God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country

On a complete whim, we decided on a mini tour of Yorkshire. As England’s largest traditional county by far, it was a very teeny weeny tour encompassing just Leeds, Knaresborough and Harrogate. We travelled across the flatlands to Grantham, the birthplace of Maggie Thatcher. I’ll leave you to decide whether that should be celebrated. From there, the Virgin Express sped us north to Leeds, the throbbing heart of West Yorkshire. Where once there were dark satanic mills, now there are trendy loft conversions, glass towers and a branch of Harvey Nicks.

Leeds Panorama

The handsome city has seen something of a renaissance of late and now boasts one of the most diversified economies in Britain. I’d like to tell you we were there to see the sights and take in the culture but I can’t. As soon as we’d dropped off our bags, we were off down the rough end beneath the rainbow bridge. Leeds has a small but beautifully-formed gay scene, each venue staggering distance from the next. Happy hour dribbled on all afternoon and we did indeed get to see some sights but nothing you’ll find in the tourist blurb. We eventually made it back to the hotel though I have no memory of how we got there.

Next day, button-bright, we jumped on the slow train to Knaresborough. The Guardian Newspaper describes the town as tatty and batty and the cap really fits. Perched high on the cliffs above the River Nidd and wrapped in a blanket of iridescent green, Knaresborough is famous for the railway viaduct that crosses the water. The views from the tumbledown castle are simply stunning.

The little town is also famous for its independent spirit and independent shops – the butcher, the baker, the cappuccino-maker. This is the place where madcap mattress-wheeling teams sprint around the town for no apparent reason in the annual bed race. It’s completely batty. And we do batty.

Liam and I always have an eye on the future and we wandered around the quirky streets making mental notes of the good points (many) and the bad points (few). We retired to a coffee house to debrief. The verdict? Right now, it’s top of the leader board.

The final destination on our whistle-stop tour was elegant Harrogate, which the Guardian calls hoity-toity. And so it is with its cream teas and posh nosh. I was last there for a wedding in 2004. The bride was a lovely gal from work with a well-deserved reputation for being an all round good egg. As I looked around the church at the time, I could tell who was in and who was out.

The next day it was back to good ol’ Norwich but not before I was interviewed on camera in the pouring rain by someone from the local telly asking me about local ishoos. I did explain that as I didn’t actually live in Yorkshire, my opinion counted for nowt (see, I’m already starting to speak Yorkist). He didn’t seem to mind. Hallelujah to God’s own country.

P.S. I had totally forgotten that the Harrogate bride now actually lives in Knaresborough. We could have met up for a long-overdue natter, how thick am I?

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Recently, the wonderful Stephen Fry presented an equally wonderful programme on Channel Four celebrating five iconic buildings inextricably linked with the pink community and the struggle for LGBT rights. As a London boy with my London ways, two of the building resonated with me in particular. The first was the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London, the scene of many a young man’s undoing – mine included, I’m pleased to say. In 2015, the venue received listed (i.e. protected) status by Historic England because…

…the building has historic and cultural significance as one of the best known and longstanding LGB&T venues…

It’s the only building to be listed on this basis.

The second venue on the list was Heaven. Not the fairy tale beyond the Pearly Gates, no, the paradise on Earth that is the nightclub in the arches under Charing Cross Station in what used to be the wine cellar for the station’s grand hotel. The club opened in 1979 and is still throbbing to the beat today.

I stepped through the now famous doors soon after it opened and the stage was set for my regular Saturday night Bacchanalia. One fateful evening in 1982, someone with arctic-blue eyes and Tom Sellick tash emerged from the mob of vests and chests. I stalked him for what seemed like hours. Little good it did me. I didn’t get so much as a side glance for my trouble. Clearly, my magic wand had run out of juice that night. In the end I thought ‘sod you’, cut my losses and headed for the exit.

As I retrieved my jacket from the coat check, there was a tap on my shoulder.

You owe me a cigarette.

I gave the man with the arctic-blue eyes and Tom Selleck tash my last fag and he smoked it. We were together for 11 years. Funny thing was, he wasn’t a smoker.

Michael and Me

The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

Of late, boozy gigs with ancient comrades from old London Town have been as rare as ginger imams. Somehow life just gets in the way. So, one evening I fired off a text.

“Boys. It’s high time we had a coven.”

After a flurry of replies, it was game on.

I always get down to the big city a tad early – to imbibe the vibe and cast my spell over the Soho boys. I know, hopelessly deluded. Gay scene wise, Soho isn’t quite what it was. Online ‘dating’ has seen to that. Nevertheless, a few old haunts stumble on, attracting the after-school crowd. I wandered into the Duke of Wellington (or the Welly as it’s affectionately known, my spiritual home back in the day). As I headed for the bar, I spied a former squeeze in the corner of my eye. By the time I’d been served, the hairy old crow had taken flight, leaving half his pint behind. Clearly, my magic wand has lost its vigour. I wouldn’t mind but it’s over twenty years since we stepped out.

After a sherry or two with my London witches, we pitched up at a local brasserie for a bite and a long natter. We wittered on for hours about everything and nothing and by the time we were hoarse, the staff were sweeping up and stacking chairs around us. It was time to mount our broomsticks, and as befits three old sorcerers whose powers to bewitch have all but withered, we were tucked up in our beds by the stroke of midnight.

This is what we looked like twenty years ago before our allure had faded. Obviously, that’s not yer actual Taj Mahal. We were in Blackpool for a dirty weekend. And where better?

And this is what we look like now. No wonder our wands have dropped off.

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

Following last week’s delivery from the Royal Mail, here’s the second batch of postcards to land on the mat.

Mad Pedro

The staff in our global holiday village are delightful, particularly Pedro, our mad barman. He services us with charm and generosity and rings his little bell every time he gets a tip. It’s like a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey when we’re around and the bigger the tip we give, the bigger the drink we get. As Pedro said to Liam:

Ah, you Engleesh with your happy hour. It’s always happy hour in Pedro’s bar!

Loose Talk

Regular readers will know I’m a dedicated eavesdropper. Here’s a small selection:

And I’ll tell you one thing for nothing. As soon as I get home, I’m back on the tramadol.

 

 We went tut Benidorm in January. It were great. We ‘ad beach to ourselves.

Oh. How come?

It were rainin’.

 

Me son’s got an apartment in Bulgaria.

Nice. Wotsit like?

Cheap but those Bulgarians…you wouldn’t trust ‘em.

 

Of course, we normally go to Goa, don’t we Jean? All-in for a tenner a day – and that includes two packs of fags and enough booze to sink the Ark Royal.

A Yumbo Cocktail

We’re just a short mince from the Yumbo Center, the largest of the many tacky shopping and entertainment centres dotted about Playa Del Ingles. As I wrote back in 2012 after our last trip…

The Yumbo Center is the throbbing epicentre of gay Canarian low-life. The Yumbo is a naff treat for all the senses, a crumbling multi-layered open air shopping and sex emporium. It started to fall apart as soon as it was built (some twenty five years ago). By day, it’s an over-sized pound shop patronised by ancient slow-lane Germans in busy shirts and socked sandals. But, at the stroke of midnight, the racks of tat are wheeled away, the garish bars throw open their doors and the entire place is transformed into a gaudy cacophonous neon-lit cess-pit of drunken debauchery.

Gran Canaria Sex Emporium

It was one of my most popular posts ever. Can’t think why. Strangely, we’ve only ventured into the Yumbo Center once so far – and then only during the day to do a bit of shopping for that must-buy momento. The venues come and go but the place never really changes – apart from the newly installed lift for the mobility-challenged. It’s true, we did stop for a daiquiri or two – for old time’s sake and to survey the footfall. Our immediate neighbours were an over-waxed Franco-German gay couple with plucked brows, precision beards and perfect pecs. They could have been separated at birth. Must be like shagging a mirror. When they weren’t fiddling with their iPhones (to check Grindr, presumably), they communicated in Globalish*. Our barman was pretty. And pretty useless. Just like every gay bar around the world.

yumbo-centre

Geordie Shore

Mercifully, the heatwave has broken. I’d started to lose the plot and I was a hair’s breath away from garrotting the leathery old early birds who always get the brollies. With plunged temperatures, Liam bundled me out of the apartmentos for an excursion to Puerto de Mogán, a marina resort on the south-west coast of the island. We went by public transport, by far the easiest way to get around. Naturally, the bus stop was like a multi-national rugby scrum. You’d think people were fleeing a war zone. Why do we Brits bother queueing?

Set on a steep-sided valley, Puerto de Mogán is built in faux Spanish colonial style and very pretty it is too. But the epithet ‘Venice of the Canaries’ is over-egging the pudding a bit. There’s just the one ‘canal’ – more of a creek really. Still, we ate tapas in a lovely marinaside restaurant followed by coffee and cake in an inviting backstreet bakery. The port’s like a mini version of Bodrum in look and feel, particularly with the dripping, multi-coloured bougainvillea. Sadly, the relaxed ambience was marred by a gang of pissed-up Geordies stalking the streets and waving empty Peroni bottles. My dad was a Geordie. He’d be spinning in his urn.

Back to Bodrum

All in all, it’s been a splendid week, with batteries, scent and cigs (for my mother) recharged. Next trip: back to Bodrum for the wedding of the year. Now that really is something to write home about.

*Globalish is the cut-down version of English used by air traffic controllers, international conferences and dating apps which is totally lacking in elegance, colour, nuance or wit.

The Three Witches

The Three Witches

Comptons of SohoA while back, I took a little trip to the big city to catch up with old friends, a regular gig and a tradition going back years. It’s what we call the witches coven, a time to conspire, bitch and stir the pot without the distractions of coupledom getting in on the act. We leave our significant others at home to do the washing up. I’d like to claim it’s a carnival of sparkling wit and profound insight but the excess tends to dull the repartee.

I waited for the coven to convene in Comptons, a Soho bar of some infamy and a regular haunt of my dance hall days. I was early and ordered a pint. Little has changed at Comptons down the years but bog standard beer has been cynically replaced by premium ales with premium prices to match. Even by Soho’s inflated tariffs, the cost is extortionate; I’ve been on cheaper Ryanair flights. It was ever thus. Having a gay old time has always come at a price.

As ever, the beefy bar staff were useless. Getting served at Comptons is like a game of chance and what little change you get back is shunted towards you in a plastic tray, a kind of begging bowl for the minimally waged. Company policy, I assume. Us Brits tend not to tip bar staff but I suppose the ruse works with unsuspecting tourists. I scooped up my coppers and found a quiet spot to sip my beer, thumb through the gaypers and wait for my fellow witches to arrive. Before long, a young Asian man sidled up next to me and began a nervous conversation. From his awkwardness and stuttering babble, I guessed he was a Soho novice. To the uninitiated, even the oppressed can be oppressive and I knew from experience that being gay and Asian doesn’t always make a great cocktail. I was more than happy to put the young whippersnapper at his ease. As it turned out, he was an air traffic controller at Heathrow. That’s all we need in these paranoid times. A jittery air traffic controller with secrets.

Pith, Path and Poof

Anyone growing up in Seventies Britain will remember that the word ‘poof’ was the insult of choice for red-blooded males in their crotch-hugging loon pants, polyester tank tops, bouffant hairdos and BO. The abuse was often accompanied by a teapot impersonation. Oh, how I laughed. These days the word seems quaintly old-fashioned and has been (almost) consigned to history along with flock wallpaper, velour three-piece suites, fondue sets, beige teasmades with corn motifs and the curly perm.

Poof

I’ve often wondered about the origin of the word. A quick Google reveals a variety of explanations from a suitably camp French headdress to some fanciful tale about the sound of a fart; neither of which rings true to me. Now I think I’ve cracked it. Liam and I were watching ‘The Secrets of the Castle,’ a BBC show about the construction of a medieval fortress employing the building techniques of the day (I know, I know, we ought to get out more). One of the many absorbing details uncovered by the experimental archaeology was the old grading of sandstone into hard (pith), medium (path) and soft (poof). There you have it. Shirt lifters have always been considered a bit soft, never quite man enough to make the grade, butch-wise. Not that this was the case with Billy Moss, a prison officer I once dallied with in the Nineties. One warm summer’s evening we were enjoying a pint outside the Colherne Pub in West London, the grand-daddy of gay bars back in the day. As we supped, a delivery van passed by, stopping at a red light. The tattooed driver shouted over something rather unpleasant. Billy handed me his pint, swaggered over, squared up to the driver and said,

‘Come on then, mate. You want some? And after you can tell yer wife you got beaten up by a big poof.’

While I don’t condone the threat of violence, I must confess that the look of fear on the white van man’s face was a real treat as he hit the gas to make a quick getaway. I wonder where Billy is now?

The Last Taboo

Norwich Pride Lions
Out and Proud Lion at Norwich City Hall – Image courtesy of Norwich Pride on Facebook

The twilight world of the homosexual has emerged from the dark alleys of my fumbling pretty-boy years and gone very high street. Talented lesbians and gay men from every mince of life have broken out of the ghetto and now muck about in the mainstream without hiding their sexuality under a bushel or running scared of the sleazy Sunday scandal rags. No one cares what you do between the sheets – well, not in Britain anyway – and it just doesn’t sell copy anymore, not even in the Sunday Mail. No, hypocrisy is the sin that pisses people off the most these days. Even in the macho world of sport there are tentative signs that the love that dares not speak its name is whispering in the showers without causing a stir in the scrum or a tirade from the terraces.

All of this should cheer up the war-weary. Nobody ever won their rights by asking nicely and saying please and it’s taken hand-to-hand combat with the hard of hearing to get this far. Long decades of agitation have finally paid off.  There’s no room for complacency of course. There were 5,000 reported homophobic attacks last year and we must all guard against a moral backlash – think the Russian descent into religious conservatism as an example. But now that gay people have become so ordinary and everyday, what’s the point to an entire sub-culture dedicated to difference and enforced separation? Who needs a gay bar when you’ll get a hearty welcome down your local even when you’ve got your arm around the boyf?

Or will you?

This post briefly went out as a ‘ghost post’ a few weeks ago when I inadvertently pressed the wrong key and suffered a bad case of premature publication. Hence some of the comments. Oops!