Stats wa-hey!

As I’ve more or less reached a statistically significant number of replies (nearly 90 at the last count), I’ll be closing my Readership Survey this evening. Full and exhaustive analysis starts tomorrow. Yes, “starts”. Come on, you should know me by now.

Also starting tomorrow: Big Blogger 2005. During the course of the next seven weeks, fifteen blogmates (myself included) will be battling to avoid eviction from the Big Blogger house, in what promises to be the best blogging popularity contest EVER. (All the Technorati links in the world won’t save you now!)

As Big Blogger has specifically prohibited us from pimping for votes on our own sites, I shan’t be saying too much more about the contest on Troubled Diva. Except to say that when it comes to voting time: look into your hearts, and do the right thing. And failing that: I know where you all live.

Finally, unless…

  • you’re a hardcore “Graphic Novel” geek,
  • you have a serious fetish for Hot Chicks With Guns,
  • you live your entire life in inverted commas,
  • you’re not bothered by a dull and poorly paced plot, an almost total lack of sympathetic, well-constructed characters, insane levels of stylised ultra-violence, and the sort of flip, sniggering, all-pervading, “chill dude, it’s a homage“, adolescent-boys-club amorality which started getting boring not long after Pulp Fiction,
  • you’re Neil Moviebuff, who maintained a spirited defence of it in the pub last night,

… then don’t go and see Sin City. Because all four of us who went to see it on Monday night – myself, K (who walked out), Mish and Alan – thought that it sucked a big one, dude. And if we thought it sucked, then it’s only right and proper that you should too. Diversity be damned!

(Stunningly creative and beautiful cinematography, though. I’ll grant you that. But a turd in a chocolate box is still a turd.)

See also: Oddverse: No matter when, or where, or who.

It would appear to be rev-chron Friday again.

Friday 29.

If all goes according to plan, my co-workers and I will soon be able to regularly avail ourselves of the services of a bona fide Reiki master, in one of the unused meeting rooms upstairs. Wow, how cool is my office?

Thursday 28.

While K meets a business contact in town, I do what I always do when he’s out of the house these days: burning CDs and importing them into iTunes. While simultaneously rating every tune which comes up on the Party Shuffle function, dragging particular favourites them into various themed playlists. Or else tidying up the standalone and “various artist” MP3s, by placing artist and genre titles in all the correct boxes. Once again, rock and roll brings out all of my darkest latent-Asperger’s librarian tendencies, as I obsessively mine order from chaos.

All I need now is my own iPod. And some portable speakers to go with it. And one of those FM adaptors that let you play it through your car system, or any other radio for that matter, without having to fiddle around with cables and input jacks. And then I will be happy, and freed from desire. In perpetuity.

Wednesday 27.

A quiet, relatively ordered day, enlivened only by a haircut and a fifty-quid-bloke visit to Fopp (Interpol, The Go! Team, Chungking). At home, still on his major folk/roots kick, K orders CDs by Oi Va Voi and La Talvera from a specialist world music store.

At the hairdressers, Ant and I discuss the slow stagnation of Nottingham’s gay scene. The sense of progress which characterised most of the 1990s has long since gone, as existing venues atrophy and a renewed sense of marginalisation creeps over everything. Not the marginalisation of an “oppressed minority” – for those battles have largely been won – but the marginalisation which comes with the realisation that vast swathes of us no longer need a gay scene, and have accordingly all but abandoned it. Consequently, there is now something curiously reductive about visiting a gay venue. It’s the feeling that rather than experiencing the freedom to “be yourself”, you are instead shutting down your options and selling yourself short; just another sheep-like punter in a dumbed-down temple of trash.

Still, there’s always dear old George’s. Thank God that there’s still one last bastion of polymorphously perverse Bohemia left in town, at least until it closes its doors for good in the new year. Then where will we all go to discuss contemporary Japanese cinema and trade stories of skanky blowjobs whilst tango-ing with trannies to Ethel Merman’s Disco Album?

Tuesday 26.

The meeting at the offices of the “well-known car company” near Schiphol airport goes quite splendidly – especially when I discover that I will not be required to spend three days a week in Paris between now and the rest of the year after all. A single day in Barcelona in the middle of November, and that should just about do it. (I’ll have to miss the Beta Band, but you can’t have everything.)

K rings me in the duty-free: could I let him know when I’ve landed, so that he can prepare the mise en place? Have you ANY IDEA how lucky I sometimes feel to have him as a boyfriend? Heart swelling with gratitude, I head straight for the Neuhaus chocolates. Which, if nothing else, is at least a step or two up from picking up a cellophane-wrapped bunch of mixed blooms from a garage forecourt.

Standing in the motionless queue at the gate, after numerous delays, I remind myself that none of this could possibly compare to the rigours of our journey back from the jungle this summer, via Porto Maldonado, Cuzco (where our connecting flight was delayed by a full day), Lima, Miami, JFK and Heathrow. Five flights, three days, minimal sleep, minimal food and drink, countless delays and frustrations, incompetent travel companies, surly cabin crew, ignorant and hostile immigration officials, lost baggage, a creeping feeling of absolute misanthropy AND the worst haemmorhoidal pain in six years. Hey, at least we survived. By comparison, this evening’s hour and three-quarters delay feels like a stroll in the park.

A couple of minutes later, a text flashes up from K. John Peel has died of a heart attack on holiday in Peru! As I read it out to my colleague, startled heads turn all around me before quickly snapping back into position, embarrassed at having betrayed themselves.

This news dazes and disorientates me. (Hey, Cuzco might have been grim, but at least we survived it; poor old Peely didn’t even get to see Macchu Picchu.) However, I carefully place any further reactions on hold until after dinner, when we switch on the telly. Shortly afterwards, I go upstairs and start scanning my regular blogs. Just about everyone I read has already posted a tribute to Peel. I scan wider; it’s the same wherever I go. Before I know it, it’s nearly 1am and I have been listening to Radio One’s tribute show for the past couple of hours, while wading through the mammoth discussion threads at ILX. I had no idea that Peel had meant so much to so many, for much the same reasons, at similarly formative times of their lives. It’s all a bit overwhelming. I resolve to write my own tribute in the morning, when my reactions have settled down a bit. (Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.)

(My personal pick of the Peel tributes: Caitlin Moran in The Times; Momus; Mo Morgan; Pete Ashton; Blogjam; “favourite Peel quotes” thread on ILX; digest of further links at No Rock & Roll Fun. Update: a superb late entry from Hydragenic.)

Monday 25.

The flight to Amsterdam is half an hour late, but I’m used to that: in my experience, roughly two-thirds of Bmibaby flights to and from Nottingham East Midlands are delayed by 30 to 40 minutes.

I’ve booked a hotel on the Rembrandtsplein, only a few doors down from the same Irish pub where I first met Caroline back in March. We pick up where we left off, discussing Bono and blogs and travel and music and politics and food and ooh, y’know, Life. I recommend the Hidden Cameras, whose current album would be sitting at #1 on my “We Listen” chart if only I could be arsed to update it.

(Everything about Mississauga Goddam suddenly fell into place on the day after Elisabeth and I saw them in concert at The Social three weeks ago. Before, I thought it was a pale retread of The Smell Of Our Own. Now, I think it’s the superior album by some distance. If you’re curious, then start with Builds The Bone, one of the most mysteriously beautiful songs of the year.)

Caroline (whose pioneering and consistently worthwhile blog turned five, yes five, years old this week) gives me the background gossip on the recent unearthing of Bono’s missing notes for the October album; a story which first came to light via her U2log fan site. However, as scoops go, this is as nothing compared to her promised… no, perhaps I shouldn’t really talk about that yet. I’ll let you know if and when it happens. Soul of discretion, that’s me.

“…through the bad times and the good…”

In the autumn of 1987, I attended a book reading given by Armistead Maupin, author of the Tales Of The City novels. After the reading, whilst taking questions from the audience, Maupin made the standard “everybody should come out of the closet now pitch” – as was customary in those dark days of overt establishment homopobia (Clause 28 was mere weeks away from kicking off) and tabloid-fuelled AIDS-scare paranoia. We all nodded approvingly.

The next questioner stood up. Considering it something of a public duty to be open about his sexuality, he had come out of the closet at work – only to lose his job as a direct consequence. Undeterred, he came out once again in his next job – only to be fired for the exact same reason. Since then, unwilling to jeopardise his livelihood any further, he had decided merely to equivocate about being gay, carefully skirting round any difficult subjects, while maintaining a suitably liberal “I think there’s nothing wrong with it myself” line where called for. A quiet flutter of pained winces and sympathetic headshakes passed around the room, our ideological bravado momentarily checked by the depressing reality of his situation.

For most gay people of my generation – born before decriminalisation, reaching puberty during an age where being gay was viewed as either sinister or ridiculous, coming out against the background of the emerging AIDS epidemic – this kind of artful semantic equivocation was learnt at an early age, and quickly became second nature. For me at least, coming out to workmates always felt like a deliberate kick against this instinctive urge for self-preservation. It always carried a vague sense of risk. It never came easily.

Just over two months ago, the unequivocally homophobic Section 28 was finally repealed by royal assent, the law no longer treating homosexuality as something that could be “promoted” to vulnerable young people, and no longer regarding gay partnerships as “pretended family relationships”. At last week’s state opening of parliament, the Queen’s speech announced that new legislation will give legal recognition to registered gay partnerships. And from today, it will no longer be legal for employers to discriminate against workers for being lesbian, gay, bisexual – or even heterosexual, for that matter.

I cannot remember that last time that I felt the need to be equivocal about my sexuality. I will say “partner” and “he” in the same sentence, in any situation, with no more than the slightest “so now they know” flutter in my stomach. I no longer watch what I say on the street, in shops, or in bars. I greet gay friends with a kiss in public places, without first checking around for potential trouble. OK, so I don’t actually skip down the street with my hand in K’s, but I’m not altogether sure that either of us would ever want to; some behavioural patterns are so established that it would feel false to attempt to change them. In short: we’ve come a long, long way, baby.

“Dermot O’Leary does the South Bank Show.”

I’ve been meaning to do a cultural round-up for about a fortnight now, but The Great Tiredness got in the way, and now it’s hanging over my head like a piece of overdue coursework. (18 years since I graduated, and I still get nightmares about unfinished essays, missed lectures, and stern memos flooding out my pigeon-hole.)

So, let’s get the backlog cleared with a lightening quick catch-up session typically long-winded piece, which has been hanging around in draft form for the past few days.

1. Dracula – adaptation by Liz Lochhead – Derby Playhouse.

draculalrgIt might be stuck in the middle of a grim shopping centre, but Derby Playhouse has been punching way above its weight for the last few years, showing up its larger Nottingham equivalent something rotten by comparison. A superb, imaginatively staged production which stuck closely to Bram Stoker’s original story, freed from all its cheesy Hammer Horror baggage. Like the Gary Oldman/Keanu Reeves movie version from about 10 years ago, only with a decent script and proper acting.

Derby’s current production is Joe Orton’s Loot, directed by Cal McCrystal, which has been picking up favourable mentions in the press. We have to go. We’ve been. Keep reading.

2. Mariza – Birmingham Symphony Hall.

mariza1116The fado goddess had K in tears right from the very first song, and all the way through the rest of the concert; afterwards, he needed wringing out like a soggy dishcloth. Indeed, K was so emotionally tuned into Mariza’s performance that he was even moved to clap along during the happy songs. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

His reaction was entirely justified, though; for rarely have I seen such pure emotion – powerful yet always controlled – so effectively transmitted from the stage. Mariza’s largely melodramatic laments for lost love connected with the whole audience, vaulting straight over any language barrier; you didn’t need any knowledge of Portuguese to understand the nature of the feelings she was channelling. Particularly effective were the mid-song pauses, where she would silence her musicians with a raised hand, then visibly search with her fingers for the next emotion, before bursting forth again with a shuddering wail. She looked stunning, as well: a platinum blonde Amazonian force majeure and diva incarnate.