest chair, jump on and tie the bottoms of my trousers up.

An article in last week's Time Out London did the same to me too. I never respond well to pictures of people holding up over sized dead rodents. I would have mounted the seat for ankle protection and screamed (a perfectly normal response to even the mention of a rat) but I thought that the other people on the train to Charing Cross might think I was odd.

At the weekend I saw a crow attacking a pigeon, pulling chunks of flesh out of its wing. It was a malevolent beast, mean and brooding yet beautiful with it's shiny black plumage; like a pantomime villain. This reminds me of my love/hate relationship with the natural world and why I don't watch wildlife documentaries. I always end up horrified by the expression on the little animal's faces as they get eaten alive by lions and I end up perturbed. Why can't they all be vegetarians? I suppose you just can't get good quality Quorn antelopes in the Serengeti.

Yesterday I saw a dead fox. He was laid out on the window ledge of a big Edwardian house. He was magnificent and would have looked like he was just sleeping were it not for the little trickle of blood pooled around his mouth and the bone jutting out of his back leg. I squirmed a little at the sight but not at the corpse. I was more perplexed and disturbed as to why someone would have placed him on the window ledge. Surely a window ledge isn't the ideal place to lay out a corpse? I'd hate to be that resident when they opened to the curtains. I'm not good with road kill.

The local high street on the way to work is a minefield too. As a child I hated visits to the local market in the Midlands town where we lived. There were always rows of dead rabbits hanging up and my father would show his usual sensitivity by singing 'Bright Eyes': the theme from Watership Down to me. The local high street has stalls with 'boiling chickens' hanging by their feet. These are plucked chickens with their heads still on but with jagged knife wounds through their scrawny throats. I'm not tempted by them.

As a child our house was a place that lacked safety from dead animals too. My father knew a man who knew a man who would provide him with game. I would skip into the pantry only to confronted by a pheasant or a wood pigeon or a rabbit hanging by its feet. One time, memorably, I screamed to see a massive white goose hanging by its webbed feet. I suppose I should count myself lucky to have never walked in to find a deer hanging by its hooves.

I know its all part of the natural plan. The weak and soft get killed by the predators or the hazards. I don't have to try to like it though, do I? I think for now I'll stick to admiring nature in parks and stick to my humus and lentils. It's safer that way.

 

Ramblings: A Moving Story


I've been very tardy on the blogging for the past few months but as ever I have good excuses.

I've just moved house. It's not been a run of the mill move either. Rather than moving a few streets away or to an adjacent suburb, I've left my home town where I've lived since birth, the hospital where I've worked for 20 years and moved down to London (well over a hundred miles away). I've left behind some brilliant friends too.

The preparation was pretty intense with a hideous amount of planning, hours of sorting and sifting, arranging and getting passed around by electronic non-people on telephone systems. It's been a horribly frustrating and disconcerting process. I knew it would be hard work but had underestimated how time consuming and soul destroying the process can be. For someone who likes order and routine, the chaos of moving has been really hard to bear.

My house is now about to occupied by tenants, along with their tortoise. They're a young couple with a baby and typically for me, I forgot to ask them how old the baby was or what her name was. I did find out that the tortoise is called Terry, though.

I had a difficult farewell from my workplace and from my close friends. Wanting to control the whole process, I chose to have one big leaving party rather than have to go for lots of tedious meals out and awkward occasions. It was a fantastic party. I hired the cafe at a local dance centre and had a fabulous 1950s style burlesque singer who belted out some nostalgic tunes.

London is looking good. I miss my friends and colleagues but am in sensory overload at the moment with all the stuff to see and observe. The people watching and eavesdropping here are amazingly good. We're in the slightly less fashionable South East but the flat is roomy and stylish, the neighbourhood is fine and in a great location to get to some lovely places in London with ease. I feel like a child in a sweet shop with lots of delightful things to consume all around me. I've already been to see a comedian, a play and traipsed round the British Library and an Art Deco stately home. I will definitely need to monitor my over active nature.

So, here I am. I'm back blogging. I've survived the removals process (one of the removal men was model gorgeous, so that distracted me) and apart from one or two minor meltdowns I seem to be getting through what has been a very tense process. Expect some tales of my new life.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Ramblings: Lie to Me


It seems to me that the world is full of false perceptions. I often sit on the bus and see people walking around in skinny jeans who clearly think that their bottom is a lot smaller than it is. They don’t appear to notice that the denim is strained to breaking point and that they look bulbous in all the wrong places. The same goes for the milky blue-white flesh of an unwisely exposed upper arm or the sportswear on a man who’s likely to pass out running for a bus.

I see people wearing thin canvas shoes in the snow and I think they must have a mistaken belief that it looks amazing. It actually looks foolhardy and like they haven’t got the money for something warm and sturdy. I once worked with a woman who seemed to not know that there was a back to her head. The front of her hair was teased upwards and immaculately coiffed and styled but the back was always a shoddy mess of bed rumpled locks. I see plenty of people who just need a kindly soul to tell them where they’re going wrong. I think this rule also applies to men who call themselves “straight-acting” on gay dating sites or who claim to be XXL in the genital area. That’s my experience anyway.

I have skewed perceptions that are perhaps, even odder. My first is that I often think that people are older than me. I can’t seem to get it into my brain that I’m aging and am no longer under 30. I look at people and think of them as middle aged and mature and then have a start as I realise that they’re probably the same age as me or younger. Luckily, I know my limitations and am not inclined towards the Whitney dressed as Britney school of fashion. I know that I’d look like a fool ramming myself into teenage fashions and I steer clear of jeggings at all costs.

My second belief is that I’m shorter than I actually am. I believe that lots of people are taller than me. It’s fine if they’re standing next to me. I’m not so stupid that I can’t see what’s in front of me. It’s more to do with memory. In spite of being six foot tall I remember events as featuring a much shorter me. It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to calculate that I maybe have a tiny little inferiority complex.

My final skewed perception is one that I share with my people who put themselves out there on reality television. I believe that I can sing like a young Aretha Franklin. Regardless of the fact that people run screaming if I begin to warble and even I can hear the flat drone coming from my mouth, I know deep down that I have the voice of an angel. Perhaps I just need a lesson. It only needs to be a short lesson. Five minutes of coaching, maybe, and you’d be amazed at what I could do.  I’d pack them in at the 02 Arena.

Don’t panic though. I’ll restrict my crooning to the privacy of my own home for now. Your ears are safe.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ramblings: A Relaxing Journey


I’ve never been very good at relaxation. Lavender makes me edgy, deep breathing makes me hyperventilate and massages make me want to run screaming. I’m not good on beaches or at lying in the sun (too beachy and too hot and sweaty). The only way I really relax is watching a film in the cinema, a play in the theatre or reading at home. Well, there is another way but that involves alcohol or prescription drugs and I’ve learnt over the years that neither of these are my friends any more.

Even day dreaming is hard for me. I’ve just returned from a weekend over at Paul’s house and was travelling back on the bus earlier. Dreary looking snow-bound scenes were bombarding my senses. There’s only so much snow that can look interesting: probably about 5 seconds of it. It’s especially uninteresting in March when it should be getting more Spring-like. I didn’t feel like listening to music or Radio 4 so decided to day dream.

I shut my eyes and tried to relax, managing to get comfortable in the coach seat. I decided to think about a nice warm Italian village, maybe Paul and I wandering round in a narrow sun baked street, nodding amiably to the beautiful people as they walked by and smiled approvingly at our fine attire. The problem is that my mind is full of snow. I’ve seen nothing but snow for 3 days now. I can’t get the snow out of my head.

Attempt two: Paul and I are walking round an Alpine village. The friendly locals nod, smiling, at our stylish tweed coats and we head into a warm cafe. The issue here is that in reality I’m on a bus. It feels like a bus. It moves like a bus. I can’t get beyond this.

Attempt three: I’m on a coach travelling through the Alps on my way to meet Paul. Bollocks. I’m suddenly thinking about skiers. I hate the thought of skiing and all those hearty types. They’d be on the bloody bus with me and would be riling me with their sporty talk and their après-ski fondue and schnapps plans. They’d all be sporting those nasty outdoor padded things. I can’t do this.

Attempt four: I’m on a coach travelling to the Alps to meet Paul and its 1934. The people of 1934 are thoroughly decent, well dressed and keep themselves to themselves. Oh. Hang on: do I really mean 1934? I like the Art Deco elegance but I also like the 50s chic, maybe a bit more. It would be nice to be ferrying a poodle or two on my lap. Poodles were quite hard to come by in the 30’s I think. I like the 40s too and the razor sharp New Look fashions but do I want to be travelling across war torn Europe. Won’t I end up involved in a spy ring or getting assassinated? Also, when were anti-depressants invented? I’d be nowhere without those. How about Valium? I may need it on the holiday if I get too tense about all those mountains and on reflection I don’t think it was invented till the 60s. I’ve never tried Barbiturates but they might do at a push for an extreme stress reaction. I’m pretty sure they were invented then as they were taken a lot in “Valley of the Dolls”. Hold on: when was that book set? I NEED GOOGLE, NOW.

I opened my eyes and scrutinised my fellow passengers instead. That’s always a pleasure. There’s a Polish couple. One man is much older: father and son or lovers? The younger one is balding though so maybe he’s older than he looks and has had work done. A man with a hospital wristband on: He’s either forgotten to take it off, has escaped or is wearing it permanently because he fell in love with a young nurse during an in-patient stay. What about the woman in the hat and big sunglasses: my guess is hung over, secret affair or she’s a celebrity.

You see, my problem is that I have way too much imagination peppered with a heavy dose of pedantry and a sprinkle of pragmatism. I’ll stick to reading for relaxation.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ramblings: London Bound



I've been totally remiss this year in my blogging after last year's consistent postings. I'm falling back on the old excuse, my dodgy neck. It's still dodgy.

In other non-dodgy neck related news: I'm now much more excited about the impending move to London and start my new job there the first week in June. Cue frantic flat hunting early April onwards. I'm hoping to move down at the end of May with Paul following on at the end of June once he finishes University.

Exciting times. I'm coping with the thought of moving and am confident I can get through the logistical side of this. I'll keep you posted as to any nervous interludes and my success at flat hunting.

Ramblings: The Hirsuit of Happiness


I’m fairly effete and always have been, so the sight of me with a full beard by age 13 was quite an absurd one for all to see. This outward sign of my testosterone fuelled teens seemed like a paradox as I merrily whistled along to Madonna and made up new Shirley Bassey show routines in my head. I always felt that my early puberty was a complete curse and the bane of my life. I wanted to grow up glamorous and fey with a sculpted set of smooth abs, not be a virtual werewolf by 20.

 By the age of 15 I had legs that looked like they’d been carpeted, a fetching golden-red beard and a chest wig worthy of a 1970s porn star. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had matched. Instead I had blond hair, dark brown chest chair and a ginger beard.

 I was terrible at shaving, always gouging chunks from my face and turning up at sixth form college covered in plasters and dabbing delicately at my face with blood stained tissues like a Victorian hysteric. Often I’d give up on the whole idea, adopting the ideology that if I continually ignored the hair sprouting from every quarter, then it might go away.

 It didn’t go away. I had to choose: depilation and regular shaving or find another way to carry the look off. As I wasn’t prepared to plait my back hair or adopt a Floella Benjamin beaded look, then painful, irritating hair removal was the only option.

 I’ve endured loss of skin through depilatory creams, nicks and rashes, waxing burns and sprains and strains from contorting myself round to reach the tricky bits. A long term partner preferred the hairless look so I spent hours each month painfully erasing every trace of hair growth on my chest and shoulders.

 I experienced an epiphany in recent years as I realised that at my advanced age (let’s just say I’m over 35) I can choose what I like. My preference on a man is for body hair as long as it’s not beyond the pale. I don’t expect any man to present me with a Mexican style handlebar moustache in his trousers. That’s just absurd. I actually find well tended body hair quite attractive.

So, I accept my body for what it is now and that’s that it’s hairy. It comes that way. If I’ve got the time, I trim and prune. Otherwise, I don’t actually care. Now, ear hair and my straggly eyebrows: that’s a whole different matter. That may take another 40 years to come to terms with.

 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ramblings: Ch-ch-ch-changes


Apologies for a four week absence from here. I don’t have a sick note or a letter from my mother/solicitor or psychiatrist. Time just seems to slip away. Only yesterday I saw Paul’s neighbours who were celebrating the one year birthday of their son. I had it in my head that it was only about 3 months since he was born and thought he was just an incredibly large newborn. I do lose track somewhat.

Life has suddenly become exciting/scary/challenging/terrifying. I’ve got a new job, plans to move away from the city where I’ve lived my whole life and plans to move in with Paul. Yes: I’ve got a job in the big smoky bustling metropolis known as London.

It’s all a case of threats versus opportunities and making my head work the right way and not like a giant distorting mirror. It has the tendency to do that and my brain can work in ever decreasing spirals where ‘objects may appear larger in the rear view mirror than they actually are.’

Back in 2001, I left my abusive partner of 12 years and was hideously afraid of life without him. In reality, life without him turned out to be great and the major challenge was escaping him with my sanity intact. Back in 2009, I was terrified of living alone. Newly single after a 7 year relationship and having always lurched from relationship to relationship and never lived alone, apart from a brief period of a few months in a small rented flat, I was in an exquisite state of high panic verging on hysteria.

I trembled and sweated my way through house viewings, mortgage arrangements and insurance quotations. In the end my exhilaration at the thought of having my own house after all those years living in tandem won out and I was swept along with fever pitch excitement towards a new goal. I’m not saying I didn’t have the odd wobble or sit on the floor and cry after the removal men refused to carry my wardrobe upstairs (of course I did) but I survived the experience (and called on a helpful friend with a screwdriver who dismantled and reassembled the wardrobe as I dried my tantrum tears and chain smoked.)

If I think back carefully, I was terrified when I qualified as a nurse and took my first job, thinking I was a dangerous imposter who knew nothing and would surely wreak havoc. My levels of havoc wreaked remain pretty low 17 years down the line. I was terrified moving from general medicine to work on an oncology ward, terrified taking my first charge nurse job and terrified upon changing my job to a nurse specialist role. If I think back carefully, I remember always telling new starters that their fear was good. I would never have wanted a newly qualified nurse who wasn’t afraid. I wanted one with a healthy apprehension who knew his or her limitations. Maybe it’s OK to apply that to myself too for once.

I’ve had an amazing reaction to the fact that I’m finally leaving my home town after 41 years here. There’s been lots of support, a little bit of sadness (which is incredibly touching) and loads of encouragement. I’ve developed a strange panicky feeling over the weekend. On visiting Nottingham, I reflected how beautiful it looked and how I couldn’t bear to abandon the place. I thought about what a lovely Spring-like day it was today and how I ought to consider visiting the local nature reserve again soon. This thought was followed by a lurch of panic as I thought: “I’ll never see it again!”, forgetting that London is literally only 90 minutes away anyway.

Reassuringly, Paul is also having the same silly random musings and more reassuringly he also is incredibly keen to move, as am I. I’ve got four months, which will be an exciting and sad time as I prepare to rent out my house, rent somewhere in East London and start my new job (which sounds brilliant and is just the job I wanted, in a place I wanted it). The key for me is that the change is more exciting than sad. I can still keep in touch with people, there’s no restraining order banning me from the East Midlands and the possibilities ahead are thrilling.

In the end, I’m just trying to be rational and resorting to the old trick that helps me every time: talking about it, writing about it and making lots of lists. It works for me. After all, it’s a move I want, to a city I love and I’m finally moving in with a man who I really love after two years together. What’s not to like? I’m sure I can and will cope with the change. I’m just not 100% that London will be ready to cope with me.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Ramblings: Happy New Queer


I know that for some people, the end of each year brings on wistful regrets and sentimentality. They get quite depressed as they scrutinise the low points of the past year and the coming challenges of the next. Not so for me.

I used to really enjoy New Year’s Eve in my youth; seeing it as an opportunity to neck as much gin or vodka as possible in a short space of time and dance till I fell over. The licensing laws were limited and I quite liked the novelty of pubs opening late and being able to drink and dance till the early hours. It was a big night for the small gay scene in the provincial city where I lived. The bars would be heaving with people in elaborate drag outfits that had taken months to run up on a singer sewing machine. It was often a spectacular sight to behold.

Ageing and the advent of worsening hangovers knocked the shine off it for me. I don’t drink anymore and rarely go out on the gay scene but I’m equally happy to snuggle up alone with my partner and watch the Hootenanny or to see friends. I wouldn’t be at all gutted if I nodded off at eleven either though.

A few years back, I was newly single, still drinking and I was cajoled into going out on New Year’s Eve by a few gay friends. I wasn’t fully in the mood for revelry; feeling quite fragile from a recent break-up and lacking self confidence. A tiny part of me always retained some romantic optimism, though and this oppressed part would occasionally whisper to me through my cynical shell: “Maybe tonight is the night when you’ll meet a really nice man”.

The chances of me ever meeting a man in a local gay bar were feeling pretty slim. I already knew most of the regulars, was hurtling towards 40 and feeling out of place amongst the younger crowd and if anyone ever looked at me for longer than a mere lingering glance then I’d rush to the loo to check if I had developed some new deformity which was making them stare at me. I couldn’t imagine what else a man could be looking at me for. Even alcohol failed to embolden me. My infrequent attempts to chat up blokes always ended in disaster: one notable occasion was when I spoke to a nervous looking man sitting at the bar and he put down his half finished drink and fled. I’d only said: “Hi”.

I left the house determined to try to enjoy myself. There’s always that risk on these occasions when you’re told how to feel that you’ll somehow fall short. It’s hard to always be happy just because it’s a particular date. There’s usually a lot else going on in your life. Somehow, I did enjoy myself though and with relatively little alcohol was managing to laugh and dance badly. My friends were amusing and the atmosphere was good.

The unthinkable happened when a man began to look at me. He was tall, well built and extremely handsome. I checked my hair for dead animals and looked behind me to make sure there was no Calvin Klein model over my shoulder. Maybe he was cross eyed.

It turned out he wasn’t and we began to talk. Bizarrely, he was relatively sober, really sweet, better looking close up and seemed to really like me. More oddly, he was exactly one day older than me. He was also newly single, having fallen out with his long term partner over Christmas (It happens. Over-heated houses, too much time and nowhere to go: it’s a powder keg). One of my friends came over and whispered hurriedly to me: “Don’t worry about us. We’re all fine. You have important work to do here and we respect that.” He signed off with a wink and the thumbs up.

A few hours later, we were getting on better. I was impressed with his muscular abdomen and firm pectorals. He seemed to like my more willowy torso. We were making each other laugh and were eventually ensconced in a dark corner having a good grope and a snog. Of course it had to end. His mates were leaving and he needed a lift home. Unlike in the fairy tales; I wasn’t left with a slipper but with a mobile phone number and a vague sense that this might be something good.

Luckily I also had the sense to see it for what it probably was: a man who was on the rebound after a traumatic festive row. We exchanged texts for a couple of days or so until he was reconciled back with his ex. He was very sweet about it and I was a little disappointed but not gutted. Romantic disappointments can come thick and fast for the single gay man. You get, almost, used to them.

In reality, we probably had no more in common than the fact that we almost shared a birthday and both found him very attractive. A man who’s just left his partner the week before is never a good romantic bet. I appreciated it for what it was, which was a diverting evening and a boost to the confidence that an excessively attractive man could like me. My friends managed to knock that confidence down a little by creating it into a legend. “You won’t believe how fit the man that Chris pulled on New Year’s Eve was!” became a recurrent theme. The implication being that I’d punched well above my feeble weight.

The other saving grace was that in spite of being almost the same age as me by a matter of days, he was looking better on it. Who wants to spend the next few years with a boyfriend who makes you look older and more worn by comparison? Imagine the scenes which would have followed as people learnt we were born only days apart then tried to hide their shock with a blank expression.

Whatever you’re doing to end the year, enjoy it, even if it’s just sleeping through it. Sleep is a fine occupation.

Ramblings: The Case of the Ex


What is it about gay men and their exes? Heterosexuals seem to have it so much better sorted out: divorce him/avoid him/insult him. We, on the other hand, like to remain friends.

My first boyfriend talked incessantly about his great ex, Sean. Sean was apparently very funny, very stylish and a great person to be around. My teenage angst hooked on to this and I began to wince each time his name was mentioned. With every fond reference I’d begin to rot and fester inside a little bit more. That was until I met him: he certainly had a style, but not one you’d ever want to mimic and as for funny: read waspish and twisted. He was the person no one wanted to be around; the man who always accidentally forgot his wallet in a bar. We took an instant dislike to each other, strengthened on my part by the fact that within two hours he got drunk and hissed at me that I’d come to a sticky end. Apparently, clever queens like me always did.  I suddenly realised a vital fact: my partner had left him. It was obvious why.

My next long term partner also spoke in glowing terms about his ex. Andy was hyper intelligent and amazingly kind. He could have gone to Cambridge to study. Strangely he hadn’t been to Cambridge to study and worked in a shabby gift shop. The only thing wrong with Andy was that he’d walked out and left my partner after a string of infidelities and humiliations. I felt that the infidelities were a major sticking point and maybe a minor flaw in his perfect character. Having learnt little from my teenage years, I dreaded meeting him and expected a stunning male genius with a vampish way of breaking men’s hearts. I was shocked to meet a mousy man who was as mixed up and vulnerable as I was. We became friends, probably due to the fact that we both understood how difficult my ex was. He admitted years later that he was relieved that my unstable, hard drinking ex had become my problem and not his. Not so glad to have been of service.

My next long term partner had two exes on the scene: an estranged wife and an ex boyfriend. The wife was manageable. She resented him a little but was still fond of him and kept up a relationship through occasionally gritted teeth for the sake of the children (and the maintenance). I understood this kind of friendship with an ex. If it’s partly about money and mutual offspring then it makes sense. The boyfriend, Carl, was a whole other story, calling up at three am for lengthy conversations. He was an insomniac so apparently this was acceptable.

We met eventually; just the once. Naturally, I had the advantage. I knew lots about him. He was insecure about his weight and lack of class, had a dead end job and a few odd peccadilloes. I dressed thin, talked in clipped tones about my great job and had enough restraint not to mention his fetishes. In short, I was low and mean. He stopped calling late at night and upped his ante by sending my partner a suggestive text message offering sex. My partner deleted his number and with one overstep of the mark he was gone. Subtlety wins out most times.

My current partner has a lovely ex. She’s supportive, respectful and overseas. What more can you ask for? They’re the three perfect qualities. I met her for the first time last weekend and she was utterly charming.

So, my advice to you is: if being friends with your ex works for you then brilliant. If you can still share a bed or a tent, go away together for weekends, go clubbing, bond over shared memories and laugh over the heartache you both caused each other then that’s superb. Just stop and take the time to ask your new partner something though: what the hell is he thinking about going about with someone so involved with their ex? Maybe he needs to find someone new and forget about his ex and their ex.

Ramblings: The Booze Blues


January is being hailed as the month to dry out and try for total abstinence from alcohol. There’s a brilliant campaign by Alcohol Concern and I think it’s a great idea. Alcohol is a particular thorny issue amongst lots of gay people with estimated levels of harmful alcohol abuse at alarmingly high levels amongst the LGBT community.

Like a lot of gay men I have a long history with alcohol which began in my childhood with a half glass of wine here and there, followed by a genuine discovery of the harder stuff in my teens with illicit bottles of cheap Martini and Cider drunk rapidly with friends at the tender age of 14. I followed this by going through the inevitable British rites of passage and had my fair share of hideous hangovers and fallings over in public as well as innumerable faux pas and “comedy” incidents (which were probably only funny because we were drunk).

 I spent a large proportion of my twenties going out on the gay scene which of course revolved around bars and clubs and it was pretty much obligatory to have a constant flow of vodka on hand to while away an evening. Have you ever tried a long period in a provincial gay bar sober? It’s a chilling experience. I didn’t judge an evening as being worthwhile unless I woke up with a fine hand tremor and mildly throbbing head the next day.

Naturally, my partner and I drank at home too. We always kept a couple of litres of spirits and a few bottles of good wine in. We were both working hard and deserved a little treat after work. What better way to relax? Often we’d crack open a bottle or two and settle down with a DVD, only to find that we’d both passed out somewhere before the end with three empty bottles propped against our legs. Ask me the ending of any DVD from the early 2000s and I’ll have to pass on that one.

Things got out of hand for me when I started to experience a lot of stress at work and we had a few issues in the relationship. I’d find myself clock watching, under the mistaken belief that were I to wait till 7pm before downing the first triple vodka, then I didn’t have an issue. The second one would be down the hatch before 730pm. The odd lunchtime one or two didn’t hurt too on a day off. I was getting through a good third of a bottle of spirits a day on a bad day.

This period passed and my drinking would intermittently go in and out of control. There followed some horrendous hangovers, a constant supply of booze for emergencies and a creeping sensation that alcohol was beginning to take over my life. I was never drunk at work though and prided myself on this. How could I have a problem if i was holding down a busy job?

Holidays were the worst. We’d hit the bars and end up spending a week heavily under the influence. I distinctly recall lying by the pool one day and my partner telling me he felt jittery and couldn’t relax. I was the same. I felt like my nerves were shredded and I was jumping at every tiny sound. Naturally, this was because we hadn’t had our mid morning drink yet. We were withdrawing.

Our relationship eventually ended and I ended up living alone for the first time in my life at the ripe age of 28, feeling pretty bruised and battered by the experience. The drinking became more and more of a crutch and was something I needed to do to get me through the evenings. I’d be passed out by 9, only to wake again at 4am with a dry mouth and a nervous frame of mind. Work was difficult and although I would never drink on duty, I would often stop by the off licence on the way home and generally wouldn’t wait to get home before starting to illicitly nip at the bottle.

I won’t detail all the grisly details of what happened next but over the next couple of years I became a very high functioning secret drinker. I wasn’t the slightly glamorous yet tipsy but loveable character so beloved of TV dramas. It was actually pretty hellish and lacked any degree of style. My drinking benders got longer and more dangerous with a few humiliating hospital visits, a fall down the stairs and a smashed up face to name but a few incidents. There certainly wasn’t anything stylish or sophisticated about me vomiting up blood after necking two consecutive bottles of vodka or my malnourished frame. Neither was there anything pleasant about the crippling depression and relentless shakes which would follow periods of trying to stop boozing.

I was lucky really. My friends and family stood by me and helped me through, not judging me at all but eager to get me better with endless patience and loyalty. Luckily, I also managed not to mess my job up, by some minor miracle. I sought lots of medical help, tried self help groups (which weren’t for me in the long run) and tried and succeeded to refashion my life without alcohol binges.

My mood is definitely better. No more of the profound lows and jittery panics: alcohol is a depressant drug after all with strong psychotropic qualities. That’s why we love it. It messes our brains up. I’ve come to accept that my brain isn’t wired to drink “normally”. The best way for me is total abstinence. It’s not miserable either. I can still go out with friends. OK, the shine has gone off long club nights a little but there’s other things too. My life is good, even without vodka. I’m not saying I don’t miss the odd cheeky Cosmopolitan but I can certainly live better without it.

My eavesdropping ability is now at an all time high. I’m the sober spy amongst you, like a superhero, ready to jump out a moment’s notice and say: “Don’t do it! You’ll regret waking up next to that tomorrow” Now who wouldn’t want that person with them on their night out? I’m the safeguard.

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun. This is just my story and this is me but if you think you need to read more and consider your drinking then check these out.  For help and advice visit these great links:



Ramblings: 2012 and All That


Apologies for a brief absence from here. It certainly wasn’t due to celebrating anything festive, as those who know me or have read this blog will well know.  I was laid up with a nasty viral illness throughout the tail end of December and am only just emerging from a dreadful drop in mood and skyrocketing of anxiety which followed the bug.

I’m not usually one for sentimental reflections but 2012 was a fantastic year for me. Apparently some old lady celebrated a barbarically long career by standing in the rain on a boat for eight hours then having to watch tired old pop acts like Elton John croon like drunken pub singers. I couldn’t have given a shit about that one.

Also, apparently, a few people also got a bit giddy because there was a competition to see who could throw spears the farthest or run fastest and other such irrelevant things in this age when we have guns and cars and at a time when we certainly couldn’t afford to invest money in such crap. I certainly could have given less than a flying fuck about that one.

For me, the past twelve months were great in terms of the opportunities I had to see theatre, dance, comedy and film and the massive amount of books I read. Thanks to Christmas coming early on TV (October) and a tedious saturation of Olympic coverage, I watched even less TV than ever before and even stashed my set in a cupboard for a few months: hence, more reading.

I’m not sure if anyone cares what my views are but you’re getting them anyway.

Theatre

I was lucky enough to get to see around 40 plays last year. Getting the odd free gig for reviewing for the internet is a bonus and living in such a well placed spot for travelling to and from London and round the Midlands and North is another bonus too. My top choices are as follows:

1)      Best Musical: without a doubt it has to be the production of “My Fair Lady” at the ever brilliant Crucible in Sheffield. Nifty cockneys, lavish sets, ‘rain in Spain’ and the ruggedly handsome Dominic West made this a perfect show. Naturally Sheffield’s amazing team were a major force behind it.

2)     Best Drama: Definitely has to be the double bill of “The Browning Version” and “South Downs” at The Pinter Theatre. Anna Challenor was astonishing and the combination of a revival of Rattigan and a new piece by Hare was pure genius.

3)     Best Comedy: The critics were harsh but I loved “All New People” written by Zach Braff. It was a worthy follow up to his film “Garden State” and this dark comedy about an averted suicide captured my imagination and amused me greatly.

4)     Best Overall: “Tender Napalm” at the Curve Leicester:  This play seemed to leave the audience bewildered and bothered after witnessing a weird tennis match of two deeply damaged lovers alternately shouting, caressing and sharing magical fantasies which alluded to the source of their pain. I couldn’t have loved it more and was thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

5)     Turgid Bore of the Year: Thankfully there are few to choose from on this list and the clear winner was “Wonderful Town”. A turgid revival of a dreary, dated and unfunny musical with the winner of a TV talent show and a cast whose grins were so inane they looked lobotomised? I had to leave at the interval in fear of my own sanity.

 

Dance

It’s a close fight between Bourne’s “Play without Words” and “Scattered” by Motionhouse but Motionhouse win the day due to sheer originality and pure talent.

Film: My tastes in film are often discordant with others. I have a leaning towards grisliness and long silences, love painful viewing, hate excessive action, found “Skyfall” intolerably dull and like people to talk as much as I do and over-analyse with the same intensity. For what its worth (there may be a similar person out there) these are my picks.

1)     Carnage: I like wordy. I like plays. This was a wordy play masquerading as a film. It was bound to get top billing from me.

2)    Killer Joe: The best kind of film for me is an unexpected treasure. Poor white trash, violence and a lead actor who usually irritates the hell out of me doesn’t promise much but I loved this film.

3)    Tiny Furniture: This gets on the list partly for the most excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene I’ve seen in some time.

4)    Shame: I loved Michael Fassbender as a troubled sex addict. I found this film both disturbing and really moving which was achieved with great subtlety and a lack of resorting to grand gestures.

5)    The Master: Creepy, painful to watch and long. What’s not to love?

 

Books

This is the hard choice as I’ve read over 100 novels this year but here goes. I’ve limited my 5 to ones published in 2012 (either in paperback or hardback):

1)     “Age of Miracles” by Karen Thomson Walker I love a dystopian future book, especially those which seem plausible and are not so far removed from the present day. This subtle and endearing tale details a seemingly unimportant environmental change which gradually affects the way the world operates and how society behaves. More importantly, it’s a fable of how we operate as people told with great wisdom.

2)    “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” by Jeanette Winterson:  I’m not keen on memoirs but this one is outstanding. Winterson details her horrific childhood with deadpan Northern wit and not a hint of self pity. It’s a revelation in how to write.

3)    “Life, Death and Vanilla Slices” by Jenny Eclair: Witty, twisted, funny and bleak all in one. This isn’t the Jenny Eclair who’s all spiky on daytime TV but a far superior version with a genuine talent to entertain and cast illumination on the human condition.

4)    “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett: A book about fertility rituals in the Amazon was never going to feel too appealing for my tastes but this was a page turning treat which flew by caused me immense pleasure to read. If I could write characters half as skilfully as her I’d be a happy man.

5)    “My Policeman” by Bethan Roberts: I was always going to love a book set in Brighton, in the 1950s, featuring an upper middle class gay, a bisexual hunk of a copper and a pragmatic schoolteacher. I can’t recommend this book enough. Roberts is a new talent to observe.