Sunday, January 30, 2005

What I Did In Bed Last Night

The weekend colour supplements must surely be the biggest waste of paper in the publishing industry. Basically just advertising milch cows, they rarely contain anything of real value. At least Guardian Weekend puts all the best stuff together at the front, including Guy Browning's excellent How To... pieces, but sadly no more Julie because she took the Murdoch shilling and ran.

But in bed last night, too tired to tax myself with a book but not tired enough to fall asleep, I found myself continuing to read on automatic pilot to the end of the magazine. Thus it was that I found Gareth MacLean recommending a men's shoulder bag from Monsoon for £60 (guaranteed to get tongues wagging in the village) and a battery-operated flosser and toothpick which, according to Gareth, will change my life.
Er, I don't think so, Gareth darling. But you're forgiven because you look like a Glasgow rent boy and write like an angel. You could probably change my life and, as it happens, I do have to floss a lot. Strange that you should have such an intimate knowledge of my cavities. Bring your little probing gadget round, Gareth. We could both floss together. Floss, floss, whirr, whirr....expectorate.

Then I was moved to tears by Rebecca Hardy, writing about the scandal of alternative therapists who bully their patients. Tears of laughter.
Ms Hardy paid £40 to an 'aura healer' who poured scorn on her life and rubbished her friends. She left humiliated, poorer and, one hopes, wiser.

Then Jon Ronson's piece gave me a strange feeling of deja vu until I realised I'd already read it in his blog a few weeks' ago so quickly on to the 'We Love Each Other' column which should really be called 'Tell Someone Who Gives A Fuck.' Alan is a bingo caller with sweaty palms and in love with Emma who thought Bingo! when she saw his balls in the air.
Apparently you can't say 'Two Fat Ladies' any more (Two Women With Obesity Issues doesn't have quite the same ring to it.) But Alan puts some sparkle in his voice when he calls. How do you do that I wonder? I once did a course on how to put a smile in your voice on the telephone but I sounded like someone making obscene phone calls and I had to be moved to invoicing before the police put a trace on the company's line.

Next, I carefully studied Matthew Fort's recipe for Linguine with courgettes and biltong. I've never seen biltong in the village Co-op where they give you funny looks if you buy garlic. "Got a cold, dear?" said the checkout lady one day as I bought a bulb. And a girl in Somerfield was thrown into flustered confusion at the sight of my broccoli.
"What is it?" she said.
I told her.
"Yes, but is it a fruit or a vegetable?" she said.

Facing the recipes was an ad for something I've been fighting the urge to buy for ten years: an electronic pepper mill. The manufacturers boast that, like more interesting types of magazine, it's suitable for one-handed use. I nearly weakened this time because it was 'buy one, get one free.' If it had doubled as an electric flosser my cheque would have been in the post.

Finally, as my eyelids drooped and I began to slip into unconsciousness and dreams of an aura healer called Gareth who force-fed me biltong and then flossed my teeth while two fat ladies held me down, I discovered that organic wholefoods are good for bacterium vaginosis - good news I suppose for all those muesli-eating, wholemeal bread-baking Guardian women.
And in the unlikely event that I ever start playing for the other side, I shall be indebted to Emma Mitchell for telling me that a healthy vagina has acidic pH with a population of beneficial bacteria. I shall ensure that, in addition to condoms, the bedside cabinet contains one of those garden soil-testing kits. After all, Alan Titchmarsh, who always says that gardening is sexy, recommends that you check the pH before you plant your seeds.
Hang on, darling, I'll just get my kit out.
No, sorry, it's never going to happen.
I'd rather floss.
On my own. Manually, if necessary.

Dear Dracula

I receive a personal letter from Michael Howard, Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. Well, a personalised letter to be more accurate, although he has so little faith in their database that he apologises if he has addressed me incorrectly. (I would have found 'Dear Comrade' more agreeable but that's a trifling point).
The letter means either that their database has me down as a potential Tory voter, in which case it's a crap database, or - which is more likely - they regard this as a Labour marginal and are writing to everyone in the constituency.

For anyone interested in political language their five pledges are classics. Two of them refer to 'setting out plans' to do something. Now I could set out plans to sail single-handed round the world in my kitchen sink but it doesn't mean I'll do it. This very morning I made plans to do some ironing today but instead I ate five bacon rolls and then slept for two hours.
The pledge on 'Lower Taxes' says: "In our first month, a Conservative Budget will cut wasteful government spending. This will give taxpayers value for money and stop Labour's next round of stealth taxes." Notice how that doesn't say that the Tories will cut taxes. They will merely seek to avoid some hypothetical tax rises by a Labour Government.

Enclosed with the letter is a survey because Mr Howard wants to know the things that really matter to me. Since he has generously provided a reply-paid envelope it seemed churlish not to complete it.
So in in answer to 'If you could improve one thing about your neighbourhood, what would it be?' I wrote 'Less Conservative voters.'
In answer to 'Would you consider voting Conservative?' I wrote 'Not before Hell freezes over.'

Their pledge on schools makes no reference at all to the quality of education, only a commitment to expel more pupils. But their own survey is an example of the decline in standards since it contains the spelling 'inheritence'. Presumably the public school prats who work at Conservative Central Office don't even know how to use a computer spell-check.
Helpful as ever, I have circled this error in red ink and imposed one hour's detention. For, as Michael Howard says in his letter, it's important to "restore discipline to Britain's classrooms."

Strange but true: I don't normally run the Blogger spell check but thought I'd better for this one. It suggested I replace 'Dear Dracula' with 'Dear Draggle'. I looked up 'draggle' and found its original meaning was 'to trail behind others.'

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Funny Thing, Humour

When I saw that Rodney Marsh had been sacked from Sky TV for making a joke about the tsunami, I thought 'fair enough' but also had a childish wish to hear the actual joke. Simon Hoggart kindly reproduced it in the Guardian today. You need to know that the 'Toon Army' is the nickname for Newcastle United supporters. David Beckham, the joke goes, didn't want to play for Newcastle because he'd seen what the Toon Army did to Asia.

So it wasn't a joke about the tsunami at all. It was a joke about David Beckham, one of dozens based on his supposed stupidity. Of course it was foolish to tell it on air because any mention of the tsunami in a humorous context was likely to upset some people. But in no way does the joke make fun of the disaster or the people killed. As Hoggart says, an apology for unintentionally upsetting anyone should have been enough.

Hoggart also says the joke isn't funny. Well it's no less and no more funny than any other joke based on a pun and since I like puns it made me smile. And St David has now to some extent taken these jokes based on stupidity away from the Irish, Essex girls and many other ethnic and social groups. To his great credit, he enjoys and tells them himself. He's also quite happy to be a gay icon. Those last two facts suggest to me that he's not as stupid as people suggest.
And if he is, so what? If Beckham were the subject of my fantasies, which he's not, I don't think that after-sex chat about the Special Theory of Relativity would feature very prominently. Equally, I have difficulty imagining Victoria re-arranging the duvet and saying "David, the space-time continuum, what's that all about then?"


Until now I've resisted the temptation to state my reservations about the comedy Little Britain from fear of people shouting "Lighten up! It's only a comedy."
But yesterday there was a landmark court case under the new legislation banning homophobic harassment in the workplace. (Relax, it's still legal to shout 'queer' at someone in the street). One of the admittedly less serious pieces of evidence in the case was that the employee had been nicknamed 'Sebastian' after the Downing Street aide in Little Britain who lusts after the Prime Minister.
I enjoy the Sebastian sketches. I've watched nearly every episode of Little Britain and it takes me back to the Dick Emery Shows of my childhood. Because 'cutting edge' it certainly isn't. The only sketches that pushed the boundaries slightly were the ones about the young man with a fetish for very old ladies who fancied his mate's grandmother. They made you laugh but feel rather uncomfortable at the same time and comedy should do that occasionally.
The problem with 'Sebastian' and the even more popular 'Only Gay In The Village' is that they are presenting a particular stereotype of gay men to a new generation as forcefully as Dick Emery did 30 years ago with his "Hello, Honky-Tonk" character. Just typing that last phrase made me laugh again, so don't accuse me of being po-faced about all this.
The irony is that, unlike the case of Dick Emery, these gay characters are being presented by one gay man (Matt Lucas) and one bisexual man (David Walliams - his description, not mine).

The 'Only Gay In The Village' character is, like all good comedy, based on truth. Some gay men, lacking any other defining characteristics, make their sexuality not just the most important thing in their own lives but the dominant image they present to the world - in Daffyd's case with a mixture of flamboyance and paranoia. A good subject for one sketch but, as with so much in Little Britain, the point has been hammered home remorselessly for two series.

The show is hugely popular with children. If you asked them to name a gay person on television most of them (and quite a few adults) would say 'The Only Gay In The Village.' I doubt that many would say Evan Davis, the BBC Economics Editor. This raises the question of how gay men are portrayed on television, too big a topic for one post, but it strikes me that little has changed in my lifetime. Certainly not when compared to the portrayal of black people.
Shows like 'Mind Your Language' or 'The Black and White Minstrel Show' would never be screened today.
My generation of gay children grew up puzzled and confused that the only image of gay men we saw on the box were people like Kenneth Williams. We didn't know that the Panorama presenter James Mossman was gay, nor for that matter Gilbert Harding although the latter would have been a rather scary role model. Today, those who are gay (or thought to be) will be called 'Sebastian' at work and 'Daffyd' in the school playground. And young children will believe that all gay men walk around in fluorescent, multi-coloured, body-hugging lycra.

So what's the answer? I haven't got one. I'm opposed to censorship of anything that doesn't actually incite violence and I believe that very few subjects are off-limits for comedy. We'll just have to wait patiently for the day when gay people are no longer the one minority who can be stereotyped and ridiculed on prime time television and when gay performers realise that they have a wider social responsibility than going for the easy laugh. Until then, sit back and enjoy it. Because some of it is actually quite funny.


Breaking News: a Parliamentary candidate for the UK Independence Party has been suspended for saying that the criminally insane should be killed. (See my recent posts on the Holocaust).

Friday, January 28, 2005

(Parenthetical Genocide) Contd.

I wrote yesterday's piece on the Holocaust Remembrance before I'd seen the recording of the ceremony held in Westminster Hall. Both gypsies and homosexuals got a brief mention, courtesy of Stephen Fry. He even quoted Mel Brooks' joke that without Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals there'd be no such thing as show business, though nobody laughed.
So do I retract my comments of yesterday? You bet I don't. Because both the BBC and ITV evening news programmes somehow forgot to mention the 5 million non-Jewish victims. I suppose you can't blame them. 5 million is an easy figure to overlook.
It matters because very few people would have watched the hour long programme on BBC2. It was scheduled against both Emmerdale and Eastenders, not to mention The Simpsons on Sky.

If you still think I was exaggerating yesterday, then consider this. A motion was passed in the European Parliament yesterday condemning those responsible for the deaths at Auschwitz. A Polish MEP, a right-wing bastard called Michael Kaminski, tabled an amendment which, among other things, would have deleted a reference to homosexuals being victims of Auschwitz. Fortunately, the amendment was defeated. But it's a reminder that, as well as those who deny the Holocaust ever happened, there are those who, because they share the homophobia of the Nazis, seek to obliterate from history the deaths of thousands of gay men.

The Westminster Hall ceremony was often very moving if you could manage to put on one side the hypocrisy of some of the participants. Talking of which, it ended with an address from the child-murderer-by-proxy Tony Blair doing his old I'm on the verge of tears routine. He really is becoming the Norman Wisdom of British politics. Norman spent a 60 year career doing a routine based on uncontrollable laughter but eventually this fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. I fear the same fate has overtaken Blair because the suppressed sobs have been reprised rather too often.

If you think I'm being unfair, read Michael Brunson's autobiography (the former ITN Political Editor) where he records being told by an aide that Blair particularly wanted him to use as a soundbite the bit in his speech where he had a catch in his throat. (The same book chronicles the time when Blair used his kids as a bargaining tool in a dispute with ITN: remove something I said from my interview and you can film my kids playing in the garden).

And if you think the 'child murderer' tag is a bit harsh, I refer you to the footage in Fahrenheit 9/11 - coincidentally shown last night on C4 - of dead babies being thrown into the backs of lorries in Iraq, footage which we are not shown in sanitised news reports.
This prompted C4 to give a rare warning in the middle of the film that there were scenes that "some viewers may find disturbing." Some viewers? May?
Who in God's name are those viewers who don't find images of dead and maimed children disturbing? Surely only the people responsible for such evil. And presumably that must include the emotional and lachrymose orator Tony Blair.

Ghosts On Film

Tonight sees the final episode of The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon on BBC2. I almost missed these wonderful programmes because I thought from the trailers they were a spoof of some kind. They are in fact some of the earliest movies ever discovered and had lain undisturbed in the basement of a Blackburn shop for nearly 100 years. For the first time we are able to see scenes of life in Edwardian Britain with astonishing clarity and little of the jerkiness that usually characterises early films. Last week's programme even included the first film footage of a Manchester United match.
They were made by two businessmen who cashed in on the novelty value of the new invention by filming people in the street and leaving factories and then charged people to come and watch themselves - the first generation able to do so. It's a reminder of how very recent 'moving pictures' are, with still photography not much older.

I find these films almost unbearably poignant. All the people in them are dead and many of the children jumping around in front of the camera and twirling their caps in the air would have been killed in the First World War. In a sense one is looking at ghosts, except that ghosts don't run after trams or play rugby and football and occassionally, in a startlingly contemporary gesture, raise two fingers to the camera. It's a reminder of how ephemeral human life is and raises those old questions of what happens to the past and the nature of time.

Occasionally I've experienced a kind of time-warp in real life. About twenty years ago a friend took me to a Tyneside pub that had remained almost unchanged since the beginning of the last century. It was divided into several small bars. The one we used had an ancient piano with some of the keys half burned away where generations of pianists' cigarettes had fallen onto them.
We sat with a group of elderly ladies most of whom had worked as prostitutes when they were younger. Their warmth and friendliness made us feel we had been going there all our lives. They flirted with us shamelessly yet innocently and when we left insisted we kissed their heavily rouged and powdered cheeks. As we walked away from the pub my friend noticed the tears in my eyes. I blamed the cold wind blowing off the North Sea. But, as L.P. Hartley said, the past is another country. I had just made a brief visit there on a temporary visa. I knew I could never return because soon it would cease to exist, along with the lives, emotions and memories of its inhabitants, the ordinary, forgotten, unmourned, uncelebrated people of history.


The photograph above I dug out of the family archives. I don't know the year but it's from the same period as the Mitchell and Kenyon films. It's a seaside holiday in July but notice the amount of clothes being worn. The only concession to summer is that most people have removed their hats except my grandmother (fifth from right) who is wearing a cross between a meringue and a tea cosy.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

(Parenthetical Genocide)

Sunrise,photo:Willie LupinToday is Holocaust Memorial Day and also the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Yesterday the Guardian's leading article included this: '(Roma, communists and gays also suffered and died in the camps)'.
I don't want to be churlish: nice that they got a mention for once.

But why the brackets?
Today is a day for remembrance but it's all too often a selective remembrance and remembrance without understanding.

There were five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. These included:

Three million Polish Christians
Half a million Roma Gypsies
Up to 15,000 homosexuals
Many thousands of people with disabilities

Jews, with six million killed, were the single largest group. But morality and arithmetic are two different things.

At least some of the BBC reporters on the radio this morning managed to mention gypsies and homosexuals in passing. It wasn't always so.
Even Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, in his Cliché Thought For The Day managed to mention 'gays' as fellow victims. But it was the same Jonathan Sacks who joined forces with the batty Baroness Young in her campaign to retain the odious Section 28 on the statute book, in the course of which Dr Sacks argued that homosexuality had no moral equivalence with heterosexuality.
That, of course, was Uncle Adolf's view. Once you deny 'moral equivalence' to a fellow human being or group of human beings you embark on a road that leads ultimately and inexorably to the gas chambers.

The handy labelling of victims of the holocaust, besides allowing selective grieving, creates another kind of nonsense. For the different categories are not mutually exclusive. There were undoubtedly many gay Jews, gay Polish Christians and gay Roma Gypsies herded like cattle to their deaths. Unfortunately for the Nazis they could only kill them once but in many cases they would have been unaware they were scoring a double whammy. Before you can pin a pink triangle on someone they have to be identifiably gay. So the Nazis faced the same difficulty as the queer-bashers on our city streets and the bullies in our schools: most people's sexuality isn't outwardly obvious.

One reason that five million people have, for most of my lifetime, been the forgotten victims of the Holocaust is that continuing discrimination against these groups makes people uncomfortable. When I was younger it wasn't uncommon to hear people say that in some respects Hitler 'had the right idea' - most notably in gassing queers.
Ah, but we've moved on since then, you say. Well, up to a point. It was only last year that David Morley, the gay Soho barman who had survived a pub bombing by a neo-fascist nutter was kicked to death on London's South Bank. And it was also very recently that a village in England decided to make the focal point of their fireworks display the burning of a gypsy caravan - complete, I believe, with children's faces painted at the windows.
So whilst the Holocaust was a uniquely horrible mass slaughter, the prejudice, the hatred, the denial of moral equivalence from which it sprang are still all around us. That should be the real message of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Big Boy Up A Ladder

Today a few more recollections of working at the Savoy Hotel, in response to a request from a reader:

Musings from Middle England: the listening blog, the market-focused, customer-led blog, proactively fostering customer relationship marketing strategies in accordance with best practice, subject to benchmarking standards and rigorous performance targets, and working towards OFBLOG 'Beacon Status'.
[Get on with it - Ed.]

When I started at the Savoy my temporary boss was the young Spanish man who, as previously described, had anointed my middle finger with vintage brandy. That must have been one of the rare days that I did any work. 'Manuel', as I'll call him, couldn't be bothered to teach me anything or give me any work and told me to bring a book to read.
He didn't do a great deal himself, apart from shouting down an ancient speaking tube to the unseen troglodytes who worked in the wine cellars far below. "Go and fuck yourself, you son of a bitch", he would scream before stuffing tea towels into the tube to stifle any further demands on his time.
So in my first week I read 'Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger. I think I read it twice. It proved an inspired choice as an aide memoire because a Manhattan cocktail is made with Rye whisky, not Scotch. To this day I call a Manhattan a 'Salinger'.

Now I'd sometimes been made to read books at school: during singing lessons where my croaking would have thrown the rest of the class off key, and during rugby games because of a susceptibility to nose bleeds. But I hadn't thought that hours of reading would be a feature of my working life. Still, I wasn't complaining. At this rate I'd have read all the classics of English and American literature before I was 30 and quite possibly have become a world authority on quantum physics too.

All that changed when the regular boss returned from holiday.
He was a small, bald man in his fifties with pebble glasses. Imagine an East End Jewish version of Arthur Lowe and you won't be far out. I'll call him 'Joe'. He always called me 'Sir' but I don't know whether this was sarcasm or in deference to my education. He also called me a "fucking little shithouse".
He called everybody a shithouse. It was because everybody was a shithouse that he'd spent his entire life working for a pittance in the bowels of the Savoy. Not that he had a chip on his shoulder. No, it was more the size of a brick shithouse which is why he walked with a stoop, peering up at the Art Deco splendour of the Savoy through his pebble glasses like a mole that had emerged on the well-manicured lawn of a stately home.

One day he sent me up a ladder to get something from a high shelf. As I reached up he did the same and grabbed hold of my genitals. For a few seconds he weighed them in his hands as though it were a Guess the Weight of the Cake competition at a village fete. Then he said: "You're quite a big boy, Sir" and walked away. He never repeated it and it was never mentioned again. Since I had never discussed my sexuality with him I was amazed he did something so blatant and risky.

The only implicit reference to the groping episode was when an elderly Irish floor waiter walked in one day. Because of his Irish accent the 'r' in 'cork' was silent so his request came out as "Have you got a big cock I could use?" Joe immediately called to me: "Sir, someone wants you."
The Irishman was unaccountably terrified of Joe. One day he spilled some whisky going through a swing door and came back for a refill. Joe lifted him up by the collar and said: "Let me smell your breath. You've drunk it, you lying, fucking Irish shithouse." I made the mistake of defending the Irishman and was made to scrub carafes for the rest of the day.

It's well-known that the staff of such hotels become much grander than the guests and will look down their noses at people who are actually far higher up the social scale than a waiter. I remember one waiter fulminating against Princess Margaret's former husband, Lord Snowdon, calling him a "jumped-up little bastard." One Maitre D'Hotel used to write restaurant reservations in his ledger in pencil so he could quickly rub them out if the people didn't measure up to his exacting standards.
Another would walk slowly round a prospective diner, looking them up and down, assessing the quality of their suit and shoes and their suitability to eat in 'his' restaurant.

Soon after I left the Savoy, my new employer held a reception there. I sneaked off through a staff door and went to visit my old workplace. I got a friendly reception but then one of the waiters discovered I was now there as a customer. He immediately went into the circling routine, feeling the material of my jacket and after a lot of tut tutting rebuked me for my cheap shoes which didn't match my suit.
"Take no notice, Sir", Joe said, "he's a shithouse."

For more behind-the-scenes stories from top hotels, mainly in America, I recommend the books of Ludwig Bemelmans, starting with 'Hotel Bemelmans', available from Amazon.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Well-Behaved Binges On The Fringes

African Repeat, design by Vivi BrowneThe other day I started to talk about a subject from the comment box concerning gay neighbourhoods being safer places to live and young gay men being less likely to smash the place up but then went wildly off-topic. So now, put your wellies on as we again venture tentatively into the quagmire of sexual stereotypes.

You certainly can't say that there are lower rates of criminality among gay men. You'll find plenty in our prisons, even if you exclude those who are just 'gay' for the duration in order not to be deprived of sexual pleasure while giving Her Majesty pleasure. Nor do gay criminals confine themselves to non-violent crime. Think of Ronnie Kray, or playright Joe Orton being battered to death by his lover Ken Halliwell, to give two high profile examples. You could argue that, historically, gay men being excluded from the mainstream and criminalised for just expressing their sexuality might make them more likely to become criminals in a broader sense. That's why it's always been in society's interest to give gay men and women equality and not consign them to the fringes, but it's taken a hell of a long time for them to realise it.

I'm not sure how true it is that gay teenagers are less prone to drunken vandalism than their straight counterparts but that's certainly my impression. But why? They certainly don't drink any less and are no less inclined to 'laddish' behaviour. Some would say it's because they're more 'feminine' but that's just an ignorant confusion of gender and sexuality. Strange but true, as the tabloids would say: young gay men are just as turbo-charged with testosterone; some will have spent the evening discussing who's going to win the Premiership; some of them even have hairy chests, can't stand Madonna or Pet Shop Boys and have an aversion to quiche!

So why don't they put their boots through shop windows after leaving the pub? One reason perhaps is that they need to keep a low profile on the city streets if they're not to get their heads kicked in. Another is that if they're sufficiently at ease with themselves to be out on the gay scene then they're confident in both their masculinity and their sexuality and have nothing to prove to their mates. And unlike gangs of straight boys who drink together, their drinking mates are also potential or actual sexual partners. In general, violence and romance are uneasy bedfellows. You rarely hear people say: 'it was when he put his boot through the kebab shop window that I knew he was the one for me.'


The problem of binge drinking is never out of the news at the moment and the Government's alcohol policies are full of contradictions and quite bizarre when compared to their policies on smoking.

But it's moderate drinking that I've never understood. Alcohol is a mood-altering drug. It follows that you need a sufficient quantity to significantly alter your mood, otherwise why drink the bloody stuff? You might as well have a nice cup of tea instead.
The problem is that once you've drunk enough to remove your inhibitions and tell your drinking partner that he's your best mate in the whole world, you're judgement is shot to buggery and you're likely to go on drinking until you fall down or, depending on your temperament, decide that anyone who's not your best mate needs a punch in the face.

I don't know what the answer is to that. I only know that the choice for me is to either get totally rat-arsed or stay at home and drink Sainsbury's excellent Assam tea. The middle way is a cop-out and the apotheosis of pointlessness.
Do you really think I'm going to comb my hair and get dressed up and go schlepping up to the local pub for a 'quick half' or two glasses of wine?
Do you think I'm some kind of poof?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Service With A Conspiratorial Smile

Retro - design by Vivi BrowneThe story of the Head Waiter at the Savoy Hotel who had pilfered over £4000 worth of items caught my eye this week. There have always been lots of scams in what is now called the 'hospitality' industry, although usually stopping short of taking the crockery and silverware home.

When I worked at the Savoy our morning coffee and buttered croissants always came from either the restaurant or room service rather than the staff canteen. The latter was like a Dickensian hellhole where angelic-looking pageboys sat on long wooden benches like the cast of Oliver - except that torrents of four letter words poured from their mouths. I stopped going there much after a knife fight broke out between two Greek staff and I had to pick up my eggs and bacon and run.
But I still ate extremely well. In my section there was always a tray of the world's finest cheeses secreted under a cabinet in case you were feeling peckish. There was also a tall Italian waiter who, in his black tailcoat, looked a bit like Fred Astaire, who would sometimes shout "Hey, Good-Looking, quick!" and hurl a huge duck casserole in my direction. I never knew whether these were mistakes in orders, the untouched lunches of Cabinet Ministers called away to an urgent vote in the Commons, or whether this waiter just felt sorry for a lean and hungry teenager earning £14 a week before tax.

The day I was taught how to mix all the standard cocktails is a blur because my tutor made me drink them all. At the end of my shift I was so drunk that I staggered for miles through the subterranean tunnels used by staff before I could find the way out.
I once discovered a novel use for brandy when I cut my finger on a shard of ice that I was chopping up to put in ice buckets. A Spanish boy who was temporarily in charge grabbed a very expensive bottle of vintage brandy from the shelf. It was labelled with the name of one of the directors of the hotel.
Good, I thought, he thinks I'm in shock and is going to give me a drink. Wrong. He held my hand over the sink and poured the brandy over my finger, explaining that it was an antiseptic and that there was no First Aid box available. I stood and watched that wealthy man's rare and expensive brandy that had taken perhaps 100 years to mature cascading over my finger and glug, glug, glugging down the plughole and I smiled.
And you know what? I think it was my middle finger.


The other interesting thing about that story of the thieving head waiter was that the trial judge was Cherie Booth, QC, also known as Mrs Tony Blair. "Theft from an employer is a serious business", she told him, "and clearly one of the options is a custodial sentence."
It's fortunate that this case was black and white, unlike the world of Government that the Blairs inhabit. When Cherie Blair - sorry, Booth - did a lecture tour of America in her private capacity as a lawyer I believe that she was accompanied by Special Branch officers paid for by taxpayers. There's also a wealth of press cuttings to show that she's the Queen of Freebies. None of which is illegal or a particularly big deal.

More serious is the case of David Blunkett. Having been forced to resign for improper conduct, he's been allowed to keep his £3M Belgravia 'grace and favour' residence and his Ministerial car. The excuse for this is that old chestnut "security issues". It contrasts sharply with the case of Mo Mowlem who was the first Northern Ireland Minister to have her protection staff withdrawn the moment she left office. The difference is that she was out of favour with King Tony and we all know that Blair intends to bring Blunkett back, probably straight after the election.
But imagine an ordinary person whose employment included rent-free accommodation - perhaps living over a sub Post Office - who was sacked for dishonesty. Would they be allowed to carry on living there?
Yet members of the court of King Tony constantly wring their hands and agonise over the widespread disillusion and cynicism about politics.

Note: today's illustration is called 'Retro' and is another textile design by my niece (and therefore copyright). More to come. You saw them here first.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Adventures of Carlo

Episode 34

It is fortunate that Jonquil Skidmore, the woman Lee calls Crazy Horse, has not sought to resume her English lessons with Carlo, having presumably bridled at Lee's tactless interjections on her first visit. This has left Carlo free to embark on a frenzy of washing and cleaning around the house. I had thought this was early spring cleaning, induced by the unseasonably clement weather but today I discovered that it was to leave him free to follow the Michael Jackson trial which begins at the end of the month. I pointed out that the trial will not be televised but he's discovered that Sky are to broadcast nightly reconstructions using actors. It will be his revenge for having to sit through similar recontructions of the Hutton Inquiry last year.

The other day Carlo and I had bumped into Giles Humphries outside the Jewel in the Crown and Carlo's MICHAEL IS INNOCENT T shirt had prompted an angry tirade from Giles which featured both castration and the electric chair. When I pointed out that the latter would render the former superfluous and asked what had happened to the presumption of innocence, Giles snorted and said "Don't give me that Guardian rubbish."
Giles is one of the few local councillors not to have secured a place on the bench. His mistake, which he daily curses, was not to apply before psychological tests were introduced for aspiring members of the bigotocracy. The more rigorous screening procedure had made the government fearful that they could never build prisons fast enough to keep up with Giles' sentencing policy.

I usually suffer Giles' rantings in silence but I had called into the Rod and Mullet to sample their new winter ale while Carlo was doing the shopping. Emboldened by an alcohol by volume of 8.9%, I observed that in today's climate people might look askance at Baden-Powell.
"What?" said Giles.
"Well, he was sometimes observed stroking the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens."
"Nonsense!" said Giles angrily. "He was a happily married man."
"Did you know that on his honeymoon he took a sleeping bag on to the hotel balcony and slept alone under the stars?"
Giles' complexion was turning a rich burgundy colour and I noticed a vein pulsating in his neck.
"Michael loves Peter Pan", Carlo interjected. "Michael is the new Peter Pan!" he shouted, punching the air.
"Oh really! I can't stand here listening to this balderdash", said Giles. "My chapattis are getting cold."
As he stalked off I said "I hope they choke him."

Only then did I remember that Giles' son, the saintly Jamie, was a Queen's Scout and his wife Annabel was some kind of local Gauleiter in the Girl Guides. It had been a tactless line of argument. I probably now had as much chance of getting planning permission for my gazebo on the south lawn as of starting a fire by rubbing two damp sticks together.
As we were about to cross to the Post Office, there was a long blast from a car horn and a BMW roared past. We could just make out Giles' livid face through the smoked windows.
Carlo raised one finger and shouted "Jakolero!"
"What?" I said.
"It means wanker".
Carlo's English is coming on a treat, even without Jonquil's roleplay.
I waved my umbrella at the departing car and shouted "Jakolero!"
Then we both shouted it together: "Jakolero, jakolero!"
This made Carlo so delighted and excitable that he did a moonwalk outside the Post Office and an old lady threw some coins into his Co-op carrier bag.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Gagging For It

If writing about other people's blog postings is slightly incestuous then how would you describe returning to your own outpourings for further analysis and discussion? Auto fellatio?
Are you kidding? At my age? I'd be in traction for a month.

Anyway, there are still topics arising from my Glad to Be Gay riff that I want to talk about. Portuguesa Nova made an interesting comment about the benefits for a straight couple of living in a gay neighbourhood, which included a low crime rate. This, I discovered from her excellent blog, was in Chicago.
Back in the days when I occasionally visited chat rooms I once met a man from Chicago. This prompted me to type "My kind of town, Chicago is." He congratulated me on my singing. The first time anyone had done so. Because in cyberspace nobody can hear you singing off key.
He was an intelligent and pleasant man but he was into bondage and S & M, things that have never floated my boat. But this didn't get in the way of our interesting chat about Chicago and his work in public relations so long as I paused occasionally to tie another length of rope round him.

People of the S & M persuasion have certain advantages as conversationalists in a chat room, particularly if they're of the 'M' part of the formula. For one thing, they usually call you 'Sir', a pleasing old-fashioned courtesy. It was rather as though we were playing a cyber-roleplay game called Boswell and Dr Johnson.
Nobody calls you Sir nowadays, not even shop assistants, unless Fortnum and Mason happens to be your corner shop. It was mine once, in the sense that I worked nearby. I recall pointing out to a woman there that she'd over-charged me for 20 cigarettes. "Sir", she replied, in tones dripping with contempt, "most of our customers buy their cigarettes by the hundred so I'm unfamiliar with the price per packet."
The formidable Edith Evans turned the tables on a Fortnums flunkey once after complaining about a packet of tea and some biscuits costing £4.50. She handed him a fiver and when he gave her the 50p change she said: "You'd better keep it. I think I trod on a grape on the way in."

I always say "Good Morning" to shop assistants and checkout persons but only about 50% of them ever reply. The teenage Saturday staff often recoil slightly as though you'd asked them for a blow job, although some of them manage to grunt "Awight?"
I should point out that this is in southern England. In the north people are rather more forthcoming, which southerners regard as being over-familiar and nosey. If they're being tactful they say northerners are friendly but translated this means 'as common as muck.'

But back to the the land of Have A Nice Day and the Windy City and Mr Bondage.
There's another advantage to internet chat with people with these tastes. If you need to do something else they're happy to be left hanging around - e.g. from a meat hook in the ceiling - or securely tied up until you return. In that particular instance, this gentleman was keen to resume our chat after I'd had my dinner and insisted I left him gagged and tied to his chair before I left.
Well, it's a wonderfully easy way to make someone happy. No dinner in an expensive restaurant, no flowers and chocolates, no come back to mine for a coffee, no foreplay. Just a few lengths of stout rope. Gives a whole new meaning to slip me a length.
So I cooked and ate my dinner and watched Coronation Street and when I logged on again, there he was, still tied to the chair and happy as a sandboy. I just loosened the gag slightly - which he didn't really want - so we could resume our conversation. I'm not sure what part of his body was free enough to operate the keyboard. I didn't really like to ask. There was one awkward moment when his mother rang to ask him over to dinner. He thanked her but said he was a bit tied up that evening.
OK, I know it's an old joke but I'm not making any of this up.

Oh dear. This piece was supposed to be about lower vandalism rates among young gay men. But it's my blog and I'll digress if I want to.
I'll now return to that topic later, or tomorrow or next week. Whenever.
Feel free to stick around until I do.
But you'll have to provide your own ropes and handcuffs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Psst, Wanna Buy Some Cardboard Furniture?

Most surprisingly entertaining programme at the moment is Dragon's Den (BBC2, Tuesdays), a kind of Business Idol where people have to persuade a panel of millionaire tycoons to invest in their often crackpot schemes.
Most reviewers have focused on how loathsome the panel are. But you expect capitalists to be repugnant. I find the supplicant entrepreneurs more fascinating. Some are likeable dreamers but others are what used to be called 'spivs' - snake oil salesmen with the gift of the gab who used to operate on street corners but today, when the bullshit of business-speak can buy you credibility, a lot of them have gone mainstream. Fortunately the panel didn't get where they are today or make their squillions without recognising a devious 'Del Boy' when they see one. And, as with Pop Idol judges, they let them have it with both barrels. I feel envious because, in past employment, I've had to listen to some of these people's business ideas but wasn't in a position to tell them to crawl back under their stones.

One young chap, who might as well have had the words 'dodgy' and 'twat' tattooed on his forehead, said he was an entrepreneur. When asked to explain his precise role in his company he simply said "I'm the key man." Of course, he may have been speaking literally and held the key to some back street lock-up.

There was a wonderful moment last night when a woman who was going to conquer the world with cardboard furniture was asked about her past career. "Well," she said rather haughtily, "I launched Sky Television." There was the most pregnant of pauses as the camera panned along the panel's faces. It turned out that she'd worked at an advertising agency that handled the Sky account. As an 'executive', naturally. But you could see the panel wondering if she'd been the tea lady.

Another woman was trying to sell giant beanbags that hung from the ceiling on huge chains as an alternative to sofas. She thought they'd be popular with university students. At nearly £1,000 a throw. Yeah, right. Incredibly, one of the panel gave her £50,000 so you might yet see them at DFS at £899.99 (pay nothing for 3 years and then get 10 years free credit). But you'd better check your ceiling joists before you invite Jonny Vegas round for a drink.


Anyone who's surprised by the abuse by some British soldiers in Iraq must be living in cloud cuckoo land.
We know from events at Deepcut Barracks and elswhere that bullying and abuse is endemic in the services.
We also hear that in garrison towns in Britain the crime rate has plummeted since so many soldiers have been posted to Iraq.
As far as the officer class is concerned, we know that there's always been a culture of bullying and abuse in private schools, while for many of the 'poor bloody infantry' the army has always provided a respectable alternative to a criminal career.
And we know that successful soldiers have to be desensitised and conditioned to regard the enemy as less than human.
We should also remember some of the officially sanctioned torture that was inflicted on suspects in Northern Ireland over many years.

A new programme about dialect and slang on Radio 4 today included the wonderful phrase '5 finger discount' for shoplifting. That came from Telford. Not being deeply immersed in street culture, I don't know how widespread it is.

Another one, provided by Craig Charles, was 'going dub, dub, dub' on your mobile - accessing the internet on your phone. That one reminded me that 'www' must be the clumsiest abbreviation ever, weighing in at a massive nine syllables. Unless some techie tells me otherwise, I can't see any reason why internet addresses couldn't have had a snappier prefix.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The End of Civilisation..........

............Starts With Children Putting Pants On Their Heads

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Tory MP Peter Luff complained to Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, about the BBC children's programme Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow. (It's almost worth listening to the BBC soundfile just to hear him pronounce that title). This hugely popular programme for the under-12s seems to have upset Mr Luff even more than Jerry Springer - The Opera. He invited Ms Jowell to accompany him to his office to view the programme's disgusting website, which features Make Dick Sick - a game, said Mr Luff, "which speaks for itself" - and How Low Can You Bungalow? He'd better be careful he doesn't get the nickname 'Bungalow' himself, like Bill Wiggins, on the grounds that he has nothing upstairs.

The Dick and Dom show relies heavily on lavatorial humour and jokes about eating bogies. It's a form of humour that I've never liked, even as a child, but many young children do. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed my brief visit to the website where I was able to discover how minging I was (very, since you ask) and there was a really fab interactive graphic where you press your spacebar and a turtle emerges from the toilet. (You see how thoroughly this blog is researched).

Dick, OOPS, Peter Luff MPThe voters of Worcester might wonder why their MP is getting his own pants in such a terrible twist over a kids' TV programme to the extent that he seems to think that a picture of ten year olds with their pants on their heads is reason not to renew the BBC's Charter. He was, I discover, all in favour of murdering thousands of Iraqui children in an illegal war and thinks dressing up in funny costumes and chasing foxes across the countryside is absolutely splendid fun. But put your underpants on your head or say 'bogie' to him and you're corrupting the nation's youth and threatening the very fabric of this great nation of ours.

I hereby promise to donate £5 to the campaign fund of anyone prepared to stand in Worcester as the Pants Candidate and pursue Mr Luff round his constituency with supporters dressed as bogies and toilet turtles.


While we're talking about the idiocies of censorship can anyone explain to me why all hell breaks loose over Jerry Springer - The Opera, while Humphrey Lyttleton's script on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue on Radio 4 (middle class England's favourite channel) contains the most obscene material in British broadcasting?
I'm not complaining. I've been a fan of the programme for 30 years. But, for those who don't know it, last night's programme began with a joke about an implied spoonerism involving the C word. Later there was a joke involving Lionel Blair and Ant and Dec: "Ant watched in horror as Lionel went down with both hands on deck (Dec)." There has been a long-running series of gags about Lionel Blair's appearances in the old TV game show 'Give Us A Clue', including this one about guessing the book title A Town Like Alice: "Who can forget Una Stubbs' delight when she saw Neville Shute in Lionel's face."

Perhaps I nodded off but I don't recall any jokes about ejaculation in Jerry Springer. Ah, but these are in the great British tradition of double entendre, people might say. Well yes, there's a literal meaning that isn't remotely funny and a sexual meaning that usually stops the show with prolonged laughter. Why is something less 'obscene' because it's a play on words?
If anyone's ever complained about this programme, I've never heard about it. Yet it's broadcast at midday and 6pm, well before any watershed and I've met devoutly religious people who adore it.
For all I know, Peter Luff MP may listen to it. But then, I can't recall it including any jokes about bogies

Monday, January 17, 2005

Love and Madness

My lengthy epistle on Sunday seems to have touched a chord with a lot of people. There's some phraseology in it that would normally have fallen victim to the delete key on grounds of sentimentality but I think I got away with it because I was writing from the heart. It was something of a surprise to find I still had one.
I covered so many issues that some of them really deserved a longer discussion so I'll return to a few of them over the coming days and weeks.

That dangerous four letter word 'love' got bandied around as though it were an unqualified Good Thing. But I'm not really so sure about that. We live in a culture where we're bombarded with images of romantic love from early childhood and conditioned to think that 'happiness' is our birthright and that romantic love is the principal means of achieving it.

Science has now shown what many of us always suspected: that love is a form of madness. As I understand the research, when rendered into comprehensible form for laymen like me, physical and emotional attraction to another person produces changes in the chemistry of the brain that are not unlike the effects of some drugs. This will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever been in love. But this reaction is only short-term. One school of thought is that it's designed to last long enough for a couple to rear children to the point where they are relatively self-sufficient. This point was probably reached much sooner in pre-industrial communal societies with shorter life spans than our own, where children are regarded as dependent well into their teenage years.

This raises the question of whether 'living happily ever after' is necessarily viable in scientific or biological terms. Many people do achieve apparently happy long-term relationships. (That 'apparently' is there for a reason). Some of these people say that these relationships evolve from romantic passion into close friendship. They may owe much to Pascal's statement that the cause of man's unhappiness is that he can't stay happily in his room alone.
Some relationships survive years of arguing, bickering and mutual irritation - and sometimes infidelity - because those concerned say rather self-righteously that marriage or partnership is 'something you have to work at'. I've always thought that if you have to work at it and you're not happy, it's not worth the candle and you might as well say, in the words of the song, "let's call the whole thing off".

Having said that, I still think the experience of 'being in love' is worth having, if only to see what all the fuss is about. And because when the coup de foudre strikes me (got to use French when you're talking about love), I'm the most soppily sentimental person you could meet (typical bloody Pisces). But it should come with a Government Health Warning. The cold turkey you'll get when it all goes pear-shaped is worse than anything you'll get from crack cocaine. Let's be blunt. Many people kill themselves and quite a few kill the former object of their love or the bastard who stole them, or both. Crimes of Passion, because their neurons were off the wall on substances supplied free of charge within their own skulls.
Serious stuff. Handle with care.

Send your problems to Uncle Willie. Fucked up enough himself to make the perfect Agony Uncle.


Having twice slagged off Germaine Greer, I forced myself to listen to her Woman's Hour interview today.
She's still talking about Big Brother as though it mattered, rather than it being just a cheap and cynical television entertainment programme, and about her attempt to lead a revolution of the 'housemates' as though she'd been trying to overthrow a fascist state. That's why I think she's lost her marbles.
She also said that she couldn't live in Australia to be close to her old and ailing mother because she couldn't earn a living there. Jenni Murray missed a trick by not asking her why. Could it be because the Aussies have decided that she's a couple of cans short of a six pack?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay

This is a longer than usual post so either settle down with a cup of tea and a biscuit or come back tomorrow.

I must start with a caveat. The gay/straight dichotomy is misleading because sexuality is a spectrum or continuum. A point demonstrated by the author of the song (from 1978) I've used as my title, Tom Robinson, who went on to marry and raise a family. Having said that, there are quite a lot of people bunched up at the two opposite ends of the spectrum and this post is about those who are totally or predominantly gay.

I'm writing this because Peter at Naked Blog has said that being gay is the pits, that he hates it and that it has ruined his life. This saddened me because it seemed to hark back to a past era when most people would have agreed with King George V's observation: "One expects men like that to shoot themselves." Of course, I don't know Peter's particular circumstances and his sexuality may well have ruined his life and it's better that he says so with his characteristic honesty than dissemble. I posted a dissenting comment on his blog because I didn't want people to think this was a view universally shared by gay men, or even those of us born before decriminalisation. I said that, if reincarnated, I would choose to be gay again and this piece is an explanation of that statement.

But let's get the negatives out of the way first:
There are two principal disadvantages to being gay, one social and unnecessary and the other unavoidable.
Social discrimination is still a huge problem but it has diminished far more than some right-wing politicians realise. On the other hand, it hasn't decreased nearly as much as some members of the liberal elite, who sometimes stroll through Soho's gay village, think that it has and in some respects things are worse for young people than 40 years ago.
The one disadvantage that is inherent in being gay is that your choice of partners is limited to about 5% of the population. Factor in that most gay men, contrary to popular belief, are pretty choosy and the pool of potential partners is actually even smaller than that. But at least today this isn't made worse by isolation or invisibility. Even people remote from the gay scene have the possibility of the internet to make contact with others.

I suppose one could add childlessness to the list of negatives, although even that isn't inevitable today with the possibility of fostering, adopting or using surrogate mothers. It's not an issue that's ever bothered me much although, because of our biological programming, I occasionally regret that I won't hear that two tone 'Da-ad' disrupting my life. There's also natural curiosity about what one's child might have been like. But then I reflect that the little sod would almost certainly have disappointed me by growing up straight (joke).

Now here are just a few reasons why I like being gay:
Firstly, I've had a more interesting life because I've met a broader range of people than would otherwise have been the case.
Our society remains very divided by class and income. But when people are thrown together on the basis of a minority sexuality you get a wonderful diversity. That shouldn't be surprising because, again contrary to all the stereotypes, gay people have nothing in common other than their sexuality. So in a gay pub you'll find doctors, bus drivers, teachers, local councillors, criminals, shop workers and sometimes, just to reassure any visiting heterosexuals, a hairdresser or dancer.
I've had interesting conversations, and in some cases friendships, with musicians, junior doctors, lawyers, bank robbers, estate agents (actually that wasn't so interesting), soldiers, bus drivers (lots of those for some reason), rent boys, actors, teachers, get my drift. This isn't a list of people I've slept with, by the way. That might be longer or shorter but this isn't the type of blog to reveal it. The point is that my range of social interaction has not been defined, as it so often is, by my class, income or domestic or working environments.

Secondly, it's made me tougher and more indifferent to what people think of me. It also politicised me at an early age. I think it was C. Wright Mills who said you should turn a personal problem into a public issue and that, in a very modest way, is what I did. I knew Antony Grey who was one of those responsible for the first law reform in 1967. He used to bravely venture into Middle England and give talks to Rotary Clubs and the like. In his talks he used to quote from a letter I sent him about what it was like to be a gay 16 year old in the sixties. I hope it made the provincial middle classes pause for thought and maybe choke on their prawn cocktails and their bigotry.
Later I ran a branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, an amateurish outfit by today's standards but, as with Antony Grey, we owe them a lot. We met in cold, bare meeting rooms provided by the handful of far Left organisations who would let us through the door but even they would come and look at us to see if we had two heads. And the kids in that group were so brave and strong in the climate of that time. So full of hope that we could build a better world. I don't remember anything we talked about, only that we laughed a lot and nobody ever brought their personal problems to the table. Then preoccupation with earning a living and having relationships displaced youthful idealism. But we can't all be Peter Tatchell and single-mindedly fight the good fight throughout our lives.

Thirdly, I think gay sex is better than straight sex. Many people will think that's an absurd thing to say, particularly as it's not based on experience of both. But I believe that having sex with someone with the same physiology is inevitably more empathetic and that it's easier to give pleasure to your partner (assuming that's what you want to do) if their physical experience of sex is the same as yours. That's why around two thousand years ago the Kama Sutra suggested that men who wanted oral sex should do so with another man rather than their wives. It's also why, during one period of Greek history, sex with women was principally for procreation while sex for pleasure was with other men. And it must be why so many straight men with no emotional attraction to their own sex go looking for covert sex with other men. I could also cite the huge number of heterosexual sex manuals and videos and the common complaints of women about men's poor sexual techniques and sometimes vice versa.
Of course, heterosexual sex must have something going for it or it wouldn't be such a popular activity. And, to restore some balance, I did once ask a woman what sex was like when - in that peculiar phrase - you're 'trying for a family'. She said that was something really special - awesome, transcendental. And so it should be; it's the act of creation, and you don't get that with gay sex. So feel free, straight readers, to say 'Na na, na na na!'

Fourthly, I like being an outsider and the perspective on life that gives you. It's also useful to a writer because the ordinary and the conventional become more interesting. But you also know that another layer exists beneath the world of convention and appearances. You know that happily married Mr X can often be found in the gay pub on a Friday night or that your Conservative Councillor who speaks for the moral majority has a predilection for rough trade from the council estate. I'll quote it yet again: "Life is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural" (regular readers will know it's Louis MacNiece by now).

So, to sum up, being gay is not a cross I've had to bear. It's not a cruel trick of nature. It's just another facet of the human experience. And all the things that have gone wrong in my life have been a consequence of being human, not of being gay.
I've lived my life in one of the richest countries in the world with good health and a supportive family and I've experienced the joy and madness of loving another person. I'd say that was pretty good karma, wouldn't you?
Today I live alone, ranting at strangers in my blog like a demented bag lady on a bus, still laughing at the craziness of life, still revelling in the drunkenness of things being various, grateful I'm still here, grateful to the people who've loved me and seen qualities in me that I can't see myself and never ruling out that there may be others who do so again.

Not that being gay is the most important thing about me which is why I don't announce the fact to every Tom, Dick and Harry I meet. But it is an integral part of what makes me me. It's not some optional extra or bolt-on accessory. It's an essential part of who I am. So if I said I hated being gay I'd be saying that I hate being me, in which case pass the sleeping tablets or the razor blade. But I don't hate being me. Maybe I should. But after 50 years I've got to know myself pretty well and got used to my strange quirks and funny ways. (Writing something as personal as this at midnight and sticking it on the internet is pretty damn weird when you think about it).
And I've got used to living with myself. No other bastard ever has, but that's their loss not mine.

The tough times in my youth weren't because I was gay. They were because society said being gay was deviant, wicked and evil. Attitudes have changed a lot since then. But there's still a long way to go. That's why I've become a supporter of FFLAG which works with young gay people and their parents and is campaigning to stop bullying in schools (which I'll return to another time). Because I don't want to entirely give up on my youthful hopes of a better world. And because I don't want any young kids today to feel that being gay will ruin their lives. Plenty of other things might. Being gay won't. So I want them to embrace and celebrate their sexuality. Not because it's better than any of the alternatives but because they have an equal right to love and be loved and enjoy the pleasures as well as the pain of being human. I want them to sing. I want them to be loved. I want them to be strong and help to build a kinder world.

That seems a lot to hope for until I remember how far we've travelled and how in 1970 I met one teenager who was too scared to come to our group so I met him in a pub and his hands shook so much he couldn't pick up his drink and I was hardly any older than him and out of my depth. I didn't know what to say or how to help. I wanted to put my arms round him and tell him it would be all right, that things would get better, but I couldn't because it was 1970 and it wasn't a gay pub and even if it had been you didn't touch people in those days and even meeting him was technically illegal.
But things did get better. I just hope they did for him and that he found some happiness in his life. It would be another 8 years before Tom Robinson wrote 'Glad to be Gay' and another 34 years before we achieved some semblance of legal equality. But we've only come this far because my generation and subsequent ones defiantly refused to let the bastards grind us down and said: yes, we're glad to be gay; yes, we're happy this way.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Few Blogettes For The Weekend

Writers of fiction should avoid reading any background to the Prince Harry rumpus.
Yesterday's Guardian reported that the Prince Harry set includes:

"Davina Duckworth-Chad, known as "Deb on the Web", after Country Life featured her on the internet."

Yes, you COULD make it up but you wouldn't expect real life to trump you.

By the way, I wonder if she's any relation to the Duckworths of Coronation Street? Vera has long claimed kinship with the Queen.


Much babbling in the blogosphere of late about various Blog awards. Here at Lupin Towers we've never been too keen on competitions since we were unfairly prevented from winning the County Cross-Country Championships by the 119 people in front of us. And the problem with competitions outside the sporting sphere is that you're never comparing like with like. We each approach blogging in a different way and two totally different blogs can be equally good in their way.
Of course, if I ever get nominated for anything you can expect me to drop this line of argument quicker than an Essex girl drops her knickers.


Devestating news for Green Wing fans from James and the Blue Cat blog. The next series is unlikely to be broadcast before February 2006. By then, we'll have had to endure about three more series of Little Fucking Britain, My Dad's The So Unfunny Prime Minister, My Family The Predictable Comic Assholes, and the 17th relaunch of French and Saunders, preferably on a space probe to Titan.
So get your fingers out Talkback and Channel Four. I know it's about six hours of television but we're not asking you to build London's Olympic Stadium or a 20 mile extension to the Bakerloo line. Oh and that promised DVD of Series 1 would be nice if you could drag yourselves away from the Groucho Club and the long lunches at The Ivy.


Never mind all that stuff about how many extra years you'll have in this vale of tears if you stop smoking - providing you don't get knocked down by a bus or die of a non-smoking-related disease.
I've worked out that if I record Coronation Street and then fast forward the commercials I''ll have gained over 10 extra days over the next ten years. That's a whole ten extra days to sit around smoking and listening to Woman's Hour or Midweek with Libby Purves while I try to think of something to write in this fucking blog.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Next Question......... from the nutter in the second row

On last night's Question Time a girl said that all burglars and petty criminals should be shot. We'd be better off without them.
The panel and audience, who had just been waxing indignant about Prince Harry's fancy dress, roared with laughter at this. Not one person pointed out to her that this was pretty much the Nazi policy on crime. I found this odd.
Perhaps they thought her view was so extreme as to be laughable but do your own 'vox pop' in the local pub and you'll find it's a view that many people share, although most go no further than the old 'throw away the key' line.

I've never been able to take Question Time too seriously since I was a member of the audience. Although it's recorded 'as live' and isn't usually edited, it still feels very artificial when you are there. On arrival, you're given free coffee and sandwiches and encouraged to read piles of that day's papers and watch endless loops of the day's news programmes, rather as though you'd just arrived from another galaxy and had no prior knowledge of what was happening on Planet Earth.
Then there's a long session with a warm-up man, just like you get on a comedy show. Then another warm up speech from the presenter who at that time was Peter Sissons. He told us the programme was a revered national institution and, in effect, one of the most significant contributions to British democracy since Magna Carta and the Great Reform Act. I thought this was slightly over-egging the pudding. (I had earlier stood next to Mr Sissons at the urinals and had managed not to say "so this is where all the big knobs hang out"). Then there's a short dummy run of the programme which isn't recorded, to warm up the panel and act as a technical run-through. By the time recording started I was almost in a state of rigor mortis.

What people don't realise is that when Question Time arrives in town it's a magnet for every nutter in the area and there's no way the postal application system can weed them out. When I attended, a well-known local fantasist was chosen to ask one of the questions. I almost laughed out loud when Peter Sissons read out the occupation he had written down since it bore no relation to the truth.
The same thing used to happen in those far off days of public election meetings. The town's sole member of the National Front would always ask a question but other people would jump up and shout at the Minister: "Ignore her, she's a fascist, she's a nutter." You can't do that in the Question Time audience or Mr Dimbleby would smack your bottom.

Last night the said Dimbleby, of the Dynasty of Pomposity, took one final comment from a man in the front row, an intellectual-looking cove in a smart suit. The man came out with some incomprehensible gibberish about the next election being decided by the relative masculinity or femininity of the party leaders until Dimbleby cut him short, no doubt reflecting that he'd been caught out yet again.
But that's one of the few reasons to watch. It's always good to see one of the Dimblebys with egg on his smug face.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 33

Jonquil Skidmore arrived to give Carlo his first English lesson in a state of palpable excitement and champing at the bit to get started. "EFL is such fun, Mr Lupin!", she said. "I've got some great roleplay exercises for Carlo. They make learning new words so easy."
"French Without Tears", I said.
"No, no, we need to get his English up to speed first", she replied, missing my allusion by as wide a margin as she had so far missed matrimony.
I said I hoped she wouldn't mind if I remained in the drawing room during the lesson as I had some household accounts to work on.
"Not at all, Mr Lupin, watch and learn", she said, rather arrogantly.

Sheafs of paper and flashcards tied up with pink ribbon were produced from an ancient music case and the first exercise got under way. It involved a visit to the doctor's surgery with Jonquil playing the doctor and Carlo the patient. For some reason this made me uneasy. I also felt that, in view of what happened last year, a Visit To Argos might have had more practical value.
They hadn't got much beyond 'What seems to be the problem?' when the doorbell rang.
It was Lee. I said he could come in and wait until the lesson was over so long as he was quiet.
"Whatever", he said.
Lee nodded at Jonquil and said "Alright?".
I felt obliged to make a more formal introduction and said: "This is Miss Skidmore."
Jonquil stood up, flashed her terrifying teeth and extended her hand. "I don't think I've had the pleasure", she said.
"Bet you haven't", Lee muttered, rather indelicately.
But instead of shaking hands he bent his knees, lowered himself to the floor in a skateboarding posture and then launched himself into the air, landing with a thud on the chaise longue.
The Stuart crystal rattled in the cabinet and Jonquil emitted a stifled squeal before quickly sitting down.

Instead of adopting his usual supine position, Lee lay on his side in a foetal position hugging a cushion to his chest and staring intently at Jonquil and Carlo.
I could tell that Jonquil was finding this unnerving but she persevered with the interrogation of her patient.
After a few minutes, Lee said "Willie, why are they playing doctors and nurses?"
"We are not", said Jonquil, "it's roleplay."
"Sounds more like foreplay to me", said Lee.
Jonquil's face reddened to an almost perfect match for her mohair sweater.
I told Lee that unless he kept quiet he would have to go and sit in the kitchen.
Jonquil was now so flustered that she muddled up her flashcards and we heard Carlo requesting 'a quick trim, square at the back.'
Teleported dizzyingly back to the doctor's surgery but sporting a smart new imaginary haircut, Carlo was complaining of a rash and Jonquil was prescribing some cream.
"It's probably the clap", said Lee, "do you want me to have a look?"
Before I could banish Lee to the kitchen, Jonquil had gathered her things and said that was more than enough for the first lesson. "Is that boy here often?" she said to me in the hall.
"Most afternoons", I lied.
"Oh dear, I'm at the school in the mornings so I'll have to let you know when I've checked my diary."

I went to the kitchen and fetched a can of lager for Lee. As I approached the drawing room I heard Carlo giggling. When I entered I saw Lee tugging at Carlo's trousers and saying in a high-pitched voice: "The doctor's going to rub some cream on that nasty rash".
"What's going on?" I said.
"It's roleplay", said Lee.
"Looks more like foreplay to me", I said and handed Lee a lager.
"Has Crazy Horse gone?", Lee asked.
"If you mean Miss Skidmore, yes. She's cantered off into the sunset. I believe she has a pressing appointment with a Mr Chopin."
I feel deeply ashamed of myself.

Exciting News For Uranus

I was surprised by a reader's comment in The Guardian yesterday that the Age of Pisces was drawing to an end. I had no idea it had even started and, as a Piscean, I do think someone should have told me.
I'd assumed we were in the Age of Aquarius because it's 30 years since young men with long hair waved their willies around on the London stage singing "this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." I now discover that the Age of Aquarius won't fully be with us until 2,654, so the cast of Hair were a tad premature in getting their tackle out.

In practice it's more complicated than that. Well. it would be wouldn't it? This is astrology we're talking about. It seems the different Ages overlap, particularly in the influence they exert over our lives.

The influence of the Age of Pisces causes us to show love, compassion and generosity towards our fellow man. That would explain why this blog, written by a Piscean, is dripping with the milk of human kindness - unless you happen to be a Christian, a Conservative, a homophobe, a racist, a Republican, an astrologer or Germaine Greer.

The Age of Aquarius is rational, secular and technological. Apparently, it's already brought us the internet, voice mail, microwaves and space exploration. There's just one small problem with this. Mumbo-jumbo, including astrology, has never been more popular. And religious extremists are posing an increasing threat to liberal democracy. But maybe that's just the final climactic struggle between the forces of Pisces and Aquarius. Remember that this cosmic clash runs for another 650 years by which time, according to my source, everybody will have the same advantages and the same purchasing power. How very New Labour.

You should also be aware that the Age of Aquarius is strongly associated with Uranus.
I'm not saying a word.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Virgin Olives & Australian Nuts

Before I clamp down on the burgeoning bad language in this blog, or face an inquiry by OFBLOG, I thought I would share this story with you, discovered in my reading this week.
The Portuguese husband of the late Frank Muir's domestic help spoke very poor English and adopted the device used by many foreigners of shortening words, so 'weather' became 'weath' and 'butcher' became 'butch'.
One day Muir and his wife were talking to some neighbours at their gate and telling them about a walnut tree from which they used to make pickled walnuts. The Portuguese gentleman was listening to this conversation and suddenly interjected: "In my cunt, we grow four kinds of olive."

A French friend and former work colleague used to provide many memorable examples of getting English slightly wrong. She once silenced a busy London restaurant when, after ordering a particular type of cheese, she shouted after the departing waiter "Rape!" instead of 'ripe'. She always said 'next of skin' instead of 'next of kin', although that was somehow better than the original. Extraordinary spoonerisms also fell effortlessly from her lips. She once asked a shop assistant in John Lewis if a fabric was 'wachine mashable.' But my own most alarming experience of her imperfect English was when I went to dinner at her house. It was winter and I was wearing an overcoat, scarf and gloves. On arrival, she took me upstairs to the bedroom and instead of saying "You can leave your coat here", she said "Now take off your clothes." Apparently, I went white and started edging towards the door. But we've spent the following thirty years laughing about it.


I've finally discovered a use for the streaming coverage of Celebrity Big Brother. If you put it on in the daytime it's mostly a soundtrack of birdsong which is quite soothing. I've decided that one of the reasons they cut the normal sound so much is to stop things getting into the media before the evening peak-time show goes out. Why anyone who can't lip read would sit and watch this is a mystery to me.

I only mention it again because the sudden departure of Germaine Greer is all over the front pages of the so-called quality papers and because what she's been saying proves beyond doubt that the poor old biddy has totally lost it.
It's well known that she once wrote an article savaging reality TV and Big Brother in particular, so she must have watched it at some point. Yet now she says she was naive and didn't realise what it was about.
She's decided that the programme is partly to blame for bullying in schools. Oh, for God's sake! I can't believe that many under-16s spend their evenings watching these D-List celebrities. And was some Victorian version of Big Brother responsible for little Tom Brown being roasted in front of an open fire at Rugby?

She also talks about Big Brother as if this were a real person - 'he's a bully' she keeps saying - rather than a group of TV executives dreaming up ideas to boost ratings.
But it gets worse. She seeks to link Big Brother with the Holocaust. "Persecution is what happens, holocausts are what happen when good people do nothing", she raved. Ironically, a documentary about Auschwitz was scheduled against Big Brother on BBC2 last night, at about the same time as the demented Professor was being chauffeur driven back to her country home. It's insulting to the millions who died in the concentration camps to compare a television game show with a "fascist prison camp" as she did.
In her 'exit interview' she said she had to leave while her "ducks were still in a row." Too late, Germaine. Much too late. Your ducks are shot to buggery. Blasted out the water. Ducks in disarray. Dead ducks. Ex-ducks.
So do us all a favour, you crazy old bitch. Stop quacking.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 32

Life at Lupin Towers has been fairly uneventful since I last recorded our doings in these pages. I have even had time to make some modest progress on my paper on The Early Novels of George Gissing.
Sandy left us early on Christmas Eve to visit a cousin in Norfolk. "Last Tango at the Towers, Last Exit to Cromer", he bellowed from the taxi before patting the taxi driver's knee and saying "Drive on, old chap!" He left us still believing that his talk to the W.I. had been a triumph. I have to concede that it provoked more ongoing discussion than my own talk on the poetry of John Donne. The only feedback that I ever received was a lady who tugged at my arm in the Post Office and said "Do you like Pam Ayres?"

Lee gave Carlo a skateboard for Christmas. I thought this a somewhat juvenile present for someone approaching his nineteenth birthday and I was disconcerted to find the name 'Darryl' painted on the underside of the board. However, Lee said Darryl was a cousin of his. The skateboard had become surplus to his requirements because he was now resident in a young offenders' institution. I am not sure whether I believe this and have been scrutinising both the Lost and Found column and the crime reports in the local paper.
Carlo will only ride the skateboard in a seated position with his knees under his chin and only indoors. The oak floor in the hall has taken a terrible battering. Lee called him a big wuss, whatever that might be.

Our Christmas was mercifully quiet although Lee spent rather more time here than I might have wished, claiming that his siblings were 'doing his head in.' I'm still not sure how many siblings there are. Every time I think I've worked it out another one crops up in the conversation. There's a discernible depression in the chaise longue where Lee's Rockport boots have spent many a restful hour. As I said to Carlo, that boy spends more time on his back than Joan Collins.

As we begin a new year, a cloud no bigger than a man's hand has appeared on the horizon but it fills me with mild foreboding. Jonquil Skidmore has volunteered to give Carlo English lessons. Not so much volunteered as announced that she will do so. Her post as a teaching assistant at the village school is part-time, leaving her ample free time to make a nuisance of herself and she told me she had recently taken a course in teaching English as a foreign language and was eager to put her newly-acquired skills into practice. I told her that Lee might be a more suitable and challenging pupil. However she has always had a certain tendresse for Carlo and I suspect that spending afternoons with him in the Pink Drawing Room has an appeal wider than irregular verbs.

One day Jonquil's prince may come but I don't think he will be a Filipino houseboy who enjoys a close friendship with a village car mechanic. I have always thought that a blind piano tuner would be her ideal partner. He could ensure that her renderings of Chopin études were perfectly in tune whilst remaining ignorant of her equine features. Admittedly, there would still be the small hurdles of her high-pitched giggle and the tactile horrors of those mohair jumpers.
In any event, I shall make sure I am seated at the Davenport when these lessons take place. I would hate to be responsible for any unpleasantness that might result from Jonquil's hormones throwing their last dice.
Note: The Adventures of Carlo began on 20th November 2004. Earlier episodes are available in the Archives and will soon be available on a new Carlo Gold channel.

Anything You Say May Be Broadcast In Peak Time

Your taxi's hereJust suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Government's crackdown on binge drinking is successful and on Friday nights the youth of Britain sip a couple of spritzers at a pavement cafe before going home to watch Newsnight Review. It's going to leave an enormous hole in the television schedules.
Last night you could watch two continuous hours of Pissed TV.
At 9pm on BBC1 Drunk and Dangerous followed young piss artists in Southend, Dover and Folkestone.
At 10pm, Bravo (Booze Britain) put the spotlight on drinkers in Derby and then at 10.30 their camera crews were stepping gingerly through the street fights and pools of vomit in Wrexham. If you still hadn't had enough, the same channel had another episode at 1am and tonight you can discover how the youth of Blackpool and Dundee measure up in the binging and brawling stakes.

So, if you crave your 15 seconds of televisual fame, just head for your nearest city centre, get totally rat arsed and then (a) kick the shit out of someone (b) give your girl friend a good slapping (c) moon at a passing police car or (d) tell a passing copper that he's the ugliest c*bleep* you've ever seen.
A few of these people tell the cameraman to F*bleep* off but many others relish the attention. What we don't see - but I'm sure must happen - are the unfilmed arrests where people shout indignantly "Where's the f*bleep*ing camera?"

I'd like to know who decided that the police could become a branch of the entertainment industry and that CCTV footage (which includes many innocent people) could be given to television companies.
It's also blindingly obvious that if you flood the TV channels with images of binge drinking, 'laddish' behaviour and worse, it lends an acceptability to the behaviour and says: 'this is what some of your peer group are doing all over Britain so there's nothing unusual about it.' And it's a truism that the presence of cameras is always going to alter behaviour and in some cases make it more extreme.
Apparently joyriders often say that their favourite TV programmes are real life footage of police car chases. The fact that these sometimes show kids being removed from crashed cars in pieces is no deterrent at all. The same is surely true of Pissed TV, one of whose messages is that the police are totally outnumbered and barely able to hold the line.

In view of my recent comments about swearing, it was interesting to be reminded in last night's BBC programme that you can be arrested for using in the street some of the words that have occasionally appeared in this blog - and which famously appeared in Jerry Springer - The Opera. It's called a 'Section Five' offence. A slight whiff of double standards here? An entire chorus can sing 'cunt' at 500 people and 1.8M TV viewers but say it on the street and they're nicked.
But I think it's only likely to happen if you direct the word at a policeman, one of whom said that it was the C word that made him see red and bring out the handcuffs. This means you have to be particularly careful if you're a 'Hooray Henry' because the traditional upper class pronunciation of 'constable' is 'cuntstable'. Too much stress on the first syllable and you'll wake up in a bare room, on a hard bed, with working class chaps in uniform serving you breakfast and think that you're back at public school.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Some Germane Thoughts On Germaine

This blog intends to be a Big Brother-free zone. I watch my fair share of rubbish on television but I can usually justify it on the grounds that it is either entertaining or has some kind of 'sub-text' that reveals something interesting or useful. For me, BB has neither of these justifications.

I mention it today only because it has now sought to lure a different type of viewer by including Germaine Greer. Sure enough, the 'quality' papers have been spewing out articles about her, mostly focusing on why she's doing it. The money, obviously. Her late signing for the programme suggests she only agreed when the bucks got big enough. I don't criticise her for that. None of us can say with certainty what we would refuse to do if the reward were big enough.

My problem with Germaine is that, like many politicians, she has an opinion on everything and is not just just a 'rent-a-quote' but a 'rent-an-intellectual'. But because she so often shoots from the hip her arguments are intellectual mutton dressed up as lamb. (I was going to say a bit like the lady herself, but let's not get personal).
She has written contemptuously about male-to-female transexuals, calling them "men masquerading as women" and "a gross parody of my sex", showing a complete failure to understand the nature of the condition. In this, she is no different than most of the population. The difference is that this is someone who is supposed to be highly intelligent and something of an expert on the subject of sexuality. It was the cruel and insulting nature of that particular rant that so annoyed me. Being a transexual makes being gay seem like a picnic. I once got to know a male-to-female transexual and, as I often told her, she was the bravest person I knew.

Germaine is now making a television programme which attacks those who oppose fox hunting. Apparently, one of her arguments is that factory farming is far more cruel. Few anti-hunters would disagree with that but that in itself does not justify fox hunting. There's also one important ethical distinction. People don't gather round the chicken coops or in the abbatoirs dressed in red coats, drinking sherry, and calling it a sport or a social occasion.

Amazingly, however much she spouts intellectually worthless bigotry, like the worst kind of London cabbie shouting over his shoulder, the liberal chattering classes still regard Germaine as 'one of us'.
Nice work if you can get it.
And a nice trick if you can pull it off.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Disgusted After All

When Jerry Springer - The Opera ended on BBC2 last night I felt disgusted and very angry.
Nothing to do with the content of the show. I was furious because they ran the credits over the closing number. Two sets of credits, one for the theatre production and one for the television production company. Whoever was responsible for this should - as a line in the show puts it - be 'fucked up the ass with barbed wire.'

In fact it ended very abruptly without showing any curtain calls, rather as if someone had bought an E120 tape instead of an E180. There's no point recording a live performance unless you give the viewer an experience as close as possible to that of the theatre audience and that includes curtain calls and any encores. And you don't run the credit sequence until the audience are filing out of their seats.

When I was a kid and the BBC showed live theatre productions (and they were genuinely live in those days), they pretty much just stuck a camera in front of the proscenium arch and switched it on. Although rather boring by today's standards and without any close-ups, at least you were getting the same view of the show as someone in the stalls, albeit in black and white.
Incidentally, those live transmissions in the fifties usually featured lots of middle aged men staggering around the stage with their trousers round their ankles. (Known as the Whitehall Farces). So I grew up believing that heterosexuals were always at it like rabbits with other people's spouses. When my parents let a family friend stay overnight because he'd locked himself out and I met him on the landing wearing my father's pyjamas I was intrigued but not particularly surprised. I simply looked round to see if a vicar and a cleaning lady were going to enter stage left.

But back to Jerry. The other irritation was to have to endure a second verbal warning from Kirsty Wark before the start of the second act. And why Kirsty? Did they think we would pay more attention to her than the regular continuity announcer?
"Wasn't that Kirsty's voice? Fucking hell! It must be serious. Switch off, Mavis, and I'll go and make the cocoa."

Seen in context, there was nothing blasphemous about the second act and the overall theme of the piece was a highly moral one. You could even argue that was one of its weaknesses. But people who go looking for blasphemy will always find it. Religious extremists can't grasp subtleties, which is odd considering that most religions are so packed with reason-defying subtleties themselves.
Overall, it wasn't the greatest musical I've ever seen but it was one of the most exhilirating in its melding of opera and traditional musical theatre in an original way. And musical theatre has to keep renewing itself and exploring new territory to attract new generations who are immune to the charms of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

A most disappointing correction in The Guardian this week:
"The desperate housewives, of the television series of that name, may live in clapboard houses but almost certainly not in clapperboard houses."
Still, that 'almost' does leave a glimmer of hope. So much more pleasing to think of them living in clapperboard houses with clapper boys strategically placed in case they had a sudden urge for a quick take.