Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Safe and Sound, Fat and Round

Now that so many children are confined to barracks by parents in fear of the murderers, kidnappers, paedophiles and Daily Mail journalists who freely roam the nation's streets, the reduction in broken limbs and other injuries to children must be saving the NHS millions of pounds a year.
My own generation were constantly breaking arms and wrists when we fell out of trees and having our arms and legs ripped open on barbed wire. Then there were all the injuries sustained when you fell out of your trolley or bogey. For the benefit of any younger readers these were primitive go-carts made from planks of wood and bits of old prams which you raced downhill on the pavement or the road. If both you and your father were crap at DIY, they had neither steering nor brakes so when they went out of control at 30 mph you had to try and stop them with your feet and you frequently did several somersaults before smashing your head into a wall. Where I lived they almost had paramedics on permanent standby for BTAs and TCRIs (bogey traffic accidents and tree-climbing related injuries).
Maybe some of the money being saved on today's non-battle-scarred kids will offset the cost of later treatment for obesity, diabetes and heart failure.

It's reported that someone starts a new blog every six seconds. Perhaps they should track this person down and shoot them.
The same research says that bloggers create 10,800 updates every hour. This loghorrea must be clogging up and slowing down the internet in the same way that spam does.
It's obviously time to establish a regulatory authority for blogging - OFBLOG - composed of members of the great and the good who rarely use a computer and have only the vaguest notion of what a blog is. They will have the power to close down boring blogs, blogs that are up-dated more than once a day, blogs that are up-dated less than once a week, blogs with silly names, blogs with titles in a mixture of upper and lower case letters, blogs that display holiday pictures, blogs that chronicle children's potty training and first day at school.............
Of course, I may be hoist with my own petard (is that what the young people call a 'wedgie'?) but I'm prepared to take my chances. If the worst happens, I'll start an underground blogging movement with secret servers in people's attics. It'll be much more fun - like the days of pirate radio but without Tony Blackburn.

Carlo is very excited about the trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach but he's having trouble understanding the concept and at first confused it with Neverland, the home of his hero Michael Jackson. (Did I ever tell you that Carlo does a very passable Moonwalk?).
He's also spending a lot of time on Blackpool websites and my hard drive is now cluttered with mpegs he's found of some of the rides. He made me sit with him and watch a video of something called the Pepsi Max Big One, holding my arm, swaying from side to side and screaming in my ear. Because of this madness I missed a Money Box Special on ISAs. I may have to accidentally delete these video clips.
There's also something at the Pleasure Beach called Beaver Creek. I'm guessing that would be another first for Carlo.
Tomorrow: Carlo and Lee set off for Blackpool

Monday, November 29, 2004

No, Listen

Reading reviews of a new biography of Frankie Howerd I again gave thanks that this was one comedy legend I saw live on stage.
Always a nervous performer, Frankie must have decided we were going to be a difficult audience. So he sent one of the support acts out in front of the curtain to announce "It's with great regret that I have to tell you......." leading us to think that he hadn't turned up. He could then capitalise on our relief as he emerged hesitantly from the wings, tugging at his crotch and saying nothing was where it should be. Maybe this was a tactic he regularly used in provincial theatres.
There were many remarkable things about Frankie Howerd. His act was a triumph of style over substance. He seldom told actual jokes and when he did they were ancient and corny and only there as a peg on which to hang his patter, if something so stammering and disjointed can be called patter.
Those who saw him only on TV wouldn't realise what a physical presence he had on stage. He was a large man and, if you were at the front of the stalls, he was quite intimidating, even though he rarely picked on members of the audience.
He did his trademark trick of whispering conspiratorially about the theatre manager, with frequent peering into the wings to make sure the poor man wasn't listening. This probably worked better in smaller towns where the manager would be known to most people, if only by name. It's impossible to explain why any of these Howerd techniques should have been so funny and futile to argue with anyone who thought they weren't.
A lot of stories have emerged about him since his death, portraying him a a 'predatory homosexual'. (Funny how heterosexuals are never 'predatory'. 'Promiscuous', yes; even 'sex-crazed' but never 'predatory'). But the extraordinary thing about Frankie Howerd is that none of us thought of him as gay, despite the fact that if you thought about it for more than 10 seconds it was blindingly obvious. For those of us for whom he had always been there he was just Frankie Howerd, a kind of funny uncle to the nation. The sad thing is that the waves of love that broke across the footlights every time he stood on a stage were probably never equalled in his private life. But the glorious conclusion to all the ups and downs of his career was that a new generation discovered him and embraced him as a cult figure even though, as he remarked during his final tour, "Can you believe I've been doing the same old rubbish for years?"


I've always had my doubts about the BBC's rush into digital channels so far ahead of analogue switch-off.
Now I see that BBC News 24 costs £1,000 per viewer. I often watch News 24. The problem is that as soon as a big story breaks I have to switch to Sky News because they usually get the stories first and they always stay with a breaking story and kick the rest of their schedule into touch.
The BBC simply doesn't understand what a rolling news channel is for. It's the equivalent of peering through your net curtains at a road accident outside. You may not be able to see very much but you don't want to miss anything. Sky understand this and will stay with even a minor story like the protester at Buckingham Palace, using a split screen if necessary. The BBC see it's twenty to the hour so they have to go to the business news.
None of this would matter if they were a commercial channel. But News 24 is costing £50M a year of licence-payers' money. If they can't get it right, it would be better spent on some decent drama, documentaries and arts programmes on their terrestrial channels.

Carlo has long been envious of the heavy metal that adorns Lee's fingers. 'Bling' is, I think, le mot courant.
Lee had promised to take him to Argos to buy some similar pieces of ironmongery but had to go to court instead to give moral support to his brother who was up on a twocking charge. So Carlo had to go to town on his own.
To simplify matters, he took some photographs with him of Lee's gold-encrusted fist so he could be sure of getting something equally tawdry, ostentatious and meretricious. But when I used these terms to Carlo he took them as the highest approbation and now thinks I want to share my home with someone who dresses like a pimp.
Unfortunately, the ladies on the Argos jewellery counter were not up to the task of dealing with someone with limited English waving a photograph under their noses. It didn't help that the first photo he showed them was the one he had taken of my belly button and they called Security. When this misunderstanding had been resolved, he was sent to do battle with the Argos catalogue on his own.
As a result, he came home with a crevice tool for a Dyson cleaner, a nasal hair trimmer and a grotesque pink toy called a Sunshine Buddy which silently nods its head, like Jack Straw at Prime Minister's Questions. He's actually quite delighted with the last (the Sunshine Buddy, not Jack Straw) and has put it by his bed. Since it's likely to be a more intellectually stimulating companion than Lee, perhaps it's all turned out for the best.
Next: Carlo looks forward to Blackpool

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Oi, Mother!

"The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they've been in".
- Dennis Potter
The Guardian seems to have List Mania at the moment. On Friday, it was the world's smelliest cheeses. The day before it was a survey of people's favourite words and some of these turned out to be pretty cheesy.
The latter was a survey conducted by the British Council in 46 countries. At No 1 was 'mother'. As I've remarked here before, this is also a slang abbreviation, sometimes spelt 'mutha', which has little to do with maternalism and nurture. But it's undeniably popular among certain groups. Perhaps 'Mother!' was what they yelled at the researchers who had interrupted them.
Few of the words would appear on my own list: smile, sunshine, love, cute, rainbow...........
Oh, fuck off. Was this survey done at a greetings card convention?
One of my own favourites is 'erubescence' but I rarely get the chance to use it.
'Oi' was No 61 in the British Council list, perhaps because one of the researchers was beaten to death with his clipboard by a bunch of skinheads. But is 'Oi' really a word? Surely 'Oi' is an ejaculation.
Ejaculation is quite a nice word, come to think of it. One that brings back memories anyway.


I was shocked to learn from a Dispatches documentary this week that a high proportion of children's care homes are now run by the private sector.
Putting it like that doesn't sound very shocking I know. After 20 years' of privatising everything that moves we've grown used to the concept. But did you know that children's homes are offered for sale in property magazines as going concerns, complete with all the highly vulnerable child residents? So if you've got a couple of million to spare you pop along to the current owner, he'll tell you the annual net profit (up to £500,000) and all the simple scams to screw every last dishonest penny out of social services. The difference between the cost of providing the service and the charge made to social services = fat profits, all from our pockets as taxpayers.
As you'd expect, at many of these homes corners were cut, untrained staff were employed and criminal records checks on staff weren't done. Kids were left to beat each other to a pulp or had abuse screamed at them by the staff. These things didn't particularly surprise me. After all, local authorities didn't have a great record in running children's homes. What I find obscene is that disturbed and vulnerable young people should be used a cash cow for businessmen.
It's bad enough that many prisons have been privatised, but this was even more repugnant. Why has a so-called Labour Government not drawn a line in the sand and said that, for straightforward ethical reasons, there are certain social functions that must be directly run by the State and accountable to democratic control?

Lee invited Carlo to "come for tea round ours."
Carlo asked me where 'Ours' was and if it was a new restaurant in town. Having clarified that one, he asked me if Lee's mother would have the same Earl Grey as myself, to which he is rather partial. I explained that Lee's 'tea' would probably be what we call 'dinner' but with less formality and without the Indian Tree china. This confused him even more because when the vicar had invited him to tea he had been served with copious quantities of PG Tips and Gypsy Creams, not to mention an invitation to help with the scouts' camping trip.

When he returned from tea with the Swarfega family he said very little, apart from asking me who Bernard Matthews was. Later on, I discovered there had been an awkward moment when Carlo had described the meal as 'minging', believing this to be a term of high praise. He also said they had asked him if he would ever return home and he had said no, he was very happy with his Willie. They'd laughed a lot at this, Lee's younger brother had choked on his Sunny Delight and Lee's mum had said "So is Lee!", which I thought was coarse and ambiguous in equal measure.
I was annoyed that he referred to his employer in such familiar terms to strangers. It could lead to misunderstandings but I suppose he meant no harm by it. Anyway, I like to think I'm his friend as well as his employer. It's now been several weeks since I've had to lock him in his room for failing to put a crease in my pyjama trousers.
When you rejoin us: Carlo goes to Argos

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Lighting Up The Schedule

Although not in the Premier League of TV comedies, The Smoking Room (BBC2) has still been a small gem.
Much as I like 'ground-breaking' comedy, I like this one because it is so traditional. Unusually, all the action takes place on one set which gives it a theatrical feel with characters constantly entering and exiting from the wings.
It's also the comedy equivalent of one of those restaurants where the open kitchen is the centre-piece. In other words, the writer's technique is always on display as he manipulates the characters and uses all the old comedy tricks to get a laugh. Some people might think this a failing but I rather enjoy it.
One tried and tested technique is complicity with the viewer. It's obvious to the viewer that one of the characters is gay (except to the densest person) but the other characters don't seem to draw the inferences - because most of them are pretty dense as it happens.
I suppose it's funnier if you're a smoker who has spent time in a workplace smoking room and some of the characters are very recognisable. The only unrealistic thing is the vastness of the room. Most of the ones I've been in were like broom cupboards. But of course cameras need large spaces to move around in.
Under proposed legislation these smoking rooms will disappear. And with them all the bonding and team-building that employers are so fanatical about. Nothing creates instant bonding like a shared addiction to nicotine.
And before all you non-smokers start whingeing, we all know you do your bonding and skiving in the kitchen, the canteen, the post room and the toilets.

(It's rather shameful,by the way, that the programme's website seems to have nothing about the writer (Brian Dooley) but all too typical of the low regard in which writers are held in the entertainment industry.)



Have you noticed that Sarah Montague, the posh totty who presents the Today programme, has the same laugh as Sid James?
I'm not sure how much more I can take of Miss Jolly Hockey Sticks first thing in the morning. It's like finding you've woken up in Cheltenham Ladies College. I never thought I'd say this but come back Sue MacGregor, all is forgiven.

From the television film listings: 'amiable family comedy adventure against the background of the war in Vietnam.'
It was a laugh a minute, that Vietnam war.

'If you miss a radio programme, you can Listen Again on the BBC website.'
Listen again? To something you didn't hear before?
Is this some strange version of deja vu? Maybe Stephen Hawking could explain it.

This week Carlo and I watched the Manchester United match on television. This was because Carlo had discovered that Alan Smith was playing. Do I detect a pattern developing here? I, in turn, was hoping Ronaldo would be playing (for his devestating dribbling skills, of course) so we were both happy. However I was sorry to see that the Portuguese twinkle-toes has become very spotty. I hope this won't affect his game although it could open the door to a lucrative sponsorship deal with Clearasil.
Carlo is still obsessed with 'I'm A Celebrity' and taped all the bits with Brian Harvey in them. 'Blinding' is now his favourite term of approbation. He's distraught now that Brian has walked out of the show. He'd already been very distressed at the indignities the chunky pop star had to suffer in the Bush Tucker Trials. He can't seem to grasp that Ant and Dec are not personally responsible for these tortures and screams "Fucking bastards" and "Sumibak ka na lang ng kalabasa!" at them every night.

Oh, Christ. Swarfega Boy has reared his ugly, spike-haired, wet-look-gelled head again.
Feeling remorseful and fearing he wouldn't have any further access to my drinks cabinet, he has offered to take Carlo to Blackpool Pleasure Beach as a gesture of reconciliation. This morning they went to the neighbouring village to book their day trip with Ron Higgs Luxury Coaches, established 1948. Both the adjective and the plural are puzzling since Ron has only bought one new coach since air conditioning became standard.
Anyway, Ron refused the booking because on a previous excursion to Weston-Super-Mare Lee had mooned at some traffic police on the M4. Lee said this was so unfair because he was only a kid at the time. Ron replied that it was only last summer and that, with a block booking from the convent for this trip, he couldn't afford to take any chances.
Lee now says he will borrow a car. I find that strangely worrying.
When we come back: Carlo is invited to tea.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Smile And The World Wants To Hit You

Anyone who has had a dog will know that they will greet most other dogs on the street with a friendly wag of the tail. But some dogs provoke uncontrollable snarling and barking for no apparent reason.
Although we don't like to admit it, humans are much the same. We take irrational dislikes to some people on sight. This doesn't usually matter too much unless you're meeting them after replying to a lonely hearts ad. It must be a bit of a bummer to find that the person you thought was your soulmate induces homicidal rage just because of the way they wrinkle their nose or pronounce certain words or because their pheromones cause a short-circuit in your brain.
This came to mind because Griff Rhys Jones has just returned to our television screens. I'm sure he's a very nice chap who loves his mother and is kind to animals but I have this inexplicable urge to rip his head off.
You can multiply these feelings by 100 when it comes to Alan Davies. But in this I am not alone. It seems that half the men in the country would like to beat him to a pulp while half the women would like to go to bed with him. Not so long ago he was in a bar in London when a man came up and punched him in the face, for no other reason than for being Alan Davies. A lot of us felt we'd like to buy that man a drink. I used to think it was because of his hair. Perhaps he did too because he had it cut short and still we hate him.
This is a terrible burden to carry through life, worse than belonging to a recognised, stigmatised minority. There are no Alan Davies support groups or helplines. You can't 'come out' to your family as Alan Davies with lots of hugs and kissing and them saying "we can't pretend we're happy that you're Alan Davies but you're still our son and we still love you." On the other hand, he's had a successful career despite this and smiled in the face of adversity. Ah, maybe that's it. That smile. It shouts 'hit me' at every alpha male, and quite a few beta and zeta ones too.
Ditto Marty Pellow of Wet, Wet, Wet. And don't get me started on Jools Holland. As someone once said, he has the sickly smile of a man who has knocked on your door to tell you he's just run over your dog.
Which is almost where we began. Woof, woof.

Note: there are no accompanying pictures to this piece because the Art Editor tore them up and stamped on them.


In all the articles about the imminent demise of the video cassette recorder, I haven't yet seen anyone mention that its development 25 years ago owed much to the porn industry. The VCR provided a way for people to watch pornographic films in the privacy of their own homes and led to a huge surge in profits for the porn industry. Many other technological innovations have been driven by the porn industry, such as streaming video on the internet.
So this raises an interesting moral question for anyone who disapproves of pornography. It's an old question in moral philosophy. Can evil deeds produce good outcomes?
This was the subject of Dennis Potter's play 'Brimstone and Treacle' (originally banned) in which a brain-damaged girl regains her faculties after being raped. And if good can come from evil, does this undermine a simplistic Manichean view of morality?

When I returned from my sister's, I found Carlo sitting in the kitchen sobbing, surrounded by the detritus of uneaten and congealing Kare-kare. The garage boy had not been complimentary about Carlo's native cuisine. His exact words, when I could get them out of Carlo, had been: "Are you trying to poison me, you fucking wanker? Why didn't you order a pizza?"
For once, I had some slight sympathy with Lee, if not his manners, since this dish includes tripe and a peanut sauce. In an attempt to calm him, I told Carlo that Lee might have a nut allergy but he didn't understand.
"Nuts!" he screamed, "he said you're fucking nuts."
"He said what?" I shouted.
"He said you're a batty man."
"I'm not batty, just mildly eccentric", I replied.
The reggae music was still thumping from the West Turret but with any luck we've seen the last of Swarfega Boy.
In tomorrow's double episode: Carlo and I watch football plus Have we really seen the last of Lee?

The Pink Vote

An interesting post on Jaymaster about the Civil Partnerships Bill which has now had the Royal Assent, in the course of which he says: "say what you like about New Labour, they have improved the lot for gay men and women."
Impossible to argue with that statement. And yet, and yet......it's not quite as simple as that. Here's why.
Despite a massive majority, it took them years to repeal Section 28 which was the most urgent reform because it affected vulnerable young people.
They spent millions of pounds of taxpayers' money fighting in the courts to retain the ban on gay people serving in the armed forces. This wasn't because they believed in this policy but so that they could present the eventual change in the law as something imposed on them by the European Convention of Human Rights.
Although Tony Blair is the first party leader to mention gay rights in conference speeches, he abstained in most if not all of the votes on gay law reform because he's always looking over his shoulder at The Sun and the Daily Mail.
The Tory Party - in Parliament, though not in the country - have been playing catch-up on gay rights so fast that they might even move ahead of Labour in some areas.

The interesting question is whether, given that there have been significant reforms, gay men and women should feel an obligation to reward Labour with their vote at the next election. The pragmatic answer is that they would have more reason to do so if there were any likelihood of the Tories repealing any of this legislation. But there's not. Everyone must make their own judgement but I shall not be voting Labour because I don't believe that narrow self-interest should over-ride my strong disagreement with other policies like the Iraq war, criminal justice policies and treatment of asylum seekers.
In a case that was barely reported in the press, a gay Iranian who had been sentenced to death in Iran managed to escape to Britain. The Home Office repeatedly refused his request for asylum and, when every avenue had been exhausted and he was due to be deported to certain execution, he doused himself with petrol and burned himself to death. I shall dedicate my refusal to vote Labour to his memory.

Least Surprising Thing heard this week: Little and Large once had to sack their warm-up man because he was funnier than they were.
Second Least Surprising Thing heard this week: the warm-up man they sacked was Michael Barrymore.
- heard on Midweek, Radio 4

Discovered that Carlo has told Mrs Skidmore that he took a photo of my belly button which has been published on the internet. If I weren't a pacifist, I would have boxed his ears. I'm going round to Mrs Skidmore with some flowers and a box of Ferrero Rocher and to explain that, although the photo was for an innocuous purpose, it would be better to keep it to herself.
There can be no doubt that Lee is a pernicious influence. I have had to tell Carlo that I am NOT a 'dude', have never been a dude and, even if I were a dude, I wouldn't tolerate being called a dude by the fucking houseboy. At this, he laughed in an exaggerated way, bending double and holding his stomach, and told me to 'chill out'.
Despite this and against my better judgement, I said Lee could come round for a meal while I was out visiting my sister. As I got ready to leave there was a pungent aroma coming from the Aga in the kitchen and I thought I would show willing by putting my head round the door and making small talk about alternators and automatic transmissions. But Lee and Carlo had already disappeared to Carlo's room in the West Turret, apparently to listen to Lee's reggae albums. This brought to mind that old saying: 'You can't get quicker than a Kwik-Fit fitter.'
After the break: Carlo's dinner a deux goes horribly wrong.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Slack Willie Goes Ping!

This week I bought some chinos from M. & S. online. When I put them on I found they had an elasticated waistband. It was called something else, possibly an 'active waistband'. Even so, has it come to this? Am I, even unconsciously, seeking out 'comfortable' clothing? Will I soon start wearing cardigans and sitting in a rocking chair, wearing slippers with woolly pom-poms on them?
And is there really much difference between chinos and what used to be called 'slacks'? Apart from the fact that today's 'adultescent' fifty-somethings would never buy anything called slacks? It's all very worrying. Will the Bowls Club soon be beckoning? Will I soon be going to Tea Dances at the village hall, whirling Mrs Skidmore round in a slow waltz in between the cups of weak Typhoo and the Garibaldi biscuits?
No, no, no!
It's been a warning to me.
Thank you, God!
I'm going to get blond highlights in my hair.
I'm going to buy a Burberry baseball cap.
I'm going to get a tattoo.
I'm going to get my nipples pierced.
I'm going to get a cock ring.
I'm even going to stop wearing pyjamas and sleep in my underpants!
As a final act of defiance, I'm going to remove Marks and Spencer from my Favourites List. There. Done. Deleted!
M. & S., you can stick your elasticated waistbands where the sun doesn't shine.


Just when you think things can't get any worse...............when I breathed in a few moments ago, one of my lower shirt buttons broke free from its moorings, shot across the room, ricocheted off the wall and is now buried in the spaghetti of cables that connect me to all you lovely people.
It reminded me of those ladies who fire ping-pong balls across the room from their nether regions. Don't know why as I've never seen this done. Don't get many invitations to stag parties. ('nether regions' is horribly coy. I was going to be more explicit but just couldn't go there. Nothing new there, then.)
However, I am confident that the flying button has more to do with the shirt shrinking in the wash (Carlo probably put it in with the tea towels) than any expansion in my waistline, which is still a creditable 30 inches on a good day.

This button-popping thing once happened to me in a pub. The girl I was sitting with got very excited and exclaimed rather too loudly "Ooh, you've got a hairy belly button!" just as the jukebox fell silent.
She then explained that her excitement at seeing the forbidden fruit of my northward-climbing pubic hair was because her boyfriend was completely smooth. This, in turn, got me excited because her boyfriend was 'well fit', as they say. I feared a few more buttons might start popping as he leaned over and breathed huskily in my ear a detailed description of his ranking in the hirsute stakes.
I'd like to relate that this story had a happy ending - perhaps what aficionados of these scenarios call 'MMF'. Or is that a type of hardboard you buy at Homebase? Whatever. We finished our drinks, called at the chippie and went our separate ways. Because life's a bitch.
Photo by Carlo.
Reproduction of this image on fetish websites is expressly forbidden.

The vicar stopped me in the Post Office today and asked me if Carlo was now helping out at the garage. "No, why?" I said.
"I saw him there yesterday evening. He was climbing out of the inspection pit with that spiky-haired boy. But he should really wear more clothing if he's in contact with oils and lubricants. I'm a martyr to dermatitis myself and Carlo has such lovely soft skin."
"No, no", I heard myself saying, "I sent him there to look for a golfing tee I lost when my car was being serviced."
This was a lie. I don't even play golf and something in the vicar's eyes suggested he knew this.

It's only a short time since Carlo met Swarfega Boy and already I'm brazenly lying to vicars in post offices. Where will it end? There must be more enjoyable ways of going to hell than being towed there very slowly by a teenage grease monkey in a pick-up truck.
Still to come: Carlo's candlelit supper

Monday, November 22, 2004

Spawn Of The Devil

Yesterday afternoon, because Carlo was up to his elbows in Brasso, I answered the doorbell and came face to face with the evil homunculus I call Swarfega Boy.
"Is Carlos in?" he said.
"If you mean Carlo, yes but he's cleaning the brass and is not at home to visitors today. However, if you wish to leave your card, I'll ensure he gets it."
This was meant to sound sarcastic but then I wondered why I was acting as butler to the fucking houseboy. There was a long silence, then Lee said: "Is it his birthday then?"
"Thank fuck for that cos I ain't got no card."
"Will there be anything else?" I said, still unaccountably playing the butler role. Lee stared at me vacantly like one of those boys in B and Q when you ask them where the matt emulsion is. He looked strangely innocent and vulnerable for the spawn of the devil that I knew him to be but perhaps that was a clever trick to put you off your guard. Then he handed me a Co-op carrier bag. (Why does everyone who calls here give me a Co-op carrier bag?). I opened it and caught a whiff of Lenor Summer Breeze. Or it could have been Co-op own brand Bluebell Mist. But as Lady Bracknell might have said, the brand of fabric conditioner was immaterial. Inside was one of Carlo's Michael Jackson T shirts.
"My mum says she washed it twice but she couldn't get all the stains out", said Lee. "Cheers, Mr Loopy".
"It's Lupin", I barked.
"Whatever", he said and pulled his hood up and swaggered off down the drive in a not very convincing imitation of what used to be called the 'pimp's roll'. In fact, it was more the roll of someone sent from a temping agency because all the pimps were on their annual holidays. I toyed with unleashing the Rottweilers but if Carlo got upset he would never finish cleaning the brass, so there wasn't going to be a vacancy at the garage just yet.


So, farewell then, video cassette recorder. (Dixons to stop selling VCRs).
You will have shuffled off your electronic coil without many of the people you lived with ever understanding you.
Rather like many marriages then.

If this blog has achieved nothing else, the mystery of what happened to Sir John Waller (see 13th November, Going Down With Christopher Robin) has now been solved. Someone has posted the information that he died in 1995, still 'without issue' and the title died with him. They have also revealed that he kept a daily diary, raising the intriguing possibility that he recorded his drunken encounter with me in the 1970s and that this diary is lying buried in some dusty tea chest. If so, it might be better that I don't read it. I could probably live with "good company but not shagging material" but "opinionated little tosser in a cheap three-piece suit" would be rather hurtful.
I omitted to say in that previous post that the Waller episode took place in and around Soho, which in those days was not a gay village. The brilliant television drama, 'The Long Firm' re-created the ambience very well, although that was set a little earlier. I don't want this blog to become too autobiographical but I may return to a description of Soho in those days. Now that London seems certain to get a Gay Museum, it's important that this secret social history is properly chronicled while my generation are still alive to do it.

Carlo has been sulking because he is always the footnote on this blog. Now that today he is the lead item perhaps the little drama queen will stop working-to-rule and get on with the ironing.
I have also put him on the title bar. I would like to be able to say that this was to see the smile that would light up his boyish Filipino face, but it's because I intend to add some new duties to his job description. Perhaps, as he himself once said, I'm a fucking bastard.

More From Matthew

I return once more to Matthew Parris's autobiography, which I would have finished by now if I wasn't writing this wretched blog.
We pick up the story where Matthew has left Parliament and is the Parliamentary sketch writer for The Times. He goes to the Tory Conference to write a review of John Major's speech. What he doesn't tell his readers is that he himself has written chunks of that speech. He squares his conscience by steering clear of the passages he had written in his review. But this story is a good example of the cosy, incestuous world of the British Establishment and how we are all conned rotten every day of our miserable lives.

Another story links to my earlier rant against Ofcom. Matthew was appointed to its forerunner, the Broadcasting Standards Council, in 1993 for a salary of £12,000 for a few hours work a week. Governments always appoint members of the great and the good whose main qualification seems to be that they rarely watch television and are completely out of touch with popular culture. At one meeting Matthew spent a long time explaining to Dame Jocelyn Barrow the meaning of the word 'shag'. On another occasion there was a long debate about whether 'twat' meant a silly person or a vagina. Presumably it never occurred to them that it might mean both.
Around that time the Red Hot Dutch satellite channel was beaming porn in from Europe. Members of the Council, which included Lady Howe, were given compilation tapes to take home along with tick boxes to check on such subjects as types of penetration and the angle of erections. One can't help wondering if Sir Geoffrey Howe helped his wife with her homework and whether it might have done wonders for a moribund middle-age sex life. But it's funny how these guardians of our morals are never corrupted by this stuff while you and I would go out and rape the first man or woman we saw.
The current head of the TV regulator is the athlete Jonathan Edwards. He's an evangelical Christian but I'm sure he's able to put that to one side when deciding what we should be allowed to watch. He's also said - surprise, surprise - that he watches very little television.


Woken early today by old Mrs Skidmore at the front door, full of apologies. Her dog had killed one of the ducklings on the moat. As she was leaving, she thrust a Co-op carrier bag into my hand. I assumed this was a peace offering, probably one of her inedible fruit cakes that had been the cause of the W.I.'s unpleasant altercation with Trading Standards. But when I opened it in the kitchen it contained the dead duckling along with a jar of maraschino cherries. That woman is demented.
Carlo got a spoon and ate the cherries for his breakfast, which made me retch. The duckling, he said excitedly, would be used to make a traditional Filipino dish for our dinner. Oh dear. That may not have been the last retch of the day.


I was considering suspending this blog for the duration of 'I'm A Celebrity......' which is rubbish but Carlo is addicted to it. Sometimes, when I suffer from insomnia, we sit up together and watch the live streaming coverage on ITV2 all night, eating Pringles and drinking Darjeeling with a slice of lemon. At times like that, I'd quite miss the little bastard.
Carlo is already rooting for Brian Harvey from East 17 who he thinks looks a bit like Lee. What is it with that boy and rough trade? I must remember to lock the telephone in the drinks cabinet because during the last series he ran up a huge bill on the telephone voting after he discovered how to use the redial button.

Tomorrow: I meet Lee for the first time.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Way We Live Now

I was a little annoyed with Joan Bakewell for writing pretty much what I was going to say here about 'Wife Swap'. If I hadn't read her article in The Guardian I could have been accused of plagiarism. But I suppose I should be flattered at sharing an opinion with such an icon of the Sixties intelligentsia.

She rightly says that this particular reality show is "pure social anthropology". Some other examples of the genre are pure voyeurism, like the new 'What the Butler Saw' although that is undeniably entertaining and features a rather camp Under Butler. Is that his position of choice, one can't help wondering. But Wife Swap is going to be a goldmine for future social historians and social scientists.

Joan picks up on the fact that so many people in the series seem to be married to exactly the right person and marvels at the miracle that this should have come about. This particular insight hadn't struck me, perhaps because heterosexual attraction is a mystery in itself. 'Mixed sex marriages never work', a friend of mine used to say. But clearly many do and often the most unlikely ones. Joan is too kind to mention that the viewer often feels that they wouldn't share a nest with either partner if they were the only life form in the Milky Way. I'm not, so I will.

Two things have amazed me about this series. The first is what a fragmented society we have become and it's no longer just class-based. When, as a child, I visited friends' houses I was struck by small differences but they lived broadly similar lives to my own family. Today there are startlingly different lifestyles and values within the same social class.
The second shock has been how many fathers, of all classes, totally ignore their children, sometimes to a degree that could be called emotional cruelty. I couldn't help reflecting on the contrast with the two gay men who had children by a surrogate mother and have been featured in documentaries. For them, the children were at the centre of their lives although threats and abuse (some from Christians) have forced them to move abroad. Of course, I'm not suggesting that as a general rule gay men would make better parents. That would be absurd. I just hadn't realised that so many straight men could be so selfish and unloving towards their offspring.


Yesterday Carlo the houseboy had his ear pierced and is now sporting a small ear ring. The influence of Lee, the garage boy, yet again. His ear lobe was rather swollen and for an awful moment I feared that Lee had done it himself with some implement used for repairing cars. But Carlo said Lee had sent him to a place in town that did it while you wait. I'm not sure if Lee really said that. If he did, he's not the brightest sparking plug in the garage and I'm not letting him within spitting distance of my old Humber Supersnipe.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Something For The Weekend

For once, one of those 'Greatest.....' lists had me shouting 'Yes!'
Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' has been named the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Song Of All Time. For me, its mysterious charms have never palled since the day it was released although I've never understood why I like it so much. At least I now know, courtesy of Rolling Stone magazine, that "no other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time."
Perhaps one sign of its greatness is that there have been so few cover versions. The only one I know is by the Rolling Stones. The Dylan original is so perfect it would be folly to mess with it and nobody can sneer and snarl as sexily as Dylan.
My original 1965 single (pictured) is badly warped but plays beautifully. The stylus rides up and down as though on the Blackpool Big Dipper, yet pleasingly in sync with the rising crescendos of the swelling Hammond organ that drives the song. I last played it on Bob's 60th birthday. I've just played it again and suddenly I was 14 again, listening to lyrics I didn't fully understand but somehow knowing that pop music would never get better than this. And so it has proved.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal.

Today the Lupin barnet has been restored to a length now apparently known as a 'No 4'. (Memo to self: must check if 'barnet' comes from High Barnet in London). The local barber has one serious failing for a member of his profession: he cannot cut hair and talk at the same time. So the clippers frequently fall silent while he discourses on the usual topics beloved of barbers: holidays, football, etc. This means that even a 'quick trim' can turn into an epic and the usual copies of The Sun and Hello in the waiting area have had to be supplemented with copies of Middlemarch and War and Peace.
His takings are boosted by the large numbers of elderly men hereabouts with no short-term memory. This means they needlessly visit him on a weekly basis.
He's taken to asking me if I have anything planned for the weekend and I can't work out if this is a genuine enquiry or is a variant of 'something for the weekend, sir?' I've been daring myself to reply: "goin doggin' down the park, so make it two packets" but this is a village and people would only start shouting 'Woof, woof' at me in the street.
At the end of his ministrations he always tilts the mirror so I can't see my incipient bald patch. It is such small acts of kindness that make life bearable as the Grim Reaper is warming up in the wings.
Carlo the houseboy has struck up an unlikely friendship with a boy who works at the local garage. This is evidenced by oil stains on his T shirt, a faint aroma of Swarfega and a new fluency in English idiom. Today, when I asked him to de-fluff the tumble drier he told me to fuck off. As a consequence, permission for his weekly 30-second phone call to his mother in the Phillipines has been refused.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cretins, Crisps and Cover Boys

I can understand people finding Boris Johnson amusing since he appears to have escaped from the pages of a P. G. Wodehouse novel. But some of the other claims being made for him are baffling.
A 'great communicator'? This is a man whose reply to a question usually starts: 'Er...er...well.....um...yes..er...er...er...' The last time he was on 'Question Time' he had no idea what the first question was about, even though it had been all over that week's papers.
Able to 'connect with young people'? Precisely what proportion of the country's youth identify with a bumbling, right-wing Old Etonian called Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson? Presumably the same proportion that have posters of the Prince of Wales on their bedroom walls.


Great excitement in the Lupin household this week. Our free Walk-O-Meter arrived from Walkers Crisps. This is what used to be called a 'pedometer'. One possible reason for re-naming it is to avoid stupid people thinking it's a device to detect paedophiles. (A paediatrician was driven from her home by a baying mob, so you can't be too careful).
Anyway, our excitement has quickly cooled. Carlo the houseboy used it this morning to time my boiled egg, with disastrous results, and has been given another verbal warning. Then I read the small print which said it would only be reasonably accurate if walking at a constant speed on level ground without any sudden stops or vibrations. But this corner of Middle England is very hilly. So I can probably only use it on a Sunday morning to go the newsagents, when no juggernauts are causing earth tremors of 2 - 3 on the Richter scale, and so long as I don't stop to talk to Mrs Skidmore about her rheumatoid arthritis on the way. In other words, it's about as much use as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party.

This blog will endeavour to be a Christmas-free zone. But I felt I had to share the Maplins Electronics catalogue that fell out of my newspaper. Has the phrase 'as camp as Christmas' ever been given such vivid visual expression?
What the hell is going on here? This is a catalogue full of laddish goodies like Air Power Shooting Galleries and remote control cars. So is it what advertising people call 'contra-stereotypical marketing'? Or are they chasing the pink market for their DIY products, having fallen for the guff that all gay men are interior design fanatics? Or maybe it was just the result of the marketing department having a long working lunch in the pub. Whatever the reason, I should warn you that the cover boy pictured pops up throughout the catalogue excitedly fondling various electronic devices (but no, not those) and, most disturbingly, brandishing a power drill with a psychotic leer on his face. It's the scariest thing I've seen since Richard Hillman in Coronation Street appeared in Maxine's living room with a baseball bat and despatched her to the green room in the sky.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Peter, at the highly esteemed Naked Blog, has said some kind things about me and says he has now lost his monopoly as the country's leading fifty-plus blogger. As a result, several people have made the journey to Lupin Towers, a couple putting calling cards through the door and others gazing across the moat from the public footpath, deterred by the packs of Rottweilers and the clouds of cigarette smoke emanating from the windows. The Filipino houseboy got so excited at seeing people mid-week that he forgot to iron my shirt cuffs and has been threatened with the sack.

I don't think I'm yet much of a rival to Naked Blog, which is more quintessentially a blog than this one. Or, to put it another way, it's a more bloggish blog. Peter takes you into his world and moves seamlessly from his aches and pains to current affairs. He's also unpredictable: sometimes very funny, sometimes writing movingly about the futility of life.
When you start a blog, you have no idea how it will develop. I began very earnestly and journalistically and slowly realised that the joy of blogging is the freedom to say what you like, unedited and uncensored. It's also nice to be able to write your own headings. Many people think newspaper columnists write their own attention-grabbing headings, whereas they're written by sub-editors. I used to play a game of deliberately putting the word 'sex' in a column in an innocuous context, for example 'suitable for either sex'. You could guarantee that 'sex' would appear in the title. One sub-editor sometimes gave me a lift to work and would proudly tell me the title he'd put on my column that week. I had to pretend to be pleased because if you upset a sub-editor their revenge can be terrible.

It's quite a shock to a lazy bastard like me to find I've already written over 4,000 words without the threat of a deadline. Can I keep it up? Possibly, if only with the help of the Viagra that is the rage at a world gone mad which comes to us at a certain age. The greatest threat to my current prolixity is that I soon become sick of my own voice. That's why I could never be a politician. I think a lot of writers (if I can be so presumptuous) think their work is good but that many others are better and are irritated by their own quirks of style and idiosyncracies. James Henry, for example, has a light, easy and whimsical style that I could never emulate. He must also be very versatile to have written things as different as Green Wing and Bob the Builder. My own writing is a bit too showy. There's too much artifice, even when I don't re-write. You can often see the strings. And there's that love of Latin, obscure and polysyllabic words. This may be a result of overdosing on the 19th century English novel in my youth. Aspiring writers are always told to read a lot but it can create its own problems.
So, in an outburst of the vernacular and the colloquial (shit, there I go again) I'll stop dissing myself, putting myself down and beating myself up and just hope that I don't get on the tits of my handful of readers as much as I do on my own.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

So That's All Right Then

Anyone who has been with me from the beginning may recall that I complained to Ofcom about Jeremy Clarkson making a joke about the Germans who died in the Concorde crash. (See Archives: Pass The Green Ink, 20th October)
Ofcom have now replied. The bulk of their letter is reproduced below:

"We have now had the opportunity to review the programme [Parkinson]........We do not feel that on this occasion the codes have been breached.
In our experience offence is most likely to be caused by a show such as Parkinson when comments made exceed viewers' expectations of particular guests. Jeremy Clarkson is widely recognised as being outspoken, controversial and politically incorrect. We do not feel that his remarks would come as a surprise to many viewers given Clarkson's tendency towards provocative and sometimes insensitive comments.
Clarkson was primarily concerned with promoting his book which happens to include a section on Concorde. The comment made about Germans and the Concorde tragedy was not intended to be taken seriously. He acknowledged the poor taste of his remark by pausing and then starting his next sentence with 'now I'll be serious'. We would also consider the time that has elapsed when considering matters such as this, as recent events are much more likely to provoke widespread offence if referred to in this way. The fact that we have received only three complaints on this issue appears to demonstrate that this was not the case here. We do recognise that not everyone will appreciate this type of humour and certainly can understand why some would view this as being distasteful."

Now I never doubted that his comments about the horrific deaths of 100 Germans, including 3 children, were intended as a 'joke'. I'm not that fucking stupid, Ofcom. My whole point was that this was not an appropriate subject for a joke on primetime television.

The principle of 'viewers' expectations' of particular people is an extraordinary one. Blatantly racist jokes are a trademark of Bernard Manning. Nobody is surprised when he tells them but he would never be allowed to tell them on television. Some reggae artists, as is now widely known, sing songs that urge people to murder gay men. I don't think we'll see them singing them on Parkinson.

The next extraordinary guideline they follow is the length of time that has elapsed since the event that is the subject of the joke. It's now several years since the Dunblane shooting of 16 schoolchildren. So if I went on television and said 'we were more concerned at the damage to the school, particularly as the kids were Scottish', you wouldn't find that offensive, would you, dear reader? Again, it's now 50 years since millions of Jews, gay men and others were gassed in the Nazi concentration camps. Quite long enough, Ofcom might conclude, for us all to have a good laugh about that.

Finally, the number of complaints received should be irrelevant. Most of us can't be bothered to write to Ofcom and I'd never done so before. But either it's offensive or it isn't and if Ofcom took a poll I'm sure they'd find most people thought it was.
Last night on Newsnight, 'Doctor' John Reid repeatedly called this organisation 'OfCON'. He was nearer the truth than he realised.

Chips, Pins and Idiots

I still can't believe I did this.
At the supermarket today I had to use 'chip and pin' for the first time. As all the experts recommend, I picked up the card reader and turned it towards my body to avoid being overlooked. But then, as I input the numbers I heard myself speaking them aloud. The boy at the checkout was looking at me open-mouthed although, to be fair, staring open-mouthed is that boy's default expression. Fortunately, in the circumstances, I had carefully enunciated one of my internet log-ins so I had to start again, this time with my mouth clenched tightly shut.
There are two explanations for this idiotic behaviour. Firstly, it may have been a way of jogging my memory. Secondly, if you live alone you tend to talk to yourself. Or, not so much talk to yourself in a deranged kind of way but occasionally speak your thoughts aloud.
Still, it wasn't quite as embarrassing as the time I inadvertently took someone else's trolley to the checkout and only realised my mistake when I found myself unloading a bumper pack of economy sanitary towels.


Essex man on 'Wife Swap' last night:
"I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to appearances I think you should."
A long-lost relative of George W. Bush?


The winning entry was: "Hey, Condee's got a beaver like that!"
A book token is on its way to Mr Bernard Manning.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Creative Infallibility

James and the Blue Cat is rightly praising the 'Dancing Transformer' ad for a Citroen car, but says it makes him not want to buy that particular car. This is a reaction all too familiar to me, and I suspect others, where car ads are concerned. Not long ago there was an ad suggesting the rear seats provided a self-contained environment for your children. They did this by showing the car splitting in two on the motorway and travelling in two separate fractured halves, as though you'd bought two old bangers welded together by a dodgy dealer. The subliminal message was that this car will kill your kids and probably you as well.
The 'creatives' (ghastly new adjectival noun) in the advertising industry get it wrong more often with cars than anything else. That's when they're not just being plain silly: how often do you have to swerve round small armies of crabs marching across the road?

The prize for most misconceived ads must surely go to Renault. In the eighties, they did a series featuring a truly dreadful Yuppie couple who were running their own business and putting their children through private school. Apparently, in some cinemas where it was shown, people pelted the screen with popcorn. Then in the nineties they did the long running 'Papa and Nicole' series with a French theme and a slight narrative thread. These were considered a great success on the basis of the recognition factor. But it seemed to me that if you're trying to sell a French car to the British, the one thing you don't do is emphasise its Frenchness. Not if it's a mass market car like the Renault 5, rather than one targeted at Francophile advertising executives with a holiday home in the Dordogne.

But advertising people, like our Prime Minister, are never wrong and never have to say sorry. This is because they have perfected several cast iron defences against criticism. The first is that if you hate an ad, it simply means that you are not in the target audience. The second is that whilst you hate the ad, you've remembered it so therefore it has succeeded. (Ads are measured by a weekly 'recall' chart and not by any other criterion). Thirdly, the product is selling well so the ads must have worked. Only a handful of ads in the past 40 years have ever been admitted to be failures (including Strand cigarettes and the John Cleese ads for Sainsbury). If true, this would mean advertisers make fewer mistakes than people in any other industry. And if you believe that you'll believe anything, including every piece of crap that the advertising industry throws at you.

You Have Been Warned

Come the revolution, Comrades, you will have the opportunity to nominate for the firing squad people guilty of non-political crimes and misdemeanours which, although small in themselves, have made a disproportionate contribution to the irritations of modern life.

The Middle England Revolutionary Democrats Executive (MERDE) is currently considering the following nominations. Further submissions are welcome. Closing date is 31st January, 2084.

People who constantly use their fingers to put quotation marks round spoken words or phrases.

People who start letters to the newspaper: 'Am I alone in thinking........' (Yes, you are, and if not, you fucking should be).

People who repeat the punch line of a joke three times. (I'm not deaf and repeating it won't make it funny).

Women whose gardening/plumbing/decorating is done by a wonderful 'little man', even if he's six foot four.

Men who use purses. (And poke around in them with their index finger as though they're fingering a ferret).

Television announcers who pretend to be stifling uncontrollable laughter when introducing a comedy programme.

People who think that to walk in the English countryside you have to dress as though for an assault on Everest.

People who, when describing a phone call, twist their fingers into a representation of a phone. ( I know what a phone looks like, wanker. And I've never seen one that looked like an arthritic Praying Mantis).

To be continued

Monday, November 15, 2004

Not So 'Olde' Englande

News this week that the story of the centuries-long presence of ravens at the Tower of London is a tale of fairly recent origin. Nothing new there, then. For many of our ancient ceremonies, so beloved of traditionalists, are relatively recent inventions.

That grand medieval pageant, the State Opening of Parliament, was invented at the beginning of the last century as a piece of public relations for the monarchy. (Yes, they were desperately trying to justify their existence even then.) Queen Victoria, after all, hardly left the Palace after Albert died and she was generally reviled by the public.

The daily ritual of the Speaker's Procession at the House of Commons is even more recent, having been invented after the last war when the Commons chamber had been rebuilt. Prior to that, the Speaker just poppped through a door behind his chair. When the rebuilding work made it necessary to take a circuitous route, the Speaker of the time thought it undignified for him to go schlepping round the corridors like a member of the hoi-polloi and created a big production number for himself and the other men in tights. Once the rebuilding work was over and this time-consuming fancy-dress Hokey Cokey was unnecessary, they were too addicted to the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd to give it up.

There's a story that, when Neil Kinnock was still an MP, another member spotted him across the Lobby during the Speaker's Procession and shouted "Neil!" Several dozen American tourists instantly dropped to their knees.

Does God Watch The X Factor?

It's a disturbing thought. You thought that your telephone votes in this talent show were what counted, when all the time the great impressario in the sky was pulling the strings.
I base this on a group called Voices With Soul, who repeatedly told us that God had put them in the competition. When they were kicked out this week they told us that God had removed them in order to take them to a 'higher level'. Whether this meant topping the bill at the Royal Variety Show or assumption into heaven on a fluffy cloud was never made clear.
This group refused to sing the line 'Voulez vous coucher avec moi' because they were Christians and substituted the word 'chanter'. Interestingly, they were happy to go and sing at G.A.Y., London's biggest gay club, to further their careers.
For a lot of Christians, God is their flexible friend.

A report, partly funded by the Government, has come up with some strategies for children to avoid bullying.
"Laughing at the bully will escalate the trouble, not diffuse it" it says. Well, there's a surprise! What you must do is make a joke at your own expense. So if the bully says 'why are you so fat?' you reply with all the rapier wit of a teenage Dorothy Parker: ' I've no idea. I limit myself to six bars of chocolate a day maximum!' Oh, my aching sides! I'm laughing so much I'm not sure if I can continue typing this post.
Another tactic suggested is to change the subject. So when the bully says 'why are you so fat?' you reply 'Where did you get those great shoes?' Now if you're a boy and you suddenly evince a keen interest in the bully's footwear and clothes, it's a fair bet that the last thing you'll hear before you lose consciousness is 'Fuck off, gay boy."
It all makes hilarious reading but it's not so funny that the author of this nonsense is making a good living from it, partly funded from our taxes.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

In the Bath With Richard Harris

Following the preceding encomium to Jimmy Webb I decided to reinstate that 1950's tradition of the Sunday Night Bath and listen to the Jimmy Webb songbook.
Big mistake.
Arranging the CD player where I could hear it without risk of electrocuting myself (found dead in the bath listening to Jimmy Webb songs would guarantee a coroner's verdict of suicide) meant I wasn't paying attention to the water temperature. I was aiming for muscle-relaxing warmth without sperm-count-lowering heat. OK, the latter shouldn't be a consideration at my age but you never know when you might be pressed into service as a sperm donor by someone who wants a kid who can pass their GCSE in English. Anyway, I ended up with water as tepid as a cup of station buffet tea.
'There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it'
Richard Harris was singing on the landing.
I was too embarrassed to mention in my previous post that this song always makes me cry. It has nothing to do with my state of mind at the time nor any tendency to lachrymosity. You could pull my toenails out with pliers and be lucky to see my eyes water. No, it's more like a 'conditioned response'.
So, after all the loves of my life, I'm lying in a bath of lukewarm water, all the sweet green bubbles foaming round my knees, the bathroom melting in the dark through my tears, and I'm thinking: this is nice. I must do this more often.
At over seven minutes, MacArthur Park is one of the longest pop songs ever released. If you're fool enough to listen to it in the bath, that's a scrotum-shrivelling, goose-bumping, hypothermia-inducing seven minutes. And because it would have been sacrilege to pull the plug on Richard before the end, I missed the beginning of Coronation Street.
'Oh, no!' sang Richard for the final time.
'Oh, no!' I wailed as I grabbed the TV remote with wet hands, hoping you couldn't electrocute yourself from two AA batteries.
And there on Coronation Street, Les and Cilla were taking a Sunday night bath.

Melting In The Dark

Sharon Osbourne is a thick bitch who should stick to Janet and John books if she can't understand a simple metaphor. Last night she said that MacArthur Park belonged on a cookery channel because it's about cakes and baking. The presenter Kate Thornton also deserves to be slapped to within an inch of her life for introducing the song as "Donna Summer's MacArthur Park". It is Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park and Jimmy Webb was one of the most under-rated songwriters of the last century.
Now, I have no problem with people not liking MacArthur Park. 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' makes me vomit, which used to provoke doubts about my sexuality. But I don't seek to rationalise my dislike by saying it's fucking rubbish or I don't fucking understand it. And the same thick bastards who say they don't understand MacArthur Park have no problem with Strawberry Fields or Eleanor Rigby, from roughly the same period, or lie awake at night wondering why Father Mackenzie was darning his fucking socks when no-one was there. And the people who say the lush orchestration is over the top have no problem at all with Phil Spectre's Wall of Fucking Sound.
I concede that there's an element of kitsch about some of Jimmy Webb's work, even perhaps the slightest hint of camp. But there's also some of the most arrestingly original and poetic lyrics in popular music. The picture of MacArthur Park (in L.A.) on this post looks, to the literal-minded, the least meltable of parks. But as Jimmy once explained, the lyrics refer to the character looking at the park through his tears so the park appeared to be melting. If that's not poetry, I'm Ozzy Fucking Osbourne.
Then there's what many of us regard as his greatest work, the little known and difficult to get hold of 'Requiem'. It tackles a similar theme to MacArthur Park and was also originally recorded by Richard Harris.
And I knew the mountainside would be
Ten thousand years of dust and rust
Before I took you up there again
Why could I not die then
Warm behind the curtains of your hair.

(Bit of a sweary post today, but posted more in anger than in sorrow).

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Going Down With Christopher Robin

Gail Armstrong in Open Brackets has quoted this well-known rhyme from A.A. Milne:

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier’s life is terrible hard",

Says Alice.

This reminded me of a scurrilous subversion of Christopher Robin by Sir John Waller:

Golden-haired boy on the edge of the street
In his tight blue jeans on his lonely beat
Hush! Hush!
I'm rather afraid
Christopher Robin is looking for trade.

I once spent a drunken evening with this eccentric baronet after he tried to buy the tie I was wearing in a West End pub. We staggered from one private drinking club to another, the clubs becoming smaller and seedier as the evening wore on and at the top of increasingly lengthy flights of stairs. My main concerns were that I would either be crushed to death trying to half-carry Sir John up the stairs or that we would bump into the Kray brothers and that after a short spell as a sex slave I would end my days in a concrete overcoat under a motorway bridge.

I had no idea then that he wrote verse but perhaps the bawdy songs that he sang in the street were his own. We were accompanied by a younger man who could have been a toy boy but seemed more like a paid amanuensis whose role was to heave the portly baronet into a taxi when his behaviour put him in danger of arrest.
Possibly as divine retribution for messing with Milne's work, the gay Sir John could only inherit a substantial legacy if he married and fathered a child. He duly married a young journalist but I don't think even the thought of all those millions could stimulate him to do the deed. This much was in the papers but sadly I've no idea how the story ended. If he's still alive he would now be 87.

A far better known parody of Milne is Christopher Matthew's 'Now We Are Sixty' which was a bestseller a few years ago and contains the verse 'They're changing sex at Buckingham Palace....' Strange that the author of such charmingly innocent verse should be so susceptible to this kind of thing. The rhyme quoted at the top of this piece needs only one or two words changed to render it even too obscene for this blog. If this comes too easily to me it's because a backstage game was to change the words of songs in musicals. That's how I know an X-rated version of 'Send in the Clowns'.
You can play this game at home at Christmas. The children will love it.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Proactive Princess in Air Proximity Horror

Hearing 'proactive' for the 100th time this week I started wondering what we said before we said 'proactive'. The OED tells me it was coined in the 1930s but I don't recall it being used much until the last 10 or 15 years. Neither the dictionary nor a thesaurus (and I'd never used one of those before) offers much in the way of synonyms. Maybe we just said 'active' or employed a longer phrase. Of course, I've used 'proactive' a lot myself at work, along with 'key objectives' and all the other corporate bullshit. Not to do so is like being a Catholic who refuses to make the sign of the cross. We parrot these phrases to show we are one of the tribe, to invoke the gods of commerce and curry favour with the priesthood or, in this case, line managers.

The other day I used the term 'near miss' but I have always found it problematic. To me, if two planes 'near miss' they have almost missed each other, which is to say that they have collided. But of course it means a 'miss' that was nearly a 'hit', in which case it would make more sense to call it a 'near hit'. The latter sounds rather more scary (the truth often is) so maybe it's an aviation euphemism. But when Princess Anne's plane had a 'near miss' yesterday, the Palace came up with a new euphemism. It was an 'air proximity incident'. Well life itself is one long air proximity incident, unless you live in a vaccuum. It was an aircraft proximity incident in the air. Or in plain English, two planes almost collided. Or, as Anne probably put it, 'You nearly killed me, you fucking cretins'.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Down The Lane

The Producers has finally opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, or 'the Lane' as we theatrical types used to call it. For the first time in thirty years I wished I was back there in that dimly-lit backstage world. The buzz of a smash hit musical fires the adrenalin of everyone involved, not just those on stage. Some of the old hands might affect a well-practised cynicism but they wouldn't be there working long hours on low pay if they didn't enjoy it. And although the audience don't know it, a small part of their standing ovation is for you. Without you, the show really won't go on. If you cock up, it really won't be all right on the night.

Mostly, it was all right, despite the fact that in my day highly-paid stars put their careers and often their lives in the hands of a motley collection of out of work actors, alcoholics, drama students, and psychopaths. These were the part-timers who just worked shows for a few pounds an hour. In my time there was a guy with a previous conviction for an axe attack; a quiet and conscientious chap who didn't turn up one night because he'd been imprisoned for child rape; and a boy who was found to have cut a peephole in a small tent in which the chorus girls did their quick change. "I sacked the little wanker", said my boss.

One night, in one of the corridors, I walked past two chorus boys with their tongues down each other's throats. One of them asked if I wanted to join in, which was nice of him, but I said I'd just eaten an onion bahji and had a cue coming up. The next night they were in the same corridor but this time they were both knitting at great speed. The black one was shirtless and his six pack glistened and rippled as the needles went clickety-click. "Could you make me one?" I said. "Thought you already were, darling" he replied.

You'd be right to conclude that there's often more drama going on off-stage than on, which was the premise of Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off.' But bear in mind that I've saved my juiciest stories for the book. You wouldn't enjoy them as much if you were getting them for free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Don't Talk Back

The stunning photographs that help make this the most talked about blog in my household are taken with one of those new-fangled digital cameras. When I switch this camera off, the phrase 'See You!' flashes up on the LCD display. 'No you won't', I reply - unless Fuji are much cleverer than I thought.
This trend towards garrulous machines, determined to give their two penn'orth and have the last word, is beginning to piss me off. Machines should be seen and not heard. They're getting above themselves with this silly pretence that they're my friends. Someone told me that their microwave is not content to 'Ping' but also says 'Enjoy your meal!', even if he's only re-heating a mug of coffee. I commiserated with him. At this rate, the vaccum cleaner will soon be offering to give me a blow job. Then again...............

I couldn't bring myself to write about another four years of Dubya so I'll just put a link to Jaymaster whose piece expressed the horror very eloquently. Besides, he's kindly linked to me so, if blogging is intellectual masturbation, that makes us metaphorical wank buddies. (Well, my first post warned that this blog would be big on metaphor although its occasional vulgarity has shocked me).
But I heard a new Bush-ism that rivalled my previous favourite, "The French have no word for 'entrepreneur'". This was: "I have opinions of my own. Strong opinions. But I don't always agree with them." The problem with the latter is that the more you think about it, the more sense it makes in a perverse kind of way. I have this queasy feeling that I too hold opinions that I don't agree with and probably put some of them in this blog. It's a bit like the twisted logic of some Irish-isms, like the Irishman on a pheasant shoot who, when the dead bird fell to the ground said it was a waste of a shot because the fall would have killed it anyway.

Close Encounter With Christopher

Neither heroes nor regrets have figured much in my life but this story features both. My memory was jogged by an excellent post about Christopher Isherwood on Honeytom.

As a teenager I read and re-read every Isherwood novel. This wasn't because he was a 'gay writer'. I don't think I even knew he was gay when I started. It was because he was the kind of writer I wanted to be. He had a distinctive voice as a writer, characterised I think by simplicity of style, humour and, above all, honesty. I had forgotten until now how much I identified with him. I felt we shared a common identity and being gay was only a small part of this. So when I also read in Honeytom's blog (and he's a generation younger than me) of his similar identification with Isherwood I was strangely moved and for a moment the world seemed a better place than I had thought it to be.

These reflections may help you understand my emotions when, in the 1970s, having left my office in London on a summer evening and walking down Jermyn Street, I came face to face with Christopher Isherwood. He was with his partner Don Bachardy and they were about ten paces in front of me. I recognised him immediately because Isherwood changed very little and in old age he still looked like a young boy, albeit a boy with a lined face. If only I could have pressed a Pause button long enough to collect my thoughts. But adrenalin was pumping and my mind went blank. Christopher and I (never thought I'd write that glorious phrase) briefly made eye contact as we passed. I think he sensed I had recognised him. There wasn't much that escaped the eye of the man who was a camera. I doubt that he saw me as an object of desire since I was 25, going on 50, whereas today I'm 50, going on 25 and altogether more deserving of a second look. But now one of the few people in the world I unreservedly admired was walking away in the opposite direction and I had said nothing. I went to my usual Italian cafe for tea, almost shaking with emotion and anger with myself. Of course, if I had spoken I would probably have said something that would be horribly embarrassing in retrospect. At least I looked into the eyes of that deeply flawed but beautiful and honest man who will continue to inspire for as long as people aspire to be writers and today I've decided to re-read all those wonderful novels in 2005.

Now One Is Taking The Piss

Our 'environmentalist' Queen (see 8th Nov. post) has now written to Santa asking for a new, more luxurious Royal Train. A snip at £30 million. My first thought was that she was getting her wish list in while Blair is still Prime Minister - a man whose oleaginous fawning to the monarchy makes Disraeli look like a republican. But it seems the train is to be funded by private money on the basis that it will be available for corporate hire. Apparently she wants a Eurostar-style train for visits to the Continent. Er....what's wrong with using Eurostar? A while back the royal PR people made much of the Queen saving money by travelling on ordinary trains using her Senior Citizen's Railcard but it seems that even that limited contact with the real world proved too stressful.

Meanwhile, the Government show once again that reality rarely invades that touchingly innocent, pre-lapsarian world thay inhabit. They propose that people should be given the mobile phone number of their local policeman. (What local policeman? My village bobby is based in a town 12 miles away). What a wonderful opportunity to send your local plod to a fictitious crime in Walnut Grove while you burgle a house in Acacia Avenue.
On the same day, it's suggested that schoolchildren should be given the home email addresses of their teachers so they can ask questions about their homework. As one of the unions has pointed out, this would provide an irresistable opportunity to send abusive messages and, in the case of more inventive children, to sign up Mr Chips for pornogaphic newsletters and dubious dating sites.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bloomin Global Warming

I took some photos today to record that, well into November, my summer plants are still flowering. Indeed, the Nasturtiums are flowering more profusely than they did in the summer and the Busy Lizzies in the basket, which I was about to remove, have just burst into flower again for the umpteenth time. It's all very unsettling and has delayed any winter planting because in my soppy way I regard digging out a plant in flower as akin to murder.
Maybe we should make the most of it because one paradoxical theory of global warming is that the melting of the ice caps will stop the gulf stream reaching this sceptred isle and we'll all be living in igloos.

On a brighter note, I felt very smug this morning. I needed to replace the batteries in my 'landline' telephone and found the manual in my filing cabinet under 'Telephone Manual'. This was as pleasurable as a small win on the lottery. It could have been under 'Household Appliances' or under 'Betacom', the manufacturer. Or it could have been in a 'Manuals' folder in the kitchen cupboard. Worse still, it could have been in one of the many boxes and mountains of paper in the bedroom, designated 'Filing, Pending'. How can I be simultaneously so organised and disorganised? Then again, it wouldn't be so much fun if I hit the jackpot first time, every time. That would be like every chat-up line leading inexorably to orgasm. There's no thrill without a chase, even a paper chase.

An appreciative reader writes: this is more like the mind-numbing trivia that blogging's all about.

A vernacular specialist writes: did you know that if a casual chat-up ends in orgasm, it's known as 'to score from open play'
(slang, origin: English football).

Monday, November 08, 2004

One is Eco-Friendly. Yeah, right.

It's reported that the Queen has "come out as an environmentalist". Not the first queen to have come out - an obvious joke but it has to be made.
But how someone who needs Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral, not to mention their own personal train, can call themselves an environmentalist escapes me. Apparently it's based on the royal Bentley running on gas and a new hydro-electric scheme at Windsor. Oh, and she uses energy-efficient lightbulbs in her hundreds of rooms. Big deal.
It's like me saying I've come out as a vegetarian because the gravy I pour over my roast beef is made with vegetable stock.

Linguistic note: "coming out" has broken loose from its gay origins and is now applied to any personal declaration, however trivial. This rather devalues the agonising process of the original meaning of the phrase but to rail against the evolution of spoken English is like pissing against the wind. So I won't.

Coming out footnote: when Nathan Lane (opening in The Producers in London this week) told his mother he was gay she said: "I'd rather you were dead." He replied: "I knew you'd understand."

Friday, November 05, 2004

Horny Dogs and Scally Stonkers

Matthew Parris's autobiography will mainly appeal to political anoraks like me but it does contain an unusually perceptive assessment of Thatcher by someone who worked in her private office along with some great stories from the wacky world of Westminster.
Thatcher was famously humourless and impervious to double meanings. In the seventies The Sun used to put two short editorials on page 2, opposite the topless model. On one occasion Thatcher threw down the double page in front of her advisors and said: "What do you think of those two, eh?"
After Matthew Parris had rescued a drowning dog from the Thames, Thatcher (who thought he should have let the dog drown) attended a photo-shoot with the RSPCA and Jason the dog. Jason, like some Tory Cabinet ministers, was captivated by Thatcher's legs. Gripping her knee with his front legs he began that masturbatory lunging for which dogs are notorious, unaware that he was doing to Thatcher what she would later do to Britain. Thatcher, who always liked to avert her eyes from what was happening below the Olympian heights she inhabited, smiled radiantly at the cameras as though nothing untoward was occurring and the press obligingly cropped the pictures.
There's also a new and unusual story to add to the many about the perils of political canvassing. Knocking on doors in his constituency, Parris encountered a youth of about eighteen who seemed unusually keen to engage in political discussion. "As we chatted I noticed he was developing a real stonker of an erection. It was quite extraordinary. The more I talked about manifesto promises and prospects for taxation, the bigger it got."
Now there are more fetishes in this world than you can shake a stick at but "I love it when you talk Tory taxation policy" was a new one to me.
In case you're wondering, Parris made his excuses and left. Shock, horror....gay man passes up a sexual opportunity; politician turns down a chance to secure a vote. The late Tom Driberg, who combined promiscuity and religiosity, would never have stared a gift horse in the mouth and would probably have paused only long enough to thank his maker.

No Thanks, Pet

The people of the north east have voted by three to one against a new regional assembly, having wisely decided that it would cost a great deal of money but have no real powers.
The mistake of southern politicians was to think that the entire north east had a common identity. Many outsiders think that Gateshead is just a suburb of Newcastle but for most of its history it was in a completely different county. When I lived in Gateshead I sometimes met older people who told me that they hadn't been to Newcastle for 20 years, even though it's just a short stroll across the river. Conversely, my Newcastle friends asked me why I'd decided to "move south".
There are few parts of England with a strong regional identity. The south west has such a weak identity that the regional media try to impose one by adjectivising 'west' and tagging it on every headline: 'West man in West town bitten by West dog', as though people from Camborne to Swindon will see this as a local story.
With any luck the result of the north east referendum will put a stop to pretend regional government and the national government can concentrate on real Labour priorities. Fat chance.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Blog Power

Ben Goldacre, in his wonderful Bad Science column in the Guardian, has today done a piece on my earlier blog on yoga in a bottle (25th October), with a nice riff on my mention of evening classes.
OK, so I invited him to take a look at my blog posting. But it has helped to convince me that blogging can be more than the 21st century version of vanity publishing.
By the way, the colour ad for 'yoga in a bottle' appeared in the Observer. The Observer is owned by the Guardian who publish the Bad Science column. Almost restores your faith in the British press.


Talking of the Observer, I enjoyed this correction published on Sunday:

"'Sack the hairdresser and throw away the brush' suggested working 'a little mouse' through your hair. While this would achieve the required tousled look, a little mousse would prove less troublesome."