Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's only September and my local Marks and Spencer has already put up its Christmas products, driving the Lancaster pensioners from social classes ABC1 into a frenzy - getting up to speeds of a tenth of a mile an hour as they tear round the shop getting tins of biscuits with Santa on them. It's like that song "I wish it could be Christmas every day" has been taken a little bit too much to heart. Forget it if you want to buy Halloween or Bonfire Night stuff - that's over! Over!

I am going to write the following letter to my branch:

"Dear M&S,

I came into your shop this morning fully intending to start my Easter 2009 shopping. I have grand-children that are not yet born and may require Easter eggs next year. You can imagine my horror to find that you had not anticipated my needs and instead have Chrismtas stuff everywhere - don't you realise that the Christmas season now starts in JULY!!!! September is for Easter shopping. Please sack someone.

Yours, Dotty Hinge (Mrs)"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let's party like it's 1929

I was in hospital most of the day with a relative and had nothing much to do but watch tv - something that I don't do very much these days. I was glad that I did though - it's been a twilight zone of a day.

BBC1's morning line-up was a bizarre set of programmes themed around making money by buying houses, tarting them up and then selling them on at a profit, or finding bits of old tat in your house and selling it at a profit. This is the line-up. What does it tell us about the sort of society we have become?

10:00 am Homes Under the Hammer
11:00 am Open House
11:30 am Cash in the Attic
12:15 pm Bargain Hunt

In the middle of all this the news came on and announced that mortgage lending in August was only 5% of July. That's not 5% less than last month - it's 5% in total of last month. There is more money swishing around in this week's lottery winnings than we borrowed in August. While we're all blaming irresponsible bankers and their fat bonuses - I think the media also need to take some share of the blame, as do we. These "tart it up sell it on" tv shows are toxic - and there are so many of them on tv. If you listen to them, you hear the words "profit" and "money" again and again. Somehow - all the BBC tv presenters turned into covetous Fergenis.

It's like Daytime tv has no ethics at all. When you think about the BBC's original mission to educate, inform and entertain, you realise how far it has strayed. Now it's just about how to make money.

I wonder how much longer these shows can last? There was a rather "end of days" feel about "Open House" this morning. Camp and over-dressed presenter Kristian Digby had on a very ordinary couple who were wanting £355,000 for their very ordinary three bedroom home. Bearing in mind that the median wage in the UK is about £26,000 that'd mean you'd need to borrow about 14 times your salary to get that. Anyway, Christian got the couple to move all their clutter into storage, put in a downstairs toilet and get rid of "heavy dark furniture". After they held an "open house", they got one offer of £325,000. The couple refused the offer saying it was too low. Kristian kept talking about the "nervous market" and the screen kept flashing up the usefully contextualising information that this all happened back in May. I wonder whether the couple managed to sell - or whether they've now had it revalued? I wonder if Kristian will even have a job this time next month? As the programmes seem to have been made a few months ago, it will be interesting to see how increasingly desperate these sellers get - and the lengths that Kristian will have to resort to in order to get a sale. I also suspect that the natty sweaters and nice suits might end up being replaced by a shell-suit from Oxfam.

Kristian love - if I were you, I'd be getting your agent to see if you could present an "economising" show - you know, the sort of thing where they tell you how to rip out all your decking and plant potatoes in your garden instead. And rather than fussing over the latest Prada, you should get yourself a needle and thread and make your own clothes out of a pair of curtains.

I turned over to Channel 4 to watch a weird 1950s matinee called "Lost" about a kidnapped baby. Eerily there was an upbeat advert for Bradford and Bingley - they must have paid for the advertising space weeks ago.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deborah Orr on George Michael. She's not homophobic but she wants to talk about our "proclivities" and the behaviour we "indulge" in

Deborah Orr in the Independent has commented on the fact that George Michael has been found in public toilets (again) with drugs. The whole article is here.

On the surface she makes what look like some fair points. However, dig a little deeper and the article starts to come off just a bit bigoted. She talks about Michael's "sexual proclivities" ("proclivities" is a very loaded word - almost always used to refer to negative cases). She claims that gay men can get married. Er no. We can have "civil partnerships". This is not the same as marriage by a long way. She talks about gay men as people who "have a weird dispensation for al fresco sex in public places." Is it really that weird? She claims also that "there appears to be no decline in clandestine activity" - although doesn't seem to have any evidence to back this up. And at one point she uses the verb "indulge" - as with "proclivities" this is a very loaded word - it tends to be used when we want to signify how much we disapprove of someone's behaviour.

It does seem like a very odd article to go in the Independent - it looks much more suited to the Daily Mail. It's telling that Ms Orr doesn't complain about heterosexual "dogging". And that she assumes that it is "gay men" who "indulge" in alfresco sex. She's probably never heard of the term MSM before. Most gay men don't need to go cruising in parks - they have other options. It tends to be the men who don't consider themselves gay at all who have to take that as an option.

And sadly, even though Ms Orr claims to be "all for equality" - I'm sure that won't apply to all of her readers. Gay men are still classed as what sociologists call a "vulnerable group". And rightly so. Some nutter planted a bomb in a gay pub (The Admiral Duncan) only a few years ago. In the 2006 British Social Attitudes Survey, almost 20% of people said that they agreed with the statement "homosexual relationships are always wrong" and 30% of people neither agreed nor disagreed. The remaining 50% disagreed. The word "gay" is routinely used to mean "lame" in playgrounds and is used in the same way by some television and radio presenters. We still live in a society where being gay is seen by a significant number of people as problematic - and it doesn't take much for these people to get riled up.

So whatever our feelings about cruising/cottaging/dogging, I don't think that it's helpful for articles like this to be published in national newspapers - I think they will do more damage than good. Complaining about gay people cruising is unlikely to stop people from doing it - although it is more likely to increase homophobia, which will prevent people from coming out, which ironically will lead to more furtive sex in parks.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No gays... please

http://www.gumtree.com/ is one of those advertising sites where you can put up an advert for a flatshare. I've noticed, however, that there are quite a few adverts on it which stipulate "no gays".

There's this one in London "a perfect loction" (sic) which says "No Gays please". He also doesn't want any females:


And this one in Bristol:


She's looking for a "friendly, happy and tidy professional person" but warns "No students, gays, couples, housing benefit or miserable people please!"

There's this one, which boasts that it is close to Asda (believe me, you don't need to stipulate "no gays" - we only shop in Waitrose and Marks and Spencer anyway)


And there's this one, who says that he "don't tolerate drug takers, alcoholics and dont want to live with gays for some reasons."


The list goes on. It's a bit like those signs outside boarding houses in the 1950s that used to say "No Irish, blacks or dogs." That would be unthinkable now. And even on Gumtree, I wasn't able to find any "no blacks" adverts. At least that's one form of discrimination which society seems to be getting rid of.

But "no gays"? I've complained about the adverts to Gumtree, and written to them asking what their policy on these sorts of adverts is - did they slip through the net, or do Gumtree not see it as a problem? I'll let you know if they reply.

As yet, I don't think there are any laws against these sorts of adverts. There are laws against discrimination in the workplace, but not on who you can rent out a room to.

These adverts make me sad - sad that these people manage to live in the same society as me, yet somehow, the cultural values that I associate with being civilised and British: equality, tolerance, fair play and respect have zipped right over their heads (and in London too - not some backwater, but our capital city - supposedly a big multicultural rainbow of a place where everyone celebrates diversity). The fact that people can still be so audacious as to broadcast their own homophobia on the internet - sometimes giving out their own mobile phone numbers and contact details is also pretty staggering.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The (Easy)Jet-Set

I arrived in Nice for a last-minute summer break yesterday, hoping that the weather would be less glum than in the UK. So far it has been disgustingly sunny here. Some things about France that are different to the UK:

  • They don't pick up their dog poo. It's everywhere here.
  • Young (heterosexual) people openly canoodling on the street. Their lack of inhibitions and expressiveness make me sick and jealous.
  • Smoking. They do seem to like it.
  • Zebra crossings - they seem to be suggestions about where pedestrians might want to consider crossing - motorists don't seem to be that keen on stopping at them though.
  • Sunday closing - they still have it. It's like the 1980s.
  • Fewer rules - in most British hotels there is someone there in the morning to ask your room number and show you to your seat for breakfast. In all the French hotels I've stayed in, you just go downstairs and nobody checks you. I always get the impression that in the UK, everyone is terrified that someone might actually get something for free so extra people have to be employed to stop this. I get the impression that in France, people don't care as much.

    And Nice is unlike any beach resort I've been to before. For a start, I haven't seen any poor people. My terms of reference are Morecambe, Blackpool, Weston-Super-Mare and Scarborough, which are usually full of the cast of Shameless getting drunk and misbehaving. Nice has jazz festivals and a Matisse Musuem, and it's only a few miles to Monte Carol and St Tropez. People swan around in white outfits like they've stepped out of GQ magazine. All the men are toned and have coiffed hairstyles rather than looking like lardy, pasty, balding Phil Mitchell from EastEnders (which is what most of the men in the UK look like).

    Maybe I'll just stay here.
  • Thursday, September 11, 2008

    Take lots of deep breaths - it's another American Election

    I don't do very well in election years (especially British or American ones). I tend to take it all very personally, get too involved, and usually end up boiling over in frustration on results day. So I am trying to ration my engagement with the latest American election, particularly because I think I am going to be disappointed for the third time in a row.

    I hope I'm wrong. But consider the facts. Americans voted in George Bush twice. The first time it was a close call, and some would say that quite a bit of cheating went on with complicated ballot papers, and Fox News calling it too soon. The second time - Bush got in with an even wider margin. Fortunately for the Republicans he can't stand again, so there's a kind of reset button being pushed and the Republicans can now happily distance themselves from that moron and put all their hope in McCain and Palin. But even if they put a sack of potatoes up, I think the Republicans would get in.

    Obama is already trailing in the polls by up to 5 points, and while the Republicans have been criticised for choosing Karen from Will and Grace as their 2nd in command, she seems to have attracted female voters who were disappointed that Hilary Clinton didn't get to run.

    Sarah Palin - the next vice-president of America?

    Conservatives and Christians have controlled the discourse of American politics for the past decade or so - typical Democrat concerns - things like the formalisation of gay relationships or gun control are rarely mentioned by Obama or other important Democrats. And if you want to get anywhere in American politics you have to profess to be very religious. So really, there's not that much to choose between McCain and Obama anyway. Politicalcompass.org places them both squarely in the authoritarian/right wing quadrant (the same holds for Labour and Conservative for that matter).

    So I doubt Obama stands any chance of winning. And perhaps even more depressingly, I don't think it'll make that much difference even if he did. In America, a single ideology has already triumphed. It's one based around rejection of rationality, glorification of greed and inequality, and distrust of "alternative lifestyles". To paraphrase Orwell, if you want to imagine the future of America, it's a boot stamping on the face of a gay man. Forever.

    Saturday, September 06, 2008

    Cliff comes out, sort of

    On the way back from Sheffield on Thursday I couldn't face having lunch at dreary Bolton motorway services so took a detour and went to Carluccios at the Trafford Centre. I noticed a big queue of people snaking around WH Smiths. They were all clutching a copy of Cliff Richard's autobiography - and it turned out he was in the shop, signing autographs and meeting his fans. I was amazed at how many people were in the queue - you wouldn't think that Cliff would inspire so much devotion. I'm afraid I wasn't very nice, and laughed at them.

    But then again, in 1981 my own mother told my father than if Cliff Richard ever asked her to run away with him, she would. She has been a Cliff Fan all her life. My father didn't seem too bothered by this revelation. And it turns out he had no need to be. Because in Cliff's new book, he talks about his "male companion", Father John McElynn who he met in 2001. They have lived together for the past seven years, and the former priest "spends most of his time looking after Cliff's properties" (which is the cutest euphemism I've ever heard for gay sex).

    However, like many gay men of a certain age, unfortunately Cliff isn't able to shake off a deeply ingrained internalised homophobia, which characterises itself as annoyance that anyone would ever dare to wonder about his sexuality: "I am sick to death of the media's speculation about it. What business is it of anyone else's what any of us are as individuals? I don't think my fans would care either way."

    I've heard this little lament trotted out again and again - and while on the surface it seems perfectly reasonable, I would point out that we live in a deeply homophobic world and that homphobia thrives on attitudes like the one Cliff is espousing - keep it a secret, it's nobody's business, nobody needs to know. That way gay people continue to feel that their sexuality is part of their "private life" and must be kept apart from every other aspect of their lives, utterly compartmentalised. Now if heterosexual people did the same thing, then that would be (slighty) better. But they don't. Bump into a heterosexual person and notice the ease and readiness with which they mention their husband, wife, children or liking for an opposite-sex celebrity. Heterosexual people don't need to keep their sexuality private - it's fully integrated into every aspect of their identity.

    So if Cliff were to say "Look, I'm in a gay relationship," he's saying "I'm not ashamed, I'm proud." He would then help to make homosexuality just that little bit more acceptable, rather than a secret. As a celebrity, Cliff's "coming out" would make a difference - particularly as his fans are not probably from what we'd call the most radical slice of society.

    I guess Cliff can't be blamed. He's a product of the society he was born in. He's over 30 years older than me - he lived through the scary pre-Wolfenden period and he's spent a long time in the public eye - for most of his early career, his assumed heterosexuality was essential to his continued success. But I hope that his half-hearted coming out is the swansong for this sort of thing. And that given 10 or so years, the whole business can be conducted with more integrity and confidence.

    Monday, September 01, 2008

    The Party's Over

    Here's Valeriya, known as Russia's answer to Madonna (I think she's more like Geri Halliwell), making what is an eerily prescient and probably co-incidental statement about Russia's relations with the rest of world. (I think Dmitry Medved actually appears in it as a vampire at one point).

    Queenly perennial Marco da Silva (on loan from La Kylie) provides additional kitsch. (Imagine Bob Fosse with muscles after an accident with a sunbed.)

    It's as over-produced as hell (yet looks curiously low-budget - apart from one brief shot there are only four people in it), with about a million costume changes and a kind of homage to the golden age of movies. There is probably a competition on a Russian website somewhere where if you name all the movies you get a gold-plate bust of Stalin. Or a loaf.

    Know this: if you like this, then you are a camp gay man - even if you are a woman.