A foul afternoon of driving rain pushed us through the doors of Cinema City to catch ‘My Old Lady’, starring Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas and the incomparable Maggie Smith. We sat in the back row and watched the film above the nodding heads in fifty shades of grey. Kevin Kline plays a penniless, ex-alcoholic, never-to-be-published New York author who inherits a rambling run down Parisian apartment from his philandering father. He thinks he’s in the money but finds out that he’s also inherited a sitting tenant in an equity release arrangement, French-style; she can’t be evicted and he must pay rent to her. Step forward Dame Maggie as the feisty old madame with her foot in the door and Kirsten Scott Thomas as her brittle spinster daughter. It’s a salutary tale of how your parents fuck you up (along the lines of the Philip Larkin poem) and how not to let the truth get in the way of a fine romance. Set in the trendy Marais district of Paris, the BBC production oozes cool Gallic va va voom laced with arty pretensions. The film has had mixed reviews but we found it well worth stepping out of the rain for.
Thirty years ago, the National Union of Miners (NUM) was in a desperate battle with the Thatcher Government to save their livelihoods and their communities. It was a war of attrition that went on for twelve long months. It was also during the dark days of the gay ‘plague’ with John Hurt scaring the life out of OAPs with crashing tombstones every night on national TV and a certain fire and brimstone chief constable saying that gay people were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making.’ Believe me, it was no fun on the picket line or the dance floor. The Police had a habit of raiding both. At the time, I was living with a quantity surveyor who was neither ‘out’ at work or to his family. What sexuality has to do with counting bricks I shall never know but that was the way back then – most closets were firmly locked from the inside. Society had a habit of making hypocrites of us all. I was his guilty secret (needless to say, he wasn’t mine).
So what do striking miners have in common with dancing queens? Not very much you might think. I didn’t think so either until I saw Pride, a new BBC Film by Marcus Warchus, the new Creative Director at the Old Vic. On general release today, this funny and illuminating movie is based on the true story of a small group of London activists who raised money to help the families of the strikers. They called themselves ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ and they did exactly what it said on the collecting tin. Officially, the über-straight, blue collar, backs-to-the-wall-lads NUM weren’t too keen on accepting the support of a gaggle of dirty pervs, even during the worst of times. So the brave pervs took their cause direct to the coal face by sprinkling a little fairy dust (and quite a lot of cash) on a small Welsh mining village. Cue the considerable talents of some seasoned pros (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) who know how to deliver a line or two and some gifted fresh faces to inject a dash of youthful angst and exuberance. The clash of cultures is pure magic. Moving without being sugary, political without being preachy, candid without being gratuitous and clever without being patronising, the film is a joy to watch and one of the best British films I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s that good.
As my innards recover from their recent rude intrusion, gainful employment (such as it is in my rarified world) has been restricted to mornings with BBC Radio 4 in the background. Woman’s Hour at 10am is always a special treat as gravelly-voiced presenter Jenni Murray (who sounds like she’s on forty a day) weaves through an eclectic mix of social, political and cultural ishoos from a female perspective. Today’s civilised and civilising menu included classical ballet, black female judges in post-apartheid South Africa, the rehabilitation of Black Forest gâteau from Abigail’s Party to Soho chic and literary porn for the fairer sex. With all the shit that’s going down in too many corners of our fragile world, praise the Lord for Auntie Beeb.
Just like good old Auntie Beeb, I aim to inform, educate and entertain. It’s for others to judge whether I succeed or not. I find myself rather indisposed at the moment (more of this later) so my ambitions will have to be curtailed for a while. I am, therefore, delivering on the daft instead.
Apparently, I’m Kick-Ass Destroyer. Who knew? And you?
The old Co-operative Society depository that now ware-houses our micro-loft sits along one side of St Stephen’s Square, just outside the old city walls. Sadly, a modern road layout has rather robbed the square of its former character. Aside from the old warehouse, all that remains is a local pub for local people on the corner (those who are familiar with the BBC2 series ‘The League of Gentlemen’ will know exactly what I mean). Still, all is not lost. Some bright spark had the brilliant idea to plant the scrub and verges with wild flowers and long grasses. It makes my heart sing even on the dullest of days.
The Eurovision Song Contest is like herpes. There is no cure. The overblown glittery bandwagon pulls into Copenhagen this year, no doubt costing the Danish economy more than the Nazi occupation. Reduced to back-slapping bonhomie between neighbours and century-old foes, the songfest has been given an extra political frisson this year by the nasty homophobic laws in Russia and Tsar Putin’s annexation/repatriation (delete according to taste) of the Crimea; continued unrest in eastern Ukraine might earn Kiev a few sympathy votes from other former Soviet Republics and old Warsaw Pact nations. In a strange twist of fate, the people of Crimea can vote for Russia because the telephone service hasn’t yet switched sides, so it could be douze points from Ukraine. They may be the only points Russia gets. We can only hope.
Last year, Turkey threw a hissy fit and withdrew from the competition. It hasn’t entered this year either but nobody’s noticed, well apart from Liam who is terribly upset. In any case, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s probably banned the extravaganza along with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Alan Carr’s Chatty Man. Britain’s entry is Children of the Universe sung by Molly Smitten-Downes. No, me neither. We could enter the Teletubbies for all the difference it would make. Our money’s on the Austrian drag queen if only to get up the noses of our more reactionary cousins east of the Oder-Neisse Line.
The lead up to the show always causes a flurry of excited emails between Europhiles and Eurosceptics. This year was no different in the Scott-Brennan household. Here’s a small selection:
“Talking of Eurovision, your thoughts on Molly’s effort? We like Sweden, and there are a few anti-Russian efforts which should add to the event. I’m sure the TV sets in Moscow will go blank when the first bars of Austria’s entry wail in. We can only hope. Really looking forward to the annual camp-fest. Oh, I’m such a cliché.”
“Actually, we’re not quite in the Euro groove yet – we’re fashionably late this year with our research. Yes, we have heard the Brit entry- bit of a screamer who’ll probably sing flat on the night. They always do, you know. So what’s the Russian entry this year? Orthodox nuns with Kalashnikovs trying to reclaim the Kattegat?”
“For the record, my votes go to the Albanian diva and the Austrian drag queen. Not that I’m gay or anything. And I haven’t got a clue why the awful Armenian dirge is hot favourite. Especially looking forward to the Irish muscles boys and their out-of-sync diddly-diddly dancing, the Latvians on how to bake a cake and possibly the worst song ever presented to Eurovision, a misguided torch song massacred by a fat Belgian. It’s gonna be a corker.”
And the band played on.
I was busying myself with morning admin when my tippy-tappying was interrupted by an old Seventies tune on Radio 2, the summertime hit ‘Beach Baby’ by the group First Class. They were a one hit wonder and hearing the track brought adolescent memories flooding back of picking up Radio 1 on a transistor radio as I crossed the North Sea in an old Russian rust-bucket. It was the year of the Fall of Saigon, the end of Portugal’s empire, the first Yorkshire Ripper murder, the election of the Iron Lady as Tory leader, the establishment of the ‘Turkish Federated State of North Cyprus,’ the foundation of Microsoft, the nationalisation of British Leyland and my Soviet tour in my very own Bolan curls and loon pants look. Cue the bubble gum pop and an old post from our Turkey days about my youthful misadventures. It’s worth a second recital.
I recalled my first visit to Stockholm when I was a hormonal adolescent. The little local grammar school I attended laid on the most incredible journeys designed to broaden horizons and expand the mind. One early morning in 1975 twenty or so sweaty boys boarded a train at Victoria Station and headed for the coast. We sailed on the morning tide to Flanders where we began our grand passage across the great North European Plain. More…