Monday, August 25, 2008

This blog isn't just about homophobic murders and higher tax rates - here's a post to show I can be as shallow as the next gay man.

While all the other gay bloggers out there are posting up-to-the-minute pictures of Olympic athletes with bulges in their leotards, I must admit to being unfashionably in love with Brendan Fraser, who I have bizarrely seen in 3 films over the last couple of weeks (The Mummy 3, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Bedazzled). On paper he sounds hideous - huge moon face, big froggy eyes, horrible centre parting "curtains" haircut, verging on obese with an enormous backside, strange strangulated deep-yet-whiny voice. To quote from Boys in the Band - "Who could love someone like that? You could and I could that's who." When we went to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth, we didn't realise we needed 3D glasses, so I had to get out of my seat to find some when the film started. However, it was dark and I was carrying coffee, and I stumbled and fell right on my knees at the front of the auditorium. My fella bitchily said that it looked like I was genuflecting in front of Brendan Fraser.

But it looks though that Hollywood has decreed that Brendan is now too old to carry off an action film on his own. In Journey to the Centre of the Earth he is given a smart-alec teenage nephew, while in the Mummy 3 he has a smart-alec son (who looks older than he does). As for his big bum, in the Mummy 3 the wardrobe department have tried to disguise it by making him wear a big belt with saddle bags hanging from the back.

And that luscious hair?

Oh dear. Don't worry Brendan. I still love you, froggy eyes, big bum, wig and all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New York with the folks

I have very equivocal relationships with cities - and New York is no exception. I not-so-secretly fantasise about one day buying a little 1 bedroom place in Greenwich Village and taking ultra-long summer holidays here (when the cat dies). But at the same time, all I have to do is switch on the tv or go to a restaurant and I'm filled with fury at how noisy, confident and often insane so many Americans seem to be. I guess it is a sign of a good holiday when you return home feeling refreshed, not regretful, and ready to return to your normal life.

My parents were here with us for some of the holiday. It is their first (and probably last time in America - my Dad is in his 60s so doesn't like to do long flights). We decided to pull out all the stops for them by paying business class, hiring a limo to take us from the airport, and taking them on a helicopter tour over Manhattan. My Dad said it was the best week of his life. My mother is unable to speak except for making the exclaiming "eeee" noise that Geordie women tend to make. It was kind of stressful having them here - I worried that they would get lost or into trouble. At the Empire State Building, my mother caused an incident at the x-ray detectors when a strange knife-shaped object showed up in her handbag. This caused all the security guards to start barking orders at her, none of which she understood - instead she walked back through the metal detectors while the security guards were screaming "Ma'am, get back! Get back!" I had to intervene and said "She doesn't understand English." It turned out that the offending item was an affro comb with a curved handle. I don't know why she had an affro comb on her. She also had a compass (she likes to know where north is at all times) and five pairs of sunglasses of different strengths (she doesn't like sunlight - she claims it gives her eyes electric shocks). Considering those few facts, it's suprising that I turned out as normal as I did. However, she impressed everyone on the third day by announcing that she was going to Macy's unaccompanied. She managed it, taxis and all. I think she would cope in New York, just another crazy little old lady, walking around and talking to everyone.

My Father on the other hand was regularly mistaken for Irish (his accent his completely incomprehensible), and every mealtime was a potential ordeal. He likes food. A lot. To say he lives for food is an understatement, and that he is likely one day to die from food is also sadly true. But the Americans like food too, so we thought this would be the one place in the world we could take him where he would not pull a sulky face at the menus and food portions. On the whole he was impressed - although he didn't think much of the breakfasts "Where's the tinned tomato and mushrooms?", and wanted to know where the brown sauce was. He ordered rice pudding for dessert and was mortified when it arrived and was cold rather than warmed up (I swapped him my apple pie). He also moaned that he couldn't get his favourite drink "lemon and lime) (lemonade with a dash of lime cordial in it), but seemed happier when he discovered Mountain Dew (even though they have it in Britain he rarely buys anything that wasn't on sale in 1975). So it was nice to have them around, and to show them around, but it was also a relief to have a few days at the end to recover. I have probably stored up a few good karma points. But in writing this nasty expose, I've probably wasted them all again!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am intensely vexed about people getting filthy rich.

I've just finished reading "Unjust Rewards: Exposing Greed and Inequality in Britain" by Polly Toynbee and David Walker. The premise of the book is that in Britain over the last 10 years or so, the gap between top earners in the UK and those at the bottom has become wider - which results in a more unequal society - with less chance of social mobility - basically, the first three years of your life are pretty good predictors of where you'll end up.

The authors argue that the rich should be paying more tax, and that the minimum wage should be raise to a "living wage" - a few pounds more that what it is currently. They want the laws tightened so that the super-rich can't engage in tax avoidance schemes, for more transparency in the amount of tax people pay, and for people who don't pay tax to be denied knighthoods and other gongs, as well as being banned from the House of Lords (a good example is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of the EasyJet companies and many others, who avoids paying any tax in the UK by residing in Monacco - however, he's recently received a knighthood).

"I have no UK income to be taxed in the UK."

Some of the information in the book is quite shocking - she conducts focus groups with super-rich bankers and stock-brokers, who tend to believe that they are earning average wages, and completely over-estimate what the average wage in the UK actually is. Even when confronted with the reality of their wealth, most of them come out with Daily Mail arguments about why they shouldn't pay more tax.

A few "myths" are addressed in the book - the idea that rich people are good for a country because the money tends to trickle down (the authors say it doesn't - it just results in more inequality and house prices going up so that poorer people can't afford them), and that if taxes are raised for the rich then they'll all bugger off and take their money elsewhere (actually unlikely - most of them love living in London and have entrenched social networks there that they don't want to give up). The authors also argue that raising the minimum raise would not fall the economy to collapse, and that there are a number of good schemes already in place (which need more funding) to give poorer people, especially children, chances to fulfil their potential, rather than being held down from the moment they are born. One of the most depressing points in the book is that a child of 3 from a professional family will have a higher vocabulary than an adult from the under-class.

"We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

Reading this book signals the end of me voting Labour. Unlike many of my friends, I even stuck with the party during the Iraq War, believing that despite everything, they thought they were doing the right thing, even if it was founded in a lie. While they've done things that have been good, their economic and social policies have actually created a less equal, more selfish society. I won't be voting for them unless they radically shift. I won't vote Tory either, so I'm left with not voting, or the Liberals.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

British Media silence about homophobic murder

On Saturday a slightly built 18 year old gay male called Michael Causer died in hospital in Liverpool after receiving head injuries in what police are calling a homophobic attack. His family noted that he was a small kid who wouldn't hurt a fly.

The story got coverage in the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post. I saw it covered on the BBC news website and a few gay websites have reported on it, but oddly it doesn't seem to have been reported by any of the main newspapers. Is a homophobic hate crime not news any more? I'm not the only blogger who thinks so.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

On reality and toys

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

Stories like this featured heavily in my early childhood. I didn't have the Velveteen Rabbit but I did have Pinnochio's travaills as he tried to become a real boy, and I was bombarded with Enid Blyton's many stories about toys in the nursery who became real when the children went to bed. There was one series about an unruly doll called Amelia Jane who was the toybox bitch and made the lives of all the toys hell for three whole books, until they finally decided to get revenge. There's something very sentimental about the idea that your toys come to life if you love them enough. I still have my own childhood teddy bear - a very betraggled looking thing from the early 1970s. Embarrassing I know, but I think the world could do with more sentimentality - especially in these cruel times of suicide bombers and selfish capitalism. I defy even the most stony heart to read The Velveteen Rabbit all the way through without crying.