Vaingloriousness-burying placeholder post.

Hmm. It has been a busy week, but it hasn’t been the sort of week that has inspired much in the way of bloggable thoughts. Nevertheless, since I’m sick of the sight of that vainglorious ONE MILLION PAGE VIEWS! post perching at the top of the page, I’ve been feel an increasingly burning urge to bury it with something, however content-free.

So what’s been on my mind these past few days?

Lots of music-related stuff, for starters. I’ve been taking on work for t’local paper to the point where I’m in danger of over-committing, but it’s all been good fun so far. Interviews are imminent with Duke Special and CSS, and I should have a couple of pieces in Friday’s entertainment supplement.

I’m also hoping to squeeze in some time to pen a few reviews for the Stylus Jukebox, which has recently re-launched itself in a blog format, updated daily. Under the new regime, contributors won’t be lumbered with vast numbers of singles to review in one fell swoop, which means that weekends are no longer in danger of sinking under the pressure of deadlines.

And then there’s the Nottingham kitchen project, which lumbers on into its second week, coating all of our surfaces in a light film of dust. But we’re nearly there now, and it will be good to have the additional floor space.

Meanwhile, over at the cottage, we’ve been doing up the “snug” area which leads off the kitchen, and which we had never got looking quite right. Thanks to a generous cash donation from my aunt and uncle on the occasion of their golden wedding, which came with specific instructions to spend it on something lasting and beautiful, we’ve purchased an old wooden sideboard (or “server”, to give it the correct technical term), and an old Windsor chair, and a weathered leather chest which is being put to use as a table. (Hand-made by the man who makes similar pieces for Ralph Lauren at vastly inflated prices, but ours was sensibly priced.)

We’ve been benefitting from a renewed spate of hospitality in the village, and have strengthened some friendships in the process, widening our social circle beyond the usual suspects.

The dressage-to-music sound collage is slowly assembling itself, and I shall look forward to seeing it being put to practical use during the spring.

Oh, and I’ve re-instated the “We Listen” chart on the sidebar, temporarily retiring the “Recently Spotted” section in the process (we have Post of the Week for that sort of thing now), and have made the long-dreaded switch to New Blogger, which turned out to be mostly painless. Gotta love those labels! I could become obsessed.

And now it’s time to head off to Saltwater, to celebrate MissMish‘s birthday.

This has been my week thus far.

Spot the million, and WIN A MUG!

It is 11:10 on Sunday morning, and my stats counter is currently showing 999,804 page views. This means that Troubled Diva will be passing the one million mark later today.

To mark this intensely ego-gratifying occasion, I’m going to run a quick little competition.

The first person to e-mail me with a screenshot of this page, showing a Total Page View count of 1,000,000, will win – what else? – a Troubled Diva mug, in any one of the three popular designs: Classic, Novelty or Personality.

On your marks… get set… CLICK.

Update: We have a winner. Congratulations to Lindsay, who grabbed a screenshot of the millionth page view at 13:42.


Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. Nottingham Trent University, January 26.

An edited version of this review first appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.

gcwcfOn his first visit to Nottingham two years ago, Sam Duckworth played to a scattering of sweaty punters upstairs at the Old Angel. Last night, performing as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. (no, me neither) to a capacity crowd, he faced his largest headline audience to date. Not bad going for a 20 year old whose debut album briefly grazed the lower end of the charts last autumn.

Although barely registering on the radar of anyone over 25, Duckworth’s student-based audience displayed a hearty familiarity with his lyrics, which reflect the concerns of his generation in a way that is almost without precedent in today’s decidedly smug musical climate. (*) Unashamedly political and idealistic, his songwriting and performance style hark back to the traditions of the protest singer – but with a contemporary sound that mixes acoustic and electronic elements in a fresh, invigorating way.

At the back of the stage, each intricate, skittering backing track was synchronised to video footage, and fleshed out by a two-piece brass section and an outstanding drummer. Up front, a wide-featured, chubby-cheeked Duckworth (**) proved to be an able, articulate performer, radiating an understated yet unmistakable charisma.

Between numbers, we were variously urged to buy from fair trade suppliers, to campaign against racism, to boycott unauthorised merchandise sellers (***), and to shun the dubious and exploitative agendas of reality TV.

Give Duckworth an early evening slot at Glastonbury (****), and there’ll be no stopping him. Just you wait and see.

(*) Flippant example, enthusiastically roared back at him by the studey throng: “You don’t need a degree, to deconstruct this melody.” That’s the undergraduate market sewn up, then…

(**) Anyone remember Danny from Supergrass? He looked like Danny from Supergrass. In the old days. But without the mutton-chop sideburns.

(***) Successfully, as it turned out – particularly since the Capester explicitly linked the sale of unauthorised merchandise with cheap labour and funding for the drugs trade. He even offered a part exchange with his official merchandise, for anyone who had already made a purchase. As we left the venue, not one single person so much as stopped and looked at the dubiously sourced tat on offer. Consumer power in action! I’ll bet the street price of smack-n-crack has, erm, shot up. Hell, they’ll have to recoup their costs somehow.

(****) Much like David Gray in 2000, but this time with a point and a purpose. Imagine that!

DANGER, CLIQUINESS ALERT: It’s the obligatory annual “Hurrah for my mates at the Bloggies” post.

Yes, it’s Bloggies finalists time!

No, of course I wasn’t. Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit here snivelling for a while, with only my nearly one million page views for comfort. No need to, you know, leave me a comment or anything. Why break the habit of a lifetime?

(Look, I’ve been going five and a half chuffing years. My Gloria Swanson phase is long overdue.)

Anyhow. It’s double congratulations to Tokyo Girl Down Under, who achieves the unique distinction of qualifying for the “Best Australian/New Zealand” and the “Best Asian” categories. Now, that’s what I call globe-straddling.

Over in the “Best African or Middle Eastern” category, I am pleased to see the delightful My Marrakesh – a blog which I only discovered yesterday, via my, erm, comments box. (Shut. Up.)

In “Best European”, it comes as no great surprise to see My Significant Other Is A Silly Sausage popping up for the 50th year running. Oh, the ennui. As Annie Lennox was to the Brits, so Zoe Twat is to the Bloggies. Wouldn’t be the same without, etc etc.

Ah, but look at this! What a turn-up! Joining last year’s winner Girly One Track in the “Best British/Irish” category, what do we find but that inseparable pair of subversive scallywags: Andre of A Beautiful Revolution (“Woe Is Me, I Am All Alone, Like An Empty Drinks Can Tossed Into The Gutter, Now I Know How Joan Of Arc Felt, That Will Be 73 Comments Please Thank You Oh When Will This Misery End“), and Unreliable Witness of An Unreliable Witness (“Oh How I Loathe And Despise The Very Concept Of So-Called Blogging Awards Continued Page 94 Everybody Please Nominate Me Thank You.“) The game’s up, boys!

Pausing only to cup our hands to our mouths at the stultifying predictability of the “Best American” section, to wonder how the hell Pitchfork qualifies as a weblog in any meaningful sense of the word, and to sigh with dismay at what the “Best GLBT” category tells us about the state of the Queer Nation in 2007 (I’ll leave Joe. My. God. to go into more detail on that one)…

…we skip merrily on to “Best Writing”, where we find the awfully well-written Pandemian (I knew her when she was a Green Fairy) jostling for position with the splendid (even though I haven’t read it in yonks, mea culpa) Waiter Rant.

And finally, making his second consecutive appearance in “Lifetime Achievement”, we have darling Peter from Naked Blog, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dooce, Fark, Slashdot and Wil Wheaton. Life begins at sixty!

If you feel the need to offer your condolences in the face of the scandalous snub that has been meted out to Troubled Diva (nearly one million page views and counting!), then my box is always open.

(In our business, we call this “drumming up trade”.)

Update: Er, wow. I’ve just had it confirmed (Twitter private messaging, I salute you) that TD did in fact make the long-list for “Lifetime Achievement”. That’s totally awesome, and as much as I could possibly wish for, and greatly appreciated. Many thanks to everyone who took the trouble to vote.

Things that I am enjoying more than blogging.

1. Writing lengthy e-mails defending the manifold virtues of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long (All Night), (my second favourite single of all time), with particular reference to West Berlin in late 1983. I am enjoying this more than blogging, becuase I can be as detailed and rambling as I damn well please, without worrying whether my words are “good enough”, or of sufficiently general interest, for Troubled Diva.

Here’s the bulk of it, slightly re-jigged. Engage at your peril.

…when it came out, I was living outside the UK for the first time, and was immediately struck by the sheer internationalism of West Berlin, with its three occupying armies (UK, US, France), its foreign students (at the Freie Universität where I was “studying”, yeah right), and its sense that just about everyone was a temporarily nesting visitor from somewhere else.

My radio dial constantly flicked between the German language Berlin stations, AFN, BFBS and the BBC World Service, all broadcasting on FM. I was following the UK Top 40 (Paul Burnett on the World Service, who was to sniffily say when excluding Relax: “We really don’t think it’s suitable” – exact quote!), the US Top 40 (Casey Kasem in full stats-geek flow on Sunday afternoons), the German Top 75 (Laidback, Trans-X, Boytronic, Nena, a bunch of cod-sci-fi jokers called Deutsch-Österreiche Feingefühl (!) at #1, the final sputterings of Neue Deutsche Welle), the Billboard soul chart (which had its own show on AFN), the Billboard dance chart (detailed rundowns on an incredible Berlin dance show on Saturday nights called Studio 89 – there’s a tribute website to this day – electro megamixes direct from NYC radio, Double Dee & Steinski’s Payoff Mix, the works)… and then there was Pop Over Europe on BFBS, which tracked the Top 10s in half a dozen other European countries, most of whom seemed to be buying Gazebo’s I Like Chopin in vast quantities…

…and, for a couple of months that Autumn, All Night Long (All Night) was everywhere, riding high on all of the above charts and radio shows, blaring out of every shop and café down the Ku-Damm, shunned only by the regulation-black hipster bars in Kreuzberg. You got the clear sense that this was a truly international hit – that moment of total shared access, as someone once put it – and as a piece of musical internationalism, it worked superbly well.

I don’t hear a “watered down” version of anybody – I hear a blended fusion of varying styles, all mushed together into a beige (pace Julie Burchill) soul-pop stew, served with the kind of lavish mega-production that had worked so well on Thriller. I love the teasing dynamic, building up and exploding into joy with those glorious, exultant brass runs and stabs towards the end. It feels like a travelogue. It feels like the whole planet is either partaking in its construction, or getting on down to it, from America to Africa to Asia, one nation under a groove, a glimpse of Utopia.

But, yeah, naff old Lionel Richie with his jacket sleeves rolled up, darling of the suburban barbecue set… If I’d been elsewhere, then maybe I’d have responded differently, but you can’t divorce pop from its subjective associations, and mine were wonderful ones.

2. Getting back in the gig-reviewing saddle. I am enjoying this more than blogging because the sheer urgency of the task precludes any dithering, and because the exercise forces me to be economic with language, and because I am forced to abandon the first person… because, hey, it’s not all about ME for once.

Since it hasn’t gone up on their website, and because I like to park these things for posterity, here’s the review which ended up in yesterday’s Nottingham Evening Post. (And yes, now I know that “Love Hurts” didn’t originate with Gram Parsons, but I didn’t know it then.)

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Rock City, Tuesday January 23.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, aka Will Oldham, is an infrequent visitor to these shores. Indeed, this is only his third UK tour in eleven years. Although some later dates will be performed solo, we were treated to a full backing band, who fleshed out Oldham’s sparse and mournful alt-country stylings with a surprisingly muscular, rock-based sound.

Oldham cut an arrestingly singular figure, with a demeanour that combined the whiskered wooliness of Bob Harris, the brooding solemnity of Clement Freud, and the gangling eccentricity of a Victorian gentleman explorer – all topped by an immense, protruding forehead that looked ready to explode from the rest of him.

Opening with a sprightly cover of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again, Oldham turned in an epic two-hour set, peaking at around the 40 minute mark with a spellbinding rendition of John Martyn’s John The Baptist. At this point, it seemed he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, the momentum proved impossible to sustain – particularly when support singer Dawn McCarthy joined him to perform some awkward, ragged duets from his most recent album.

For the encore, the rapidly tiring audience were rewarded with a stunningly intense New Partner and a good-natured lurch though Gram Parsons’ Love Hurts.

3. Interviewing THE STARS!!! for the self-same organ; an experience which might well have peaked yesterday with the double whammy of Shayne Ward and Joan Baez. God, but the temptation to swap their questions was almost irresistable.

“So, Shayne Ward: is there room in 2007 for a civil rights movement?”

“So, Joan Baez: can we expect to hear more of a Justin Timberlake influence in your new material?”

As a comparative study between Ancien Régime and Tin Pan Alley Nouveau, you couldn’t have hoped for two more starkly contrasting examples. While Shayne Ward – affable if a tad over-defensive, and clearly media-trained to within an inch of his life – parrotted the sort of stock answers which I could have written myself, Joan Baez – bright, articulate, thoughtful, committed, occasionally funny and entirely her own woman – gave a dream of an interview, which left me in a state of dazed euphoria for most of the rest of the evening. I’d say “living goddess” – but you know how we queens can over-pedestalise our divas.

I am enjoying this more than blogging because it’s a new challenge, forcing me to acquire new skills and learn on the job – and because, at heart, I’m such an easily impressed little star-f**ker. Hey, know thyself.

(And speaking of self-knowledge: I’ve never heard myself “in conversation” before, and it’s proving painful to listen. Christ, do I always sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android?)

4. Keeping a close paternal eye on Post of the Week. I am enjoying this more than blogging because, once again, it’s not all about me me me. And because I find that I have enjoyed the experience of micro-managing a new creative project. And because it’s fun to collaborate; something which I don’t often get the chance to do, in either my professional or in my blogging lives. And because I’m delighted that the sometimes complex design concepts behind POTW have been represented in such a deceptively simple way. And because I genuinely think this has the potential to contribute something useful and worthwhile.

5. Keeping a close paternal eye on my referral stats, as Troubled Diva rapidly approaches its one millionth page view, probably at some time over the weekend. I am enjoying this more than blogging because, somehow, stats speak to me in a way that words never can (and let’s face it: compared with the arid deserts that many of my comments boxes have become, stats are sometimes all I have). One million! What a beautiful number that is!

Post of the Week is ready, and open, and waiting for YOU.


1. To highlight great writing on personal blogs.

2. To draw attention to blogs that you might not have heard of before.

3. To point you to one absolute guaranteed humdinger of a blog post, once a week, every week.

Finally, and almost a year after the idea was first mooted, Post of the Week is ready for public display. I bet you never thought you’d live to see the day, did you?

Absolutely everyone everywhere is heartily recommended to do any or all of the following:

1. Nominate cracking good blog posts for inclusion, via the comments box in the “Call for nominations” section.

2. Volunteer their services as a guest judge, for one weekend only.

3. Publicise the site on their own blogs. Pimp it, kids. Pimp it HARD.




Boundless thanks to Gordon, Lionel, Lyle, Nick and patita for all their efforts behind the scenes, and congratulations to The Overnight Editor for writing this week’s inaugural featured post.

This is all very exciting. Good luck, Post of the Week! May you live long and prosper!

Nottingham Blogmeet, Saturday March 10th.

(This is a cross-post with Rullsenberg Rules.)

It’s time, don’t you think? Since Nottingham is so centrally located – 1:40 by train from London, 1:16 from Birmingham, 2:25 from Manchester – and since we’ve never yet hosted a public blogmeet, and since Lisa Rullsenberg and I have been infected with a sudden dose of The Keens…

…and since, as we all know, the Best Fun is Organised Fun…

…well then, here goes.

The date: Saturday March 10th 2007.

The time: From around 2pm until mid-evening. Come when you like, leave when you like, stay for as long or as little as you like.

The venue: The ground floor café/bar of Broadway Cinema on Broad Street, in central Nottingham. 10 minutes by foot from the train station, or a short tram or taxi ride.

Here’s a map (PDF format).

Licensed bar, hot and cold food available throughout the day, open plan, large tables, pleasant buzz, appropriate arts/media milieu. Because we do like a good milieu. No smoking, but it’s only a quick hop outside for a crafty chuff.

The vibe: Friendly, welcoming and resolutely non-cliquey. Hell, Lisa and I have never even met; how could we be cliquey?

The door policy: All are welcome – from the Nottingham area, or from any other part of the UK. Or, indeed, The World.

Hope you can make it. See you there. I’ll be the one in the nice smart shirt, trying to (*cough*) maintain level eye contact.

Oh, for goodness’ sake: let’s get Amsterdam Part 3 out of the way, and then we can all move on with our lives.

Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. This will be somewhat shorter.

Long post-Cockring lie-in.
Aching bod, thick head, brave face.
Out for pad thai, in an almost deserted wok bar.

Not at my chattiest. Thankfully, Alan and I have known each other long enough to be comfortable with companionable silences.

Quick peek at the flower market; obviously not at its most colourful, although some of the stalls had still managed to rustle up some tulips from somewhere. How does that work?

Shortcut through the chi-chi fine art galleries, and on to the Rijksmuseum; currently undergoing renovation, but with a condensed “greatest hits” show on display round the back. This worked in our favour, as there was just enough to see without having to skip anything. Besides, an hour and a half is all you need at the best of times. The exhibition climaxed, inevitably, with Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Yes, I know it’s a Masterpiece – but this was at least my third viewing, if not my fourth, and I still retain no abiding visual memory of it.

Tea and biscuits, bought from the grocery opposite Alan’s apartment. Spotted on display by the till: cannabis flavoured lollipops, in a suitably “herbal” shade of green. You know, just so the “Little ‘Uns” don’t feel left out. Only in Amsterdam, eh readers?

Early evening beers in a surprisingly busy Twinksville, our ears once again battered by late 1980s/early 1990s commercial dance hits on endless shuffle. Don’t twinks listen to contemporary music any more?

Goodbye hugs and thank yous, as I head off to the airport and Alan heads straight back to bed. But I thought I was trying to keep up with him, not the other way round? Ah well, no matter. That’s a good couple of months worth of Gay Points usefully accrued in advance. Lovely weekend. I’ll be back.

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.

Outed! Outed as a knocker clocker!

Oh dear. (Paragraph 6)

But there again… (Paragraph 2)

Although I did once say… (Paragraph 4)

The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between.

(No, not between the left one and the right one. Are you fixated or something?)

Update: I’ve left some extended spin-off thoughts in the comments. In many ways, they merit re-working into a proper post – but in other ways, I’m actually happier to leave them slightly buried. Yup, it’s a return to “confessional” blogging…

Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite subject: Blogging Awards!

The steady trickle of hits that I have been receiving from a password-protected “panelist” page on the 2007 Bloggies site can only mean two things. Firstly, that the judges are working through the “long-lists” (typically between 20 and 30 sites in each category, if memory serves correctly), and voting on which sites should make it through to the shortlists. Secondly, that Troubled Diva has made it onto one of the long-lists, most probably in the World’s Best Poof category.

At the risk of sounding complacent and blasé, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but for one very simple reason: unlike the majority of “gay” weblogs, the readers of Troubled Diva are mostly straight. Thus, when it comes to making nominations in the World’s Best Poof category, they are more likely to think of TD. It’s a cute enough little loophole, but not one to which any great measure of ego-stroking self-importance should be attached.

insignificant2In any case, as anyone inside our cosy little loop would tell you, this year’s Bloggies have been overshadowed by two vastly more important blogging award shebangs: the First Annual Insignificant Awards (who announced their winner yesterday), and the Second Annual Swampy Awards, which came out on Monday.

swampyaward2006Now, since last year’s “Swampy” (for Best British Blog; pictured left) constitutes the only accolade I have won since picking up the school Scripture prize in 1974 (always the chuffing bridesmaid, story of me life), you can imagine my horror at discovering that this year, I have been deposed by some upstart newcomer called Little Red Boat.

Well now. If that Anna Pickard thinks I’m going to graciously hand over my tiara without an unseemly scuffle, she’s got another think coming. Frankly, she’s going to have to prise it out of my jealous little fingers with a sharp instrument.




Sorry. Just trying to maintain some Brand Consistency here.

(But sincere thanks to everyone who nominated. I’m no Ungrateful Diva.)

Collective hysteria timeline.

From Digital Spy:

Day 14, 15:45 4,500 complaints over alleged racism, bullying
Day 14, 17:51 C4 statement on racism, bullying controversy
Day 14, 18:08 MP calls on C4 to take “urgent action”
Day 14, 18:20 Big Brother complaints approach 10,000
Day 14, 18:46 Controversy over Shilpa’s chicken marinade
Day 15, 02:21 Jade ditched by anti-bullying charity
Day 15, 02:38 Jade “wants to headbutt” Shilpa
Day 15, 09:19 Big Brother early day motion tabled
Day 15, 09:26 Carphone Warehouse “reviewing” sponsorship
Day 15, 09:30 Police investigating threats against housemates
Day 15, 09:58 Ian not ruling out a Steps reunion
Day 15, 10:21 Indian government “apprised” of Shilpa situation
Day 15, 10:37 Celebrity Big Brother complaints top 13,000
Day 15, 11:08 Carole: Situation is “bullying on a grand scale”
Day 15, 11:12 Friend: Danielle “led astray” by Jade, Jo
Day 15, 14:04 Bollywood director criticises Big Brother
Day 15, 14:19 Street protest in India over Big Brother
Day 15, 14:27 Gordon Brown comments on controversy

We’ve all gone mad, haven’t we?

Update/Clarification: It’s primarily the infantilisation of the public discourse which bothers me. It seeks to elevate – or rather to reduce – a complex network of relationships to an Ism, and the protagonists to Ists. Racism. Racists. When what I see are three playground bullies and an impossible princess.

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.)

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 jelly tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass, which you suck up through your straw.) Special mention should also be made of the the steamed (?) oysters with ginger, finely chopped shallots and soy sauce, as recommended by Caroline. They were sensational.

To be concluded on the morrow. In the meantime, take a look at Alan’s account of the weekend.

This week’s pre-occupations.

1. Once again, K and I have become Big Brother‘s bitches. Once again, Grace Dent provides the sharpest commentary. Also on the telly tip, I was able to identify the precise moment when the hitherto flawless Shameless jumped the shark: namely, when an unconscious Frank Gallagher was dragged from his burning kitchen by his pet dog. I mean, really.

2. As the Hellen Affair rumbles on, Zinnia Cyclamen provides a neat rebuttal of his rebuttal.

3. Much to my surprise, since I’m not exactly Mister Gadget Man, I have been completely sucked into the Apple iPhone hype, and now find myself pining for ownership. Engadget has the most thorough explanation. Unfortunately, K’s plans to surprise me with a Blackberry on my birthday now lie exposed and in tatters. If only he was going to Florida in June…

4. …rather than today, six months short of the device hitting the shops. In preparation for this, my valeting services have been in great demand this week. We had a lovely time picking out fresh shirt-and-tie combinations for him a couple of evenings ago (does pink scream “Spring 2006”, or can we get away with it for a while longer?), and I have never been far from an ironing board. Oh, I do have my practical uses.

5. Alarmingly, K will still be out of the country when the kitchen fitters arrive next week, thus leaving me as de facto Site Manager. But what if they ask me technical questions about, I don’t know, angle brackets or something? I shall be all at sea. Thankfully, K’s business partner’s wife E – who is something of an expert in this field – has volunteered her services as Relief Manager. She knows her way round kitchens, does E. I don’t usually stretch much further than the fridge, the kettle and the microwave.

6. Facing the prospect of being home alone with no working kitchen for a few nights, I intend to be Out and About as much as possible next week. Owt good at t’flicks?

7. My intensive pre-interview research into the Life and Times of Will Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is yielding rich dividends. In particular, his most recent album The Letting Go is a quiet revelation. I don’t have many alt-country moments these days, but this is one of them.

8. With the Amsterdam weekend imminent, blogging might be light, but Twittering will hopefully be moderate-to-heavy – so keep your eye on the newly expanded “we twitter” box on the sidebar. (I am SO PROUD at having hacked the code around for this, although it has rather buggered up my archived unordered lists.) In the meantime, why not refresh your memories with details of my previous visits in 1991 (in which I found myself the unwitting star of a Benny Hill sketch at a *cough* “men-only event”) and 2002 (in which cracks appear in my carefully constructed professional facade)? Ah, for those heady devil-may-care early days, when Troubled Diva was still a byword for Too Much Information…

9. Preparations for Which Decade Is Tops For Pops and Post of the Week have taken up most of the rest of my spare time – and at the time of writing, there is still one more vacancy for another member of the Post of the Week editorial team. More details below.

10. If spin the list out to a nice round ten, I’ll make myself late and miss my plane. Have a good weekend!

Post of the Week – editorial team needed.

Remember “Post of the Week” – a feature that ran on this site in late 2005 and early 2006?

Remember all those grand plans we had about launching it under its own domain?

Remember how all those grand plans came to nought, as Real Life got in the way and the momentum fizzled out?

Shame, wasn’t it?

Well, all is not lost. Following a renewed burst of activity behind the scenes, we’re ready to test the site out with a couple of low-key trial runs.

But first, we need to assemble an editorial team.

Rather than pester the dozen or so people who volunteered last year – as circumstances and levels of enthusiasm might have changed since then – I’d like to issue a fresh shout-out.

If you’d like to be a member of the Post of the Week editorial team, then please e-mail me (mikejla @ btinternet dot com), or leave a message in the comments box.

Ideally we’re looking for a team of around 10 to 12 people, whose responsibilities will be as follows.

1. Shortlist selection. Once every 10 to 12 weeks, you (and you alone) will need to sift through all of that week’s nominated posts, and assemble a shortlist of no more than 12 posts. Nominations close on Friday nights (UK time), and you will need to have the shortlist ready by Saturday lunchtime.

(That sounds like a tight deadline, but you will probably have been keeping an eye on the nominations all the way through the week, as they come through on the site.)

2. Judging. Once every 5 or 6 weeks, as part of a team of three (two members plus one guest, drawn from the readership), you will read through the shortlist and vote for your five favourites, in order. You will have from Saturday lunchtime until Sunday evening to do this. Your individual votes will not be made public.

So there’s not a huge amount of work, but you will need to be available at weekends.

There’s one further catch: to avoid charges of nepotism, members of the editorial team will be exempt from having any of their posts nominated, whether they are “on duty” that week or not.

For further reference, here’s the “About” page on the site proper.

As soon as we get a team assembled, we’ll start with the trial runs – the sooner the better. Ooh, I’m getting quite excited about this already…

Working the night shift.

It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, and I’m on after-hours support, waiting for The Phone Call which lets me know that it’s time to check stuff on the mainframe. The Phone Call was supposed to come at around 11 – but I’ve been told that there are delays, and that I won’t be hearing from anyone until at least 1.30. So I might as well bash out a rambling blog post to pass the time and keep me awake.

What can I tell you? Well, yesterday was a nice day out. K and I took a day trip from Derby to London, to attend my aunt and uncle’s Golden Wedding luncheon at the Savoy Grill. The train arrived 40 minutes early in London (I know!), which gave us an extra hour to kill – so we swung by the National Portrait Gallery and went to see the David Hockney exhibition, all smartly togged out in our best suits. Does Hockney count as High Art? I don’t know; there’s something lightweight and decorative about him, and I’m not sure that he particularly Illuminates The Human Condition with any great profundity – but it’s pleasantly familiar and diverting stuff, which lifted our spirits. The usual cast: Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark, his grey-haired mam looking a tad self-conscious (and latterly a bit doolally), various handsome young men with brooding eyes, that bearded New York art bloke whose expressions give nothing away.

For the luncheon, we found ourselves at the next table to Preston from the Ordinary Boys, who was on Celebrity Big Brother this time last year. You know, the one who married Chantelle, the non-celebrity winner. She wasn’t there – but no need to alert Heat magazine for a scoop (“PRESTON AND CHANTELLE: IS IT OVER?”) as I think she was doing Celebrity Big Brother’s Little Brother at the time, so maybe Preston was just kicking his perfectly formed little heels in town with his man-friend. Yes, that would be it. He’s skinny and slight, and hence right up K’s alley. K chose his seat well, and got to gawp at Preston all the way through the meal. I was happy for him.

Our golden wedding present to the aunt and uncle was a bottle of 1956 Armagnac, so they could have a taste of the year they were wed. (The anniversary itself was December 29, but they were cross-country ski-ing in Austria at the time, which isn’t bad going for two people in their late seventies.) They seemed delighted with it. My cousin was there; she’s a Something at the House of Commons, and K was duly invited to take the personalised access-all-areas tour of the Palace of Westminster which was such a highlight of 2006 for me. (Clambering onto the roof for great views and an up-close-and-personal with Big Ben; necking a quick post-adjournment pint in the surprisingly cramped and unadorned Members’ Bar with the MPs; standing at the dispatch box in the debating chamber and pretending I was running the country.)

K flies to Florida on Friday for the big annual vets’ conference – and so, rather than being stuck on my own at home over the weekend, I have decided to pay my dear friend and erstwhile midweek drinking buddy Reluctant Nomad Alan a visit in Amsterdam. It will only be his second full weekend there, and so everything is up for discovery. Hopefully we’ll get to hook up with Caroline Eachman (née Prolific) as well. Introductions are better when they’re face to face.

I have just received my first interview assignment from t’local paper. I’m going to be interviewing Will Oldham, aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, in advance of his Rock City gig on the 23rd – which will also be the first date on his first tour of England in twelve years (Scotland and Ireland got him last year). Gulp. Better start genning up, then.

I spent the earlier part of the evening assembling the tracks for next month’s instalment of the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops project, which will be entering its fifth year. I had got it into my head that this year’s crop was going to be a total shower of shite – but, actually, it’s not too shoddy after all. Two of the tracks from February 1987 have been disqualified, as they are 1960s re-issues that were being used on TV adverts, and so I have substituted the songs at #11 and #12. The 1967 selection is pretty decent, the 1977 selection markedly less so (punk/new wave had yet to cross over commercially, and disco was thin on the ground that week), the 1987 selection is more nostalgic than I was expecting, and the 1997 selection is all grown up and credible, thanks to that brief period when Radio One also decided to be all grown up and credible.

It is now 1:40, I am all rambled out (there’s only the stuff about our forthcoming Nottingham kitchen refit to tell you, and I don’t propose to bore you with the details), and the Big Call has not yet happened. If I wander outside for a crafty fag, it shall surely happen, and so I shall try and induce it via the power of nicotine. So let’s do that.

No editing, no revisions, no sprucing up. Totally old school. G’night!

Update: The Big Call has been put back to 2.30. Thank goodness for the 250+ spam comments that some kindly passing Italian has just left me to deal with. Couldn’t have happened at a better time!

Motoring with Mike and K.

Friday evening. We’re half way along Brian Clough Way, en route to the cottage, OldEngland in the back of the car as per usual. OldEngland and K habitually spend the first half hour of the journey catching up on Nottingham gossip, and picking over the latest movements and machinations of the city’s great and good, before suddenly morphing into a pair of latter-day country squires as we turn left into rural Derbyshire.

During a brief lull in the conversation, I have put a CD on: not for us to actually listen to, but merely to keep the stereo ticking over, so that K can pick up work calls on his hands-free speaker phone.

“Who’s this depressing f**ker?”, sneers K, no more than half way through the first track. OldEngland has no interest in pop music, and I know he’s playing to the gallery.

Oh God, oh God, he’s handed it to me on a plate. Calm, Michael. Calm.

bhrpr“It’s one of the CDs which you bought me for Christmas, darling. You know, the ones that you personally select each year from the Radio 3 World Music Awards? The ones which bridge the gap between our respective musical tastes, and which unite us in a shared…”

“OK, OK. I walked straight into that one, didn’t I?”

“I only put it on because it was gentle and low-key. Because I’m fully aware that your ideal form of music is one that approximates as closely as possible to silence.”

Oh God, oh God, the mileage I’m going to extract from this one over the weekend. As the business wonk chit-chat resumes around me, I settle back into my equally habitual reverie, with a dirty smirk that will see me all the way through Derby.

Things I have learnt from Celebrity Big Brother, #1.

Despite my fondness for getting pleasantly pickled on a fairly regular basis, and my general reputation for being a “good” drunk (articulate and affable to the last, even though I do tend to stray into “too much information” territory), I’m no good at dealing with “bad” drunks. It’s the loss of rationality which unsettles me the most; if someone is no longer capable of having a joined-up conversation, then I am at a loss with them.

Unfortunately, I’m also very bad at disguising this unease, which filters through as a kind of cautious distaste, bordering on superiority. More unfortunately still, most “bad” drunks are also adept at picking up on this, and so I am frequently taken to task for my perceived prissiness.

donto1Donny Tourette is (update: was) a contestant on this year’s Celebrity Big Brother. He is the lead singer in a not terribly successful rock band called Towers Of London, who bear the minor distinction of polling the lowest EVER score of any of the 1000+ tracks which been reviewed on the Stylus Singles Jukebox. On the show’s opening night, Tourette enters the Big Brother house in a state of advanced refreshment, flicking V-signs at the crowd outside as he stumbles his way in.

Initial impression: he’s a poor man’s Johnny Rotten, a latter-day Gizzard Puke, a rebel without a clue, the latest in a long line of witless dullards who have appropriated the trappings of “outrageous” rock-and-roll behaviour, but without any real fire in their hearts. Whereas Rotten’s contempt was impassioned, lethal and withering, Tourette’s V-signs are a mere learned pantomime.

gizpuInside the house, his fellow contestants have no difficulty in grasping his schtick, and compartmentalising him accordingly. The token rebel. It’s what he does. It’s his act. None of the squares are freaked out, even for a second. They’re in showbiz too. They’ve seen it all before.

“He’s a pussycat at heart. You can tell.”

He is also, clearly, a “bad” drunk. I can already feel myself tensing up.

Eventually, and with a thudding inevitability, Donny ends up in the outside jacuzzi: fully clothed, fag still lit, expensive radio mike still attached (and hence beyond repair). Watching him from the other end of the garden, those same tell-tale signs of unease are beginning to flicker across the faces of his fellow housemates.

donto2Except, that is, for Cleo Rocos: a carefully preserved (we’re the same age; I can say these things) television comedy actress, whose main claim to fame was appearing as an over-the-top glamour girl on the Kenny Everett Show in the early 1980s. Cleo, as it swiftly transpires, is quite superb at handling “bad” drunks like Donny. Smiling, supportive, and utterly unruffled, she takes him in hand, leads him away from the others, gets him cleaned up, lends him some dry clothes. Without coming across as even faintly bossy, or critical, or disapproving, she takes full control of the situation. Donny is putty in her hands.

There’s a wonderful, telling moment, which resonates with me more than any other. As Cleo hands Donny his change of clothes, a moment of clarity emerges from the foggy depths of his booze-addled soul. It’s there in his eyes, as he holds Cleo’s gaze for a second or two, with a mixture of surprised realisation and warm, trusting relief. It’s a look which says: F**king hell, you’re alright, you are. It is not an expression which I am used to seeing in situations like these.

The whole episode is a master class in how to handle a “bad” drunk, and I have learnt something from watching it. Once again, by placing real-life inter-personal relationships under a microscope, and by raising the emotional temperature in order to elicit a series of controlled reactions, Big Brother is – whether by accident or design (and I couldn’t really care less) – usefully illuminating the human condition. This is why, for all its peripheral irritations, I never tire of watching it.

Nicholas Hellen is the new Serenata Flowers.

My place, posh frock, or else the Mother gets it.

And so, just three days after Girl With A One Track Mind first published it on her blog, and following a steady ground-swell of linkage from duly appalled fellow bloggers, an odious piece of e-blackmail from the Sunday Times finds itself at Number One on Google for a search on its author’s name. Coming hot on the heels of last month’s similarly successful blog-link campaign against a spam-commenting online florist, this is further proof of the power of the collective link.

Of course, some might maintain that Abby “One Track” Lee was “naive” for thinking that she could hang on to her anonymity, and that Hellen was only hastening the inevitable, and that the rest of us are being “naive” for throwing up our hands in maiden-auntish horror. Happens all the time, journalism’s a rough old game, only doing his job, yadda yadda.

To which I say: isn’t that the moral equivalent of justifying the theft of an unattended handbag on the grounds that someone was probably going to steal it anyway, and so you might as well get in there first?

Actually, no. It’s worse than that. Handbags and their contents can be replaced; personal privacy can’t be.

If Abby Lee and her supporters are to be branded as “naive”, then that’s only because, like most reasonable people, they operate from the assumption that most of us are still minded to treat each other with fairness, decency and respect. In which case, I’m glad that, in these hard-nosed, cynical times, Nicholas Hellen’s e-mail still has the power to shock.

In any case, the balance of shaky assumptions lies firmly on Hellen’s side. Assumptions that Abby Lee would comply with his demands through fear, or that her vanity and/or desire for “success” at any price (to use a somewhat dubious definition of the concept of “success”) would send her rushing into the arms of her captors, posh frock in hand, ready for her Glamorous Makeover. Not to mention the assumption that the unmasking of the author of a newly published and still relatively unknown book constituted a legitimate, public-interest news story, fit for Page 3 of a “quality” Sunday broadsheet.

But perhaps Hellen’s most “naive” assumption of all was in thinking that he could f**k with an extended community of nice, friendly, supportive people with Google Page Ranks of 5 and 6, and an aggregated readership of thousands, and get away with it. Hopefully, this little campaign will send out a signal to Old Media’s most reptilian foot-soldiers, in possibly the only language they respect or understand, that we are NOT to be f**ked with in the future.

Update: Nicholas Hellen defends his actions to (on page 2 of the article).