Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

It is only 6pm and already the crowds have made Times Square impassable. I am holed up in my hotel room, with internet and room service. The crowds are roaring outside my window (and there are 6 hours to go).



Grey Gardens the musical was a lot of fun. In general, I kind of hate musicals that are based on films or tv shows - like sequels, they seem to be cynical attempts to cash in on an existing audience, and the music is often forgettable, sacrificed for the high concept. But whatever. It was very good. The first half was set in the Beales' heyday, with "Big" Edie presiding over the home, with her gay pianist, and Little Edie on the verge of marrying one of the Kennedys. By the end of the first half it's all gone wrong and both Edies have been deserted by all the men in their lives - even the gay pianist. The second half followed the film more closely, with lots of lines quoted verbatim. Mary Louise Wilson played Big Edie in the first half and Little Edie in the second, and she was pretty fantastic, earning a standing ovation at the end. Her chin certainly worked. The Marble Faun (shown in the picture above) also doubled as Little Edie's Kennedy beau in the first half. If you hadn't seen the film, it would all be much weirder and nowhere near as enjoyable. I've booked seats for Company as well, so feel like a total showtunes queen.



The weather is pretty cold, so we've been catching a few matinees: The Last King of Scotland (Idi Amin biopic), For Your Consideration (the latest from Christopher Guest) and Dreamgirls (another musical). Did a big walk from 48th Street all the way down to about 8th street, mostly on my favourite avenue: 8th Avenue - it's one of the seedier avenues with "adult" stores like The Playpen, one of the few reminders of scary, naughty 1970s New York. When we came here in 2001 with my (then) 13 year old niece, our hotel window overlooked The Playpen. My niece spied on who went in and out of it, and made notes in a little pad, eventually concluding that "pretty normal people" used it. That's the sort of education you don't get from school. Having been to New York more than a few times now, I tend to go for the atmosphere rather than the museums - I walk everywhere, soaking up the different neighbourhoods, revisiting a few of my favourite restaurants, browsing the massive Virgin Megastore on Times Square. I like walking through Chelsea and seeing how uber-gay it is, with all the steroid taking muscle marys walking hand in hand.



I also like going to the Quad Cinema, which shows lots of small budget gay movies that quite frankly, aren't usually very good. Never mind.



And Ultrasparky, a New York native (now in Reading, England) took me to Kim's Video on St Mark's years ago, and I always make a pilgrimage to it, stocking up on rare and cult DVDs that you can't get in the UK. It used to be a bath-house up until the 1980s. And it's kind of weird going in and imagining the ghosts of hundreds of gay men wandering the different floors, clad only in little white towels.

The nice thing about going to New York once or twice a year is that every time I go, it's changed just everso slightly, but there's always so much that's familiar. It's my favourite place in the whole world. And I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather see in the New Year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

In New York

I arrived last night in New York for a week's holiday. The whole trip has been done on hotel and travel points so that is rather nice. I read Ben Elton's latest book Chart Throb on the plane - it's a "deconstruction" of the X Factor, and very evil it is too. Overall funny, though a bit repetitive. I didn't get the surprise twist because I wasn't paying enough attention (I never get surprise twists, I am an author's dream).

I am staying in a massive hotel on Times Square, which is predicted to have one million visitors on New Years Eve. I think I might stay in that night. Right next door they are showing the Grey Gardens musical, which I'll probably try and see. They're also showing Company which is another musical I'd quite like to see.

For my New Years Resolution I am going to try and cut down or even give up coffee, starting today. Every time I do it, I get banging headaches and feel sick. So it might not work. I already feel a bit ill and it's only 8.51 a.m.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

People will talk...

A short post because I am in Liverpool today, in preparation for visiting family. I
have visited a red squirrel sanctuary (sadly no squirrels were out today, but I did see a fox instead), and went to a massive Waitrose (my favorite shop) for lunch. I also went to this exhibition, which I had a hand in creating, so it was quite nice to see the pay-off.

Anyway, wishing my fellow bloggers and the readers of this one a Happy Christmas and
Wonderful Things for 2007. You are my among my favourite people.

Here's a clip of Divine David, giving a make-up masterclass. As it's the time
of year for Christmas parties, his tips should come in particularly handy for us all.



David killed off his "Divine" persona a few years ago. I miss him. In a previous web persona, I used to be in regular contact with Count Lovely and Spike who maintained his website, and I always suspected that they were the Divine David as they had far too much of a Davidesque sense of humour to be mere fans. However, they too vanished from the internet eventually. Where are they now?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Oh my goodness!



The posting below on Penelope Pitstop got me wondering about Paul Lynde who did the voice of the Hooded Claw. There are a lot of sites out there about him. He reminds me of an American Kenneth Williams. Both men were somewhat belligerent, both played vile comedy cartoon characters, both were staples of light entertainment panel and chat shows. And both died under slightly odd circumstances (Williams possibly took an overdose, Lynde was found naked and dead next to a bottle of poppers).

Here are some of my favourite Lyndisms from his long stint on Hollywood Squares. At a time when it was wrong wrong wrong to be gay, Paul pushed the boundaries back about as far as you could go, with his fabulous "zingers" that earned him the accolade of being "Centre Square".

Peter Marshall: Paul, Snow White...was she a blonde or a brunette?
Paul Lynde: Only Walt Disney knows for sure...

Peter Marshall: Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Peter Marshall: In the "Wizard of Oz," the lion wanted courage and the tin man wanted a heart. What did the scarecrow want?
Paul Lynde: He wanted the tin man to notice him.

Peter Marshall: Who are more likely to be romantically responsive. Women under thirty or women over thirty?
Paul Lynde: I don’t have a third choice…?

Alcohol and pills made him increasingly erratic and unpleasant, and he was eventually dropped from the show. However, ratings dropped also, and he was eventually reinstated.

This site has dozens of Paul Lynde clips, including lots from his bizarre sitcom (The Paul Lynde Show), where he played a married man with kids (unbelievable). I think he was better suited as "funny" Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, telling Samantha "Oh Sammy you really know how to turn me on!" when he magically appeared on her tv screen. He wasn't just in Pitstop and Bewitched though - another bizarre cartoon had him playing a snippy neighbour of football jocks called "Where's Huddles?" And he also played the wolf in "It's the wolf", permanently trying to get his teeth into little Lambsy, and constantly thwarted by Lambsy's "protector" - a big old sheepdog. It's not too difficult to spot the gay bar subtext in all of this.

Here's my favourite Paul montage, a selection of clips of him saying his catchphrase "Oh my goodness". The last one of all is about the queenliest enunciation of all.



And if you want the "dirt", then this site goes into the details of his death and the infamous "Burger King" incident. I'm not sure I would have liked to know Paul in real life, but he's one of those people who's fascinating to know about.

Friday, December 22, 2006

She's not a CHRISTIAN-AH! SHE's TAMPERED in DARK-SIDED STUFF YES YES!



Thanks a million to Lord Boyzici who alerted me to this fabulous clip from Trading Spouses (it aired a couple of years ago). Trading Spouses is one of those wife-swap programmes, where the mothers have $50,000 to allocate to their host families at the end of the week. But I don't think the producers could even begin to suspect the dramatic meltdown of fundamentalist Christian Marguerite Perrin when she returned home, after a particularly stressful and strange week with a family of "New Age" hippies who were into tarot and astrology. Marguerite has an interesting physical presence, I suspect she'd be well-suited to appear in a John Waters film. Or on second thoughts - a Stephen King film. I never thought I'd say this, but she makes the crazed performance of Piper Laurie's Momma in Carrie look rationale and under-stated.

Within seconds of stepping through the door, Marguerite freaks out in a spectaculor fashion. Ignoring the "welcome home" posters and balloon-animals that her long-suffering family have prepared in celebration, Marguerite instead embarks on a terrifying/hilarious rant, which makes you fear for her mental health and her family's safety.

There are so many great lines in this, and a whole host of new words and phrases for you to learn.

  • She's TAMPERED in DARK-SIDED stuff
  • I am a GOD WARRIOR!
  • This is TAINTED, I don't want it, whatever it is!
  • Gargoyles!!! Psylkicks!!!
  • They only believe in the MOON and the GODS and the THIS and the THAT!
  • Every dark sided person get out of my HOUSE, if you believe in Jesus you can stay here
  • I don't want to see a BOOK OF WITCHES! I don't want to see any STARS!
  • I was thrown in the PIT! Thrown in the PIT!




After seeing the clip I had to download the whole episode and watch it. I think it's my favourite piece of tv ever. I became a bit obsessed with Marguerite, and I'm not the only one. There are a number of video parodies of her homecoming on youtube. This is my favourite. But this is scarily accurate. And I love the authentic props used in this one.

I also found the official Marguerite website which has also made much of parody (Margaret is on a rap record), suggesting that the crazy lady isn't so crazy as to realise a money-making opportunity when it comes her way. Indeed, what I find most compelling about the original clip, isn't Marguerite's spiralling out of control, but the cynically angelic uplifting music at the end and the subtitling which indicates that after giving it some thought, she decided to take the $50,000 after all. This is played over a shot of a full moon. The (dark-sided) symbolism was not lost. And there's something horribly final about that last low piano chord - as if the devil had his way after all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Byebye Pitstop

Or rather, byebye Joseph Barbera, who has just died, aged 95. He and his partner William Hanna were responsible for hundreds of cartoons, which were a staple of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when all I did pretty much was watch tv.

My favourite ever Hanna-Barbera cartoon was the Perils of Penelope Pitstop, possibly the queerest cartoon ever made. The heroine, Penelope was impossibly blonde, dressed in a tight hot-pink aviation costume and forced to say all her lines in a helpless southern belle voice. She was always falling into dastardly traps set by the uber-camp Hooded Claw, and then having to be rescued by the Ant Hill mob - a gang of incompetent midgets. But in a triumph of feminism, it was usually Penelope who saved herself, by employing a nail file or small mirror in order to cut or burn through the ropes that tied her (as well as the feminist "reading" there was also a lot of BDSM going on in the show.)

But the Hooded Claw was the best of all. Voiced by Paul Lynde (who also played Uncle Arthur in Bewitched - another gay-coded show), he had the most wicked laugh ever and delighted in telling Pitstop exactly what he was going to do with her, while rinky-dink music played in the background.



I was also suspicious about the Bully Brothers - who, in retrospect, resembled two bits of trade whom the Hooded Claw had picked up. They don't make cartoons like Pitstop anymore. And you know what, it's a shame!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Where did your sexuality come from?

I've been thinking a lot about sexuality recently (for work/academic reasons), and was wondering what you think of the subject. Where does your sexuality come from? Are we born with it? Or does society give it to us? Or do we have a choice? Or is it a mixture of all of the above? Historical studies have questioned the idea of firm categories like "homosexual" and "heterosexual", pointing out that in other cultures, sexuality is organised along different lines - there's a tribe called The Sambia, for example, where all the young men have homosexual sex for a period of their lives. In Greek times, it was considered normal for a man to have sex with a teenage boy. In western society, Kinsey has claimed that most people are bisexual, but the majority of us end up identifying as "heterosexual", with a minority as "homosexual", because that's how society likes to classify things.

So if you'd been born into a different time or place, you'd have ended up with a different way of expressing your sexuality.

But is sexuality just society? Are we all born with the same fluid potential, and then society imprints us a sexuality? Or is there more to it than that? I was "different" from a very early age - for some reason I didn't seem to pick up on the cues that little boys should be rough and not like dolls. I played with girls. I had dolls. Why didn't I get the right social conditioning? Perhaps we start off with a set of sexual potentials, and for most people they're pretty wide, and society shapes them, but there's still a "biological" bit which specifies the absolute parameters. So no matter what society I was born into, I still think I'd have ended up mainly fancying men and being a bit girly.

Maybe it's a bit like your body shape. Society determines to an extent how fat or thin or muscly we are. We might be born into a society where there's lots of food and advertising to eat. Or one where being a skinny super-model is lauded. Or one where it's good to be a Charles Atlas figure. So we eat, starve or exercise accordingly. But our bodies still have limits on how muscley or thin or plump we can get. Or maybe it's like being right or left-handed. Most people apparently have the capacity to be ambidextrous, but because most of the stuff in our society favours right-handedness, we simply go with the flow. It's only the really really left-handed people who can't do that.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about your sexuality and how you think you ended up the way you did.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh Everard



Did anyone see a Channel 5 documentary called Guys and Dolls which appeared a few months ago. It was about men who own real dolls, expensive silicon sex-dolls. They were mostly American, but one was British, a chap called Everard, who lives in Dorset and owns 4 dolls. Like many of the people on the documentary, Everard lived alone and seemed to have difficulty relating to real women. He had had a close relationship with his mother for a long time until she had died, and it wasn't only model women he was interested in - he's also into model planes. He also does hang gliding. In the documentary, he went hang gliding while one of his real dolls sat in the car, waiting patiently for him.

I was in a coffee shop in Cardiff yesterday, and happened to read a magazine article about him. The article had him with his dolls, all gussied up for Christmas festivity. Everard was a good sport about it, despite the fact that he was clearly a bit uncomfortable with it all. At doll forum he says "The photographers decorated my room and my dolls while I was being interviewed by Rebecca in the kitchen (a different Rebecca -- a live one...). I had misgivings about the whole thing, mainly because I do not celebrate Xmas at all."

His website is here. Scroll to the bottom and there are black and white pictures of Everard's real dolls, dressed in clothing circa World War 2.

Everard's biography, also linked from his site, contains excerpts from his as yet unpublished novel. This is my favourite piece "In the fall of 1995, I went to see Apollo 13 with one of my hang gliding friends at a cinema in Bournemouth. Clips from the movie apeared on television when I watched it in my mother's room at the nursing home. I assured her that the full movie would be shown on telly soon, maybe as early as the following spring. She could see it then."

There is no follow up to this.

When I saw Guys and Dolls, I my initial reaction was to sneer at Everard. By the end of the programme, I felt sorry for him - the documentary seemed to "explain" his liking for real dolls, hinting that somewhere along the way, his sexual development had been arrested - hence the model aeroplanes and the "Mother" references. Everard was positioned as a benign Norman Bates, with real dolls rather than corpses populating his home.

After I'd read the magazine article, I found him fascinating rather than sad. And after looking at his website and comments on various real doll forums, I think he's very brave.

Sure it's easy to sneer, call him sad, feel sorry for him etc. But gays were sneered at in similar ways only a few decades ago. And importantly Everard isn't hurting anyone at all. His sexual behaviour might seem peculiar (we could say "queer" if we wanted to use the right academic parlance), but when you think about it - isn't most people's? And in allowing himself to be filmed, he clearly isn't bothered about what other people think of him. As he notes at the dollforum "Boy, I wish I got commission on every Realdoll sold as a result of people seeing photos of my dolls. At the same time I kind of feel guilty because Realdolls are not compatible with everyone. I fear that some people are going to chase a dream that turns out to be an expensive mistake. It has happened."


I don't think I'll be saving up to buy Charlie, the only male real doll. But I do have respect for Everard. And I won't be sneering again.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

FAG FAECES!

How do you solve a problem like the Westboro Church? With its tacky "memorial" to Matthew Shephard, pictures of children holding signs that say "god hates fags" (there's child abuse for you) and its general mixture of crazy, hatred and bile, you couldn't really make them up. They're not the most attractive collection of religious lunatics I've ever come across. Shirley Phelps Roper (the daughter of leader Fred Phelps) looks and talks like an evil fairytale witch. You can imagine her appearing off-camera in the Blair Witch Project at the end, or playing the Wicked Witch of the West in an amateur production of The Wizard of Oz, performed solely by drag queens on crack. She's in dire need of hair help - has no-one told her that you can't get into heaven with split ends?

The following clip combines some of the craziest Westboro moments together - Phelps' notorious "FAG FAECES" 9/11 speech, as well as Shirley vs. Fox News (who are bizarrely positioned as the upholders of liberal thought) and best of all, a male Australian newscaster flirting with Phelps Jr and admiring his firm buttocks.



My favourite Westboro baiters though are the Landover Baptist Church, who, for the past 7 years have kept up a remarkable satire on Phelps and his cronies. The page also incorporates Betty "god told me to hate you" Bowers - who gives Shirley Phelps Roper a run for her money. And you can buy Nancy Boy Chrissy, a children's story about a little boy who wets himself, from a webpage which has been loving recreated to look like Amazon. And there's the story of how demons live in men's rectums, warranting the close inspection (often over a period of days) of young men's bottoms, by a selfless member of the church: "While Mr. Montrose was miraculously able to detect the flight of demons in patients over 50 without them even having to remove their trousers, it became clear that the demons inhabiting very young adult males were much more crafty and had to be tenaciously coaxed out - sometimes over several painstaking days."

You can also contribute to their forums, although it's sometimes unclear where parody ends and insane religious mania begins.

I guess if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Glory!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

MAXIMUM POWER!



I've been working through the final series of the early 1980s nihilistic sci-fi series Blakes 7, watching an episode a night. I watched the last episode last night. So I'm glad to read today that it's due to make a comeback, in radio form at least. It was 25 years ago this month that the cast met a particularly sticky end...

Blakes 7 defines "cult tv" for me. As a child it often made no sense at all. The titular Blake left after the first series, and there were only 5 or 6 human characters (although at various times computers were roped in to nominally make up the magic number 7).

The series depicted a future universe where Earth is run by the facistic Federation, who have most of their populace nicely controlled on happy drugs. Blake and his renegade band of leather-wearing outlaws decide to bring it all down. Their main enemy is Servalan, a woman who still manages to look as if she's come out of a time-machine from the future. With a severe cropped lesbian butch hairstyle and the flamboyant attire of a Vegas drag queen, Servalan cuts an imposing figure.

The show ended on an explosive low note, with all the "goodies" massacred by Federation agents in the final scene. It was very popular in Eastern Europe apparently. Blake's little gang were the antithesis of Star Trek the Next Generation's happy commune in space. No Counsellor Troi and Dr Beverly doing their stretch exercises together, or Data playing a concerto in the ship's orchestra for everyone to politely clap at. And certainly no cosy little poker sessions. Instead, the 7 barely tolerated one another. They only laughed the bitter laughter of cynics who'd been let down. When things went wrong they'd shout at each other. Their ship was ultra minimalist in decor, and their clothes had been purchased from a gay S&M shop in London (I kid you not). Even Orac and Slave (the computers) would engage in snippy little bitch-fests while the others patiently (or not) waited for them to get on with it. Orac, who resembled a plastic box full of Christmas tree lights, was like a tetchy gay uncle who'd been to Cambridge and thought that gave him carte blanche to be patronising and smug.

Almost every week, the 7 would get some fabulous lead which would help them to destroy the Federation. But it would usually end in tears and lots of people needlessly being killed. Nine times out of ten, Servalan would appear in the last scene, whip off a hood and explain that it was all one of her dastardly traps.

The other women were shamelessly under-used and once Blake left, the ultra-hammy Avon took charge, leading the group into more and more dangerous situations. Only he and cowardly thief Vila managed to stick around for the whole 4 seasons, although I was always partial to ultra-posh Tarrant, who was brought in for a bit of curly-haired sex appeal in season 3.

Here's perhaps the most famous (and camp) clip from all of Blakes 7. It's the season 3 finale. Servalan has stolen the hero's ship "The Liberator", dumping everyone on some boring planet so they can rot. But her triumph is majestically short-lived. Say it with her - MAXIMUM POWER!



And if you want to see how it all ends... "Have you betrayed us? Have YOU betrayed ME?"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Vigil(ante)

A depressing article on the local news today, regarding a gang of angry parents and other concerned citizens who are holding a vigil outside the home of one of their neighbours in the village of Bishops' Lydeard, after The News of the World (who else?) exposed him as a paedophile and child-killer. They held grammatically incorrect placards and came out with logic-defeating arguments: newscaster "They have to live somewhere..." Angry mother: "They should of thought about that before they done what they done!" The BBC coverage is here.

While I wouldn't like to have a child-killer living next door to me either, the vision of an angry crowd, attempting to break its way into someone's house... to do what? is frightening. Normal people, out of control, their faces contorted with rage and hatred, succumbing to the will of the mob - the news footage was starting to resemble the last scenes of Day of the Locust.

The News of the World has a long track record of "outing" paedophiles. In the past, its campaigns have instigated vigilante behaviour which has resulted in paedophiles and suspected paedophiles being attacked. Ironically, when it started its campaign in 2000, on the same day it published a centre spread of Atomic Kitten star Kerry Kantona, posing topless in a series of pictures taken when she was 16. Her family must have been so proud, imagining old men up and down the country disappearing into the bathroom for a close "inspection" of their daughter's breasts, before carving up the Sunday Roast.

In this Sunday's edition there is an article about Paris Hilton and her "little sister Nicky... Paris, wearing stockings and suspenders and an animal-print basque, seems to be loving every minute of being captured bottom to bottom with Nicky, 23... In another shot Paris, 25, hugs and kisses her wide-eyed little sis - who is dressed in only a silky slip."

Cases of paedophiles living in the community are problematic in lots of ways.
But I wonder why the News of the World doesn't do more to counter the sexualisation of youth in the media? Why it doesn't do more to highlight the issue of child marriage in African and Indic countries. Why it doesn't do more to highlight the fact that most child abuse occurs when the child knows its attacker, often occurring within families? Why it doesn't acknowledge that scare campaigns like this are more likely to imprison children in their own homes, making parents terrified to let their kids play outside. Why it doesn't acknowledge that such stories are likely to whip ordinary people up into a frenzy of fear and hatred, triggering out-of-control vigilante campaigns?

Two words spring to mind. Salacious and hypocrisy.

Britain is apparently one of the most civilised countries in the world. Anyway, where's my pitchfork? I'm off to Bishops' Lydeard. There's gonna be a good ol' lynching tonight and I want a ringside seat next to Rebekah Wade. Would anyone like me to bring them back a souvenir? I'm hoping to get a hand. Or maybe even the head.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gay divorcees

My local radio station had a piece last week on civil partnerships. It's coming up to the year long anniversary of them. I had one back in January, and very nice it was too, we went out and had chips afterwards.

The radio story was all about one of the first couples in the UK, (who also live in Bristol) to have the partnership, whose relationship hasn't lasted and they're getting a "divorce" or whatever the term is - dissolution? The radio announcer was "trying" to be sympathetic and treat the "story" (if you can call it that) seriously, but he kind of put his foot in it when he referred to "same sex marriages" and then a little later, contrasted them with what he called "normal sex marriages". I guess that makes me abnormal. Nice to see that Alan Partridge is still in work.

I want to say something spiteful about the gay couple who are now getting a divorce, cos anyone who gets a divorce after less than a year really deserves a bit of a slap for being so flaky, gay or straight. But it wouldn't be very nice. So instead, just go and look at the picture of them on their "happy day". A picture that is worth 1000 (bitchy) words.

***

I've spent the weekend renewing my love/hate relationship with Lovely London. On the minus side: "cool" London people talking loudly in tiny restaurants so you could hear every word of their dreary self-promoting conversations, a 12 year old girl running rampage in a Tescos late at night screaming "You callin' me a NIGGER?" over and over again, missing every tube connection by about 3 seconds, everyone in Old Compton Street looking particularly glum and tired, the local news trying to whip up drama about their tornado "It occurred nearby a SCHOOL where CHILDREN could have been!", and mainly people, people, people everywhere. I think Leicester Square is my least favourite place in the whole world.

But on the plus, after years of searching, I finally found a clothes shop that sells men's shirts that aren't in check or stripes. Porchester Spa. Being able to see Children of Men, when it seems to have stopped showing everywhere else, the revamped Brunswick shopping Centre, and the great vintage Magazines shop in Soho. So not a bad visit really.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yes, YOU can stop climate Chaos

The freak tornado in London makes you wonder if the world's coming to an end. If you care about climate chaos, you should go to http://www.icount.org.uk/ and get involved.

But here's a secret. I care about the environment. But at times I just want to throw my hands up in the air like Dorothy Zbornak in the opening credits of the Golden Girls and say "oh what the hell".

In my own pathetically grudging way I try. I recycle my newspapers. I don't let the tap run when I'm brushing my teeth. I turn my tv off at the wall at night-time. I walk everywhere (but only because I live in a place where everything's close by). I use trains (but only because it's stressful to drive and you get stuck in traffic jams). I won't go on buses because the other passengers sometimes depress or scare me. At least on a train you can go and sit in another carriage. And I won't get a bicycle because I used to have one and was always getting into near-scrapes with motorists who'd drive too close to you.

A lot of my friends are far more into the environment than I am. Over the last 10 years or so it's become a theme, a regularly occurring topic of conversation that I can't really engage with (like Radio 4 or football). Some of my friends have wryly commented that I use air travel a lot, even Ryanair and Easyjet, so I must have a massive "carbon footprint".

My local council gave us all some nice recycling bins and then cut refuse collection down to once a fortnight rather than once a week, so now we all have smelly bins full of rotting food.
I tried to take a defunct tv to my local recycling centre, but was told the council wouldn't accept it because you could only dump things IF YOU WERE IN A CAR! I shop at an organic shop and always say I don't need a plastic bag, which sometimes gets a wintery smile out of the miserable assistants who work there, but it's very expensive, and it'd be cheaper to go elsewhere.

The worthy earnestness of it all and the scare tactics get on my nerves a bit. I often feel like Green is the new religion, and I'm the barely tolerated sinner. I hate being told what to do - I'm so childish that it makes me want to do the exact opposite! And I know that any personal changes I make will have hardly any impact, so it all seems pointless at times. And even if everyone in the UK converts to "green", then what about America (who's gonna make them change!), what about China and all the 2nd and 3rd world countries. Will it be too late by then? Why not just join in the big Consumption Party and at least enjoy the last few decades (years, months, seconds?) that we have left, rather than spend a lifetime being careful and then the planet going down the toilet anyway.

Life's depressing enough sometimes and if I add environmental worry to my already enormous list of things I continually worry about then I think I'd end up topping myself. And sometimes I think "so what" if we screw up the planet and then we all die. Most people get on my nerves anyway. Maybe we should let mutant nuclear cockroaches have their turn. And ultimately I tend towards optimistm in such situations. Hopefully some clever scientist will come up with a solution to it all in time, or we can go and live in a big dome on Mars or something for a few thousand years so the planet will recover.

So I'll go on recyling, and doing my bit where I can and feeling guilty. But my heart's not really in it.

Oh dear, I'm having a bit of a cynical "episode" this afternoon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

10 Reasons why I love Midnight Cowboy



1. Jon Voigt's portrayal of Jo3 Buck, the dumb hick from Texas who goes to New York hoping to make it rich by servicing rich women. Voigt's face is literally wide-eyed throughout the film, his blonde good looks and enormous even white teeth suggesting an innocence that is about to be severely compromised. Yet he's not as naive as he looks - someone who wants to be a hustler and has corrently evaluated his own attractiveness, clearly knows a thing or too about the way the world works. Buck spends a lot of the film being ripped off or conned in various ways by a range of cynical New Yorkers. But in one of the final scenes, he wrestles back the upper hand, in an incredibly violent way, reminding us that good bodies don't necessarily promise sex.



2. Manhattan. The film depicts the seedy New York of the 60s and 70s, before it got "Disneyfied" by Guiliani. Perhaps it is a place that is best left remembered on celluloid (and Manhattan can still be scary), but what a place it is. In an early sequence, Jo3 Buck is aghast at a crumpled body, lying on a sidewalk and tangentially noticed by the jaded New Yorkers who've seen it all before. The film shows run-down hotels (25c mkes the tv work), the cruisy flea-pits of 42nd street, the run-down, sweltering subway (which hasn't changed much).



3. The Soundtrack. Well worth getting hold of on cd. "Everybody's talking about me" is only deceptively cheerful, but has a much darker message. And the main theme always gives me goose bumps. There are also a few pieces of great 60s psychedelica on the soundtrack, including "Jungle Gym at the Zoo" and "Old Man Willow" by Elephant's Memory and a few good Easy/Jazz pieces by John Barry.

4. The Warhol Set. In a key scene towards the end of the film, Jon and Rizzo attend a very 60s party, where many of the denizens from Warhol's Factory happen to be present. Look out for Ultra Violet, Viva, International Velvet and Paul Morrissey. Additionally Sylvia Miles, who plays an ageing, silly, hard-nosed potential client, was to appear in Warhol's Heat three years later, alonside Joe Dallesandro, playing pretty much the same role again.

5. The gays. Put aside any qualms about negative representation - this was a less PC time after all. And instead enjoy the range of tortured gay stereotypes on display, a Box of Queer Delights for us to try on and cast off at will. There's Jackie - the swishy queen who twirls her handbag around and is never without a tart barb for Rizzo. Poor Joe thinks she's a real girl at first. Or how about Bob Balaban's nervy, geeky student who gives Joe a blow-job during a showing of Mystery Science Fiction Theatre 3000. Gagging on Joe's ejaculation in the theatre bathroom afterwards (it does get grim at times), the student admits he doesn't have any money and offers Joe his books as payment. What on earth would Joe do with books? He could at least pawn the guy's watch. "My mother would kill me!" whispers the poor guy over and over, until Joe leaves him alone. Or there's Barnard Hughes chattery, mother-loving out-of-towner, who hates himself and is almost relieved when Joe attacks him. And there are the hard-faced male hustlers who seem to line every street in NY. It's even been suggested that there's an implied love relationship between Joe and Rizzo. The film may toss the word "faggot" around with gay abandon, but it ends up questioning what a faggot actually is.



6. The party. Joe encounters the chic freaks of Manhattan's underground culture. After he forsakes "joint etiquette" by totally bogarting it, he's asked "What would you like? Uppers or downers?" And he's soon off an the obligatory 60s trip. This scene seems to have been mercilessly ripped off a year later in The Boys in the Band, which also has a dumb as a box of hair Midnight Cowboy who gets high.

7. The media. While Joe canters through life, not really paying much attention to anything except his own narrow concerns, there's a lot of world going on in the background. Joe's radio offers salvation via God and via cosumerism. There are people marching in the streets with placards. And during a vigorous bout of sex, the remote control gets randomly flicked over and over, treating us to what American tv audiences of 1969 had to endure. The point was hammered home in Forrest Gump, but it's a lot more subtle here..

8. The editing. Dream sequences, flashbacks and "what ifs" are shown via sharp use of editing, allowing us to get a feel for Joe's rather complicated past, and raising more questions than answers. Was he sexually abused by granny? Why did a gang of youths rape him and his girlfriend? What happened to make him hate Church so much?

9. Fashion. In order to be a Midnight Cowboy you need a big cowboy hat, a brown jacket with a fringe, a collection of gaudily embroidered shirts, a little black neck tie and a massive pair of cowboy boots. There is a lot of focus on Joe's clothes - their state signify his gradual degradation into the New York under-class. He spills tomato sauce over his trousers at one point, and then has to hide the stain with his hat. Gradually the clothes get smellier and more tarnished as the film progresses, and Jon has to pour perfume down the boots at one point. By the end of the film, the whole get-up is thrown in the trashed and Joe's wearing a fresh set of clothes, signifying that it's over.

10. The end. One of the themes of the film is about escaping to somewhere better. Jon leaves Texas because he thinks he will have a better life in Manhattan. But when he gets there, his life is much worse. So he picks up on Rizzo's dream to go to Florida - where it's warm all the time and you can (apparently) live off coconuts. The coach ride at the end of the film mirrors the film's beginning. There's hope that Joe will be able to find some sort of happiness in Florida, but it's also tinged with a horrible sadness. It could all happen again so easily.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh, now I get it

Half a lifetime ago, when I was 17 and not yet "out of the closet", I started watching a lot of old films from the 1950s. I often find it difficult to connect with "the here and now" and as a teenager, I felt completely culturally isolated by 1980s culture (though I can appreciate it more now, from a distance). The 1950s seemed like a more interesting, romantic place, like another planet (I also read a lot of futuristic science fiction, which was equally an attempt to "escape" the present.)

Anyway, I was rather taken with James Dean, who, with his big dirty blonde quiff, babyish eyes and high cheekbones looked boyishly cute. I had a big quiff too, and when I smiled I would unconsciously make my top lip go thin, just like JD. I knew that there was "something up" in Rebel Without A Cause, but didn't know exactly what it was (it was Sal Mineo and a big gay subtext you dummy!)



Around the same time I also saw Streetcar Named Desire and the Wild Ones with Marlon Brando. But I didn't get him at all. His scowling enormous moon face did nothing for me.



But I've watched a few Brando films again recently, and have to admit that I now see what the point of it all was. James Dean on the other hand, meh! You can have him.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lives of Fire

The campy South American telenovella Vidas de Fuego (Lives of Fire) which Ugly Betty's family are always watching, has proven to be so popular that you can download mini-episodes from ABC's website.

It's (badly - of course) dubbed into English rather than having sub-titles, but it's still pretty fabulous.

And if you need any convincing of how great Ugly Betty is, this clip below, where her nasty gay co-worker dresses as her for Halloween, says it all. Hola!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I think I just found my new screensaver



I am loving Ugly Betty, the US version of the Columbian telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea. It comes to the UK early next year on Fridays on Channel 4. But all the episodes can be mininova-ed and watched in one glorious Ugly Betty orgy.

The premise is a bit similar to The Devil Wears Prada and a sitcom called Almost Perfect, dealing with similar issues of the nice but clueless new girl in a high-powered workplace setting. Betty is given a job as a PA to a fashion magazine exec because she won't be a sexual temptation to him.

Ugly Betty is very fast-paced, bitchy, funny and sad all at once. It freely acknowledges all its other influences - Betty's little gay nephew says on a visit to her office, "It's just like Top Model except no-one's crying" and in a storyline involving "The book" he says "I've seen Prada like seven times!"

The show also parodies vaccuous television channel E with frequent clips from "F", the Fashion Channel, where snarky British presenters dish all the gossip. And the show pays homage to its telenovella roots by having campy Spanish telenovellas almost constantly playing in the background on the tv in Betty's house in Queens.

And I love how Eric Mabius, who places Betty's suave boss, also played Steve, the cool singer in the band who was the object of Dawn Weiner's affections in another "ugly Betty" film - Welcome to The Dollhouse. Gina Gershon also crops up in the first episode, channeling Donatella Versace with scary accuracy.

And there's great use of music. A couple of my favourite songs (Hip Teens Don't Wear Blue Jeans and One Mint Julip) appear in the first two episodes - both during scenes in the workplace restaurant where all the thin, beautiful people recoil in horror at Betty's presence.

With a show like this, there's always the temptation to give Betty a makeover and make her beautiful so she gets the man of her dreams. However, not all makeovers are an improvement, as the clip below shows. Look out for Jim Robinson from Neighbours also (without so much as an Australian accent!) And the very camp guy at the end is my favourite character.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The things pensioners say!

My mother-in-law was visiting at the weekend and was talking about some lovely leather shoes in the slightly common TJ Hughes discount store. They're "fux leather" she said. Nobody seemed to know what she was talking about, so we asked and she said "You know, fux! It's a type of leather. Very nice too." She pronounced it "fucks".

"My fella asked her "How do you spell that?" And she said, "Oh you know, F, something U, X".

"Do you mean faux?" my fella asked, pronouncing it in the usual way, as "foe".

It turned out she did. After we explained it, she was mortified, but laughed about it. Apparently the people who work in TJ Hughes in Liverpool talk about "fucks leather" to everyone quite happily. I think we should all follow their example.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

You want Dylan? You can have him!



I have been playing The Hook-Up a very camp Girly Gossip type game where you take the role the new girl in town. The (vague) goal is to get a boyfriend, make friends, go on dates etc. A rather geeky girl with square glasses and a lip piercing called Sara took me under her wing and before long I had got myself a hot date with Dylan, a cool boy from the rough part of town. He impressed me by getting a tattoo of my name on his arm on our first date. Actually, it was a little bit borderline stalker behaviour, but I'm used to that. Imagine my disgust when I found out he was just having me on and it wasn't even a real tattoo. But he walked me home and we had our first kiss. It was so romantic, despite the fact that he is only 6 pixels in height.

But like, the next day I'm hanging out at the coffee ship with my posse (Sara in other words), when this bleach blonde bitch called Claire shows up and is all like "Dylan's mine!" We had to have an "INTENSE CONVERSATION", where we traded insults (she said my house was small, I told her she was Paris Hilton's more stupid sister). Anyway, I think I scared her off with my 'tude. And now Dylan is mine! Or is he? Actually, he's lost interest lately, and now me and Melissa who works in the tattoo parlour have set our sights on Matthew who works in the art gallery, and might be gay... He's asked me on a date, but commented on my nice dress, so we'll have to see what happens.

I'm lost in a social whirl!

It's more exciting than Neighbours at least.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

You Know My Name

The New Bond film Casino Royale is pretty good. It still feels like a Bond film (particularly the older Sean Connery ones before it became a bit of a parody of itself), but it eschews cheesy jokes and gadgetry. There is no Miss Moneypenny, and no Q - both which had become a little strained over time. Daniel Craig has a bit of a craggy face rather than being a pretty-boy, but I suspect he's probably closer to the "cruel killer" that Fleming originally envisaged. And he's got the best body of any Bond by far. The title tune, by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden is pretty good too.

In the 60s, cinemas showing Bond films were apparently very popular among men cruising for sex. Fancy that! Ultimately, Bond is about Britishness and about the somewhat mythical fantasy of British supremacy. Although the film is based on the first Bond book, it has a very up-to-date feel about it. The poker scenes fit well into the current trend for poker nights which seem to be sweeping the country, the plot involves international terrorism, and the intial chase scene resembles that trendy urban sport (I forget the name) that involves people running and jumping between buildings. Bond, of course, is not only better than anyone else at this, but he's also the best poker player in the UK. And if we need any more evidence of how "on the button" the film is, the news story this morning about the apparent poisoning of the ex-KGB officer oddly mirrors what happpens to Bond.

A cousin (several times removed) of mine used to be head of MI5. While this information is quite nice to know - it shows that I must at least have a few good genes in me, it's also rather depressing to know that I'll never be the most powerful or successful member of the family. I would quite like to be a spy myself. I could be one of those ones who seduces older men and gets all the state secrets out of them. I admit I'm not very good at jumping off buildings, foreign languages, karate or poker. But I think I'd make a good male Mata Hari :)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Don't go outside...

Apparently "The Thing" is going to be "remade" as a "companion piece" to the 1982 John Carpenter version (that was one of those films that everyone was talking about in school on Monday morning after it got shown at the weekend).



As much as I like claustrophobia and paranoia of "The Thing", there are a couple of other horror films projects that I'm looking forward to even more. One is The Hostel 2. The first one was not a very nice film at all (I had to put a lot of it on fast forward). However, a sentimental favourite of mine, Heather Matarazzo is starring in it. Heather was the star of Welcome to the Dollhouse, an indie flick from 1995 about a geeky schoolgirl with middle child syndrome. She listens to Debbie Gibson's "Lost in your eyes" and has a club called "The Special People Club". The film explores her blossoming sexuality with toe-curling humour. As someone who is 33% pensioner, 33% leading man and 33% geek, I could emphasise a lot with Heather's character (well, 33% of me could). I just hope they don't do anything horrible to her in Hostel 2 (which seems likely, considering the film's premise).

And I'm even more excited about the filming of Stephen King's "novella" The Mist. This was the first Stephen King story I ever read, aged 13 and I thought it was amazing. In the story, a man and his son pop into a typical American supermarket. Then this weird mist comes across, bringing with it all manner of eldritch Cthulu-ish nasties. Anyone who steps outside never comes back, and the patrons of the store begin to suspect that the entire world has been obliterated. Rather worryingly, the two military men from a nearby Top Secret base where experiments have been carried out, are found out back, having hung themselves. As the hours pass, the customers get crazy paranoid, and led by freakish Mrs Carmody, form their own religious cult that demands a human sacrifice. (I don't know about you, but I've always found that starting a religious cult is a great way of solving problems and getting your own way.) I stopped buying Stephen King books about 10 years ago, but some of his early stuff (Carrie, The Bachman Books, Misery) still has the power to freak me out. I just hope this is one of the better film adaptations of his books.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Make it a Stonewall Christmas

Poor Stonewall have been criticised on outintheuk for their uninspiring Christmas card selection this year (at least they haven't said something like "Happy Winterval").



They are a bit "safe" and "bland" and "uninspiring" aren't they. Well, fear not. As a staunch supporter of Stonewall, I've put my thinking cap on and have the following ideas for cards that reference gay issues and lifestyles in a more original and fun way.

How about a picture of a twink wearing just a Santa hat and a smile, with a hilariously suggestive slogan like "Who's cumming down YOUR chimney this Christmas?" or "Hasn't Santa got a big... SACK!"

Or if that's a bit too Clone Zone for you, how about a picture of reindeers feasting on the dead bodies of Mary Whitehouse, Cardinal Winning and Baroness Young, with the slogan "Have a Stonewall Christmas: we eat homophobia for breakfast, lunch and dinner!" (Very political)

Too grotesque? How about a queer rendition of the Nativity scene, with three drag queens presenting gifts of CK1, Poppers and lube to Mary (Judy Garland) and Joseph (Paul Burrell) while baby Jesus is depicted as Ellen Degeneres and the Angel Gabriel is Quentin Crisp, hovering above the manager with a big shit-eating grin on his face.

I love helping, I do.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Trapped!

I first saw Buneul's The Exterminating Angel in the summer of 2000, in a crowded arthouse cinema somewhere in London. Their air conditioning wasn't working and the air was stuffy and cramped. As the film was about a group of people trapped in a room and gradually going insane, it was most thoughtful of the cinema staff to provide such a sense of reality - like those old B Movies where someone wearing a monster mask would run up and down the ailses at various points in the proceedings. It was a very unpleasant experience anyway. I saw the same film again today and enjoyed it a lot more. It made me realise that for some reason I like films of the genre (semi-genre) about people being trapped. Here are some of my other favourite films - you can see the theme emerging.

The Hole When Thora Birch was more famous than Keira Knightley, they were both in an odd little British/American film about 4 upper-class schoolkids who decide to get out of school trip by locking themselves in a bunker for the weekend. Except when it's time to leave, someone's misplaced the key...

The Telephone Box An odd short film by Spanish director Antonio Mercero. A man walks into a telphone box. The door closes behind him, and he's trapped like a fly in a spider's web. People surround him, laughing at him. And gradually his embarrassment descends into total fear. It's all here.

Demons A Dario Argento horror film about a group of people who receive tickets to the opening night of a new cinema. So they start watching this cheesy flick about Demons, when one of the patrons, after trying on a mask from a lobby display, turns into a demon herself and starts infecting everyone. Then everyone realises that they've been bricked into the cinema (how? why?) It's almost as surreal as The Exterminating Angel, but has a better soundtrack. I also seem to remember that a helicopter crashes through the ceiling at one point - also for no reason at all. And look out for the equally odd sequel Demons 2 - basically the same film, but set in a high-tech tower block.

Night/Dawn/Day of the Dead The Romero zombie trilogy all feature characters holed up in tight corners while marauding zombies gather outside, clawing to get in. I like Dawn for its "commentary" on consumerism (they're trapped in a mall), whereas "Day" depicts paranoia and the nastiness of humanity in a much more eloquent way.

I'm sure I can think of some more...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dear Ladies, the fairest of all to see



Dame Evadne Hinge (George Logan) and Doctor Hilda Bracket (Patrick Fyffe) known as Hinge and Bracket, were an old-fashioned musical act, with a speciality in gentle "old lady" comedy.

I got to see Hinge and Bracket perform live in Morecambe a few years ago, shortly before Hinge died. They were great. Their audience was made up of pensioners and gay men. Bracket sat at the piano, while Hinge sang, and the pair of them reminicised about their lives in the fictional village of Stackton Tressle while keeping up a steady flow of bitchery.

Their tv series from the early 1980s ran for 3 seasons. The BBC has never bothered to release any of it on video or DVD (preferring to flood the market with a seemingly bottomless pit of naff Only Fools and Horses DVDs) but the following clip from youtube should give you a taste.



They live a life of complete Englishness, trapped in a timewarp from just after World War II. New-fangled inventions, such as lifts, cash card machines and a self-service garage are all sources of confusion. Both of them appear to be bordering on Alzeihmers Disease, judging from the cheerful obliviousness that they conduct their lives with.

And fabulously, you can get every episode from The Hinge and Bracket Official website. My DVDs arrived yesterday, so I've been enjoying them for the first time - I was too young to know about them when they were first shown on BBC2. A lot of the humour comes from the mannerisms of the two comedians, especially Hinge, who has a wonderfully comic face.

I find it hilarious that on the links page to the Hinge and Bracket website, there is a link to the Anthony Newley Appreciation Society, who happens to be another of my favourites. His rendition of "The Joker" (theme tune to Kath and Kim) is about the most fun you can have in three minutes.
Starbucks is my pusher

I'm just back from a work thing in Valencia, where it was hot and sunny - more like July than November. That's where we get all our winter tangerines from. Not fair. I was on my own, and without my fella who tends to be more adventurous than me. I end up staying in my hotel room, having room service and watching CNN every night, rather than venture out. My Spanish is limited to about four words, so I just faked understanding by nodding and grunting and using hand gestures or shrugging or saying "I am English. English!" at people.

It's kind of scary how much I need coffee and tea to get through the day. At the conference I was at, a bunch of us had gathered round the coffee urn during the break, and there was a mild panic when we realised it had run out. Someone was dispatched to see if there was more to come. There was only a little bit left, enough for half a cup. I recognised fellow addicts, admitting that they "needed" coffee. When I said I'd had none at all that morning, the others decided to give me precedence and I was allotted the half-cup.

On the way home, on the plane, I started to feel really ill - a bad headache came on, which worsened to a migraine by the time we landed in rainy Heathrow. It was caffine withdrawal. Normally I have about 5 cups of coffee or tea a day. But yesterday, what with one thing or another, I'd ended up having none. I'd slept in late and missed breakfast. I'd meant to get a coffee at the airport, but I had this big wheely suitcase thing and decided not to bother with coffee as I'd probably end up spilling it. Then on the plane itself, you had to pay for coffee, and I was economising so didn't bother. So by the time I got to Heathrow I was a wreck. The longest ever queue to get through immigration... I practically ran to a Costa Coffee, got a big latte and drank it all down. It didn't make the headache go away, so I had to shamefully go back to the counter and order an espresso, which I gulped down immediately, burning my mouth in the process. The headache dulled a little at that point, but not much, so I took a couple of painkillers. I was feeling normal again by the time I got on the coach back to Bristol.

I guess I should try and cut back at some point. But it's a habit I kind of like. It's cheap at least so I don't have to start breaking into people's garages to fund the craving. And it's socially sanctioned. And as I don't drink alcohol or do drugs, I guess it's a pretty tame addiction to have. In a way it's an addiction that's crept up on me without me even noticing it. My fella is a lot worse than me - to use the terminology - we're a pair of co-dependents. There's no way I could get off the coffee unless he does first. Going into a Starbucks, a Cafe Nero or a Costa Coffee makes me feel weirdly relaxed and safe. All that nice dark brown polished wood and the comfy leather chairs. These are the opium dens of the 21st century.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Desperate Housewives goes Bang

Like a bottle of milk that had been left standing too long, DH went a bit off during last series. But the writers seemed to have pulled their socks up in the third season, and episode 7, entitled "Bang" delivered the goods. (Spoilers follow for UK residents who will have to wait until March 2007).

The episode eschewed its usual all-over-the-place narrative, by fixating on one single storyline, a hostage situation in a supermarket that begins as a comedy and gets darker and darker as events progress. Somehow, half the cast members are contrived to be in the supermarket at the same time, while the other half end up watching it all play out on the television news in Bree's living room (Bree holds a kind of Superbowl party for everyone, with free food while they watch the news).



It reminded me a bit of a short story by Stephen King called The Mist, which also involved a group of people trapped in a supermarket (although there it's due to a weird mist that contains Cthulu-type monsters outside). Felicity Huffman gets all the best lines and acting, though Laurie Metcalfe (Jackie from Roseanne) plays it even more nervy and wired than usual.

And Melrose Place (season 1) is finally released on DVD this week.

Remember all the crazy wig-pulling, baby-stealing, apartment-exploding, lobotomy-giving moments with Kimberly (Marcia Cross) with this clip.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hurrah for Saga Radio

I have been doing a lot of commuting recently (I worked out I've driven for about 24 hours this week). My commute takes me from Bristol, up the M5 to the congested mess that is Birmingham's motorway interchange. Forget the fabulous M6 toll motorway, it only works if you're coming from or going to London. Fortunately, as the traffic slows to 0 miles an hour, I at least have one consolation - Saga Radio, which my car radio can't get in Bristol.

Saga Radio is the station for pensioners (well, people over 50), and although I am 34, my inner pensioner (I call her Audrey) is VERY strong. The station's proud tagline is "all the hits from the last six decades AND NOW!" It doesn't play a lot of "NOW" really. This picture is taken from their website - it depicts what appears to be an "average" listener, enjoying themselves while listening to Saga. Actually, it looks like they just died and rigor mortis set in a few hours ago. You'd probably never notice.



My favourite Saga advert is one they have for insurance. They perfectly key in to the moaning minnie attitude of so many British old people (and the old at heart like me) by saying things like "If you phone our hotline, you will speak to a BRITISH PERSON and we don't use the automated menu systems that are so COMMON NOWADAYS." I almost feel like getting Saga insurance (even though I probably don't qualify), just so I can speak to a real live British person, rather than hear a computerised voice say "Press 1 if...." for 25 minutes, and then be put through to someone who's accent is not mutually intelligble with mine. Perhaps a lot of Saga's customers get confused by computer menu systems (not realising that they are talking to a computer...

Bewildered old person: "Hello love, what's this about insurance?"
Computer Robot voice: "Please enter your 23 digit security number."
Bewildered old person: "Ohhhhh I don't have it love."
Computer Robot voice: "Press 1 if you want to enquire about your policy."
Bewildered old person: "You what? The battery on my hearing aid's a bit low. Say again?"
Computer Robot voice: "Press 2 if you want to change your details."
Bewildered old person: "retail? What retail? Someone help me!"
Computer Robot Voice: "Press 3 if you want to speak to someone in India."
Bewildered old person: "What number was that pet?"

Saga news (which happens every half hour) is always a lot of fun to listen to. For the past week only one news story has dominated their news. Forget the mid-term Elections in America. It's all been about those poor kiddies who died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning on their holiday in Corfu. I know it's tragic, but Saga News has been covering the story like a rather morbid aunt who likes nothing better than to hang off every gruesome detail, and then have a good funeral to cry at. It's always the top news story. Last week I must have heard them say 8 times that the father had woken up but had not yet been told that his children were dead. Yesterday the story had progressed to the possible criminal prosecution.

To be fair, they do play some good music - though nothing too fast or with too much of a beat - they would be worried about over-stimulating people's pace makers and inducing coronaries in half their audience. There is no shouting and no unpleasantness either. That's what's the best thing about being old. It's just cups of tea and a nice song from the days when music had a proper tune and most of the songs had a story to them. Not like NOWADAYS. I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A four hanky film

I watched Imitation of Love on Sunday night. It's a "women's picture" from the 50s . In short, the plot centres around two women, one white, one black and their respective daughters. Lana Turner plays the white woman, who is befriended by Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) during a trip to Coney Island. Annie has no place to stay so ends up becoming Lana's live-in maid. The years pass, Lana becomes a famous actress and hits the big time. Meanwhile, her daughter has fallen in love with Lana's on-off beau (John Gavin), and Annie's daughter (whose father was white) is ashamed of her mother because of her skin colour and ends up as a gaudy vaudeville dancer. It kind of transcends the camp and soap by dealing with issues of racism, although by the end I was bawling like a 5 year old girl who'd had her doll's head pulled off.

The best thing about the picture though was John Gavin. Impressively wooden throughout, his job was to stand there and look pretty. And what more can you ask? He did a splendid job. John never really made the big-time although he appeared in a number of well-known films including Thoroughly Modern Millie, Psycho and Sparatcus. All the suave film stars that I like tend to be either dead now, or ancient. I was born into the wrong age.





Monday, October 30, 2006

Best of British?

Friend Dan has recently moved to the UK and is finding the weather to be surprisingly miserable. That should go a long way in explaining why the British are such a nation of Puddleglums. It's hard to maintain a sunny disposition when good weather equals a couple of days in August. Still, it's not all misery. Here's my list of things that are good about the UK (it's full of generalisations but hey!)

1. Sense of humour. From Noel Coward to the Krankies. We're a nation who likes to laugh.
2. Music. Like comedy, something for everyone.
3. Cool. I'm talking the now mythical Kings Road/Carnaby Street/Austin Powers cool.
4. Minding our own business. Go into any restaurant and you can't hear other people's conversation (except in certain bits of London which continually let the side down). You can be sure that you can be left alone if you want to.
5. Architecture and history. We have a lot of nice old buildings (that tend to be a bit cold and damp) and some absolutely monstrous post-war concrete horrors. Where-ever you are, there's always something to see.
6. British accents. There are so many of them, surprisingly so for such a tiny island. I never get tired of hearing them and asking people about theirs.
7. Seaside. Being an island, we have a lot of coast. And the seaside is something we still do very well. You're always within a few miles of a candy floss machine or a pier.
8. Eccentrics. Everyone has a right (even a requirement) to be weird.
9. Cosiness. A nice cup of tea, a bit of fattening cake, a warm fireplace. We do cosy very well.
10. The BBC. Still the best in the world.

And also, the 10 worst things...

1. Hypocrisy. See 2 and 4.
2. Tabloid newspapers. Awful. Crass. Dumbed down.
3. The Class system. Increasingly a "caste" system. Everyone in Britain is a snob or inverted snob to some extent.
4. Our attitude towards sex (see 1 and 2). Pretty dire - high teenage pregnancy rates, a growing rate of sexual infections. A lot of us still have a Carry-on films attitude towards sex - all sniggers and getting it wrong.
5. Alcohol abuse. Everyone's on the binge. The recycling boxes of posh Clifton rattle with wine bottles every morning, while there's sick on the pavement outside Yate's Wine Lodge down the hill in the less nice part of town. We have more words for being drunk than Eskimos have for snow. When did it happen? When did it all go wrong?
6. Celebrity culture. Be a footballer (or better still a footballer's wife). Go on the X Factor. Don't study for your A levels. Buy a lottery ticket instead. We love and hate our celebs. We celebrate failure and despise anyone who's successful.
7. Motorway services.
8. Everything is expensive. Want to buy a house? Forget it. A car? Take out a 25 year loan.
9. Miseries. Maybe it IS the bad weather, but you don't see many people smiling when you're out. The main difference between American and British gay men (apart from the pectorals being bigger) is that the Americans smile at you and say "hi" when they want to cruise you in the streets. The British ones just give you this weird furtive, almost angry stare. And then look away. It surprises me that anyone ever gets sex.
10. Moaners. We love to complain. :) We're a very very petty unforgiving nation at times.

Did I miss anything?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Donuts like Fannies



BBC4 showed the tv adaption of Fear of Fanny this week, and it was one of those rare shows that lived up to expectations. Julia Davis and Mark Gattis played tv-chef Fanny and her husband Johnny. The two actors were last seen paired together in the black comedy Nighty Night as Jill Tyrell and Glen Bulb, and were almost unrecognisable here. Davis was monstrously made-up in 1960s and 1970s psychedlic housewife costumes, her eyebrows drastically painted on, under a series of bright red wigs. The whole film is like wandering through a kitsch wonderland - with LSD-inspired wallpaper, (pre-conditioned) hair-styles and funky costumes and nightclubs all lovingly recreated.

A bitch who could have taught that horrible Ramsay man a thing or two, Fanny presided over her husband and a series of scared (mostly gay) flunkies. In one fabulous scene, a long-suffering flunky gets his revenge by not cooking the seafood dish properly, so it starts crawling off the table during an "at home" tv special. Fanny manages to recover, asking whether the interviewer would like to try the live ones or the dead ones. But the interviewer, who hates Fanny, gets drunk and calls her a "painted horror". Meanwhile, the flunky tells her "you're drag and you don't realise" before making a splendid queenly exit.

A lot of the storyline involved Fanny's relationship with a son she gave away when he was a child and her ever-increasing fear of being left alone. Occasionally, a human being does shine through. Her downfall comes when she has to advise a member of the public on getting a dinner party ready. Fanny's patronising, arrogant attitude is captured onscreen and the BBC decide she is surplus to requirements (if only Channel 4 had been around, Fanny would have been given an instant million pound pay rise). The final scenes show Fanny, demented in a nursing home, still attempting recipes for cameras that have long since left. Again, Channel 4 would have loved it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Moo. Moo! Moooooooo!



I am reading From the Closet to the Screen: Women at the Gateways Club 1945-85 by Jill Gardiner. The Gateways Club was a lesbian club, just off the Kings Road, in Chelsea, and popularised in the film The Killing of Sister George. I remember seeing this film for the first time when I was about 12, and found the scenes at the club absolutely fascinating. I had never seen a gay or lesbian club before (didn't even know that they existed). In the film, George (Beryl Reid ) invites the evil Mercy Croft, an upper-class BBC executive to the club. I remember being frightened when Mercy arrives at the club - she has to push past the bouncers and descend a dark staircase, like she's going into hell. I was expecting Mercy to make a huge scene once she discovered that it was a lesbian club, but in fact she seemed to quite enjoy it. Turned out that she was a closet-case all along, and George's plan to humilate her backfires somewhat.

I wanted to know all about the Gateways, who all the people dancing in the background were and who the exotic people running the club were. The book reveals it all. A lot of the extras were real-life patrons, while "Smithy", the butch American woman who served behind the bar actually worked there and was something of a celebrity in London lesbian circles. She may or may not have been in a relationship with Gina, who owned the club (and was married). Gina, her husband and Smithy all lived together anyway. Gina can be seen at the entrance to the club - I always thought she was a man in drag.

Sadly, the film has always been rather slated for its negative portrayal of unhappy, sadistic lesbians. But it's always been one of my favourites. The film revealed the existence of a lesbian scene to hundreds of thousands of people, and membership increased as a result. However, a couple of the women who appeared in the film lost their jobs unfortuantely, as a result of being seen dancing in the background. The Gateways closed in the early 1980s, and is now has an almost mythical status - the Kings Road ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Artificial Doctor is in

I said I missed ELIZA, the AI therapist, but now I've found her here and while we never did get to the bottom of my sexual problem, it was good to renew her acquaintence. I think she remembers me. I've heard that stuff about being negative from her so many times before.

Eliza: Hello. I am ELIZA. How can I help you?
You: I have this problem with sex
Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?
You: I don't want to
Eliza: Why do you not want to?
You: I'm shy
Eliza: Does it please you to believe I am shy?
You: No, it's me who's shy, not you
Eliza: You are being a bit negative.
You: Well you would too
Eliza: Oh, i would too.
You: yeah
Eliza: Please go on.
You: I don't think you can help me
Eliza: Why do you not think i can help you?
You: because we're going round in circles here
Eliza: Do any other reasons not come to mind?
You: no
Eliza: You are being a bit negative.
You: so?
Eliza: Please go on.
You: actually, you're a lot better than most client-centered therapists
Eliza: Has your treatment made you better?
You: yes, how much do I owe you?
Eliza: You are sure?
You: do you take paypal?
Eliza: Oh, i take paypal.
You: yeah, I bet you do...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hi, I exist lol

It has taken me years to get used to smilies :) I had always maintained that a good writer doesn't actually need to use them, because you can communicate the intention of humour or not without having to flag it up. Smilies are therefore lazy, which is bad. However, after having my own comments mis-interpreted on many occasions, I've come to the conclusion that I can't live up to my own high standards, so tend to err on the side of caution and write :) when there's a possibility that what I'm writing could be ambiguous. It's a bit like that "if in doubt chuck it out" policy I have with food of dubious sell-by dates in fridges. I can be quite a sarcastic writer at times (in face-to-face conversation I'm normally a lot nicer people have told me), but it's usually well-meaning.

So I have "come round" to the smilie. I won't use any of the variants (such as the wink or the tongue sticking out), because you can have too much of a good thing. However, just as I started to use it, I realised that nobody actually uses the smiley any more. There are now a variety of pictorial icons that most chat facilities allow - which actually look like proper smiley faces, rather than the sideways punctuation equivalent.

And that's not all. Now there are animated smilies, that clasp their heads, stick out their tongues - and VOCALISE. They scream or shriek with laughter. They shout "OH MY GOD!" in a Valley Girl American accent. And now I feel like I'm back to square one, because I HATE HATE HATE them.

I got MSN a few months ago, and rarely log on to it. The little windows that pop up are intrusive and I end up having those pointless "hi, how are you?" conversations about nothing with people I barely know or even remember. I hate small talk. As I've gotten older, I've realised that I don't have as long left to be alive - and life's too short to waste on conversations that require people to write "lol" after everything. And anyway, I very rarely "lol" at anything on the internet. Someone who started off as a friend and then became my own special crazy stalker used lol a lot in their emails to me - which is almost as good a warning sign as full-on CRAZY CAPS. I wish I could program in java or something because then I could write a little subroutine to deal with MSN conversations, so I could allow people to think they were chatting to me, whereas in fact, there'd just be talking to a very basic AI program. (I miss ELIZA).

I am officially old :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Princess Pussy

I've never really understood why people get silly and squeamish about spiders, mice etc. Sure, they can surprise you if you're asleep and one crawls across your face, but apart from that they don't bother me at all.

My bathroom's the home to several species of spider. Lately, I've felt like a guilty intruder when having a shower because they freak out when the water splashes them. Twice this week I've cut the shower short because I'm worried about drowning them, and I keep having to check they're OK (yes, I am crazy - but there's worse to come).

Our cat brings in mice occasionally. Sometimes they're already dead (like last week when he greeted us in the morning, with excited miaows outside the bedroom door, displaying his "present" to us). On other occasions, he brings them in and they're still alive. My fella and I always disagree on what to do about it. I tend to catch them with a glass and put them outside, but he's of the opinion that they should be killed as they'll eventually over-run the place. He might have a point.

The building I live in houses a few other cats, who are younger and fitter and nastier. One is especially freaky-looking. It caught a squirrel last week, killed it and then ate the whole thing in the garden. My cat is scared of it. I am a bit scared of it too. My cat doesn't go out much - he's a spoilt, pampered Princess Nikki of a cat who demands attention from every visitor and sulks if he's not petted, tickled and fussed over (nothing like me then). He's never had to spend time in a cattery (I couldn't cope with the guilt of caging him and making him mix with other cats - see how I project my own neuroses onto him). The one time we were due to go on holiday and couldn't arrange a sitter, we got halfway to the cattery and I couldn't cope with his mournful yowls in the back of the car, so we I ended up cancelling the holiday (it was only a few days on the south coast). I think that was one of the days when my long-suffering fella really felt the bite of those "in sickness and in (mental) health" vows. I know how bad that sounds - at least I don't dress the cat in human clothes and arrange weddings for him.

Now, when we go on holiday, we pay a nice lady to come in twice a day and stroke the cat for an hour at a time (this usually ends up costing more than the holiday itself). I think the cat resents us when we come back.

When he dies (he is 10) I will never get another pet. I've always believed that if you have a pet you can't do things by halves. To be fair to him, he is the most good-natured cat in the world and is great company, especially when my fella is away. But pets mean responsibility if you do it right. And I think I tend to over-do it right. Also, I suspect we're both allergic to him a bit. So when the time comes it'll be Bye Bye Pussycat and Hello Photograph of A Pussycat...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Guilty Pleasure

My fella is away tonight. Normally I try to eat healthy and encourage him to do the same. It's usually me forcing him to the gym and buying fruit (nature's candy!) But as he's not here, I've been to Tesco and bought a tube of Pringles, a large bar of Galaxy and a bottle of coke. I consumed the whole lot while watching Desperate Housewives. And it was lovely. I guess I should confess it all when he gets back. I hope he'll still love me considering I cheated on him with confectionary.


Gay or straight, the message is - we all want to end up with a handsome doctor use a condom.
Bring back Blakes 7

Me and my fella are making our way through the last season of Blakes 7, a late 1970s British sci-fi epic, involving a motely group of freedom fighters who are chased by the evil Federation. With its focus on a totalitarian political system, it was very popular in Eastern Bloc countries apparently.

The main character, Blake, disappeared early in the series, which resulted in the title being somewhat redundant. And the "7" sometimes included 1 or 2 computers, but let's not dwell on the actual logistics. The main villain is Servalan, who still manages to look futuristic with her severe haircut and increasingly camp costumes - she's kind of a mixture of male/female and gay/straight all rolled into one - a drag king wearing Liberace's cast-offs.



After Blake left, the group were led by the ultra-hammy Avon (Paul Darrow), with scaredy-cat Vila being the only other member who lasted for the whole 4 series. Others came and went, the women were largely under-used unfortunately. I never used to like Tarrant, the cocky mop-haired pilot, when I was younger, but lately he's grown on me.



The heroes of Blakes 7 were actually not very nice - they bickered and bitched at each other, seemingly only bound together by their hatred of the Federation, not through any real affection towards one another. In a later episode, Avon considers ejecting Vila off the space shuttle they're in, when he realises that they're carrying too heavy a load. There was a very minimalist, almost S/M quality to the whole show - indeed, a lot of the costumes were actually bought from S/M shops. Even the computers have an attitude problem. And the series ended on a typically bleak note, with the entire cast going down in a hail of laser fire.

I don't often go for remakes, but with the current revival of interest in sci-fi, I think Blakes 7, or a concept like it, could definitely be brought back - with more sex. Perhaps the Dr Who spin-off Torchwood will be close to it. I just hope they remember to include the S/M clothing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My 10 favourite British horror films

It's Halloween in only three weeks, and as the clocks get ready to go back, here's a list of 10 of my favourite (not actually very) scary movies, perfect accompaniments for dark nights. (I haven't included any films between 1980 and 2000 - because nothing of any cultural value was made during this period).

Peeping Tom (1959) Someone is killing the whores of London (again!). Could it be the shy German man who lives upstairs? This film was almost the downfall of director Michael Powell, for being too "ahead of its time". Still, everyone appreciates it as a classic of film-making now. And rightly so.

Carry on Screaming (1966) A bit of silly nonsense really. This was the first ever film I sat all the way through, aged about 6. The title music is very exciting and the murder of poor Charles Hawtrey, playing Dan Dan the lavatory man, always makes me laugh.
Fenella Fielding and Kenneth Williams are outrageously arch as the monsters - kind of like the Adams Family conceived by drag queens on acid.

The Devil Rides Out (1967) A classic Hammer romp of satanism, with Charles (no neck) Gray as the head baddie.

Psychomania (1972) Posh bikers (one is called Gash) and Beryl Reid! No wonder George Saunders killed himself a year later.

The Stone Tape (1972) It's actually a tv play, but I'm not letting that stop me including it. Scientists think they have found a new way of recording, based around ghostly goings-on in the cellar of an old Victorian house. But they're messing with a power that's millions of years old and they can barely imagine what they're letting themselves in for. Poor Jane Asher (the only sympathetic character in the whole thing) will bear the brunt.

The Wicker Man (1973) Forget the ridiculous remake, this is the original and the best, with Edward Woodward (a man untouched by human hand) venturing onto a remote Scottish Isle to find out what happened to little Rowan who's gone missing. Are the islanders part of a conspiracy to sacrifice her so their crops will grow next year? Has some great, eerie folk music involving mapole dancing and Britt Ekland's bum.

From Beyond the Grave (1973) The first "anthology" film in the list. Peter Cushing owns an antique shop and each of his customers will have an encounter with horror, just after they try and con him. Horror stalwart Diana Dors plays a "nag".

The Monster Club (1980) Another anthology - this one's aimed more at children. One tale's about a monster whose scream causes cats to sizzle and another's about a village full of humgoos (that's a cross between a human and a ghoul - the film makes use of a big diagram that explains all the different types of monsters you get when you mix humans, ghouls, vampires and werewolves together). Very educational.

The Hole (2001) Four privileged school-kids hide down a big bunker to avoid a boring school trip, but then discover they're trapped down there. As the days go on, it gets nastier and nastier, with paranoia, violence and murder becoming the only ways to pass the time. There's a twist I think. See Thora Birch when she was more famous than Keira Knightley.

28 Days Later (2002) The only British zombie film I can be doing with. The scenes of Cillian Murphy walking through an empty London are particularly evocative, although it gets a bit daft by the time we've encountered Christopher Eccelestone's sex-starved army outfit.
Psychomania



How cool is that font?

Beryl Reid is a very important British actress. Not only did she play a weird adult-girl (a bit like Geri Halliwell) in the film version of Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, she was also a ground-breaking butch lesbian in The Killing of Sister George. But many people overlook her third contribution to British cinema - that of a fashionable Satanist in Psychomania. I must have seen this film 10 times - it was always shown on ITV at about 11pm on Friday nights in the 1980s, as part of the "Fear on Friday" late-night weekend movie season, that seemed to go on for years. I watched all of them, completely uncritically of course, as I still do.

Psychomania is also a biker movie, featuring the poshest bikers ever. They all wear jackets with their names on them: Gash, Chopped Meat and Hatchet being my favourites. Their leader is handsome (by the standards of 1971) Tom (Nicky Henson). He has Beryl Reid as his mother and they live in a big old mansion, decorated by Austin Powers with weird geometric shapes hanging off the wall and brightly-coloured kitsch plastic chairs everywhere. Oh, and George Sanders is their butler. He committed suicide a year after the film was made. Which is interesting, considering that suicide is one of the main themes of Psychomania.

You see, Tom discovers that his mother made a pact with the devil or something (it's a bit vague, but involves a locked room, some standing stones (similar to Avebury or Stonehenge) a flashback and some frogs) and now he knows the secret of eternal life - he only has to kill himself and "want to come back". He does so and encourages the other members of the gang to do the same. (There are two girl members of the biker gang - nasty Jane - who wears a red leather jacket, has awful teeth and is therefore coded as the "Bad girl", and nice Abby (who sometimes looks a bit concerned at the biker mayhem. My fella took one look at her and said "she's the weak link".) Once they've come back from the dead, they all spread mayhem round a brand new 1970s shopping precinct - it looks so clean and perfect - yet you know that in a few years it'll be covered in graffiti and be horrible. Anyway, for the moment it's full of leggy models in tiny skirts and hot pants pushing prams around. Tom and his gang ride their bikes around them, knocking things over and making them scream, before riding off laughing.

The music is fab - very death-rock. And there is a great hippy song when the biker gang give Tom his own funeral (it's so sweet seeing Gash and Chopped Meat making garlands out of flowers). But of course, it's Beryl who steals the show. She wears a range of ridiculous 70s flowing dresses, each more silly than the last. It's like she raided Childie's collection of see-through nighties at the end of the Killing of Sister George. A lot of the reviews of this film that I read pointed out the main inconsistencies and unanswered questions that were left hanging at the end. But who cares! It's a wonderful period piece of British horror-trash and it just made my top 20 favourite films list.