Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

After small town resort and the tale of Can’t Sing for You, Brighton came a jolly to the big city and time to party. My nephew and namesake, Jack, was celebrating his coming of age with his first legal drink. We helped his nearest and dearest deck out a hired hall in tinsel, balloons and streamers, transforming a working men’s club into a glitzy fairy’s grotto. As we uncovered the party platters, I asked Jack if we were to be the only gays in the village that night. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘there may be a couple of bisexuals popping along for a boogie. No big deal.’ How times have changed since I got the keys to the door. Jack was nervous (he’s a sensitive soul). Would anyone actually turn up to his 18th? He needn’t have worried; the streets of South London were empty that night.

There’s a lot of debate these days about the degenerative condition of Britain’s yoof – you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve sired a lost generation of lazy, selfish, illiterate, shallow, celebrity obsessed mediocrities. Well there was little evidence of that poor state of affairs at Jack’s bash. Apart from a few very minor skirmishes caused by raging hormones, the trendy young things were polite, respectful, considerate and obliging. Boisterous? Certainly. Feral? Hardly. Mind you, when did eighteen year olds get to look twenty five? The hipster whiskers didn’t help. Naturally, birthday boy got horribly drunk on his first lawful binge, but the care shown by his friends was impressive and rather touching. The next morning, he rose from the dead with not so much as a twinge. Oh, to be eighteen again.

The fragrant Grace, the long term squeeze of Jack’s elder brother, is a bit of a photographer on the side and set up a photo booth for the evening. Here are some of her best shots…

National Coming Out Day

Coming OutIt’s National Coming Out day today. I highly recommend it. It’s good for the soul. Easy for you to say, you might think. After all, I grew up in metrosexual London not the bible-bashing Prairies or Koran-thumping Steppes. New York may be the city that never sleeps but London is the city that doesn’t give a shit. And, to a certain extent this is true. It was relatively painless for me to trampoline out of the closet, disco dancing to ‘I am what I am,’ (The Village People anthem not the later more famous song from ‘La Cage aux Folles’). Still, it wasn’t quite the walk in the park some might imagine. It was the Seventies and, at the time, few people joined me out in the cold. And anyway, this post isn’t about me. I’m old hat. It’s about those still struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. So to mark National Coming Out Day, I am republishing my classic 2012 hit ‘Letter of Hope to LGBT Teens’. If it helps a bit then I’m glad.

Rainbow Stripe

Dear 15 Year Old Me,

That was Then…

Jack, what the hell are you doing? She’s a nice girl and all that but, really, you know you’ll never get beyond heavy petting. Come on, be true to yourself. You’re leading her down the garden path to frustration and disappointment; she deserves better. Just admit that you don’t like ‘it’. Her pretty bits are all in the wrong places, aren’t they? Okay, it’s 1975, it’s the decade that fashion forgot and you’re only fifteen, but you know you know. It’s not just a phase.

London may well have swung through the Sixties when androgynous men wore makeup and liberated ladies burnt their bras, but it’s not stopped you thinking you’re the only one. Yes, trendy Chelsea is just across the river but it might as well be on a different planet. Pick up a newspaper, any paper, and it’ll scream ‘pervert’ at you. ‘Paedophile’ even. The thing is, you don’t feel like a pervert and you’re certainly not interested in pre-pubescent boys. You’re just different from your brothers and the other boys in your class. Stop beating yourself up and get a grip. It’s okay to be different. Your parents will love you regardless, though I admit the conversation might be awkward, perhaps painful. They won’t like it. There may be tears and recriminations. No parent wants their child to stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. It might be dangerous taking centre stage in a hostile world but you’re strong enough to take the flak. Come on, Jack. You learned real pride and you learned it at your father’s knee.

This is Now…

Jack, what the hell are you doing? Turkey’s a nice place and all that but, really, it’s a Muslim country and you and your partner are living openly as a gay couple. You are 51 and resolutely ‘out’ to everyone, take it or leave it. I hear you got ‘married’ back in 2008, a splendid fanfare of friends and family. So, they came round then? You’ve had a life full of peaks and troughs, good times and bad. This is life as it should be. So, your sexuality is only one of the things that define you but it is one of the important things. You’re a happy, rounded individual. You don’t compromise. You change attitudes just by being you. You see? You did it.

Let’s Hear It for the Boys

Let’s Hear It for the Boys
Sis and her boys
Sis and Her Boys (and Dan’s Fragrant Girlfriend, Grace)

My sister rang with glad tidings about her boys. She has four (not counting her saintly husband –  sis and I are very alike so believe me he is).  First born, Dan the man, has got himself a cracking new job with prospects and a pension. Second in line, brainy Jack, has just received a sparkling set of exam results. Third sprog, brawny Tom, is now playing semi-professional football at the tender age of 15 (they groom ‘em ever younger these days). But what of Josh, the baby of the clan? Well, he moves up a gear to secondary school next month and is showing quite a lot of promise himself in the kick-about stakes. Who knows? In a few years, we might have two players in the top flight. Time to pop our corks and toast to a comfortable dotage of wine and song. Remember, boys, we are your favourite uncles.

The Scene Of My Undoing

A few weeks ago I wrote a little piece on the etymology of Norwich’s River Wensum (old English wandsum). I got quite excited at the prospect of a poetic connection between my current digs and Wandsworth, in South London, where I spent my late childhood and most of my teens. I saw a link between ‘wandsum’ and ‘Wandle’, the Thames tributary that runs through the heart of the London borough. It was not to be. Ye Olde Wandsworth was known as Wandesorde or Wendelesorde at the time of the Domesday Book which means ‘enclosure of (a man called) Waendel’. Shame, but it did take me on a gentle mince down memory lane.

After my father was discharged from the army, he took the tenancy of an off licence cum general grocers. It was called a ‘Bottle and Basket’ for those who may remember the chain, part of the Watney Mann brewery company. We lived above the shop and it surely must have been the start of my love affair with the Devil’s sauce. I used to pilfer bottles of Bulmer’s cider from the shelves to share with my spotty pubescent pals. The liquor trade provided a decent living and kept me in booty hugging florescent loon pants and five inch platform shoes. My canny Dad made a killing during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. We had a booze, bench and bunting beano in the street and Geordie Jack wisely kept the tills ringing for the duration. For my sins, I earned an honest crust as a Clark’s shoe shop Saturday boy in the Arndale Shopping Centre. It was the scene of my undoing and a slippery slope from which I was never to recover (thank the Peter Lord). I had a torrid fling with one of the maintenance men. His name was Dave. Dave was married, of course; it was always the way back in the day. My midday breaks were misspent sampling his greasy cut lunch in a lift shaft machine room on the roof, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Going down?’

Calm Down, Dear

Whenever I threw a hissy fit about the direction my foster home was taking, whether from a political or religious perspective (or a toxic mix of the two), something invariably popped up to calm my troubled soul, reduce my blood pressure and bring a smile to my face. This was such a time:

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Bodrum Life

Bodrum’s radical urban overhaul is almost complete save for a few rough edges that will be completed next year (or sometime never). I took afternoon liquid refreshments at Bodrum’s organic deli, a great place from where to people watch. Their natural fare is even more delicious during happy hour when a glass of white costs only 4 lira a shot. The tubby waiter with precision hairdo, George Clooney eyes and Russell Crowe features serviced me silently with charm and grace.

I watched Bodrum life pass by in all its ambling majesty. The strolling likely lads with their grand gelled tresses and baffling stares promenaded along the promenade, stopping to check their reflections in the porthole mirrors of Helva Bar. I watched the Helva bar boys wash down the floors in anticipation of a profitable night’s innings from the urban elite and the Ukrainian prostitutes who silently ply their trade among them. A rainbow of cars cruised by from Nissan tanks to clapped-out Fiats. Happy-clappy kids played hide and seek in the play school playground opposite. Sunny Cabaret was provided by Bodrum’s resident drunk (I thought that was me), who frothed at the mouth, toyed with the traffic, harangued unsuspecting tourists and talked to the street animals like a modern day Dr Doolittle. I staggered home to the tune of the Hi-De-Hi public address system and another power cut in the full knowledge that our Turkish expedition would soon come to an end. To quote Old Blue Eyes, “Regrets, I have a few.”

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Blessed (and gloriously noisy) are the children…

Children’s Day 2012

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