Wednesday, 29 October 2008

In your head, they are fighting

Yesterday, I reaffirmed my dislike of Wagamama, allowing myself to be dragged to the Waterloo branch for lunch with TSB. We passed a perfectly good Canteen on the way there, and my stomach growled at the aroma of pies (mmm, piiies...) but 'twas not to be. A lank-haired Wagawaiter brimming with positivity seated us across from one another on one of their long benches, sandwiched between an older and younger woman pairing (mother and daughter?) and what looked like a standard-issue London gay male couple having an argument.

Usually with Wagamama, it's the food itself that irks me. Sure, it's healthy, but health-smugness only goes so far in the face of identikit blandness: indistinguishably sloppy half-soups that taste like unseasoned meat and vegetables floating in warm water in which quarter of a stock cube has been dissolved. I always come away craving flavour and crunch.

This time, however, the food was the least annoying element. Being fair to TSB, it was half-term; I don't suppose it's usually that packed, the entrance so clogged with pushchairs and other child-rendering paraphernalia. The staff took a good twenty minutes, half an hour to even take our order and, in that time, I think we'd both become hugely uncomfortable with the ambient level of neighbouring mano e mano conflict poisoning the atmosphere.

As arguments go, it seemed a peculiarly one-sided one. I'd taken the two men for partners but, while they clearly were having A Talk About Us, there appeared to be a financial dynamic too, with one haranguing the other (in soft but persistently aggrieved tones) about "how much I pay you". Absolutely relentlessly, for at least twenty minutes, leaning across the table, broadcasting murmured pique and a repeated it's-for-your-own-good-that-I'm-doing-this refrain. Agh. TSB, who was in the collateral damage zone of the aggressor's line-of-admonishment, looked sicker and sicker. The haranguee spoke maybe twice then stopped trying to defend himself and just sat, eyes downcast, accepting it all.

Scrupulously avoiding any sort of acknowledgment that all this emotional scab-picking was happening only inches away, I inclined slightly towards the couple on our other side, and kept accidentally making eye contact with the older woman. When I said something to TSB, she'd start slightly; I think she wondered, on at least two occasions, whether I was addressing her. I felt trapped, elbow reined in, able to look only straight ahead at TSB until the slop arrived.

It was too much humanity, too close.

A bit like the premise of Dead Set, then, Charlie Brooker's Big Brother zombie meltdown (hey, there's that apocalyptic theme again). It's running all this week and the first episode, set during a BB eviction night was absolute must-see television: slick, well-shot, much more straight-out horror in the mix than Sean Of The Dead and much scarier zombies (I blame Danny Boyle for teaching zombies to run - and yesss, I know those weren't technically zombies). Plenty of humour, though, both in the uncannily well-observed lines ("do toes have bones in them?" clearly referencing the likes of "East Angular?" and "I love blinking, I do") and the absurd juxtaposing of familiar and horrific: carnage erupts to Mika's Grace Kelly.

(Incidentally, the moment at the end of that song where Mika goes, "ker-ching!" still sets my teeth on edge more than any amount of fire extinguisher skull-bludgeoning. I usually rush to change CD/ipod track to avoid it.)

Jaime Winstone excellent (her character much less flaky than in Donkey Punch) and Andy Nyman's beary producer (the most identifiable mouthpiece for Brooker's trademark rants) both engaging and really quite fanciable, but it was Zombie Davina that stole the show. Zombie Davina!

I actually thought she acted being a zombie better than she acted herself. The bit where she's slumped against the wall, throat torn out, is good too; they'd made her zombification a literal Watercooler Moment.

I'm looking forward to seeing the real ex-BB Housemates as zombies, too. Brian Belo, with his weird blue contact lenses, is over halfway there already.

I think of you and let it go

As an update to my recent posts about Richard DeDomenici at last Saturday's Duckie, the man himself has uploaded videos of the performance I described.

Sway along to his Greenham Common nostalgerie!

Squeak along to his balloon dissemination and helium-fuelled singsong!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Panic, lads, it's a red alert

Impromptu pic: a shaft of mid-afternoon autumnal sunlight falling on one of Richard DeDomenici's red balloons, from Saturday's Duckie. The hydrangeas are two weeks old now, their blue increasingly flecked with brown crispiness. They've lasted well, though.

Here's a blurry-but-cute pic of DeDomenici avec balloons:

His was, I think, my favourite of Saturday's acts. It combined fun audience participation (and it's not often I'll type that oxymoron) with just the right amount of nostalgia. When he took his bow at the end, the audience chanted "off! off! off!" (well, we are Gayerz, and like a bit of cock in our cabaret) and Dedomenici obliged, letting the central double-zipped panel of his Hazmat suit fall open to reveal a rather nice pleasure trail leading to a pair of red tartan boxer shorts. Levels of squee were dangerously high.

'Twas in the gently ravaged post-Duckie dénouement at home with Mel that I blew up my own luft ballon. I must've been drunk, because I'm mildly balloon-phobic and Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing. I'm not sure where my aversion stems from but I have faintly traumatic memories of a childrens' party where a treasure hunt had been arranged, complete with clues. Some of the clues were inside balloons, and we had to blow them up until they burst. I absolutely hated having to keep blowing something I knew would explode in my face (insert innuendo here) and I think I started crying and had to be taken aside and consoled with cake (good strategy).

Anyway, yes, I get a bit antsy around balloons, especially when people are rubbing and squeaking them. Brrr. I like this one, though.

Acceptable in the '80s

So, Saturday we went back to bed in the afternoon and stockpiled sleep before Duckie. I got into what my Dad used to call "your night's sleep" and felt disorientated when I woke, not knowing for a moment whether the time on the clock was 9am or pm. Almost made the decision to stay in my nice cosy bed but dutifully hauled my weary carcass to the shower and headed out to the Tavern.

Not only was this the end of British summertime in terms of putting clocks back; it's also the first Saturday evening cool enough for me and TSB independently to don jackets. We usually try to avoid getting trapped in the cloakroom queue at the start of the night. On the way to Duckie, some guy leaned out of an upper floor window and shouted at us, "HEY GUYS, GOING TO HARDON?" and I realised we were both somewhat black and leathery of outfit.

All six there again, with Amy (fresh from a Moustache Fiesta that was seemingly more moustache than fiesta) looking particularly fetching in black and pink and expressing only a tiiiny amount of faux-bitterness at coming second to Lisa Maffia in CelebAir (she was robbed). At least she beat autograph-pimping slacker Chico.

Kind of an odd night in terms of punters: big fluctuations in crowd mass, with plenty of dancing space one minute and crammed in tight the next. It seemed to get a good deal busier after the cabaret, which is unusual.

First up was one Luci Brixton ("she liked Brixton so much, she changed her name", apparently, having originally been billed as Luci Briginshaw). Opera backed with a Yamaha beat, the not-at-all-unattractive mismatch putting me in mind of Pet Shop Boys. Very nice.

During the first "musical interlude", I nipped outside and across the Grassy Knoll to see the outdoor act, part of Duckie's De Trop season, where it spills out of the main body of the Tavern and into other parts of Vauxhall. Harriet Poole's Darkroom was a good example. This time, a crowd had built up around a rather post-apocalyptic brazier and someone dressed as a Hassidic Jew, cooking fish suppers (I'm not quite sure how she was making chips over an open fire).

Amy had suggested we look in the pushchair so, braving the windblown flames, Gareth and I peered in at... a large dead fish!

From the Age of Aquarius to the Age of Pisces! The juxtaposition of fish and cryptically evangelical (and, let's face it, slightly nutjob) note made me think of a JG Ballard flooded metropolis and the return of the Nummos... Perhaps we'll all be saved by fish-gods from Sirius?

Inside, Martin del Amo was taking to the stage in nowt but his pants. A piece of interpretive dance to Antony & the Johnsons, in bluish light, the effect was contorted and subterranean, like we were looking at him through water or old, thick, rippled glass. Still feeling deliciously spooked by the evocative reference to Pisces and the fishbaby, del Amo's watery movements seemed a continuation of my pseudomystical Drowned London imaginings.

Something completely different next: one Richard DeDomenici, hirsute and cute in a Hazmat suit.

He introduced two films, the first a spliced-together montage including footage of him as a child in the early '80s at Greenham Common, to the strains of This Used To Be My Playground. He and Luci Brixton then led a mass singalong to Nena's 1983 hit, having handed out exactly 99 helium-filled red balloons so the entirety of Duckie could join in on the chorus in comedy falsettos.

Ahh, Nena! 99 Red Balloons was the first single I ever bought with my own money (the second was the somewhat less memorable Hole In My Shoe by Neil from The Young Ones; let's draw a veil over that). At the time, I was going through a major early teens fear of the bomb thing, and thought Nena's one-hit was incredibly deep. I listened the 7-inch single repeatedly, obsessively poring over the sleeve photos. I even tried to convince myself I fancied the Germanic chanteuse. I was doing a lot of that at the time.

So... jolly balloon-toting Come Armageddon Come nuclear anxiety fed nicely into the evening's dystopian future theme. Would the coming fish-god messiahs save us from the bomb? Would chips of plutonium be twinkling in every, er, gill?

We'd noticed Our Lady J at the back, looking gorgeous in a beret, and it wasn't too much of a surprise when the final act turned out to be Novice Theory again, this time singing about his mother's difficulty accepting his maleness (nice rhyming of "daughter" with "slaughtered").

I found his Vignettes more immediately engaging than the accordion piece from Friday's Lustre. Just the one song, but it went down well. Here it is:

Home, with Mel in tow, and a drunken flicking through the music cable channels while TSB dozed on the settee. Britney's Womaniser (I like!), ill-advised vodka and playing with the solitary red balloon I'd saved from Richard Dodemenici's piece.

I think of you and let it go...

Sunday, we'd arranged to meet J (not Our Lady, another one) at Tate Modern, for the Rothko exhibition: bit of cultcher for a grey, hungover Sunday, just the thing. I've been to the Tate's dimly lit Rothko room before but not for a while. It had been beefed up with some extra pieces (the Seagram Murals) and formed the centrepiece of the exhibition. It was chock-ful of people, making the experience somewhat less than contemplative. I also found that there was almost too much to look at, the sheer number of Rothkos in one space was almost too distracting.

Some of the oranges seemed harsh, brash, garish. My favourites are still those that hum, the combination of colours making them seem to float and hover, vibrating slightly, off the surface of the canvas:

I liked the black paintings too, subtle shades and gradations within the darkness. Impossible not to see them without thinking of an increasingly depressed Rothko, wreathed in grey cigarette smoke, inching his way toward suicide. His mood state is communicated so intensely that some of the paintings are almost menacing. I'd have liked an emptier gallery and more time to sit there on my own with them - but then, I almost always think that at the Tate.

Downstairs in the Turbine Hall, we pushed through a claustrophobic curtain of heavy red and green plastic strips/sheets and found ourselves in Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's vision of future London, the latest in the Unilever series. In her 2058, the remnants of society have taken refuge inside Tate Modern, on a series of bare bunk beds, to the sound of rain. The rainforest conditions have also somehow caused sculpture to grow beyond its proportions, so there were 20%-bigger copies of Henry Moores, Claes Oldenburgs and, dwarfing all, Louise Bourgeois' colossal Maman, a particular favourite of mine. Here's a pic from a year ago:

Rain and radio static fill the space, an enormous screen plays clips of suitably apocalyptic films and one can sit on the prison-like bunks and leaf through selected paperbacks (I gravitated towards Jeff Noon's Vurt and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) to get into properly downbeat mood. As Nummos and Nena had already filled my head with End Of The World imagery the night before, I was primed and ready for more dystopian miserablism, and I think I liked the whole experience more than TSB did. That said, it did feel less cohesive than previous Turbine Hall installations, more cobbled-together.

Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth had been filled in but was still quite visible, a huge crack in the floor. I liked the fact that there was no attempt to conceal it and the concrete floor will always now look a little imperfect.

In-between Rothko and Gonzalez-Foerster, we found the members' room (TSB is a member, as is J) and braved the weekend middle-class bloodbath for seats on the balcony overlooking the Thames. J forced a second bottle of white wine upon us and we watched the light change over St Paul's Cathedral as an increasingly leaden sky slid into night:

I love living in London. It's my dystopian ideal.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

My so friendly lens

Seeerious camera envy recently, at the Tavern, and at last night's KUNST I was introduced to the owner of the impressively tumescent lens, AbsolutQueer. I'd noticed her exquisite photography online, as she seems to gravitate to many of the same events as I do. I love her composition, particularly.

Anyway, the crispness of AbsolutQueer's pics is making me reconsider taking the bigger Canon (which I think of as The Good Camera) along to some of these bashes. I originally bought it out of frustration with the pocket-sized Canon: if at all possible, I prefer not to use the flash (it tends to bleach the atmosphere from lowlit subjects); the problem is that I then risk blurring. I usually compensate for this by a) trying to steady my camera by bracing it against a table or pillar, and b) taking lots and lots and lots and lots of pics, in the hope that the law of averages might favour me.

The reason I don't routinely take the Good Camera to the likes of Duckie basically boils down to lack of space, quantity of alcohol and exuberance of danceage. I'm terrified I'll drop it or otherwise damage it, squeezing through the crowd. Memorably, I once ruined a baby Canon Ixus by reaching for my pint while it dangled from my wrist. D'oh.

The non-Duckie RVT nights are something of a revelation, though: weekday moderation, more room to move and I still enjoy myself! I might risk the Good Camera at some of those.

Come taste the wine

What can I say? Tonight was one of those evenings I wish my whole life consisted of: impossibly glamorous. I took the Tube into town after work, met Mel for drinks then rendezvoused with TSB and Gareth at the Soho Theatre. Pricey cocktails: rather than my namesake Kir Royale, I had a Rossini, a sort of raspberry puree and champagne mix, with knobs on.

The show itself was what I've come to expect from Justin Bond: a collection of (increasingly reflective) songs with a vaguely apocalyptic theme. My favourite was the one dedicated to his bipolar friend - Stars And Bars, maybe? Although there was an excellent foot-stomper (which began with "I've got nipples on my tittles as big as the end of your thumbs"), I think I always prefer Justin's ballads. There's something about his voice that, whether singing as Kiki or himself, effortlessly communicates the bittersweet end of the emotional spectrum. Nice costume changes, too, although I think my favourite is still the dress he wore to Duckie last week.

The guests were Novice Theory (introduced as "a half and half" but looked like a big-haired Dominic Cooper) and Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies, who sang a falsetto version of Banging In The Nails:

Our Lady J, Justin's keyboard player, stole the show a little, not merely with her extraordinary glamour but with her cameo song Pink Prada Purse. Here it is:

Mel, TSB, Gareth, Rob and I caught a cab and dawdled through the Soho masses before speeding south across town... still reaching the Royal Vauxhall Tavern before Our Lady J and her entourage (Justin Bond) got there. Just. When they did arrive, there was a palpable sense of excitement. Celebrity had entered the building!

It was my first time at KUNST. I really liked it. Having gone there via the Soho Theatre via work, I was still clad in pinstripes. Didn't feel overdressed, though, given the Weimar vibe (if anything, I should've had a bowler hat). I was in top Mr Sociable form, running into Ben and his photographer friend (we recognised each other from last night's Vauxhallville and liked each other's pics). Had a great chat with an ex-Retro Barman (or two) and met a beautifully side-parted Poor Little Kitsch Boy, whose blog I started reading via Gareth's. I even started chatting to the Gay Times editor over urinals.

Anyway, here's the very lovely Our Lady J in her very first solo spot (world exclusive at KUNST!), bathed as pink as her Prada purse:

When she first took the stage, a host of cameras appeared. I'm not sure I've ever seen an RVT act photographed quite as much. It's easy to see why: she exudes charisma.

Oh yes, and KUNST host Dusty Limits sang a very funny song elaborated from Hugh Grant's baked beans 'n' childhood cancer outburst of yesteryear. And then we danced to some excellent '80s/'90s-tinged stuff, courtesy of DJ DawnRightNasty, who surely deserves credit for orchestrating Our Lady J's solo debut there.

Will we make it a hat trick with Duckie tonight? Watch this space...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Turn the lights out before you leave, goodnight

I'm posting this in the hour or so before finishing work and heading out to meet TSB and Mel at the Soho Theatre for Justin Bond's Lustre. The plan then is to grab Gareth and scoot across town to the smuttily-named KUNST for an evening of "neo-Weimar cabaret for the fabulous generation" (I'm wearing one of my more dubious Stasiesque coats especially) - hopefully in time to catch the very lovely Our Lady J, who'll also be hot-footing it there from the Soho Theatre, having been invited (by DawnRightNasty) to headline the cabaret.

Keeping up? Now read on...

Okay, I'm playing up the social butterfly thing but it is an unusually hectic week for us in terms of going out - credit crunch be damned! Luckily, I've just discovered that I'd booked a week's leave from work next week then promptly forgotten about it (don't ask) so I'm very much in the mood for celebration.

Last night was the final Vauxhallville, the very last one ever. I felt surprisingly sad, considering I only really discovered it in the last month or two (it's been running for two years). If anything, that makes me feel all the more regretful at not having made more of an effort to check it out. Must try harder.

The last run of Vauxhallville has focused on the history of Vauxhall itself, from the Pleasure Gardens to modern day - or, rather, the 1990s. Why the '90s? Because 1995 is when Duckie started up in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and Duckie's what made all the difference.

In Morrissey-circa-Vauxhall And I mode, Nathaniel DeVille reminisced with sexybeardy bar manager Jason...

... then performed his puppet show musical based on the songs of The Smiths. We'd seen this before, at the Duckie Morrissey Special, a few years back, but it was good seeing it again. Sweet in a vaguely x-rated way:

Timberlina glowed in a rather lovely robe...

... and Gareth trounced Yanni (it's Swedish for Johnny) in a nailbiting Duckie quiz as well as scoring a prize for the cardboard Crack House he designed for the model Vauxhall Village. He was made of WYN!

We watched a very entertaining piece of film, in which David Hoyle (dragged up in the manner of his former incarnation, The Divine David) wandered around a sunny Sunday Vauxhall, teasing builders and chatting to assorted blingy passers-by, cannabis-wreathed moxen on the Grassy Knoll and - in a surprisingly touching segment - mottled porkers and precociously angelic kiddies in Vauxhall City Farm. David Hoyle came onstage afterwards, sans drag, and seemed mellower and, well, happier than I've seen him before.

Nathaniel got his kit off (I've always liked his William Morris tattoos).

Finally (well, penultimately), the stalwarts of Vauxhallville got together onstage for a glass of champagne (we quibbled over the source of the quote "champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends") and what seemed like a genuinely moving mass goodbye. Even DawnRightNasty left her box. Briefly.

Then the lovely lovely lovely boys from Bearlesque (and, more recently, side project The Dream Bears) did their thang, to the thundering strains of Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero - possible the perfect way to go out with a bang.

Bearlesque have been a consistent high point, and one of the main reasons I wish I'd made it along on more Thursday nights. Ah well.

Dreams that gliiitter.

I've got something in my eye and I want to bathe it.


Goodnight, Vauxhallville.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Thoughts of yesterday

I'm an ignoramus when it comes to classical music. On hearing, by chance, Sibelius's Symphony No.5 on 't telly recently, I squealed, "ooh, it's Strawberry Switchblade! I haven't heard them in aaages!"

Hilarity ensued.

Sibelius, Symphony No.5 (Finale)

(If you're as classicsrubbish as I am, it's about one-and-a-half minutes in.)

Strawberry Switchblade, Since Yesterday

Rose and Jill so ought to sue.

Shades of Scarlett conquering


Rummaging for my keys this morning in the junk-that-comes-out-of-your-pockets bowl in the kitchen, I automatically picked up my current Lucky Conker, as I usually do, and had another flashback to the past weekend's Duckie, when I talked chestnuts with live artist/photographer Harriet Poole. It made me aware of this particular quirk that I have - even if I didn't have the LC on me on Saturday. Here it is, though, with Saturday's Tube ticket:

I call it lucky but that's really just to justify carrying it around; I'm not especially superstitious and don't think of it as any sort of talisman. It's more a throwback to the childhood hoarding of "treasure", magpie-fashion: very shiny coins, shells, glittery pebbles - essentially worthless objects considered inherently pleasurable. I suspect quite a few people do this to some degree.

I picked up the current LC a week or two ago, when meeting a colleague for dinner, in Twickenham. There was a big horse chestnut tree, spilling grizzled brown-green casings and excitingly shiny, new-looking conkers onto the pavement (one landed on a car bonnet with a metallic bonk, as we passed). If I hadn't been in self-consciously sensible work mode, I'd have stopped and, in all likelihood, stuffed my suit pockets. As it was, I surreptitiously bent down and scooped one up when he wasn't looking.

We used to live just off a park which had several chestnut trees, and I'd collect them every day to and from work. They'd sit on windowsills and kitchen surfaces until, eventually, I conceded that I had to throw them out (they're not as seductive once they lose their fresh-from-the-shell gleam) to make space for more. These days, I've pared down my conker-acquiring urge to just the one at a time.

Apparently the game of Conkers was originally played with snail shells or hazel nuts, the horse chestnut not being native to the UK. Oddly enough, although I have all sorts of memories of throwing sticks in trees to try to get 'em down, I don't recall much actual playing of the game itself. I suspect many kids were, like me, more attracted to the idea (having seen Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids get overexcited about Conkers) than the pastime, which all seemed a bit of a hassle. I did, however, dutifully file away in my head all the sneaky conker-hardening methods (baking, soaking in vinegar) in case I ever did find myself competing in the World Championships.

I seem to remember a brief craze, on Blue Peter, for stringing huge numbers of conkers on string, with groups of people proudly claiming to have strung five billion (or however many), pointlessly. This is what we did before t'Internet.

Ah, well. A woman must have everything.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

She never meant to call

She did anyway. Eight times in quick succession, leaving a message only the once, with the first call. Short and sweet, she almost shouts, "call me back!" in a moderately thick Scottish accent. Her tone is a mixture of exasperation and pleading.

I've no idea who she is: it's an unfamiliar number with an 01896 prefix which, Google informs me, is Galashiels. I don't know anyone in Galashiels. Mysteeerious.

Well, very probably not that mysterious at all. She's obviously got the wrong number and, now I come to think of it, I'm pretty sure she's called before. She left a message maybe a year ago, jolly and somewhat inebriated-sounding, your basic "I'm on my way to X, 'phone me back, you lazy bastard" instruction. I ignored it at the time but I feel I'm starting to get drawn into the saga of Galashiela (take a bow).

Should I 'phone back and explain it's a wrong number? Irrationally, having ignored eight redials from her, I'm a little scared of direct communication...

Monday, 20 October 2008

We all feel better in the dark

Ah, Duckie Duckie Duckie! A great Duckie night is surely unparalleled 'pon this Earth - and Saturday's was a true classic. Not that it's ever had a slump as such, not with the Readers Wifes playing, but the club really seems to be hitting its stride at the moment, maybe because it's building up to an excellent programme of events in the coming months. I've no idea how, thirteen years on, it retains the same freshness and verve but, hallalujah, it does.

Autumn weather really makes me vacillate over the eternal problem of What To Wear. On work days, the morning chill is excuse enough to succumb to my weakness for big, flappy overcoats or belted leather macs (the fashion nuclei of my brain were horribly warped by early exposure to '80s pop videos). As the day heats up, I then feel self-consciously sweaty. Duckie presents the opposite problem: wanting to avoid the cloakroom if at all possible, one is tempted to underdress for the cold then shiver if there's a queue to get in. Me and TSB seem to be getting better at timing our arrival to avoid that, though; knowing Johnny Woo, Timberlina and Justin Bond were all on the bill, we got there early so as to avoid the anticipated hordes of painted acolytes.

And rammed to the rafters it was, from early on. Good-humoured, though, in contrast to previous sardine-tin evenings. Funny how the crowd can take on a very definite mood, distinct from one week to the next.

Six out of six, with Wifes, Cloths, Amy and Simon all present and correct. Amy seemed slightly subdued, possibly just in contrast to last week's exuberant DJing as an honorary Readers Wife. Standing by the activity island with Gareth, we were approached by a harness-clad fellow, seemingly lost on his way to the Hoist. He asked if we were up for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of experiencing the Royal Vauxhall Tavern's darkroom. We were, naturally, so he gave us each a sticker to wear, a glowing lightbulb. Curiouser and curiouser. It was all part of a piece of live installation/immersive/participatory art by Harriet Poole - more on this later...

Up The Junction was playing onscreen when we arrived, and the Readers Wifes echoed its panda-eyed beehivery with I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten. I love Dusty and this is one of my favourites - lovely to hear it at Duckie. Just in front of the stage, a large, fortysomething chap was clearly In The Zone, eyes closed, and doing what looked like robot dancing (with just a hint of choreiform arm movement). It's not easy to clear a cordon sanitaire on Duckie's dancefloor but this guy had managed it, fellow dancers nervously moving back from his near religiose ectasy. Must remember that trick.

Amy "Two Belts" Lamé introduced what turned out to be a stellar evening.

First up, a big-haired, bespectacled Johnny Woo (looking a little like a mildly genderblended Sebastien Tellier).

Despite having moved in vaguely similar club/cabaret circles, I'd not seen Mr Woo perform. Me and TSB have a friend who's a big devotee of his Gay Bingo but we've always been loath to schlep along to Shoreditch to drink on Sunday evenings before a typically busy Monday, so have never been. I really enjoyed his Women Of Mass Destruction and pill-popping tongue-twister, and he justifiably reaped huge applause.

Timberlina next, who I knew from Vauxhallville (last one this Thursday - *sob*) and who didn't disappoint with a tender ditty about Sarah Palin, ending in a flourish with the line, "because she's a cunt". Somehow, the good old c-word is both big and clever in Duckie, and Timberlina's ode to La Palin brought the house down.

(Amy joked that Duckie rarely has drag queens perform - and when it does, they're contractually obliged to have full moustache and beard "so tonight we've ticked all the boxes!")

What new can be said about the ridiculously talented (and inhumanly photogenic) marvel that is Justin Bond? He looked and sounded wonderful, in what looked like a vintage or at least '20s-inspired outfit, singing a belter of a set, again nakedly political (one of the things I love about Justin's performances - as Kiki and as himself - is that he doesn't shy from excoriating where excoriation is due). He was accompanied by a keyboard player I've not seen before, Our Lady J, beautiful and a great match for Justin's vocals. She threw herself into the performance with gusto, her enthusiasm and flying blonde mane making her seem almost muppetlike at times. In a glamorous way. She and Justin were the ideal closer for a near-as-dammit-perfect Duckie cabaret line-up.

(Our Lady J lost her earring but found it again. Phew!)

But! Superb as it was, it wasn't the cabaret that made this Classic Duckie for me. Back to the lightbulb badges. Before even Amy took to the stage, myself, TSB and Gareth were approached by an attractive young woman who asked me if I wanted to go to the darkroom now. Earlier, I'd been admiring her dress and general look (dark silver with black polka-dots, glasses, a bit '40s) and was a tad taken aback (when's the last time I was propositioned in a pub, by a woman?) but decided to go with it. I remembered Punchdrunk's amazing Masque Of The Red Death, earlier in the year, and how rewarding the one-to-one interactions could be, if you were lucky enough to be chosen by one of the actors. With this in mind, I allowed Polka-Dot Lady to take a photograph of the two of us together (me looking beardily sinister, as ever) then take me by the hand and lead me through the crowd (nervously clutching my can of Stella) to a door I'd never noticed before, in the corner of the bar next to the cloakroom.

Still hesitant, I was ushered up a flight of narrow stairs, an abrupt transition from the crowded, noisy Tavern to a much quieter hallway half-lit by fairy lights, black doorways hinting at darkened spaces beyond (occupied?); I was suddenly acutely aware of the thud-thud of music from below (Adam Ant's Prince Charming) like a reassuring heartbeat (Duckie as the beating heart of the Vauxhall Tavern - an image I like). Another set of stairs wound upwards and my companion sat down, smoothing her dress and motioning me to sit next to her. Gingerly, with flashbacks to ill-remembered (and usually ill-advised) moments at teenage parties, I did so. Other than knowing I was A Part Of Art, I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. That in itself was oddly exhilarating.

We had a short conversation, initially about what I had in my pockets (sadly, having changed into my not-skinny but just-tight-enough-for-comfort jeans for Duckie, I'd neglected to bring the Lucky Conker which sometimes accompanies me at this time of year, so we had to imagine it) and associated memories/emotions. Polka-Dot Lady showed me a train ticket which had particular significance for her and I gave an example of my own of the written word taking on personal meaning: a letter which, through a quirk of time zones, arrived weeks after the sender was suddenly, unexpectedly dead. Without going into too much detail (because, for various reasons, it doesn't feel right to blog about this in detail), it was an unusually intimate conversation to be having with a stranger who'd basically pulled me out of the crowd. It didn't feel intrusive, though, that's the truly odd thing; it felt quite comfortable, even cathartic. I felt a sudden swell of emotion when relating my own anecdote, not enough to make me teary but enough to surprise me.

At one point, another woman appeared briefly with what looked like a fellow participant from the pub downstairs. They disappeared into one of the doorways and I wondered how much was scripted, whether his experience of the interaction would be the same as mine.

After talking for maybe ten minutes, Polka-Dot Lady got up and I followed her into a bathroom lit by a red bulb. I was instructed to place my rail ticket (which had been tangential to our earlier conversation) on a piece of photographic paper between us. A light clicked on for a few seconds then off, exposing the film. She took it to the sink and instructed me to pour developing fluid on it. This was the promised darkroom, ho ho!

Then to a darkened kitchen/scullery (the rooms all seemed a bit dilapidated and I asked whether anyone lived here; she told me someone lived on the top floor) where strings ran at above head height, with drying photographs pegged to them. I did what I was told and pegged our photo in place. I was then led downstairs, given a card with a URL (my lightbulb sticker was affixed) and I stumbled blearily back into the body of the pub, just in time to hear Amy allude to the darkroom I'd just visited. I felt quite smug. TSB, fearful of the prospect of being spirited away to the dread spectre of Audience Participation, had removed his sticker.

It was quite a short interaction but peculiarly intense (the intensity sharpened, as I say, by sudden physical hand-in-hand contact, having very little idea what was happening and not knowing what my part in it might be). The combination of familiar-yet-unfamiliar (unlit or fairylit halls, bathrooms and kitchens used for unexpected purposes), the slightly fluctuant sense of time (immediate, here-and-now but also moving from moment to moment with a sort of dreamlike disjunction) and the not-unpleasant novelty of confiding in a stranger lent the whole experience the character of a dream, or a hypnogogic state. It stayed with me for much of the rest of the evening.

That's the added ingredient to Duckie, the extra something that takes it from being The Best Club Night Ever to a whole different plane altogether. "Best audience this year!" said the lovely Chelsea Kelsey, as the night reluctantly drew to a close (after a mass singalong to Take That Look Off Your Face). For me, it was probably the best Duckie this year, with music, cabaret and individual interactive art melding into one exciting, affecting whole.

Oh! And our lovely friend (and occasional dykon) Mel turned up for the final hour, having been elsewhere for the evening but decided, on the way home, that it was worth queuing in the cold for the last golden hour of Readers Wiferie. Clearly she too felt the inexorable pull of Classic Duckie.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

We love this exaltation

I'm feeling quite remiss in not having posted last week's Duckie pics before this Saturday's is almost upon us. What can I say? I'm a lazy git.

Actually, there's been all sorts of worky type stuff this last week and today's the first day I've really had a chance to draw breath. Last night's Quiet Drink at the Retro Bar after work wrought its hangover havoc but I toddled uptown to meet TSB for a rather nice Balans lunch. I had their chicken & ham pie, which was lovely but looked naggingly Fray Bentosish. Bernard Cribbins would've been proud.

Anyway, last week's Duckie was made special by the return of Amy Lamé, briefly touching down from CelebAir. She's down to the final... what? two? three? Sounds like it's her versus Lisa Maffia. Go Amy! Last week, though, she seemed to be very much enjoying standing in for Chelsea Kelsey, getting dancey in the DJ booth.

'Twas good to have an Amy-presented evening too. Lovely fascinator.

First act was one Claire Benjamin, with a character called Obsessia Compulsia D'Sorda. A string of paper Prozac pills made an appearance and there were some nice little touches (when she marvelled that her accordion was playing without her, then quizzically pulled back the curtain to reveal a deadpan - and very good - accordionist behind it). She played I've Seen That Face Before and Shine On You Crazy Diamond, interesting choices. Overall, though, I thought she was a bit meandering and the act went on a tad too long.

Next up for two turns was Duotard, an apparently husband and wife team (although I'm uncertain whether that's just the characters they play) who, surreally, usually perform at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. Spandex fetishists? You decide.

Here, courtesy of the wonder of YouTube, is their Blame It On The Burgers number:

I thought they were pleasingly off-the-wall, and could well understand Amy waking up the morning after having seen them on their home turf and thinking, "did that really happen?" Second number was longer, a sort of compilation of mostly '80s-looking fitness videos, artfully edited in time to (I think) three songs, the last of which was Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Huge audience applause when either Cher or Angela Lansbury appeared onscreen (that would be The Gayz, then) and the whole thing was carried along on a tide of joyous silliness. That said, if there'd been room in the Vauxhall Tavern, I'd have been echoing their Mad Lizzie moves...

Hmm. Should I start using my flash more? Maybe.

Friday, 10 October 2008

White snow red as strawberries

This morning: my first white beard hair.

I hesitated, unsure whether or not to attack it with the trimmer, before deciding to let it be. While it looks a little lonely there, all on its own, I'm in no way opposed to white hair, facial or otherwise. Quite the opposite, in fact: I really like premature grey on a man, and have a particular penchant for salt & pepper. Thing is, I'm reasonably fair haired(ish) and my beard tends toward the ginger, particularly in sunlight.

Salt & paprika?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Then take your money

At the start of this week, my sleep pattern was all over the place. For some reason, I seem unable to sleep for more than five hours without waking; if I'm lucky I can then doze off again. If not, I'm faced with the choice of either tossing and turning until dawn or going with it, reading or going online until it's time to get up. Worst case scenario: I doze off an hour before it's time to get up then rise and stagger off to work, zombie-like, feeling like I haven't slept at all.

Anyway. I made the mistake, at around 3am Monday, of logging on and perusing the online Guardian - then getting sucked into all the credit crunch/recession/depression panic. Now, my job and mortgage are reeeasonably safe - at least at the moment - but at 3am, one's sense of perspective can become skewed and one's moodometer tends toward Vague Existential Dread. Which is what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday, too (last night, I forbade myself from taking the laptop upstairs, which did the trick).

I've always been shit with money and don't really understand basic economics. Turns out that the same is true of quite a few of us (including several who Do Something In The City). I'm always amazed at (and often slightly suspicious of) people who're able to save the sort of sums being "guaranteed" by our own and other European governments. My financial crapness has, I suppose, been a protective factor in terms of shielding me from anxiety. I did, however, during my 3am insomnia jaunts, find myself looking up "recession" on Wikipedia and Googling "how will the credit crunch affect me?"

On balance, I think it's better not to know. Denial is good.

More angst: it's rumoured that, at the end of this (first) series of No Heroics, simian-summoning Thundermonkey will die.


No Heroics is a bit hit-and-miss (which, for an ITV sitcom, is superlative) in terms of laughs but the cast is likeable and, for a comics geek like me, the in-jokes are wonderful (Shazamstell! Gin City! Von Doomenbrau!). And Jim Howick as Thundermonkey is the sexiest thing in the show. Here're some bits from the first episode:

Considering whether or not to do Vauxhallville again this week. I'll be sticking around after work for a colleague's leaving drinks so will have to watch my intake...

Monday, 6 October 2008

Healthy recipe

After weeks of being moderately careful of carbohydrate loading I missed lunch and, queuing in Sainsburys at 5.30, succumbed to the lure of a packet of five All-Butter Cookies (with chocolate and hazel nut bits). Scoffing them in a oner, I now feel bloated, slightly nauseous and very tired.

Still, it could be worse. I could be Mr Gay UK '93. Which reminds me of a snippet of conversation from last Thursday's Vauxhallville wherein I became briefly misty-eyed on the subject of early '80s girl bands, when Dawn Right Nasty played the sublime Sign Of The Times by the Belle Stars:

(It's a Song With A Spoken Bit. I like SWASBs. Is there a proper term for them? There should be.)

In my tangential meandering, I remembered the somewhat less sublime Toto Coelo hit I Eat Cannibals. Looking it up here, I rediscovered the somewhat overshadowed Milk From The Coconut and agree utterly with the YouTube poster's comment that it contains "the complete blueprint for the Spice Girls whole act". See what you think:

And, on the subject of gay male intimacy being bad for one's health, it seems the Rev Peter Mullen reckons we should have our backsides tattooed with public health warnings. Presumably in case healthy hetero blokes accidentally put their willies in there.

But, ho ho, it's all right because he's only joking! And judging from his photo, he's already been laughing on the other side of his face. A lot.

(It's okay for me to say that because it's in "the tradition of English satire".)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Oh, gin

Agh, Mother's Ruin. Cursed fiend with fury fraught indeed...

So... Saturday, me, TSB and our friend Mel caught the train to the deep south for The Rognon's "gin tasting". Gin's probably not my spirit of choice but I'm certainly not averse to a nicely mixed G&T (preferably by someone other than me - I always make them too strong), so I was looking forward to comparing different varieties. TR picked us up from the station and was in fine form, pointing out that all had been blue skies before we arrived, trailing dirty rainclouds in our wake. In fact, it was rather lovely getting gradually drunker in TR's light-filled living room, listening to the rain against the windowpane and watching a nearby copse of trees (a remnant of Lobb's Forest, apparently) swaying in the wind. And eating pie. Mmmmm, pie...

We brought a bottle of Blackwood's ("handpicked in Shetland") and started with that. It was delicious, quite fruity but perhaps a little subtle for me. Then moved onto Plymouth, Tanqueray (still my favourite, I think), Gordon's... At one point, I decided I needed a break from all things ginsome and moved onto champagne. The healthy option.

Mel's American, and confirms that, by US standards, quite a few Brits would be viewed as alcoholics. I'm pretty sure me and TSB would; we love our booze, especially when it's good quality - and TR's gin party was fuelled by good stuff. I suspect that's the only reason I don't feel horribly hungover today. That and the fact that we've stuffed ourselves with an excellent value Sunday roast at the Oval Lounge. With a cheeky wee Pinot Grigio.

Ah well, we've got the working week to atone.

We'd tentatively planned to hop on the train back to London in time for Duckie. TR hummed and hawed about joining us but, in the end, decided not to. That was the sensible choice. The insensible choice was to pitch up at the Vauxhall Tavern ready-sozzled after an afternoon's gin-guzzling, and that's what we did. It's never a great idea to arrive at Duckie already drunk but, in the course of the one-and-a-half-hour train journey, we managed to convince ourselves we'd sobered up. Dear reader, we hadn't.

I'm a sociable drunk, by and large. Last night, I was in full I Am In Love With The World mode, and found myself chatting to all and sundry, including a particularly elegant lesbian couple who were sipping champagne ("cava", they said, dismissively) from an ice bucket perched on the edge of the stage. One looked like Sharleen Spiteri (although she bridled when TSB remarked on this) and the other like a slimmer, better-dressed Beth Ditto. Ms Ditto hailed from Ayrshire, and seemed to have taken a shine to Mel (who, although straight, is very lesbosocial). They left somewhat abruptly, hopefully not as a consequence of Mel's relationship-wrecking dykonicity...

It was a classic Duckie, albeit without Amy again. Guest host Scottee (who I reckon works better as host than actual cabaret act) was somewhat unkind about CelebAir - it's candyfloss but I quite like it - and I do wonder whether Amy's missing Duckie. I don't think she's ever been consistently absent for such a long period. Makes me realise how much commitment the Duckie Six put in over time. Simon was particularly resplendent, in canary yellow jacket and three-quarter trousers - making me feel positively dowdy. Must make more of an effort to dress for Duckie.

The Readers Wifes were sterling as ever. We really do take them for granted. High point of the evening, for me, was Paper Planes which, since I discovered it via Chelsea Kelsey's excellent blog, feels like my own secret aural gemstone. It's impossible to listen to it and not do shooty-gun motions at the chorus. Me, TSB and Mel gave full vent to our inner Sarah Palins, gunning down every moose and bear in the joint (and there were many of both).

Intriguing cabaret. First act was one Buggerchops, a yellow-eared fellow who sang a number of songs, including a notably instructive piece entitled The Best Hepatitis Yet. Actually, STDs was the theme throughout, with such detail that I wondered whether Buggerchops himself came from a medical background. Catchy, well-written stuff with a music hall vibe - do visit his site and have a listen. Hugely enjoyable.

There was a sort of buskery thing going on too, in the nearby railway arch/bypass, something Bob Dylan themed, I think. They later came in an performed one song on stage. It was okay but, after Buggerchops, nothing special (or maybe I was just too gin-addled to appreciate them).

Cringey Oh God Did I Really Do That Moment: I have a slightly murky recollection of scaling the DJ booth at the end to burble some sort of incoherent "I love yous, yous're my besht matesss" dribble at the Readers Wifes. Oh dear.

I met a strange lady

Three strange ladies. Friday after work, me and TSB met at the Leicester Square Theatre for The Kransky Sisters. Mourne, Eve and Dawn Kransky (only recently did I realise they're all named after times of day) are a trio of weird sisters from Esk, Queensland. Theirs is a compelling Australian Gothic premise with a beautifully mordant backstory that's revealed as much by facial expression, body language and what's not said as by the between-songs monologues. It's lovely dark stuff that creeps up on you, comedy that's not afraid to take its time.

They're apparently a cult phenomenon in Australia; there's plenty of them on YouTube:

They played Born To Be Wild as well as Werewolves Of London (complete with howls), Ça Plane Pour Moi, Dah Dah Dah (which segued into Puppet On A String) and many others. I think my favourite was their inimitable version of Pull Up To The Bumper...

We first encountered the Kranskys in a ten-minute slot at Duckie (with music and cabaret, Duckie's an endless treasure trove; they've introduced us to countless gems) but here, they had room to unfold gradually, over an hour and a half (their show was great value), transporting us to their subtly drawn, Addams Familyesque world of dust, wirelesses and tightly repressed sexuality. Afterwards, they signed merchandise in the foyer, unnervingly never slipping out of character. Tentatively, I mentioned that I'd seen them at Duckie.

Mourne Kransky: Such nice people! How did you find us here?

Me (earnestly): Umm... expanded. You had the time to give us a fuller, richer experience. I really liked it.

MK (after a slight pause): How lovely. But that's not what I was asking. I wondered how you'd found us.

Me (feeling a bit silly): Ah. We, er, saw you on the poster and bought tickets

MK (socially adroit): Well, thankyou for coming.

We're now proud owners of a signed Kransky Sisters teatowel - which will never see dishes!

They're there for another week or so, and really deserve to sell out, so go see 'em. You won't regret it.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Make me smile

Vauxhallville again last night, this time dragging TSB along with me. I say "dragging" but he didn't need much convincing, despite the odd sense of taboo that comes with drinking alcohol in the Vauxhall Tavern on a School Night. Bought a bottle of wine between us this time and, predictably enough, found ourselves buying a second after guzzling the first in record time. Back to the three pints of lager limit next time, I think.

A different crowd from last time, rowdier and, frankly, better looking: a particularly sexy group of bears (what's the collective noun? a woof? a hirsute?) at the back, all attractively gussied up in braces and flat caps. Our own rather pitiful gesture toward the dress code (1863-1945) was to wear vaguely 1940sish jumpers. Garethwyn had obviously had the same idea and, sitting on three stools by the side of the stage, we doubtless resembled some sort of unholy Val Doonican threesome.

Timberlina seemed ripped to the tits, delightfully so. She and Polly Vinyl meandered off into a sick-but-very-funny riff about Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. Volunteers from the audience equally inebriated:

Underbling & Vow provided the bulk of the cabaret, basically a Cockney singalong with comedy character stuff between the songs. I'd seen them before, at Duckie, but here they had time and space to expand their schtick. Almost despite myself, I got drawn into the whole knees-up-Mother-Brown thing - they were impossible to dislike - and found myself heartily singing along. There's something very warm and inclusive about Underbling & Vow's routine.

Not sure if this was a joke but they're apparently planning, when the Olympics come to London, to organise the world's biggest gathering of Londoners simultaneously singing Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner. Sounded like quite a good idea. I was reminded that I now think of myself as a Londoner in a way that I've never really thought of myself as "British" or even as "Scottish". National identity's a strange and complex thing...

Bearlesque finished the night, as seems to be the custom at Vauxhallville. The very lovely Simon Bear did his Singing In The Rain striptease. I'd seen it fairly recently but one can never have too much wet-shirted Simon Bear.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

I have forgiven Jesus

From the ever-wonderful Joe.My.God. comes this frankly incredible 1984 Specialsesque ska performance by *koff* Sonseed, Jesus Is My Friend:

Once I tried to run
I tried to run and hide
But Jesus came and found me
And he touched me deep inside
He is like a Mountie
He always gets his man.
And he'll zap you any way he can... zap!

Surely surely surely this must be an elaborate fake/prank? The gayger counter is registering dangerously high levels of camp. The mengines cannae take it, Captain. Etc. Catchy, though. I'm particularly loving the near-motionless Keith-from-The Office backing singer on the far right - although the Osmonds-inspired lead (Sal?) is my favourite.

I'm rubbish at spotting well-crafted fake viral campaigns: I fulminated at the appalling McCain Girls video (I'm pretty sure if I turned up the volume, neighbourhood dogs would join in) before that was revealed as a hoax. I'm remaining sceptical about this one for the time being.

In other news, I've got a bit of a taste for Vauxhallville and may well pop along to this Thursday's The Lambeth Walk. Dress code 1863-1945? Blimey. I have a pair of 1940sish two-tone shoes and I might wear a cap. I imagine that'll be it, costume-wise, for me. Saving other theatricality for Hallowe'en, I think.