Friday, March 30, 2007

Fondued



I fulfilled an ambition last night and had fondue. It was part of a 1970s party I was holding for a few friends. The other food included vol-a-vonts and black forest gateaux with babysham and blue nun to drink. The fondue was a lot of fun, although the more people had to drink, the more bits of carrot and celery ended up getting lost in the fondue pot. I imagine that a lot of women probably lost a lot of their jewellry to fondue back in the 1970s. I had made a mix-tape of my favourite 1970s hits (Demis, Nana, The Nolans, BeeGees, Baccara etc).



And I put out some of my old copies of Quorum (an early gay magazine where the models look like normal people and airbrushing didn't happen). Everyone had turned up wearing loud 70s shirts with mismatching cravats and ties.



Afterwards, we watched the epic Abigail's Party, and I attempted to keep up with Monstrous hostess Beverely by continually offering my guests gin and tonics and asking if they were "alright" every few seconds.

In the middle of all this, my mum phoned to say that my sister had just had a baby boy (she's a week early, but he's the longest baby on the ward and is 8oz and has a full head of hair), so it all kind of morphed into a Happy New Baby party. Hoping to go up to Leeds at the weekend to see them.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I heart Leeanne



Leeanne Battersby is back in Corrie, and with a great big meaty storyline to go with it. She's got a job as a "high-class escort" (complete with posh accent) although has told everyone she's making her money selling holiday homes in Spain. Her step-mum Janice decides to surprise her on the job, and discovers the awful truth, leading to a classic Corrie confronation where Leeanne defiantly defends her choice:

Leeanne: One of the reasons I am doing it is because I want to get out of places like this. Look at it. It's pathetic and depressing.
Janice: Oh listen to it. The hooker that thinks she is better than me
Leeanne: I AM better than you because I have a future. I am moving up and going places. Look at you, you'll never go anywhere. You're one of life's losers. Living in a scabby flat? Working in a scabby factory? Fretting about having enough money for beer and bingo?
Janice: Get out!
Leeanne: I'm going don't worry. I wouldn't stay in this dump if you paid me. Oh and don't worry about my clothes and all my stuff. I'll just buy new

I like Leeanne - she's one of those pragmatic girls who knows the score and does what she has to in order to survive. I'm pleased that Corrie seems to be leaving its little 1950s bubble and updating its storylines to reflect contemporary life (children smoking a spliff, bisexual love triangles... it's all part of life's rich tapestry). One thing that it hasn't lost touch with though is it's strong women - and Leeanne's firmly grasped that mantel.

I got the Ken Russell film Tommy from the second hand DVD shop near where I live. I've seen it a few times before - it's a weirdly hypnotic, unsettling film. I first saw it when I was 10 and didn't understand much of it and found a lot of it quite frightening - especially the scenes involving the Marilyn Monroe faith-headling cult, Tina Turner's twitching, leering Gypsy Acid Queen and Ann Margaret getting bathed in a baked beans commerical. Me being me, my favourite bits are all the camp numbers (described above) and the parts that have something to say about consumerism and celebrity. The BBC banned the music/film when it came out apparently. Everyone seems to criticise Oliver Reed's singing, but I think he was perfectly cast as the sleazy holiday camp green-coat. Ann Margaret is one of my favourite actresses (ever since I saw her perform an incredibly rinky-dink dance number in Viva Las Vegas). And wouldn't it be fun to spin round in one of those white bubble chairs, with soap powder, champagne, chocolate and beans being hurled at you? Or is that just me.



Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I can't get my head round the 4th dimension

...in Edwin Abbott Abbott's book Flatland, he writes about a square that lives in a two-dimensional world, like the surface of a piece of paper. A three-dimensional being has seemingly god-like powers from the perspective of this square: such as being able to remove objects from a safe without breaking it open (by moving them across the third dimension), see everything that from the two-dimensional perspective is enclosed behind walls, and remaining completely invisible by standing a few inches away in the third dimension. By applying dimensional analogy, one can infer that a four-dimensional being would be capable of similar feats from our three-dimensional perspective. Wikipedia








These are 2 dimensional renderings of rotating tesseracts or hypercubes, 4 dimensional objects that make me feel a bit queasy to look at. Their official description is "a regular convex 4-polytope whose boundary consists of eight cubical cells". I guess something that looks that complicated also needs a complicated description to match.

According to some physicists, there are actually 10, 11 or even 26 dimensions out there. Most of them are too small for us to notice though.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cats and boxes

My sister's car broke down and had to be scrapped on Thursday. Luckily I was thinking of getting a new car myself, so I've said she can have mine. Buying a car is one of the most stressful things I can think of doing. This is my 7th car, so I guess I've done it enough times to know what I'm doing. I've got over my fear of Men Who Know About Cars (salesmen and mechanics) and I can even take a test drive without worrying that my driving is being judged. But I hate the bit at the end, when you have to try and bargain down the price. I don't like haggling - it feels like so uncivilised and greedy. I'd rather just pay the asking price. But there's the whole masculinity thing about haggling, and I end up sitting there stony-faced in the waiting area of some salesroom as some car salesman says "We can't take anything off it, but we can throw in a couple of mats." Mats? Who cares about mats when you're giving them £10,000. So I turned down a Honda Jazz and marched me and my fella defiantly out of the salesroom. I didn't like the car anyway, it smelt of dog and cheap fabric softener. I ended up driving to Cheltenham and getting a Mercedes A Class which didn't smell of anything. It was £1000 cheaper. When I got home, the Honda Jazz salesman had left a message on my phone saying "I think we can arrange something, give me a ring." Maybe he wanted to throw in one of those air fresheners shaped like a tree or something. I feel I've maintained my masculinity, and at 34, finally feel like I'm a man.

***

I've started reading Richard Dawkin's first book - the Selfish Gene. I had no idea that Mr Dawkin provokes such startling reactions from people. But I guess if you are religious, what he's saying must be quite irritating. I like the idea of genes though. They make sense to me and they're helping me to make sense of the world. For example, my ginger tom cat likes to hide. If we buy something that comes in a box, he always climbs in it and peeks out. We spent ages this morning looking for him, it turned out he was hiding under the clothes-horse which was like a tent, with all the bedsheets hanging off it. He loves to be tickled and stroked as well. I'm betting that both his hiding and love of being tickled are in his genes. Cats who hid probably survived from being killed by bigger animals. And those who were sociable to humans probably got looked after and fed. He's the product of his genes. And I'm the product of mine. I'm even wondering if the fact I am crap at getting off to sleep is a gene thing. I suspect that I am descended from ancestors who weren't much cop at hunting animals or fighting off other tribes. So instead, they acted as the nightwatch, staying awake, guarding their tribe throughout the night and making a lot of noise if there looked like there was going to be an invasion. It probably explains why I worry so much about stuff - my genes make me constantly vigilant, always looking out for the worst and planning for disaster so it can be avoided. I guess that 100,000 years ago, that was probably quite a good set of genes to have if you weren't big and tough. But these days, well, you just come across as a bit neurotic. Maybe I should get into that box with my cat.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Business as usual

I've got things looking almost as they did before. My links are back - I hadn't realised how upset I would feel without them there. You people matter to me!

But I can't make the comments appear on the main page, and I can't change the colour of the grey box at the end of each posting. Oh well.

My hideous flu has finally gone gone gone. It started on December 28th and continued until last week - the worst one I've ever had (the people who concocted last year's flu jab got it wrong this time and didn't include that strain). According to my fella's dad, it is apparently a version of the 1960s pandemic. Almost everyone I know got it. I know someone who even died from it (well, they were very old anyway). But it hasn't been reported much in the media, which is too preoccupied with bird flu to care. If one bird with bird flu is found washed up on British shores, it triggers an army of reporters and all other news stories are put on hold for the week. In other countries, birds with flu are turning up all the time.

I think that flu is one of my obessions. I get the flu jab and always ask too many questions when I'm there. I hate going on public transport or sitting in waiting rooms as people are always coughing and sneezing. Why can't we force people to wear face masks when they're ill, as they do in places like Hong Kong. And I regularly check the EISS (European Influenza Surveillance Scheme) and study the maps and graphs which show the levels of weekly outbreaks in different parts of Europe. It's a fascinating site, and I'm sure OCD sufferers everywhere will appreciate that link.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I've upgraded to New Blogger - and this is what it looks like.

Hideous. Generic. Hideous.

And it's taken away all my links to other blogs.

I'm too demoralised to work out how to fix things right now.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Polyester is a sin

This has been around for about seven years now. But I never tire of reading it. I often come across homophobic websites like this one or this one and with a couple of alterations, the article below can be emailed on to them. I love the faux naiveity and polite tone. And I think it's so important to remind religious folk (even the nice ones) that parts of the Bible are so UTTERLY CRAZY that it brings the whole thing into disrepute. And once you start on selective interpretation, well - it's a slippery slope isn't it.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where are all the leather daddies?

I'm sad that John Inman died. I have happy memories of watching Are You Being Served when I was growing up. Despite the "camp" persona, and the fact he denied that Mr Humphries was gay (!), I guess we can make allowances because it was the 1970s and Gay Liberation was just starting to get under way. For anyone to be gay or gay-coded in the media in those days, it was remarkably brave and forward-thinking.

Camp gay stereotypes like that don't annoy me as much as they used to about 5-10 years ago when I would bristle at any representation that seemed to confirm prejudices. Some gay men are camp, some aren't. And I think there are places for both sorts of representations in the world. What I dislike more is people complaining that they don't like camp gay men, or "straight-acting" men for that matter - though "straight-acting" is ultimately an inaccurate term - "approximating traditional masculinity" is what they actually mean. I still get a bit dismayed when people continually make the error of conflating sexuality (gay/straight) and gender (masculine/feminine) together.

I think I am a bit camp. If hear my voice on an answerphone it sounds camp to me, not like how I think I sound like. I saw Dreamgirls 3 times. I like the Golden Girls, Ab Fab, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and kitsch stuff. It's a part of me. But that's not all there is. I also like and do stuff that people probably wouldn't think as camp - Clint Eastwood movies, putting up flatpak furniture, steakhouses (!) I wear boring brown old men's slip-on shoes, my hair is always a mess (and not in a carefully constructed way), I like to be the driver, I can't/won't cook and I'm not very good at housework. At least I find it very easy to adapt to the people I'm around, because I can draw on lots of different interests and parts of myself.

Something that does continue to bother me though, is commerical gay culture. I don't go on "the scene" very often, have never been on a Pride March (now called Mardi Gras) and would never buy a product just because it was gay (though when I was 20 I did used to always try and stay in gay guesthouses and eat at gay restaurants. I stopped because on the whole, I wasn't that impressed with the service.)

This website for Pink Mortgage Services is something that I find a bit sad. Look at the pictures it has:





I guess they're trying to show that there are different types of gay people, which is good. But it's a bit over-kill and relies on stereotyped categorises that I don't think are that common really (the site claims to have 95% gay and lesbian clients - though I couldn't find any pictures of women there). And for the men, if you are not a muscled clubber on GHB, a drag queen, S/M leather daddy or bear, then how are you supposed to feel represented by this company? (I guess at least the "bear" is pushing a child along, which acknowledges that gay people can be fathers or uncles or whatever, but he's still in the background of the picture).

I don't know any of those sorts of people. OK, I live in Bristol which is not as big as London, but it's still fairly cosmopolitan. Most gay people I know look just like everyone else. They'd walk past you on the street and you'd never know they were gay. Maybe if you chatted with them for a bit, or if they told you, then you'd realise they were gay. But maybe not. I sometimes feel that the "invisible gay majority" is the last under-represented group left. And it's also the most important one - because if the invisible gay majority starts being recognised by the mainstream media and the gay media, then everyone will realise we are not stereotypes - we're just people.

Friday, March 09, 2007

But I loved it

Have you ever had the experience where you've been on a plane, or stuck in a hotel or ill in bed or something and you end up watching some movie that under normal circumstances you would never have watched. And you expect it to be rubbish, but in spite of yourself, you actually end up enjoying it? I've had happen to me three times recently. On a trip to New York I enjoyed the 40 Year Old Virgin. Then on a work trip abroad last month I saw Employee of the Month on the plane and liked it. And worse still, on the way back I watched half of School of Rock (a Jack Black comedy about a drop-out who ends up teaching rock music to a schoo of gifted children) and then got really annoyed when the plane landed and they switched off the media system. It kept going round and round in my head - how did it turn out? I even went to Borders on Tuesday to see if they had it on DVD (they didn't - my Borders has nothing!) Anyway, I was just walking across the campus square today and there was one of those little stands selling cheap DVDs. And there it was. So for £6 I have School of Rock and will watch it on the way home tonight and finally find out how it ends. Except I think I figured it out already.

Unchallenging feel-good mainstream American comedies aimed at teens? Who knew that was my guilty pleasure?
Mike from troubled diva has asked me to publicise this collaborative blog-stunt for Comic Relief (next Friday).

The idea is to produce and publish - between now and then - a paperback anthology of blog writing, that can be sold to raise funds for the charity.

1. Bloggers are invited to select one post from their archives, suitable for inclusion in the book.

2. Because it's Comic Relief, the watchword here is Funny. So Mike is looking for
posts with a pronounced comedic content, at least. (NB: text only, please - no pictures.)

3. The permalinks are e-mailed to Mike, at mikejla@btopenworld.com. Or if not the permalinks, then a tickled-up version of the original text. The absolute final deadline is 6pm Weds evening, but the earlier the better.

4. Mike will collate the material in an MS Word document or as a PDF, and submit it to www.lulu.com - a site which specialises in self-publishing, and which doesn't require any upfront costs or pre-planning. Once they have the text, the book is more or less immediately ready to sell.

5. All money raised by sales - ie. minus the fees charged by the website - is donated to Comic Relief. Mike expects to raise between 3 and 4 quid per book, as lulu's charges hover around 4 or 5 quid.

So get sending him your funniest blog entry! I've included this from Jamie4U.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

U HAV2 LEAVE UK BY SUNDAY @ 2PM OR U WILL B AN ILLEGAL IMMGRNT

Migrants are going to get text messages to remind them to go home. This is up there with John Major's cones hotline. I've defended the Labour Party quite a bit over the years, but even I'm getting extremely unimpressed. I very much doubt I'll be voting Labour next time.

I guess if I was planning on staying in the country illegally, I'm sure that getting a text message would have me packing my bags and on the next plane home. Cos you know, you sometimes forget things like when you visa runs out. Could happen to anyone.

Perhaps they could expand the plan.

For teenagers: DONT AV SEX UNTIL U R 16 U MIGHT GET PREGNANT. AND DONT DRINK 2 MUCH WKD.

For single mothers: ITS YOUR OWN FAULT BITCH!

For black teenagers: DONT SHOOT YR M8S WITH GUNZ.

For gay men: DONT BAREBACK, AIDS DRUGZ COST THE NHS MONEY.

For pensioners: HURRY UP AND DIE.

For working-class people: GET OUT OF LONDON. WE HATE YOU.

For Muslims: HAND OVA YR BOMBS, DONT PUT THEM ON BUSES OK? THERE R NO 72 VIRGINS.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Oh what's the point of it all?



I read a report in The Times yesterday, at the doctors, I've given up on buying it and returned to The Guardian (it's like moving to a different planet - the view of the world it gives is so utterly different). Anyway, the Times were reporting some on some study about blogs that says that everyone has a blog these days and teens spend 4 hours a week on their blogs. Nothing very exciting. It was probably funded by advertising. Anyway, I read quite a few blogs and sometimes I wonder what the point of it all is. Some people have a funny writing style, which I admire, some are informative. But some are (and I don't mean to be rude here) rather superficial.

There seems to be a lot of comment out there on the following subjects: celebrities, especially Britney Spears, Madonna, Paris Hilton, reality tv "stars", reality tv, sportsplayers (usually accompanied by pictures of them in their underwear or naked), "hot" men (again, pictured naked, and all with shaved identikit bodies, the same abs, the same tousled hair, the same tanned skin tone), comments about how people look, especially their weight, comments about the latest celebrity scandal, what we saw on tv last night, along with the minutiae of people's lives.

I guess I'm guilty (if that's the word) of the same thing, though I try to avoid putting up pictures of hot guys, even though I know it'd increase my readership. There's something a bit creepy about those sites - not only are the models all so similar and obviously air-brushed that I feel they erase what Dove call "real beauty", whatever that is, they also force sexuality on us, and make us focus on people as sex objects first and foremost.

I guess my point is not that these people are superficial - but that their blogs are. When did we all suddenly turn into Heat magazine? I don't read blogs for information. I get plenty of that at work. But I do look for original thinking, wit, good writing, pieces that make me feel something real, something that matters. And you know what? Britney Spears does not matter. There I said it. There's no going back now...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Always window shopping but never stopping to buy



I love everything about this film and no matter how many times I see it, I never tire of watching it. Lynn Redgrave is completely endearing as a 1960s Ugly Betty, offset by prettier (but not on the inside) Charlotte Rampling. Alan Bates even shows his bum at one point. And I love James Mason's posh 60s northern accent (in my own head I sound like him). Watched it recently with my fella and he asked me "who do you identify with?" I didn't like to say. But I guess it would be Georgy. I have very similar experiences of getting my hair cut.
In love with Richard Dawkins

My sister lent me The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I read on various planes and in various hotels while out of the country this last 2 weeks. It's rare that you come across a book which gets you really thinking, and I've bought The Selfish Gene to see what else he has to say.

Dawkins' aethism is refreshing, brave, intelligent, funny and thoughtful. I puzzled over a couple of things, such as his chapter on intelligent design - there didn't seem to be much on where the universe came from - what caused the "the big bang" for example? At times he descends into polemic (which is always amusing - but perhaps not the most level-headed argumentation strategy)- it is really necessary to call the Bush government the American Taliban? But on the whole, I agreed with a lot of his arguments.

I don't believe in God anyway. I don't even believe in "a higher power" who created everything. My only religious experience was at 16, when a friend harrangued me into going to a fundamentalist church with him (fashioned on American revival movements - our cultural cringe takes many forms). After two hours of singing, hugging, clapping and chanting, I was called to the front to "receive the spirit of the Lord". I refused to move from my spot at the back. So kindly, the congregation decided to come to me. I found myself surrounded by them all, praying and speaking in tongues. Actually, I did feel something - my hands and feet went red and numb, and I experienced this weird, joyful pleasurable feeling (I've never taken heroin or E, but I imagine it was probably a bit like that). Was it the Spirit of the Lord though? I don't think so. I was an impressionable 16 year old, easily swayed by peer pressure, having just received my GCSE results that week (so in an emotional state anyway). After two hours of clapping and jumping up and down, I suspect many people would feel their hands and feet were a bit odd. The chanting, swaying music was clearly designed to lull people into some kind of hypnotic trance. I could see how it could be mistaken for a religious experience though.

I don't encounter religious people very much. On the overseas course I was recently teaching, my students took me out for a meal and it transpired that all of them were religious. They asked me if I was, and I said no. They were still nice to me, but I was reminded of that line in Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield says his Catholic friend would have enjoyed their conversation more if he had also been Catholic. Also, to my shame, I didn't "come out" as gay to any of them. There was quite a bit of talk about my marital status along with comments on my physical appearance. And I told them I wasn't married (true), but didn't mention my male partner. I guess if they'd checked out my staff website and seen that I've written four books with the word "gay" in the title, then they'd probably be able to work it out (and I suspect a few of them had done this). I guess I could make excuses all I want, but ultimately I simply couldn't be bothered to deal with the questions and possible problems that my sexuality sometimes brings. I've found that my sexuality has caused other students issues in the past - in particular, gay male students who are still closeted have a problem with me. And who knows what stuff these students were hearing at church? I just wish I lived in a world where I could mention my partner and it didn't ever have to be an issue.