Tuesday, January 31, 2006

However much I love Lowri Turner, I don't want her writing a newspaper column

Comatose has linked to this poisonous piece of journalistic pap in the Western Mail entitled "However much I love my gay friends, I don't want them running the country" by Lowri Turner. Turner's article is textbook homophobia, complete with the usual glib euphemisms "bat for the other side", "swings both ways" and that worn-out cliche "some of my best friends are gay", which always occurs before someone says "...but I still think they should all be sent to the gas showers..."

Turner's "argument" is based on the two recent "scandals" involving Liberal MPs Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes being revealed to be bisexual/gay. The scandals are not so much about their sexuality, but the fact that the former is married and has a prediliction for rent boys, while the latter conducted a homophobic campaign against Peter Tatchell in the 1980s (when homophobia was de rigeur). Turner uses these cases as a spring-board to get to her main point, which is that gay men shouldn't be running the country because they don't have children and their lifestyles are so different from "normal" people. So, rather than having to sit with their kids in A&E or agonising over whether the kids should have the MMR jab, their biggest worries are whether or not to choose a black or a cream sofa. Way to go with the stereotypes there Lowri.

I guess if we were to take Lowri's argument to its logical conclusion, then we would have to say that anyone who has not had a child should not be given any position of power - because how on earth could they learn proper responsibility? It's a very sanctimonious argument, ignoring the fact that so many people who have children actually end up being very bad parents. For example, 40% of marriages end in divorce (as did Lowri's - she broke up with her husband when pregant with her second child) and of those a very large proportion of fathers lose touch with their children altogether within three years.

Additionally, Turner ignores the fact that gay men DO have to deal with responsibilties of a different kind - for example, looking after elderly parents or partners who may be ill. They also have to take responsibility for their own sexual, physical and mental health in a society which is still shockingly spiteful and blinkered at times. Her construction of gay men as frivolous and silly is just as stereotyping as if I complain about straight men being obsessed with football, booze and cars, or straight women as caring only of celebrity gossip, diets (Lowri was a contestant on Celebrity Fit Club) and lipgloss.

Gay men aren't a homogenous mass. Some of them would be crap leaders. Some of them would be brilliant. Just like any other identity group.

Oh and Lowri, I'm sure you may think you have loads of gay friends - but believe me - behind your back they're laughing at your taste in clothes and badly decorated home, not to mention your quaint 1950s social attitudes.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Celebrity Big Brother wound to its conclusion on Friday, with Davina on danger-money as she oversaw 6 eviction interviews in one evening, in front of a baying crowd which reminded me of a bunch of people who had caught the angry-zombie virus in 28 Days Later. I was amazed that the lovely Preston came 4th place. I actually find his music pretty good. I always complain at this blog that the baying crowd are "de trop" but even I had a horrible frisson of schaudenfraude when Pete Burns came out to hisses and chants of "off off off". At first he feigned enjoyment of the boos: "It's like 1978 all over again." But that didn't last for long: "They are getting right up my crack!" he said as an aside at one point. Normally, his northern-gay-dive drag-queen DJ viciousness can be funny, but there were a few points in the series when I thought that Pete overstepped the mark, particularly when he attacked Baywatch Traci for her over-use of the word "love". Someone needs to tell him that a statement like "I love your shoes" is perfectly acceptable idiomatic English, used to convey emphasis, inasmuch the same way as his constant "This is getting up my crack" is not intended to be literal. Dunce. It should also be pointed out that one of Pete's wittier lines "You can take a horticulture but you can't make her think" was first said by Dorothy Parker. Pete's misogyny - he sharpened his claws on almost every female housemate, reeks of someone who hates the attention that women receive from men. I feel very sorry for his boyfriend.

However, Pete was very much a by-the-numbers witch, offering no real suprises - his predictable insults could have been scripted by a computer. George Galloway on the other hand... Oh dear. While the media has made much of his cat-impersonation and his robot dancing, I can overlook these. Rather it was his bullying and intimidation that showed him up for the nasty piece of work that he is - telling Michael Barrymore "pour me another drink!" and attacking younger members of the household who had originally looked up to him. He and Mr Burns made a perfect pair of Ugly Sisters. His aim - to encourage young people to engage more in politics has spectacularly failed - all he did was earn disrespect. Now that Michael Barrymore has been rehabiliated (the Sun reports a tearful meeting with the father of the young man who died in his swimming pool) and can safely return to the UK to resume his tv career, he can probably sell his home in New Zealand. Perhaps Galloway can do a swap with him? Personally, I think George suffers from Little Man syndrome. If only he'd grown 4 inches taller he'd probably have had a perfectly satisfying job in accounting and nobody would ever have heard of him.

No doubt, in a couple of weeks it will all be forgotten. Who can remember what happened to last year's contestants? Kenzi? Caprice? Jeremy Edwards? They haven't exactly made front-page headlines since the show ended. At the end of the show, Davina told us that auditions for the next Big Brother are starting soon. Who'd go on the programme now when Big Brother is almost indistinguishable from Orwell's original creation?

Friday, January 27, 2006

My Perfect Day or 101 things I love (with apologies to John Waters who wrote something similar).

I wake up naturally at 10.15 am (1) without the help of an alarm clock or the bad music taste of the people who live next door and open my new curtains (2) to discover it is a rare sunny and clear day (3) for England. I eat sugary Crunchy Nut Cornflakes (4)for breakfast along with coffee that I do not wait for 5 minutes to cool down and amazingly do not get a mouth ulcer (5). I notice that in the night Bt Torrent has finished downloading (6) the lastest episodes of Lost (7), Desperate Housewives (8) and Survivor (9) so I have plenty of illicit up-to-the-minute American tv to keep me on the go. I decide to walk into Clifton Village (10) and visit the tiny hardware store (11) that sells everything for all your hardware needs and buy a copy of The Times (12) from WH Smiths. When I get back, the post has arrived, neatly arranged into little piles by my ultra-conscientious neighbours (13) and I have received several items from ebay (14), including a Clint Eastwood (15) DVD. I telephone my sister (16) and have an hour long chat with her about nothing important, then she puts my 2 year old nephew (17) on the phone and I shout "hello, hello, say something!" at him, as he listens, silently smiling. All the time my ginger tom cat Larry (18) climbs over me, jealously trying to wrestle my attention away from the phone.

I go over to the piano (19) and for the first time ever manage to play The Look of Love (20) by Bert Bacharach (21) without any mistakes at all. For an encore, I go on to massacre Spooky (22) and Money Money Money (23). Fortunately the neighbours in the basement below have never complained. I then eat a chicken salad (24) sandwich for lunch and decide to head out to my swanky gym (25) for some exercising and then a go in the menthyl-scented steam-room that always empties my sinuses in a most spectacular fashion (26). On the way back I stop off to get new hair product (27), an Innocent smoothie (28) and the latest Habitat catalogue (29). I listen to my new favourite songs on my well-worn Ipod (30), Bohemian Like You by the Dandy Warhols (31), Tears by Chris Isaak (32) and The Joker by Anthony Newley (33). My Tivo (34) has taped three episodes of Coronation Street (35) and they all involve storylines involving Violet (36), Jason (37), Eileen (38) and Sean (39), with lots of cat-fights (40) and good one-liners (41) that have me laughing out loud. According to the news, another Hollywood Star has come out as gay (42) and there is a wonderful picture of some celebrity with horribly obvious plastic surgery (43) for me to grimace over. She is not as scary-looking as Jocelyn Wildenstein (44) but getting close. There is also a story about middle-class pensioners getting up a petition over something (45) on the local news, and the local news presenter inadvertantly makes a sexist and/or racist comment which will probably mean he will have to resign tomorrow (46). Flicking around the channels I see Madonna pulling off Megan Mullally's wig (47) on Will & Grace, an early French and Saunders sketch (48) and a repeat of the Keith Allen documentary about James/Lauren Harries (49).

I go on the internet and have emails from everyone in my "Double-Wrapped for Extra Freshness" (50) blog list. I watch the Joan Crawford (51) and Grey Gardens (52) mixes at Dan-o-rama productions (53). I email my Dad (54) my latest chess move (55) and I then do some hoovering (56) of my practically white carpet (57) and notice that there is a dark spot on it. Never mind, it can be removed instantly with spray on Vanish (58). I load the dish-washer (59) and get a drink of water (60) from my enormous silver fridge (61). To top off this small burst of excersion I do a yoga (62) position that I have recently learnt, without managing to fall over or break anything. It is getting late so I go out to my favourite Mexican restaurant (63) and have nachos (64), diet coke (65) and burritos (66) with lots of guacamole (67) and sour cream (68). On the way home I notice two women having a street fight (69) and I call in to Somerfield (70) for Chunky Monkey Ben and Jerry's ice-cream (71) and a packet of Minstrels (72). In the queue in front of me are two Clifton housewives (73), wearing leopard print scarves, with Honor Blackman (74) hair-dos. Even though it is getting late, it is June 21st, the longest day of the year (75) and it will not get dark until about 10:30. I decide to celebrate by watching one of the Sean Connery (76) Bond films (77) on my big-screen projector (78). I spend a good two hours immersed in mid-1960s fashion (79) and love the silliness of the plot (80). I have a huge margherita (81) from a ridiculous cocktail glass (82), with a salted rim (83), which I down with a couple of olives (84). After the movie, I turn the lights down low and put on some easy listening music (85), probably Lalo Schiffrin (86) or Hugo Montenegro (87) and have a little dance (88) pretending I am Julie Christie (89) in the film Darling (90). It is time to get ready for bed (91), I love sleep (92), so I clean my teeth and admire my hair (93), which always seems to be at its best in the evening. Getting into my huge Super-King Size bed (94), I have a read of one of the EF Benson Mapp and Lucia novels (95), while my fella (96) watches some Jason King (97) on the tv in the bedroom. We then put on Radio 4 (98) and listen to the bizarre but oddly comforting shipping forecast (99). We have a go at the Times Crossword (100) and then I fall asleep, quickly and without any difficultly (101).

Whew - didn't think I was going to make it then. I now invite you to tell me your 101 favourite things.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why I love Violet the Coronation Street barmaid.

Most barmaids in Coronation Street are blonde, brassy things, fitting the stereotype of the airhead who likes “fun” and “a laugh”. So it was refreshing when Violet quietly joined the regular cast of Corrie. She had been a former pupil of the Street’s only “intellectual”, Ken Barlow and he had seen great potential in her, that hadn’t been fulfilled. There was an early air of mystery about Violet. With her unpermed hair, classy neck-scarves and slightly upmarket fashion sense she stood out as being a little bit different. She is Best Friends with Sean the Street Camp Gay Man and in a touching recent episode she promised she would have a baby with him if they hadn’t found partners by the time they were 30. See – it only takes 5 or so years for big Hollywood storylines to filter down to the northwest.

It wasn’t long before Street Stud Jason had wooed and won her heart. In Coronation Street there are two types of young people – the A Team and the B Team. The A Team consist of the notionally attractive, who appear every year, unclad, oiled and orange in “Soap Babe/Hunk” calendars in Borders and WH Smiths. They generally get the dramatic storylines, which although are not overly taxing, at least are taken seriously. The A Team cry real tears. Jason and Violet are most certainly A Team. The B Team, on the other hand, are a smaller group, and are generally there for the laughs. Consisting of people like Kirk, Fizz and Tyrone (look – they even have funny common names), they are either over-weight or the wrong shape, with bad hair and appalling taste in clothes. And while they have their own love travails, these appear like a fun-house mirror version of those in the A Team – they’re impossible to take seriously (B Team storylines often involve dogs, both literal and metaphorical). It is strictly forbidden for A Team and B Team characters to inter-mingle sexually, and when this does happen (as with a long-burning storyline involving B-Team Tyrone and A-Team Maria), it can only result in great tragedy and shame.

But back to Violet, who has recently split from Jason, who is dating Sarah-Louise, a teenage mother and harpy, sometimes referred to as the “town bike”. Sarah-“Lou” previously lived with Jason’s brother, who very wisely decided he was gay and went to live in London. So Sarah is simply working her way through the family (this happens a lot in Coronation Street). However, Jason is only using Sarah-Louise for sex and really loves Violet. This has brought out all of Sarah-Louise’s unattractive qualities – she has lathered her face in fake tan in order to make herself more alluring, and taken to sitting in the pub, glaring at Violet and making comments like “What is it with those scarves?” and “When she first came in here, with her rubbish make-up and bad hair I thought she played for the other team.” She is giving herself carpal tunnel syndrome with her obsessive text messaging (the writers have recently discovered the mobile phone and are trying to incorporate it into as many storylines as they can). With the loins of Jason held up as THE glittering prize, there is a cat-fight of gigantic proportions brewing, and I want a front-row seat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A cock and bull and other stuff

I really like Steve Coogan and the various Alan Partridge series are some of my favourite sitcoms. I ocasionally identify with Alan Partridge - terminally uncool and socially awkward, with a love of James Bond and Abba medleys.

I also liked Cruise of the Gods, which was a comedy special that Coogan and sidekick Rob Brydon did, involving sad fans of a fictional 1980s sci-fi series called "Children of Castor" (a parody of things like Dr Who and Blakes Seven). So I was all prepared to enjoy Coogan's new film, A Cock and Bull Story, especially as it has been getting rave reviews in the press.

Unfortuantely, I didn't enjoy it that much. It was very clever and played around with narrative a lot, Coogan made fun of his "tabloid persona", his own vanity and jealous of Brydon in a self-deprecating way which was very endearing. He also made much of being stuck in the Alan Partridge persona and wanting to be known for more than that. There were some good jokes in it as well as visual humour (the audience I was with howled with laughter at a joke involving Coogan putting a hot chestnut down his trousers). But it was almost too clever for its own good and already, the postmodernism felt about 5 years old. It was trying to do so much - there's lots of commentary on film-making in there too, and as a result I came away feeling short-changed.

On another topic, I've read the short story of Brokeback Mountain a couple of times and have enjoyed it as a well-written piece of literature, as subtle as the film. If you enjoyed the film, it's worth getting hold of it.

I also finished reading Divided Kingdom, which I mentioned earlier here, a dysptopic novel where people are sent to 1 of 4 zones depending on their personality: sanguine (well-adjusted, happy), choleric (angry), phlegmatic (reflective, peaceful) or melancholic (miserable). The main character ends up illegally travelling round the country, going to each of the 4 zones, in a kind of Gulliver's Travels. It was kind of spoilt towards the end by introducing a psychic element into it, but I enjoyed it all the same and had that kind of sad feeling you get when a book is over. Doing so much travelling around the UK at the moment, I can understand the idea that different places embody "personalities", as do the people who live in them. Lancaster, or at least the bits I go to, is very phlegmatic - all those people studying with lots of conscientious liberal and green voters. The bit of Bristol I live in (Clifton), is much more sanguine - all happy people wandering about, partaking of leisuresly coffee shops and yoga classes without a care in the world. On the other hand, London, which I used to work in - is very choleric - shamelessly capitalist, glossy, fast, ambitious, and occasionally vicious. While East Durham, where I grew up, is melancholic - a place depressed by the closure of the mining industry and the defeat of the trade unions, with swathes of people on incapacity benefit. It makes you wonder about how living in different places can actually change you. I also have a theory, which I admit is utterly insane, that places actually choose people to live in them (you could probably also say that certain types of people are attracted to certain types of places, so it becomes self-perpetuating). I think that's why I've never been able to live in London for very long - the city automatically rejects me after a few weeks - I just don't have the outlook for it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Return to Vegas

1993. My first trip to America. We took an Amtrak train from Chicago to Las Vegas, LA, San Francisco and back to Chicago. In those days money was a lot scarcer so we had the great idea of using the train as our hotel room (the seats recline all the way). However, we hadn't bargained on the fact that the other "residents" of Hotel Amtrak would all be noisy, smelly people who kept us awake yammering on and eating spiced sausage meat which had gone bad. The crew of the train were literally spraying people with air freshener to hide the stink.

We only stayed a couple of days in Las Vegas and got it all totally wrong. We'd used a "Rough Guide" to the US, which had recommended some of the worst hotels on the planet (the one we booked into in SF was actually a brothel and they charged us an hourly rate after we left on the first night). In Vegas, we ended up in a motel, miles away from anywhere and had to catch a bus and get a taxi if we wanted to go to The Strip. It wasn't a very good motel - the pool was empty, our mini-bar was a huge fridge full of cheap mince-meat (!), the fire alarm battery needed changing and beeped every 20 seconds through the night, and we were convinced (without any form of proof) that there was a snake under the bed.

Going out wasn't much better. I am totally neurotic about gambling (methodist mother) so after my fella had won a few spins of the roulette wheel I practically dragged him away from the place (OK, so we doubled our money, but we didn't have that much to start with). We didn't go to any of the big shows, although we did crash a cheesy lounge act. What I remember most was the heat - it was 140 F and the air was so heavy - it was like being inside a fan oven for most of the time. Everyone seemed to be in a mad mood and we caught a rather terrifying bus back to the hotel, late one night, where sleazy denizens of casinos tried to chat each other up and argue with the enormous lady bus driver - who sassed them back and refused to stop at any of the places she was supposed to. I vowed never to return and have since only really being able to cope with Las Vegas via the film Showgirls.

But that was a long time ago. And apparently, Vegas is a completely different city now, having had many new hotel casinos built in the late 1990s. There's also a lot more to do. So , we've booked another trip, which we're intending to combine with a visit to San Diego (which was on our 1993 itinery, but we skipped it as we couldn't cope with more train rides). We have booked into the glamorous "New York, New York hotel" on The Strip (a mini replica of New York) and are going to do it all. Now that I'm not vegetarian I'm going to pig out at all-you-can-eat buffets, living on steak and beef nachos. We are going to see a proper show (with bare nipples and everything), and I will restrain my compulsion to shriek "evil!" at every roulette wheel I see. It will be fun. It will! It will!

Sunday, January 15, 2006


My Civil Partnership ceremony happened yesterday. Although it very nearly didn't - in true sitcom-style, my sister and brother-in-law, who were coming down from Leeds to be the witnesses, phoned late the night before to say their car had broken down on the motorway by Birmingham and they weren't sure whether they'd be able to make it. Although disappointed, I was more worried about them, and told them to just get their car towed home if the RAC couldn't patch up the problem. After about an hour though, it got sorted out, so they managed to get here for the "big day".

Although in fact it was about as low-key as you can imagine. We showed up, were ushered into a big room with a table, declined the offer to speak any ready-made vows and signed a document. We did have to speak one line each, which I think was more to show we understood what was happening, than anything else. As always, I get the desire to burst out laughing during anything "official", and had to suppress giggles during it. There was also a point where the registrar said "If anyone present knows any reason why these two people should not be civil partners then speak now...", which also made it feel a bit like a wedding.

Although the two women who administered the procedure admitted that it was still a new experience for them (I think they were worried about getting things wrong), they were very professional and made us feel welcome and normal, offering their congratulations at the end.

Afterwards, we stepped outside into a courtyard of an adjoining church, where previous couples had been married in the traditional sense. In a slightly campsy moment, I picked up some discarded confetti from the ground and threw it over us.

Then we went and had chips.

I am vaccilating between characterising the event as unimportant (we've been together for over a decade and already had a committment ceremony about 5 years ago), but also acknowledge that legally, it does make our positions much more secure. For example, I can say I am his next of kin now, if one of us is hospitalised. And we automatically inherit each other's stuff. It's also nice to know that future same-sex couples who get together will have this option from the start. It will help to normalise gay and lesbian relationships, and perhaps even give them a bit more gravitas, rather than being characterised as "affaires" or frivolous sex-based short-term things.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Do it to Jodie!

I have been putting off writing about Celebrity Big Brother, but can't hold back anymore. I never really enjoy the Celeb series. The fact it's January and Davina MacCall appears outside the house, in the dark wearing a huge black coat and shivering like a stalker, makes it all appear a little sad. There is very little daylight and I'm sure this contributes to the overall weird mood of the programme. There are a lot of things about Big Brother that I absolutely can't stand, and as the years have progressed, the programme makers have become nastier and more spiteful, the contestants more aggressive, unstable and shameless and the unwashed crowds who gather for evictions more vicious, booing every contestant inasmuch the same way as people who gathered to watch public executions were treated. Big Brother is our public execution for a society that has banned capital punishment. It's a social and psychological execution instead.

Meanwhile, the tabloids breathlessly report every minor skirmish and it all leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Last year Germaine Greer called Big Brother a bully and walked off. She was right. Big Brother's prime mission is to break each contestant - humiliating them, then standing back and laughing as they suffer psychological damage on television. Orwell's terrifying vision is coming more and more true as each year passes and the programme wallows in its own putrefaction. I confidentally expect that eventually there will be a "challenge" where contestants have to put their head in a box full of rats, replicating exactly the last chapter of Orwell's dystopic novel 1984. Expect someone to scream "Do it to Julia! Don't do it to me! Do it to Julia!" And we will have come full circle. Not that you'd expect any of the people who work on Big Brother to read anything other than Heat.

This year's celebrities are the oddest yet (and considering last year had Jackie Stallone and John Macirrick, that's saying something). Pete Burns is probably the most bizarre. I had one of his albums when I was younger and really like the song "You Spin me Right Round". Since then, Pete has had a lot of plastic surgery (although take a close look at his hands). When I saw him, I instantly thought of the drag queen Miss Thang in the Jamie4U blog I write. He's got that brash, witty streak that working-class drag queens have perfected, coupled with an off-centre morality and self-obsession. Some of his one-liners are hilarious and perfectly timed, but he's the sort of person you're glad you're watching on tv and isn't sitting in your front room. Calling Rula Lenska a dried up husk, and referring to the Big Brother house as a bad LSD-induced trip to Ikea stand out. I've had friends like him and while they're great fun, they can be a little wearing and you have to develop a thick skin because they'll latch on to any weakness you have and pick, pick, pick away, just to see what happens. In this way, he is a perfect Big Brother contestant and a perfect match for Big Brother too.

George Galloway was the last contestant to enter the house and is probably seen as the show's biggest coup. As a controversial politician who fought an extremely nasty election contest last year and then made one of the most crowing victory speeches ever, he's already got plenty of enemies. Numerous people have protested about his presence in the Big Brother house, rather than representing his constituency. Although I don't like him, I guess as long as he's officially on his holidays, he can spend them where he wants. The producers seem to like showing him sitting on the sofas with a big round cactus positioned exactly behind his head, so he looks like he has a spiky mohican hair-cut. They have also got him imitating a cat - in a way it's heartening to see their lack of Respect for a politician who is so clearly in awe of himself, smokes cigars like Churchill and has named his own political party Respect, but at the same time there's something wrong about it that I can't exactly put my finger on.

Along with Pete Burns and Michael Barrymore, Mr Galloway has waged war on Jodie Marsh, a page 3 model with skin so orange she looks like she's suffering from radiation sickness, and a (home-made?) nose that resembles a poorly constructed ski-run. The common way of thinking seems to be to hate Jodie, although I just feel sorry for her (she is favourite for eviction tonight). Michael Barrymore disturbs me though. He has dead eyes, which only really came to life when he was doing a cringe-inducing Hitler impersonation. The other contestants have yet to make much of an impression, beyons being 2-dimensional sketches of eccentricity. Rula Lenska (big red hair, chanting), Dennis Rodman (inarticulate and surly), Faria Alam (unglamorous and bitter).

Into this mix is thrown Chantelle (nickname Paris Travel-lodge), the perfect ingenue - an Essex girl who, apart from a bit of modelling work is about as famous as I am. Chantelle's "secret mission" (a transparent Big Brother device created in order to manufacture intrigue, paranoia and conflict) was to convince the other celebrities that she was the real deal. Although almost everyone had their suspicions, during a challenge where the celebs had to rate how famous they were, the good manners of two amiable young singers, Maggot and Preston, won out and they placed themselves below her. Jimmy Saville (a mass of repressed complexes who makes Michael Barrymore look uncomplicated and sanguine) is also expected to enter the house over the weekend. I doubt this will result in the same buzz that Jackie Stallone created, but you never know.

It's immoral. It's cruel. And I think we watch it because we're glad it's happening to them rather than us. Or else, we have to face up to the fact that it's supremely entertaining. And that's something which isn't always easy to admit to.
The first rule of Scrabble Club

1988: I was lucky enough to grow up in Peterlee before it developed a serious drugs problem. So I never got the chance to become a heroin addict like the younger kids in my street. But what a boring place it was to be a teenager. Me and my (only 2) friends would walk around all night, complaining that there was nothing to do. There were a lot of green open spaces and one of my friends would say "I wish they'd bulldoze it! Build a 20 screen cinema on it! Anything!" We were so bored we even did charity work in the summer holidays. My friend's mother was part of a tiny middle-class elite in Peterlee and she had formed a Scrabble Club for like-minded people. It ran from her house in the evenings. Somehow I was inviegled to go along. So it was me, my friend, her mum and a small group of mainly late middle-aged women called Barbara who wore glasses.

I was not very good at Scrabble, but I think that was the point, they liked people to beat. The star of Scrabble Club (and only other male apart from me), was a 50-something character called Wally Spink. He looked exactly like you'd imagine - glasses and greasy grey hair. He was totally OCD about Scrabble and was so good at it that he'd play two boards at the same time. And he'd insist on facing the boards upside-down, just to rub it in at how good he was. He always won. It must have been a year for strange names, because at one of the charities we worked for there was a woman called Bessie Gouge.

Gradually the Scrabble Club expanded its remit and they started to play a new game that was sweeping the board-game "community" by storm - Rummikub (really just an expensive version of the card game rummy). My friend's mother became so good at this that she started entering national tournaments (later on, when I saw that episode of King of The Hill where the mother goes into a Boggle Tournament, I understood the programme perfectly).

A few months later I left Peterlee and went to University, where I shamefully hid my membership of Scrabble Club, embarrassed that it would make me (even more) uncool and nobody would want to be my friend. However, I haven't forgotten all the tricks of the trade that Wally and the others have taught me. I'm still rubbish at Scrabble and usually lose, but at least I know lots of rare 2 and 3 letter words (you were issued with a photocopied list of them when you were inaugarated into Scrabble Club and made to commit them to memory), and I know how to make three new words just by putting one tile on the board.

I'm sure all this will come in handy one day.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that this blog has had a name change. I've felt for about two years that "Trash Addict" doesn't really cover what I write about. The new name is inspired by the lovely Troubled Diva who wrote that I had a "pleasingly skewed cultural perspective" (doesn't he know a lot of big words?)

My former personal trainer now has a 12 week column in The Guardian. I think he must be the nicest person I've ever met. Unless I was just paying him to be nice. In any case, he was very good at his job and I wish him luck.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Do I look like I have hayfever?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A temporary peace

As part of a whole bundle of New Years Resolutions (most of which I won't bother with), I decided to go to one of the yoga classes at my gym. After all, I pay a huge membership fee and haven't bothered with any of the classes before. I have never been to yoga before, and have kind of lumped it with things like crystals, people who see auras, counselling, psychotherapy, meditation, people who wear coloured stripey socks, incense, interpreting dreams - the list is endless but it embodies a kind of feminine, mumbo-jumbo, woolly thinking, not based on proper science, belief system, that I usually mock (I'm such fun). So I wasn't expecting much.

The class turned out to be really hard though. Maybe it was because I was a beginner and like many tall people, have poor posture. There was a lot of stretching and bending into difficult positions. The teacher kept saying things like "imagine there is a rubber mask over your face and your eyes are floating towards your chest", which didn't exactly help. There were only 4 guys in the mainly female class and we were all pretty rubbish - the teacher kept having to come over to us and push various bits of us into the right position. How humiliating.

It lasted an hour, and by the end of it I was more than ready to go. And then something strange happened. For about 10 seconds at the end I felt incredibly peaceful and relaxed. Like NOTHING mattered at all. I tend to be somewhat of a worrier, pessimistic, very competitive, sensitive, unable to relax or enjoy being "in the moment". I think the only time I've ever felt like that was after surgery and doped up on strong pain killers. I suddenly got the point of yoga and thought "This feeling could get a bit addictive". Fortunately, then it went away and I was back to my usual Type A personality self.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

For once - believe the hype

I saw Brokeback Mountain at the cinema last night and have to report that I will abolish my usual cynicism, particularly over "gay" films, and say that I really enjoyed this one. Except "enjoyed" isn't the word, as I was a bit teary when it was all over. I'd add it to The Boys in the Band, which is the only other well-made gay film that I like. The two films are about as different as you can get. While Boys in the Band features relatively sophisticated, urbanised, bitchy queens who never stop talking at a birthday party, Brokeback Mountain is about two inarticulate, repressed butch men who aren't even aware that a gay scene exists. Certainly, if they'd had the sense to up sticks to one of the bigger cities, then things could have worked out very differently for them. In fact, the word "gay" isn't even mentioned in Brokeback Mountain. The closest we get to it is when Ennis (Heath Ledger) mutters "I'm not queer". Love stories between two men who are "real men" are incredibly rare, and this one captures all of the complications that occur when both partners are expected to bury their feelings and be dominant and self-sufficent. A number of key scenes stand out as incredibly powerful - after falling in love while looking after sheep on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and Jack (Jake Gyllenhall) have their work cut short by a month, possibly because their boss has realised what they're getting up to, and detests them for it. The men realise that this will end their relationship and respond by attacking each other. There are no fond farewells and as Ennis walks off, he suddenly runs into an alley, bends double and starts punching the wall, full of regret, lust and self-disgust. In another scene, years later, Ennis tells Jack he can't spend the weekend with him as his daughers are visiting that month. Jack makes the long drive back home, alone in his truck. Even when by himself, he's unable to express his disappointment fully, covering his mouth with his hand. And it's not just the men who are repressed - the culture of Wyoming Ranchland means that everyone has to be hard. After Ennis's wife, Alma (Michelle Williams) discovers her husband likes to kiss men, she doesn't confront him with it, but instead holds all of her sorrow and confusion in, letting it eat her up, while trying to carry on as normal. The film's central story is so repressed, that we aren't even given a lot of the key details - just a few hints - and we're left at the end to piece things together ourselves, just like the song "Ode to Billy Joe".

Both men are incredibly sexy, almost because they are so closed-off and brooding. As one of Ennis's girlfriends tells him "Women don't fall in love with men for fun." And Ennis sure as hell ain't fun. He's inaccessible to everyone - possibly even (to use a cheap innuendo) impenetrable. It's notable that we only see one bout of anal sex and Ennis is most definitely the top in the pairing. It's also notable that riding a bucking broco is used as a recurring theme throughout the film, as a metaphor for the sexuality of the lead men. The sex is as brutal, macho and difficult as staying on a wild bull who wants to throw you.

The acting is superb throughout and the central actors do a great job of portraying the ageing of their characters (the makeup artists also did a good job). Jack's wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway) gets some great wigs to wear as the 1970s unfold. Indeed, for a gay film, the only bit of camp excess that's allowed, is in the increasingly tacky 1970s furniture that gradually starts to creep into the later scenes. Adding to the film's great story and acting are two other features worthy of note - the music is hauntingly evocative, while the cinematography makes the most of the film's outdoor setting - there are some breath-taking scenes of natural beauty, including a couple of iconic set pieces - for example, when Ennis is lit against a backdrop of fireworks, after attacking a couple of foul-mouthed drunks.

Over at the imdb, a lot of the reviewers have given this film 10/10 and have written startlingly personal reviews. One reviewer says "I am 29 yrs old and still in the closet and hiding who I truly am.I grew up in a small town where i was a star athlete,prom king in high school,the all American boy so to speak.I cannot come out to my family or friends for reasons of maybe loosing all of them as well as my job.I once had a very special love in my life,he is dead now,he took his own life when he was only 23." Another writes "I still don't really understand what makes a man fall for another. This is still beyond my comprehension. Is it genetics? is it choice? is it environment? what exactly it is, I have no clue. But I cannot deny it after this very enlightening film. It is a hell I probably couldn't bear if I were asked to suppress love. I was stunned, even as I write this I am lost in my own surprising reaction to it all. I wanted to reach into the screen and just say, LOVE HIM for GODSAKES, don't let the likes of me stop you. (I am ashamed of every joke I've ever cracked, every negative comment I have ever made)" A lot of the reviewers have said that they can't stop thinking about this film, long after they've seen it. I agree with them. This is a great movie and I hope it cleans up at the Oscars. Ang Lee - you're my hero!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pictures of Morocco. Click on the pictures for the bigger versions.

One of the "colourful" water sellers in the main square of Marrakesh.

The "Cascades d'Ouzoud", some impressive waterfalls about 2 and a half hours away from Morocco. I had arrived dressed for a British winter and remained so throughout. I did manage to buy a very cheap pair of aviator sunglasses from a street seller, and threw them away once I got home and saw how awful they looked on photos.

View of the Atlas Mountains. Travel sickness pills recommended if you intend to drive over them.

Me outside Ait-Binhaddou, made of dried mud and setting for many many Hollywood Blockbusters set in the Ancient World. You probably can't tell here, but I'm suffering pretty badly from dehydratation at this point.

The beginning of the Sahara. It's like being on another planet.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ordeal by holiday

Marrakesh was an experience. Or rather a lot of experiences packed into 6 days. We had come for work purposes, but there was also time to do a bit of sightseeing. It was my first time in any part of Africa and at first I was a bit shocked by it all. We arrived late at night, were let out of a taxi into a crowded narrow street, which looked about as Third World as you can get. We were then led down a maze of even narrower streets, by a series of hooded men who would take us so far, then pass us on to some other man who was waiting for us round a corner. We had no idea where we were going and it went against every warning about going off down alleys with strange men. Finally, we arrived at our hotel which was in the middle of a courtyard. It was actually quite nice, with a private roof terrace and our own outdoor jacuzzi, just in the centre of the Kasbah (Old City), which is rather disconcerting to newcomers. There were no paths either, so pedestrians shared the road with cars, donkeys, cylists and moped users. Navigating the streets was incredibly difficult - as well as all the traffic to avoid, there were plenty of hawkers and street urchins trying to get you to part with your money. As one of the few "whiteys", we stood out a mile, particularly because we looked so terrified. Fortunately, after a couple of days we acclimatised and were able to step out of the way of motorcyclists at the last second, just like everyone else.

On the first day we were taken to a Moroccan pharmacy where we were sold aphrodisiacs (I have yet to ascertain whether they work or not) and a woman made me take my top off and gave me a back rub in the middle of the shop with everyone watching. How friendly. Later we went to a hammam (Turkish bath) and a wiry man in his underpants gave me a body scrub. This involved rubbing me over with foul olive-smelling soap (which got in my eyes and stung), then scrubbing me with the sort of brush you normally clean potatoes with. Then, having completely removed the top two layers of my skin, he finished off the experience by throwing scalding hot water all over me. How lovely. Despite the fact that semi-naked men were involved, it was about the least erotic experience imaginable.

I am rather pedestrian on holiday, preferring to lie in late every morning, spend lots of time round the hotel, sun-bathing and using room service as much as possible. My fella is the opposite and wants to spend every spare minute on day trips, photographing sites of interest (he takes two cameras with him everywhere and a range of different lenses and filters), or haggling in the souks (labyrinthine covered markets). I usually end up feeling guilty and giving in to him. But ended up almost regretting a 12 hour long round trip to the Sahara dessert. It started badly - I ALWAYS get a stomach bug on holiday (even in North Wales), and this was no exception. So we started the trip with me having to rush back to the hotel room to "use the facilities". After that, the 4X4 we had hired drove into, up and over the Atlas mountains, across a series of windy, scary, narrow roads that gave me motion sickness to add to the stomach cramps. After a short stop at a site of cultural heritage (I wasn't paying much attention I'm afraid, but I was interrupted by some tourists taking a leak against it), our driver announced we were going on "the scenic route". This commenced a 2 and a half hour nightmare drive on what was a mountain camel trail - basically a single lane dirt track. I now see the point of 4X4s. Any other vehicle wouldn't have made it. It was like been trapped inside a salt shaker while it was being used. We were thrown around inside as the 4X4 traversed a rocky, seemingly never-ending almost non-existent route. Sometimes the road seemed to vanish beneath us on some of the hairpin bends, with sharp drops below. It was like having constant whiplash. Sometime we would have to pull over to the edge of a cliff face to let other 4X4s travelling in the opposite direction, past us. They contained western tourists, their faces contorted in horror and fear, silently screaming for it to be over. At least it wasn't just us.

Finally, it was finished and we arrived at the edge of the Sahara. We were at an amazing place - which had been used as the set for countless films, including Gladiator and Time Bandits. It was an ancient red city built out of mud, on a hill. Incredibly beautiful and majestic. We climbed to the top of the city and looked out at the view - which was like the landscape of Mars. Nothing but dust and rocks. And a couple of bored camels. Then we got back in the 4X4 and headed back to Marrakesh.

Because of the stomach bug, I hadn't had anything to eat or drink all day, worried that it would just work its way through in minutes - and with all the bumping around, I didn't think this was wise. However, the alternative - fasting - was even more stupid. By the time we got back to the hotel the heat coupled with the diahoreea and lack of food and water meant I was suffering the effects of severe de-hydration. I had a monumental banging headache, like nothing I've experienced before. I also started shivering uncontrollably and was unable to regulate my temperature, feeling incredibly cold, despite the fact it was a warm evening and the heating in our room was on full. We had no pain-killers and it took 2 hours for the hotel manager to rustle some up - they are not big on paracetamol in the Old City in Marrakesh - instead they usually give you some black powder to put in a handkerchief and sniff. Once western medicine had been located, I fell into a sound 12-hour sleep and woke up the next day feeling a bit better, if not somewhat rueful. I am not a very patient patient and some of my comments to my fella the previous evening had been what the French call "de trop".

Despite the rather complaining tone of this entry, we actually had a really nice time! It was constant sunshine and didn't get dark until about 6.30. (Bristol, on the other hand had half an hour of sunshine yesterday.) People on the whole were very nice and helpful, especially the hotel staff who weren't fazed by two gay men (despite the fact it is a Muslim country and homosexuality is forbidden). Property is very cheap over there and we contemplated buying a little flat and spending all our winters there. But it'd mean I'd have to brush up on my French, which is severely limited to phatic communication and a few pointless nouns. So perhaps not.