Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Colleague I Never Knew


I missed a story in the news earlier this year about an American ex-serviceman who ran away to England, assumed the identity of a dead baby, married and had children. He lived for years as Chris Buckingham, and after divorcing his wife, began calling himself the Earl Of Buckingham. He was caught, in the end, as a result of some passport anomalies, and eventually identified as Charles Albert Stopford III. I got wind of this story last night when I went to the Christmas party of my most recent client.

You might wonder why I'm bothering to mention such old news. It came up when I bumped into a chap that I worked for over a decade ago. When I started my contract, having worked for the company before, I had a quick look to see if anyone I knew from years back was still there. And there was my former boss. Although we didn't manage to catch up during my time there, I bumped into him last night, and we had a right good natter.

Back in the day, I was one of about eight people working for him. Chris Buckingham was also one of those eight. I knew this guy really quite well. During my time there, he developed a major crush on another of our colleagues, and didn't take it very well when his affections were not returned. He starved himself, dropped a lot of weight, got very fit, and then developed a penchant for piercings. Or at least, that's what he said in our many little quiet conversations over the year or so that I knew him. I don't know what to believe now.

We even kept in touch after I had moved on to a different company. It's really quite odd to think that he was fake. His English accent was utterly convincing. I'm in awe of his ability to keep the ruse going for so long.

Apparently, they're making a film of his life story. I wonder who'll play me. Perhaps Eric Cantona. When I was in hospital having my tonsils out, a little old lady who worked there insisted I looked exactly like him.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Tornadoes & Clarkson


I don't know whether I dislike Jeremy Clarkson more for encouraging straight men everywhere that it really is okay to tuck a shirt into overly tight jeans, or for his views on the environment. It wouldn't be so bad, except he is given a platform to air them (his views, that is, rather than his over-tight jeans - although the picture suggests that either interpretation is valid).

Yuck!

There he was last week, crowing about the fact that in one specific area of the world, there were fewer than the average number of storms this year, thereby proving that global warming is a load of nonsense. Excuse me? Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're still having the mildest autumn on record, following an extremely hot and dry summer. And it looks like tornadoes are next on the list of surprises that Mother Nature has in store for us as we continue to rape and pillage her resources.


Does it strike anyone else as odd, that in this over-documented day and age, there didn't seem to be one single photo from a cell phone of the tornado that wreaked havoc on North East London yesterday? Perhaps we aren't as geared up to tornado-chasing as those who live in Tornado Alley in the US. Perhaps the folks of NW-something didn't realise the cash they could make for one decent piccie on their Nokia. Maybe next time. Which will probably be sooner rather than later, despite what Jeremy Clarkson might have you believe.

On a completely unrelated note, I've migrated across to the New Improved Beta version of Blogger. Innit luvverly? Innit byooteeful?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sex and Pornography

That's bound to get my hit rate up. Not that it's intended to. I'm currently committing Robert Burns' epic poem Tam O'Shanter to memory, the better to perform it at our next Burns' Supper (25th January). I learned most of the last one third of it when I was seven, and can still recite it. I decided it was high time I learned the rest. It's very enjoyable trying to perform it in such a way that it is intelligible to an audience even if they understand only a fraction of the vocabulary.

Anyway, being in this poetic frame of mind has had its influence, hence the poem the other day. And this new one for today. I actually started writing it in Scots, but decided half-way through that would be too silly, so I changed it back and finished it off. The title of this post is the title of the poem. Enjoy.


Pornography makes real life seem so bland.
The plumber never wants a helping hand.
Besides, the ones that come around my place
Lack much appeal in body, style or face.

I've never had my car in to be mended
And got enthusiastically rear-ended
By gruff mechanics greased from chest to balls
Whose massive cocks rip through their overalls.

My one encounter with a hole of glory
Was quick to turn from fabulous to gory
I realised the feeling on my beef
Was splendid 'cause the sucker had no teeth!

It's oh so easy on the silver screen.
They're hot, they shag, and everything's so clean!
No mess, no fuss, no farts, no splats, no pain.
And when they've come, they go at it again!

Perhaps it's meant to set the standard high,
Convince me that I really ought to try
To make my own life even half as hot,
And make me think I've failed if it is not.

Well, bugger that. I'd rather have it real.
It isn't always perfect but I feel
It's best to focus on your partner's pleasure
For in the bedroom, that's the proper measure.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ode to the increasing girth of my tummy

I can fondly recall when my smalls weren't large
And I ate what I liked with impunity.
And my toast I could slather with butter, not marge.
I delighted in lard-arse immunity.

But I've noticed more recently trousers are tight.
And can leave a red mark on my belly
Where a belt has cut into me morning and night
And left a reminder in jelly.

In some cases T-shirts will no longer fit
But it's just that my arms have got bigger
As I've worked in the gym at that pump-iron shit
And it's had an effect. No, don't snigger.

I know that my body is not what it was
Yet in some ways, some bits are improving
I have to work hard on the rest, though, because
I'll get fat if I dare to stop moving.

If, back in the days I was built like a stick
I had tried to cash in on my figure
I might have a six-pack, and muscles all slick
Perhaps what I lacked was the rigour.

For keeping oneself a hot, muscular bod
Is for some folks their soul occupations.
And, yes, they might have the physique of a god,
But that brings its own complications.


This was inspired by the rather upsetting observation that my most recently purchased suits, the trousers of which were, at the time, comfortable to the point of being roomy around the waist, are now a bit on the tight side. I'm chalking it up to too much good food and cervezas from our recent holiday. But it's Atkins from now until Christmas. As long as I stock up on breath mints, I'm sure that will be fine for all concerned.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Design For Life

In my recent rant about art school types, I forgot to include architects and designers, and I really ought to have done so, because I have strong opinions there, too. The best examples of really excellent design and really excellent architecture address function first, and then real creative genius can flourish as it addresses the challenge of delivering that function in an aesthetically pleasing form.

The iPod is an excellent example of top-notch design. Examples of poor design abound, not least in my gym. Oh, yes. I really like my gym. It's relatively quiet, has good facilities, and the spa area is a treat. It looks great, too. Well, it should do - it was designed by Philipe Starck. But they missed a few tricks. For example, the showers look great, but they have been designed so that the doors close by themselves. This means you get a beautiful vista of solid glass hovering from the ceiling, but it also means you can't tell whether a cubicle is occupied unless you crouch and have a look at the legs. Admittedly, this can have its appeal, but it feels a bit of an inelegant thing to do in such glamourous surroundings.

Also, around Canary Wharf (where I am currently plying my trade), the doors leading in to Cabot Square and Canada Square are massive, thick glass things: beautiful to behold, and bloody heavy! I have to push (or worse, pull) quite hard to get them open, and I'm not exactly a 98 lb weakling (not that I'm sure why "lb" means "pounds"). I feel for the little puny people who also have to use these doors. I'm sure some of them are not capable of opening them at all. Clearly the designers considered the look, but not the use. Eejits.

A feature common to the building in which I work and the gym is the hand towel dispensers in the loos. These are appealingly modern brushed aluminium things, and look great. I'm sure it would be churlish of me to mention that it's impossible to remove paper towels from them without ripping them in the process, and you usually have to grab several before you can make enough from the shredded remnants to actually dry your hands.

Is it really that hard to get these things right?

That's probably enough ranting for now. I haven't even mentioned my holiday. I didn't follow Frobisher's suggestion and wander around the dunes as Maspalomas with a towel on my bonce pretending to be Larry Of Araby. However, we did have great weather and a fabulous time. It's probably fair to say that I overdid it on the karaoke, but the establishments that had such entertainment seemed to be the ones where we had the most fun. If you are sufficiently bored that you want to varda some photos, I've put a few on Picasa Web for the moment.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Art School Wankers

I read an article the other day by Grayson Perry about a young woman who, having received the appropriate sponsorship, intends to stage an art installation featuring nothing. I despair!

Some years ago, I had the misfortune to be the tenant of a guy who was finishing off his degree at St Martin's. He was an archetypal art school wanker. Seemed to think the world owed him a living, and that he was entitled to be supported whilst engaging in the creation of work that would mean nothing to anyone except himself. As a result, what he produced was self-indulgent rubbish that anyone could have done.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of modern art that I really like. For example, I thought that Marcus Harvey's Myra was a very powerful piece. And guess what? It took genuine skill and creativity to get it made. Who would have thought?

Good art seems to thrive in adversity. I used to be very fond of Marc Almond's music. Well, I would, wouldn't I, being a big ole jobby-jabber and all. I thought that his best album was Tenement Symphony, yet when I read his autobiography, it was very clear that it was his least favourite because of all the interference from the record label. Having heard subsequent albums in which his muse was completely unfettered, I reckon the label did a very good job of channelling the creativity and limiting the excess in a way that created a much better piece of work.

The greatest artists in history had patrons and sponsors, and lived on commissions. They knew better than to bite the hand that fed them, and they fulfilled the terms of their commissions but managed to sneak some of their own concepts and ideas into the work along the way. The result is much more memorable than the self-satisfied, hollow, arturbatory nonsense that is often on display.

I love the slides in Tate Modern. But let's not kid ourselves. They're slides, not art.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Porn On The Small Screen?


Apologies to regular readers who are taken aback by the sudden outsplurging of two whole posts in one day, but I knew there was something that I needed to give an airing to, and it's only just come back to me.

My Lovely Husband™ recently found both seasons of The Book Group on DVD, and treated himself. We enjoyed the show when it aired in NZ a couple of years ago, and it has been fun reminding ourselves of why we loved it, and catching up on the bits we missed.

Some highlights.
Rab: Ur you sayin Ah cannae read?

Clare: Tuh!

Rab: Whit?

Clare: Tuh! It's can-tuh. There's a "t" on the end: can-tuh. And on the end of won-tuh.

Rab: Aye, and there's wan oan the end of cunt, anaw.
I'd forgotten about that bit. Loved it. A bit I loved and remembered was this line:
Jean: I say tomayto, you say tomahto ; but you're wrong, 'cause it's tomayto.
Any road up, as the actress said to the bishop (when they were on a hiking holiday together), last night we happened to watch an episode in which Rab gets buggered by Anselmo, a professional Spanish football player who happens to have one of his legs in plaster at the time. As both men reach that moment, Rab's upper body flushes red. I got Lovely Husband™ to replay that bit, and pointed it out. He wasn't convinced, but a lot of people get that kind of flush as they come, and I don't know of any way of faking it. You can't just make your body spontaneously flush red all over like that, can you? So what I'm suggesting is that those of us who watched this on't telly were actually viewing two men apparently having sex (whether real or simulated), and one of them actually climaxing, but the whole thing being done in way that makes you assume it's all just acting.

Incidentally, other scenes sprinkled throughout both series really pushed the boat out. Like one where Clare is going down on Lachlan, and they are interrupted by Jean just as Lachlan comes. Clare turns around, and you get a glimpse of some thick, milky-looking fluid in her mouth. Then there's a scene where Jean sort-of accidentally ends up as a sex-worker who gets clients off by talking at them while they play with themselves. A few squirts of the same thick, milky stuff shoot into frame as she walks past "Smithy" to pick up her fee.

Just out of curiosity, did it raise the ire of Affronted In Saffron Waldon, or any of the other people who write to Points Of View?

Y Viva Espana!


My Lovely Husband™ and I haven't had a proper holiday for years. In fact, last time was way back in 2002, when we spent 10 days in Australia which, in true Cath & Kim style, we divided between Surfers Paradise and Noosa. So, we're both very happy that on Saturday, we're heading off to Gatwick and thence to Gran Canaria.

I've been to Tenerife a couple of times, and would happily go again. Lovely Husband™ was initially in favour of that, mostly because it rates a mention from time to time on Coronation Street, of which he is a big fan. However, he later changed his tune and decided that Gran Canaria would be a better bet, so we're all booked up. We've done the "allocation on arrival" thing, so we don't know where we'll end up. I've done that before, and it has always worked out really well, probably because I'm just naturally lucky. And telling myself and others that I'm naturally lucky seems to help ensure that it remains the case. As a backup, however, we have also taken advantage of our Handy Useful Network of Gays (HUNG - dontcha luvvit?). We have a friend who works for the company we're travelling with, and he's put a note on our account to increase the chances that we'll be allocated to one of the more gay-friendly parts of the island.

Cheap holidays don't seem to me to be as cheap as they were before I went to live in NZ (towards the tail end of 2000), even allowing for inflation. The travel companies seem to have become much more cunning about how the things are priced. You have to pay extra for transfers to and from your destination airport, for inflight meals, for various other things that were previously all part of the package (hence the term "package holiday"). They want to see a certificate to prove that you have your own insurance if you say "no" to their travel insurance. It seems to be no longer the happy go lucky system described thus by Peter Kay: "Got it off Teletext. Saw it, booked it, fucked off."

In other news, I am working on a new magic effect that is really rather gross. Not one that I would show to everyone, but one that I'm sure anyone who reads this blog would find amusing. It involves worms and crabs, and I call it Infestation. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cultural Learnings


Doubtless, many people will object to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, not least the various official voices from Kazakhstan that have been raised in criticism over the last few weeks. We went on Friday (to the cinema, not to Kazakhstan) and watched it. And laughed a lot.

I think the Kazakh officials don't get the joke.

It isn't funny because Sacha Baron Cohen's character gives the impression that the country is full of sexist, racist, anti-Semitic homophobes. It's funny because most of the people he talks to are so profoundly ignorant of the rest of the world, and of other cultures, that they accept what he says and does at face value. We're not laughing at a bad parody of Kazakhstani life, we're laughing at people blindly and stupidly accepting that Borat provides an accurate representation of that country.

In places, the film is also chilling.

At one point, he was talking to one of the organisers of a rodeo. It was probably the most reactionary of his interviewees. Borat was rebuffed when he tried to kiss the interviewee on the cheeks, and the interviewee explained how "the only men who kissed other men in the US were men like this" (whereupon he did a fluttery-hand fairy thing).
When Borat explained that in Kazakhstan, such people were strung up by the neck, the interviewee laughed and said, "Well, that's what we're trying to do here." Frightening, but powerful. Oh, and when he said that, a women a couple of rows back from us applauded. My Lovely Husband™ turned around, glared at her, and told her to shut up.

Borat succeeds in encouraging the holders of the most vile opinions to express their prejudices in their most extreme form, and in a way which shows them up in the worst possible light. People laughed not because they agreed (with the possible exception of the clapping idiot), but because these vile opinions had been successfully held up to ridicule.

When he then went on to sing the national anthem of Kazakhstan to the tune of the US national anthem in front of the rodeo crowd, you had to hand it to him - he really took his life in his hands to make that movie.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sparks will fly


I love fireworks. My Lovely Husband™ loves them even more. I don't know what happened for Guy Fawkes Night the first year that we were together, but for some reason, it didn't come up. However, the second year, it did. And then we realised that we were as bad as each other. We spent a fortune on the things. (I mean well over $100 each.)

Given its relative proximity to China, fireworks in NZ are imported in huge quantities and at very low prices. They can only be sold for a few days before the 5th of November. The rest of the year, you can't buy them. Also, some years ago, a ban was introduced on rockets. Something to do with bush fires, I think. November in NZ can be reasonably warm and dry, and rockets aren't nearly as "safe" as they are in the UK, which is pretty reliably cold and often wet at that time of year.

Last year, my Lovely Husband™ missed out on Guy Fawkes Night here, because he was still in the process of sorting out his visa. So this year, we've bought some rockets. Oh, how his little eyes shone when he saw them in the shops! And tonight, I splashed out on one extra large rocket just for him. I took a picture of it, intending to spice up this entry with it, but Blogger isn't playing ball with me.

Thing is, for some time now, I've been harbouring doubts. I love fireworks. But they are so bad in just about every way:
  • They put lots of nasty chemicals into the environment.
  • Expended rocket shells interfere with wildlife. Or children.
  • Modern rocket shells are made from non-biodegradable plastics.
  • They are freely available to would-be terrorists looking for a supply of explosives.
  • A lot of them are made in sweat shops. Probably.
I've lived in London long enough to have been here when Guy Fawkes Night fell on a Saturday. The stench the next day was amazingly bad. I felt like I was in one of those 70s public awareness cartoons about smog, where the big smog monster attacks peoples washing lines.

What we are supposed to do is go to a public display. Obviously, this isn't nearly as much fun, since you don't get to light the things yourself, and that's the big thrill. And even if everyone went to such displays, we'd still be putting a whole load of toxic junk into the atmosphere for no good reason, and at ridiculous cost.

It's the kind of thing that the amazing Mrs. Pritchard would get rid of, if she were in charge.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tada!

Did you miss me?

A couple of months ago, I put my blog into hibernation because it was eating into my time too much, and giving me another excuse to avoid work. I've rehydrated it and put it back online, and mean to start posting again, but to exercise much more control over how much time I spend following up comments and so on. So. On with the show.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Booked

Da Nator recently hit me with a book-related meme. I wasn't able to get onto it immediately (story of my life, I know, although in this case additional lube wasn't going to help). However, I'm now free as a bird, so I thought I'd give it a bash.

I haven't made a huge amount of effort to stick to the "one book" limitation for each question. I've never been much of a one for favourites. If people ask me what my "favourite" colour is, or my "favourite" piece of music, I can't really answer. I find the idea of favouritism restrictive and not a little childish.

So. Onwards and upwards.

1. One book you have read more than once:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

The Crysalids by John Wyndham

I have to confess, I'm a sucker for re-reading books that I've enjoyed. So, Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, and all of the Harry Potter books have been devoured at least twice each, along with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In the last year, I've spent a lot of time being apart from my Lovely Husband™ either because he was on the other side of the world, or because I was working away. This has entailed a lot of long, lonely hours, so I bought books, read them and re-read them. Included amongst this list of recent read/re-reads is a series by Kelley Armstrong about supernatural folks living amongst the general populace in a contemporary US/Canada setting, and the first four of Garth Nix's Keys To The Kingdom series.

2. One book you would want on a desert island:

I think it would have to be the Worst Case Scenarios Survival Handbook - Extreme Edition, in those circumstances. Or perhaps one of the various bushcraft or SAS survival manuals. Especially if the latter involved pictures of men in uniform :-)

3. One book that made you laugh:

Misfortune by Wesley Stace - but only a little

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie - quite a bit, although it was obvious why some folks got upset by it; and boy did I ever delight in how Rushdie uses language

Various bits of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle - a lot

4. One book that made you cry:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. There are scenes in there that I can't read without tears pricking my eyes. And some that I simply cannot read aloud with being reduced to a red-eyed quivering mess. I can even (and I know this is true, because I tested it out last week) find this book in a bookshop, read one particular chapter, and end up with tears streaming down my face. Okay, so I'm a big poof. So sue me.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. I got almost all the way through this thinking that it wasn't going to get to me, and right at the end, in went the knife, and *twist*. And then came the waterworks.

5. One book you wish you had written:

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I have never been so in awe of a piece of writing as I was reading this. Amazing, erudite, witty, clever, funny, well-researched, inventive, delightful, informative, ingenius ... I could go on. I know it was published as three books, but as the author himself noted, he was grateful that he found a publisher willing to bet on his ability to write what was, in effect, a 3000 page novel.

6. One book you wish had never been written:

The Bible. The Qu'ran. The Book Of Mormon. Dianetics.

(Have I missed any of the bad ones?)

Oh, and A Life Of Erwin Schroedinger by Walter J Moore, which has to be the most tedious biography ever committed to print. By the half-way point I was struggling to keep going. Round about two thirds of the way through, I finally snapped and hurled the book against the wall in an effort to distance myself from the sheer tedium of the thing. Schroedinger was an amazing scientist, and his physics was worth recording and commenting on. His life, alas, was not.

7. One book you are currently reading:

The Play Ethic by Pat Kane. A manifesto for a different way of living, brought to you by a former member of Hue & Cry. I only got it yesterday, so I'm only a couple of chapters in and couldn't possibly comment on it yet.

8. One book you have been meaning to read:

The Qu'ran. To get the low-down, and try to understand how much of what we hear is twisted from the original meaning, and how much (in terms of homophobia and mysogyny) is actually built right in there.

9. One Book That Changed Your Life:

Books don't change my life. I do. Sure, books can enhance it, and I love them. Words are my playthings, tools and friends. But even if a book inspires me to change, it is I that have changed my life, not the book that inspired me to do so.

10. Now Tag 5 bloggers:

This is probably trickier than any of the other questions, because I don't know how many of my regular readers are inclined to play along with such games. I'll go for the following:
  • Tickersoid, the man who's got to be a bit gay - so we can find out how Welsh steel workers occupy their minds.
  • Dan at Project 76 - this may be something of a busman's holiday given Dan's profession, but we might see some gems.
  • Inexplicable DeVice - although I'm not sure whether I'd rather have the host respond, or the witch himself. I suspect that neither of the subconsciouses will be up to the job.
  • Nick, with his Unnatural Vision - who knows what such vision might see in our bookshops that we mere mortals miss.
  • CyberPete from SayHey, his camp camp.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Britney's Mascara

Oops, I ...

We went to Comedy Camp last night, mostly to see Ida Barr, although my Lovely Husband™ had to leave before she came on. However, we did very much enjoy the first three acts together, and then I made friends with a couple of nice ladies at the bar for the rest of the evening, so I didn't feel like Norman No Mates.

That was just some background for a rather embarrassing incident. I was at the bar trying to get served during one of the intervals. There was a very pretty girl next to me, and it looked like her mascara had run. Ever the friendly, helpful person that I like to be, I pointed this out to her. Whereupon she explained that it was a birthmark. Oh, the ground could have opened up and swallowed me hole. And the rest of me. I apologised, and said that I now felt really bad for having said anything. She said that she is used to it. She often gets women coming up to her in the toilets and trying to wipe it off for her. I apologised again, and said I just thought she had been laughing so much that it had run.

You know, you try to do a good deed, and sometimes it just comes back and bites you on the bum.

And on that very subject ...

At The Magic Circle this week, Ali Bongo mentioned a request he had received for volunteers to perform at a Christmas party for HIV/AIDS patients and their families and friends at one of the big London hospitals. I promptly put myself forward, and gave the organiser a call yesterday morning. He asked if it would be possible for me to come in some time and meet him and his colleagues, and since I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment, I arranged it for that very afternoon.

So, off I toddle at the appointed hour. Get there, have the meeting, discuss how I perform, what the composition of the audience will be, what kind of material will be suitable, etc. All in all, it went very well. I think they're delighted at the prospect of having a gay magician to perform for them. Obviously, I did a couple of effects to show them what I do.

I left feeling very happy, and decided to pay a visit to the cardiac outpatients part of the hospital. My family has a congenital heart condition (dilated cardiomyopathy), and we have been part of a long-term study of the condition for a number of years. Since most of my family live in Scotland, a team from the hospital have travelled up to Glasgow and carried out tests there. Since I was living in London at the time, I've been along to the hospital several times to have tests. All okay, I hasten to add. Anyway, there was a recent round of tests on members of my family, and I had been meaning to ring the hospital to find out whether I should be arranging to come in and have a seeing to. I thought, and not unreasonably, that it would make sense to pop in and find out.

Along the way, a very helpful staff member gave me directions because she thought I looked a bit lost. Already, I'm developing a strong sense of a well-organised, service-oriented organisation.

Then I got to the reception desk for cardiac outpatients, and that impression was destroyed.

There were two women behind the desk. I approached. One of them looked up, so I smiled. She said, "It's no good smiling at me, it's her you want to talk to" (indicating the other women).

So I approached the other women. I explained that my family had been having tests and I wanted to find out whether I should make an appointment to come in for some, too.

"You can't just walk in here and make an appointment, you know. It doesn't work like that."

I explained that I appreciated that, but that my family were having tests, and I'd come in to the hospital several time before.

"You know, if you can't even tell me the name of who is doing these tests, then there is nothing I can do."

I explained that they were tests for dilated cardiomyopathy, and reiterated that my family was in the process of being tested, and that I had been for the tests at the hospital before, expecting that she would ask for my name, look up my details on the computer, and sort something out. Indeed, she was tapping away on her computer. For several minutes. Whilst I stood there. Waiting.

Twice, people approached the desk, and she looked up, "Can I help you?" and dealt with them. She never once even glanced at me, and I was standing right in front of her. After four or five minutes of being pointedly ignored, I walked away, fuming.

I'm sorry, but that woman should not have that job. There was no point arguing the toss with her there, because those kind of people know that if you lose the rag with them, they win. They make me sick.

So what I'm going to do instead is to write a very strong letter of complaint. And if I do get to see the professor who runs the study into my family's condition, I will complain to him, too. It might also help that one of the directors of the hospital also used to be a director of the first company I worked for, so I could reasonably CC my letter of complaint to her. I want to take that receptionist down!

You may ask what I expected. I expect to be treated like a human being. I was well-mannered and friendly in my approach when I spoke to the woman. I expect the same courtesy in return. I didn't receive it. She is a receptionist. I expect, therefore, that if someone comes in who doesn't have the full detail necessary to progress their request, that the receptionist should do what they can to help - look up records on the computer, ask questions to help find either useful information or to identify someone who can help (what is the study about, when did you last get tested). Instead, I was met with a work-shy, jobsworth disdain. How very dare she!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bridget Jones's Chicken

My Lovely Husband™ had intimated that he fancied something light for dinner last night. Since I'm currently between contracts, I'm doing most if not all of the cooking and other sundry chores. I decided that a nice chicken and vegetable stir-fry would fit the bill, and off I popped to the local supermarket.

(I am making an effort to do more shopping from markets and butcher shops and such like, but it isn't always an option.)

Whilst I was perusing the shelves of our "local" Sainsbury's - I say "local", because we live surrounded by forest and it's a bit of a hike to get anywhere, including the nearest supermarket - I spotted something that looked like it would make a good addition to my ingredients: purple carrots. I checked that they didn't have too many food miles associated with them, and learned that they had come all the way from Norfolk, so that's not bad at all, in the scheme of things. It's always nice to have an unusual addition to the standard veg one finds in a stir-fry, I believe.

Dinner was a success. The melange of lovingly prepared vegetables, sliced chicken breast, and honey & coriander sauce worked beautifully. However, the natural dye from the purple carrots ran. Everywhere. The chicken ended up looking sort of dark grey.

I made enough that there was a load left over. I've just had some for lunch. Except now that it's been sitting around for a while, the dye from the carrots has had more time to do its thing. Now, the chicken, the cashew nuts, and various other parts of the leftovers are blue. A really artificial-looking blue, too. It tastes great, but it really looks bad. Baaaaaad!

Who let that sheep in here?

That is all.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Randomata

This post is likely to be a bit of this, a bit of that, and a bit of everything else.

Let's start with Thursday's neologism. Here it is: fameish. (I didn't want to include the "e", but since "famish" is already a word, I had to make do.) It's a word that can be used to describe D-list (or lower) "celebrities". People who once gave Lionel Blair "All The Good Men" in two minutes or less, as Humphrey Littleton might put it. Folks who snatched five consecutive gold runs from Bob Wholesomeness on Blockbusters before they were in their twenties. They're fameish.

I've always liked "ish" words, not least since reading Gore Vidal's "Live From Golgotha". When someone is described to one of the characters as Jewish, he responds with "Jewish? How can someone be Jewish? Either you're a Jew or you're not."

Anyway, the reason fameish happened is that on Thursday, I was meeting up with my Lovely Husband™ in Sohohoho. I was feeling a little peckish, to I popped into Ed's Diner to a bite. The woman in front of me seemed pleased to hear another Scottish accent, and we got chatting. I didn't mention it at all, because I don't watch it and really don't like it, but she was a former Big Brother contestant, a Glaswegian pre-operative transsexual called Sam. She was quite lovely.

I got quite tipsy that night. That's code for very drunk. We went to the Duke Of Wellington (which seems to be my LH's favourite haunt), then Compton's, then G-A-Y bar, and finally Molly Mogg's to watch drag. I left my card behind the bar for use as our tab, and then got too rat-arsed to remember either the card or to pay the tab. I was fretting the next day that someone would be running up a big bill in mink and home entertainment systems on my card, but got to the bar just after lunch to find it still nestling in its glass, waiting for me. Phew! Oddly, whilst at Molly Mogg's I met a straight couple whom, it turns out, live only metres away from us. (That's yer actual metric.) It's a small world. But I wouldn't want to have to paint it.

Friday, I met up with a woman I worked with briefly. She's very lovely, and more bubbly than a glass of Widow Cliquot's finest shaken up with a couple of alkaseltzer and a fizzy vitamin tab. She's getting married soon, and had the most excellent idea of booking a high quality magic act to entertain the guests during the parts of the day where ice-breaking is helpful. So, I got the low-down on what will work for her, agreed a rate, decided what attire would be suitable, and so on. All done and dusted. Seven weeks from today, we'll be in Liverpool for the weekend, and will finish off our trip with me doing my magic thang at the wedding.

All this being off is turning me into something of a lush. We went out again on Friday night. There was a mix-up over where and when we were meeting, so I ended up dining alone in a great Morroccan place on Frith Street, then caught up with my Lovely Husband™ at Kings Cross. He got there very early, so had spent a long time trying not to look like rent. We headed off to Central Station to see Lizzie Drip. My, what a laugh. It's years since I've seen her, and it's still the same old act, but it's such a funny one that I could watch it again and again. And indeed, I have. In fact, we saw her again yesterday at Brighton Pride.

Yes, Brighton Pride. I don't know what it is about Brighton. I seem to be jinxed when it comes to that place. Every time I've been, I've either had a horrible time (e.g. being dumped whilst supposedly on a little weekend break - this was quite a few years ago, mind), or a merely less than pleasant one. This time, we actually had a really, really good time, but the journey there and back was Hell On Four Wheels. Never again! Well, not by car anyway.

We spent most of our time in the cabaret tent, and saw Lizzie Drip, Drag With No Name, Laquisha Jonz, Claudia Patrice (the girl we saw last weekend at West 5), Dave Lynn, and The D.E. Experience. Marvellous stuff. Then we mooched around the Prowler tent with our friend A who was working the booth, and got giggly playing with his helium balloons and singing Steps in squeaky voices. Marvellous.

Another neologism came up yesterday. We often find songs that we can imagine Cher singing. Now they can be described as either Cherable, or - if it's more that we could see it being rewritten for Cher - réCherché.

Oh, and I bought a hat. It's a leather trilby. Apart from the odd baseball cap, I've never worn a hat. I'm curious to see whether I'll take to it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Go West

For the first time in about 6 years, I went on Saturday to West Five, a homosexualist establishment in South Ealing (in the W5 postal district, hence the name - that was for the benefit of any johnnie foreigners reading).

The big draw of the place is that, in addition to a fun club, they also have cabaret, and a small lounge bar with a baby grande and a talented pianist. You get to do a sort of live karaoke, accompanied by the man on the piano. When I last went, it was a little, lively guy called Kevin, all bouncy energy and splangly jackets. Now it's a guy called Jim. Much more sombre in appearance, but just as excellent in playing along, either with or without the music.

After a lot of deliberation, I did finally get up and do a number. I sang the old Bacharat classic "This Guy's In Love With You", a song my Lovely Husband™ is very fond of. Naturally, I didn't let him know that's what I was going to do, so he was all misty eyed at the sheer romance of it all. Bless!

We went there with A+B. In fact, I have never been there without them. Sadly, this time around, there were fewer books from which to pick songs, so A didn't do one. He's very good on his musicals, he is. He says it comes from growing up in The Fens, where he was obliged to make his own entertainment. And having seen the Jumbo Popup Guide To East Anglia, I now know why.

We were also treated to a wonderful cabaret performance. I didn't catch the girl's name, but she was quite a large-framed young black woman, and boy could she sing. She covered a lot of classic house and other dance numbers with verve, passion and excellent vocals. She was a diva. We were hoping she'd get out her Black Box to please us, but alas, riding on time wasn't on the agenda. However, with everything from "Show Me Love" to "Hold That Sucker Down", we couldn't complain.

We'll be going back there!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Actual Service™

Lord knows, it's not often in this country that you find yourself being impressed by service, but I've just had one of those experiences where I was not only impressed, but really impressed.

Our Daewoo Digital TV (a DUB-2850GB if you must know) was working fine until a couple of days ago. Since then, a few of the channels, including BBCs 1 and 2, ITV and Channel 4 have all disappeared. They're still available on analogue, I discovered today (though I ought to have discovered that last night so that my Lovely Husband™ could get to see Bad Girls).

I rang a phone number that was printed on the front of the manual that came with the set. After the obligatory "you are in a queue, calls may be monitored" stuff, I was on hold for ... oh, about three seconds, before the call got answered. The young man who dealt with me took me through very quickly and efficiently to identify what the problem is (I've lost multiplex signals 1 and 2), how it was likely to have happened (recent wind or lightning has knocked my arial out of whack), and how to fix it (do a Rod Hull). He was also able to confirm that the are no transmission problems at Crystal Palace, whence I receive my signal, so it's definitely at my end. Oo-er.

Before ending the call, I made a point of telling him how impressed I was. Credit where it's due, I reckon.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Flaming Business Card

By popular demand ... well, because Jay asked nice ... I present a quick glimpse at me (or at least part of my torso) handing out my business card.

US readers may find the whole thing more amusing because the word flaming carries additional meaning for you that may not be picked up on by readers on this side of the pond.



Oh, and if you liked that, you might like this even more. (It will take a wee bit longer to download, but it means you also get to enjoy my dulcit tones):



***

On a completely unrelated note, I finished my contract early, and although I'm putting a lot of effort into finding a new one, I'm also savouring the fact that I can kick back a bit for a while.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Only Children

Amongst my friends in New Zealand are a married couple kind of from the US. I say kind of, because the husband is originally from Poland, but moved to the US in his mid to late teenage years. His wife is an original US citizen, of German ancestry. They have a very lovely son, who is mad keen on Harry Potter, and a budding magician. Needless to say, he and I get along splendidly.

Each parent is an only child, and I was quite surprised by something that came up in a conversation with them not that long before I left last year. They had been discussing whether to have any other children, but had decided that it would not be fair to do so until their son was older, e.g. in his teens. They reckoned that every child should enjoy the benefit of feeling like they are special, and mean more to their parents than anyone or anything else. I wasn't, and am still not, comfortable with this line of thinking, so I thought I would share it to see whether anyone else thought there was something wrong there.

I can understand where it comes from, and feel sorry for them that, not having had the advantages of siblings, they don't know what they missed out on, and what they are therefore "depriving" their children of. At the same time, I acknowledge that since I'm not an only child myself, I don't have an appreciation of what it's like to be an only child. However, having known many people in that boat, only children always seemed like they lost more than they gained.

Fine, you feel special to your parents. Do you care at that age? Your parents aren't going to get down in the dirt with you and play with your toy cars. A brother or sister would. A parent isn't going to be naughty with you, or have the kind of fun that kids have together. I suspect having just one little angle to dote on is better for the parents than it is for the kid.

I'd also take issue with what I think is somewhat short-sighted, if not negligent thinking, about the waiting until the first son is a teenager. By that time, there is no chance of the same kind of sibling relationship that I had with my siblings when I was growing up. It would be more like the relationship I have with my youngest brother and sister (14 and 15 years younger than me), and that's more being an uncle than being a brother. It's fun, and I get a lot out of those relationships, but it's not the same as the sibling relationship I have with the brother and sisters I grew up with. The rationale for waiting until the first son is a teenager is so that the new baby can feel special, and like their mom and dad's pride and joy, the only thing in their world, etc. Does this mean that the teenage son is dismissed as, well, a teenager, who probably wouldn't want much attention from the parents, so let's just ignore him and allow him to do his own thing? Something not quite right there.


Your thoughts, if you have any ...?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Memoriam

Da Nator very sweetly gave me a belated hug when I mentioned my late sister in the comments of my last post. I started to reply in the comments, but decided to post a bit of an article here. It's actually the anniversary of my sister's death very soon (this coming Friday), so it seems like a good time to write this.

Ironically, because of the way things worked out, that date is also the anniversary of the night that I met my Lovely Husband™, although naturally for that first night he was simply Gorgeous Trade™. (He quickly went on to become Sexy Boyfriend™, and after little less than a year, Fabulous Fiancé™. The sharper reader may notice a progression in these adjectives indicative of good, healthy relationship growth.)

This year, that date will mark five years that we have been together, and three years since my older sister died. Given that she was two years older, I am now, in some respects, the "oldest" sibling.

She was a long term diabetic, having been diagnosed at the age of six. What I didn't find out until I had made up my mind to move to New Zealand was that that diagnosis was the one thing that put the kibosh on our family moving to that country way back when I was a four year old. My mum and dad had made arrangements, sorted out work, accommodation, visas, the whole thing, and were on the verge of leaving. When my sister became ill, they decided that, not knowing what the health service was like in NZ, they weren't willing to take a risk with the health of one of their children, so we didn't go. My dad was quite shocked when I announced plans to move to NZ, because I was the same age that he had been when he had planned to move, yet I was completely unaware that there had ever been such a plan.

Over the years, my sister had some problems because of her diabetes, but most of the time she managed it quite well. She didn't do too well at school, but a couple of years after leaving, she put herself through college, and then university, and became a podiatrist. She had amazing drive and determination, and would let nothing hold her back. Six failed attempts to pass her driving test didn't put her off trying and passing on the seventh. She married, and she and her husband bought a lovely sandstone house in our home town.

The marriage stopped working after a few years, unfortunately, and for a while she lived with my mum, who at that time was in a tiny little house with my youngest brother and sister, during a period of separation between my parents. My sister briefly dated my mum's next door neighbour, although she was also having an on-again/off-again thing with an internet acquaintance.

We're not exactly sure what happened the night she had her accident, but she had a seizure related in some way to her diabetes (not in itself an unusual occurrence), choked on her own vomit (aspirated, in the medical parlance), and wasn't found for several hours, by which time she had been massively oxygen deprived, and suffered from some serious brain damage.

She was hospitalised for almost a year, during which times she seemed to wax an wane, sometimes almost on the verge of responding to her environment, sometimes really ill. For a while, she was able to walk, although being unaware of her surroundings, and probably blind, she couldn't do so unassisted.

About seven months after her accident, my cousin very kindly sent an invitation to myself and my Lovely Husband™ to come to his wedding. I hadn't planned to visit the UK, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I asked my Lovely Husband™ if we could go. He agreed that it was a good idea. The timing was such that we would be there for the wedding, we would get to see my sister - something I had wanted to do ever since the accident, but the timing never seemed right - and we would also be around for my ickle bruvver's 19th birthday, and my ickle sister's 18th. My mother's birthday is also around that time, and I would get to introduce my Lovely Husband™ to the family, and be with them when we celebrated being together for three years. Also, SARS was happening in Asia, so flights via Hong Kong were about half price, without which we would have struggled to afford the trip.

The way things worked out, we spent a couple of days with dear friends in London (A+B), and then went up to Scotland. The evening we arrived was awful. We went straight to the hospital, and within half an hour of arriving, we were around my sister's bed whilst a priest read the last rites (or Extreme Unction as it is also known, which my very Catholic grannie pronounces in an entertainingly idiosyncratic way). My mum was so distraught that she wouldn't even let me introduce her to my Lovely Husband™. That had to wait until the next day.

Within a few hours, my sister's condition seemed to settle. And the next day was my cousin's wedding, which was a really beautiful event. The reception was held in the Duck Bay Marina on the banks of Loch Lomond, and it was in the middle of a heat wave. The gods could not have smiled more on us all. There was also an excellent magician working the tables after dinner. Naturally, I approved enormously, and enjoyed his show a great deal. I had been doing some stuff earlier, but put it away so as not to drawn thunder from the guy being paid to do it.

The next day, I was at my uncle/godfather's trying to fix a problem he had with his PC. We got a call to go back to the hospital. After several painful hours, and some serious conversations with various specialists, it became apparent that my sister was dying. She did so in the early hours of the following morning, with the whole family around her - cousins, aunts, uncles, too, not just parents and siblings.

The timing - the wedding, our visit - meant that for the first time in years, everyone could be around her. So we all were. She made one last effort for us. The mind that was still trapped in that sadly wasted body threw itself against the bars of its prison with all its might, for it seemed that with each of the slow exhalations by which she slipped from us, unless our ears deceived, she sighed the name of each person in the room. Satisfied with this final stocktake, she pulled down the shutters on a life lived with much verve, derailed unexpectedly by capricious fate.

We miss your laughter, your joy, your passion, your determination, your refusal to let experience or other people dictate your limits, your optimism, your energy, your sense of fun. We miss you.

Rest in peace, Colette.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ickle Bruvver

Next weekend is my youngest brother's 22nd birthday. In addition to being my youngest brother, he is also my godson, giving you some idea of the age difference between us. I should point out that I was very young to be a godfather, but at the time I was a student priest, so it seemed like a really good idea. My youngest sister is a year and a couple of days younger than my youngest brother, so there's an even bigger age gap right there. And I used to have a sister two years and a couple of months older than me, so the gap was something like 17 years between oldest and youngest.

But that's all by the by.

To celebrate his birthday, my youngest brother chose to spend this weekend in London. Most of the time he stayed with my other brother (one year my junior) and his boyfriend. However, for one night and one night only, he stayed with us. So we made the most of it.

We bought a new blow-up bed for his visit. We needed one anyway, since we often have guests, and some friends had recommended one from Argos. Turns out ours is better than the one they got (which we know, because they came around for dinner in the late afternoon, and we had some quality time and extremely lovely nosh courtesy of my Lovely Husband™). It has a built-in inflator/deflator and it's double-height, making for a very comfortable night's sleep indeed.

We also did a quick jaunt to Walthamstow Market, because I'm trying to get us into the whole buying fruit and veg from markets rather than supermarkets.

So, we picked my ickle bruvver up late on Saturday night and took him to Jeremy Joseph's palace of trashy fun, where a special guest appearance by the Vengaboys was the big draw. My icklest brother, despite being straighter than a bar of platinum-iridium alloy in Sèvres, was very keen to see them, as both he and his friends are big fans. In fact, he managed to get himself right down the front, and successfully filmed The Vengaboys (two of whom are female) in action, including when one of the girlies looked into his camera, waved and blew him a kiss.

On Sunday, we popped down to Southend on Sea for a day of minigolf and thrill rides, a bit of sunshine and a lot of relaxing. It was marvellous!

We didn't get back until late, and then I had a nightmare journey getting my visiting brother back to my other brother's gaff. It turns out we live relatively close to each other, by car. Who knew? (The reason that this is a revelation is to do with a long-standing feud between us. We're perfectly fine when we get together, but our partner's don't get along, and each of us is inclined to stand by his man, natch. I get along fine with my brother and his man. He gets along fine with me and my man. But put all four of us together, and it's not a recipe for a jolly, easy time.)

To my great delight, it turns out that ickle bruvver had one of the best nights out he has had in a long, long time. I'm very happy we were able to give him a good time. Normally I merely show someone a good time, which involves pointing out some people in a venue and saying "it's what they're having". This time it was much more the real thing.

Also, ickle bruvver got sufficiently inebriated to get his bouncy-ball out. When he dances, he plays with an imaginary bouncy-ball. Interacting with it allows him to dance with a decent rhythm and not end up looking like a big poof. Gawd knows there are enough of those in our family. Big pooves, not decent rhythms. And one and a half lesbians. (I add the 0.5 lesbian because of my magazine column.)

I'm sorry I've not been around much lately. Haven't posted much, haven't been reading other blogs much. I've been really busy with work, been away a lot, and been looking for my next contract since I finish this one at the end of next week.

Still, if I end up having a couple of weeks off to work on my tan and get back into some sort of shape, I don't think I'll be complaining.


On a completely unrelated note, my new magic business cards arrived yesterday, to my unalloyed delight, along with a companion set of fridge magnets. I'm very pleased with them. I've been waiting for a long time to get access to a specific area of the official Magic Circle web site so that I could get my grubby little paws on the canonical versions of their logo. I wanted that on the back of the card. Now that it's all done and dusted, I'm back to producing fiery business cards from my wallet, and doing a completely amazing effect invented by a hugely creative friend of mine in NZ.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Eco-nomics

It has puzzled me for quite a long time why so few consumers have woken up to the fact that, by and large, things which are good for the ecology of our fragile earth are often also good for our pockets. I automatically think of such things as "eco-nomical". Yet people seem to find pointless consumption easier to cope with, or in some way laudable.

There is no need to conjure up conspiracy theories of some evil group of money-mad villains - "them" - who want "us" to spend, spend, spend regardless of the damage we inflict on the world, or the legacy we leave for our descendents. The fundmental principles of capitalism and consumerism drive human behaviour in that direction anyway, with no need for a dark and secretive world shadow meta-government.

(On a side note, I don't understand why more companies aren't happy to turn in a consistent annual profit, e.g. 10%, and prefer instead the riskier path of trying to improve their profit year on year. If I had huge sums of money to invest, I'd look for stable, reliable returns on my investment, and companies that aim high enough to return such profits dependably, but not so high that they risked blowing everything.)

I've been thinking for a while of generating a list of eco-nomical tips. The basics - turning off televisions rather than leaving them on standby, installing insulation in your roof, etc., are all covered more than adequately elsewhere. My list is more along the lines of things that I try to do that avoid consumption and save some cash at the same time.

Here are some of them:
  • Use a traditional shaving brush and soap rather than a can of shaving foam or gel
  • Use a traditional cut-throat razor and strop rather than disposable razors
  • Use an old-fashioned mop, with a replaceable, natural fibre head
  • Use an old-fashioned brush, with a replaceable head
  • Use empty glass jars for storage, reusing rather than recycling
I'm sure there are some others that are on the list but I've ceased to even be aware of them. Feel free to suggest any more, and I will adjust my lifestyle accordingly and let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

That was the show that was

My Lovely Husband™, despite still being poorly, wanted to catch some of Pride this year, since it's his first. The NZ equivalent, Hero, is a very different beast, and in some ways more charming. Even though I think the name is naff. When I first heard of it, I assumed that it had been derived from something like "homosexual equal rights organisation". But it turns out that it doesn't have such an honourable provenance. Rather, they chose the name "hero", because anyone who dares to come out obviously is one (a hero, that is). Hpmh.

We caught a little bit of the parade. I was trying to work out if any of the jiggling dancing boys on the floats was jay, but didn't try too hard. Which is just as it should be, I'm sure he would agree.

We didn't stick around for long, though, because we were heading down to Kent for a barbie.

However, next night, it was full on europridification as we headed to the Royal Prince Albert Hall for "Europride - The Show".

And what a show it was. Starting fashionably late, the combination of so many people turning up a wee bit later than they should, and the fact that the RAH doesn't known its arse from its elbow when it comes to ticket management, the rich, plummy tones of Stephen Fry welcomed us in to an evening of celebration and fun.

The first act up was Tina C, a very funny drag queen indeed. I had first heard of her through my friend A, and we went to see her when she performed during the NZ Comedy Festival the year before last. Marvellous stuff. A visiting friend from Scotland who went with us to the show was gobsmacked afterwards to find out that she is actually an English bloke. He knew the bloke bit, but had been completely convinced by the southern belle drawl.

I'll probably forget a couple of the acts that were on, which is a bit irksome, but that's old age for you. There was a dyke-fronted rock band from Bristol called "Never The Bride", who really got the place pumping. There was the hugely funny Alan Carr, a turn in glam drag by Serena McKellan, Heather Small from M People, and a surprise performance by Boy George. George made an apparently bitchy comment, and seemed amused at his own bitchiness, but it seemed to me to such an inside joke that only about two people understood what he was talking about.

We were treated to a couple of numbers by the London Gay Mens' Choir (or perhaps quire would be better to give it a queerer look). They also joined in with one of Heather Small's numbers.

There were appearances by Fizz and Sean from Coronation Street, Billie Jean King, and a number of leading lights in the gay rights movement. There was the symbolic transfer of the Europride "quilt" to a delegation from Spain, where it will be hosted next year.

The final act of the evening was introduced by David Furnish, the husband of the act in question. Amusingly, after he initially did the introduction, there was a delay; and during that delay, Julian Clary and Sandi Toksvig ("I'm Julian and this is my friend Sandi" - they compered the second half) asked him a couple of questions, including "So what first attracted you to the ..."

Sadly, we had to leave during Sir Elton's set, because I'm sorry, knighthood or no, we had a tube to catch. And in the event, we didn't make it home, but had to get off at Finsbury Park - a scary place at night, and then some - and get an overpriced taxi back to the safe haven that is Snaresbrook.

Lovely. But by god was I tired yesterday!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

So hypocritical it's almost funny ...

Condoleeza Rice has been trying to lecture the leaders of Pakistan on how to run a democratic election.

Honestly. I kid you not. Before we get to the details, here's some background.

There is a crazy religious dictator running the United States of America. This man stole an election by using connections within his corrupt family to illegally deny the vote to hundreds and hundreds of African Americans in Florida; and even then, he still lost, but managed to steal the election anyway. Of course, denying the vote to African Americans is in no way indicative of racism, because he managed to find a couple of heartless, unashamed money-grabbing mercenaries who happened also to be African American to join him - of whom Rice is currently the most prominent - and thereby create the impression that he's really all about equal opportunity.

He used connections with right wing media organisations to spin the outcome of the election in his favour even though there was no justification in doing so. This allowed him to make it look like his opponent was being a bad loser, when in fact, his opponent was the fair winner.

He took advantage of the fear generated by terrorism to keep the country in his sway, and justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation in order to plunder its energy supplies and enrich himself, his family and their cronies. This was despite the fact that the terrorists in question had been funded by him, his family and their cronies for many years, and many of them were flown out of the country by him in the immediate aftermath of the initial terrorist attacks.

His illegal war has made the world a much less safe place, and has done much to encourage further terrorism by creating a justification for it; and he has the nerve to criticise all who didn't stand with him as "enemies of democracy" - despite the fact that the countries who did stand with him did so against the democratic wishes of their peoples.

So, with that in mind, we now read that his globe-trotting "goodwill ambassador" is trying to dictate to people in another country how to be democratic. What a fucking cheek!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Time To Fix The Shingles

Here am I, working in Scotland, and my Lovely Husband™ is shacked up at home, all poorly with shingles.

Although I haven't suffered from this myself, I know how horrible it can be. My grandmother was really, really ill with it when she was in her late 60s or early 70s, and there were times when it really look like she might not pull through. Thankfully, after a sustained outpouring of TLC from my mum, she got better.

Knowing what a horrible illness it is, it pains me to be such a long way away from Lovely Husband™ during this time, and I can't wait to get home tomorrow so that I can look after him, if only for a weekend.

In the meantime, work is just going mad, and I have to get an article in to my editor this evening - the second piece of work in my new role as part-time lesbian journalist.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Nonchalant Strollers Ltd

Lovely Husband™ and I live near a gay cruising area. This isn't by design, although when I took the flat last year, I knew just how close we would be. If it made any difference at all, it was probably the one slightly less than ideal thing about an otherwise perfect place to make our home. Not because I have anything against people going cruising - gawd knows I did enough of it myself in my single days - but simply because it can create the odd awkward moment.

Such as this weekend, when we had been playing host to a very good family friend of my Lovely Husband™, and a friend of hers. These two lovely ladies, both retired and genteel, were taking advantage of our proximity to the beauties of nature by having a stroll in the woods next to the house. They were put off, however, by the unusual number of single men wandering around amongst the trees, or standing menacingly in every other clearing. I assured them that they had been in no danger, except perhaps of seeing something they didn't mean to.

There is also an annoying aspect to the proximity of that part of the woods. The place where we live is a bit tight on parking. There is a car park - little more than a bit of wasteland - that sits between the two "action areas", and which used to be open all the time. At some point, a gate has been erected. It gets closed in the evenings, preventing further ingres to most traffic. I suspect cruisers on motorbikes remain unruffled. Cars already parked there are free to leave thanks to a clever one-way barrier. I'm sure at this time of the year, when it stays light so late in the evening, this is as much a pain to other users of the woods - dog-walkers, cyclists, strollers - as it is to the guys who go there to cruise. However, it's even more annoying to us residents, because the cruising guys tend to park in our street, and that can get more than a little irksome, given the limited number of spaces. Last weekend, I noticed that a traffic warden was walking along the street handing out parking tickets, but I wondered at the time how he would distinguish between residents and non-residents.

It's not all cruisers, btw. My parking space has sometimes been nicked by some thoughtless 4wd-endowed parent teaching their offpsring how to respect the environment by running them to school in a car that could probably carry half of their class. Oh, the joys of having a posh private school across the road.

I suspect that the word "thoughtless" in the that previous paragraph was redundant. I don't think you can drive a 4wd car in a city and be anything other than thoughtless.

As might be obvious, to this day I have mixed feelings about the cruising area that's so close to the house. However, this evening it did afford me one of those moments for which I completely forgive all the other stuff. I was popping out to pick up my Lovely Husband™ from the station (he would normally do the stiff 15 minute walk, but was a bit exhausted). En route, I saw a guy heading into the trees. And, heavens, but he was trying just far too hard to look nonchalant. It was comical. He might as well have been wearing a T-shirt that said "Not looking for cock. Honest!" In big, bold letters. Possibly neon. Flashing.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Scottish Jig

At the risk of boring you to tears with the virtuous vigour with my myself and my Lovely Husband™ seemingly make the most of every moment, I'm about to deliver another breathless description of a fabulous weekend.

Before that, I should mention a few other things.

The weekend before the one that's just gone, we had the unalloyed delight of entertaining a very good friend of ours from New Zealand. We'll call her Exocet. We all went to Hampstead Heath and had a picnic in the glorious sunshine. We wandered around a little, and passed the mens' pond, where the usual gaggle of sun-kissed, exquisitely buff muscle marys were recovering from their drug binges of the night before.

This week, we'll be entertaining - and no doubt entertained by - a friend of my domestic goddess mother-in-law. We'll call her Bracken. I hope I get home whilst she's visiting. I'm currently still in Scotland,m but keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be freed up by Wednesday to get back to London. Bracken loves to dance in a highly amusing way to ABBA, and I have photographic evidence of her ability to get a little carried away by one too many sherries.

This coming weekend, another very dear friend is over visiting from New Yoik. We haven't seen him for ages, and can't wait to catch up! I suspect he might have exciting news about his career, too, since he's a highly talented, well-connected screen writer. I think there might be a feature debut in the wings.

So, leaving all that to one side ...

After the Not So EasyJet debacle on Friday night, we went straight home (well, as straight as two men who are married to each other can) . We did have one detour, because we were both hungry, and at that time of night, you've got to pick a curry or two, if you'll forgive a little bit of Lionel Bartering.

Saturday, we popped in to Glasgow and spent a wonderful couple of hours in Slater Menswear, which is simply the best place to buy suits. Of which I know. And the Glasgow branch is their main store. It's suit heaven. So, I got a suit and a pair of shoes, and my Lovely Husband™ got two suits, both of which I picked out for him, oddly enough. I say oddly, because I really don't have the gay clothing gene, and he does; but I seem to have an eye for suits. One of the ones that he got is black velvet with a white or light grey pinstripe. Sound ghastly? It looks terrific on him, if a little Jonathan Ross. But then, he could wear a dirty teatowel and make it look fabulous. It's them gorgeous cheek bones, innit?

Late Saturday afternoon, we went out for a big family dinner, of sorts, to a totally wonderful Chinese buffet place in the middle of nowhere. It was terrific, and I'm really not usually one to sing the praises of Chinese food. (Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, Indian, Bhurmese - I love them all; Chinese, I'm not so keen on.) This place, however, was really, really, really good.

We ate quite early because my dad had to get off to his AA meeting. He's a changed man since he started going to those. He joined when my youngest sister became pregnant. He vowed that his grandchild (since there is only one - so far) will never see him drunk. And he's stuck to it. And he's become a much nicer person as a result. Everyone has noticed, and everyone comments on it. It's great. Incidentally, my little niece was with us at lunch. The poor wee thing isn't very well, but she's so good-natured that even though she's not well, she's still really well behaved, and tries to grin and gurgle through it all. Completely adorable!

The staff in the restaurant were all over her trying to make her laugh - and succeeding, because she's very smiley and giggly. And I ended up doing a whole load of magic for the waiters and waitresses, so that was nice.

So, having had a relatively early dinner, it was an easy thing to then organise a night out. My brother joined us, a little apprehensively since we were going to a gay place. My sister also joined us, but her girlfriend needed an early night, so she brought along Wee Gee, a very young chap who may one day be vaguely related to us by marriage (between his brother and our youngest sister).

So, off we went to The Polo Lounge - which to my mind is the most fabulous gay club ever invented. It has beautiful antique furnishings on the ground floor, a mezzinine with more modern deep leather sofas, and downstairs, a big dance club playing up to date stuff, and a smaller dance room that does 80s and90s trash. It's everything I could want in a club all in one place.

We didn't get to stay very long, because I had to get to work the next day, but we made the most of it. My sis and Wee Gee stuck around when we left, but my youngest brother came home with us, partly because he felt a bit uncomfortable, bless 'im.

Next day, I was up bright and early to get into Stirling for 09:00. I did some work whilst Lovely Husband™ sunned himself outside and improved himself with literature. We got away after an hour or so, broke fast in a nice cafe, then visited Stirling Castle. Great views from the battlements - and it's so old!

Alas, as we were leaving for lunch with my cousin and his girlfriend, and a couple of old friends I hadn't seen in years, I got a call that pulled me back into the office. I headed to Linlithgow, dropped off my Lovely Husband™ and went back in to face the music. After a couple of hours, it was too late to join them for lunch, but I caught up with them outside Linlithgow Palace - another fabulous castle - and went to grab a bite. It was very lovely indeed. And still sunny, so the neds (that's Scottish for chavs) had their shirts off to expose their deeply tasteful lobster-coloured torsos.

After that, it was a short hop to the airport to see my beloved onto his jet plane, and back home to pick up my ickle brother and go with him to see X-Men III.

Bit of a boring one, then, clearly.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Paid To Be Bastards

One of the things that I missed during my years spent in New Zealand was the steady, stellar growth of the no-frill airline. They had been doing very well as I was leaving the country at the arse-end of 2000, but in the intervening years, they have grown to become a major part of the travel market, and the big players have had to adjust accordingly.

New Zealand is relatively remote, and so there isn't the same phenomenon that you get in Europe of being spoilt for choice over where a couple of hours in an aeroplane might take you. There's Australia, and there's some beautiful south pacific islands, and then there's nothing but water in every direction for hours and hours of travelling time. Another significant difference is that the travel market in Europe is an order of magnitude larger than that of NZ, and therefore there is a lot more money, and a lot more companies chasing that money.

With many a wistful glance, I would watch TV shows that made it look like jumping on a plane to Alicante was like catching a bus, and no-one would bother buying turrone at their local shop when the real thing was a £5 flight away.

Recent experiences have caused me to reconsider. Apart from the fact that the airlines are doing more than their fair share to damage our beautiful but fragile planet, and should be taxed accordingly, the quality of service in every single one of them seems to have plummetted. Or possibly I've been unlucky, but I consider than unlikely, since I'm fundamentally a very lucky person. (That is, I have a very lucky fundament.)

When my Lovely Husband™ and I went to Paris recently to celebrate the first anniversary of our nuptials, our EasyJet flight was delayed. By several hours. We were very lucky to catch the last RER train from Roissy airport, otherwise we would have spent on a single cab fare what we had "saved" by flying with EasyJet. And methinks they're going to have to drop the "Easy" from their name or they'll have the trades description people all over them.

On the way home from aforementioned trip, guess what? We were delayed. By over an hour. Fuckers.

I'm currently in Scotland, having come up here yesterday. I had some difficulty finding a suitable flight time, and ended up plumping for one from Gatwick because it fitted best with my schedule. I missed the check-in by 3 minutes. They refused to let me through. That was EasyJet. So, I went to BA. Now, to be fair to them, the guy behind the desk at BA was very, very good. Not so some of their other staff, nor the way they had signposted (or rather, failed to signpost) the instructions for checking in. It was appalling. But fortunately, not especially busy.

So, after a couple of hours working in the lounge (I had booked late, and was obliged to buy a business class ticket, so I did get that one perk) I head to the gate, get on the plane, and wait. And wait. And wait. Some annoying people arrive and sit next to me. We're still waiting. After about an hour waiting on the tarmac, we finally get underway. As a result of trying to get to Scotland early, I arrived at the office at 16:00, and a couple of hundred pounds worse off for my troubles. Oh, and my business class price didn't get me any more leg room. I still felt like I had been put into stocks, and the local villagers were going to start throwing rotten vegetables at me any minute.

I'm still in the office now, expecting to go and pick up my Lovely Husband™ from Edinburgh airport. I would have been underway by now, but his EasyJet flight has been delayed. By at least an hour.

What the f*ck is going on? These airlines seem to have convinced us that shoddy service is a reasonable price to pay for cheap fares. Except the fares aren't really that cheap, unless your parents booked them for you back when you were a foetus. They also seem to have convinced the government that it would be A Terrible Thing, not to mention Terribly Unpopular with The Voting Public to do anything that might force them to put their prices up. Like actually taxing them for the environmental damage that they cause. Grr!

I'm taking the Eurostar next time I go to Europe, and will give serious consideration to taking a train when I'm heading up north. Trains have lots of Miss Marple charm, and since aeroplanes have become overrun by the hoipolloi, you meet a better class of traveller on GNER. It's more relaxing, too. And they have wireless networking on board.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bathroom Sink Drama

Given the adumbrations of despair concerning the supply of water in the South East of England, and the Mayor of London's helpful suggestions about how to save a bit by not flushing the loo, it occurred to me to canvas for an opinion on pissing the sink as an option for us chaps above a certain height.

Pissing in the sink is something I've done many's a time if the throne is otherwise occupied and the need was great. I've had no qualms for a long time about pissing in a proper shower. I draw the line at a shower over a bath, especially when it's at a friend's house.

It struck me that pissing the sink should be encouraged, because it really doesn't take much water to clean up afterwards, certainly a lot less than the standard flush.

Your thoughts?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Word Games

Inexplicable Device has been dishing out letters in a meme about identifying 10 words that start with the same letter and have some personal meaning. I got the letter "I", so here goes.

I is for igloo. Perhaps I was an intuitive innuit in a former life, but during the long, cold, snowy winters of my childhood, back before global warming had made snow into something that comes in a can, I always tried to make them. And failed. But I kept trying, because you know what they say - try, try, try again, and keep trying until everyone is laughing at you for not realising your own limitations. Then shoot them.

I have to point out, at this point, that it's very hard not to hear Ali G's voice when typing "I is for ..."

I is for insincere. I spent years studying for the Catholic priesthood, and one of the most important lessons I learned is that absolutely the most important qualification for those with such a calling is sincerity. Once they can fake that, they've got it made.

I is for indigo. I love those colours in the very blue/purple area of the spectrum. I don't know why. Also, Indiglo Nitelite watches were very cool, in their day.

Shit. That's only three. Seven more to go? I'm not really the kind of person who has special things that mean a lot to me, and if I did, I don't think many of them would start with the letter i. Hmm ....

I is for infidelity. I was scarred quite badly by it, and it sometimes comes out when I make references to my ex. In person, I normally spit after mentioning him.

I is for infamy. Infamy, they've all got it infamy! I loved the Carry On films when I was a nipper, and later got hold of Round The Horne, too. Kenneth Williams - bless his little screwed up heart. Poor bugger.

Phew. Half way. This is getting a bit easier.

I is for IT. It's what I do for a living, although I tend not to dirty my hands writing code these days. Perhaps one day it will take a back seat to the magic, but I doubt it whilst you can still get a good day rate as a contractor.

I is for India. Never been. Not sure if I'll ever go, but I love the food, and learning to love it was very much a part of finding my own identity, and developing my own set of tastes and inclinations. Also, I've had lots of Indian friends over the years, and that has meant a lot to me, because growing up in West Central Scotland and attending Catholic schools and then seminary, I wasn't acquainted with anyone non-white until I was 22!

I is for iridescence. I love shiny things. If IDV had given me O, I'm sure opalescence would have been in this list. And one of my favourite - and most requested - card effects involves some cards that become iridescent at the end. It's a better climax than ... well, some that I've had.

I is for internet. I've been using it for a surprisingly long time, since towards the end of my stint at the University of Aberdeen. And that's going back. 1991 I think it must have been. My early understanding of it and it's underlying technologies have been a great help throughout my career, and instrumental in landing me my role as a lesbian journalist.

I is for incest, which makes me think of my time as an altar boy.

Or is that incense?

My thanks to Inexplicable Device for letting me play. I hope I've done you proud. I believe that I am obliged by the laws governing these memes to offer to all and sundry a letter, should they want to have a go.

Oh, and apologies for not writing so much lately. I've been dashing all day and working late at the Cabaret. I was in Scotland yesterday evening and today. On my way home, I spotted a tourist wearing one of those awful tartan bonnets with fake red hair attached. They are very much a ridiculous parody of one particular stereotype of what Scots are like. And here was this guy wandering around Edinburgh airport in front of a load of Scottish people. And no-one hit him. I wonder if I would fair as well if I went to Brixton done up as a minstrel ...

And ... something has gone horribly wrong with my blogroll. Anybody know anything about that?

...

update: Blogroll magically fixed itself. Ah, self-healing software. Gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fair Game

This weekend was meant to include a trip to Hastings, X-men 3 and some time to catch up on work-related admin. Then it was going to be Hastings and a quick booze cruise to France. Then it was going to be a trip to the New Forest, and catching up with a dear friend from NZ who is spending a few weeks in Blighty. Then it turned out that said friend couldn't meet up with us over the weekend, but by that time our hotel in that part of the country was booked. Then it turned out that the web site we booked it on didn't have up to date information, and so we didn't really have a booking at all.

So, after all that, we called my friend DJ who lives in Sutton Courtenay (near Didcot / Abingdon) to see if he wanted to meet up with us, spend some time over the weekend, and visit a neolithic monument or two. And then it all worked out beautifully.

We met up with DJ outside his house. He has some major renovations - or perhaps earthworks might be a better description - going on at the moment, and will not let people past the front door. He took us around the village, pointing out the house now owned by Helena Bonham-Carter (left) and her husband Tim Burton (right).


Well, okay, that's really Ken Dodd, but I don't know many people who can tell the difference.

We meandered over muddy paths to see a weir on the Thames, and then back to see the grave of Eric Arthur Blair, and the house where the cabinet decided to ask the monarch of the day to declare the first world war.

After a small refreshment in a local hostelry (and I was driving, so mine was a surprisingly unshit alcohol-free lager), we headed off to the depths of West Berkshire to find our accommodation for the evening. We got a bit lost, but made it in time to grab a bottle of wine before the bar closed, and then spent a pleasant half-hour chatting with the owners and one of their regulars. I did a bit of magic, too, as it my wont.

Next day was very much the "very old things" day. We picked DJ up, and headed to Avebury, where we wandered around inside the various stone circles, and tried to get a feeling of something "other". That didn't really work. So, we stopped by Ye Olde Nu Age Shoppe, and I bought a book about witchcraft, more out of interest than any desire to become a practising Wiccan.

We then went to the Uffington White Horse and wandered there for a bit. Sadly, vertigo got the better of my Lovely Husband™, and he had to forgo walking on the horse, and then strolling down to the place where St. George killed the dragon. Still, we made up for that by a long and lovely walk to Wayland's Smithy before heading back to the car and back to Sutton Courtenay. We sorted out a B&B for the night, and stopped in there to drop off our bags before heading to dinner in Sutton Courtenay.

After a terrific night's sleep in a very comfortable bed, we went to Highclere Castle in the morning. It turned out they were having a "Game Fair", so the grounds were covered in 4x4s as all the yahoos and hoorays turned up to talk guns and grouse. We headed for the castle, bumping into the lord of the manor on the way, and decided that a stroll around the gardens would be enough. So, after a whistlestop tour of Oxford that included lunch in a pub more than 800 years old, we headed back home.

It's great when the unplanned plans pan out.