(I started something I couldn't finish - well, not for almost a week. It's the picture-adding that's been particularly time-consuming. Here's my spiel pretty much verbatim, though.)
I'm writing this from the First Class compartment of a Virgin train, speeding back to Euston from Liverpool. I've always had a bit of a weakness for the Weekend First option whereby one can upgrade a Standard ticket and acquire, for the princely sum of 15, additional legroom, attractively Tripodsesque table lighting and unlimited tea, coffee and biscuits. I particularly associate the Weekend First option with Sundays, as during the year TSB and I were apart (2001-02, I think) one of us commuted every weekend - and that 15 upgrade was a real comforter during the depressing Sunday journey away from one's partner and back toward the working week.
I'm sipping my second half-bottle of Hardy's Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2007 and listening to Uptown Top Ranking, part of TSB's gym playlist on a borrowed ipod, the better to drown out a large woman with a larger voice, which is cutting through the privileged calm of Carriage J. Why is it that some people's voices seem to carry, particularly? It's not always about volume. American accents carry but our fellow passenger isn't American. TSB reckons it's about bass notes but I reckon it's about hardness/softness: I've experienced shrill or cut-glass accents that are equally hard to block out.
But! Blocked out she is, and I am enjoying a pleasingly mellow return trip to London Euston after the phantasmogoria that was this weekend's Duckie Grand Vogue Ball side-project, Liverpool Is Burning. A half-hour's scrubbing has (mostly) removed the Rimmel Gold polish from my nails but I'm very aware that I still have glitter in my beard...
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's go through it all in order. Firstoff, we arrived in Liverpool early afternoon on Saturday, having got up for what felt like an incredibly early Saturday 09.17 King's Cross train. Nice countryside but I'm not used to Saturday before midday and slept through about a third of it. Another intrusive voice on the way there but Liverpool-accented and thus a taster of things to come.
I'm a bit funny with accents. When I first came to London, it took me a while to get over the novelty of hearing accents I'd sort of considered fictional: for a few weeks at least, I felt like I was living in an episode of Eastenders. Same thing this weekend, except Brookside. Or Brooochhsayyyde.
Another stereotype was confirmed for me when the Adelphi Hotel - our accommodation and venue for Liverpool Is Burning - seemed full of people in cheap nylon shellsuits. Harry Enfield's moustachioed Scousers leapt to mind ("caaalm down") but it transpired that these were actually Russian (and/or East European) folk. At one point, a trio of giggly nylon-suited chaps tried, very ineptly, to take my and TSB's photos in the hotel lift, as we headed back to our rooms at a little after 1am. "If you want, we're happy to pose," I offered, slightly bemused at the fact that they were taking our photos when there'd been a wealth of much weirder and more wonderful creatures to goggle at, just a room or two away from Reception.
So... yes, we arrived at the Adelphi (wasn't it in some sort of hotel-based reality series a few years ago - The Hotel or something?), dumped our things in the room (comfortable bed but generally unimpressive for the price - no wi-fi, tacky marble-effect linoleum on the bathroom walls, chewing gum on the ceiling and a general sense of stickiness) and decided to explore Liverpool a little. Bumped into Ms Lame in Reception; she was in search of nail polish.
I liked Liverpool, what I saw of it. I seem instinctively to like or dislike cities and it had a good buzz, although it seemed peculiarly Caucasian (after London, almost everywhere seems jarringly white). We wandered down to the Albert Docks and ate at a rather impressively converted building called The Old Pumphouse (or something similarly faintly innuendo-suggestive). I'd got it into my head that I needed a black silk hanky to complete my outfit (it's all about the details, sweetie) and we couldn't find a pocket square anywhere - but eventually found a shinyish cotton handkerchief in Next.
Back at the Adelphi, things were hotting up. The public areas were much sexier than our bedroom, and we wandered through the grand atrium to the ballroom behind. Duckie's Simon was busy setting up a catwalk and lighting rig (the lighting was one of the best things about the show) but recognised us and took a moment to thank us for coming. Sweetie. He looked very cute later, in top-to-toe white with a Movember 'tache:
Meant to snooze - needed to snooze, really - but too excited about preparations and decided to run a bath and paint my nails. First time I've ever done it, but I think I did an okay job - it's not that different from painting window frames. The hair mascara (Copper and Gold) I'd bought to make my beard glittery was less successful: too subtle by half; I wanted something that'd make my face furniture shine like burnished bullion and it just looked like blonde highlights, not that metallic at all.
(Some odd noises outside our room while we were getting ready: sounded like someone in the corridor making grunting sounds while doing martial arts, or perhaps doing a David Brent style hip hop-inspired dance. Or maybe vogueing. Disconcerting.)
We'd spent aaages planning our outfits for Liverpool Is Burning. TSB had bought a rather lovely gold cocktail dress from Marks & Spencer and had been carb-bashing to fit it (in the event, he popped all three buttons over the the course of the evening). He'd rediscovered a dark bobbed wig we bought for Hallowe'en two years ago (when he was Clarice Starling and I Hannibal Lecter) and I'd bought him a black velvet pillbox hat with veil. His niece had got into the spirit, gifting him some wonderful black opera gloves and he'd decided on a sort of Jackie O vibe, buying a clutch bag, shades and jewellery to match. Make-up being something of an undiscovered country for both of us, he'd only bought lipstick (which became wilder and more Divine David as the night progressed).
My outfit was simpler, as it was defined by TSB's: I'd dressed as a sort of pimptastic companion, in coordinating black and gold. And, er, beige - lacking a white suit and hat, I had to make do with a cream suit and fawn-coloured Borsalino fedora, with my two-tone shoes and a sequined black shirt. Actually, the suit made me look vaguely '70s-seedy (especially with aviator shades), which was good. I pretended that's what I'd meant all along. TSB reckoned I looked like August Darnell (Kid Creole to me and you).
Gussied up to the nines, we moseyed down to Reception and the ballroom itself. It took a while for the place itself to open so we hung about, downed a couple of G&Ts and had our photos taken. When the ballroom opened there was something of a rush but we managed to secure catwalkside seats. This, it turned out, was a mixed blessing. We were excellently placed for maximal posing (especially if I used my camera flash - voguers quickly realised this was a good direction in which to strrrike a pose) but also seemed prime attractors for all manner of detritus from the stage: various grades of glitter, pages from a book (scattered by a most becoming Naked Civil Servant) and, memorably, a jacket kicked by Rikki Beadle-Blair almost directly into TSB's face. I don't think he meant to do this - he disrobed and I think he meant to dramatically dropkick his clothing over our heads into the crowd but, what with being a gay and therefore automatically rubbish at sport, went low - but it was shocking nonetheless. TSB's pillbox/fascinator went flying and had to be retrieved.
Beadle-Blair wasn't bad, actually. I've not really followed his career and tend to associate him with Metrosexuality, which was confusing to the point of unwatchability (although it included some sexy men, especially the motorcycle courier...). He was a good Master of Ceremonies for Liverpool Is Burning, mouthy enough to cover all eventualities.
Amy was leading the panel of judges, and did her job well. Other than Amy, Simon, the Readers Wifes and a few of the performers, I didn't recognise any Duckie regulars - an unusual situation. Amy was as glammed up as ever.
I tried to get a decent photo of the Readers Wifes but 'twas hard to get both looking in the same direction, engrossed as they were with the sound decks.
Vogueing. Other than the Madonna single and what little I'd gleaned about its subject, I knew nothing at all. I mean, I got the gist about it being a dance/performance craze among (mainly poor) black kids in the '80s, co-opted by Lady M. I hadn't realised it had endured, apparently developing and metamorphosing into different forms. I liked the idea of different Houses (very Harry Potter) competing in a number of sub-categories.
What I hadn't bargained for was the sheer bloody fabulousness of it all. Me being the one in charge of the camera, I wanted to photograph all of it. I had several camera crises in the course of the evening, the biggest being when I managed to fill a 1GB chip only around one quarter into the show. 317 high-res photos, me getting a tad snap-happy. I had to retire to the loos and delete a whole load to make space. We were perched down near the front of the wide bit of the catwalk and I soon realised that, in contrast to Duckie where using the flash can distract the performers, our beautiful voguers actively gravitated toward camera flashes, spinning on their heels and giving good face. I felt like a fashionista in the front row of a Paris collection, particularly with bearded Anna Wintour at my side.
TSB was very ladylike, sitting primly with legs together and clapping politely (whereas I, fingers festooned with cheap jewellery, found that, by the end of the night, I'd applauded so vigorously that I'd actually smashed the low-grade metal Gothrings out of shape and had some difficulty pulling them off the knuckles).
I was interested in how weirdly protective I felt of TSB en femme: I bought the drinks all evening and had to fight the impulse to hold doors open for him. Introjected chauvinism.
The show itself was opened by a live act and a performance from the House of Suarez. Even I realised the titular Darren Suarez's choreography was top-notch.
The categories themselves... First was WAGs: a cavalcade of shopping bags, mobile 'phones, tiny dogs and general blinginess. Enjoyable but, after a while, a little samey.
This category was won by the wonderfully exuberant (too much so for a decent pic) Gateau Chocolat.
Next was Retrosexual, any outfit from any period in history. This was a gorgeous section, featuring Wildean and Crispean dandies...
... and what was, for me, the most impressive procession of the evening (and not just because it featured beardy czars in uniform) from the House of Romanov, lead by Rasputin (looking not unlike Alan Moore)...
... with a massively crinolined Catherine the Great bringing up the rear, skirts sweeping the entire width of the catwalk:
The Retrosexual prize went to the hugely popular Miss High Leg Kick, whose fringe-peeping Diana (complete with camera-flashing paparazzi on tricycles) went down a storm. Gays and the People's Princess, eh? There was a collective rush to the stage, a reaching out to touch Diana's hand, as if she were the real thing. A deserved win.
Duckie performers were pretty well represented, really. Kicking off the Choreography round was a betailed, fandancing (and slightly Martin Degvillesque) Wee Lee.
Johnny Woo's House of Egypt built an impressive pyramid of sphinxes. Sturdy arm muscles on the bottom tier, there:
Femme Realness seems an odd concept to me, given the glorious unreality of the whole shebang generally, but apparently this is an authentic harking-back to the voguing contests of the '80s. To our delight (and despite stiff competition from local girl Beyonce), the prize went to another Duckie face, the lovely, statuesque Maur:
Beadle-Blair worshipped her. And rightfully so.
An honourable mention must go to the effervescent Miss High Leg Kick again, flashing glimpses of the scarily tumescent kapok cock beneath her frock.
I love Miss High Leg Kick. Everything she does has a twist, one in which she subverts expectations/stereotypes. She's effortlessly elegant but absolutely ready to put herself in performance situations which are anything but. After the show itself, she wandered around in little but a wig, heels, a comedy merkin and some alarmingly profuse sproutings of synthetic armpit hair.
The "Scally's Mum" category made me slightly uncomfortable. It's not that I've never laughed at Duckie cabaret acts which poke fun at Teh Working Classes but somehow, when act after act relies on the inherent funniness of badly-dressed "slags", smoking, drinking and smacking their kids up, it all starts to wear a little thin. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the scrunchietastic winner, making us all duck for cover by whirling her child-on-a-leash in a wide circle over the heads of the audience.
The sexiest member of the judging panel, a Brandoesque Mr Roy, complained that the Fantasia category wasn't fantastic enough, and I'd have to agree. I was hoping for marvellous transhuman creatures aplenty and, in fact, it wasn't much different from Retrosexual. A few high points, though:
After Fantasia, a break then Orphans, a category for those individuals or groups unaffiliated with a particular House. Mr Roy gave a masterful demonstration of catwalking both masculine and feminine...
The Orphans were entertaining enough in a sort of Kids From Fame way. Highlights included a rather tasty piece of acrobatic manflesh close-up...
A suitably jazzhands finale (which was consistent with my general impression that, at least in Liverpool itself, many of those at the forefront of vogueing seem to be young and straight) and it all finally rolled to a stop. We'd been wondering all evening what would happen for the hour or so afterwards: would it switch abruptly to Duckie-at-the-Adelphi? Nope. It wasn't the Readers Wifes who took over but a chap from Horse Meat Disco, who continued in the same vein of (what I assumed to be) more-or-less authentic '70s/'80s New York disco. On the one hand, I felt a little disappointed that it wasn't the Duckie blend I know and love; on the other, the Readers Wifes' usual fare might've jarred after an evening in which the soundtrack was very much secondary to the visuals. That said, it did make me hanker for Duckie Classic choonz to dance (as opposed to vogue) to.
Here's a video of some of the performers preparing
and an excellently shot photo-montage here.
A not-too-horribly-drunken hotel room photo session later and we tumbled into bed. Got up in time to wander through a rainy Armistice Sunday Liverpool. Felt vaguely embarrassed not to be wearing a poppy.
The previous night's images still hanging in my head, there were moments when I'd clock a handsome man in an elaborate uniform and think for a split-second "ooh, he was in the Csar's parade!" before realising he was a bona fide member of today's armed forces...
A fabulous weekend. And, on the way back, no-one came and charged us extra for sitting in First. Hah!