Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fixer-upper

Yesterday we got a new house. Me and my fella move house quite a lot - this will be number 7 in 17 years. We always say "this will be the last time", but it never is. This place is quite different from our usual purchases. We normally live in flats (now annoyingly rebranded as "apartments") which have had a weird tendency to be ex show-homes or at least have been renovated in some way. Usually we've been able to move in immediately - although, being typically wasteful and extravagant, have often redecorated just for the sake of it.

This new place is a proper house - with a garden - something which we haven't properly had for a long time (communal gardens don't count - nobody uses them). This garden is secluded and gets the sun. It's the sort of place where you could enjoy a gin and tonic without having anyone look at you. Also, the house is about as far from show-home as you can get. It was built in the 1840s and the previous owner doesn't seem to have done any decoration since the 1970s. Sadly, a lot of the original features have been removed. Some new features - rather reminiscient of Abigail's Party have been put in instead - there's a rather pointless, tiny hatch from the kichen to the dining room. There are home-made book shelves in the lounge, which have been painted in white gloss. There is bad taste wallpaper everywhere. Upstairs the bedrooms have a variety of home-made fitted wardrobes. They'll all have to go. The bathroom has uninspiring white tiles. Even worse, two little dogs have been using most of the house as a toilet for god knows how long. We spent yesterday pulling up carpets to reveal urine that had soaked through the underlay and pentrated into the floorboards. I'm hoping bleach will get rid of the worst. I don't want to be cruel about the previous owner - she's getting on a bit - and the house had clearly become too much - but I wonder how she managed to live there with the stink. There's also rising damp, possibly woodworm and the electrics look like they need a rehaul. So this looks like a long-term project. Fortunately we don't have to move in until we're ready, so we'll try and get as much as possible sorted out over the summer. Tonight we got the carpets taken away. Tomorrow we're going to get the fitted wardrobes out.

I suspect I may be making a big deal of the problems. My parents and sister came round today to have a look at it. They liked it - my mother liked all the things that I have complained about above. She said she would keep the wardrobes and the floral wallpaper. She loved the hatch. She couldn't see what was wrong about the bathroom. "From the way you were talking about it, I was expecting it to be like a condemned property." They couldn't even smell the dog wee (though I had gone on an insane bleach blitz this morning). I don't care. I suspect the house has never been occupied by two difficult-to-please gay men. It isn't going to know what hit it...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Smell my cheese!

After one Alan Partridge moment too many, Jonathan Ross is losing his "live radio show" status and will now have the suffer the indignity of being recorded and then having any offensive bits taken out before the show is aired. Last year it was the business with Russell Brand, and a couple of weeks ago he said that boys who ask for a Hannah Montana MP3 should be adopted before they brought their gay partner home. The BBC simply can't trust him.

I sort of like Ross - in the late 1980s he did a series about cult films which influenced me a lot. I remember he interviewed people like John Waters, Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis. He was even on the set of Hairspray when it was being filmed. I listen to his radio 2 program occasionally, and often like the eclectic mix of music.

One thing that does make me cringe about Ross's tv show is his house band - 4 Poofs and a Piano.

"Puff" was the only word for homosexuality that I knew until I was about 12. My father would sometimes talk about people he worked with, saying "He's a puff." He was always quite friendly to these people, but there was something about the way he said "He's a puff", that wasn't very nice. It was the 1970s and almost everyone was homphobic. But part of me takes a spiteful glee in the fact that his own son ended up as one, and eventually he found the "puff" comments of his workmates so hurtful that he had to tell them to shut up. I love helping people to learn to improve, especially if they get to suffer a bit in doing so.

Here are the Poofs in action.



I guess there are a number of reactions to them. You could say that they're unashamedly camp and have "reclaimed" the "poof" identity. This might be a good thing - the internalised homphobia of many gay men who claim to be "straight-acting" and not interested in "fems" is so dreary. The 4 puffs are unapologetic about their effeminacy, and show that they are good sports by using the word on themselves. They use it first, and perhaps that takes away some of its power to wound.

On the other hand, some would argue that they are "Uncle Toms" - simply pandering to existing prejudice, and being complicit with homophobia in order to obtain a small amount of power from it. Their "poofiness" is their gimmick - and it's the reason why Ross has them on the show. They're not going to threaten his masculinity. And while some people may view them as brave or engaging in a reclaiming project, there are bound to be television viewers who do not "get" the potentially post-modern or ironic reading of the group. Instead, they will engage with the band in a much more straightforward way, having their own prejudices validated. The media doesn't really go out of its way to show representations of gay people who are NOT camp, funny, harmless etc, and the four Puffs contribute towards that stereotype. In the context of Ross's Hannah Montana comments, they start to appear a bit more like something to be laughed at rather than laughed with. Would the BBC countenance Four Pakis and a Piano?

So.... I don't know where I stand on the Puffs and Ross. I want to give Ross the benefit of the doubt, but he's starting to push it. It's for the best that his show goes to recorded status rather than live. As for the Puffs- maybe it's time they rebranded. Maybe they could call themselves "Jonathan Ross's Dildoes" or something like that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Retro

For my birthday I've asked by fella for this.



I've been wanting a record player for a few years now - a lot of the music I listen to was made before I was born. While I love the convenience of things like MP3 players, I sort of miss the connection with the past that you get when you take an LP out of its sleeve, place it on a turntable and watch it start to spin round and round. That's the way that people in the 20th century used to listen to that music, and I like the idea of reappropriating those behaviours, as part of the experience of listening to old music.

Steepletone is the company which makes these retro products. I did consider buying a proper authentic old record player, but in the end decided to get something which had the advantages of being new (and working) but worked in the same way as something old. And if I really want to, it has a USB port also.

Now I just need to find some old jazz LPS to play on it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why isn't everyone dead yet?

Wasn't "Swine flu week" exciting? Did you think that everyone was going to die? Did you hoard canned food? When my leaflet from the government arrived, telling me what steps to take if I got the sniffles, I felt like I was living in chapter 2 of an exciting post-apocalypse novel. It's one of my favourite genres.

So I was expecting by this point to be one of a handful of sole survivors in a post-plague Britain. I've seen "Survivors" and "The Stand" and have spent ages rehearsing "brave" facial expressions, and had fashioned a "Mad Max" costume out of an old 1970s fleece coat.

Now it's all wasted. I get up and people are going about their business like nothing happened.

I feel cheated and next month, when the media decide we're all going to die of something else, I'll ignore them and play Fallout 3 instead.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's been a month since my last posting

(Where does the time go? I can't even blame being busy).

Marriane Faithfull (who has been all over BBC4 these days - the only channel apart from BBC News that I seem to watch any more), had a song called The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. I like Marriane for a lot of reasons. She looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, has lived through interesting times, doesn't take herself too seriously, and her songs usually tell a story. There's a rather poignant one called The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, which has the lyric "At the age of 37, she realised she'd never drive through Paris in a sports car with the wind in her hair."

I'm 37 in a couple of weeks. Like Lucy, I probably will never drive through Paris in a sports car with the wind etc either. Unlike Lucy, I don't mind that much. Paris isn't my favourite city.

I am already pretending to be 37, to get used to it, so that the extra year on my age won't have such an impact when it actually happens. In the same way, I am already pretending that there is a Conservative government. An election is only one year away, and it looks increasingly clear what will happen. I am one of those people who will never vote Conservative, yet feel that Labour are incompetent. I'll probably vote Liberal this time. I am also trying to look on the bright side of a Tory government. I guess there can be some fun in being the outsider. I never understood why people like Paul Daniels made (false) claims that they would leave the country if Labour got in. Not only did they look stupid when they didn't leave, it's much more fun to stick around and complain, complain, complain. If the British are good at one thing, it is moaning. So I will do that (more than usual). It will make me happy.

Last week the BBC showed all the footage of Election '79 (subtitled: Tonight Things Change Forever And None of You Can See It). I was 6 when Mrs Thatcher got elected, and didn't know much about it, except that my mother voted for her, to the disgust of the older members of my family who warned her that she would regret it (they were right - as a working class family our standard of living plummeted over the 1980s - prices went up while my Dad's wage as a bus-driver stayed pretty much the same. We sold the car in 1981 and sent our rented video player back to Rediffusion because those things quickly became unaffordable luxuries. For Christmas, we got clothes rather than toys. I wish I could say that I was always grateful for the sacrifices my parents made (we had piano lessons and my mother always bought Kellogs rather than cheaper brands), but on one or two Christmases, I complained. Growing up poor in the 1980s has made me a bit obsessed with social inequality (think Polly Toynbee but worse).

There were a lot of interesting aspects of Election '79. Litter in the streets, frizzy hair, posh voices, very ugly people on tv, Robin Day smoking a cigar in the studio, people called Peregrin, really bad computer graphics. People go on about "ugly" Susan Boyle - but she would have been a great beauty in 1979. The rather casual way that women were routinely demeaned is also noticable. One of the announcers talked about "a few old biddies who had trouble understanding the voting", while there was a news article about terrorists in Japan, including some "girl terrorists". We were told that a female candidate who didn't win her seat had "declared herself to be homosexual" (inasmuch the same way as you would declare yourself bankrupt).



The highlight of the night was the Cardiff South-east election, which was James Callaghan's seat. Callaghan has a lot in common with Gordon Brown. He was never elected to government and was increasingly unpopular. As the numbers of votes were read out, the proceedings were disrupted by a woman off-camera who started shouting about getting British troops out of Ireland. Eventually the camera panned back to revel that she was one of the candidates - Pat Arrowsmith, a veteran CND campaigner. She kept shouting as Callaghan tried to deliver his victory speech (he won his seat but lost the election). And she continued shouting as everyone filed out of the room, politely ignoring her in that British way. And I believe she's still campaigning away somewhere, now almost 80.