Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paradise Drive

I saw the 1968 film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush which has been released on blu-ray by the British Film Insitute. The BFI have released a lot of rare 1960s films over the last couple of years, and they've provided a nice opportunity to wallow in the shopping centres and cityscapes of another era on Saturday evenings in the Odana household. Often, these films aren't actually very good, so the fun comes from noting small background details like type-faces in shop signs or hair-styles of passers-by. These films can often evoke painful feelings of nostalgia in me. The Mulberry Bush film was set in Stevenage, one of the "new towns" that was built in the 1950s as a result of the New Towns Act of 1946. I grew up in Peterlee - another new town, and Stevenage town centre looked very similar - boxy buildings, lots of open spaces, pedestrian walkways under roads and minimalist white fencing. There was something utopian about growing up in one of these new towns - apparently the area where I lived was nicknamed "Paradise Drive" by local councillors. Then came 1979 and the area suffered heavily from unemployment, drugs and crime. Thank you Mrs Thatcher. I won't be sending you any flowers when you die.

An extra level of nostalgia is provided by the lead in Mulberry Bush - Barry Evans, who played the teacher in the racially sterotyping sitcom Mind Your Language. Evans plays a sex-mad A Level student who spends most of the film trying to get women to go out with him. Later he graduated to the more explicit film "Adventures of a Taxi Driver". But he found it hard to get work after Mind Your Language, and actually became a taxi driver himself in the 1990s. He was found dead in 1997 at the age of 53, and although a teenager was arrested for his death, the charge was later dropped. Evans - so vibrant and full of life in 1968, seems almost emblematic of the way that some British new towns went wrong.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just like an episode of Sex in the City

I had a holiday in Jordan recently and got to fulfil a childhood ambition by swimming in the Dead Sea. It's a weird experience - the normal rules about being in water don't apply, and you feel weightless. It's very difficult to make your body horizontal. Because the water is so full of salt, it's imperative that you don't get any in your eyes, and if you do, you must resist the urge to rub your eyes - as it just makes it worse.

There were a large number of American marines at the hotel resort when we were there, wearing only swimming trunks (it felt like a scene from a particularly trite episode of Sex and The City and I kept expecting Samantha Jones to show up and say "Oh! Fucking!". I'm guessing they were on leave or on route to Iraq. One of them ducked his head under the water in the Dead Sea and was then blinded by the salt water and couldn't get out. "I hate the fucking Dead Sea!" he bellowed. His buddy said "Watch your language!" I like respectable marines.

Speaking of Sex in the City, I saw Kim Cattrall in Antony and Cleopatra last night at the Liverpool Playhouse. She managed to play the part without appearing like Samantha (she even had dark hair) - although quite a lot of the women in the audience had made their own special tribute to Samantha and had dressed (in)appropriately for the theatre. I love that Kim Cattrall is from Liverpool - my Scouse sister-in-law Alison is very similar to her in fact. During the break, I noticed a tiny round person, who looked like the psychic lady Tangina from the 1980s Poltergeist movies.

Tangina was asking staff whether Kim would be exiting via the stage door, and when the play was over, we saw her hanging around at the stage door, hoping to meet her idol. I hope the resulting meeting wasn't too traumatic for either of them.

I am watching the A-List New York, a rather toxic yet compelling American reality series about so-called A-Gays in New York. It centres around Reichen, a square jawed ex-military man and winner of another reality show The Amazing Race. Reichen is dating a Brazilian bisexual model called Rodiney (!) who speaks in broken English. However, there's an ambitious ex back on the scene (also a model - in the red-t-shirt above), who is now disgraced and fat (which means thin by the standards of everyone who's not caught up in this vapid world). There's also a celebrity hair-dresser and a celebrity photographer, and someone whose claim to A-List fame I can't figure out, other than he stands around sucking his cheeks in and being absolutey horrible and jaded about everyone in sight. He's 26 and I bet he has a hideous picture of himself in his attic. The whole thing is tediously contrived and the joke is that none of them are actually A-Gays - real A-Gays would never demean themselves by going on reality tv. It's very hard to write about the show without coming across as equally catty and bitchy as the partipants. Although the location is glamorous, the people themselves are completely commonplace, all recognisable types from my own, much more dull youth spent occasionally on various provinical gay scenes in the UK. It's somewhat reassuring to know that no matter where you go, the people don't change.

Friday, October 01, 2010

It gets better

Whenever I read about a gay teenager being bullied or hurt, I go a bit insane. I want to put on a superhero costume, swoop down on the bullies and kick them into outer-space. The recent spate of suicides of gay teenagers in America is shocking yet hardly surprising. The US still refuses to let gay people serve in the army, and most states don't have any formal recognition of same sex partnerships. Teenagers routinely use the word "gay" to refer to anything lame. American gay teens who are just discovering their sexuality don't even have a word to label their experience that hasn't been tainted with negative connotations.

The latest suicide is particularly depressing. Student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from a bridge after his room-mate videoed him allegedly having sex with a man, and then streamed the footage on the internet.

Yet while the internet can be used for acts of evil, it can also be used for good. A project called It Gets Better is designed to give gay teenagers support and encouragement - people post up videos of their personal experiences, telling the teens not to give up, not to let the bullies win, and that their lives will get better. When I was 14, I felt completely on my own, and I wish there had been something like that project for me. So here's my video.