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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Monday, March 31, 2008
That Gay Up Me Duck article in full.
This article first appeared in Issue 22 of LeftLion magazine. You can download the entire magazine in full colour PDF format, or you can pick up a physical copy from one of these Nottingham venues. Many of the main features can also be read online.
Highlights of this issue include splendid interviews with Public Enemy's Chuck D and Nottingham city centre's very own Fish Man, as well as an eye-witness account of the "Stop The City" riot by local author Nicola Monaghan and a chat with Nottingham's only goth plumber.
To the surprise of many, a 2004 report named Nottingham as having the seventh highest gay population in the country. Who, us? Could that really be true? After all, we hardly enjoy the high profile of gay destinations such as Manchester, Brighton or Blackpool. Our scene may be reasonably sized, but it makes few waves.
For a whole generation of misty-eyed middle-aged queens (trust me, for I know of what I speak), things have never been the same since the early 1980s glory days of La Chic: Part Two. Recognised in its day as possibly the best gay club outside London, Part Two mixed old-school glamour with a new-school aesthetic, in a way that was unique for its time. It was the first club in town to embrace beat-mixing, with an upfront policy that Graeme Park has cited as a key influence. On a typical night, you might find Su Pollard whooping it up on the floor to the latest American imports, while Justin Fashanu silently prowled the cruising alley and a regal Noelle “Nolly” Gordon – the Crossroads matriarch herself - wafted around in a diaphanous evening gown, flanked by stage-door johnnies. In the upstairs bar, you could even avail yourself of the services of a resident chaplain, on hand to dispense spiritual advice to the morally bewildered (as well they might have been, given the pitch-black sex room round the back). From sin to absolution in the space of one evening, Part Two had it all.
Following its 1985 demise, a long dark night of the soul descended upon our club scene, punctuated only by the ground-breaking, long-running and massively popular mega-discos (ooh, we had coach parties) at Barry Noble’s Astoria (later MGM and Ocean), on the first Monday of every month. Sure, there was something faintly demeaning about being shipped in under sufferance on the quietest night of the week – but in the absence of anything better, we were grateful for small mercies.
At weekends, the late 1980s were dominated by the twin scourges of Gatsby’s – possibly the grimmest gay bar in human history, and proof that ‘Gay’ stopped meaning ‘bright and colourful’ a long time ago – and its equally joyless sister venue on St James’s Street: Club 69, later renamed L’Amour. By the early 1990s, the place had upgraded itself to Nero’s, more or less scraping the lower levels of basic acceptability in the process. It was succeeded by the altogether groovier Kitsch on Greyhound Street, which surfed the handbag house boom before coming to an ignominious end, thanks to Donal Macintyre’s televised exposé of the city’s drug trade. While it took months of patient undercover work to nail the Evil Mister Bigs of the day, all it took to land the hapless Kitsch in the doo-doo was for McIntyre to walk in, approach the front desk, and bellow his request. (“HELLO! CAN I BUY ANY DRUGS IN HERE, PLEASE?”)
In the wake of Kitsch’s demise, the Admiral Duncan on Lower Parliament Street enjoyed a riotous renaissance, just ahead of its rebirth as “stylish pre-club feeder bar” @d2. Sure, the Dunc was a skanky old cesspit – but it was our skanky old cesspit, and some of us became rather fond of lurching around to Insomnia in pools of spilt beer and broken glass on the tiny, ever-rammed dance floor. Sundays were particularly weird. At 10:15, the place would be virtually deserted. By 10:30, when that week’s stripper took to the floor, it would be jam-packed with folk who had “just popped in for a quick one”, none admitting their true motives (“I’ve not copped off all weekend and I’m gagging for a glimpse of cock”). By 11:00, the place would be empty all over again. Tsk – men, eh?
This plucky make-do-and-mend spirit served us well, but by the time that the 750-capacity NG1 club opened in 2000 – a symphony in clean surfaces and sleek modernism – grateful gays from all over the East Midlands flocked there in droves. Seven years on, the place is still going strong, despite the increasing threat posed by online hook-up sites such as Gaydar, and their brutally pragmatic ethos of “why go out when you can order in”.
(Indeed – and I shouldn’t really be telling you this, so not a word – NG1 is actually one of the best places in town for heterosexual males to cop off with the opposite sex. Like most decent gay clubs, it represents a safe haven for women who want a hassle-free night out – and while this is only right and proper, it also affords a certain window of opportunity to those with sufficient reserves of patience, subtlety and stealth. That’s all I’m saying. You didn’t hear it from me.)
Ironically, the other potential threat to the established scene is posed by the very social advances that we had been crying out for – as in these newly non-judgemental times, there is consequently less need for separate gay spaces. Gone are the days when we were an oppressed minority, huddling together for warmth. The only trouble is that some of us rather liked being part of a shadowy twilight subculture, and it’s tempting to feel that by emerging into the light, something has been lost along the way.
Then again, maybe our status as a gay-friendly city has less to do with the size of our commercial scene, and more to do with the strength of our community. By and large, we’re not overtly cliquey, bitchy or ridden with up-ourselves attitude, and our roost is not ruled by gaggles of vicious queens slagging off anyone with a slight paunch, a receding hairline, or sub-optimal pecs-n-abs. (“What’s she come as? Scar-eh!”)
Away from the scene, we flourish as a community. Special interest groups cover everything from badminton players to “bears”, from historians to hill-walkers, and from church-goers to SHAGGERS (that’s apparently the “Stately Homes Appreciation Group for Gay Enthusiasts in Rural Settings”, although one has one’s doubts). The long-running Breakout group provides an ideal starting place for newcomers and the newly “out”, and indeed for anyone who might baulk at the prospect of propping up the bar alone, straining to look “friendly and approachable” rather than nervous and desperate. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Situated inside the Health Shop on Broad Street, The GAi Project provides sexual health counselling, Hepatitis B jabs and anonymous HIV testing, as well as free condoms and lube. Our annual Pride festival remains truer to the event’s original spirit than most, displaying all the homespun charm of a mildly sexed-up village fete, complete with market stalls and bandstand. We even have our own ghettos: Forest Fields for the lady-lovers, and the Viccy Centre flats (aka “Fairy Towers”) for the metropolitan poof on a budget. Oh, and there’s also the Vic Centre Tesco Metro, whose immediate catchment area makes it Nottingham’s cruisiest supermarket…
But more than that, there’s an all-pervading and reassuring sense of relaxed openness about Nottingham’s gay life. We can nurse our pints of Flowers in the Lord Roberts (yes, there’s even a gay pub with decent beer), just a few doors down from raucous circuit bars such as Revolution, and not feel remotely threatened. And even if we did, we’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated police hotline for homophobic incidents (0800 085 8522), manned by specially trained staff. As we stroll through Hockley on a Saturday night, without a thought to editing our public conversations, the city centre’s reputation for violence and intimidation scarcely registers on our radar. Or maybe we’re just tougher little cookies than some might give us credit for.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Gay Up Me Duck.
Oh dearie dear. Although I have yet to track down a copy myself (they're being distributed rahnd tahn as I speak), I have been regretfully informed that, owing to a "design error", my debut article for LeftLion magazine has suffered somewhat in the "actually being able to read the text on the page" department.
(Or to put it more succinctly, it "has come out looking like a dog's arsehole".)
I particularly look forward to viewing the final paragraph, which has been partially obliterated by a cut-out of a Tom Robinson Band badge. My my, someone has been having fun!
Anyhow, the happy upshot of this bothersome situation is this: the full article has been made available, with immediate effect, on the LeftLion website.
I particularly like the illustration, which casts various Midlands Gay Icons (yer Pollard, yer Fash, yer Nolly G) trolling for trade outside the Vic Centre Tesco Metro ("Nottingham's cruisiest supermarket", as the article goes on to explain). JP and I both want it on a T-shirt, so we do.
Hope you like the piece, anyway. And for those of you too lazy to press your clicking fingers into action, I'll be re-posting the piece on TD in the fullness of time.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like there's nobody watching. And blog like you can't be arsed.
Oh, it's YOU. Hello, you!
It's been Can't Be Arsed Theme Week, here in Trodiland. Not so much at work (that's actually been quite fun this week, mainly because I have been assigned a task that people actually Care About, with a deadline that Actually Matters, with a difficulty level that's Stretching But Not Impossible), but my downtime has been just that for once. No commitments. No diary dates. No freelance assignments (ah, the good old Music Biz Summer Lull). And, what with K gadding about the US all week (contemporary art in the Catskill Mountains, TV interview in Pittsburgh, watching Little Feat in Missouri, the Richard Serra exhibition at MoMA in NYC), I've been all on my ownsome, and, well, lovehimtobitsandallthat, but it's been NICE. A rest is as good as a change.
Telly. Pooter. Doing some mix CDs for this weekend's Big Fat Civil Partnership Engagement Party in Clapham. Preparing mentally for predicted excesses of said forthcoming weekend. Recovering from predictable excesses of the last weekend, spent visiting Alan "Won A Blogging Award, Can No Longer Be Arsed" Reluctant-Nomad in Amsterdam.
Ey, it were great in Amsterdam. Bar crawling on the Friday, ending up down the Cockring, as you do. I've changed my mind about that place. Sure, you get a lot of drunk desperate people, stumbling around upstairs in the Last Chance Saloon - but down in the clubby bit in the basement, the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Stripped down funky tribal house, with warm, throbbing basslines and no cheesy breakdowns. Kinda womb-like. On an even level.
My New Best Friends were from Eindhoven and Leicestershire. Mr Eindhoven was all Boggle Eyed Thumbs Aloft Wa-hey, so I assumed heavy pill-age. Not so, not so. Somewhat unecessarily, Mr Leicestershire warned me about his rampant sluttishness. "That's cool!" I reassured him. "I am taking it for what it is!" I do so love flirting, when there's no question of a sticky follow-through. You know where you are. It's a kicky little ego-tickle, and sometimes that's all you need.
Over to my right, a blandly handsome and very drunk young man in a sewn-on singlet was not taking Alan's No for an answer. (It might have been a Maybe, until certain rather outré, not to say messy, sexual suggestions were hissed in his ear.)
Opting to beat the 5am rush, we stumbled home, Alan once again displaying a quite astonishing lack of direction. How many months has he been there now?
Saturday shopping was quite mass market, by my foofy standards. A short sleeved check shirt from Dockers, and a slight variation on the same theme from H&M. Hell, I know my range. People of a certain age do tend to restrict themselves to the outfits that they wore in their heyday, and I seem to be no exception. Gorgeous, gorgeous Diesel jeans, just the business for that night's Big Gay Circuit Party at the Odeon.
Dinner with my new desk neighbour E, also visiting for the weekend. She and I had hatched a plan to introduce our respective ex-pat Britgay friends, and it all seemed to work rather well. We were also joined at the dinner table by a couple of charming heterosexual pornographers, who run their own special-interest website (caveat clickor).
"And do you... sometimes... er, possibly... appear in front of the camera?", I asked the female half of the couple, a petite Thai lady, choosing my words carefully.
"Of course I do! Well, come on, look at these!"
Goodness, I had quite failed to spot the capacious boobage below. Quelle faux pas! She seemed almost affronted.
(Etiquette tip: when meeting lady pornographers, a suitable compliment upon "the rack" is considered de rigeur.)
(Remember when One Track outed me as a knocker clocker? Perhaps I've been trying a little too hard to mend my ways. You can't win, can you?)
The Big Gay Circuit Party was agreeable, if initially a little up its own arse. But then Amsterdam doesn't have any regular major gay dance clubs, so there was bound to be a certain over-awed sense of occasion. Things loosened up nicely, though, despite a dodgy "retro hour" of the sort of horrible late 1990s/early 2000s trance which sent me scuttling off to the sanctuary of rural Derbyshire in the first place. And we did like the go-go dancers, led as they were by a middle-aged, barrel-chested, overweight Grotesque, be-wigged and be-horned, who revelled in a kind of imperiously sinister auto-eroticism throughout. As if to say: I Am Your Future, Circuit Boys, and I Care Not One Flying F**k What You Think. A neat and necessary little subversion of the proceedings, so it was.
Our new ex-pat Britgay chum danced "ironically", on a raised step, going through every move in the handbook. He's big - nay, evangelical - on something called Neurobics, which involves stimulating the brain cells by peforming everyday tasks in unexpected ways. Getting dressed with your eyes shut, that kind of thing. We tried Neurobic dancing, me pump-it-pump-it-pumping with my left fist instead of my right. Hmm, still not convinced. Alan and I beat the 5am rush again, and got drenched to the skin for our trouble. Yes, they've got the rain over there as well.
Sunday was spent in Smart Café Recovery Mode, firstly with Caroline (celebrating an impending change of job), and secondly with Non-Workingmonkey, with whom I conducted the official Post Of The Week Exit Interview (N-WM was one of our regular judges for a while). N-WM has been flat-sitting for friends, in The Most Gorgeous Canalside Apartment That One Could Possibly Wish For. It's going up for sale soon, and Alan's looking to buy. Ooh, serendipity. Contact details were duly exchanged. I am going to be staying there next time. No, I think you'll find I am, actually.
It's Nottingham Pride tomorrow. There was a preview piece in t'local paper today, liberally furnished with quotes from myself, but it's not online and I didn't write it, so you'll have to manage without. (It was basically an edited remix of this old post, which basically says it all.) I won't be attending (Clapham, remember), but you should. It'll be fabulous! We've got Bananarama and everything!
Right, that's your hour's worth. Beer time. Also, Boots "Shapers" Salad Time. (I've been losing weight for the London boys, and dipped under 11 stone for the first time ever yesterday morning. Major milestone.) Is it Big Brother yet? Busy busy!
Friday, July 13, 2007
Armistead Maupin, Nottingham Waterstone’s, Tuesday July 10.
(This article originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.)
Nearly eighteen years after the publication of Sure Of You – the sixth and final instalment of Armistead Maupin’s celebrated Tales Of The City series, which detailed the lives and loves of a disparate and sometimes dissolute group of San Francisco residents – most of the main characters have been brought back to life in an unexpected yet welcome addition to the canon, entitled Michael Tolliver Lives.
Earlier in the week, and a full twenty years after his last visit, Armistead Maupin returned to Nottingham for a promotional appearance at Waterstone’s on Bridlesmith Gate. In front of a 150-strong audience of faithful devotees, he read from the new book, answered questions, and signed our hardback copies. “This is by far my favourite part of the job” reads the claim on his official website, and the 63-year old Maupin certainly seemed in relaxed good humour, radiating an easy, sincere charm which sat well against his ready wit and frequently hilarious anecdotes.
For the uninitiated, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver was one of the best-loved characters in the original Tales series: an essentially good-natured and well adjusted gay man, whose sexual adventurousness was tempered by a pronounced romantic streak. As the encroaching shadow of the 1980s AIDS epidemic began to fall over the carefree frolics that characterised the earlier novels, so Tolliver also suffered agonising loss, eventually being diagnosed HIV positive himself. For a whole generation of gay Americans, Tolliver was perhaps their closest approximation to an Everyman figure.
Now in his mid-fifties, and a long-term survivor of the disease, Michael has long since ceased to be staring imminent death in the face. For the first time, he is given the narrator’s role, telling us his story in his own words. As this story progresses, we gradually re-encounter many old friends, such as Michael’s former housemate Brian Hawkins and his former landlady Anna Madrigal. Characters whom we last saw as children are now fully grown adults, such as Brian’s daughter Shawna, a sex-blogger (“Grrrl On The Loose”) with a book deal, whose own frankness and sense of adventure makes even the formerly libidinous Michael – now ensconced in a blissful if not fully monogamous new relationship – squirm in embarrassment.
Maupin opened by commenting upon an Anglican bishop’s claim that our recent floods were “God’s wrath against us for being lenient towards homosexuals”, wryly noting that the torrential rain seemed to have followed him and his partner Christopher all round the country. “As the tour progressed, the rainier it got!” he chuckled, apparently ready to bear full responsibility.
Earlier in the day, he had paid a visit to York Minster, where his maternal grandmother (a resident of Derby) had given “dramatic recitations” in her youth. “I communed with her spirit”, he explained, adding that she had been a prime inspiration for the character of Anna Madrigal. “So I was going back to the source this morning.”
When asked whether more Tales-derived work might appear in the future, Maupin’s answer was optimistic, if tantalisingly inconclusive. “Maybe. I don’t want to be held to anything, but I’ve been plotting on the train. It just popped up all of a sudden, and I think it’s going to be off and running again. I hope so!”
Since it has been seven years since his last novel (The Night Listener), and a further eight years between that and its predecessor, perhaps it would be best not to get prematurely over-excited.
During these lengthy gaps, Maupin has worked on various dramatic spin-offs. A film adaptation of The Night Listener (starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette) was released last year, and the first three volumes of Tales Of The City (starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis) were serialised for television. Dukakis has stated that the transsexual landlady Anna Madrigal has been her favourite ever role, and the Oscar-nominated Linney has declared herself ready to resume work on Tales at any time.
“So I’ve been busy, but not that busy. I’m not pathological. I’m not Joyce Carol Oates, who writes her next novel in the back seat of the taxi when she’s on a book tour. I’m not anywhere near that kind of self-discipline.”
As for why he decided to write Michael Tolliver Lives in the first person: “I wanted to have the experience of crawling inside Michael. I wanted to tell the story of a middle-aged gay man living in San Francisco who had survived AIDS – who had been “out” to his parents for a long time, and yet they were still voting for politicians that demonise gay people. We’re still very polarised over there, and I thought I had a perfect vehicle to dramatise this. And also, about three years ago, I fell in love in a serious way. It put a whole new light on my life. I wanted to write about it, and to celebrate it.”
Michael Tolliver Lives is published in hardback by Doubleday, £17.99.
See also: Armistead Maupin's blog.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sunshine, balance, lurrve.
Sunday night, Derbyshire.
K, getting into bed: I don't think I like the tone of your latest Twitter.
Mike: What, because you were away for most of it? But darling, your return was the shattering climax to the whole weekend! The cherry on top of the cake!
K: God, you're good at thinking on your feet...
Mike: That's not fair! I thought it up five minutes ago, doing my teeth. I knew you'd sneak a peek on your way up...
Friday evening, Nottingham.
With K away at a Vet Fest in Brum, the city's nightlife is mine for the plucking. Why, I could go anywhere.
So, the Lord Roberts then.
I'm trying out my new(ish) vari-focal contact lenses again, for the first time in several weeks, because I'll be damned if anyone's going to see me in a gay pub on a Friday night with specs on. I don't like this slow drift towards becoming a full time specs wearer, even though these are the best pair of specs I've ever owned. Not that I have any aesthetic objection towards full-time specs wearers per se - reader, I married one - but unlike my fragrant Civil Partner, my specs are not a fundamental part of who I am. Quite the reverse, in fact. And in any case, I'd quite like to be in with a theoretical chance of being cruised. Even if only for a split second: ooh he's nice, whoops, bit older than I thought. Yes, that would do me for the evening. Simple needs. Unchained from that particular lunatic a good few years ago. (*)
Trouble is, these lenses have half-blinded me. The gas lamps in The Park were the trippiest; great whooshing coronas flickering all around, like rushing on a pill, sans the anxiety attacks. In the pub, I can barely see JP's mouth across the table. He's a fast talker, and I'm struggling with ambient noise, and my ears must be due a sluicing anyway. I didn't realise how much I'd been relying on lip-reading. Half-blind, half-deaf, and for all I know I could be the Hottest Stud in the pub, except how would I know a thing like that in my condition?
I settle for being the Enigmatic Stud in the corner who never returns glances.
Not that I'm in the right place for that kind of caper. As a gay venue, the Lord Roberts has possibly the most de-sexualised atmosphere of any bar I've ever visited, in over 25 years of Outness and Proudness (excepting maybe the Retro Bar in London). That's a large part of why I like it here. You can come down with your mates, get a decent pint of bitter (I know!), grab a table and settle down for an extended natter, and all without any of that ghastly business whereby everyone keeps glancing distractedly over your shoulder while you're talking to them. Soft lighting, comfy chairs, traditional theatre-pub decor, no belting club music, no selfish superficial arseholes... how many other British cities are blessed with a gay venue like this one? We take it for granted, but we're lucky to have it.
Friday night/Saturday morning, Nottingham.
(*) Believe that, and you'll believe anything. Dot. Dot. Dot.
Saturday afternoon, Derbyshire.
This is the first time I've ever taken a taxi from Derby station to the cottage, and on this hot, sunny, glorious day, I'm enjoying the raised view that the Hackney carriage seating affords, adding extra detail to the familiar journey. As the bulky vehicle pushes further into the countryside, leaving its familiar city-suburb-city routes ever further behind, and looking ever more incongruous with its surroundings, so my awareness of jumping between two worlds is similarly heightened.
Past Kedleston: hotel, golf club, National Trust hall, and that fine old red brick wall which even now refuses to yield what lies inside. Through the bland commuter village of Weston Underwood; through Mugginton - Lane End, with its perplexing, mildly irksome free-floating hyphen and its closed-for-refurb pub with the Oo-er Missus name; left at Hulland Ward, gateway to the Peak park; right towards the ersatz Countryside Leisure Experience that is the Carsington Water reservoir (a useful trap for the Derby day-trippers, plodding dutifully in their hundreds along its featureless banks); a wiggle and a twist, and aah, here's where we start, on the approach to Bradbourne, as the landscape closes in around us on the narrowing lane with its treacherous bends, and the green becomes greener, and the hills steeper, and the valleys deeper, and the blossom whiter, and the lambs friskier (mmm, locally sourced shanks from the White Peak butcher!), and here's the church where Alan Bates is buried, and it's not far to go now as the road descends and the home valley opens up ahead, offering the first faint glimpses of the village, and is the cab driver enjoying this as much as I am, thirty minutes outside the city, not a clue where he is, but what a perfect afternoon for a mystery tour, and here we are at last, thirty quid and five for your trouble, you're best off heading back towards the A515 and straight through Ashbourne, ah you know it from there do you, good stuff...
...and the garden looks a picture. Best year yet. We're beginning to know what we're doing at last, we started preparing in good time, and as it enters its fourth year, the planting is coming to maturity. The mulch is down; the roses are pruned, trained and sprayed; the bare patches on the corners of the lawns are filling in; the hardy geraniums are creeping through the circular grid supports; the smaller daffs are still in full bloom; the first of the tulips are popping out; the hot reds, dusty purples and dusky pinks dotted down one side are melding together and making sense; and for now, there's nothing to do except pull out a chair and relax, letting it all get on with the simple process of growing.
So glad I came. Even as recently as a year ago, I wouldn't have bothered, seizing my chance for two nights on the razz in preference to all of this wonder and delight. Our pride and our joy, truly.
Tune out, switch off, settle down.
I don't even bother rigging up the laptop.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Imminent ghettoisation alert.
After spending over five and a half years sitting at the same desk (no, let's not even think about it), I am shortly to be moved to a new location in the same office. Nearer the entrance, nearer the reception, nearer the kitchen. You know, nearer the action. Dead hip spot to be in, probably.
This is to allow all the people who work for one particular client to be grouped at the far (unhip) end of the office, so that the rest of us don't get to snoop at them when we walk past. It's a client confidentiality thing. We're thinking that maybe they could wear T-shirts with the client's logo on the front, to remind the rest of us to bow our heads when passing them. That way, we'd minimise the risk of instigating any potentially compromising form of social contact - which could only lead to troublesome questions like "How are you", "How's it going"... and, fatally, "So, how's work?"
Over in the Hip Zone, I'll be sitting at a bank of six desks. One desk will remain unallocated. Two others have been assigned to co-workers who are on permanent secondment in other cities. Another belongs to a colleague who is on maternity leave for the next few months. (She's just dropped. Congratulations, S!)
Which just leaves me and JP, The Pair Of Poofs, all alone in our own fabulous little ghetto. Talk about exclusive!
I'm seeing major accessorisation here. Kylie posters! A mirror ball! A dry ice machine! Multi-coloured rope lighting! A podium! A door-whore! ("Sorry love, but you just wouldn't Fit In.")
Ooh, ooh, and all the heterosexuals will have to run our Fashion Gauntlet, on the way to and from the kitchen.
"State of 'er!"
"Is she wearing that for a BET?"
"LOVE the hair, LOSE the belt."
F**k it. We've had nearly six years of assimilation. Time to unleash the stereotypes.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Three Twitters & three interviews.
Spotted on the side of a van: Fluid Transfer Solutions. It's hoses. They mean hoses. Hoses!
My Will Oldham interview for the Nottingham Evening Post has been made available online. Considering it was my first ever interview with anyone other than a job candidate, and considering Oldham's reputation as a reluctant and uncommunicative interviewee, and considering that the copy deadline made it impossible to flesh the piece out beyond a simple Q&A format, and considering that Sylvie Simmons from The Guardian beat me into print by a few hours with a clearly superior piece... then I thought I did quite well. Considering.
Have just read someone in the comments box of a US gay blog sniffily describing heterosexuality as "gender-discordant sex". Or is it merely another Fluid Transfer Solution?
(Just savour that word "discordant". It's almost as if the commenter was forced into being gay for aesthetic reasons... because man-bits and lady-bits, well, they clash, don't they?)
And for my next two Star Profiles, both scheduled for Wednesday, I shall be chewing the fat with Shayne Ward (from The X Factor), and Joan Baez (from the 1960s). If you have a question that you'd like me to put to Shayne or Joan, then do me a favour and leave it in the comments. (Saves valuable research time. Hooray for "user generated content".)
K says that for his next venture, he wants to start a vasectomy business.
He's callling it Snip and F*ck.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Amsterdam, Part 2.
(You might want to read Part 1 first.)
Saturday afternoon. After lunch, Alan and I wandered northwards to the temporarily relocated Stedelijk museum, now stuck out in a "post-industrial space" near the Central Station, and accessible via a series of wind-lashed pontoons. Regrettably, the museum's fine permanent collection of contemporary art was not on display. Instead, we had to make do with a load of half-baked, indifferently executed, wilfully obscure and largely clueless pile of ropey old conceptual-art-wank toss-bollocks. That most wretched and aesthetically bankrupt of genres, "video art", dominated much of the space - but it was surpassed in pointlessness by a vast installation of crudely scrawled "political" graffiti which would have shamed an SWP convention for the under-12s. However, the overall disappointment was at least redeemed by some stunningly powerful and disturbing photography, shot in South Africa and Israel, which landed some massive sucker-punches to popular perceptions of both nations.
Our cultural duties fulfilled, we rewarded ourselves with leisurely early evening drinks at the Queen's Head on Zeedijk, which connects the Central Station area with the Nieuwmarkt. The street is reassuringly chi-chi at the top end (K would have been in his element), before yielding to some funkier shops and bars, and a mini Chinatown. We liked the moderately chi-chi Queen's Head, which benefits from not being a "destination" gay venue, but more of a low-key regulars' haunt. It's the sort of place which you could visit regularly on your own with a newspaper or a book, slowly building your relationship with it.
Saturday night. Our half-hearted plans to pay brief lip-service to "coffee shop" culture ran swiftly aground, as 30 seconds inside the raucous Bulldog on Leidseplein were enough to signal that it wasn't our scene. On we trolled, to the campy bars around the Amstel, for a restorative contrast to Twinksville and the Dead Cow Zone.
Monmartre was quieter than we had led to expect - that mid-January effect again - but there was still enough residual jollity to spread around, and a much higher ratio of smiles to pouts than we had become used to.
Around the corner, the venerable Amstel Tavern instantly felt like home, with its traditional decor, its Delft mugs hanging from the ceiling, its welcoming bar staff and its camp-as-tits musical playlist. Disco-pop classics merged into singalong Dutch schlager (and boy, did people sing along), taking in a healthly dollop of Eurovision along the way (Teach-In's "Ding Dinge Dong" in its original Dutch version, woo-hoo, I have found my level at last!). Best bar yet.
Up the road and off to the west of Dam Square, it was nipple-to-nipple at Prik, the city's newest gay venue, which was celebrating its six month anniversary with half price drinks all night. A solid and seemingly impenetrable wall of flesh had to be squeezed through in order to get much more than two feet inside the doors - but we are nothing if not persistent, and minor irritations like having half a glass of lager sloshed down my cleavage weren't going to hold us back. Prik is the nearest thing that Amsterdam has to a lively and pumping Soho venue such as Bar Code, with a more cosmopolitan and recognisably Urban Gay Scene crowd to match. It is, without a doubt, the biggest Destination Venue of them all right now.
Wedged into the back bar, Alan and I spent the next couple of hours benignly observing the bobbing throng, as they jiggled their bits to an eclectic mix of classic and cheesy hits: Blondie, The Cure, Kylie, New Order, and MC Miker G & and DJ Sven's lost classic "Holiday Rap". A clump of drunken Irishmen handed out glowsticks, before brandishing inflatable guitars and roaring along to "Copacabana". Oh, it was a scene and a half.
On the way out, I remarked to Alan: You know, that would have been most people's idea of sheer bloody Hell, and I can't even explain why I enjoyed it. I mean, all we did was stand there with drinks in our hands while getting pushed and shoved by a crowd of total strangers - and yet it was great. What's that all about?
The night ended back in - oh look, shall I just spell it out this time - COCKRING. There, I've said it. Cockring. We went to a club called Cockring. Is everybody here OK with that? More of the same, only for longer. Heaps of fun. But let's not dwell, eh?
(I'll wrap this up tomorrow.)
Monday, January 15, 2007
Oh darlings, Amsterdam has pooped me good and proper.
Try as I might to deny that I'm getting a little too old for Good Old Fashioned Big Gay Weekends, every nerve and synapse is currently telling me otherwise. Pack it in, Grandad, they screech, woundingly.
But I still have my drives and my juices, I protest, unconvincingly. And anyway, look at Alan. He's got a couple more miles on the clock than me, and he can still do it.
Yes, but even Alan knows when to call it a night. Remind us, what time did you leave the club on Sunday morning? 5am, wasn't it? So what was that all about?
Oh, but I'm incorrigible. It's that blasted Second Wind, coupled with the feeling that since I don't get out much any more, I should try and squeeze every last drop of experience from the situation. And now, as Michael "Mouse" Tolliver once memorably said in Tales Of The City, I am all Gayed Out. Don't want to get within sniffing distance of those awful places - at least not until the next time that our newly depleted gang congregates in the Lord Roberts for one of our midweek sessions.
Here's where we went.
Friday night. We commenced our tour of inspection on Reguliersdwarsstraat: the spiritual home of Amsterdam's twink brigade. Think Kouros, think CK1, think... well, what is the fragrance of choice for the C21st twink, anyway? I am out of touch with such matters.
The Soho bar was all faux-antiquity and "repro" stylings, with all the charm and individuality of a Wetherspoons or an All Bar One. Their attempt at cosiness was fatally sabotaged by the deafening soundtrack: a numbing parade of late 1980s and early 1990s commercial dance music, which set the musical tone for most of the weekend. Those Dutch queens sure do be loving their Crystal Waters, their Rozalla, their early-period Whitney 'n Mariah.
The April bar has expanded since my last visit, and is now dominated by three vast circular bars, with seating around each circumference. This doesn't work too well, as the arrangement puts too much distance between each punter, and the in-between areas feel like wasted space. Consequently, the ambience felt a little too stark, remote, impersonal.
Over the road, the newish Arc bar was packing them in. It is clearly one of the major Destination Venues, attracting an arrestingly high number of stylishly turned out beauties. We stood, we gawped, we paid all due deference.
A couple of doors down, Exit is one of the city's only two gay dance clubs. It hasn't changed at all in the 17 years since my first visit - but on a Friday night in the middle of January, numbers were somewhat thin on the ground. We hung out in the bar at the top of the main stairs, waiting for the late surge - but when none materialised, we moved on, leaving the antiseptic comforts of Twinksville behind for the sleazy raunch of Warmoestraat.
Most of the Warmoestraat bars are destined forever to be closed doors to me, catering as they do for the Dead Cow brigade. I don't have the outfits, and would hate for my Paul Smith stripes to cause an outbreak of mass detumescence. However, the city's second gay dance club is situated halfway up the street, and despite its somewhat alarming name (which modesty precludes me from spelling out), its relaxed door policy welcomes all comers (ahum) to the party. Dance floor in the basement (pretty decent dubby funky house), bar in the middle, and yup-you've-guessed-it on the top floor. Despite the undeniable sexual crackle in the air, we found this to be the most relaxed and unpretentious venue of the night.
Saturday daytime. Alan and I hooked up with Caroline for coffee in the Nieuwmarkt district, followed by a long, lazily paced and delicious lunch at a nearby Chinese/Japanese restaurant. (Bubble tea, that's a new one on me. I particularly liked the tight little
To be concluded on the morrow. In the meantime, take a look at Alan's account of the weekend.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Do ya think I'm sexy?
Mike answers: Do I think I'm sexy? Hmm, tricky. I have occasionally had the s-word said to me - but usually to fairly specific ends, and at a time and a place when certain people (and why am I even being gender/orientation non-specific about this, I mean GAY MEN of course) will say most anything to achieve those ends. So we can count them out for starters. The mercenary little scallywags.
There again, there was that one time in Finland, in the summer of 1994, when that awfully good-looking chap picked me up at a gay disco on a boat, and whisked me away to a wooden cabin on the edge of a pine forest, way out of town - and as we tumbled amongst the freshly-laundered linen while the soft magenta fingers of dawn stole through the shutters, he leant his face close into mine and, with that same disarming, shining-eyed, sincerity that had so won me over, breathed these words:
"But you're not sexy."
A harsh judgement, but then I'm not sure that I've ever really pulled off Sexy to any great effect. The sexy people - the truly sexy people - are the ones who are comfortable within their own skins, with an understated yet unmistakable confidence which allows them to forget about themselves and to concentrate on you. Well, that was never me. Back in my glory days - those ten years or so when my physical attributes were at their peak (and I'll admit to not being at the back of the queue looks-wise, which must have helped) - my strongest suits were flirting, and teasing, and exuding a sense of fun that could sometimes rub off on others. But these were milder, lighter, more diversionary powers, fit only for their limited and transitory purpose. Under the right sort of lighting, and in the right sort of outfits, and provided that it's-ten-to-two-you'll-do desperation hadn't set in, I could generally approximate a certain template of urban gay male foxiness. But true sexiness required a cooler eye and a steadier hand - and I knew the limits of my range, my scope and my aspirations. Flirting, teasing and mucking around suited me just fine.
As for these days - these days when I don't even bother putting lenses in for an evening out, and when I'd rather be chatting in the corner than making an exhibition of myself on raised surfaces - sexiness barely enters into it. As Molly Parkin once put it, the post-sexy experience feels rather like being unchained from a lunatic - and I don't miss that needy old tart one little bit.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
You Couldn't Make It Up Department, part 94.
BREAKING NEWS: A devil food is turning our kids into homosexuals.
"The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore."
There's a quip to be made here about "bean munching", but I'm in no fit state to make it right now - especially not after the VILE SLUR that the writer casts upon the relative size of gay willies. Talk about hitting below the belt...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Open Mike #6 - Question 2.
Milady de Winter asks:
Mike, as a gay man well versed in the modern world and this being World AIDS Day and all: what is your opinion on the archaic and, in my opinion, homophobic rule regarding gay men and giving blood? I've been on my soap box about this all day at work as the blood doners are coming round and I'm boycotting them.
Oh, lawks. This was supposed to be a bit of light-hearted fluff for a Friday - and now here I am, mentally knackered at the end of a rather trying Tuesday on the mainframe, and faced with the prospect of knocking out another extended essay on a Major Issue. You've got me confused with a Deep and Knowledgable Authority Figure Slash Spokesman For His Community, with carefully evaluated opinions on stuff that actually, you know, matters! Hay-ulp!
Although I have always rather shied away from making AIDS-related posts on December 1st (a.k.a. World AIDS Day), this doesn't mean to say that the day ever passes unremembered. Far from it. However - and perhaps this is surprising for someone of my generation, who came of Gay Age in 1982 - my direct personal experiences with the full-blown illness have been few and far between - and for the most part, they have occurred at one remove. I have never lost a friend to AIDS, and I have never been to the funeral of someone with AIDS. There have just been the occasional slight acquaintances, and friends of friends - and, OK, there was that one guy I slept with after a New Year's Eve party in the early 1990s, but we only ever met the once, and... you know how it goes, right?
Naturally, I have known (and indeed had sex with) a few HIV+ people over the years - and obviously many more whose positive status has never been made known to me - but (and how can I best put this?) their status has only ever hovered in the background between us: as an abstract piece of information, rather than as a tangible reality which has ever required a more direct personal engagement.
I have always, always practised safer sex, and have never been tempted to lapse. Not that this has been too difficult, given my historic lack of enthusiasm - in either role - for that particular act which is so often held to be virtually synonymous with gay male sexuality.
(In fact, that handy little phrase "Sorry, I don't have any condoms" has saved me from several potentially awkward situations over the years - and so, if anything, the global tragedy has worked very slightly in my favour. Talk about Survivor's Guilt.)
And so, as a mere remote observer, I have never quite liked to claim the disease for my own by dredging up some tangential reminiscences, seasoning them with a few well-meant homilies, offering them up on this site, and standing by for compliments in the comments box. It would feel a little stretched, a little forced - and even slightly exploitative. Such matters are best left to those with stories which are truly worth telling, and memories which should never be forgotten.
However, I do have a vivid memory of the screening interview which I attended about six years ago, at my previous place of employment, with the intention of donating my blood - and of the awkward surprise and embarrassment on the face of the rather ill-briefed young nurse, as she falteringly tried to explain why my blood could not be accepted. And yes, I remember feeling a sharp pang of wounded embarrassment of my own. After all, I prided myself on being clued up in such matters. So how could I not have known that all gay men - or indeed any men who had ever had even one same-sex experience, of any nature, no matter how long ago - were still being barred from donating blood, even though all donations were now being screened for possible infection?
Did I feel unfairly discriminated against? Hell, yeah. Any straight person who had ever had unprotected sex could donate, whereas Lil' Ol' Goody Two-Shoes Me couldn't. Where was the fairness in that?
Was it - indeed, is it still - evidence of institutionalised homophobia? In the light of all the recent legislative changes in this country, it is a viewpoint which has progressively become more and more untenable. Not so much homophobic, as hyper-cautious - maybe excessively cautious.
But is this caution truly excessive? Reading the explanatory document "Why we ask gay men not to give blood", as produced by the UK Blood Transfusion Service, I cannot help but feel that their case is, by and large, a sound one. Yes, all donated blood is screened - but this is not a perfect process, and infected blood can still slip through the net. It's a tiny risk, but a real one - and so, arguably, any measures which can significantly reduce that risk should be followed, regardless of the feelings of unjustified exclusion which they might cause. After all, what's more important here: sparing hurt feelings, or saving lives?
Of course, I could always choose to treat this exclusion as evidence of my continued status as a member of an Oppressed Minority - but in this case, I have actively chosen not to do this. In my experience - and counter-assimilationists amongst My People may commence hissing here - the less that we gay men consider ourselves to be marginalised victims, and the more that our social interactions spring from the assumption that we are already fully integrated and equal members of society, then the less that straight society will marginalise and victimise us.
I might be missing some important facts here, and my lurking inner Peter Tatchell would actually quite like to be proved wrong - so, if you know of any compelling counter-arguments which I might have missed, then (ahum) please deposit them in my box. (Now, that's an invitation you won't ever hear me issue lightly.)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Things I have done in the last week-and-a-bit. (2)
I do make a rod for my own back sometimes. This post has been hanging over me like an overdue homework assignment, and I'm rapidly approaching the Can't Be Arsed stage with it. So here goes - but quickly now - and then we can all move on with our lives.
5. Went to Duckie.
Immediately upon arriving at my friends' house in Clapham - three and a half pints down, and beginning to wilt - I was informed that I was going to Duckie, and that I had better get a move on, as they were already waiting for me at Kazbar. Having successfully negotiated a brief top-changing window (nice smart Paul Smith stripey shirt OFF; interesting glow-in-the-dark Camembert Electrique T-shirt ON - it's the only vaguely "rock and roll" garment I possess, providing you don't peer too closely at the hippy-dippy graphic), I was summarily bundled back out onto the street, with barely even time to snatch a burger. Still, being told I'd been guest-listed put a spring in my step.
"Guest listed for Duckie!", I texted to K, with the customary glee which I reserve for such nano-triumphs. Duckie is the only gay club EVER, in nearly a quarter of a century of being made to suffer them, which K has genuinely enjoyed. (There had to be somewhere.) That's probably because a) they don't play "dance" music, b) nobody's cruising (at least not so as you'd notice), so there's none of that brittle, competitive sexual tension, c) tops are kept firmly ON, d) it's relaxed, friendly and mostly 30+ (at least), e) there are no vicious, self-adoring, sociopathic disco bunnies bouncing around on f**king E. I wish we could go more often.
As we walked in, the Readers Wifes were playing my second favourite single of the year so far: Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks". GOOD sign.
In the middle of what passes for the dancefloor, Amy Lamé was making popcorn from a little machine that she picked up from Argos during the week, and was handing it out in plastic bowls. ("Why am I doing it? Because we've been running this club for eleven f**king years and I've run out of ideas, OKAY?")
Cabaret Act #1 performed a routine that was vaguely based around The Phantom of the Opera. Gothic burlesque, you could have called it. A bunch of red roses was seized; the petals were bitten off, chewed up and spat out over our eagerly upturned faces; and the remaining stems were contemptuously tossed away, most of them landing smack in my face. (The honour!) Upper clothing was removed, leaving a pair of red love hearts, one covering each bosom. A large crimson candle was brandished and dangled above the performer's bare midriff, so that a third love heart could be etched upon her skin with the molten wax. Ooh! Aah! Hey, that's actually quite pretty!
Next, a tourniquet was applied to the performer's upper arm, a syringe inserted, and a blood sample extracted. (I couldn't look. I've got a thing about needles). The blood was then squirted into a half-full wine glass, stirred, and greedily gulped down. Erk! Eek! But hold up, we're not done yet!
Lower clothing (such as it was) was removed, revealing - you guessed it - a fourth love heart, protecting what little remained of the performer's modesty.
It was at this point that we noticed the string.
As the soundtrack changed to "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend", and even before a collective "Uh-oh!" could be muttered, the performer grabbed the string and yanked it downwards - extracting a length of large, threaded beads from her hoo-hah as she did so.
It swiftly occurred to me that this was only the second time in my life that I had been presented with a lady's hoo-hah at such close quarters - and that the first time had also been at a Duckie event, when Ursula Martinez had extracted a string of brightly coloured handkerchiefs from her "special place". Really, the place is an education.
Cabaret Act #2, a slender, bare-chested androgyne of indeterminate ethnicity (if pressed, I'd plump for Flipino), who had previously performed at Caesar's Palace and the Brixton Academy, proceeded to thrill us all with the most remarkable display of hula-hoop-manship that any of us are ever likely to see. To the strains of CCS's cover of "Whole Lotta Love" (used as the theme tune for Top of the Pops for most of the 1970s), he/she worked that hoop like a whirling dervish, spinning it from every limb, and at every angle, at dazzling speed - and somehow managing to avoid hitting the ceiling, the walls, and indeed us (it was a very small stage, and a very large hula hoop). Ooh, we went mental - all lingering memories of vaginal bead extraction banished, as we cheered him/her to the rafters.
The music was - as ever - eclectic, seemingly random, but never obscure (I recognised everything they played, even that "modern" one by The Fratellis) , and always perfectly chosen. Forget the Guilty Pleasures aesthetic; although many of the choices would have overlapped, their context was quite different. For the final run, we gave it up to: "Living Thing" (ELO), "Cannonball" (The Breeders), "Justified and Ancient" (The KLF with Tammy Wynette), "Teenage Kicks" (The Undertones) and "Get Down" (Gilbert O'Sullivan). As I say: perfect.
The day's total damage: seven pints of lager and one can of Red Bull - but spread out over eleven hours, allowing plenty of time for absorption and processing. At forty-four, I don't do shit-faced. So unbecoming in the slightly older gentleman.
Ah, London. You never let me down!