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!