Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Choosing my confessions

Our last RVT event before Christmas was KUNST on Dec 23rd. The theme was "AntiChristmas", which immediately made me think of Damien Thorn, the 1980s Hammer Horror version of the Antichrist. Feeling suitable Omened up, me and TSB (having necked a bottle of wine between us) decided to go ecclesiastical before heading out for Dusty Limits' monthly extravaganza.

I really liked the bleakness of their flyer.

Of course, the morning of the 23rd, the news was full of Ol' Uncle Fester's edict about gays and/or transsexuals being as bad for humanity as environmental damage (some sort of "queerhouse effect", one assumes) so my Papal garb became suddenly topical. When we pitched up at the Tavern around 9pm (feeling somewhat self-conscious, as beardy blokes in dresses and skullcaps), the costumes went down well with Dusty L and the delightful Fancy Chance (with whom I shared a condom later...). We were given tokens for cocktails on the house, which were pleasantly drinkable.

I've only recently felt I've got the measure of KUNST, in terms of what to expect from the general vibe and the tone of the cabaret. I like the emphasis on dress codes but wish more people made at least some effort to observe them. I like DawnRightNasty's soundtrack, which somehow manages never to jar.

We were joined by Mel, diabolically horny in red. The cabaret started with a song from our host and a set by Ophelia Bitz. I'd never seen her before (all this evening's acts were new to me) and thought she looked amazing, a distinct hint of Bettie Page.

She was good (opening song a Sandie Thom pisstake with the chorus, "I wish I was a cocksucker with jism in my hair") but seemed a little ill-at-ease and I thought her set went on a little too long; by the final song, a drunken woman near me had completely forgotten the stage existed and was gabbling loudly.

Next up was a bit of a curve ball ("a serious, grown-up act"), one Stephen Pelton, dancer. We were told that all dance moves were "taking from the body language of Adolf Hitler". He was mesmerising, holding attention absolutely. Difficult to photograph, though, either as a result of the low light or the fact that he was always moving, or both. As a result, these are the best of an absolutely shite bunch of pics:

Hard act to follow but the next performer, Ruby Blues, was excellent. She tiptoed onstage as the Sugar Plum Fairy, resplendent in candy-striped tights and blowing flurries of snow at us from piles at either side of the stage. Until she tasted the "snow" rubbed it into her gums and decided it might be worth a snort.

Some rather more vigorous dancing followed (possibly not dissimilar to that of cokehead bees) and a costume change.

At some point, we had an alternative Queen's Speech...

Fancy Chance was the penultimate performer, and lovely she was too. Appearing in flouncey 1950s Hollywood Christmas dress and fluffy cape, she danced to something which included the line, "I love being a girl".

Additional girliness followed, then a quick-change to a fabulous gown made out of inflated condoms.

Aaand, finally, a Papal frock. Beeyootiful. I had definite hat envy, though, hers being bigger than mine.

Final act was one Patti Plink and her Boy (in a rather fetching gimp outfit). I'm ashamed to admit I remember little of her set. Too much communion wine.

Just to show he wasn't completely lacking in festive spirit, Dusty Limits launched into a rendition of Feed The World, complete with backing vocals from Bitz, Blues and Chance (sounds like a supergroup).

The evening wound down very pleasantly indeed and relatively gently too, compared with the Holy Ghost Revival's rawwwk-out of the previous month. After a last nightcap, we hoisted up our vestments and disappeared into the night.

Sparkle up the dark

Well, it's been a longish time since I've updated this blog: the usual ho ho ho festive period excuses. Another blog from a train this time, as I'm travelling back to civilisation after three days visiting my and TSB's families in Scotland. It actually didn't go too badly, all things considered; felt like just the right amount of time to see parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and leave 'em wanting more rather than reverting to boredom-induced sullen sniping and picking irresistably at old wounds.

Nearest thing to a spat was TSB's somewhat arsey little nephew (only recently out of his teens) opining of Boris Johnson "at least he has the brains not to be a socialist" and me responding, "well, he doesn't have the brains not to be a racist"... and subsequent awkward "I can't be a racist because..." hole-digging. I really ought to keep my mouth shut more.

(Someone on this carriage has a mobile 'phone text alert that sounds exactly like one of the bleeps from Hot Chip's Ready For The Floor. Everytime it goes off, I get the urge to sing, "I can't hear your voice, do I have a choice?")

Prior to our trip northwards, there was much sparkling up of the dark. I'll probably talk about this over a couple of blog entries, as my attention span's eroded by gewürztraminer bought in the M&S in Edinburgh station. 'Tis good, nicely floral and still good and cold.

December 20th was the last Duckie before Christmas. Having trekked up to Scotland for a funeral a week or so earlier, we were very much in the right headspace for a good, hearty Duckie. We'd also had our usual Christmas argument over the Norwegian spruce (bought at the last minute from Clapham High Street and hauled back home, painfully, via taxi), which I'd decorated in a state of passive-aggression.

Thankfully (thankyou, Baby Jesus) it was just the right Duckie to heal all wounds. Gareth was there, as was Mel, the crowd was sparser than usual (as one might've expected) and the mood convivial.

Ms Lamé looked lovely as ever, in a white fascinator.

First act was Tim Spooner & Matthew Robins (featuring Gavin) - formerly known as The Society of Wonders, dramatic puppeteers supreme - who performed a very Tim Burtonesque little shadow psychodrama, Flyboy and the Haunted Snowman.

It must be said, the fellow manipulating the puppets (clad in a sort of Ashes To Ashes surfsuit of white funfur) was exceptionally easy on the eye.

The Society of Wonders has never disappointed. This show, in their new incarnation, was more contained than their Punch & Judy shows and also, somehow, oddly moving. I talked afterwards to Wee Lee (who later danced to, I think, Hounds of Love - it was Classic Duckie), who agreed that the show made him feel like he was five again. I know what he meant: there was a childlike, dreamlike quality to the plot and an emotionally engaging punch to the finale. Lovely.

It would've been hard to follow that. The second act was Marcus Reeves, who appeared onstage in a frankly terrifying Christmas tree outfit and sang a medley of festive tunes. I liked his substitution of Wham's Last Christmas, "this year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone ugly".

He chucked cotton wool snowballs and Roses chocolates into the audience. Very evocative but I ended up picking cotton woolly chocolate gunk off the soles of my shoes for the rest of the night.

It was a good night, though. Made me feel properly Christmassy.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

I like pie

I do love Christmas Eve. Or rather, I do these days, since making the decision a few years back to stay in London with TSB rather than doing the frantic train/'plane trip north to visit parents. Now, it's a time for sitting back and relaxing: everything's done, presents are wrapped and under the tree all seems still and calm. I'm listening to one of my favourite Christmas carols, In The Bleak Midwinter, on TSB's playlist, while updating my own on iTunes.

Here's Frida-from-ABBA's somewhat abbreviated version

and, more traditionally, the whole song:

Dinner this evening was a second helping of what's been one of my favourite presents Of All Time, from our lovely friend Mrs B: on Monday, she presented us with a huge and delicious game pie. Here it is, teasingly wrapped

and denuded!

With the flash:

See the layers! According to Mrs B's home-made label, this pie "might contain" Pheasant, Partridge, Quail, Sparrow, Veal, Wild Boar, Bambi, Pig Foot, Bigfoot, Foie Gras, Sweetbreads, Cock, Cock Robin, Plymouth Dry Gin, Port, Lies, Lice and Mice.

This is why I'd be shit at vegetarianism and why I am shit at anything low-carb. Meat just tastes better in a pastry parcel. I realised, disturbingly, that the two films I can recall which made me think, upon leaving the cinema, "hmm, I fancy a pie now" both featured cannibalism: Titus and Sweeney Todd.

Mmm, pie...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Three feet high and rising

There's a storm outside and the gap between crack and thunder is closing in...

It's mid-afternoon and I'm lying in bed listening to the rain outside. Apparently there's flooding in the southwest, water almost three feet deep in some places. When I lived in Scotland, we used to scoff at this sort of report: bloody English can't even cope with weather. Of course, Scotland's full of pointy mountains. On a flat plain, it's rather a different matter.

I rather like rain, and still get excited by thunderstorms. I've always found James' Sometimes invigorating:

I associate this song with Morocco, a trip from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains. Returning, with Sometimes on my iPod, I was amazed to find floodwaters waist deep, traffic chaos and kids splashing through the swirling brown puddles.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Vous êtes jamais seuls

The funeral went well, at least as well as these things go. It's only the fourth funeral I've ever attended and I realised they've all been winter funerals - December, January or February. That's probably a good thing: it feels vaguely appropriate to be chilly, wretched and draped in black.

I felt a little bit sick beforehand but attributed that to the hurried Burger King in the station before catching the train out to the wilds of nowhere. Stilted hellos beforehand, with people I only vaguely knew. I did okay until the hearse arrived with the long wooden box, and then I got a bit wobbly. Then there was the order of service, printed with a really nice photo of B smiling in the sunlight: when I saw that, the tears started to flow. I had to keep it turned over because his picture kept giving me a wrench.

The ceremony itself was unfamiliar but nonetheless reassuring; it did what funerals are meant to do. I sniffled my way through a pack of Handy Andies, trying to avoid a saltysnotty moustache. Best of all was the bit at the end when, all of a sudden, the hall resounded with the chant, "YOUR DISCO, YOUR DISCO, YOUR DISCO NEEEEDS YOU!" and everyone, myself included, seemed to laugh and cry simultaneously. Kylie's never been my favourite but I like that song and, right then, it was exactly what was needed. Apparently the choice of B's partner. Good choice.

Afterwards, getting a lift to the wake, the car radio played my obsession of the moment, The Killers' Human, and I felt quite uplifted by the daffy-but-fuzzily-inspirational lyrics. Another case of just the right song for the moment. Me and TSB sang along:

I still feel sad but less so now. And I slept well last night, which was much-needed.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

He's gone 2000 miles

Heading to Scotland tomorrow for B's funeral, second of three trips north this month. I know this is going to be harrowing but necessary.

I cry like a baby at funerals - any funeral - and I've a feeling there's a lot behind the floodgates this time. I've been finding myself getting wobbly at unexpected moments at least once a day. I guess the function of funerals is to get it all out, mutually remember the deceased, drink a lot and otherwise have a sort of emotional radiator-bleed. My radiator needs bleeding.

I don't currently have a good dark suit that's not pinstripey but at least I have a subtle stripe that'll be fine with white shirt and black tie. And funerals are always good for a long, flappy black leather coat.

Je suis superficiel. It's what B would've wanted.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The carnivores and the destructors

It's been an odd, doomy week for me. B is still, obviously, in my thoughts and me and TSB have been making arrangements to attend his funeral next week. That'll involve a train ride Up North, the second this month. First was a work-related trip up to Manchester on Thursday, back yesterday. Not bad because I was staying with my sister and caught up with her, my brother-in-law and all the little nieces and nephews. The eldest is just old enough that he's becoming fascinated with the concept of older people having family relationships other than parental ones: he's intrigued that his mother is also my sister, just like he's got sisters. His younger sister's disbelieving that such a thing is possible.

So that was nice. The trip back was annoyingly sluggish, because of scheduled work going on blah blah fishcakes, meaning I had the equivalent of the Slow Train To Euston via Birmingham International. I did, however, have a carriage almost entirely to myself and could stare out at the darkening countryside and imagine myself a lone survivor of some Terry Nation-penned catastrophe... I dozed off (which I usually do on trains) and woke to find the train was motionless with complete blackness outside, no lights at all. I'd no idea where we'd stalled or whether there was now a delay. Eerily disorientating.

Of course, it didn't help that I was nearing the end of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning The Road, a beautifully-written but terrifying piece of postapocalyptica. There's a lot of it about at the moment, what with Dead Set and now Survivors. I guess the recession causes one to consider other scenarios of civilisation collapse, from nuclear holocaust to plague to zombies. As I've remarked before, I find myself drawn to these doom-laden tales and in a weird way they're perversely comforting. The Road, however, is just so unremittingly (for the most part, anyway) bleak that I think that sense of bleakness (struggling to survive in a blackened, lifeless, cannibalistic world of grey ash and dead bones) suffused me for a while, mixing with the more particular ache of B's death.

Anyway, I'd planned to return to London by tea time so there'd be the option of Duckie. Slightly torn between the urge to cocoon at home with TSB (even short trips away make me feel like that) and the desire to get out of the house but be somewhere familiar surrounded by The Gays. A hot bath and the reflection that That's What B Would Want Us To Do saw us tending toward the latter. B not having been unacquainted with excess (wonderfully so), I suspect this won't be the last time he'll be invoked as rationale for getting out and partying.

To be frank, it felt a little like a post-apocalyptic version of Duckie, too. Some of that's undoubtedly carry-over of my general mood but the club itself was the sparsest I've seen it for a long while: Amy remarked on the credit crunchiness of the "smattering of applause" which greeted her appearance onstage and assured us we wouldn't be asked to dig deep for more. Just as well, really, in the case of the first act, Ruby Somethingorother (Nesk? Nesh?), a well-proportioned woman in a black satin basque and marabou-trimmed robe. She came on the strains of the Kaiser Chiefs' Ruby and... well, she walked around a bit, grinning. That was largely it. She said stuff that wasn't quite funny enough to be comedy, wasn't developed or engaging enough to be "character" and wasn't weird/unusual enough to fall into the Intriguing Duckie Oddities category.

What she did do spectacularly well was misjudge both audience and host to the point of alienation. Firstoff, she referred to Amy as the "compere" (to which Amy took exception) then made some half-cocked jibe about preferring male comperes and wondering whether Amy was a man in drag. That didn't go down well. She then started hassling a man in the front row, asking what he did for a living (worked in a museum bookshop) and taking the piss out of the fact that he had ginger hair and wore glasses. Not a great move, given that

a) the guy in question was really rather cute,

b) within the particular geek-chic beardygay demographic which attends Duckie, ginger hair and glasses are not only not automatically seen as bad/sad/undesirable, they're frequently fetishised as being especially sexy


c) Amy's partner is a bespectacled redhead.

So. All things considered, a bit rubbish really; she really lost the crowd. A less polite audience would've booed her offstage (as it was, there was a fair bit of disgruntled not-quite-booing at a couple of points). She wasn't called back to take her applause. Gareth and I wondered whether her act would've been successful in any sort of club setting, gay or straight. It just seemed weak and lacking in substance and, where audience banter was concerned, verging on nasty.

(I should say also that there're no photos of this week's Duckie. I brought my Good Camera along and stupidly left the detachable lens at home. D'oh!)

The second act was better (they'd have been hard pushed to be worse): Stewart Somethingorother (neither act is named on the Duckie website, hence my uncertainty), a naggingly familiar-looking chap who's apparently played guitar as part of David Hoyle's act in the past. He came on in a sort of genderqueer early Bananarama drag, full slap, cap, shirt, baggy slacks and really rather lovely shoes. A kind of mimed finding a guitar, licking it and starting to strum chords. Eventually, he became entangled in the flex, fell over and lay still - only to be dragged offstage by a menacing, portly chap dressed like a football hooligan and snarling song lyrics at the audience. All a little bizarre but at least interesting to look at and deserving of applause.

Thank Gawd for the Readers Wifes. They pretty much saved this week's Duckie: almost despite myself, I ended up jumping and air-punching to the likes of Laid and He's On The 'Phone. Bought tickets for their New Year bash and am in the process of enjoying their annual CD mix.

Oh, and Maur Valance was there, so I got a chance to congratulate her for winning the Femme Realism prize at Liverpool Is Burning. She's lovely.

"Destructors" would, I think, be a fitting description of the last hour or two of KUNST, a couple of Fridays ago. This was my second time (the first being the fabulous night featuring Our Lady J's debut solo performance) and I'd made a token gesture toward the Narnia/History of Art dress code by wearing a black shirt and spidery jewellery, gingering up my beard and sticking a large dressing over one ear. I was Vincent Van Goth, ho bloody ho. No, no-one else got it either but I did receive several concerned enquiries as to my aural health. Halfway through the evening, I got pissed off with hearing everything in mono and ripped the dressing off. Shame sunflowers were out of season.

In the event, the couple of punters who actually paid any heed to the dress code went as Narnians, specifically the White Witch. Our lovely host, Dusty Limits, had gone pale and witchy too (not to say a tad consumptive):

KUNST is, I'm coming to realise, more cabaret-heavy than either Duckie or Vauxhallville. I liked Miss Leggy Pee, who showed us her puppies:

She later did a couple of really rather cute Doris Dayesque lip-synched duets with her little old man-puppet:

There was also a rather pleasing operatic version of Psycho Killer

and some excellent poetry from Salena Godden (seen here with truly goddess-like sun-disc balanced on her head):

Nathan Evans did his Queen puppetry striptease:

It's a clever act but I've seen it before at least twice now and I agree with Gareth that some of the trampled-upon rights mentioned in his critique seem to date faster than others in terms of audience response.

For me, however, the oddest part of the evening was the finale, a live last-ever-performance (well, before they return to the US, I don't think they're splitting up) from KUNST's resident house band, Holy Ghost Revival. Apparently they traditionally come on and play toward the end of each KUNST but presumably Our Lady J took their place the last (and first) time I was there.

I guess I found them odd because it all seemed really un-Weimar Cabaret somehow. It wasn't bad, necessarily - there was something quite exhilarating about all that rawk 'n' roll energy - but it did seem to go on about twice as long as it should've done. When Dusty Limits called for a lock-in and an encore, I found myself thinking, "couldn't we just have the DJ back, playing music I actually like?" It was all a little bit jarringly hetero, too, but queered up a bit by Dusty's tales of snogging various band members, reenacted for us onstage.

Here's some pics:

I dunno, though. I don't really understand the appeal of that sort of rock/metal interface; it really has always seemed to me a peculiarly heterosexual thing, the straight boys' opportunity to strut and revel in glitter, spandex, tight leather and big hair while aggressively proclaiming their rampant desire for the ladeez. I was slightly surprised, at one point, to find myself mouthing the words despite not remotely recognising the tune (or even a tune): it was a cover or a part-sampling of Like A Prayer, probably my favourite Madonna song.

How queer.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Another man has lost a friend

I was going to post about last Friday's KUNST but I'm not in the mood for it. I've been feeling numb and cold and a bit unreal since hearing yesterday evening about the death of a great friend of both me and TSB. Today it's sinking in a little more.

B died suddenly over the weekend. He was in his early 40s, apparently in fine health, recently (last couple of years) moved in with a good partner after many not-so-good partners. The partner came home from work on Friday and found B slumped dead in front of the computer. Presumably something cardiac; I don’t think anyone knows yet.

B was my partner’s friend for years before I met him. At that time, he was a nurse. He’d moved to London a while before and the summer me and TSB got together (1995) we came down for Pride and spent a couple of weeks in the city (B insisted we lodge in his bedroom while he took the couch). I think it was that summer that convinced me I wanted eventually to move south: in my memory, it's a haze of sunlight (on the strikingly sunflower-gold walls of B's small flat; we later stole the colour when we painted our living room), the smell of baking pavements, a hugely exotic (to me) gay scene, Britpop at its height and glorious daytime boozing in Soho and Camden and King's Cross with B's seemingly vast and diverse social butterfly network of friends, neighbours, admirers, ex-shags, future shags and acquaintances. All of it tinged, naturally, with the rush of my being in the first giddy flushes of love.

B was the first gay Londoner I’d met and initially his combination of metropolitan archness (at times, frankly, screaming campness), gregariousness and fearless confidence intimidated the hell out of me. He was HIV+ve too, that was acknowledged but only ever talked about obliquely. As far as I know (and I don’t know much), he must’ve been diagnosed in the early ‘90s. I always got the impression he was faintly surprised - but delighted - at having lasted so long, and embraced life accordingly. He certainly seemed to do phenomenally well on whatever therapy he was taking. I’ve no idea whether his HIV status is anything to do with his sudden death.

Talking about him in the past tense is strange. It’s still difficult to believe I won’t see him again. His Facebook page mentions his November trip to Berlin with his partner, and his most recently-tagged pics are all cosy domesticity, watering plants and dozing on the settee with his large fluffy cat sprawled beside him. His latest status update is “[B] is bolloxed”. I reckon he’d probably have liked that.