The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is in full swing right now, an eclectic mix of the performing arts in venues right across the city. One of the more original festival venues is the Adnams Speigeltent in Chapelfield Gardens, a replica Edwardian erection with a handy on-site beer garden to quench the thirst. Last night, we enjoyed a night at the big top with Panti Bliss, the Irish drag queen who’s become a bit of a national treasure in Ireland since her famous exposition of homophobia last year. I wrote a post about Panti’s eloquent speech and remarked at the time that it would change minds. And it has. Panti was no less eloquent last night as she revealed funny, absurd and touching titbits from her extraordinary life. Her social commentary was razor-sharp and the copious consumption of gin did nothing to blunt the edge.
Naturally, Panti has been a dedicated supporter of marriage equality in the Irish Republic. In fact, there’s a national referendum on that very subject today. Let’s hope our friends over the water do the right thing. I’m optimistic. It will mean that across these wind-swept islands, only Northern Ireland* will be holding back the tide of social progress. And a yes vote in the Republic might just shame those dusty old Presbyterians into some positive action. But did Panti get back to Dublin in time to cast her vote?
*In fact, there is no marriage equality in the Isle of Man and Channel Islands either. Except in matters of tax evasion, these off-shore tax havens always have be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
A cursory glance at my stats shows that Perking the Pansies pops up on the internet in totally unexpected ways. My irreverent ramblings seem to attract the lost, the lustful, the inquisitive and the ignorant – and from the four corners of the world. These are a few of my favourite search terms:
- Pussy lovers (for feline aficionados, obviously)
- Gran Canarian Sex (for a bit of bump and grind in the sun)
- Rent Boys (believe me, my street-walking days are over)
- Hardon All Day (hit it with a stick)
- Is Marti Pellow/Gary Lineker/Kate Adie gay (they seem happy enough to me)
- Gumbet Love Rats (for the ladies who never learn)
- The Turkish Living Forum (keeping my 2012 rant right up there in the rankings)
And then came:
Now that one completely threw me. Dowdall was my old girl’s name before her soldier boy popped his ring on her finger. Who was the mysterious surfer? I don’t know, but if s/he ever surfs back, do drop me a line and put me out of my curiosity. And yes, that is me in the picture (the one in shorts, not the fabulous Sixties frock). Bless.
P.S. It’s Doreen Dowdall’s 85th birthday tomorrow. Apart from being a bit mutton with a touch of arthritis and a dodgy hip, the old girl’s in fine fettle. I just hope I’ve inherited her genes.
Homophobia, like racism and other types of irrational prejudice, takes many forms – from the subtle to the violent, the barely perceptible to the deadly. It’s all around us and we are all guilty of it to a lesser or greater extent. But, it becomes farcical when those who never have and never will experience homophobia get to decide what it is and how it affects those who are its victims. I can think of no better rebuttal of this nonsense than the one delivered by Panti Bliss, an Irish drag queen following her controversial appearance on RTE, the Irish TV broadcaster. It’ caused quite a ruckus – deliciously called ‘Pantigate’. It’s no bad thing to get the bigots running scared. Here’s what the eminently sensible, gloriously eloquent Panti Bliss had to say on the subject:
Another weekend in the Smoke, another birthday surprise, this time from my old dance partner, Ian. We were treated to matinee tickets for Once, a new musical recently imported from across the Pond. I’d never heard of it but since we’re living in the sticks with our fingers off the pulse, this will surprise no-one. When we realised the set was based around a Dublin bar, we were immediately hooked. By the end of the performance, we were on our feet (as was everyone else). I’m a sucker for a love story and Once ladles it on with a trowel. Cue the brooding young busker with a broken heart and the sassy Czech lass with a quick tongue and a dodgy Hoover (don’t ask). Boy meets girl supported by a catholic cast of Celts and Slavs. Everyone sings, everyone dances and everyone fiddles, strums, beats and blows: the ensemble is the chorus and the orchestra, all wrapped up in an emerald green bow and a Bohemian flourish. Funny, touching and tender, we wept in the aisles. ‘Twas a love story to gladden this old cynic’s heart.
Mother’s inaugural royal visit to the weaver’s croft went without a hitch. She was escorted across country by my nephew and namesake, Jack Junior. I wondered if she’d be able to climb the narrow winding steps up to the attic boudoirs. I needn’t have worried. She remains a spritely 83 year and still runs for buses, despite a touch of arthritis. She had a good root around and gave her seal of approval. Fed and brandy’d, she retired for the evening with ‘Fifty Shades Darker’. We took young Jack to the bar at the Playhouse Theatre to discuss his exam results and flourishing love life. This popular watering hole by the water is always bursting with fresh-faced students and earnest artists with a dash of old homos thrown into the mix. The next morning, as Liam fixed breakfast, Mother noticed a timeworn photo of her wedding I keep in a frame on the window ledge. We looked at it together. Handsome Dad looked dapper and proud in his dress uniform and the old girl looked stunning and radiant in her classic cut wedding dress and virginal veil. “But who,” I asked “was the drag queen in the fur next to Dad?”
You might also like:
Break a Leg
The Only Virgin in London
While looking for a new gaff to lay our hats we boxed and coxed with trunks in tow. Some of our time was spent with Liam’s folks in Edmonton, North London. The area has a strange familiarity, and not for the obvious reasons. As a world city, London is used to migration and transience. London is what it is because of it. Centuries of settlement and resettlement have reinvented and re-invigorated the city in an endless cycle of renewal. This constant shift in the cultural cityscape is not without its challenges but it is always enriching.
Forty years ago Edmonton was host to a thriving Irish community. Catholicism, the craic and the tricolour dominated the local scene. Forty years on, next generation Irish have moved up and out leaving a rump of the old who are slowly dying off. Nature abhors a vacuum; as the Irish up sticks to greener pastures, Turks fill the spaces in between. Of course, Turkish people are no strangers to London. The colonial connection to Cyprus established Turkish and Greek communities, now decades old. The partition of Aphrodite’s troubled isle following the 1974 Turkish invasion helped to bolster numbers on both sides of the Cypriot divide. Ironically, both communities live cheek-by-jowl in a way that is no longer possible on Cyprus itself. They don’t exactly mix but neither do they growl at each other from opposite sides of a thin blue line. When I lived in Walthamstow, my local convenience store was run by Turks and my greying hair was clipped by the Greek barber next door. I wisely avoided the Cypriot question while Stavros wielded a cut-throat razor.
Back in Edmonton, the ethnic influx is of a different kind. Recent immigrants tend to hail from Turkey itself rather than Cyprus. This has introduced a more traditional feel to the area. Grubby old pubs that were dying on their feet have been turned into colourful restaurants and locked-up shops have been given a new lease of life as tea houses. There’s even a branch of Doğtaş – a well-known (and horribly gaudy) Turkish home furnishings chain – in the local shopping centre. It’s all brought a new vibrancy to the vicinity. Unfortunately, as well as a fresh new Anatolian look, the Turks have also imported their truly terrible driving habits. Lollipop ladies leap for their lives.