Thursday, 13 June 2013

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.

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.

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 café. 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.

Friday, 11 January 2013

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. Whilst I wasn't driniking every day, I was drinking unhealthily on a lot more days than I wasn't.

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 lunch time drink yet. We were withdrawing.

Our relationship eventually ended and I ended up living alone for the first time in my life at the age of 36, feeling crushed and low. 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 9pm, 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'd sometimes start to drink on the top deck of the bus home. Days off, I'd try to stay sober but would often end up hammered by teatime.

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 with grimy periods of complete dysfunction. 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, missed shifts at work, a fall down the stairs and a smashed up face to name but a few incidents. The blackouts were becoming frequent. I lost whole weekends, mislaid weeks of annual leave, as I went on staggering benders where I wouldn't sober up for days on end, drinking anything I could get my hands on to keep me asleep and not having to think or be. 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, shame and relentless shakes which would follow periods of trying to stop boozing but failing. Don't ask about some of my behaviour. The nasty text messages that I'd delete after I'd sent them so that I wouldn't remember them the next day. As f that meant that I hadn't sent them, obviously. Naturally, they often came flooding back to me in cold sweats days later. I can blame it on the drink but it was me, of course. I deserved to lose a few friends. 

Ultimately, I was lucky. My friends and family stood by me and helped me through, not judging me at all but eager to get me better with patience and loyalty. Luckily, I also managed not to mess my job up, by some minor miracle (and a supportive boss who wanted me better and back doing what I was good at). 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 catastrophic and dangerous 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 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 (which isn't uncommon) 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.