Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Oh, the pain in my legs

Well, leg singular. I was woken from sleep with a sudden attack of either cramp or weirdly pulled muscle in my left calf. I think it's because that leg was poking out from under the duvet so was colder than the rest of me and I'd flexed my ankle in my sleep. Or something.

Whatever caused it, ouchy.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Suspended under a twilight canopy

Tonight I went to my second ever Vauxhallville.

The only time me and TSB ventured out to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Thursday before, we'd just finished work and were due to fly abroad on holiday next day - so there was a Schoooool's Out feeling and we drank accordingly. Since then, I suppose I've always associated Vauxhallville, like Duckie, with unable-to-work-the-next-day hangoverness. Which, as I was able to establish tonight, isn't really what the evening's about.

It helped that Garethwyn was there. I've been to clubs on my own and certainly wouldn't have minded sitting through Vauxhallville's acts alone; I like being able to chat between cabaret turns, though, and appreciated his company. He pointed out Adele Anderson sat in the audience. Tonight's theme was a sort of historical celebration of Vauxhall (introduced by Nathaniel deVille reading a passage from Thackeray's Vanity Fair), including people blowing up and decorating balloons (as a nod to the Pleasure Gardens entertainment of yore). Now, I'm mildly balloon-phobic (don't ask) so didn't take part, but this led onto a very interesting discussion of phobias and (what with Nathaniel's co-host Timberlina mentioning the - for me - traumatic beginning of Enduring Love) nightmares. More on that some other time.

Anyway, I was on a three pint limit and it wasn't too difficult to stick to this - unlike Duckie, where the five, six hours of music mean alcohol's consumed at varying rates and we drink as fast as the fastest drinker ("another?") in the party. No, this evening felt positively civilised by comparison with Duckie's bacchanalia. Although I succumbed to the Pavlovian walk-in-the-door-and-buy-a-Stella impulse, I noticed several people drinking wine and thought, "ooh, that might be nice in future".

Timing it well, I arrived just as the acts were starting. Nathaniel introduced Fivesome, a five-piece woodwind group, impeccably dressed with a bit of a red shoe theme (which garned its own little mini-applause). They played Entrance Of The Queen Of Sheba, then some Gershwin backing for the dulcet Gill Manly:

Timberlina was in vaguely Les Miserables Wench Mode, necking Mother's Ruin:

Highlight of the night (and I took my cue from Garethwyn's eager readying of the camera in anticipation of his turn) was Ari the Aerialist, who hung, draped and spun himself around a hoop suspended from the ceiling, improvising to Nathaniel's (non-pink) oboe accompaniment from the stage. The juxtaposition of a beautiful, classically muscled male form within a circle made me think of Mapplethorpe, although obviously Ari's performance was dynamic rather than stylised/static.

Exchanged a few words with Luke Bear, who was looking attractive as ever, with his beard looking slightly longer and more defined than usual. He and Bearlesque did their can-can. I've seen it before but the live backing added an extra element. Nice pants, too:

And here they are exposing their mimsies:

Really appreciated Dawn Right Nasty's DJing this time, too. I noticed it before, at our previous pre-holiday, drunken Vauxhallville but more so this time. An eclectic, intuitive music selection, less obtrusive and more... sedate? (not the correct word, but in keeping with a pub/cabaret as opposed to dance/club setting) than the Readers Wifes, but quite Readers Wifesish in the sense that it suited the night and hit my choonspot. Was too shy to go say hello - and she was trapped in her illuminated hermitage.

Will definitely do Vauxhallville again.

Happy to be a bachelor boy

Is it just me who reckons Sir Cliff has done pretty well to pull his burly "companion", ex-priest-turned-property-manager Father John McElynn?

Hmm. Which one's the top, then?

God bless Ma McElynn:

His mother, 85-year-old Betty McElynn, also admits he is no longer a priest, saying: "He left for the same reasons so many of them leave." Although she declined to go into details about a decision that was clearly painful for her, she added: "I know about his new life and Sir Cliff, of course. I hope they are happy. But I was surprised to hear that he was advising Sir Cliff on property. That never was John's thing, as far as I know."

Mums. They know just what to say for major embarrassment...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Size of a cow

Our 12 year old cats are officially fat. Both of them. Me and TSB tricked them into their wicker carry-baskets (Stupid Boy Cat gullible as ever; Clever Girl Cat sussed what was going in and tried to make a break for it) and schlepped to the vet for their annual check-up and vaccinations. Last year, CGC was reckoned to be overweight. This time, the vet said told us, "you could feed them both about half of what you're feeding them". I know being a fat cat risks becoming a diabetic cat. We're such bad parents.

Here's SBC doing his gormless Barbarella impression, in the bath:

To a certain extent, I can sympathise with feline obesity. Having been on a moderately successful low-fat diet over spring/summer, I've slid off the wagon in recent weeks. Today was the worst: was involved in a training day with a "finger food" lunch which was absolutely sodden with greasy batter and sticky-sweet plum sauce. And gorgeous. Apparently we gravitate toward more carby stuff in autumn.

My relationship with my body is a weird one. Until my mid-20s, I couldn't put on any weight at all; my trousers averaged 27/28" in the waist. Never having found puniness attractive (in myself or others), I was actually quite relieved when, as a twentysomething, I began gaining a little bulk. When I met my lovely partner, portion size went up and so did my trouser size.

I'm definitely happier fatter - but I wish I were more in proportion ie. had something resembling muscle somewhere. I'm a wannabear.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Where the suburbs meet utopia

This morning was taken up with a trip out to the suburbs on work-related stuff, out past Ealing. The little railway station seemed to have preserved quite a few of its pre-war trappings (the black-on-white enameled signs in the written equivalent of BBC English were my favourite); that, plus the greenery, aged brick semis, gently pruned hedges and odd feeling of semi-rural quiet made me think of Rupert Bear:

Growing up in Scotland, Rupert Bear's hometown (or Daily Express idyll of a green and pleasant village) was pretty much how I imagined all of England to be. Nutwood (City Limits) was a large part of my frame of reference, and discovering it in the London suburbs gave me a little jolt of childish pleasure. For the briefest of nanoseconds, I thought, "hmm, might be nice to live out here". Then I thought, "apart from it being, y'know, boring". And, when I play back the YouTube videos, I'm reminded that not only was Rupert an insufferable little prig but his family, friends and everyone he knew was stiflingly middle-class. Of course, as a north-of-the-border kid, I didn't find that stifling but oddly exotic.

I still have a certain cheesy affection for this, though:

Bum. Bum bum. Bum. Bum bum. Bum bum bum bum bum.

Monday, 22 September 2008

We run green

Blame it on the Hadron Colliders (which, it seems, are already broken), blame it on the CERN-inspired boogie or blame it on the rain, I seem stuck in a state of peri-apocalyptic fascination.

Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily. Having heard about it and meant to read it for years, I finally tracked down John Christopher's The Death of Grass (or No Blade Of Grass if you're a 'merkin):

Read it in almost a single sitting, such is its page-turniness. Chilling stuff, recognisably British but not at all British in the sense of fundamentally decent chaps all standing together (most likely in a queue) against the catastrophe, stiffened upper lips a-quivering with fair play and Spirit of the Blitz. No, it's nastier than that, painting a terrifying picture of Blighty's sharp descent into barbarous survivalism once famine starts to bite. It made me think of the aphorism about how a dog is only one square meal from a wolf. Or something.

Not having previously made the connection, I was delighted to discover, from the man who gave us that other humanity-in-crisis classic, The Tripods.

The Tripods is one of my all-time Favouritest Things Ever. Only recently did I read the novels (a timelessly well-written childrens' trilogy plus excellent explaining-how-it-all-happened prequel). What I truly remember is the big budget 1980s BBC series, which had me hooked from Episode 1. I defy anyone to watch the first two minutes of this and not want more:

I've always been drawn more to British dystopias than the more common American variants. They're usually bleaker, more depressing, more Fallen Empire. I liked the fact that the heroes of The Tripods trekked across Europe, through shattered Paris and countless more generically Mittel-European towns and hamlets (full of overstyled peasants, often uncannily reminiscent of vintage Adam Ant/Spandau Ballet videos) on their way to the semi-mythical White Mountains. Even as a child, though, I think I registered the increasing desperation of the contrived plot devices for circumventing the language barriers ("come, let us all practise our English!").

Anyway, I've just realised the entire run is on YouTube, including the later episodes that weren't collected on DVD, those in the strangely homoerotic City of Gold and Lead. I think I may not sleep for the next 48 hours...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Lost in a riddle last Saturday night

(Bloody hell, three posts in a day! You'd think I was avoiding the gym or something!)

In the early part of last night's Duckie, the ever-fragrant Kim Phaggs stirred a host of teenage memories by playing Mike Oldfield's Moonlight Shadow:

Apparently it came out in 1983, but I remember Moonlight Shadow from the very first Now That's What I Call Music album. I can't remember whether we owned the first one legitimately or whether it was pirated for me and my sister by our Dad, from a bloke at work. Dad had access to a tape-to-tape cassette recorder (the technological exoticism!) and would surprise us with recordings on C60 (actually, I've a feeling the Now albums needed C90 length), with track listings crammed in in his too-large handwriting.

(That was the year he and Mum separated, amid much angst, and the gift-giving to us kids increased on both sides. We weren't complaining. Not about the pressies, anyway.)

My memory of the song has always been connected with my memory of the video. Back then, MTV was only beginning and I used to sit for hours in front of the UK equivalent, Music Box (Mum had had cable television installed, possibly in an attempt to trump Dad's tape-to-tape pop affection-bribes), agog at music videos. I really was a child of the '80s in that sense: when I started buying music of my own, I not infrequently bought stuff on the strength of video alone, or mainly because I'd been seduced by the visuals (Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer comes to mind). I discovered a lot of excellent music this way: I got into Kate Bush largely through Running Up That Hill and Cloudbusting, working my way backwards through her (considerable) canon. I also bought quite a few one-hit wonders - like Moonlight Shadow.

I was fascinated by songs with narratives and always tried to work out the story in the lyrics - or impose a story of my own. The video's very evocative, with moonlit duels, '80s wind-machine hair and plenty of flicky-cloak running down corridors flanked by spooky servants bearing candelabra (although not quite as memorable in this regard as Bonnie Tyler at her classic best). According to Mike Oldfield, the song's inspired by the Tony Curtis Houdini film, with its theme of lovers reunited through spiritualism. I'm not quite sure what I thought the video was about: ghosts from the future and the suggestion of changelings? Whatever, I loved it. And Maggie Reilly reminded me of Kirsty MacColl, which is never a bad thing.

(Listening to it again, I'm reminded that the "4am in the morning" bit irks me slightly. As opposed to what, Mr Oldfield, Ms Reilly? 4am in the afternoon? Pedants R Us.)

Ah, memories. Proust had his madeleine; I have the marvellous Readers Wifes. Long may they surprise me.

There'll be Over The Rainbow for me

And so, once again, to Duckie. We're becoming quite the regulars, these days; I think it makes a difference having discovered the little Duckie-flavoured corner of the blogosphere and knowing people to chat (or at least nod) to. The place was quiet too (relatively speaking), and it was good having more room than usual to dance. Is this a reflection of Credit Crunch Duckie, a shape of things to come? Perhaps it was just the Last Saturday Before Payday effect.

Having grabbed a (very) brief nap after early evening Eurobeat, I'd decided at the last minute to accessorise with my Blue Peter badge. Dominic at the door noticed, and I had to admit I'd bought it from eBay. The shame! In the course of the evening, another three people remarked upon it and I decided I really ought to make up something more exciting, claim I sucked off Peter Purves, perhaps, or deflowered Percy's garden. Ho bloody ho.

Initially a four-hander, with Amy still in the air (in Ayia Napa, apparently) and Richie Rich standing in for Chelsea Kelsey. I noticed that Chelsea did arrive later, though, and finished off the night. I'm never very sure what governs the comings and goings of the Readers Wifes - they move in mysterious ways, their wonders to perform - but I like to imagine that even when he's officially absent/awol (can a DJ pull a sickie?) Chelsea can't resist the siren call of Duckie.

The cabaret was introduced again by Amy replacements, Nathan Evans (and, having chatted about it with Gareth, I'm more convinced than ever that I ought to break the No Going Out On School Nights rule and make it along to Nathan's Thursday night Vauxhallville more often) and some nameless chap dressed in a cub scout/schoolboy uniform. Hmm.

First act was one Dickie Beau. Ho hum, I thought, another bog-standard lip-synching drag queen with a Judy Garland fixation. Wrong! Within a minute or two, I was absolutely rapt, held spellbound by what turned out to be an extraordinary performance piece of unusual intensity.

Yes, the obvious Judy Garland references, dramatically displayed (a scarlet Dorothy!), but more than that: the initial distorted Chasing Rainbows mash-up (with handfuls of pills and shots of blood-coloured liquor) segued into an utterly riveting spoken (or ranted) word piece, presumably taken from one of Garland's more out-of-control recorded monologues (I wondered if it was from the same place as the defiant quote at the end of The Other Side). Dickie Beau performed the monomaniacal rant perfectly, capturing the attention of all in the club, with jerky, doll-like movements, expressions and gestures which, while exaggerated, never lapsed into slapstick. When he fell over backwards in his chair, face bloodied, it was shocking rather than funny. There were a couple of moments when, for a second or two, I felt suddenly tearful.

There was music playing softly in the background of Dickie Beau's monologue but, other than Sakamoto's refrain from Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence - which fitted beautifully, affectingly - I can't recall what. I think everyone was caught up in it: even allowing for the fact that it was a smaller audience than usual, the pin-drop silence was eerie. Quite incredible. Afterwards, I found myself thinking about Liza Minnelli (the streaked mascara and handfuls of prescription drugs were, I think, meant to reference her as well as her mother) and the nod toward Little Red Riding Hood. Child stars as babes lost in the woods, gorily consumed by the Big Bad Wolf of celebrity? Okay, possibly too much analysis but it did seem a multi-layered piece which could be read into a number of ways. It reminded me a little of Geoff Ryman's WAS.

Second act was Nathan Evans as the Queen, a sort of puppet striptease act making a series of points about the shedding of various human rights. I was sure I'd seen him do this one before, possibly on YouTube:

It was a good and clever piece but, coming hot on Dickie Beau's ruby heels, seemed a little lacking in bite. Perhaps we're more used to the one kind of nihilism than the other? Still, after last weekend's disappointment at the zoo, it was nice to finally catch a glimpse of the Queen's beaver. Just the one, though.

Following from Gareth's Duckie Commandments, I think the biggest unspoken rule of thumb would have to be

Thou shalt not remove thy shirt.

That said, there's something amusing about those gayers who've obviously strayed into Duckie for the first time and take a while to realise the ways in which it's not quite as other gay clubs. The punters are, by and large, there for non-pectacular reasons: the music is not simply an aural backdrop for muscleboy adoration; the music is the principal raison d'être, the reason people are there. Getting one's disco tits out for the lads is neither big nor clever and will generally be met with averted gazes and embarrassment (such a social gaffe...) rather than gasps of appreciation. Put 'em away.

Then again, there are exceptions to every rule. Standing out from last night's crowd was a dark-haired fellow, bare-chested beneath a rather nice black leather waistcoat. Somehow - possibly because he was pleasantly hairy, possibly because he didn't strip off entirely, possibly because he didn't seem to be soliciting pec-worship - he managed to carry it off.

Don't try this at Duckie, kids.

You want a Euro lover

Such a packed Saturday it has to be divided into two blog entries (ooh, get me!): after a longish lie-in (after Friday night's Quiet Drink With Mel in the Retro Bar) I rolled uptown, braved the mouth breathers of Forbidden Planet (for the final piece of Grant Morrison's ASS), met a post-gym TSB for lunch in Balans and then headed off to the Novello Theatre for the 5pm showing of Eurobeat the Musical.

Credit goes to TSB for booking tickets; I'd never heard of it until quite recently. A premise so simple it's difficult to imagine why it's never been done before: a musical satirising the euphoric silliness of The Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision really divides people, even The Gays; I have friends who host extravagantly boozy Eurovision parties every year and I know people who go to great lengths to avoid it. I love it, not so much for the music (which is generally forgettable - although I still occasionally find Latvia's gloriously daft Wolves of the Sea inhabiting my head - "we are robbing you blind, I hope you don't mind", camply performed by the politest pirates ever) but its eventness, the peculiar combination of European earnestness and, well, glittery nonsense.

Anyway. One might legitimately ask, is it possible to parody something that's already so parodic? Somehow, Eurobeat works - on the same level as Mamma Mia, I think, in that one almost instantly suspends critical faculties in the face of an onslaught of sheer joyful exuberance. Ridicule is not only nothing to be scared of; in the case of Eurobeat, ridiculousness is to be actively embraced. We bought in to it wholesale, quite literally, purchasing flags, "clackers" (rattly affairs which made noisy clapping much easier) and flashing light-up horn/klaxon affairs. One is encouraged to cheer, clack and hoot in support of the acts (with much horn/clackers innuendo), and it's the only theatre production I've been to where one is advised to leave one's mobile 'phone on.

On entering the theatre, one is randomly allotted a country by taking a badge from baskets offered by sequined ushers. As luck would have it, TSB and I were both Germany for the evening. The merchandise stand then beckoned, and we accessorised appropriately. Helpfully, drinks can be brought into the auditorium. It was a little disappointing to see the stalls seats only half full; I imagine Eurobeat with a full audience would be a thing of beauty and wonder indeed.

The set-up is that we are at an actual Eurovision show, hosted by "sunny, safe and secure" Sarajevo. Our master and mistress of ceremonies were Sergei (Les Dennis) and Boyka (a superb Mel Giedroyc - the non-lesbian half of Mel & Sue), and we rolled through a series of performances from ten different European countries (mercifully truncated - apparently the real Eurovision is now up to 40something). These accurately lampooned a variety of Eurovision styles, from Ireland's Johnny Loganesque dry ice power ballad of gratingly sentimental Oirishness (the chorus is "la la la la la la la - sing along if you know the words!") to Greece's bespectacled Nana Mouskouri lookalike who suddenly turns poledancer.

At the interval, one had to vote by text (apparently there's a different winner each night). My three choices were:

Poland's Toomas Jerker and the Hard Pole Dancers, with Together Again

Hungary's Molnar Sisters, with the chicken entrailtastic Apró Madarakkal

and Russia's KGBoyz, with Ice Queen.

Having worried that we might not get into sufficiently party mood, we found ourselves drawn in almost immediately, cheering and honking along with the best of them - and laughing in recognition of all those Eurovision flourishes (the concept of the Big Reveal, exploited so successfully by Bucks Fizz, is noted), including Boyka's halfway song, I'm Sarajevo (Taste Me!), in which she starts off dressed as a turnip picked to be part of a stew eaten by a king. In clumsier hands, this could all be offensive, even racist. Because it's all so affectionately, skilfully done, it doesn't come across that way at all.

In our showing, there was a Russia/UK cliffhanger, with the UK winning. That'd never happen. Failure of audience imagination, I suspect. The UK contribution was an authentically anodyne nul points duet, I Love To Love To Love (Love), performed again to much celebratory hooting and clacking.

And then we went home, snoozed and went to Duckie.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Nothing more than confetti on the floor

Fresh up on the Duckie website is the Autumn/Winter Collection 2008/09, an array of sparkly gems including this:

New Years Eve

Wednesday 31 December 9pm - 3am
Tickets 14.99 in advance from The Retro Bar
Eagle, 349, Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London SE11

After last years debacle, Duckie thought we better give it another go around the corner from the RVT. The theme is The Leather Boys are having Mental Health Issues as choreographer Russell Harris stages stunning durational performance interventions with 6 Go-Go 'Boys'.

It's a knees-up and the Readers Wifes go mental on pop through time.

I am practically hugging myself to asphyxiation. I love it. I love the theme (I can do leather and Mental Health Issues!), I love the Readers Wifes, I love the fact that the Duckie Six are big enough and honest enough to admit that last year's New Year bash disappointed many, myself included - and do something about it. TSB and I had gushed mightily to our friends about the fabulousness of bidding farewell to 2006 at the Eagle, soundtracked by Kim 'n' Chelsea and several of them had taken us at our word and booked tickets for what they (and we) thought would be a riproaring Duckie event.

It kiiind of was a Duckie event but featured only Jay and Father Cloth plus David Hoyle. I could sort of see what David H was getting at with his excoriation of the idea of picking a completely arbitrary date to (supposedly) wipe one's slate clean, but his delivery seemed fuzzier than usual, lacking in the usual edge. The real stinker was the music, however, which tended to the extremes of techno (too hardcore to dance to) or nursery rhyme (too jarringly twee to dance to - The Teddy Bears' Picnic being one example). I later discovered from Luke Bear that the songs were chosen to be deliberately irritating and unlikeable before midnight and joyous after. Not necessarily a bad concept but a) if one wasn't aware of it, the prospect of an evening of hateful music might well cause one to bugger off home, and b) while there was a noticeable improvement after midnight, it wasn't such an improvement that the distinction was clear.

Although, looking closely at the tickets and flyers, there was no mention of the Readers Wifes, I'd mistakenly assumed that Duckie = Kim 'n' Chelsea, at least musically. I felt embarrassed at having dragged my friends along to a party with crap music (at least initially).

So... I'm utterly utterly delighted at this turn of events. And, come February, there's a double helping of Bexhill-on-Sea! With these parties, messieurs and mesdames, you are really spoiling us.

(PS WTF are "durational performance interventions"?)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

I can see my house from here

Banks and airlines may be crumbling but one aspect of the scary credit crunch is making me happy: I'm no longer having to wade through glossy property brochures and Are You Willing To Sell Your Flat For A Premium? leaflets every time I open the front door. We bought our flat with the intention of living there for a good long time, if not indefinitely, so the idea of not being able to sell for years isn't hugely worrying. I'm quite pleased we're no longer being hassled by estate agents.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Giraffes are insincere

Excellent Duckie on Saturday, despite only three of the six being present (Amy had taken to the skies and the Cloths were awol). Our proto-Lamé mistress of ceremonies was Robin (Robyn?) Hood, who seemed generally fine (if a little overfond of the word "cunt" - which rather diminishes with repetition) and there was a grand total of four separate acts.

Schwanzen Sänger Knaben, the Danish Dancing Penis Boys (something has either been lost or gained in translation, I'm not sure which):

Tortoise Shout (with kazoo-toting Bin Lady):

Slippery Fish (with lucky-it-didn't-end-in-tears audience participation from Drunken Pam Grier):

The Lady Gardener (through a camera haze of flowery nipplewater):

Said hello for the first time to Garethwyn, a fellow denizen of Duckie's activity island. Having seen him around at Duckie and Vauxhallville, I was intrigued to discover his blog a few weeks ago: odd-in-a-good-way reading someone else's account of the same evenings. Genuinely nice talking to him in the flesh and, as ever, I came away thinking, "hmm, I definitely ought to be more sociable with my fellow Duckieites in future". Here's my favourite pic of the night, the three of us fresh from bellowing along to Total Eclipse Of The Heart:

"We're livin' in a powder keg and GIVIN' OFF SPA-ARKS!"

Pleasantly minimal hangover the next day. I have a theory that the problem isn't so much the alcohol consumed at Duckie itself (which is copious but all of a type - beer) that causes the hangover as the ill-advised "let's open a bottle of wine" when we get home after 2am. Managed not to do that this time, and kept up the water-drinking (in addition to Stella, not instead of) throughout the night. Not quite up to TSB's impressive morning-after gym-going (he was already gone by the time I woke - it's like living with Jane Fonda) but I did make it along to Gay Sunday at London Zoo.

I'm not quite sure what I expected. I think I had a vague idea of the pathways and bowers of the zoo completely, gloriously thronged with Teh Gayz. What I hadn't factored into the Gay Sunday of my imagination was the same number of straight people as usual for a sunny weekend: couples hand-in-hand or wielding pushchairs the size of 4x4s, squalling children everywhere and, in one case, a set of luggage (who takes luggage to the zoo?). It was sort of Mixed (But Still Overwhelmingly Straight) Sunday. Why do the breeders have to shove their sexuality in our faces? Can't we test for queer at the front entrance and exclude them?

(Actually, quite a distance from the gates, a gay chap seemed to be in earnest discussion with a bespectacled man holding an ominous-looking book; I heard the phrase "same-sex couples" as we breezed past. I wondered whether Specky Man was a lone Bible-wielding Godwarrior, fighting to keep Sunday straight. I was carrying The Observer and considered reading aloud the review of Madonna's Sticky & Sweet tour to him in a sort of "it is written that..." tone but suspected he'd miss my point that something dodgy isn't less dodgy just because it's in print.)

Comedy Moment Of The Day came from one of the many parent/child spats. A chubby, red-faced 8-year-old, presumably on a sugar-high and literally stamping her feet in tantrum at something or other, was being remonstrated with by her father:

Near-End-Of-Tether Father (in exasperation): We'll go and get a drink. Do you WANT a drink?

Tantrumming Child (through hot tears of rage): Yeeesss...

NEOTF (firmly): Well, stop whingeing!

TC (wailing, her pain unappreciated): I CAAAN'T!!

Disappointingly, there were no gay animals in evidence (I mean, hell, "flamingo" is only a vowel away from flaming). The nearest we found was this bi-curious meerkat:

Mind you, in the truly excellent (if child-infested) Bug House, a fascinating glass window decked out as a filthy kitchen to showcase the holocaust-resistant insects that live in human mankiness evoked the shout, "Aidan! Come here and see this cockroach's anus!" That was, I suppose, a bit gay.

No bears of any variety - until, latterly, we found the Fish & Chips serving area and there they all were, beards, bellies and baseball caps in full display. Watch them, catch them unawares, and see them picnic on their holiday.

Sadly, we missed the Queen's double beaver:

I didn't know it was traditional for Canadians to present their beavers to the British monarch.

We caught the giraffes being fed:

I couldn't be certain but suspected at least one of them was an evil herbivore, eating extra leaves so that other giraffes would starve:

Saturday, 13 September 2008

It's the bomb...

... the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us together. (But only if it's not love.)

Garethwyn talked about how this week's slightly queasy anxiety over the powering-up of the Large Hadron Colliders at CERN (vague disquiet mixed with childish snickering at the fact that it looked a bit like "Large Hardon") made him think of the video for Midge Ure's Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, the doomy scenario of Ure travelling home, on the eve of global destruction, to die with his wife. I vividly remember that video and that early '80s preoccupation with nuclear warfare. In particular, I recall being traumatised by a 1984 television drama, Threads.

And - eek! - here it is online:

Threads scared the bejesus out of Teenage Me. Even now, watching it two decades later, I'm feeling a distant echo of that sphincter-tightening terror. For a good bit of my adolescence, I really thought events would unfold exactly as depicted. I'm half-listening to the long, slow build-up (when we're introduced to the main characters - working class boy shacks up with middle class girl - and hear news reports of escalating US/USSR tension). Haven't got to the scene with the mushroom cloud over Sheffield and I might not watch that far. I am Teh Scarred!!1

(I'm intrigued, though, by the '70s-hangover brownness that's still evident in those early '80s interiors. And loving Lesley Judd as the newsreader.)

Anyway, I was also thinking about how the theme of apocalypse pervaded 1980s pop. Aside from obvious stuff like Blondie's Atomic and Frankie's Two Tribes ("when you hear the air attack warning, you and your family must take cover at once..."), lots of songs referenced bombs and war. One of the first singles I ever bought with my own money was Nena's 99 Red Balloons, about setting off global military defences via the medium of, er, balloons. Then there was La Bush's Breathing ("chips of plutonium are twinkling in every lung") and the Smiths (Ask) and of course Morrissey's Armageddon-calling Everyday Is Like Sunday. And even Culture Club, Gawd bless 'em, with The War Song:

I remember having the piss taken out of me for liking this; the repetitious lyrics were much-derided but they're incredibly catchy - and there's a subtler poetry to lines like "and love means nothing in some strange quarter" and "I heard the banging of hearts and fingers". I thought so, anyway.

There must be more of this doom-mongering '80s stuff. I wonder if there's enough for it to constitute an actual genre?

Friday, 12 September 2008

Baby baby, I'm in love with your degeneration


Just back from Sadler's Wells and Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray. I had a knackering day at work and was wearing in a pair of new shoes, so I took a cab there (walking was agony) and damn near dozed off a couple of times on the way. Dorian Gray has had mixed reviews and I began to experience that familiar doing-kulcher-on-Friday fear of falling asleep.

I didn't fall asleep.

As we took our seats, someone in the row behind us said, "get ready for some raunch". It wasn't raunch. It was sexy, though, in a weirdly (or perhaps deliberately) hollow style: slick surfaces containing relatively little by way of emotional engagement. I don't mean this as criticism; I actually really liked the mood created. Although there were nods to here and now (a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Jonathan Ross/Four Poofs pastiche and Damien Hirst mirrorball skull), it made me think of that spell in the late '80s/early '90s when male bodies came to the fore in advertising - buffed, plucked, waxed male bodies, shot in ever-so-tasteful black and white. Denatured Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber shooting jockey shorts for Calvin Klein, Madonna's Sex beefcake a-voguing.

At some point, the monochrome glossiness itself became erotic, detachedly so. My favourite segment was, I think, the bit in the first half when (the lovely Richard Winsor's) Dorian and the photographer who's discovered him engage in a sort of predator-and-prey camera tango. I realised that the camera shutter sound itself is quite alluring - I was reminded of Morrissey's The Harsh Truth Of The Camera Eye - and the exhibitionist/voyeurist to-and-froing was intriguing. By the interval, I was feeling quite touchy-feely and other people seemed the same: lots of kissing and nuzzling in the bar. I was convinced I was floating around with hugely dilated sex-pupils. Big time sensuality.

The second half charted Dorian's descent into absent-minded orgies (with men and women - as ever, casual bisexuality seems to be shorthand for moral dissolution), escalating mutilation imagery and rampant narcissism (signalled by a giant lightbulb-festooned letter D à la Elvis Comeback Special).

I could've done without the doppelgänger strand. I mean, it was interesting enough but a bit fuzzy, conceptually, and muddied the whole deteriorating-portrait thing (Dorian's double remained pristine as he grew increasingly bloodstained). I read it as his conscience/superego, from which he detached when he allowed his tiny dancer to die at the end of the first half. That said, some of the doppelgänger scenes were genuinely creepy - making me think of this:

("You're the devil in me I brought in from the cold". I still love the breakdancing policemen.)

The music was excellent, teasingly reminiscent of all manner of '80s delicacies. I heard hints of Yoko Ono, Bryan Ferry (and the vampiric Lady H made me think of the long, lithe models of his Slave To Love period), even Ryuichi Sakamoto. I suppose that could be perceived as distracting but, for me, it all contributed to the evocation of a particular era.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The politics of moving

Saturday's Duckie was, I think, our third in the month - August's (very loose) theme having been Duckie Goes Dykey. Me and TSB got there 9.30ish, a little earlier than usual and took up our customary position between the activity island and the stage. Chatted with Robin for a bit, as the place began to fill up.

And boy did it fill up fast! Not sure if it's just me but Duckie seems much busier much earlier these days. It's always been packed but the last couple of times, it's become unpleasantly full, especially during the cabaret spots, when all the outdoor smokers pile in to see the acts. First act was Jessica Delfino, a New York comedian who's apparently been damned to Hell by the US Catholic League for singing about vaginas. I liked her winsome little ditty Don't Rape Me, played on a rape whistle. Here it is, with charmingly homespun video:

Afterwards, she spent a minute or so chucking freebie CDs and t-shirts into the audience as part of a plug for her show - which seemed, I dunno, oddly unDuckie somehow.

Second up was Bearlesque, who are always good value. The crowd seemed a bit unwieldy, though, talking through the acts (especially the trio of shouty lesbians in front of me, one of whom could barely stand) and not really joining in on the audience participationy bits. I felt a bit sorry for Fred Bear, having to hold the fort while (the very sexy) Simon and Neil Bear (I'd not seen him before - an addition to the original five) changed costume. Bear Necessities, a strip to Singing In The Rain (complete with real sprinklywater lamppost) and Mein Bear. I love 'em.

Brief snippet of Simon Bear's Gene Kelly homage in this compilation:

So two above-average acts, all six of the original Duckie team there (which isn't so common these days, what with Amy off trolley dollying) and I still felt oddly lacklustre, like the music was taking a longer-than-usual time to warm me up to singalong level. I think it was La Moz's The More You Ignore Me that finally got me going.

What was truly out of the ordinary about Saturday, though, was TSB and then me getting involved in a spat which seemed to escalate dizzyingly fast into something that looked for a moment like a potential punch-up. That's never happened to me before, in Duckie or, I think, in any other gay bar or club I've been to. I've certainly got pissed off with people in bars and they've got pissed off with me but this felt somehow different.

Basically, we were standing at the central island with our drinks on the table. A group of maybe five or six guys took up residence behind TSB, the one nearest him being quite dancey and expansive. We shuffled our drinks along the table a little bit, as you do, and he expanded to fill the space. TSB started to get that pained look in his eyes: Dancey Expansive Bloke was apparently knocking into him repeatedly and we were running out of tabletop to shift along. This went on, and TSB was eventually growling with irritation. Both of us were essentially standing still at that point, so no wild and exuberant arse-bumping coming from us.

Or so we thought. Dancey Expansive Bloke turned around and started shouting something in TSB's ear. TSB looked hangdog but said nothing and I had to ask him what had been said: apparently DEB reckoned TSB was repeatedly banging into him and wasn't too pleased about it. TSB was obviously a bit taken aback. I offered to swap places.

And, sure enough, DEB (you keeping up with the acronyms?) seemed to be moving backwards into me. I had one arm on the table and he repeatedly brushed against it. I decided not to bump back against him but to stand my ground. As I say, I wasn't dancing myself at this point.

DEB turns around again and I see, with a sudden shock, that he's really furious. Not just look-I'm-a-bit-pissed-off-with-this angry but outside-for-a-fight-NOW angry. Angry enough that I wonder whether he's coked up or something. He screams something about me (or maybe TSB) being very rude and if we knock him again, he'll have us - DO YOU UNDERSTAND?! Like a twat, I start to explain that, look, we've shunted our drinks a good couple of feet along the table so, actually, it's us that's moved to accommodate him. His response is to shout DO YOU UNDERSTAND?! at me again. And again. I should just say yes but instead I start to mutter something stupidly provocative along the lines of "I can understand that that's how you see it". TSB tries to say something but has SHUT UP! screamed repeatedly in his face until he shuts up. I can actually see the flecks of spit flying out of DEB's mouth as he leans closer. I keep my back half-turned, reckoning that's less confrontational. I raise my hand, though, putting it between DEB and TSB in what I hope is a caaalm down gesture (and is shielding my partner's face from spittle). DEB really seems to want a fight. Repeatedly, he asks us if we'd like to go outside and fight him. Er, no.

I see a couple of friends of ours, including lovely Man Mountain Neil, materialise behind TSB's shoulder, having pushed through from the raised gallery bit. They said later they'd moved because they thought there'd be more space down the front (ha bloody ha) but I wondered whether they'd seen the situation escalating and decided to be at hand. Whatever, I was grateful for their presence - particularly as the moment of tension seemed suddenly to pass, DEB turned back to his mates and Bearlesque took to the stage. I was incredibly careful not to budge an inch towards DEB during the act. He and his friends (who hadn't got involved in the fracas) disappeared fairly quickly once the cabaret was over.

It sounds a bit pathetic but the incident really did shake me and TSB both and cast something of a shadow over the rest of the night. The following day I couldn't stop thinking about it, I'm not sure why. Possibly because, since living in London the vast majority of my outside-work socialising has taken place in gay bars and clubs; I've forgotten that sudden mix of adrenaline and nausea when one realises one has said or done the wrong thing and a minor skirmish threatens to spin off into physical violence. For a few seconds, I really did think DEB was going to punch me or my partner. I was half-planning what I'd do if he did. That alcohol plus fight-or-flight combination is a feeling I associate with the straight pubs of yesteryear, a consequence of accidental pint-spilling, looking at someone a bit funny, dressing, walking or talking a bit poofy in a built-up area. I've never really felt it in a gay bar, and certainly not in Duckie.

Now, with the benefit of half a week's hindsight, I think, well why DIDN'T we just move further away? Okay, the club was rammed to the gills but the few inches of tabletop/dancefloor territory wasn't worth risking a broken nose (actually, at the time, I found myself thinking, not the teeth - they're expensive to fix). There was an element of stupid, booze-fuelled machismo on my part too, in standing firm and refusing to keep surrendering space to DEB's exuberant arse. Oh well. Maybe I just need to get out more.

The politics of dancing
The politics of ooo feeling good
The politics of moving
Is this message understood...?


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

I got my head checked

Got my hair (what little has yet survived the ravages of male pattern baldness) cut on Saturday morning, in preparation for that evening's Duckie.  I'm a creature of habit and have, for the last five years or so, used the same £5-any-style barber just off Compton Street.  As my hairline's receded to resembling-the-Batsignal-outline extremes (the only thing I have in common with Jude Law, looks-wise) I've had it clippered back shorter and shorter.  These days, I ask for a half on the sides and two on top.  I don't really mind losing my hair.

Since starting back at work this week, three of my colleagues have asked me (in carefully neutral manner) if I've had my hair cut.  They don't usually comment.  I'm starting to wonder whether the chap who wielded the clippers has used the wrong guard or gone extra-high, or maybe shaved the word CUNT into the back of my head.

Did get complimented on the facial shrubbery, though, which was nice.  Beards really do seem to have been in vogue for gay and straight men alike for what seems like years now; I see that as the influence of the whole bear thing as it spread, cross-fertilised and diversified. Apparently tartan is very in this winter too, and I suppose that could be seen in the same light. According to the same fashion mag (can't remember which one), Victorian handlebar moustaches will be huge, sweetie. I look forward to it.

Decide it's time to reinvent yourself

Self-reinvention is overstating the point but I've decided to start a blog of my own.  I'm not exactly a stranger to online wordage, being something of a message board veteran.  I've also dabbled with LiveJournal in the past, mainly as a way of keeping in touch with old friends.  LJ's well and good but for various reasons, everything I write there is Friends Only and I miss the randomness of unfiltered bloggery: sending one's bottled witterings out into the gulf of cyberspace (does anyone still call it that?) where Googletides wash them up unexpectedly on foreign shores.

I'm also coming to the conclusion that, having been a stalwart of the Duckie axis for a few years now, I ought to get over my shyness when it comes to saying hello to familiar faces.  Me and The Spectacled Bear have a bad habit of settling into a sort of faintly coupley insularity (partly because we both have trouble hearing people over music) which I suspect can come across as self-contained to the point of stand-offishness. Until the power of strong lager kicks in, that is, at which point we become Mr & Mr Chatty McChat from Chatsville, Chatizona (we've both previously cornered poor Amy and subjected her to our earnest, boozy blatherings) but subsequently can't quiiite remember the details.

Lately, I've realised that a few of those familiar faces have blogs of their own.  This shouldn't surprise me and it doesn't, really, but it is a bit of a novelty - like reading Geoff Ryman's 253 for the first time.

So... I'm joining 'em!