troubled diva  
 

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, July 30, 2004

In Which I Have a Pleasant Interlude

(posted by Miss Mish)

One of the joys about Nottingham is it is so green. Mostly hidden I grant you but you can always find somewhere to sit and read in the sun. We have the manicured green sward of the Market square, The Arboretum, the university boating lake and, moving further out, parks  and green spaces  just off the centre of town.
I work in a large Government building on Talbot Street. Just up from Theatre Square in fact, so almost the centre of town. Perched on top of a car park it may be, but  surrounded by terraces with flowerbeds and picnic tables (we civil servants like to get away from the grey after all). At the moment the lavender is in full flower  and it really is a lovely place to get away from the desk for an hour or so.  At 1pm today, I took my lunch and my book and sat outside in the sun,  luxuriating in the heat and the stillness of the air.   The city was almost inaudible apart from the muted clang of the trams. In the still of the heat haze,  I hear a scrabbling and a skittering on the brickwork. I slowly look up, just in time to see a large fox,  jumping from a jumble of rhododendron in the middle of the largest flowerbed. He stretches, yawns and lazily scratches himself and I stay completely still. He turns round, sees me and freezes. And seems almost embarrassed by being caught out. For a full ten seconds neither of us dares to move or drop our locked eyes.
Then he’s off again. Busy, busy, busy and I go back to the hurly-burly of the office.

Hanging out the Laundry at the George

(posted by Alan)

Four of us have managed to agree to meeting up at the George on Wednesday (4 Aug) - just Nixon left to convince that he'll be missing out on the social event of August.

In honour of the occasion, I'll be having a haircut this afternoon and curtailing my drinking money this weekend.

Dream Guest Blogger #7

(posted by Alan)

Ben started out with DH Lawrence then followed with Alan Bennett, Morrissey, Will Self, Chris Morris and Mike's dear Aunt Cyn. A theme to his guest bloggers was immediately obvious after the third day – all are commentators of various sorts on British life in general, and on English life in particular. Well, the first 5 fitted that bill, Aunt Cyn is a complete wild card that threw me off a bit. Not just a bit, a lot, actually. But, ignoring that mad, wonderful old duck, I'll stick to the theme established by the first 5 dream guests.

A suitable, 7th blogger shot into my head on that third day as my obvious choice and he is still there as a very worthy contender. But, since then, several others have seemed just as worthy, all of them for different reasons. So, let me go through all of them, giving you my reasons why they are all worthy, then give you my choice as the most worthy contender. I'll list them in the order in which they popped into my head:

Bill Bryson:
Bill Bryson, an American, first came to this country as a backpacker in 1973. He met his wife here and settled here, working as a travel writer. Although he and his family moved back to the States in 1995, they returned to England in 2003. Before becoming the wildly successful international author that he now is, he had had several best-sellers in the UK, one of which was the hugely popular, ‘Notes from a Small Island’ (1995), a book about the UK that was later made into a television production by ITV. Borrowing from this review will give you a good idea of why he makes a worthy 7th guest blogger:

Bill Bryson's narrative of his travels on a "small island" will probably not be found in British chambers of commerce or travel agencies, for it is not a favourable advertisement. It is instead a Midwest American's humorous account of disappointment and frustration as he tries to discover the beauty of Britain.

Bryson makes his way through the British countryside, towns and cities by way of bus, train, or on foot. He has a continual problem finding good places to eat during the day or to lodge at night. He quickly learned, "The trick to successful walking...is knowing when to stop." At least once, he stopped too late and had to find a comfortable park bench to sleep on.

He quickly became fascinated with British nomenclature. "No where" he admitted, "are the British more gifted than with place names." He classified as "endearingly insane" towns such as Chew Magna, Prittlewell, Little Rollright, Titsey, Woodstock Slop, and Nether Wallop. But often, it was the intriguing name of a town which inspired him to visit there.

Another thing that bothered Bryson was that too many British buildings offended the local landscape. He often found historical edifices being replaced by parking lots. He lamented, "You can't tear down fine old structures and then pretend they are still there." And Liverpool, which he was exceedingly fond of, seemed to him a "...place with more past than future." Then, near the end of his trip, he audaciously names off "...the buildings I would love to blow up in Britain..."

Most of Bryson's humor comes alive when he is disturbed by what he finds, or doesn't find, or when he is mislead by travel maps and time schedules. But he does have some favourite places, such as Ludlow, Manchester, Morecambe, Inverness, Thurso, and Glasgow. Above all, he enjoyed his travel because, "...you're seldom really alone out of doors in England."

So, unlike those listed by Ben, Bryson is a foreigner who has lived here long enough to get an intimate outsider’s perspective on a country and people that inspire both great affection and infuriation.

Paul Theroux:
Thinking of Bill Bryson’s book on the UK immediately reminded me of a similar book written almost 20 year’s earlier, Paul Theroux’s, ‘Kingdom by the Sea’ (1983). Although Theroux is known for his travel writing, he has written an impressive number of novels, the most famous one being, perhaps, ‘The Mosquito Coast’. Like Bryson, Theroux was also born in the US and met his first wife in England where he lived for many years. Unlike Bryson, however, he has spent a lot of time living and working in other parts of the world besides the US and UK. Bryson, while referring to Theroux as ‘grumpy’ and ‘irascible’, mentions him as a great influence. From his official website, comes this description of ‘Kingdom by the Sea’:

After eleven years as an alien in London, Paul Theroux set out on a damp May day in 1982 to discover Britain by traveling round her entire coast. Being American was an advantage. He could write about the British as they could not write about themselves. He did not want to write about museums, castles and cathedrals. Nor did he want his journey to be a stunt; he would not set a time limit or restrict himself to one means of transport. He would simply take to the coast and keep to it. Mainly by train, but walking too, he would circumnavigate Britain. It was a natural itinerary. Britain’s coast defined her: ‘the coast belongs to everyone.’

Naturally talkative, Theroux discovered the candour as well as the secretiveness of the island’s people. Staying in bed and breakfasts and small hotels he found himself on the receiving end of confidences and strident opinions as well as British hospitality. He found unadulterated pleasures -- sunlit strands, three-coach branch-line trains, an invitation to a crofter’s cottage for tea -- and doubtful experiences -- caravan-lined beaches, stony cities, a day at Butlins, and the terrors of Ulster which rule its hard-pressed people. ‘To be anonymous and traveling in an interesting place is an intoxication,’ he says, and from Weymouth, with its welcoming smell of fish and beer, to Cape Wrath, ‘a beautiful unknown place,’ he communicates that intoxication in a restless, vivid, opinionated series of eye-witness impressions.

So, here is another very talented American with a great love of Britain and who is able to comment on the place with an outsider’s perception that affords him a viewpoint that can be infuriatingly accurate and refreshingly different.

VS Naipaul:
In the early days, VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux were very great friends, Naipaul being constantly described as Theroux’s ‘mentor’. They met in Uganda and became the closest of friends, literary friends who were each other’s editors, confidants and teachers. The very acrimonious end to that friendship is covered in Theroux’s book, ‘Sir Vidia’s Shadow’ ( 1998).

VS Naipaul was born in Trinidad into a family of Indian Brahmin origin. His father, a newspaper correspondent and writer of published short stories and encouraged him to be a writer, telling him in a letter: "Don't be scared of being an artist. D. H. Lawrence was an artist through and through; and, for the time being at any rate, you should think as Lawrence. Remember what he used to say, 'Art for my sake.'" At the age of 18 he had written his first novel which was rejected by the publisher. He moved to England in 1950 to take up a scholarship at Oxford.

Naipaul's writings deal with the cultural confusion of the Third World and the problems of an outsider, a feature of his own experience as an Indian in the West Indies, a West Indian in England, and a nomadic intellectual in a postcolonial world. Naipaul's outspoken, unapologetic views on 'half-made societies' have led to much controversy for being so politically incorrect.

In his semi-autobiographical novel, ‘The Enigma of Arrival’ (1987), Naipaul depicts a writer of Caribbean origin, who finds joys of homecoming in England after wandering years - during which the world stopped being a colony for him. Central themes in Naipaul's works are the damaging effects of colonialism upon the people of the Third World, and the feelings of exile and alienation experienced by immigrants in societies such as that in Britain.

Naipaul, a severe, arrogant figure with absolute mastery of the English language, is the sort of person who would make the perfect blogger to give an eloquent, intellectual portayal of those British people that often feel exluded by their country and the majority of their countrymen.

He won the Nobel prize for Literature in 2001.

Julie Burchill:
Thinking of the acrimonious end to a great literary friendship reminded me of another great ‘literary battle’ albeit one of quite a different kind, the ‘fax wars’ between Julie Burchill and Camille Paglia in 1993. The first recorded fax war, dubbed by the press as ‘The Battle of the Bitches’, it still makes good reading.

But, long before that, Julie Buchill had shone strong and bright over British modern culture. Julie was born in Bristol in 1959, started out as a reporter on NME, married another hip young journalist and author, Tony Parsons, and, with Toby Young (someone she later fell out with), was a founding editor of The Modern Review. Along the way, she became a presence in British journalism that was impossible to ignore no matter whether you liked or despised her. Formerly the Queen of the Groucho Club, she now spends more time queening it over Brighton where she lives. More recently, she has been known for her weekly Guardian column (now sadly finished) and the play about her life, ‘Julie Burchill is Away’.

One of Britain's most outspoken journalists, her bare-knuckle attitudes and reckless lifestyle have made her as reviled as she is successful. All very good reasons for her to make the perfect 7th guest blogger!

A few other names presented themselves too. For example, Ozzies long resident in Britain like Germaine Greer and Clive James would also probably make excellent guest bloggers again for their sharp intelligence and outsider's perspective on Britain. But, I had to stop somewhere so have kept to the shortlist above.

Ok, so whom do we have to chose? Two male Americans who have spent a lot of time living in Britain and making a living out of observing Britons; a British Indian, originally from one of the ex-colonies who is now one of the greatest living masters of the English language, a man with an insider’s knowledge of exile and alienation within British society; and an Englishwoman who, over the past two decades, has become an acute observer of British society and culture.

I choose Julie Burchill!                         

And, I choose her because I think that she would be the perfect foil to Ben's choices. She would be witty, clever, provocative and would leap in without hesitation. Also, being so much in tune with modern Britain, I think that her comments would, possibly, hit the mark more. It's a pity that she isn't one of the outsiders that made the other 3 so suitable but I still think she would be the best of the lot.                               

I wonder if she and Aunt Cyn are related?

Ben, I know that you asked for suggestions as a comment but you must know me by now - wordy, verbose and horribly convoluted. So, apologies for this diatribe but my fingers couldn't resist it!





Thursday, July 29, 2004

Guest Blogging Dream Team: Competition

So, you've read the posts and ooh-ed and ah-ed at each of my six choices for the Guest Blogging Dream Team (or maybe not) - D H Lawrence, Alan Bennett, Morrissey, Will Self, Chris Morris and Aunt Cyn - and now it's your turn. Here's what you have to do...

Suggest a seventh member for the team and justify your choice.

It can be anyone, whether alive, dead, real, fictional, famous, infamous, current blogger or not - anyone you think is or would be a potentially brilliant blog writer, as long as they haven't already been chosen.

All suggestions and justifications in the comments box below (as well as any queries), and, in the interests of fairness, only one suggestion per person, please.

Deadline: Tuesday 3rd August, 4pm.

In addition to the congratulations of the Troubled Diva readership, the person who comes up with the best suggestion and justification as adjudged by moi will receive a brand spanking new copy of Guest Blogging Dream Team member Will Self's novel 'How The Dead Live'.

Over to you...

Guest Blogging Dream Team: Member #6

(Posted by Ben)

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Suitably chastened by Alan, here's the final installment of the series - the last member of my Guest Blogging Dream Team to be unveiled.

Some clues, then.

A familiar figure to some (ie long-time Troubled Diva readers), but unfamiliar to others...

She would offer a much-needed female perspective to a team comprised thus far solely of men...

She has a boundless lust for life...

She's a bit of a hoot, blessed with a wicked sense of humour and a fondness for ribaldry and innuendo...

She's much-travelled and has also got about a bit...

She has a wealth of life experience and countless tales from her colourful past with which she can charm anyone who's within earshot...

Her father was a friend of that nice Mister Hitler...

She lived for twenty years on the edge of the jungle in Borneo...

She was once married to a judge who tragically died of Dutch Elm Disease...

She was arrested 157 times for protesting at Greenham Common...

She's currently working as an agony aunt for the Liechtenstein Mail & Herald...

And, given that the team member unveiled yesterday was Chris Morris, I guess you could say I've gone from 'Jam' to jam...

Yes, of course, it's Mike's lovely Aunt Cyn - not so much Belle De Jour as Belle De Hier.

Unlike the rest of the team, she's done it all before (on this very site), and done it to rousing and hilarious effect.

With her onboard and the Guest Blogging Dream Team completed, there'd be nothing more to do but just sit back and wait for the Guardian awards to roll in.

So, my complete Guest Blogging Dream Team: D H Lawrence, Alan Bennett, Morrissey, Will Self, Chris Morris and Aunt Cyn.

Ben, you are slipping up!!

Where is guest blogger #6???

I have been waiting all day for the great revelation!!!

I'm not homophobic but...

(posted by Nixon)

One of the requirements of middle-class life is to give the impression of being politically correct. That's not to say their politics have to be free from prejudice, rather they need to appear as such. To these ends, we prefix strange phrases to what we say when discussing politically contentious issues; phrases that are designed to shroud our prejudice and give the impression of impartiality. The classic example of this would be "I'm not racist/homophobic/sexist, but..", or the wonderfully patronising, "I have a lot of gay/female/black/asian friends, but...", or even better, "...I know a [insert minority group] who agree with me!"

These phrases are carefully-crafted rhetorical devices designed to lull us into believing "they're not racist, they just don't like immigrants who come here to steal our jobs and rape our young white girls."

This attempt to give prejudice a publicly acceptable face can also be seen in the contentious issue of gay adoption.

There are two main arguments against it, the first being right-wing silliness about Adam and Eve, and God, and I'm going to waste my time discussing it. The one I want to post about is the argument against gay adoption supposedly borne out of concern for 'The Children'. Perhaps you've heard it, perhaps you even believe it:

"Many of my friends are gay so what I’m saying isn't prejudiced, but... Gays shouldn't adopt because homophobia exists in society and the kids would be bullied a result."

Firstly I'd challenge that the pathological response of other children would be to bully those children who had gay parents. A few studies have found no difference in the bullying of children with straight or gay parents. Moreover, children of gay parents do not perform any worse at school or score differently on psychosocial tests. The central tenet of the argument cannot be justified.

Whilst I'd concede bullying may occur and gay parents should be mindful of homophobia, it is not a justification in itself to prohibit gay adoption. To formulate an extreme case scenario using the same argument we could say interracial couples should not have children as their children would be bullied. Perhaps I shouldn't leave my house because I might get a rock thrown at me?

This argument implicitly promotes homophobia by allowing it to go unchallenged, and allows for prejudice to be given an air of respectability. It is nothing more than the excrement of homophobia dusted with the icing sugar of political correctness- it's still shit, it just looks palatable.

...and many of my straight friends agree with me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Proposal

In the interest of T-D-sharing harmony, I propose a meet on Saturday, 8.30, in George's on Broadway.

We can   clear the air about leaving the loo seat up, who steals the duvet, whose turn it is  to buy the tea bags and why no-one seems to empty the dishwasher.
At the very least we can have a knock-down, drag-out bitch fight, get enough material  for another week of happy blogging or I can just get my coat and leave......
Suggestions?

 

In Which It's Funny Old World

(Posted by Miss Mish)  

  I’ve just been trawling the ‘What’s On’ in Nottingham pages and have found quite a few things  that interest me.  Nottingham Playhouse   is hosting both Mark Thomas and Jeremy Hardy. Not on a double bill sadly.  Comedy is always a difficult thing. You never know what is going to make you laugh or if your friends will think the same.  You may for example, be pant-wettingly moved by  ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘The Royle Family’ or ‘Jack Ass’  which leave me completely cold. However, show me ‘Teachers’, ‘Spaced’ or  the songs of Noel Coward and Tom Lehrer and I am in hysterics.
  Now (bit of name dropping here) the last time I saw Mark Thomas was on the enormous and moving ‘Stop The War’ march in February. I walked next to him for an hour or so and shared my brandy flask with him.    Lovely man, great ideas and with a conscience. There are so few of them around.    He seems to have dropped off the radar recently but no doubt he’ll have a  host of fresh anecdotes. I do worry about him though. I just expect his blood pressure to rise so dramatically during one of his polemical outbursts about Dubyah and Governments in general that he’ll have a stroke or something and  that’ll be the end of him.
Jeremy Hardy is another wonderful funny man. Again with a conscience, although he appears to be settling into middle age with his copy of Stovold’s Mornington Crescent Almanac these days. Now  I missed the last visit of  Jeremy  – I was working in London for two days. But The Husband bought tickets for himself and a  few friends and promised to tell me all about it on my return. So dreadfully early on the Wednesday , I slipped out of bed, kissed the still sleeping cat and Husband and went off to catch the 6.30 train. Husband worked at home that day working to a script deadline and so  stayed in the office with a pot of coffee. At 3pm, as I broke for coffee and turned my phone on, there’s message from him to ring home urgently. Imagining the worst ( accidents,  grandmothers, earthquakes, death of cat etc) I rang home.
“Have you got my keys?” he asked
 I check the handbag and find to my surprise that I have picked his up by mistake. But wait! What was that in the other side of the bag? My set of keys too……
It appears that in my dash to get to the cab, I had taken the keys out of the door, locked  it and put them in my bag. Along with my own set which were already in there for safekeeping. So I have actually locked my own husband in the house.
“Sorry” I  mumble.
Now our house is odd in the fact that it has no large opening windows in it. You can only get out by the doors. And as I have BOTH sets of keys, all the doors are locked… well… The Husband is staying EXACTLY where I left him that morning.
  Luckily, Ed our next door neighbour, has a set for cat-feeding purposes but he is at work so I leave  message on his mobile and ask him if he can please get home sometime and  release The Prisoner of Nouveau Basford as soon as  possible.  So I carry on working after telling the Husband that his liberation is all in hand.
 When I return, The Husband sees the funny side of it but it appears that it got quite fraught. Ed rang to say he’d be home at 6.30 and would let him out then. Husband then books a taxi for 7pm, just enough time before the gig starts to meet people, get and hand out the tickets for everyone. However, just to make sure, he rings up the box office, explains all to the giggles of the staff and they agree to give out replacement tickets to our friends. He then rings them all up and explains  - to even more hilarity – what has happened. Crisis averted.
However. It all turns into a bit of a farce. Ed rings to say he’s got to work late but he’ll be home by 7.
So far so good. However- the taxi arrives EARLY  and is hanging around outside hooting.  Husband waves through window  miming  “Five minutes!” Still no Ed.
Taxi hoots.
 Husband mimes.
Still no Ed.
Taxi hoots.
 Husband mimes.
Still no Ed.

 At ten past 7,  Ed  screeches up and unlocks the door. Husband hurtles out just as the taxi is about to leave and gets to the box office  just after they’ve all gone in.  He explains that there should be a ticket for him.
“Ooh yes! You’re the Man Who Was Locked In The house aren’t you? Just a minute”
“Carol! It’s The Man Whose Wife Locked Him In! Where  is his ticket?”

I’m afraid he took a bit of a ribbing from our friends  in the bar afterwards.

 I go out for a meal with colleagues that evening and they  think it’s highly amusing.
 I am smug however. “ I know EXACTLY where my partner is tonight. What are yours doing now you’re out of town?”

Sugardaddie.com

(posted by Nixon)

Ok- I've found the perfect dating site. One of my main goals in life is to 'do a diva' and find myself a wealthy man to pay the bills. Now, thanks to the internet, this dream may be realised.

A few months ago on my blog I parodied gaydar for being silly. Now, in a perfect example of life imitating art, there is Sugardaddie.com.

You can search for your prospective suitor by his income and net worth! It's glorious and sure beats searching for guys on penis size.

Apolitical Interlude

(posted by Nixon)

So my post about the scene seems to have attracted a bit of attention. Keep the comments coming- they're interesting if nothing else. I update my blog a few times a month and don't get many readers, and those few readers I do get are mostly gay male professions. It's therefore a strange experience to have such a vocal, numerous and diverse readership here on TD. Unsettling, but not entirely unwelcome.

So I'd like to use the power of Mike's site to plug a few of the sites I enjoy reading:

Hosting
I'm going to defile TD by plugging a commercial website. I've been plagued by bad webhosts for a while- hell, I even work for one- and it was beginning to pîss me off. I'd get charged for going a few megabytes over my bandwidth allowance and the servers would constantly go down.

As a marketing thing, web hosts tend to have a ridiculously low monthly fee and make their money by charging for features that should come for free. Subdomains, like test.troubled-diva.com, would cost $5, as would extra databases and email address. Also, being big companies, they tend not to care about customers and make no attempt to accommodate their needs as individuals.

Thankfully, Textdrive is quite different. I can host 10 different domains on the same account and have unlimited mailboxes. They're also rather helpful and will install any programs (within reason) or Perl modules I need. They do an absolutely terrible job of articulating their philosophy on their website so don't be put off.

(no, I'm not getting paid)

Dirty Trade
One of my favouritest blogs. Not sure what's happened to him as he's not updated for a month. His blog archives start with him being at university and 'enjoying' random sex with horrible, vile people. He then gets thrown out of university and becomes unemployed before finding a groovy job with Virgin Atlantic. I wish I could write like he does. Check it out, man.

Purefinder
Purefinder is another blog I read. It's had me worried for the past few months but now everything seems to be working out. The post about Mrs. Padraig's chemotherapy is amazing.

Baby Blogs
I'm a sucker for blogs about babies. Devoted parents post pictures of their babies and write blog posts pretending to be their children. Some say it's gooey and sentimental but I think it's beautiful. Here are my faves:

Guest Blogging Dream Team: Member #5

(Posted by Ben)

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Nearly two weeks into Troubled Diva Guest Fortnight (And A Bit), and us temporary residents of Diva Towers are getting along like a house on fire (no need to worry Mike, just a figure of speech – I can assure you conflagrations have been kept to a minimum and, anyway, who was to know those gatecrashers would turn out to have a penchant for arson?)

Though disagreement can be healthy and constructive, it’s always helpful if your guest bloggers get along, complimenting as well as complementing each other, and perhaps it’s wise to bear this in mind when assembling your team.

Thus, the fact that the fourth member of my Guest Blogging Dream Team, Will Self, has described the fifth as "God" bodes well for the prospective camaraderie of the team. He’s also been denounced by the Daily Mail as "the most loathed man on TV", and if that doesn’t translate as a glowing recommendation then I don’t know what does.

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together / boo disapprovingly for media saboteur, agent provocateur and all-round enfant terrible of British comedy Chris Morris.

It’s not hard to see what Self might find admirable about Morris. Not only is he a fellow satirist notorious for the frequently disturbing surrealism of his visions, but he also revels in the creative possibilities of language. His work routinely exhibits a Joycean verbal playfulness and exuberance, and is littered with inventive neologisms and mixed metaphors. Unlike the vast majority of his comic peers, his work reveal its value as a written script, not dependent upon performance for effect.

Bloggers often pride themselves on having a finger on the pulse, but Morris often goes one better, blessed with an uncanny knack of predicting the future as well as mercilessly dissecting the present. The war episode of 'The Day Today' anticipated the phenomenon of embedded reporters and the sensationalist coverage of last year's invasion of Iraq, while Goldie Lookin Chain are releasing a single called 'Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do' ten years after Morris's spoof rapper Fur Q appeared on our screens.

Above all, you could be certain that if Lawrence and Morrissey failed to stir things up between them, Morris would be only too happy to oblige. Provocation is his raison d’etre. That, and making you laugh like a drain.

The Guest Blogging Dream Team so far: D H Lawrence, Alan Bennett, Morrissey, Will Self and Chris Morris.

Sixth and final member to be unveiled tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Nottingham Vignettes - Part 3

Look, I know that I bored you all with my harping on about South Africans and expats, and that you would really like to know what I got up to this weekend. So, here is a brief summary.

Friday night:
I was visited by my 'bit on the side' (actually, I'm his bit on the side!) before I went out to meet some friends in the usual haunts in the local gay ghetto. P is a bi builder/scaffolder who works here during the week to return to his wife and 45 children in Sheffield over weekends. We seem to have an understanding and get on rather well but he isn't the sort of person you'd invite over for a polite dinner party or from whom you'd find a sympathetic ear when discussing the plight of asylum seekers.

Got into town at about 11 and met up with P, a good friend that I met in Cape Town 3 years ago but who, coincidentally, hails from Nottingham. He lives/works in Stevenage now and is off to Australia soon. He was with his latest conquest so I lost him at one stage. Beyond that, I don't remember much else now.

Saturday:
Tried to read the Guardian but couldn't get beyond the magazine. Toured the city centre for a while and discovered the South African shop then walked up to the Arboretum to join the 'gay festivities'. I only got there at 4 but managed to bump into almost every gay person I know in Nottingham. The sun shone at times, people were walking their dogs, the place reverberated with trashy cover versions of gay 'tchoons', every one drank a lot - good fun, actually.

Went off to a friend's birthday party just up the road from me in Sherwood. P (yes, that's 3 of them now and, yes, they all share the same name) had told me to go to www.chavscum.co.uk to get inspiration for what to wear. Well, had P known my scaffolder, there would have been no need to point me to that site as scaffolder is the epitome of a chav. Good party, all the men were gay, one lesbian couple and one token straight woman. Four of us left at 12.30 pm to see what NG1 had on offer.

NG1 was heaving with people, lots of them new faces to me - here for the Pride event, I suppose. We went our separate ways and I got into one of my frenzied dance modes and hardly left the dance floor until leaving at 3. Unless I'm with someone, those frenzies usually put me into a world of my own, making me oblivious to all around me. However, there was a point at which I seemed to establish a rapport with a rather sexy man on the dance floor. I seem to recall a lot of shy looking at each other but that is as far as it got.

I was in bed by 4.

Sunday:
Tried to read the Observer but couldn't get beyond the magazine. Phoned a few friends and dozed on and off during the day.

Went to another friend's birthday BBQ in Arnold (a place he likes to call Mapperley Border, I ask you!) even though the thought of a quiet evening at home seemed much more attractive. Initially, it was all straight couples, single mothers and noisy children, and aged relatives - quite a contrast from the birthday party of the night before. As the night wore on, a hard core remained, drinking gin and vodka (not together) while we danced to whatever was being played on the stereo. 

Bed by 3.

Monday:
Hated every minute of work. Spent all evening reading Saturday's Guardian and Sunday's Observer.

Bed by 11.

* thanks to lyle who pointed out that I'd misspelt chavscum.

Nottingham Vignettes - Part 2 1/2

(posted by Alan)

As a guest writer who hasn’t written anything in almost a week, I’m feeling a terrible pressure to write something before it’s midweek again. And, since the weekend was very much a blur that would be of little interest to anyone else, let alone myself, I’ve had trouble thinking about anything that could be vaguely construed as worthy of ‘local writing’. But, scraping the barrel a bit, I have come up with some locally-influenced musings of mine.

Before going off to the Arboretum Park on Saturday for Nottingham Pride, which, by the way, was very pleasant, very much like a friendly village fete, I was wandering aimlessly around town trying to decide if I ought to get my hair cut or not. I do need one, but didn’t get one as I wasn’t keen on the idea of having my back and neck itch while I tried to walk fetchingly amongst the crowds at Pride. I was rather surprised to see a large advertising board bearing the South African flag on the pavement on Chapel Bar (leading off Upper Parliament street towards Market Square), opposite Fat Cats (nice chilled out place, food reasonable and perfectly acceptable). It pointed towards a rather run-down shopping arcade, saying that the ‘South African Shop’ could be found on the second floor. Shops devoted to South African products are relatively common in London for the reason that this rather old joke is funny:

An Englishman, an Aussie and a South African are in a bar one night, having a beer. All of a   sudden the South African downs his beer, throws his glass in the air, pulls out a gun and shoots the glass to pieces and says: "In Sath Efrika our glasses are so cheap that we don't need to drink from the same one twice."

The Aussie, obviously impressed by this , drinks his beer, throws his glass into the air, pulls out his gun and shoots the glass to pieces and says: "Well mate, in 'Straaaaailia we have so much sand to make the glasses that we don't need to drink out of the same glass twice either."

The Englishman, cool as a cucumber, picks up his beer and drinks it, throws his glass into the air, pulls out his gun, shoots the South African and the Australian and then says: "In London we have so many f***ing South Africans and Aussies that we don't need to drink with the same ones twice."


Now, I’m not really the sort of expat who has any huge desire to hang around others of my ilk or, for that matter, has a hankering for South African products. But, this being Nottingham, I’d not have thought there were enough of us here to create the necessary demand for a South African shop, so I was intrigued.

Dingy entrance, shops selling second-hand CDs and various Goth paraphernalia, several empty shops with paper peeling from the windows, an escalator that wasn’t working, etc. Yep, this wasn’t going to be an upmarket shopping experience.

I peered through the windows of the shop and was amazed to find that it was a good approximation of the typical down-market café (pronounced ‘caff-ee’) one finds on the wrong side of the tracks in every South African town. No crappy South African newspapers or magazines, unfortunately, and no fridge with a tray of sad samoosas and large ‘Russian’ sausages to be fried with slap chips. But, although the person running the place wasn’t Greek, Portuguese or Indian, she was a large black woman who looked just right for the place. And, there they were! All those delicacies one allegedly misses from home were on the sparsely-packed shelves: Mrs Balls’s chutney, Peck’s Anchovette fishpaste, Castle beer, tins of Milo, Ouma’s rusks, Peppermint Crisps, mealie-meal, etc. Oh, by the way, long before your British palates were colonised by the Italians and you suddenly thought that nothing could be trendier than polenta, we’d been eating mealie-meal in hundreds of different ways. No poof term like 'polenta' for us, thank you - we just call it pap.

I looked through that window, hard and long but did I go in? Damn right, I didn’t – it was too depressing for words!

This got me thinking about expats and the way they suddenly develop cravings for foods they know from home. I mean, I can understand why other nationalities (apart from South Africans!) have such places in the UK as the national cuisine must be one of the blandest on earth. Yes, yes, I know that some of the best dining in the world can be had in the UK these days but wander just a little way from any cosmopolitan hub and you are in a culinary wasteland. However, despite that, the British are probably the worst culprits of this kind of thing when one thinks of the proliferation of fish and chips shops and British bars along the Spanish coast. And, what is it with their obsession with having Marmite and Weetabix at breakfast far from Britain’s grey skies? There are lots of South African products and dishes that I miss and look forward to eating when I return home but the thought of having bars and shops devoted to such products away from South Africa seems quite bizarre.

And that then led me to thinking about a related topic dealing with the same subject from quite a different angle. For those of you who have travelled to South Africa or ever eaten in a South African restaurant in the UK, you must think that South African meals often include exotic dishes of kudu, impala, ostrich or crocodile. Well, I can assure you that the average South African has never eaten the flesh of any of those creatures. Not even ostrich (although ostrich biltong is quite common) despite it enjoying a brief moment of fame a few years ago as the next healthy alternative to red meat. So, those ‘typical’ South African menus are not typical at all!

Apparently, you get a similar thing in Australia where restaurants aimed at tourists include kangaroo and duck-billed platypus. Ok, maybe not platypus (an endangered species, isn’t it?), but their typical Ozzie restaurants are also anything but typical.

All that to say, with its own South African shop, Nottingham MUST be on the cutting edge of things!



Guest Blogging Dream Team: Member #4

(Posted by Ben)

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

D H Lawrence and Morrissey might well be regarded as grumpy old men, but neither of them accepted being labelled as such by agreeing to appear on the BBC2 series of that name - unlike the fourth member of my Guest Blogging Dream Team, Will Self.

For many if not most bloggers, their blog is at times an outlet for grumbles, gripes and general complaints about their lot in life - a release valve, somewhere they can let off steam. Of course, in many cases this reads like nothing more than tedious and self-indulgent whingeing, but I could listen to Self grumble for hours, and there's no reason to believe that he'd be any less engaging if afforded access to a blog.

A significant part of his appeal is his phenomenal and rightly legendary mastery of the English language. Though he's as quotable as Morrissey, he eschews the pithy in favour of the verbose. The rich and labyrinthine sentences of Self's novels and essays lead the reader on a merry dance and frequently demand re-reading, expanding his or her vocabulary immeasurably along the way.

As comfortably at home on 'Newsnight Review', on the restaurant review pages of The Observer and as a team captain on 'Shooting Stars', he - like many bloggers - takes an active interest in both the high-brow and the low-brow, and would be just as willing to share his perceptive insights on 'Big Brother' and Eurovision as he would on the machinations of the political system or the finer points of philosophy.

Of course, if he was to decide to leave aside the erudite and astute social commentary, there'd always be the chance that we might be treated to some new short fiction and thereby invited to marvel not only at the awesome power of his language but also at the power of his riotous imagination.

The Guest Blogging Dream Team so far: D H Lawrence, Alan Bennett, Morrissey and Will Self.

Member #5 to be unveiled tomorrow.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Guest Blogging Dream Team: Member #3

(Posted by Ben)

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The third member of my Guest Blogging Dream Team is the first not to be a writer in the most commonly understood sense of the term, but he is often mentioned in the same breath as poets of considerable literary repute.

He takes D H Lawrence's occasionally misanthropic outlook on life to the extreme, and shares the novelist's bluntness and willingness to sound off, as well as his habit of not suffering fools gladly.

At the same time, like Alan Bennett, his concern with England and the eccentricities of the English is bordering on the obsessive, though, unlike Bennett, he has attracted a good deal of criticism for the views he's expressed on the subject.

Yes, of course, love him or hate him, it's the living legend that is Morrissey.

Perhaps at his best when sparring with journalists during interviews, he would nevertheless no doubt relish the opportunity to foist his opinions on others free from the constraints and the misrepresentational meddling of the media.

Morrissey's back catalogue, as a solo artist but especially as frontman for The Smiths, bears witness to his talents as an intelligent and provocative lyricist. In particular, his fondness for existential reflection and his ability to write introspectively about his own intensely personal feelings in such a way that others can identify with - essentially, the ability to make himself an interesting subject - make him eminently suitable for blogging.

This isn't to suggest that I think he's a likeable person, or even necessarily sympathetic - but then that needn't detract from the quality of what he might be expected to write and post. Indeed, what makes him such an entertaining lyricist and interviewee is the way he manages to dress witheringly cynical comments and spitefully barbed put-downs in such verbal finery and succinct epigrammatic wit. His seemingly eternal quotability would make him quite an asset.

The Guest Blogging Dream Team so far: D H Lawrence, Alan Bennett and Morrissey.

Member #4 to be unveiled tomorrow.

God Save the Queens!!!

(posted by Nixon)


Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I was artfully dragged into a gay nightclub at the weekend. I somehow managed to stay for a record 1 hour and 20 minutes before I had to leave, and now I’m wondering what it was that prompted me to go in the first place. I seem quite unable to enjoy myself in NG1 and yet at the same time, I feel compelled to go anyway. Much like the homos of the 1950s who felt guilty for being gay, I feel guilty about not being gay enough. I seem to have a tragic belief that fucking men isn’t enough, and that by spending my pink pounds in a mediocre gay club I will somehow validate my gay identity.

I want to spend some time detailing what I don’t like about the provincial gay commercial scene (henceforth referred to as ‘the scene’) and why I don’t do it. Let’s start at the beginning:

When I was 14 and started to masturbate—or what is euphemistically known as ‘coming of age’—I noticed that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself off to pictures of Pamela Anderson. For reasons still unbeknown to me, David Hasselhoff in his red Speedos always seemed to do for me.

At this age I was presented with a choice: either have a sham marriage, have the kids and the wife, and aspire to all the stuff our society teaches us is important, or to go against the grain, to rewrite the rules, and to accept who I am.

Being gay, at least for me, taught me the self-confidence to live a lifestyle consummate with who I am, and not pretend to be someone I’m not. It’s very easy to follow the herd, but once you’ve defied it once, it’s easier to do again.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me about gaylife is that anyone- be they male, female, Black, disable, affluent, 50+, or whatever- can be a homo, and the only thing all gay folks have in common is an erotic attraction towards members of their own sex. This, and the willingness of homos to rewrite societal rules, are the two things I love most about being gay, and about gay people in general

As you’d expect, the gay scene reflects this diversity and welcomes anyone regardless of their age, race or gender, and offers an environment in which people are free to express themselves.

No! no! no! It doesn’t, and that’s part of the reason I’m not keen on it.

A few people criticise the scene for being too ‘cliquey’ and bitchy. I’ve never quite understood this; the scene’s cliquiness is more fraternal than anything else, and its bitchiness is rarely overt. My problem is more with its blandness and uniformity. I feel very uncomfortable in a gay place where there isn’t at least one married toothless simpleton in the toilets offering chewjobs or a few cross-dressing middle-aged men in suspenders.

At the root of my objection is the implicit understanding on the scene as to what constitutes a proper gay identity, and the derision folks who differ from these unwritten rules are subjected to. I know lesbians, ‘mature’ men, people of colour, and folks who’d like to cross-dress- they’d all like to out on the scene but feel uncomfortable to do so. In short, they feel marginalised by the one place where they should feel comfortable.

Being White, 23 and depressingly vanilla, I’m largely unaffected by these unwritten rules, but this demand for convention and uniformity is something I’m always conscious of and find oppressive. I’d like to feel comfortable going up to the DJ in NG1 and asking for ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On” by Leonard Cohen, as I have in Duckies, but I know full well that I’d receive nothing but a sound beating around the head with a rolled-up copy of Boyz Magazine.

This lack of individuality and demand for convention has always reminded of Last of the Proms:



For those that don’t know, The Last Night of the Proms are a series of concerts with a ‘patriotic’ component held at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It’s classless and crass, and millions of Britons watch it on television each year. The audience adorn themselves in patriotic tat, such as Union Jack hats and novelty polyester ties, and sing songs about Britain’s greatness whilst waving plastic flags. Britain’s empire may lie in ruins but for one night only the attendees can forget all this and pretend that Britannia still rules the waves, and like the Nuremberg rallies of the Nazi era, they too can validate their national identity in this pathetic, jingoistic attempt to manufacture a sense of belonging.

The provincial commercial gay scene, at least for me, isn’t any different from the Last Night of the Proms. Novelty Union Jack hats and God Save the Queen may give way to 2(x)ist underwear and Kylie songs but the essential properties of groupthink, blandness, uniformity, and identity validation are all there.

(and can someone answer me this- why do scene guys shave the pubic hair above their penis? Is it to make it look bigger?)

Whilst it’s easy to sneer at Last Night of the Proms or the provincial gay scene, I’m really glad these places exist and hope people enjoy themselves, but for me these two things are nausea-inducing. I don’t enjoy it and it’s not part of who I am, much in the same way as jacking off over Pamela Anderson isn’t me either. Instead of following the herd and doing what’s expected of me, I would like to go against the grain and live a life that fits who I am, not what I’m expected to be. Whilst I don’t expect all gay people to understand this, I do ask them to respect my lifestyle choices in the same way as I respect theirs.

Whilst I generally opt out, I am still concerned about where this homogenisation will end. A friend tells a funny story about how he was walking down Manchester’s Canal Street when he saw a group of gay men line-dancing in unison to a Steps song. Eventually gay culture will become more like this, and soon it will have as many rules about sexuality and individuality as straight culture. Straight folks are already catching up and will soon overtake us- swinging, dogging and internet dating sites are all taking off, and they’re developing the ‘piss and vinegar’ we’ve exchanged for pink pounds. Soon there will come a time when they’ll start Straightdar.co.uk, and the straights will celebrate their sexual uniqueness in sleazy bars, whilst the gays dance in unison to Kylie Minogue songs.

Mark my words: When that time comes-- when everything I like about being gay has been sold, and straights become more interesting than gays-- I’ll start füçking women instead.