Tuesday, 24 February 2015

It's not easy being me, but it's fairly easy being Lena Dunham

My book group have just read 'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham, which most of them hated.. I actually think they saw more of themselves in it than they cared to admit. I wondered how easy it was to try and emulate Lena.. Here's an excerpt from my as yet unrealised novel "The Gay Man's Guide to Married Men.."

99% of this is true because I wrote it out of my brain...


When I was 20 years old I worked in the only gay pub in Cambridge - a seedy, dishevelled venue which suited the clandestine nature that meeting men in the 1980s dictated; a dark, sweaty mess of a place with an alcoholic landlord - a vile queen, with a viscous temper which he took out on his adoring, self-loathing business partner, a woman of loose confidence who should have known better. 

I was young and aloof and, in the midst of the political maelstrom of that particular Tory government, at twenty I was also 'jailbait'. The bar only attracted those on the fringes, those further discriminated against even by their own minority and was ultimately a miasma of snarling and bitching such that cohesion failed in a place that should have brought these socially unacceptable outsiders together. 

As someone never convinced by my own allure I pulled pints and changed barrels and accepted generous tips very naively. I was the ultimate ditzy barmaid - I wore leather pants and tight designer tops. I had a 28 inch waist. A lesbian once told me that if she were a man she would want my body. She would drunkenly tweak my nipples and loom over me with whiskey breath hoping for our lips to meet, hoping for some, any, connection.

Every night was crazy. Every night started as if it were 2.00am on New Year's Day. The first punters at 6.00pm would already be drunk, seemingly needing Dutch courage just to come in. And one night in the middle of all the madness, one night - cutting through the sea of undesirables like a beacon of truth and beauty, there was Charlie. 

I've always been attracted to the exotic. I nurture a primal, intuitive need to be visually enticed. My favourite bird is the peacock. Charlie dominated two stools in the centre of the bar. As I started my shift and walked behind him it took more than two seconds to traverse the width of his back. Even sitting I could tell he was approaching seven feet tall. He was a mountain of a man. He nursed a tonic water. 

I was overtly and obviously casual all night. I barely audibly engaged except to ask if he needed refreshing, but he communicated with his eyes, with his big smile as I blushed by the slop trays at the end of the bar trying to look my most Lauren Bacall smooth, sucking clumsily on a pretentious Gauloise with liquorice paper. When he spoke it was with a deep, coppery American accent. He called the landlady 'Ma'am' and, though not imbibing, fuelled us with alcohol throughout the night. He wore a plaid shirt, the front dangerously unbuttoned and the sleeves seductively rolled almost to the shoulder exposing thick, solid arms, a warm and sensuous mocha and scarred with bold, tribal tattoos that exposed his indigenous heritage.

The crowd thinned, last orders were called. Charlie was over by the jukebox trying to get to grips with this ridiculous foreign currency that afforded one last choice. I swept about the room, collecting glasses and urging the fragile, drunk and lonely back into an unforgiving world. The landlady went to bed. We were alone.

"Thank you for your hospitality" he proffered, sinking his flat drink in one gulp. "Would you like another?" I asked, bravely, suddenly aware that I was in charge, of the bar at least if not my senses. "Will you join me?" He answered?

For the next three hours we sat there, illuminated by the gaudy rope of lights that snaked haphazardly around the bar, the air stale with smoke and spilled beer. He was Navajo, a pilot in the American Air Force based at Alconbury and married. He spoke softly and generously about his life, his wife, his adoration for his two children. I listened attentively and reciprocated empathetically. The propriety of it all, the politeness, made my heart fluster like an Austen heroine. He was a southern gentleman. I wanted him to rip me apart.

He strode to the jukebox and I sidled up to him. I pressed us together on the pretence of assisting in the choice. The coin credited, the song was chosen, the vinyl dropped.

A moment of quiet. I put my hand on his massive shoulder, traced his bicep, felt the raised mound of the inked skin, put my fingers in his fingers. I turned to him. "I want to", he said. "You don't know how much I want to. I just don't know how..."

I faked control - a position I'd never enjoyed, knowledge I had never gained..

"Well.. It isn't difficult... we just make it up..."

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

All The Love, always...

The first time I heard Kate Bush on the radio, I was 10 years old. Playing rounders in a friend's garden on an idyllic sunny day, a transistor in a tree blasting out The Mike Reid show.. I remember being hit in the head with a ball, my focus and concentration halted to the twinkling opening of Wuthering Heights. The beginning of my love affair.

The following years impacted my adoration of Kate, our tiny country house almost constantly enveloped in the scratchy vinyl sounds of her weird and wonderful songs. Several copies of the LPs were purchased, mostly through overplay, but once because my brother took a golf club to Never For Ever. Not a fan. I was weird to like Kate. To my brother, to everyone in our small community.

It's fair to say I was obsessive. Long before the internet, trawling record shops and collectors mags for rare, unheard, unseen, foreign copies of singles. The Chrsitmasses of my teens were dominated by Kate.

The Dreaming had the most profound impact on my life. At 14 I was starting my GCEs, because of Kate I was learning the piano, and I had chosen music. One lesson, my tutor, Keith Harris (no relation to Orville) constructed our entire music room of wooden instruments. He told us he was going to play a song that we would then try and replicate. He played "The Dreaming". I screamed a little. It felt like a validation, that I wasn't alone in my love, and whilst the rest of my class pissed about, hitting each other with glockenspiel bars and logs, I had the best hour of my life thus far.

Everything about The Dreaming is stunning. Kate herself was only 24 when it was released. The diversity of sound and subject matter and the sheer artfulness of the project catapults Kate out of the realm of her peers. I would (and can still) stare at the cover for hours. It is beautiful. Not only is it one of the most gorgeous pictures of Kate, but the entire construction is breathtaking. Amazing combinations of textures of the ivy, chain, and Kates dogtooth jacket. And that glimpse of colour on her cautious eyes, and that delicious little secret key. Intoxicating.

Matched by the music - Tender and sad, and mad and wild. Tales of bank robbers, kangeroos, illusionists, Vietnam and at the end Kate turns into a donkey. Such diverse subject matter that only Kate can make cohesive and continues to do so now. That is the beauty of Kate. She is accessible, but never run of the mill. Every song, every word on The Dreaming is infused with warm emotion and passion, she means it all, however strange it may seem to us the listener.

It seems we're going to have more Kate, perhaps more in the second chapter of her career than we ever imagined. I welcome it. Very few artists remain that are worthy of investment in a digital age, it is easy to consume and pass over, dismiss on first listen. Kate never fails to reward.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


My passport, birth certificate and deed poll. New York bus tickets. The pictures from my wedding and my civil partnership. Some condoms, well past their use-by. The photo of that man from the thing that I went to with.. oh, what was his name..!!!

Theatre programmes, my autograph book: Hattie Jacques, Nigel Hawthorne, Morecambe and Wise - biro'd scribblings of the long dead, but never forgotten. Postcards of famous paintings, sculptures and artists collected from museum shops that negate the need to ever venture inside.

A card from my dead grandmother, bought in hope long ago, to congratulate me on passing my driving test. "I knew you could do it!", it says. I still haven't, but when I do, I'll read it, and know that she was thinking of me.

Letters from my brother when he was in Afghanistan, and my childhood friend when he was in hospital with leukaemia. One came back. The other didn't.

Wage slips and bank statements, detailing all the money I've ever earned, and all the money I've ever spent. Not the same figure, unfortunately, as I'm sure the unopened letters would happily remind me.

Buttons from shirts I don't have or don't remember owning, still contained in their plastic envelopes, shiny and new.

Song lyrics. Oh, God - the song lyrics. Teenage outpourings of emotional saccharine. "I love you like the leaves love the suns honeyed rays.."

Memories, contained in glamourous sturdy cardboard, neatly stacked like tidy corners of my brain. Put away on cupboard tops, and in wardrobes - away, but never far.

Oh, and


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Party Season

My diary is filling up.

I always think I'll have a quiet November, because December is going to be a "busy one". Already December's evenings leave me little option but to back-peddle on such a rash statement, and now November is a flurry and whirl of exciting prospects and possibilities.

I'm not much fussed on the day itself; Christmas. I am lousy with nephews and nieces, and am all too aware that the proposed 'excitment on children's faces' is a thing of the past. Hours poring over potential gifts in shops bear nothing but disappointment, as beautifully tasteful paper is ripped to reveal "A book? ... Is that it?". It's a Roald Dahl Collectors Edition signed by Quentin Blake, you snivelling sprogladite!

I don't even care about receiving presents myself. The Ex would announce in March that we should set a budget for this year, nominally based around the type of gift he was expecting to receive. I was then sent constant "Wish List" updates and had hints dropped throughout September and October that not much seemed to have been bought from it. And, of course, I was never specific enough, refusing to adhere to such a mercenary practice as wishlisting, the tree was laden with items that I had inadvertantly 'hinted at'. Moaning about pocket fulls of change brought me a pound-coin holder. In escence, aside from a mildly superior Sunday lunch, and the possibility of a Royle Family special, I can take it or leave it.

But the weeks before, the run-up, is a most glorious time. As Autumn gives way to the deepest Midwinter, my reliance on natural daylight is replaced by sparkle and shine. I become obsessed by twinkly things. The beautifully decorated windows and the streets and trees ribboned with magical fairy lights, the gaggles of drunken girls festooned in every last sequin in the western world..

It's a time to huddle in the warmth of friends at every opportunity, to sit in the sumptious interiors of dimly lit bars, with log fires and reflective tinsel, like a christmas glitterball. A time to sip whisky, and Amaretto, and champagne cocktails. It's a time for Bailey's. You may argue that your entire year consists of these things, but they only ever feel right for me at Christmas.

I am blessed with many different groups of friends and they are at their most reliably predictable at Christmas. The legal secretaries (The "Penis Fly Traps") will take me to one of those 'after work' places in the city, where they will be drunk in half an hour, and canoodleing with young men from banking establishments, professing undying love before the evening is out, and then hungoverly deleting their Facebook profiles the very next day.

The old friends, the marrieds, the friends with kids will have "evenings". Unable to find a babysitter, or manage to convince the eldest teen to do it again (why should she? she has friends, and partys and Christmasses of her own to attend), I will be invited into the loving bosom. Some will force feed me massive pre-Christmas Christmas dinners in their Victorian conversion, others will endeavour to be refined with evenings of canapes and cocktails, that start well and end in a disgusting heap of pot-bellied dissarray and hilarious retro dancing.

I will attend the many, many works functions: the department event, the Company event, the Fifth Floor event, the Colombian Cleaners' Carol Concert.. There seems no end to the excuses people will conjur around Christmas in order to host "an event". Yeah, they're a strange disparate lot, who moan about the food and assume I always know where the toilets are, and for most of the year they're an irritating assembly of idiots, but they're my idiots and their mere willingness to gather together and have fun cannot be surpassed.

Finally, The boys, my boys, will be out 'in town' at every opportunity. I haven't "Social Networked" as much in my life as I have this year, and it isn't hard to go to any bar or club, or pub in Central London without seeing a friendly familiar face, wanting to chat, to laugh, to celebrate. You know who you are. You've made this year.

And I know that for a lot of people this can be a very unhappy time. We get reflective and it can be depressing to think that another year has rolled around, that we're no different to the person we were at the beginning - we had such high hopes. Don't worry, another one will be here in a few weeks. Time to try it all over again. In the meantime, if you find yourself at a loose end, if your festive calendar is looking a bit midwinterly bleak, drop me a line, give me a call, come out with me because my diary is filling up!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


He stands before me, his eyes, loaded with desire, fixed upon my mouth. We are but inches apart, the heat from our faces palpable. He places his foot inside mine, his knee touching my knee, his leg caressing my thigh. He sways slightly, rocks mildly back and forth, back and forth, threatening, promising, at any moment to fall.

His warm sweet breath graces my skin, invades my senses. He takes my hands in his, so gently, and raises them to his face. He clutches them tight and brushes them to his cheek. My heart is bursting, every fibre of my being is pulsating. I am transported.

He moves his hands slowly up my arm, my elbow. He takes firm my shoulders and pulls me towards him. Our bodies fully connect for the first time, telling tales of our wanton passion. I am electric. My head is light. I am still standing, but don't know how. I have him at the waist and embrace the small of his back, pulling him in tighter.

He takes my neck in his powerfully gentle hands, his fingers trace the skin lightly, and I tingle, melting into his touch. Our eyes meet. His tongue wets his fleshy lip, and his mouth provocatively draws it inside - biting it, it reddens, swells. I mirror, unconsiously, blood flooding my face.

"Is this ok?", he whispers, the sound reverberating through my whole body.

"Yes!", I plead.. "Yes.."

And we kiss.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


When I was six I had a parka coat, a dark blue from the Army & Navy store. It had a warm quilted interior and somewhat synthetic crusty outside to shield me from the weather's loathsome prospect. It also had a hood with rabbit fur trim. Soft and smooth to the touch, it gently tickled my cold cheeks on winters days sending little pimples of excitement up my spine. It even smelt warm, and could be stroked for hours in the absence of real hot blooded living pet form.

Until it got wet. Then it took on the appearance of the proverbial drowned rat, and smelled not much better. It's velutinousness drenched and shattered revealing the tough leathered grey rabbit skin, plasticated like a dog chew, crudely stitched in to the artificial fabric. It's limpness mocked me, and the grey straggley fur made me look like something spewed up from beneath the Freeling's swimming pool in Poltergeist. The first and last time I have ever worn fur.

I've lain on it, though, many a time. Again, from childhood, I remember my grandmother's living room sheepskin rug. A dense pure white fleece that smelt smokey from her open fire, and excited her Jack Russell every time it wandered over it. I began to think it was doing it on purpose. (Unfortunately as the dog aged, it's capability to hold it's bladder grew less and less). But I understand the dog's excitiment. Even now, despite myself, I find it hard to resist the touch of the bought fur. There is a woman in my office who has been yearning for the cold weather to snap, specifically so she can wear her fur coat. Its wear is excused by the notion that being vintage, it is not perpetuating the modern trade. And I concede that is looks luxuriant, and I want to run my hands over it. She hugs it to her face and extolls its warmth, but I cannot help but proffer that was specifically the reason for the animal to have it in the first place. I prefer my fur on living things.

It's all a round about way to talk about my cats. The interestingly monikered Misty Hymen and Anastasia Beaverhausen (I'm gay, what did you expect? General Flump and Skittles?). Bought at an exceedingly tender age from a Russian flop-house in Bethnal Green, their beauty to me knows no bounds. I was their surrogate for a good few weeks, all hope of a natural weaning dispensed upon with my arrival to view them. They, and their two siblings, bounding around a tiny room, crammed with beds and a limited floor space, already being given adult food, and not anywhere approaching litter trained. She, the cat's mother, paid them not a blind bit of notice and despite her pedigree had adopted a decidedly East End approximation of motherhood. It took a while for them to settle, to realise where their food was, to fathom that the toilet was in one place only. They were freaked by the scale of my flat, and I recall the day Misty took her first tentative steps away from the skirting board and ventured into the corner of the room. It made me weep with joy. Her reason for moving? She wanted to be stroked.

They're seven years old, now, and the novelty has never worn off. With the unpredictable consistency that only cats can bring they both approach at an excited rate, a deep full-bodied purrr signally their advance, and I am always happy to oblige. Their softeness unmatched, their smell - a warm just baked shortbread, an accumulation of all the times I've already touched them.

I am intrigued by all forms of downiness. I regularly freak my manager in meetings. In her "Take a letter, Mr. H" moments, I arrive with pad and deeley-bopper pen. It's crest engulffed in a flourish of fluff and soft fake fur. She laughs every time (or titters at the repetative nonsense) but it's a comfort, a pacifying and thoughtful aid to me. Not professional, maybe, but an enhancer of my professionalism. I cannot stop touching it. In the same way, I cannot pass a supermarket display of ripe peaches without running my fingers across their skin. I will never tire of stealing pussy willow from a tree and stroking the back of my hand, and cheeks, and the bliss of caressing, and having caressed one's own fur - the fur of a man.

Friday, 15 October 2010


2010 has been a sad year. My 'anus horribilus'.

It started badly. I split from my partner of 12 years. I need no sympathy, it was my idea, and whilst I have tried every ounce of willpower to imagine us back together, I can't do it.

My job's been a ballache. Three years ago, when I started it offered a truckload of prospect. It has now become a series of days in which meaningless paper is presented to me and moved from tray, to tray, to file. It feels desperate and unfulfilling.

Financing a newly single life has taken me to the point of economic despair. Buying new furniture and committing to clearing associated debt has been tough, and, at times, nauseatingly upsetting. There's a light at the end of that tunnel, but at the moment it's a match - tenuous and wavering, and always threatening to extinguish at any moment.

But I'm sick of being miserable. I'm not a naturally depressive person. I need to bolster my mood. I need to remind my self of the things I love, the things that make life worth living.

I used to hate autumn. Preceded by the acronymatic phanopoeia of Seasonal Adjustment Disorder. The sun at Lat 51.5283, Long -0.0164 decides to neglect the morning as Summer ends, barely reaching the height of the rooftops and lulling the body into a false sense of eternal night. Getting up is impossible. Promised early runs and gym visits never happen. Everything about the season tells me to stay in, prepare, hibernate. And yet the sun's light takes on a moody, glamourous glow. It filters through charcoal Rothko-esque cloud, and when it plucks up the energy to burn through, reveals crisp, startling blues. We don't see the sky in the height of summer’s heat. It's a milky, hazy, diluted blue, flooded by sun. Autumn blue is cold and sharp and enhances our surrounding world with such clarity.

Nature seems to desert us with surprisingly swift and careless abandon in autumn. Birds in massive flocks swoop and dive in rehearsal, preparing their quick escape to warmer climes. The trees shed their glorious summer greens and shut down for the winter. They have the right idea. As someone over forty it makes me think of death. It is a reminder of another year over, and the cycle gets quicker and quicker.

But a gaggle of geese, making their way South in a big crepuscular wave, honking in companiable unison, is a joy. It cheers me in the same way as seeing good friends off on some great adventure at the airport. They’ll be back sooner than we know it, and with great tales to tell. The birds that get left behind endeavour to fill us with cheer. The humble Robin (who we've forgotten since March) put's his red vest on, and punctuates our hedgerows like a miniature ring-master, bobbing and weaving, and saying “look at me, I’m here… now I’m here... Are you looking?”

And if the leaves on the trees went grey, rather than the sumptuous warming reds and oranges, we'd have cause for complaint. As it is, the beauty of this transition is accompanied by awe and wonder the world over. The carpet of fire that satisfyingly litters parks and pavements, hides the dirt, the dying decaying grass. Unfortunately it sometimes hides a rogue dog-poo, but the less said about that the better.

As the sun affords us little time, we light up the evenings. I love the adoption of a true Halloween from our American cousins. The hollowing of pumpkins to create ghoulishly fun lanterns is the best use for the frankly tasteless squash, and gets us creative. November brings the unnatural and inexplicable wonder of fireworks, from our own history, and from our mixed cultures in the form of Diwali, and there’s some TV sparkle in the form of Strictly Come Dancing, which dazzles us with its sequins like a gloriously daft carpet of fairy dust to Christmas.

So, much to be thankful for, and much to sit back and savour. I’m going to use this blog to tell you about the things I love. They may be small things, like a martini or cigarettes, or bigger adorations like architecture, cities, countries, people. Hopefully you’ll love them too. And if not, you’ll tell me why…

Next up, Marmite!