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.