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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Friday, August 02, 2002
Way back in the mid-eighties, just before the whole “alternative cabaret” movement went stratospheric, I got taken to a comedy club in London called Jongleurs. Great place, great acts, great atmosphere, a great night. Individual, quirky and different. A little bit subversive, and a little bit anti-establishment.
Imagine my surprise when, 15 or so years later, a branch of Jongleurs popped up right here in Nottingham. Imagine my further surprise on discovering that Jongleurs had somehow graduated into a major national franchise. It was no longer possible merely to turn up at the door on a whim, because you felt like a giggle all of a sudden. Now, you had to book in advance by dialling a national hotline and speaking to some poor sod in a call centre. The era of corporate comedy had arrived. We ordered our tickets, paid an early visit, and had a fairly disillusioning evening.
If you were an “alternative” comedian in the 1980s (how quaint that word sounds now!), and your act wasn’t exactly setting the audience on fire, then the solution was easy. Drop in a couple of anti-Thatcher gags, no matter how lame, and your audience would feel duty bound to laugh, and to applaud in agreement. Such simple, straightforward times!
Now, the rules of engagement have fundamentally changed. In place of Thatch-bashing, it has become de rigueur to insert some gratuitous sexual references instead. The cruder, the better. It’s the comedy of shock, you see. It’s “taboo-busting”. All very healthy and liberating, of course. An*l sex is probably your best bet. You can’t fail.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We love a bit of good, honest smut round these parts (ooh, parts!) But a modicum of wit and inventiveness is also generally required. By the time the fourth act of the evening was busily cracking yet another round of gags about shagging his bird up the jacksie, I was beginning to feel like I was being bludgeoned to death with a rubber mallet. We left before the disco, and didn’t go back.
Last night, after a gap of maybe three years or so, I find myself back at Jongleurs Nottingham, on an office jolly. We’re right down the front, nine of us squeezed round a tiny table, right in the firing line. To see the act, I have to twist my neck right back and tilt my head upwards; there’s no room to turn the chair round. This gets very uncomfortable after only a few minutes.
The compere is John Mann. He’s competent enough, in a cheery, matey sort of way. The first act is Simon Evans. Stiffly rooted to the spot, sporting a tweed jacket, with bushy eyebrows obscuring the smallest eyes you’ve ever seen, his persona is one of educated condescension; he’s moderately funny, if a little slow-paced.
The second act is a parody of a sleazy American preacher man, who goes by the name of (must I type this?) the Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolf III. His persona is crude, lecherous, obnoxious and offensive. Some people find this hysterical. I find it, well, crude, lecherous, obnoxious and offensive. This is the humour of the playground bully, passing derogatory comments on people’s appearances, stealing and necking their drinks, swiping their cigarettes, and incessantly drooling over the most attractive female members of the audience. One poor girl gets it particularly bad, and is on the receiving end of the most memorable line of the night:
“Girl, ah would crawl buck nekkid on mah hands and knees for five miles, with mah balls dragging through broken glass, just to suck the dick which f***ed yew last.”
When the name of the final act is announced, everyone’s faces light up. It’s Paul Tonkinson, who everyone around the table except me remembers as a former presenter of Channel 4’s Big Breakfast. He turns out to be a terrific natural comedian – a true “funny man”, with a startling range of facial expressions, accents and comic personalities. Immediately likeable, he works with the audience rather than against them, displaying a keen quick-wittedness and an impressive improvisational skill.
His set is further enlivened by the forcible ejection of an entire table of rowdy drunks – one man and three women, who have barely stopped talking all night. On their way out, the women shout various slurred, unintelligible insults at the stage. The only comment anyone of us can make out: “…and I earn more money than what you do!” Briefly left on his own, the man offers to come up on stage and “Sort you out, mate. You and me! Right here, right now!” Or words to that effect, at any rate. It takes three or four bouncers to remove him. A dumbfounded Tonkinson temporarily abandons his stage patter, and stands there staring with the rest of us, open-mouthed, as the mass of flailing limbs moves slowly closer to the exit door.
This time round, I stay for the disco. The DJ is particularly fond of late 80s/early 90s commercial rap: Ice Ice Baby, Funky Cold Medina, Jump Around, It Takes Two, Walk This Way. This is definitely a good thing. I’m on the Vodka Red Bulls by now – deceptively fatal, but it’s oh, so much fun to be flailing around to old favourites.
This time, I don’t think there was one an*l sex gag all night. Well, not that I can readily recall, at any rate. Things did get a little blurred after a while. But in a nice way…
In which Mike wholeheartedly agrees with a Tory politician. Eek!
It turns out that the newly “out” Conservative MP Alan Duncan has (or had) some eminently sensible and clear-headed views on the legalisation of drugs. Here’s a link to the relevant chapter of his book Saturn’s Children, which was eventually removed from the paperback version after Duncan became a shadow spokesman on health. I find myself in broad agreement with all of his arguments, and enjoyed the historical parallels which he uses to illustrate his case.
Arguing that it is the continued illegality of drugs which actually causes the most harm to society, Duncan does however miss two further points relating to heroin related fatalities. Heroin kills for two main reasons: toxic impurities in the supply, and inconsistency of the dosage leading to accidental overdose. A legalised, pure, consistent dosage would therefore have a dramatic positive impact on the fatality rate.
One other point. To my way of thinking, “crime” is defined as the perpetration of harm upon an “innocent” (i.e. unwilling) victim. The consumption of dangerous or addictive drugs can certainly be construed as self-harm, but the absence of an unwilling victim means that, as far as I am concerned, it should not be classed as a “crime”.
The lid is off Pandora's Box, and can never be replaced. Full legalisation is the only way forward that I can see.
Thursday, August 01, 2002
The Troubled Diva Old Curiosity Box - Item 35.
Lisa - Rocket To Your Heart (1983)
As I've got something of a Big Gay Weekend coming up, this seems like the right time to post a couple of Big Gay Choons Of Yesteryear. First off is this quintissential slice of Olde Tyme Highe Energye Musick, which rocked my world for most of 1984. In the light of subsequent developments in dance music, this sounds more than a little cheesy and daft in retrospect - but at the time, trust me, it was Da Bomb.
The Troubled Diva Old Curiosity Box - Item 36.
Wayne G & Stewart Who? - Twisted (1997)
And secondly, from five years ago, the most scathing, scabrous, viciously accurate satire ever delivered on the whole hardcore gay clubbing lifestyle. It's essentially a deadpan interior monologue from a heartless, desperate, mashed-up victim of the scene. A parody, sure - but not nearly so exaggerated as you might think. There was a whole album of this stuff, by the way. Deliciously malevolent stuff.
Update: Sorry - you weren't quick enough. These MP3s are no longer on my server. I generally make them available for a week or so (sometimes less) before substituting them for new ones. Better luck next time!
Now then. Guess who I saw at Rock City last night?
Only PATTI BLOODY SMITH, that’s who!
She sauntered onto the stage an hour late (“Sorry, I’m still on Japanese time”), looking far younger than her 55 years, lithe, slim and beaming good-naturedly from ear to ear. She seemed serene, centred, her demons firmly exorcised. As she and her band slid into an easy, loping Redondo Beach, I wondered whether she would be able to summon up the requisite intensity and passion that so much of her best work requires.
I needn’t have worried. The first few numbers slipped cheerfully by, as both band and audience relaxed into having a straightforward good time. Between songs, Patti bantered with the audience, joked around and made us laugh (it turns out that she has quite a gift for comic timing). And then, the turning point. Donning her reading glasses and brandishing one of her books, Patti intoned the lyrics to her debut single Piss Factory as straight poetry, without any musical backing. The stream-of-consciousness lyric, with its description of soul-crushing cheap labour and Smith’s escape from it, steadily grew in pace and fervour, leaving my head reeling from the sheer power of both the language and its delivery. Poetry as rock and roll. Awesome stuff, rapturously received.
From then on, we were treated to a bravura rock performance from a true original / visionary / goddess, undimmed in force by the passing of the years. Highlights included a stomping Summer Cannibals, a beautiful, elegiac Frederick, an exultant Dancing Barefoot (with Smith removing her boots and perching on top of a stool), a righteous, fist-punching People Have The Power (lingering visions of Wolfie Smith finally banished from my consciousness), leading straight into a coruscating Gloria (Dymbel and me, sweatily rocking out for all we were worth), and a furious, incandescent encore of Rock N Roll Nigger (Smith blindfolded and declamatory, exhorting her audience to “wise up, participate and drop the f**k back in”). The passion was still there, the anger was still there, the poetry and the beauty and the sense of mission were all still there.
And Lenny Kaye played guitar. And Patti read us William Blake poetry from a battered old book. And really, what more could you possibly want?
Recently, my favourite stories on other people's weblogs all seem to have a strong element of Schadenfreude to them. I'm not sure what this says about me, but I don't think it says anything very nice.
Still, if Marcus's Scheißenfreude wasn't enough for you, here's some more pooh-related grief from They Didn't Teach Me About This In School. (Note - it's in the second section of the article, after the "Moscow" picture.) I guarantee that by the end of this story, you will be staring at the screen, repeatedly opening and closing your mouth in gob-smacked amazement.
So I spent some of yesterday morning reading through a few of the more high profile "libertarian" blogs. I have to say that I was impressed. I found a wealth of information, links and commentary, coupled with intelligent, informed, considered political analysis. This forces me to reconsider my stale old stereotypes of the right. We are clearly a long way from the dunderheaded bogeymen of the Thatcher/Major years: Tebbit, Ridley, Gummer, Howard, Parkinson and the rest. Indeed, from my cursory understanding of the movement, we also seem to be some considerable distance from the current Conservative party.
These are serious, thoughtful people who are not in thrall to the restrictions of old ideologies. They raise important questions, and challenge pre-conceived assumptions. They are also currently running intellectual rings round the tired old remnants of the left, who (after 18 years of dogged survival in opposition) seem to have been utterly decimated by five years of Blair.
As a complacent old leftie myself, who has long since abandoned any attempts at proper political engagement, I am left a little bit awed and bewildered by these sites. I don’t have the information to argue with them. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to think, and I’m not even sure that I can summon up the motivation.
However. Say what you like about tired old unreconstructed eighties lefties, but one thing remains true about their creaking, archaic value system. It is founded on a clear moral bedrock of beliefs, which do not require any detailed factual knowledge to understand. All their ideas are then clearly constructed from these core beliefs.
And this is my beef with libertarianism. I cannot locate its core values. I can see a lot of words, and a lot of skilfully argued points, but I cannot identify the simple, universal moral truths behind them. All I can see is intellectual sophistry.
Oh, OK. “Freedom”, then. But it seems like a very partial notion of freedom to me. Freedom for some, at the expense of others. It’s almost a tribal notion of freedom. It’s not enough for me.
Post September 11, there is also the idea that we are now engaged in a great international struggle. Of good versus evil, I suppose (if I’m still trying to locate those core values). Protecting “our” values against “theirs”. The trouble is - this seems like a decidedly compromised notion of “good”. It’s not a “good” which I can buy into. It’s a “good” which is defined merely by its opposition to the “evil”, and that too is not enough for me.
Nevertheless, the libertarians are now the cool kids on the block. They are the ones who are pushing back the boundaries. They are also the ones who are gaining the most ground, as most recently evidenced by the swell of support for the late Pim Fortuyn. The vast majority of “political” weblogs which I have seen are broadly libertarian in nature. It’s a new landscape, where Andrew Sullivan is King, and the “liberal media mafia” is the new foe.
So who is providing the counter arguments to libertarianism? It’s not coming from the increasingly defensive and opportunistic New Labour, that’s for sure. It’s not coming from the suffocating intellectual straitjacket of old-school Trotskyism, either. Maybe it’s coming from the global anti-capitalists, but I need more from an ideology than a definition in terms of what it is against. I know what the global anti-capitalists want to destroy – but I don’t know what they want to create. It all seems a little juvenile.
So where, pray, are the weblogs for disaffected, disenfranchised old codgers like me who need a bit of assistance in making sense of the world? Which are founded on unfashionable principles like equality, social justice, peace, elimination of poverty, protection of the most vulnerable, and a notion of public service for its own sake?
I’m just asking, that’s all.
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Ah, that old British obsession with social class. Or is it merely a perceived obsession, in today's more meritocratic times?
As I said yesterday, I can be both classy and common in equal measure, depending on the context. Indeed, I pride myself on such contradictions and inconsistencies. (Is there a more overrated virtue than consistency, I wonder?)
My family background holds few clues. Due to a convoluted network of marriages and re-marriages, I can truthfully say that my extended family spans just about every social class imaginable, from top to bottom. From the great and the good to the great unwashed. Old money, new money, bugger all money.
Which is how I like it, really. Another of the great benefits of a gay social identity is this: class differences have a habit of melting away. In the shrunken universe of the gay world, Bits Of Posh merrily rub shoulders (and all points south) with Bits Of Rough. You never know who you're going to be talking to next. It's, um, fabulous.
Mind you (and I'm afraid that the whole of this piece has been a thinly disguised excuse for the following link), I sometimes forget just how posh my maternal grandparents really were. The house that my mother grew up in, in the 1940s and early 1950s, has just come back on the market, and Good Lord, it's a f***ing mansion. We visited once, in the 1980s, and I remember being fairly gobsmacked that my mater grew up in such a place. What happened?!
Calling London clubheads!
It looks more than likely that I'll be paying my first visit to Crash this weekend. So, what's it like? It sounds a bit hardcore and daunting (wall to wall disco tits on horse tranquilisers) but then, Trade sounded similarly hardcore and daunting before I actually went there and found out for myself.
I suppose my key questions are:
1) What's the music like? Be as technically specific as you like. You know me; I understand sub-genres. Are there still all those awful "breakdowns" every 10 minutes or so, or have they fallen out of fashion?
2) What's the atmosphere like? Is it friendly? Are you allowed to smile? Or is it all taken terribly, terribly seriously?
All comments gratefully received. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
Those Mercury Music Prize nominations, then.
In previous years, when the shortlist is first announced, I usually already have around half the nominated albums in my collection. This year, I only have two. This is mildly disconcerting: maybe I’ve been missing out on some great albums.
I haven’t knowingly heard anything from The Bees, Joanna MacGregor (token classical) or Guy Barker (token jazz). As for the rest…
Doves. One of the least charismatic live acts that I’ve ever seen, their lacklustre show at The Social in early 2001 put me off them in a major way. However, it cannot be denied that they’re a nifty little combo in the studio. Their debut album had enough good moments to lift it above the usual Coldplay/Elbow mopey sludge, and both of this year’s singles have been great. The Last Broadcast is on my wish list, and rising fast.
The Streets. Already much raved about on this site. A classic debut from an original and authentic new voice. Or am I just being a wet liberal Guardian reader, fondly romanticising the urban working class lifestyle which Mike Skinner so vividly describes? The only flaw in this masterpiece: you have to be in a particular frame of mind to listen to it, as it demands total concentration. It doesn’t work at all as background music to other tasks. Therefore, I don’t actually listen to it all that often. Still, my favourite to win.
The Coral. Loved the last two singles, which are so wildly varying that they could have been made by two different bands. This album only came out on Monday, and is right at the very top of my wish list. It’s been a good long while since a bunch of teenagers with guitars sounded this fresh and exciting (and I sound like a trendy vicar for saying that). My only concern: the overt Scousiness, which has unaccountably put me off many a decent band in the past. This isn’t altogether fair on Liverpudlians, but there is something intangible in the ethos of that city’s music which tends to annoy me. I don’t quite know what it is, but I can still spot it a mile off.
Ms. Dynamite. Along with The Streets, the only other album in my collection. Cool, intelligent, sussed R&B which absolutely presses all my buttons. Unlike so many identikit R&B divas, Ms. Dynamite is firmly in full artistic control here, and it shows. The nearest thing we have to a British Lauryn Hill.
Beverley Knight. Although I absolutely adored her debut album (especially the sublime Sista Sista), and although my Amazon recommendations keep screaming at me that I will enjoy this release, I have still been steering clear. From what I’ve picked up, Beverley Knight seems to have watered down her sound in a bid for mass pop appeal, and I have little patience for anaemic pop-soul at a time when so much thrillingly inventive R&B is being pumped out. However, she was terrific when I saw her live at the REM/Nelson Mandela/Trafalgar Square free concert last year, she always comes across superbly well in interviews, and she was one of Chig’s big Glastonbury highlights, so I might yet relent.
David Bowie. I haven’t been keeping up with his last few releases, although the odd track has occasionally grabbed my attention. However, he was on bloody fantastic form on the Jonathan Ross show the other week, and the new songs sounded solid. Maybe this really is his comeback album. Mind you, they’ve been saying that about every new Bowie album for the last ten years, so you’ll have to excuse my scepticism.
Roots Manuva. He’s one of those rap artists for people who don’t like rap music, isn’t he? Oh, cheap shot. Everything I’ve heard by this guy has impressed me – most recently his guest appearance on the Cinematic Orchestra album. Dreamy Days was a cute single, as well (“There’ll be fun, and lots of LARFTAH”). Second favourite to win, ‘cos it’s time they gave an award to a rap album?
Gemma Hayes. I first took an interest in Gemma Hayes purely because of her record label: the impeccable Source Records, home of Air, Kings Of Convenience, Mark B & Blade, Phoenix, Playgroup, Simian and Turin Brakes. She had to be good, right? Hmmph. Like Aimee Mann before her, I have a complete mental block with Gemma’s singer-songwriterly brand of soft-rocking miserablism. I start listening with an open mind and the best intentions. Two minutes later, I’m thinking about something else. I even bought a second single of hers, just in case I’d missed something the first time. Nope, still can’t get into it. Fine if you like that sort of stuff, but personally, I need a bit more Oomph.
Electric Soft Parade. Again, high on my wish list. I love everything I’ve heard by them. Solid, melodic, emotive and inspired, drawing on classic influences. I haven’t been listening to enough guitar bands recently. Must rectify.
So – a good list, as usual. Nothing on there that I would violently object to. And the most glaring omissions? Cornershop, Aim, FC Kahuna, Charles Webster. Really, it’s about time they invited me onto that selection panel…
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Look where we're staying next Thursday night!
Some days, I can be as common as shite.
- I like Big Macs.
- I voted for Kate.
- I smoke Hamlets when I'm pissed.
- I flash my cleavage when I want to get laid.
But on other days, I can be a reet classy bitch, and no mistake.
And this...this is a dream come true.
Yes...in my world, Anoushka will always be "classy".
TV Cream have compiled a bizarre but deeply loveable list of the best 100 singles of all time. None of your Imagines, Bohemian Rhapsodies or Wonderwalls here; this has clearly been compiled by true pop-loving nutcases of the first degree. People after my own heart, in other words.
In the spirit of the list, I would suggest the following additions. Classic pop records, devoid of any pre-conceived notions of conscious "hipness" or "depth", which just - somehow - work. In other words - they make you happy, pure and simple.
Sky High - Jigsaw
Unbelievable - EMF
Keep On Movin' - 5ive
Radancer - Marmalade
The Dean And I - 10CC
Animal Nitrate - Suede
Beach Baby - First Class
Halfway Hotel - Voyager
Groovy Train - The Farm
Yes - McAlmont & Butler
Candy Girl - New Edition
La Dolce Vita - Ryan Paris
Back For Good - Take That
Don't Stop Movin' - S Club 7
A Touch Too Much - Arrows
Not So Manic Now - Dubstar
Living On A Prayer - Bon Jovi
If You Leave Me Now - Chicago
Moonlight Shadow - Mike Oldfield
What Is Life? - Olivia Newton John
All Around My Hat - Steeleye Span
The House That Jack Built - Tracie
It's Different For Girls - Joe Jackson
Who's Gonna Rock You? - The Nolans
That Same Old Feeling – Pickettywitch
All Night Long (All Night) - Lionel Richie
Ain't That Just The Way - Lutricia McNeal
She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
Who Do You Think You Are - Candlewick Green
Did You Ever? - Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
Hold Tight - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch
Softly Whispering I Love You - The Congregation
There There, My Dear - Dexys Midnight Runners
The Key, The Secret - Urban Cookie Collective
Back On The Chain Gang - The Pretenders
Me And You And A Dog Named Boo - Lobo
Walk Like A Panther - The All Seeing I
We Don't Talk Anymore - Cliff Richard
Gonna Make You A Star - David Essex
Who's Zoomin' Who - Aretha Franklin
Your Loving Arms - Billie Ray Martin
North Country Boy - The Charlatans
She Bangs The Drums - Stone Roses
Rock Your Baby - George McCrae
Horse With No Name - America
Too Blind To See It - Kym Sims
Everlasting Love - Love Affair
I Love To Love - Tina Charles
Lucky Number - Lene Lovich
Band Of Gold - Freda Payne
Cannonball - The Breeders
Alphabet Street - Prince
Fairground - Simply Red
Dat - Pluto Shervington
Fireball - Deep Purple
White Horses - Jackie
On A Ragga Tip - SL2
Videotheque - Dollar
Don't Go - Yazoo
Monday, July 29, 2002
Peter says – with uncustomary forthrightness, even for him:
Oh dear me - there's a lot of "head-up-ass" blogginess going on about the place. I really, really couldn't give a shit what anyone's read, or seen. Has no-one actually done anything lately?Anything to oblige, Peter. I don’t do this kind of detailed write-up very often, but maybe it’s time to open a little window on the minutiae of our weekend life. Here goes.
Friday afternoon. An unusually early getaway to the pub with my ex-colleagues from The Old Job. Friday “early doors” at The Limelight (adjacent to Nottingham Playhouse) has been a tradition for the best part of three years now, although I am only an occasional participant these days. It’s that second home in the country, y’see. The lure of the cottage is so powerful that it generally overrides even the lure of a pint of Adnams (or on hot days, a pint of Hoegaarden). Anyhow, it’s a scorcher of an afternoon, perfect for whiling away a couple of hours in the sunshine, beneath Anish Kapoor’s extraordinary, gigantic Sky Mirror sculpture-cum-water-feature.
Did I say a couple of hours? Shit. I should have been home ages ago. I chug down the last half of my second pint and race off, down the Park Steps, taking the short cut through the Squash Club, and quick-marching along Cavendish Crescent. K is patiently waiting for me, along with OldEngland, a fellow Nottingham/Derbyshire weekender. He has also managed to borrow an enormous silver Saab convertible for the weekend. As his Alfa Spider is not yet back from the garage, this will do very nicely, thank you.
The three of us speed off out of Nottingham, through the centre of Derby, and out onto the country lanes beyond. Past Kedleston Hall, through Weston Underwood, along Carsington Water and onwards to the cottage. Just in time to unpack, grab a beer, and slump in front of the final of Big Brother 3. Dude, where’s my brain?
Saturday. In the morning room, hours of idle indolence trickle by, measured in endless cups of tea, as The Guardian is slowly devoured to a soundtrack of Patti Smith and the Icelandic band Mum. This is our typical Saturday morning routine, and one of the cherished highlights of almost every weekend. For K, it is much needed breathing space after the rigours of his week – unusually intense and demanding, even by his standards, and in stark contrast to my own.
Dymbellina arrives mid-afternoon from Nottingham. Dymbel is away giving a residential writing course, and so, for once, it is just the three of us. Although Dymbellina is my oldest friend in Nottingham (of 21 years standing), and although the four of us have been hanging out together since the mid-1980s, this is an unusual social triangle for us to find ourselves in. As a result, our social co-ordinates are subtly re-aligned. We find ourselves relating to each other in an almost imperceptibly different way, which is probably only noticeable due to the length of time we have known each other. It is pleasantly re-energising, and we cover some new and stimulating conversational ground.
K camps it up. “Darling, when we heard you were coming, I simply had to get my hands on a Saab convertible. Now we can ferry you round Derbyshire in style!” We head off to Bakewell, to ooh and aah at our favourite contemporary design emporium. K and I are sourcing material for a pair of pouffes back in Nottingham. Our current idea is for claret coloured suede, which will look good on the new Nepalese carpet (predominantly green, contemporary design, traditionally woven). Dymbellina is after a new lamp. Catalogues are ordered and phone calls are promised.
Next stop, the Chatsworth Farm Shop at Pilsley, to pick up cheeses and tiramisu. Back down through the Chatsworth estate, which is looking exceptionally glorious. The Groove Armada Another Late Night compilation wafts breezily over the stereo. Ah, this is the life.
After an early evening pint in the garden of The Gate at Brassington, a huge dinner occupies our entire evening. Salmon, then barbecued lamb, then cheeses, then tiramisu (which I can scarcely force down). We sit up till 1.30, listening to an old Gilles Peterson compilation and talking surprisingly articulate rubbish (Why hasn’t academia properly investigated the language of rap? In what ways are weblogs changing our use of language? How do the rules of social engagement differ out here, compared to in the city, and how easily do we adapt to them?)
Sunday starts very slowly, in much the same manner as Saturday. Dymbellina gives K useful advice in the garden (we really haven’t got much of a clue as yet, though the roses have been doing rather well). Eventually, we head off for lunch at a pub which we haven’t tried yet: the Lathkil Hotel at Over Haddon, just to the West of Bakewell. It turns out to be a perfect spot, and the view from the beer garden is truly spectacular. The pub is immediately added to our small list of regular haunts. We call in at the Derek Topp Gallery on the way back; all three of us have a long standing interest in ceramic art, and Dymbellina has never been here before. It’s one of the best ceramic galleries we know of, anywhere in the country.
After Dymbellina’s departure, we slump into garden chairs for the next few hours. Maybe it’s the hangover, or the heat, or the overeating at lunchtime, or a touch of dehydration, or a combination of all of these – but our energy levels are hugely depleted. Every one of my limbs aches, from head to toe. We have a light supper: cheese, salad and more tiramisu – and catch up on a missed episode of Six Feet Under which Dymbel has loaned us.
Monday. With the school holidays underway, we can risk a late start for once. Up an hour later than usual (7.30), and we allow ourselves time for showers and breakfast in the cottage, rather than back in Nottingham. I hate the usual Monday mornings: up at 6.30, throw some clothes on, in the car 20 minutes later. This is much more civilised. Plus it’s a fine morning, and we still have the convertible. I find a Smiths CD (Louder Than Bombs) in the glove compartment. As all my old Smiths albums are on vinyl only, I haven’t heard their music in far too long. It is the perfect morning soundtrack. The traffic in Nottingham, even at 9.30, is still atrocious. No matter. I’m in no hurry.
"Daddy, what's sex?"
A cute story from Sasha about her childhood sex education reminds me of this little episode.
Late 1960s. Having successfully spearheaded a campaign to save the Chesterfield Canal from closure, my father is now chairman of the Retford and Worksop Boat Club. This weekend, at the club’s headquarters (the White Swan at Drakeholes), we are playing host to the Wolverhampton Boat Club, who are on an official visit. Their boats have been arriving over the past week, and are now all moored up in the basin, in readiness for the visit. On the Saturday morning, my father goes round them all on a tour of inspection, his young son Michael in tow.
In the cabin of one of the visiting boats, a joke eye-chart is hanging up:
There it is again. That word! It’s such a short word, and yet I still don’t know what it means. I love words. I’m an avid reader, devouring books which are really meant for children older than me, and I’m not used to being stumped by something so easy. I’m going to get to the bottom of this.
O M U C
H S E X I S
B A D F O R Y O
U R E Y E S I G H T
Later that same morning, the official coach from Wolverhampton pulls up, and the deputation disembarks. My father steps forward from our group to welcome them. There is one of those slightly awkward silences which is characteristic of such occasions.
At this precise moment, I run forward and pipe up.
“Daddy, what’s sex?”
The awkward silence is intensified. In the late 1960s, this situation doesn’t yet play very well as comedy. We are, after all, English. My father is forced to reply in front of the entire assembled throng.
“Not now, Michael. I’ll tell you later.”
The day progresses satisfactorily, and it is now time for our visitors to depart. Once again, we are all standing by the coach, waiting for my father to make the official farewell address. Once again, there is one of those slightly awkward silences. Once again – at this precise moment – young Michael runs forward and pipes up.
“It’s all right, Daddy! There’s no need to tell me now! This little girl from Wolverhampton has told me all about it!”
Ten years later, I am a gawky, self-conscious adolescent, living his life in an almost constant state of embarrassment. For the second time, we are due an official visit from the Wolverhampton Boat Club. The weekend before, my father tells me this story – clearly, he has decided that I am old enough to hear it at last. It’s undeniably funny - but frankly, it sounds just a little bit too cute to be true. Maybe he has embellished it for effect? In any case, I plead with him not to mention the story to anyone from Wolverhampton the following weekend.
In the club house (now relocated to Clayworth), my father makes a welcoming speech to the assembled throng. I am sitting right at the back of the room, in my customary chocolate brown polo neck sweater, head bowed. These are my father’s opening words:
“Well, as my son is in the room, I won’t remind you all of what happened on your last visit…”
A cheerful Brummie voice immediately pipes up.
“Something about sex and a little girl from Wolverhampton, wasn’t it?”
The entire room convulses in uproarious laughter and applause, as heads turn to locate me. My face is scarlet, and bowing ever lower. I will never forgive him. Never, do you hear! Never!
Like the guilt-ridden prostitute’s john who has just shot his wad and is now swiftly coming to his senses, my immediate feeling at the end of this year’s Big Brother was intense relief, followed by “what was I thinking of?” regret and a swiftly mounting sense of shame.
All those weeks! Just to see Kate burst into tears, hug her rels and pocket seventy grand! Was it really worth it?
I shan’t be watching next year. No, really, I shan’t. Feel free to quote me on this when the time approaches.
A recent posting on Swish Cottage got me thinking about The Secret Gay Signal™. It’s that little look of recognition that gay men flash at each other in public places – not necessarily as a mating call, but merely to register some kind of mutual commonality. It’s a subtle, fleeting look, accompanied by a half-smile and maybe a cursory nod of the head. As such, it is virtually invisible to anyone else. Blink and you’d miss it. The hetties need never know.
This happens particularly in two situations: in the workplace, and on holiday. In both situations, recognising and acknowledging other gay people can be a way of re-establishing one’s social identity – if being gay is a core element of that identity, of course. It can thus be a source of reassurance and re-empowerment, particularly for someone feeling isolated in the midst of uncomprehending strangers. Suddenly, the world shrinks and a network is re-established. Alliances can be quickly formed, and supportive friendships quickly made.
At its best, the ability to send, receive and act upon The Secret Gay Signal™ can be one of the great benefits of a gay social identity. At its worst, it can be a royal pain in the ass.
Example of the former: a lovely couple of German guys who we met on a boat trip from Koh Samui to the Ang Thong National Marine Park. The Signal was quickly transmitted, conversation was started, and the four of us proceeded to buddy up for the rest of our holiday on the island. The German guys had been to Koh Samui many times before, knew it very well, and so - once we’d hired a jeep - they were able to show us round the entire island. At once, we graduated from feeling like tourists (on the outside) to feeling like visitors (on the inside).
Example of the latter: a couple of Londoners who we met on a coach excursion in Turkey. It was immediately obvious that they were gay. It was also immediately obvious that we would have nothing more in common with them. Almost from the off, The Signal was flashed at us – intensely and repeatedly. To ignore it for the entire day would have been an act of such blatant rudeness, that in the end we had no option other than to submit and reciprocate. The obligatory Meal Out was duly arranged, and a predictably dismal evening ensued – for all of us, I think. In line with the common custom, phone numbers were exchanged and pocketed, amidst polite invitations to “come and visit some time”. I think we all knew that the scraps of paper would never make it out of the country.
What we need is a secondary Secret Gay Signal. One that says, in an instant: Yes, I know we’re all poofs together, but that’s where it begins and ends, I’m afraid. Over and out!