Monday, December 31, 2007

Bang Bang in Bangkok

I have escaped the miserable British weather to Bangkok, where the temperature is in the high 20s and I am wearing sunblock on New Years Eve. The city is massive and an odd mix of futuristic and traditional. Traffic jams are hideous, it's a lot noisier than most places I've been to, and everyone seems hysterically nationalistic. At the cinema (Alien vs. Predator 2 - the worst film ever made), we had to stand for the National Anthem. It was the King's 80th birthday on December 5th and as a result there are pictures of him everywhere. About 25% of the population are wearing yellow polo shirts, which is apparently the King's colour. I want to write that the stereotypes about sex tourism are not true, but yesterday we got a taxi to the Central World Plaza (a 7 floor shopping mall of western decadence) and as we got out, a couple of men approached us and offered us "Bang Bang...massage...." They made a little coupulating gesture with their hands. I had to have a Starbucks to recover. Still, I have been offered sex in exchange for money in Spain, Holland, Britain and Sri Lanka so it's not the only place where it goes on.

The airplane journey here had me hating on 90% of the world's international travellers as usual. More clapping as the plane landed. Some terribly behaved Russians at the immigration line - pushing in front of others, drinking from their bottles of Duty Free and worst of all, wearing leopard skin and sequined tops. At the exclusive Business class terminal in Doha airport, where we changed flights, I was shocked to see several women in their 50s who had had far too much plastic surgery and now resembled blonde cats. I know it's rude to stare but I couldn't help myself. They stared back but I think that was because they couldn't blink any more.

More later.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Midnight Mass

Despite being a rabid atheist, I went to a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I live close by to the church, my mother wanted to go, I quite like Christmas carols, and I was interested in what it would be like as an experience.

It turned out to be one of those High Anglican affairs, all incense waving and people marching up and down in big hats holding candles. I enjoyed the sermon, which was about shopping in Sainsburys and the commericalisation of Christmas - the vicar didn't put too much God stuff in.

However, towards the end, everyone took communion. I didn't really fancy it having not been confirmed. Also, the hygienic aspect put me off. One of the priests kept wiping the cup with a cloth, but judging from all the coughing from the congregation, it just looked like a big cup of bird flu. So we didn't bother. I was falling asleep by the end though. I guess my career as a fake Christian isn't really going to take off.

I've seen two end-of-the-world films over the Christmas period, both which have religious elements. The first, "I am Legend" starring Will Smith is a remake of The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, which is itself a remake of The Last Man of Earth starring Vincent Price (both which I've also seen). Emma Thompson is Dr Kripp who boasts that she has cured cancer in the first scene with a variant of the measles virus. Three years on, everyone is dead apart from Will Smith and some CGI zombies. There are some nice scenes of a tourist-free New York, with weeds growing in the roads and wild animals grazing between the cars, but the zombies are a bit too fast-moving, and there's also a very hokey religious message about the evils of science and how God has a plan for a cure if only you will LISTEN TO HIM. The end, which involves refuge in a little walled village where the church bells ring and the American flag is proudly hoisted is a bit of a Bible Belter - constrasting too crisply with the vision of evil New York, full of weirdos who only come out at night. Maybe I'm being too cruel, but all it was missing was someone talking about A Thief in the Night...

On the other hand, I finally got to see the film adapation of the Stephen King story The Mist, which is a superior film (and has nothing to do with the other Stephen King film, The Fog which I thought wasn't up to much). Here the end of the world is caused by "The Arrowhead Project" run by the military instillation on the edge of a small Maine town. A "window" to another dimension is opened, allowing Cthulu-esque monstrosities to come teeming through, along with a mist that envelopes a local supermarket. Before long, the resident religious nut Mrs Carmody is calling it the End of Days and shrieking for blood sacrifices. It's pretty faithful to the book - even after about 20 years I recognised a lot of the dialogue, although there are a few updates - Mrs Carmody blames stem cell research and abortion for the mist. Controversially, the film continues for another minutes after the book's ambiguous ending. It's one of the more successful translations of King to film, and the film's lead, Thomas Jane isn't too bad to look at for 90 minutes. Don't expect it to be out on UK release for months though :(

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Faggot 1, Political Correctness 0

In an about-turn, Radio 1 has unbanned "faggot" from Fairytale of New York, after an enormous outpouring of "it's PC gone mad" from fans of the song (and a few homophobes). 95% of people who responded to a BBC poll said they should not have banned the word. Even on a gay discussion board that I use, I was pretty much a lone voice, while others said they loved the song and were going to put on the jukebox that night and start up a petition to get the ban lifted.
Radio 1 now says that "listeners are smart enough to distinguish between maliciousness and creative freedom".

Popjustice present a good defence as to why the word should have remained banned, while Peter Tatchell points out how the affair highlights the inconsistency of the "anti-PC brigade".

The BBC handled the case hideously and have now offended just about everyone with an opinion about the song. The BBC's Newsbeat turned the case into the story which then prompted the backlash against the banning. One thing about British society that is very clear is that people don't like being told what they can hear and what they can't hear. The song has a lot of emotional resonance for people, particularly because its singer died so tragically.

I wonder if there would have been such a fuss at the banning if Kirsty McColl had sang "you cheap lousy nigger" though? Remember back in the summer when Emily Blunt, a contestant on Big Brother was kicked off the programme because she used the "n word" in a fairly tame and non-abusive context. I think there is a lot of acceptance that racism in language is wrong - however, when it comes to homophobia, the picture is a lot more complicated.

Hopefully the lesson that the BBC will take away from this is not "we can be as homophobic now as we jolly well like", but "if we decide to censor homophobia we should be a lot more subtle about how we present it to the public". I hope (and expect) that Fairytale of New York features a little less heavily in the Christmas playlists of 2008, 2009 and 2010 - until it's gradually assigned to the history books.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Political Correctness 1, Faggot 0

The Kirsty McColl/Pogues song which seems to be playing in every shopping centre in the UK on constant loop at the moment has had the word "faggot" bleeped out on the BBC.

The Daily Mail, predictably, has forecast this as a sign of the imminent end of the world. Equally, Chris Moyles, who led a campaign to get the song to reach #1 in the charts is also furious. Moyles is well known for his tolerant views on homosexuality and has many gay friends (not).

He's so beautiful. I wish he was gay.

"It's political correctness gone mad"

Maybe it it. Still, I'm betting there are a few 10 year olds out there who might get called "faggot" in the playground just a little bit less than they used to. Who knows, they might grow up into better adjusted human beings as a result.

And basically, anything that upsets the Daily Mail and Chris Moyles is something I'm all for.

Personally, I'd ban the song altogether. It's irritating and I hate Christmas pop songs. Bring back carols - they're a lot more calming.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Two men I like

I'm a bit disturbed that two men who I've been thinking about a lot lately aren't what you'd call, well... nice. One of them is a serial killer. The other is a foul-mouthed, grumpy old man.

The serial killer is Dexter, played by Michael C Hall (the gay brother from Six Feet Under) - currently closing on its second season on Showtime. Dexter is filmed in Miami, so every scene is bathed in orange light and people wear light clothes and look happy. Before you say I'm weird for liking a serial killer, I suppose I should try and mitigate myself by saying that he's nice to children, protective of his sister and girlfriend, is popular at work and only kills other serial killers who have escaped the law. Does that make it alright? Not really. It's a kind of vigilantism taken to an extreme, and Dexter's murders aren't really motivated by a higher moral sense - he witnessed his own mother chainsawed to death at an early age and it messed him up so now he has no emotions but enjoys killing people. I find the "no emotions" bit the most interesting part of Dexter - he fakes most of his social interactions because he has no empathy. I guess at times we've all put on an act if we're feeling low or whatever, but for Dexter, that's all he is - an empty box of donoughts as he describes himself in the first episode. Predictably, when Dexter's dead bodies turn up and the police realise that someone is killing off serial killers, many members of the public view him as a hero. I'm currently reading the book that the serial is based on, Darkly Dreaming Dexter - and the tv series follows the book pretty closely. There's a very likeable cast, good writing and some nice twists. I like Dexter, inspite of myself. He's my guilty pleasure #1.

Guilty pleasure #2 is angry Charlie Brooker - a British journalist and tv critic who has a Saturday column in the Guardian and a BBC4 series. BBC4 is the channel for intellectuals (remember decades ago when it used to be channel 4 - oh how that channel has sunk!) Brooker has a lot to say, and he's quite angry and cynical about lots of things. He swears a lot and often shouts, right up close in people's faces. Victor Lewis Smith used to have a similar style in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Unfortunately, what he says is often witheringly, frighteningly accurate - he's a lone ranting voice in the wilderness of crap, lazy, manipulating tv programming. Reality tv editing, aspirational advertising, media smugness - Brooker exposes it all, often while mocking himself and getting himself trapped in a confusing postmodern spiral. I love his piss-take of an ego-bloated media star taking it out on poor interns: "Where's my coffee? You're fired from London!!"

The more I watch Brooker, the more interesting I find him (despite the fact that he says he looks like a "paedophile walrus"). He may be loud and insulting - but he doesn't insult my intelligence. He should be compulsory watching.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Blog off

Just read Ben Elton's new book Blind Faith. It feels like the culmination of a manifesto which he has been working through with his earlier books like Dead Famous and Chart Throb. Set in a dystopic, contradictory London, a bizarre version of fundamentalist christianity has mingled with numerology other forms of hokey spiritualism, capitalism, pornography and confessional reality tv culture to create a nation of obese idiots who live off donoughts and burgers, wear next to nothing and blog their entire lives on the internet. In a celebration of conspicuous capitalism, children are named after food products or cars.

Like all good dystopic novels, it takes today's trends and turns up the volume, just a little bit. Although America is not blamed, a great deal of what Elton is predicting seems to stem directly from the religious conservatives who have dominated the political landscape in the US for the last decade.

In this future society, privacy is seen as heresy - people are encouraged to "share" everything, and to celebrate their individuality, whereas in fact everyone is identically mundane. Worse still, the floods are not blamed on global warming, but on God's wrath for people believing in evolution and daring to have imaginations (only God is allowed to create ideas). As a result, all fiction is banned and evolutionists are burned at the stake. "Empowered" women are forced to get breast enlargements and shave their pubic hair off, while homosexuality is punishable by death and marriages are only expected to last 2 years. And worst of all, modern medicine is viewed as witchcraft, so the infant mortality rate is 50%. As usual in his books, Elton pokes fun at annoying teen-speak, religious-speak and "I'm OK, you're OK" self-help speak.

It's a bit of 1984, a bit of Farenheit 451 and a bit of Brave New World thrown in. I read those three books in my teens and they all had profound impacts on me. Elton's book is a bit too much of a rip-roaring, large-print read to have the same effect - but I appreciate where he is coming from. And it's good to see someone who shares my old-man frustration with a lot of society's current foolishnesses. So get it for Christmas - before they come and get you!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gone Loco

I am addicted to PS3's Loco Roco Cocoreccho, an annoyingly cute Japanese game where you have to guide dozens of little coloured blobs (loco rocos) around a bizarre environment. The loco rocos all sing the same tune, although they have different voices depending on what colour they are, so depending on who is onscreen at any one time you can have the girly sopranos (yellow and pink) or the rich baritones (blues and blacks). Most of the time I have no idea what is going on, and eventually the tune sticks in your head. It usually ends with all the loco rocos getting eaten by another big black blob. Even this is depicted as being unfailingly cute - what is it with cute and Japan? Even in Battle Royale (one of my favourite films), where school children are, drugged, dumped on an island, kitted out in collar-bombs and told to kill each other until the last one standing is the winner, it is all explained by a cutesy Japanese girl who makes it sound like she is narrating a Hello Kitty story to a bunch of 4 year olds.

My fella, on the other hand, is addicted to the more straightforwardly bloody Resistance: Fall of Man - that game what sparked a controversy because it features a battle in Manchester Cathedral. There is lots of running around and shooting things, against a backdrop of 1950s Britain (I recognised the Clifton suspension bridge which was close to my home in Bristol, among other landmarks). I am hopeless at it, but sit and watch, offering useful bits of route information.

Speaking of Bristol, we had a visitor up on Thursday - an impeccably glamorous and arch lady who worked with my fella and I was a bit in love with. We took her round Lancaster town centre for a meal. "I've never seen so many women with straightened hair in one place!" was her verdict. I must say, people in Lancaster tend to fall into two categories - sensible, dowdy middle-class types who dress for comfort, or sun-bedded working-class blingers. My memories of Bristol are fading fast (one of my strongest attributes is that I have a hopeless memory), so now it consists of just a vision of beautiful, beautifully dressed people walking around the Triangle and generally being fabulous. Even with my careful "editing" of Lancaster, it can still be pretty grim up north.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Early adopter

I succumbed to the advertising yesterday and bought one of those fancy Iphones things (I have affectionately called it Muhammad - see how on-topic I am today!) I may not be able to recognise a Babyshambles or Amy Winehouse song (although I've noticed that the ratty beehive is making a comeback among young women - hurrah), but at least I am up to speed with the latest technological developments.

I am impressed so far - infact, I'm not sure I'll be using my Ipod again. The Iphone has a big enough memory for the songs I listen to, and is also a phone, camera, map of the UK, web browser, emailer, does youtube and can tell me all about stocks and shares. The only thing that seems to be missing is a penknife attachment. I suspect version 2 will have a laser button that will cut through metal or vaporise people.

Going back to a proper keyboard again is nice - I never really got the hang of using the numerical keypad for letters. However, the keyboard on the Iphone is a bit too small for my man hands - so I usually end up pressing the wrong button. Still, I'm faster at it than with the old system. And I do hope that this spells the death-knell for txtspeak and all that writing 2 instead of to. I also wonder whether text messages and emails will sort of merge into each other now - as I can use the Iphone to do either. Let's have a return to properly punctuated, grammatically correct, orthographically sound messages (for some of us, they never went away).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hello My Name is Barbara

I am about the only person left at work who doesn't have a cleaner, because I insist on doing it all myself in order to "keep me grounded". However, lately I've been working quite a lot in the evenings and weekends, and now I'm living in a bigger place I'm finding all this housework a bit dreary. And besides, I'm not very good at it. My fella doesn't do housework at all - so it often becomes a source of bitter carping "Here I am, up to my knees in your unwashed socks and what are you doing? Playing Fall of Man on the PS3 that's what!"

A sympathetic colleague told me about her Polish cleaner, so I asked if her cleaner would be interested in becoming my cleaner as well. It turned out that she would, and so on Monday morning, the bell rang and I heard a woman say "Hello, my name is Barbara." And with those words I became a capitalist, white slaver and general oppressor.

Can you tell I have liberal guilt?

Barbara does not have much English yet but she is very hardworking. As well as doing lots of cleaning, she also works in a chicken factory. She puts all us British people to shame - now that we're all too lazy and obese to fill the millions of job places that are going free - instead we claim we're suffering from "stress" or our breasts aren't big enough so we have low self esteem and need an op on the NHS before we can go outside again, or we can't walk anymore because our legs stopped working due to lack of use and all we can do is sit on the sofa, eating Kingsize Mars Bars and watching Loose Women. Barbara on the other hand refused my offer to make her tea (liberal guilt) and just went at the bathroom like a woman possessed. I had to throw her out eventually as I needed to go in to work. She looked very displeased "Is not good!" she kept saying, pointing at a floor that she had only half cleaned. I have employed her services fortnightly and gave her a big tip (liberal guilt).

When I went upstairs, the bathroom was sparkling clean, like in an advert. Or a Disney film. Just like the dirt and dust, all my liberal guilt instantly vanished...

Forget all this crap about "immigrants" taking "our" jobs that I keep reading on the BBC news "have your say" columns. I think we should deport all the lazy British people - I'm not sure Poland would have them though.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Shut the doors! Shut the doors! Something in the MIST!"

When I was 13 I joined one of those Book of the Month Clubs. The first book I received through the post was Stephen King's enormous book of short stories "Skeleton Crew", which also contained a full length novel called The Mist. It was about a group of customers in a supermarket in small-town America who see a mysterious mist come over the horizon and cover everything. It might be something to do with the strange experiments that the military have been conducting on a nearby base... Anyone who leaves the supermarket vanishes, never to return, two soldiers from the army base have committed suicide in the back of the store (clearly they know something has gone very wrong), and there are weird HP Lovecraftian creatures floating around and banging on the windows. Oh, and inside, there's a religious nut called Mrs Carmody who starts calling for human sacrifices.

It scared me to bits and for the next five years or so I devoured all the Stephen King I could find.

Now I'm a "grown-up" I don't read Stephen King any more. In my early 20s I started to find his books a bit formulaic (all those male writers as heroes), often sentimental and a bit too easy-to-read. Also, the novels where he tries to include the thoughts and actions of every single member of a small town are a bit long-winded for my busy 24/7 lifestyle. But there are a few stories that I still like, and I sometimes think that some of King's older novels are even more relevant today than when he initially wrote them. The Long Walk - for example, is about a televised walking contest where anyone who drops out is gunned down by ultra-conservative police. And Mrs Carmody is probably a much better example of the religious right now than she was when the novel was first written.

I'd often hoped that someone would make a film of The Mist. And guess what, they have. It comes out on general release in the US on the 21st of November. Initial reviews at the IMDB look positive. I'm really hoping it's a good film (even though I've heard rumours that they messed with the ending). Let this be Misery or Carrier rather than The Lawnmower man.

The trailer looks pretty good anyway. I love it when Mrs Carmody starts going on about the "end of days"... Dessie (and other horror fans), what do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Being a misery guts in Istanbul

I am in Istanbul for a few days - purely for a holiday. On the flight here, I was sitting in a row with a couple of pensioners and their grown up daughter and her husband. They were all drinking beer and reading tabloids and had little sandwiches they'd made themselves that were wrapped in tin foil. The daughter kept shouting "Are you alright Dad?" every 5 minutes. Dad had comedy false teeth and applauded when the pilot landed the plane. I joined in, just to be polite.

I hate planes - I am 6' 2 and find it very difficult to sit comfortably in a very small space for more than an hour or so. I always sit behind the person who puts their backrest as far back as it will go for the whole flight and then needs to be told by the air steward to put it back in the upright position because the plane is landing. I tend not to put my own backrest back because I worry it will annoy the people behind me - so this gives me even less space. I was trying to read The Guardian, which didn't help - it's so big, you have to fold the pages into quarters before it becomes manageable. And then it's all moaning and doom about Bush, the environment and everything else. They're not as bad now that Tony Blair has been booted out, but they're a miserable lot on the whole. I banged my head twice on the seat in front of me, didn't get served coffee and as a result had a headache and was in a rotten mood by the time I had arrived. It's at rare times like this that I wish that I was married to a corrupt politician in a South American country, or a corrupt CEO of an American corporation so I could afford to go business class everywhere.

Turkey is a bit like being in the 1970s. In the taxi to the hotel, my seatbelt didn't work and the taxi driver didn't seem to care (he was either drunk or was wearing aftershave with very high alcohol content) and was far to busy using his mobile phone and tooting his horn indiscriminately to notice me struggling. At one point, we were stuck in a queue and about 20 cars started beeping their horns in macho unision. It felt like the end of civilisation. The whole ride I kept thinking about how Princess Di died because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

Our hotel is very charming though - we are staying in a room which apparently John Paul Gaultier has stayed in. It is the campest room ever - an enormous chandelier and everything is decked out in gold and brocade. Our room has a private hamam which is rather nice - though I keep imagining John Paul Gaultier in there and it's a bit off-putting. I like Turkish people - they are generally very friendly - although the male heterosexual arm-linking and crotch grabbing sometimes makes me confused. You never know if someone is just expressing their culture at you, or whether they're in love. I think we should let them into the EU. They have some lovely rug shops.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mr Fussy

I received a letter today from the management company of the apartment buildings I live at, asking if I would like to be one of the directors.

I should have seen it coming - since I moved here two months ago I have been bombarding them with complaints and questions about faulty lighting, litter and badly behaved residents. I have also spent evenings removing bike marks from the walls of the communal areas, I regularly go out and pick up cigarette butts, and I've paid the council to remove large items that other residents have dumped outside the building. I even expressed shock when I smelled cannabis in the stairwell the other week.

Somehow, when I wasn't looking, I've turned into an old fusspot.

I used to love the Mr Men books when I was growing up. I think Mr Fussy was the first ever gay-coded children's character I encountered. Look at that moustache - he's practically a clone. I love how Mr Fussy has his own Wikipedia page - it's only a stub, but someone took the time to make it. And that's love for you.
Trailer Trash

Here's the trashtastic trailer for the Russ Meyer Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! It's about three twisted gogo dancers who take a trip to the desert in order to cause mayhem and murder. Tura Satana plays the rather satanic-looking leader of the trio, while Haji is her on/off lover and Lori Williams is the over-sexed muscle-loving blonde bimbo who can't help breaking out into wild watusi moves when the mood takes her. With great music throughout, this is one of my favourite campy Bs.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Breaking out of the glass closet

I am ploughing through season 1 of Prison Break, a rather grim series involving a chap who gets himself put in prison so he can help break out his brother who is on death row for a crime he didn't commit. The escape plan is impossibly complicated, rivalling anything that the Hooded Claw would have come up with to do away with Penelope Pitstop. In fact it's so complicated that brother#1 had it tattooed all over his body before he went to prison.

The two brothers have the same military buzzcuts and rarely smile. Brother #2 has the thickest eyebrows I have ever seen. Nobody smiles much in Prison Break. On the other hand, there is a lot of sadistic snarling, especially from sinister prisoners like T-bag (possibly the most evil man on the planet), or some of the more nasty guards. In an early episode Brother #1 has two of his toes cut off (I'm still not sure why). A picture of American prisons is painted that looks horrific - all young offenders in the US should probably be made to watch this (ideally between their second and third "strikes").

Perez Hilton regularly claims that the actor who plays brother #1, Wentworth Miller is in the closet. Miller joins Queen Latifah, Michelle Rodrigeuz, Jodie Foster and Hugh Jackman who are also often "outed" by Perez.

I'm not sure where I stand on the whole outing thing. On the one hand, Perez has a good point - if Jodie is gay and she came out, then she'd be sending a positive message to young gay men and lesbians throughout America - and America could do with more positive gay role models, especially now. But that's the problem - would huge swathes of her fans simply switch off. As Ellen Degeneres found when she came out - the media can be very bitchy.

But somehow - so what? Jodie's got enough money as it is. She has nothing to prove. And if someone is gay - it's likely to all come out when they're dead anyway - so why not take control of your own destiny and smash the "glass closet" to bits. I doubt the publicity would last more than a week anyway - and then we'd be back to Britney or Lindsay's latest drug rehab car crash or something.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I like Amy

I am reading Amy Sedaris' guide to entertaining "I like youL hospitality under the influence". Amy is one of my favourite "funny ladies" and the star of Strangers With Candy - a sitcom about Jerri Blank, a 42 year old dropout who returns to high school to finish her education and ends up learning all the life lessons she missed out the first time round. It seems as if Amy was channelling Jerri when she wrote I like you. Here's a quote from the first page of her book:

As my guests leave even my most simplest partes, I consistently hear the same thing "That was the best time I ever had." And it's always me saying it. But I do know in my heart they all feel the same way, probably. When you see the word party in this book, don't think of pony kegs and loud Southern rock or cigarillos and businesswomen. Don't think of pools and diving for loose change. Don't think about cockfights - even though it's hard not to. Don't think tiki lights and fruity cocktails served in coconut shells on the patio, or a large groupn of drunken seamen clustered together shouting over each other. Think simplicity. Because if there is one thing I am, it's clinically simple.

And here's Amy on Martha Stewart, demonstrating how to make her favourite recipe "Cheese balls" (oh and pretty much annihilating Martha at the same time - "I made you a tissue ghost...").

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trailer Trash

The musical extravaganza that launches the 80s - oh to be on the cusp of two of the most tasteless decades ever to be invented!

You can't stop the agony...

I'm actually ashamed that I own this. I think it has a plot but I didn't notice. I still get shivers when I see Bruce Jenner who is supposed to be playing a heterosexual man, sashaying down the street in a pair of cut off jean-shorts (at -1.03), like he's just spent 24 hours listening to Bette Midler in the City Baths.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sorry Ken...

Back in Bristol at the weekend (to return a fender that the removal men took up to Lancaster by mistake). On Saturday morning we went to the Museum of the Commonwealth by Temple Meads station. I've passed it hundreds of times but never gone in, so I thought "now I don't live here any more, I can be a tourist and go in". Anwyay, it was really interesting. There was an exhibition on slavery which was quite depressing although very informative, and there was also a posterboard where you could give your comments on whether "we" should apologise to Africa for slavery. Someone had written "When the Romans apologise to us..." Personally, I don't think that there's much point in people who had nothing to do with slaverly, apologising for things their distant ancestors did. It just seems a bit hollow and an attempt to appear pious (I'm sure Ken Livingstone was very sincere when he apologised, but it's not something I would have done had I been in his position). I think what's more important is that we acknowledge and are aware of Britain's past role in slavery (and its abolition for that matter).

After I'd left the exhibition, I passed an advert on a street wall for "Are you being served?" which is a fetish party at Club Orgasm in Bristol. With its House Mistresses and Dungeon, it keyed into the discourse of slavery in a very different way to the Musuem Exhibition. Funny old world eh.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Trailer Trash

It's Rapture Time!

Don't you love Fundamentalist Christians? Mark VI Pictures created their own crazed "quadrilogy" of Rapture films. For those of you who aren't au fait with Rapture Theory - one day (any day now) God is going to Rapture Up all the believers to Heaven, leaving the unbelievers and evil people behind on earth to battle it out in a bloody nuclear mess - it's all the UN's fault apparently. The rationale behind the films was, if you can't get people to believe in God the easy way, then why not scare them into being Christians. Because I like weird stuff, I have all four films on video.

We start with "A Thief in the Night" where the Rapture actually happens. Foolish Patty had the chance to accept the word of God, but she didn't - and now she's been left behind while all her friends are partying up in Heaven. Patty doesn't do much except run around while being chased by helicopters and screaming "Noooooooooooooaaaaawwwwww! Noooooooaaaaawww!" Nobody in any of the Mark VI films can actually act, but the girl Patty can really scream. (Don't expect a happy ending for Patty - she gets decapitated by evil satanists at the beginning of the third film. Forget the Hostel and Saw films - if you want cruel, random and barbaric - it's the Christian directors you really need to turn to. Amid all the drama, the films have rather long and more tedious parts where boring pastors with unfashionable facial hair recite from scripture. My favourite characters (not shown in the trailer) are baddies, Diane and Jerry - it's pretty much their fault that Patty doesn't accept the Lord. I seem to recall that Diane gets killed by a giant crab or something in the 3rd or 4th film. You don't want to be Left Behind when the nuclear radiation starts messing with nature.

Anyway, here's the trailer. Sing it with me: "I wish we'd all been read...." (Sorry, couldn't finish, I just got Raptured Up.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fatty Fatty Two By Four Can't Get Through the Barnyard Door

I was always quite skinny (until recently). I shot upwards as a teenager, but didn't put on weight, so I became very lanky and bony. I worried about it so much that I went to the doctor who told me to "eat more chips" (it was the mid-1980s when terms like "GI diet" weren't invented yet). I'm not sure if eating more chips would have been humanly possible. I had chips and beans with a cream meringue almost every day of my life for lunch when I was in Comprhensive school (so much for Jamie's school dinners).

After finishing school, I was vegetarian for 15 years, which didn't exactly help me to put on weight - veggies have trouble getting lots of protein typically, although eventually all the substitute carbs (pasta, bread, pizza, potatoes) left me with a little tummy. I did cut out the chips then, but my lunch was a cheese and tomato sandwich, a bag of crisps, a yoghurt and a fizzy drink on most days. Oh to be in your 20s again and have a forgiving metabolism.

However, 2 years on from going back to meat and I was weighed recently at the doctors, who informed me that I am 1kg below the cut-off point for "obese" according to the charts. She took pains to tell me that "obese" is a controversial term and that muscle weighs more than fat so you could be obese and very in shape. However, I wonder - how did this happen?

Maybe it's because we've all gotten bigger over the last 10 years. I was in Burger King last month (disclaimer - I was stuck in Morecambe and needed to get some food), and was asked if I wanted to "go large or super" with my burger. Clearly "Supersize Me" only had a limited and temporary impact. But it's not just the downmarket food places - go to Marks and Spencers these adys and it seems that all they sell is enormous tins of chocolate biscuits.

Chocolate bars seem to have gotten bigger lately, and the proportion of larger people I see round town has increased. They can be a bit of a nuisance sometimes, as they tend to walk slowly and block aisles (so I can't get to the chocolate!) I wonder if it is because people are unhappy in some way, so are turning to comfort food - a news report said that the crap summer we had resulted in higher sales of cakes and sweets. I tend to get a craving for sweet things around 9pm - but usually try and sate it with something nominally healthy like an apple.

Despite my impending obesity, I still see a thin person when I look in the mirror. But I'm a long way away from being able to eat chips all the time. Now my lunch is a soup and a glass of water. I suspect by the time I get to 40 it'll just be the glass of water.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Escapism for children - 1980s style

When I was in my early teens, I was a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons nerd (I was also a piano lessons nerd, a Spectrum 48K nerd and a Doesn't Do PE Nerd.) Because I didn't have many friends to play Dungeons and Dragons with, I was thrilled that a series of books had been invented in order to let you play these games by yourself. You took the role of a mighty hero (all bulging muscles and a big longsword), and had to navigate a route through a castle or wood or spaceship or whatever. I would wait with baited breath for a new "Adventure gamebook" to come out and then devour it.

This was one of my favourites - Citadel of Chaos. The way the books worked is that you would have a few paragraphs of text and then have to make a choice at the end such as "do you take the left door (go to 15) or the right door (go to 274)?" Sometimes you would go to 274 and just die. Other times you would have to make another choice. There was usually only one way through the book, and it often involved defeating a series of rather tiresome monsters, where you had to roll dice to defeat them. I'm sure nobody actually bothered with the rather tedious (and somewhat risky) dice rolling, but everyone instead pretended they had defeated the monster and then went on to the next paragraph. And I'm sure that when you met one of the many random deaths in the book, most people simply went back and took the alternative choice.

At least they got children reading and using their imaginations - even if they were rather bloody and rewarded you for violence. These days, the whole thing is achieved with a PS3 or a Wii or something - and you don't have to imagine the blood because it is there in all its pixellated glory.

As the 1980s progressed, I discovered that I preferred other sorts of reading, and the books gathered dust on the shelf. I eventually gave most of them to a younger next door neighbour. But I kept hold of Citadel of Chaos, because you never know, do you.

When I got older, I often met adult "role players", who seemed to have got stuck at the stage of development I was at when I was 14. But I thank Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, who are one of my fonder memories from the 1980s (I think I bought so many of those books that I probably funded their swimming pools).

Friday, October 12, 2007

I like Candy

This begins a regular feature (I hope) for Fridays - entitled (not very imgainatively) "Trailer Trash". It's exactly what it says on the can.

Anyway, I love this grindhouse shocker from the 1970s. "They did things they couldn't even believe!" Very groovy music and campy dialogue "Please don't put me in the hole!" I love the puns on "candy" (They sent her father a pice of Candy... in a box..."
Alan Partridge II

I've just watched the first season of Steve Coogan's newish series Saxondale. I was a fan of Alan Partridge, so was interested in seeing what this one was like. This is another classic British comedy of failure. It's kind of similar - if you liked Partridge, there's a good chance you'll like this. The two men have a lot in common - both are somewhat deluded, dsyfunctional, middle-aged and terminally uncool (despite thinking they are hip). Saxondale is a little bit more likeable than Partridge though - and his girlfriend Magz (played by Ruth Jones) is a stablising influence in his life, despite the fact that she runs a shop which sells posters of authority figures mooning and smoking joints. Saxondale used to be roadie for big name bands in the 1970s and views himself as a counter-cultural figure. He has a strong dislike of "suits" who listen to Dido. However, he and Magz live in the most boring, conformist Barret Home house you'd ever see - a lot of their rebellion is simply in their minds.

My favourite character is Vicki, Saxondale's evil nemesis (played by Morwenna Banks). She's the receptionist of the agency who hands out jobs for Saxondale (he's a pest exterminator). She has one of the most annoying voices ever created and delights in baiting Saxondale (who has anger management problems) by hinting that his girlfriend is fat and that he's old and past it. "I'm only winding you up!" is her constant excuse. I am in love with her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My heart just skipped a beat

According to a message I received from someone I've never met, I am the "spitting image of Nick Berry from tv's Eastenders and Heartbeat".

It's not exactly the look I was going for.

Nick Berry is a perennial of comfy Sunday evening ITV 'dramas', usually set in a 1950s/early 1960s rural Britain that never really existed in the first place.

These dramas are designed to soothe the nation into a doped up state of uncritical compliance so that we do not get too depressed thinking about having to go back to work after the weekend and start beheading the ruling class.

Nick Berry is therefore a tool of propaganda. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't really exist but was instead a holographic composite, comprising of years of scientific research.

Needless to say, I am overjoyed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What would Tennesse Williams do?

Oh for the days when movie stars were actually movie stars. I am working my way through the back catalogue of Paul Newman films. Last night it was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The other day I saw Sweet Bird of Youth. Tonight I may watch Cool Hand Luke. Paul is cast in two very typical Tennessee Williams roles - as the male gigolo whose looks are starting to fade in Sweet Bird of Youth, and the (possibly) closeted fallen football hero in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Both are rather silly psychodramas set in the deep South, featuring exotically glamorous, yet deluded and flawed people. I always have trouble believing Tennessee's dialogue - his characters are all (ostensibly) heterosexual, but no heterosexual people I know ever talk like that - I find it better imagining that all the women are actually drag queens. The men sound and act like they are gay men pretending to be straight men for gay porn. It's all very disconcerting.

Newman's heritage (Hungarian and Polish) has contributed towards those fabulous cheekbones. It's also nice to see an actor who's a supporter of gay marriage and a Democrat. And his salad dressing isn't that bad too. I wonder if Tennessee can vouch for that?

Speaking of movie stars, what would Tennessee make of the character played by Adrian Grenier in the sitcom Entourage (which I'm also working through). Grenier plays Vincent Chase, a pretty face from Queens who is now living it up in LA with his posse (a couple of friends from high school and a dumb half brother who had a faded never-was career of his own). Chase sails through life with one of those permanent smiles pasted over his face - and you know he's never ever going to go bald.

However, he doesn't really have much of a personality and leaves most of the decisions in his life to his little best friend, an ex-pizza manager who is utterly out of his depth in Hollywood. The relationship between the two gets a little Casablanca at times, and I have to admit that I like a lot of the hiphop soundtrack (my Ipod has benefited from a few Jay-Z downloads - which I had previously thought was a window cleaner product). After watching the first season I'm not sure where it's all heading, but there's plenty to look at along the way.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Leave Britney Spears alone RIGHT NOW!

Britney's recent not-very-good performance at some music awards thing has had everyone from the first world who cares about such things crowing with schadenfraude.

However, it's nice to know she still has fans out there. Fans who are perhaps more insane than she is. Cue Chris Cocker who has recorded this crazed plea/threat to all those who mock Britney. It is so full of insanely quotable lines that it should be memorised in totality and quoted constantly: "All you people want is MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE!!!"

Chris has been offered his own tv deal. I'm so pleased for him. Hopefully he and Britney will get to duet together... And I'm hoping John Waters is watching - John - this guy is your next 3 films.

God, shirtless shots of tv stars and Britney posts. Am I dumbing-down or what?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The huge arms of Battlestar Galactica

The last episode of Season 2 of BSG left me a bit shell-shocked when the writers broke the "rules" of storytelling by skipping a whole year. Unlike certain other sci-fi episodes (cough Star Trek Voyager), it's not a dream and there's no chance they can go back in time and change everything. I can't wait to see what happens, and whether the 8 foot tall blonde Cylon's hair will survive into season 3.

I am usually a bit sniffy about blogs that post pictures of shirtless men in a gratutious attempt to garner a wide readership. So this won't be a regular feature. But here's an advert for Battlestar Galactica... Pictures can speak louder than words.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sci fi stuff

The 1978 film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is one of my favourite films, along with Alien and The Thing which were also made around that time. All three films are suspensful, scary and don't rely on neat happy endings which put to rights everything that has gone before. So I was interested but a bit wary of the new Nicole Kidman movie Invasion, which is a remake of the Bodysnatchers movie. It's received some pretty bad reviews. I saw it in New York recently, and enjoyed it, just - despite the weak ending. I think I prefer the nihilism of the 70s movies though, when movie-goers weren't assumed to be 15 year old boys with slight learning difficulties and no attention span.

I've been watching the newish tv series Battlestar Galactica recently (season 3 just came out). It's great - everything that the Star Trek series should have been but wasn't. It comes closest to Deep Space Nine, but without the silly comedy aliens with bumpy head ridges and all the feel-good shit. In BSG people make mistakes. They have angry sex, go to prostitutes, swear (their favourite swear-word is "frack") get drunk and make fools of themselves... a lot.

In Battlestar Galactica there are humans and the robotic Cylons - who look exactly like humans. Some of the cylons don't even know they're robots (yet). The humans believe in multiple gods. The cylons believe in just one God. The cylons declare war on the humans. After they blow up the human planet, a few 1000 humans escape in spaceships - the emergency president is a school teacher with breast cancer. The vice president has an imaginary cylon girlfriend who advises him, while the militia who control Galactica all have issues of their own - one has a very bad case of facial acne scarring, another is an incompetent alcoholic, while their star pilot is a very butch heterosexual woman with an attitude problem. It seems as if to be a pilot on Galactica you have to take a lot of steriods as all the men have enormous arms which the camera lovingly hones in on.

My favourite cylon is called number 6. She's about seven feet tall and towers over all the male actors. The poor actress who plays her must be on good money as there are lots of copies of number 6 so she crops up everywhere. I worry about her hair falling out as it's been treated with some kind of toxic looking substance to make it over-styled and yellow. I hope there's a cylon wig-maker, otherwise number 6 is going to start looking very patchy in a few months. It's not all fun and games being a robot you know.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Making the most of where I live

So now I am esconced back in Lancaster - no more commuting! My work journey takes 15 minutes instead of 4 hours. I'll miss Bristol though. Some things I learnt from living there were:

  • take more notice of my surroundings. I used to think Lancaster was a boring and ugly place - but having not really been around it for 2 years, I'm amazed at how nice the architecture is, the trees and plants, the quaint little shops and good views - you can see the castle or Ashton Memorial from almost anywhere.

  • walk more. When I previously lived in Lancaster I drove everywhere, and we had 2 cars. I've now got rid of one car, and plan to make more of an effort to walk - better for the environment and better for my health.

  • Avoid the bits you don't like. Even if it takes slightly longer to get somewhere, sometimes the quickest route is not the best one to leave you in a good frame of mind. I won't be making any short cuts through the two depressing indoor shopping centres - they just bring me down.

  • Make the most of what the local area has to offer - Morecambe prom (now with several thousand tonnes of imported sand), the wonderful cafe Lubin, the enormous GB antiques centre, the Waterwitch pub, the new Turkish restaurant, the Dukes Cinema, the new cinema in town. And your money goes a lot further in the north...

    My fella is in China and doesn't come back until all the moving has been done. When we moved to Bristol he got out of that too because he'd broken his arm after falling down a hill in Skye. Come to think of it - he almost always gets out of moving house. I think we will have to have words when he returns...
  • Thursday, September 06, 2007

    In your dreams

    My nephew started school yesterday - it was an event causing much sadness amongst our family - we all hated school. The day went reasonably well, although he burst into tears at the end when my sister went to collect him, and he was a bit put out because some of the other children got a gold star for going to the toilet and he didn't. Only 4 and already they start with the social comparisons... My sister is furious: "It's like I have to go through it all over again, vicariously..." She has been having our shared recurring dream a lot lately - the one we both regularly have - where we suddenly find that there has been some sort of "mistake" with our GCSE results and as a result, we are forced to leave our adult lives and made to go back to school to resit all of our GCSEs again. (You don't have to be Jung to work that one out.)

    Are we the only ones who have recurring dreams? In the resit GCSE one, I have become increasingly bolshy over the last few months. I sometimes resolve to "do things differently" this time around ("I'll show those teachers they can't mess with me!") No matter that I'm probably older than most of the teachers and nobody cares about your GCSEs when you have a PhD - in the dream logic it all seems entirely plausible. In another dream, I'm lost in London (maybe it's due to the blog of the same name that I read) and am trying to find a restaurant or tube station but end up wandering around aimlessly. And another dream involves airports. I don't have the "being late for school" or "missing the bus" dreams any more, but every September, the week before term starts, I always dream I am supposed to be teaching a class and can't find my lecture notes and the students are getting increasingly restless and unpleasant. The other night I dreamt that I was examining a PhD viva but hadn't actually read the PhD. Again, I don't need a dream dictionary to "reveal" my textbook anxiety. Why can't I have fun dreams where I'm friends with a range of celebrities, or even surreal ones where I'm turning into a caterpillar or something. I can only conclude that my imagination is severely stunted.

    As for my nephew - rather him than me. At least I hope I can impart to him that the most important thing to get out of school is that gold stars don't actually mean anything.

    Sunday, September 02, 2007

    Should I have no sympathy?

    Would you want to have sex with this man in a bathroom?

    The big story at the moment in America is the resignation of US Republican senator, Larry Craig, who was caught engaging in a bit of foot tapping for gay sex in an airport toilet by a police sting. Craig's political record on gay rights suggests he liked to play the homophobe, with a strong stance against same-sex marriage and voting not to include homophobic hate crimes in new anti hate-crime legislation.

    I can (just about) understand it when some Republican comes out with a load of homophobic bile - the Republican parts of America are somwhat isolated, ruled by Bible-bashers who believe in Creationism and rarely leave their own states, let alone own a passport. Anyone a bit different usually has the good sense to leave to a costal city the minute they can afford the bus fare. So diversity isn't usually a concept they encounter. But for someone who is gay (or bisexual) to publicly support homophobic legislation - my first thought is that the bastard deserved all he got - and the American media have pounced upon this story in a gleeful way - the Republicans have washed their hands of him, while Democrat reporters are loving the sleazy scandal. An article on the news last night lovingly talked about the "language of bathroom sex", giving us all a little schooling on the rules on how to get sex in a toilet. Puns are flying around galore.

    But while I don't have any (or much) pity for Craig, I'm concerned about the way that the story has been reported - what is missing from the debate. Nowhere in the American media have I seen anyone argue that police entrapment - particularly in cases of men having sex in bathroom stalls, is both morally repungent and a waste of taxpayer's money. Really, in a case like this - who got hurt? Who is the victim? You could argue that some innocent young chap or lad might have a pass made at him - but in the huge majority of cases, gay men who engage in this sort of activity are incredibly careful to ensure that anyone they try to get involved with, is of a similar mindset. It is unsurprising that Craig thought that a policeman, sitting in a stall, not bothering to leave after a few minutes, was lingering with sexual intent.

    And almost all the gay men I've talked to about this, have said that at some point in their lives they've cottaged or cruised in parks. Most haven't done it much, for some it is practically a full-time occupation. I'm sure a lot of gay men watching the news will be thinking "There but for the grace of God..." I wonder how many members of the media are crowing about Craig's disgrace, having engaged in cottaging, taken drugs, paid for prositutes or had affairs...

    The media, the police and the politicians all assume that having sex in a bathroom stall is a crime, rather than a case of inappropriate behaviour. Those who engage in it should not be criminalised - but instead quietly advised to visit a gay sauna or club or go on the internet or something - there's really no need for men to be having sex in toilets any more - there are far safer and less public locations for it. Having sex in a toilet creates a link between grime and sex - reinforcing the idea of gay sex as something dirty and furtive, when it isn't. It's a vicious circle: while homophobia exists, gay men will always be forced into living a double life - resulting in them engaging in this sort of sex, which them reinforces the attitude that gay men are dirty deviants, which strengthens homophobia... If only there was some way to cut the circle... Tolerance perhaps?

    There is also no acknowledgement in this story about the complexity of sexuality - nobody seems to be bothered about why this man was prepared to risk his marriage, his reputation and his career over a few minutes of casual sex. Instead, the media stories simply reinforce homophobia - another closetted gay hypocrite is disgraced - one in a long line of many. Perhaps Republicans should hook up prospective candidates to a machine that measures penis length and show them gay porn, as a way of ensuring that these scandals bother them no more?

    Or perhaps gay Republicans should finally learn the unequivocable lesson - why on earth would you want to belong to a club that hates you? Sadly, for the Democrats - crowing over the humiliation - I'd be far more impressed if they tried to at least offer a bit of compassion and commentary on homophobic police practices. They may be a better alternative to the Republicans - but I'm glad I'm not eligible to vote for either of them.

    Friday, August 31, 2007

    Some photos of my trip to Iceland

    On the edge of Lj├│tipollur (ugly lake) - a huge crater formed in the 15th century.

    Our tour guide - what a fabulous beard!

    About to walk on a glacier.

    My fella put his foot through the glacier - I can't take him anywhere.

    Being pensive on the edge of a waterfall.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    On behalf of the Icelandic tourist board

    Just spent the first half of my holiday in Iceland and now in New York for the second half. I've never been to Iceland before - despite being so close to the UK, it's rarely mentioned in the press and not really seen by many as a tourist destination - the Brits traditionally prefer their holidays to involve getting skin cancer while drinking beer by a tiny swimming pool. Several people who I told I was going to Iceland looked at me blankly and asked "why?"

    Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Iceland is fab! Granted, even in summer the temperature rarely goes higher than 20 (and is often much lower), and everything is expensive - and their idea of fun is something called a "Herring Adventure Museum" (I'm not joking), but apart from that I had a great time. The food is amazing, the countryside is beautiful and varied (bits of it look like the moon, while other bits are like Mars), and almost all the tourist attractions are free. We bathed in a geothermically heated river, which was really weird. I also walked on a glacier (my mobile phone went off on it, oddly), drove up a volcano, saw a geyser erupt and went whale watching only a few miles from the Arctic circle - now that was cold. I was wearing five layers and still felt so cold that all I could do was close my eyes and hunker down on the side of the boat, hoping it would soon end.

    Reykjavik, the capital city is on the bijou side as cities go - with a total population of only 300,000 in the whole country, with 2/3 living in or around Reykjavik, it has the feel of a small university town, rather than a metropolis - there is one main street of shops, where you can buy a lot of striped knitware. We went out on Saturday morning and it was like a ghost town - presumably everyone was recovering from a heavy night's drinking, the night before. The lucky Icelanders produce more energy than they need, it seems - the fact that they have access to so much naturally heated water is lucky. However, the tap water in the hotel had sulphur in it - drinking it was like having someone break wind in your face after eating lots of eggs. Not nice.

    As for Viking stereotypes - we saw a lot of blondes - though I'm sure a lot of them came from a bottle. The women are very attractive - the men, um, not so. While everyone spoke English, I got the impression that some of the men just weren't very comfortable interacting with people. And Iceland is the country that fashion forgot. I guess there's only so much you can achieve with knitwear - and Icelanders are a very sensible people - when you're trying to stay warm, looking good has to come second place.

    Anyway, as Iceland doesn't seem to be the sort of country that does well at singing its own praises - on behalf of it, I'd like to say, next time you're thinking of spending a week in Ibiza or somewhere equally vulgar - think on and go to Iceland instead.

    Monday, August 20, 2007

    How Clean is your Office?

    One of my favourite things in the world is throwing stuff out. I've had a big clearout of my office at work this week - got rid of two filing cabinets (all containing stuff I'd never looked at in 5 years). Now all my work surfaces are so clean, I feel like getting rid of most of my desks too and putting a sofa there instead. All I need now is a rug to hide the dark grey, industrial-looking carpet. I've also cleaned my PC keyboard at work, which I'm ashamed to say, was getting rather brown due to years of accumulated muck. Kim and Aggie would have been disgusted.

    Speaking of disgusted, I've noticed that since the smoking ban, cigarette butts seem to be everywhere. Downstairs from my office is a student bar and outside it has become a walking ashtray. It's the same at my new flat. I cleaned up all the cigarette butts last week and they've all magically come back again. Walking through town now, you seem to see more people smoking and walking than before - they're getting a quick fix of nicotine before they have to go inside. I am hoping for a freezing cold winter this year, which will make it even more inconvenient for them to smoke, resulting in more people giving up. In my imaginary facist dictatorship, where I rule, smokers would be forced to take out their own private health insurance. Oh, and the drinking age would be 30, along with the driving age. There'd also be a 7pm curfew for everyone aged under 20. Just as well I'm not in power really.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007


    Last night I slept for the first time in my flat in Lancaster - I'll be moving in properly in mid-September, but will be spending a few nights there between now and then. I had been renting it out to students for 3 years. For budding property developers, I would advise against purchasing cream carpets throughout. Also, buying an ironing board is a must if you want to avoid black imprints of irons all over the (sadly no longer) cream carpets. Banning bicycles from staircases is also recommended - unless you enjoy spending an evening with your hands in a bucket full of sugar soap solution, in order to remove tyre marks from walls.

    I will have to get used to having different neighbours. There was loud music blaring out of someone's open window for a while - it's the sort of nihilistic bass beat you always hear from cars which have young lads driving them. (Why is it that whenever someone plays loud music out of their car, it's always gangsta rap or techno and never a rousing classical march or a cute song from a Disney film?) Also, someone has been leaving cigarette butts outside the front door. That'll have to stop. As an owner-occupier in my mid-30s, I intend to mob the resident's association with constant complaints until I get a reputation as a bitch.

    I was woken up at 7.30 by the sound of the post office vans reversing loudly down the street (an admitted negative to living next to the central post office in town). However, it only took 3 minutes to get to a Cafe Nero for breakfast - so that's an advantage which cancels out the noisy vans.

    I have to decide on a colour scheme for the whole flat by tomorrow. It is "doing my head in". The flat is dark as it is east-west facing and trees block the light from most of the windows. My fella has suggested doing the main bedroom in pink, but I don't really fancy it. He likes very strong yellows also. After having put up with magnolia for 2 years, I don't want to be boring - but I'm not sure I want to live in a battenburg cake either. Any ideas would be welcomed.

    I am going to miss Bristol - especially socially-stratified Clifton. I haven't really seen any poor people in 2 years. Or anyone with bad hair. In Lancaster, everyone lives side by side. And fashion is rather more edgy (or non-existent). It'll take some getting used to.

    But at least I won't have to dress up to post a letter anymore.

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    All camped out

    Some friends were going camping just outside Glastonbury and persuaded me to come along. The last time I went camping was in 1991, with two ancient tents borrowed from my Dad's scout troup. The tents took ages to put up and were uncomfortable and stuffy. I have avoided tents ever since - my idea of a good holiday is never leaving an enormous air conditioned room on the 53rd floor of a glitzy art deco hotel, overlooking a cultural capital, watching foreign tv and phoning down for people to bring me cups or tea and sandwiches with the crusts cut off every couple of hours. So spending the night in a field was a novelty. "It'll be a lark," my fella said. It was.

    Fortunately, tent technology has come a long way since then. The whole tent fit into a tiny package, it was so easy to put up that there were no instructions, and it was made of some sort of clever material (no doubt initially created for astronauts or something) which kept the inside at just the right temperature, despite the fact that it rained pretty much all night.

    It was still uncomfortable though - and Heath Ledger didn't come knocking in the night either. Though I did think I spied Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Williams.

    We had the smallest tent on the campsite - quite an achievement. We'd arrived the night after everyone else and I found that our group had already been "told off" by the site owners for making too much noise the night before - apparently they all got drunk and were singing and dancing until 1.30 in the morning (this is what happens when you arrange to go camping with 10 gay men, of whom you only know 3 in advance). Luckily, everyone was more sedate last night and we were all tucked up in our tents by 11pm. Within our cluster of tents, two separate "camps" had formed - the "fabulous" group whose sole topics of discussion were vintage French and Saunders, Madonna, sex and clubbing. Then there were the boring academic gays, who sat around talking about constellations and film technique. I was in the latter group.

    We also went into Glastonbury - what a weird place. It's great if you woke up and said "Hmm, you know what, today I really must stock up on crystals, incense, hemp, a model of a fairy, some druid clothing and a book on how to cast Magick spells". But if you, say, wanted to buy something as mundane as a washing machine or a DVD (unless it was a DVD on how to read auras) then forget it. Many of the people walking around had that frazzled look that you get from spending 3 decades smoking hash, not keeping proper sleeping hours and thinking you are descended from Merlin. It was a very easy place to be the most fashionable person in - because, let's face it, purple hair and a willowy kaftan with a few moons and stars drawn on it are never really going to make it down the catwalks of Milan. With that said, they weren't doing anyone, any harm - and they all looked so out of their heads on drugs relaxed, that they were never going to summon up the energy to start a revolution. And I had a lot of fun skitting them, so that's always good.

    One night was enough though. We got home and went back to bed for 3 hours. If we do it again, I think it might be worth investing in an air mattress or something. Sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag isn't recommended...

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    To celebrate the release of Season 2 of Dynasty in the UK, here are some of my favourite clips:

    Joan dances

    For years in our family, this has been known as The Joanie Dance. I don't remember the exact storyline, but it involves Joan swindling some old cowboys so she can get her hands on their fortune. My fella can do a very good impersonation of it, if persuaded sufficiently.

    Alexis takes the mansion

    Take this JUNK and your BLONDE TRAMP and get out of my home!! A good way to get any guests who have overstayed their welcome to leave.

    Fake Krystal

    Rita (also played by Linda Evans, with a slightly common accent) has taken Krystal's place. Will Mrs Gunnerson realise? I can never decide between fancy French foods either.

    The Moldavian Massacre

    A little cast grooming for the end of Season 5.

    Monday, July 30, 2007


    Just back from a conference in Birmingham over the weekend. So some quick points:

    I hate missing trains by a few seconds and if you were on platform 3 at Bristol Temple Meads on Friday afternoon you would have enjoyed witnessing me having a screaming row with my fella, who refuses to run for trains. In my defence, it was a long time since I had had anything to eat. And watching 2 gay men scream recriminations at each other was an entertaining diversion for the 100 or so people who were watching. (We got another train 15 minutes later.)

    I used to think Birmingham was nice, but it seems to have gone a bit rough since I was last there. Maybe I just got it on a bad day. Some lads (I'm guessing who were half my age) shouted "Battyman" at me and another conference member (who is outwardly effeminate) from a balcony, when we were walking through the Bullring. It's the first time I've ever experienced that sort of homophobic abuse. Fortunately, I was the only one who heard them. The day before I heard a group of drunk lads shouting "she-male!" at some random person. Why are so many young men such wankers?

    The new Hairspray film has some good musical numbers in (it's a bit exhausting to watch), and the cameos from Ricki Lake, John Walters and Ben Stiller are nice. But I still prefer the subversive humour of the original film (I can't believe almost 20 years have passed since I first saw it - where did they go???)

    I am reading a book about Forensic Psychology. It's pretty grim stuff. My fella took one look and said "oh that's your sort of thing!" I am quite normal really, but a few of my friends comment that I like weird films that have unhappy endings. I'm not sure why. Unhappy endings tend to make me think more and have more of an impact. And that makes me happy.

    Octopussy is maybe the worst (ie best) Bond film ever made. Even if it does have a happy ending.

    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Why I love Seinfeld

    One of the ways I relax is by watching Seinfeld DVDs. The picture of the cast above is completely unrepresentative of the show, making the characters look fun and zany, just like any American sitcom such as Friends. However, the characters in Seinfeld are often bitter, apathetic, envious or inconsiderate. They are not fun.

    It took me a long time to appreciate how well-written and funny Seinfeld is (I couldn't get past the weird twangy music for years, I found the sets to be a bit muted and generic, and I didn't like how it was supposedly about "nothing"), but it's one of those shows where the longer you watch it, the more you get from it - with, little themes and jokes recurring. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's writing are wonderful, taking "observational humour" and making a sitcom out of it, while throwing in loads of neurotic pondering, where characters spend ages obessing about a real or imagined slight, the imprecise rules of socia behaviour and the exact meanings of vague utterances. I guess it helps to appreciate the show if you do those things yourself.
    The world that Seinfeld lives in is random, full of co-incidences and often Kafkaesque. In one well-known episode Seinfeld and his friends are unable to remember where they parked their car in a shopping mall car park and spend the entire half hour wandering around trying to get people to help them find it, and are met with varying degrees of apathy from members of the public. This is a recurring theme - of people simply being unwilling to help or get involved. In another episode, the cast are waiting to get a table at a Chinese restaurant, while other groups get served before them. It's a reassuring form of comedy to know that other people care about things like that, but that also it's best to laugh at it (I'm one of those people who always seems to pick the slow queue at the supermarket.)

    The only thing about Seinfeld that I don't get is how come there are so many beautiful women in the show - I'm sure in real life none of these women would give the male characters a second look (even if they are funny). FOrtunately, sometimes Elaine (the only female recurring character) bags herself a hunk, so there's something for me to look at as well.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    "My mind is not yet soothed"

    My Canadian friend was visiting at the weekend and wanted to try the new Thermae Spa in Bath (the one that took ages to finish and was very expensive), so we went there on Monday. I was a bit worried that it would be full (as it seems to be very popular) so I rushed us there and was buying tickets while my poor friend was eating a half-finished pie.

    It was very expensive - and you had to pay extra to hire towels and robes. The changing rooms were mixed-sex and there was a locker system involving electronically encoded bracelets which I found very confusing (I felt like a pensioner to be honest, going "where are the keys Where's the men's changing room? What do I do? Help!")

    The spa itself was very "modern" in design, with circles incorporated into everything. The main steam room area had four large circular glass steam rooms, each scented differently, while in the middle was a huge circular shower, big enough to accomodate about 8 people at once. It was what I imagine Dr Who's bathroom would be like, as the walls were lined with rows of circular windows, making it feel like the Tardis (circa the Tom Baker era).

    Women outnumbered men at the Spa by about 9:1. Me and my friend were the only pair of males in the place - all of the other men were with their girlfriends/wives. I felt a bit out-of-place and worried that the other patrons would think we were there to ogle the women (obviously not the case). I guess going to a Spa is a bit of a girly thing to do. Some of the steam rooms were scented with lavender which made me feel choked, and there was that "relaxing" music playing (which actually makes me feel tense and annoyed).

    So what with getting annoyed at the expense, confused by the locker system and single-sex changing room, intimidated by being in a gender minority and pissed off by the music and over-powering smells, I must be the only person to visit a Spa and come out feeling more stressed and uptight than when they went in.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Bravo and Bernard

    I know I mocked Bravo Two Zero but I just finished reading it and IT WAS GREAT!!!! I don't think a book has ever taken me on such a journey before. I don't mean the literal journey across Iraq that Andy McNabb describes, but a metaphoric journal where I started out viewing the book as trashy but then got caught up in the adventure of it and started marvelling at how McNabb coped with the harsh envirnment and then the torture when he was captured. By the end of it I was sort of in love with him. The book is very big on acronyms and SAS slang, which at first I found annoying, but by the end words like "slotted" and "gave the good news" and TACBE did not interrupt my speed-reading style.

    I even (shame) went out and bought the DVD of the BBC version of Bravo Two Zero starring the very Yorkshire Sean Bean. I have only been able to watch half of it so. I am unsure if I'll be able to cope with the second half (it has all the torture stuff in it). Fortunately Andy and his boys didn't suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Apparently living in a culture of "taking the piss of everything and everyone" inures you to such things. I had always disliked the army because of the rudeness, but I guess it does psychologically prepare you for being captured by the enemy, where they'll do a lot worse to you.

    I could never go in the army. I bristle with silent rage if someone tells me I'm looking a bit tired.

    Did anyone see the Bernard Manning thing on Channel 4? I was prepared to give him a chance, never having really seen his act or anything. (For non-Brits, Bernard Manning is a stand-up comedian, famed for his racist humour.) At a hotel in Blackpool he started off quite well, making a self deprecatory joke about his appearance, but it then descended into a racist rant, directed at the sole black member of the audience, while everyone else gacked with laughter. Horrible. Worse still, when Manning was confronted about his racism after the show, he responded with abuse and arrogance "I've worked in Vegas and drive a Rolls! You're nobody! Everyone who hates me is just jealous!" He's dead now. It's probably for the best. I hope the jokes died with him.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Have I found out the reason for my afternoon dip?

    I tend to get really tired and sleepy in the afternoon. I'd assumed it was "normal" and that I was just being Spanish and craving a siesta. However, today I didn't have a yoghurt for lunch with my soup and I didn't have an afternoon dip at all. Maybe I'm not really Spanish at all - but I've just been experiencing a daily sugar low all these years. (Must investigate further.)

    I went out yesterday to buy blu-ray discs. The store assistant was impressed and asked me if I had a Playstation 3 and was it good? I love being an early adopter (kind of). When I got home I showed my fella the discs I'd bought (Mission Impossible 3, Monster House and Deja vu). "I'm guessing they don't have a very big selection of films yet" he commented. As a punishment I made him watch Mission Impossible 3 with me. When it finished he said "Well that was 2 hours of my life I'll never get back." To be honest, I wasn't paying much attention to the "story" at all, but was instead marvelling at how the 40 inch screen and high definition tv showed up Tom Cruise's crow's feet and pores in his face. I keep reading about how actors now have to be "high definition ready" and now I know what I mean. I am definitely not high definition ready. I look best when slighty out of focus so it is just as well most of my friends have poor eyesight from reading too many books.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Money burning a hole in my pocket

    We are moving back to Lancaster in a couple of months, having sold our flat in Bristol. Living up north is much cheaper than the south(west), so we will be notably better off and will only have 1 mortgage instead of 3 (don't ask). I am getting fancy new bathrooms in the new place (a 3 bedroom duplex), new sofas, new carpets, new everything. For a whole week my only topic of conversation has been "what sort of taps should I have?" which I acknowledge isn't even that interesting to ME, let alone anyone else. I am in danger of becoming one of those people who bore their friends by going on incessantly about bathroom suites and getting out the catalogues when people come round.

    Today I bought a Playstation 3 and Sony 40 inch high definition LDC tv. To be honest, the picture on it isn't all that good close up, but when you put a blu-ray disc in, it's so beautiful that even the most rubbish film becomes amazing. (The only blu-ray disc I have is Resident Evil 2, which is not the greatest film in the world, so I am speaking from experience.) I wasn't sure whether to go with blu-ray or HD DVD (it's a rerun of VHS vs. Betamax of the early 80s), but after doing a bit of reading around online, and looking at what was available in the shops, it looks like blu-ray is the likely winner. More of the big media companies are supporting it, and it is inbuilt into the PS3 anyway. Now it looks like I will end up having to replace my massive DVD collection with blu-rays (after having just finished replacing all my videos with DVDs).

    I had a bit of a bad experience 3 years ago when I last bought a television (it gave me headaches and the store wouldn't let me return it), so now I'm a bit wary of forking out a lot of money. This time I bought everything off Comet's website (they tend to discount the prices quite a bit online, and also, you have 7 days to return things if you don't like them if you buy online - which isn't the case if you buy instore). I took out a 3 year warranty plan as LCD tvs have problems with dead pixels (something I've encountered before), although I made the store manager promise in writing that they'd replace the tv if there was even 1 dead pixel (as a lot of stores don't consider 1 dead pixel to be a fault). Even after all that, I still ended up spending more than I had intended as I had ot buy buy a tv stand and a "monster" cable which allows you to watch blu-ray films. And I got a PS3 game called MotorStorm, which is a rather fun driving game.

    Stuff doesn't make you happy apparently. But at the moment I am very happy.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Valkyeries on Holiday

    Just back from a week's holiday in Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. I wish I could say it was lovely sunny weather, but it rained a lot and on the days when it didn't, it was windy and grey. My fella likes cliff-top walks for some reason that I can't fathom. However, he has a history of falling off cliffs when walking alone so I now have to accompany him. I try and act like I am enjoying it, but on the last walk it was such an ordeal that I felt all we were missing was a magic ring and a crack of doom. He got up at 5 in this morning to outwit me and went on a walk on his own. Fortunately, he didn't fall into any cracks of doom.

    The highlight of the holiday was a trip to the Jamie Oliver restaurant for a 6 course meal. Cornwall has gone a bit upmarket since the last time we were there two years ago. The jolly little 1960s style cafe that used to serve egg and chips (that I had really been looking forward to visiting) in our bay, had been converted into a trendy restaurant (oil and ciabatta and posh girls serving). Oh well. There was some excitement during the week, when a lifeguard decided to take a female companion on a "tour of some caves" around the bay and then they both went missing for 11 hours. It made the national papers but luckily they ended up OK. I hope those "caves" were worth it.

    We were staying with my fella's extended family, including two of his sisters, his parents, his grown-up neice and his baby niece. Collectively I have named the female members of his family "The Valkyeries" as they are all powerful Liverpudlian women who Shouldn't Be Messed With (the grand matriarch is called Val). The baby niece is not yet 1 year old but is already shaping up to be a Valkyerie - when she wants something she points her index finger at you and looks right at you defying you to disobey. The Valkyeries are all very merry and hardy and they like to talk to you at the same time, so it can be a bit of an exhausting experience. A lot of their conversations involve relaying tales of how they encountered and dealt with conflict, usually with a work colleague or shopkeeper. These stories usually involve the Valkyerie in question triumphing and getting her own way. What is quite scary though, is that when they tell the stories, they get so involved, that it is like they are reliving the experience with YOU as the person they are arguing with. Still, after 15 years of studying them, I have some tricks for dealing with them, and I usually keep them all in line by inventing little games and amusements so their competitive personalities can be safely channelled. We spent most of last night with me running a very long quiz for them all. Unfortunately, they kept making me drink bottles of beer (I am normally teetotal due to my kidneys not being very good at processing alcohol) and I ended up a bit drunk. I haven't been drunk in 10 years. It was quite a nice feeling - a sensation of losing control. But I wouldn't like it to be a regular thing.

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    My celebrity lookalikes

    I hate it when people say I look like a particular celebrity and I usually look nothing like them. But at you can upload your own face and the magic of computer technology tells you exactly who you look like:

    Oh whatever.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    The 3am girls

    I stayed out last night after 3 and felt just like The 3am girls (do they still exist or have they settled down, put away their sparkly mascara, had babies and turned into the 10.30pm girls?) of the Daily Mirror. I have "a night out" about twice a year. There was a party at a club I was invited to, so I went along (with misgivings). As someone who is mainly introverted, I can assume the personality of an extrovert for about 2 hours, but it's a terrible strain, like doing a difficult conjuring trick and I usually have to lie down in a dark room afterwards. All that smiling and being interested in other people and thinking of funny things to say hurts after a while. It's not that I don't have good social skills - I'm just antisocial. My fella is even more antisocial than me - he wouldn't even go to the party but stayed at home to watch Dr Who and play strategy games on his computer.

    "I've seen you in Borders cafe" a very drunk man said, lunging at me. "And you look like my brother." I made my excuses and hid in the toilet for a bit. Luckily, I found a fellow misanthrope and we stood in a corner and complained about how difficult it all was. Anyway, apart from that, it wasn't too bad - despite the fact that I now have ringing in my ears and it's the next day and all my clothes smell of cigarettes (but not for long, the clock is ticking on those nightclub smokers - I hope incoming PM Gordon Brown realises that the air may be cleaner, but the collective mood of the UK will be fouler as smokers either go cold turkey or have to stand out in the British weather to get their fix).

    I think I had dressed well and appropriately, but my shoes let me down. I only have 1 pair of shoes. They are brown slip-ons intended for a 63 year old man and I have had them for over a year so the soles and heels are worn down to practically nothing. I have "problem feet" and every time I buy new shoes, always end up crippled with blisters so end up throwing them away. My friend Richard who is more fashionable than me tells me that "You just have to ride it out" but I like my comfort. He was wearing very stylish shoes with pointy toes and was complaining about them hurting by the end of the night. "We're gay men, we have to sacrifice comfort for style!" I think I must have missed that particular lesson at Gay School....

    When I emerged from the club I offered to drive some friends home (they were talking about getting the nightbus, whatever that is, and I didn't like the sound of it). So we drove through Bristol town centre. It was a weird experience - drunk crowds of people spilling out onto the pavement and road. But oddest of all - the seagulls - dozens of them, swarming and circling overhead. "They're after the chips" said one of my friends. And it seemed they were. Feeding the birds used to mean putting out a few slices of stale bread. Now they feast on leftover kebabs. I'm surprised they don't fall out of the sky more often.