But What Are They Eating?

But What Are They Eating?

Author Shelley Workinger runs a blog that provides a unique approach to book promotion – food and the consumption thereof. My expanding waistline is evidence enough of my love of all things culinary, so I bit her hand off to get featured.

Turkish cuisine is justifiably famed as one of the world’s greatest. The Sultan’s table overflowed with extravagant bounty from the vast Ottoman domains that once stretched across three continents. The empire may be history, but food – preparing it, eating it, sharing it – is still of enormous cultural importance to all Turks regardless of status and income. So it’s small wonder the simple act of eating plays a starring role in both of my memoirs, Perking the Pansies and its sequel, Turkey Street. Here’s a soupçon…

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Sex, Lies and Murder

Sex, Lies and Murder

We’ve seen a few films recently, most notably God’s Own Country, a windswept tale of romance and raunch between a monosyllabic, emotionally-repressed Yorkshire hill farmer (Josh O’Connor – the literary one from the Durrells) and an enlightened and worldly-wise labourer from Romania (a superbly self-possessed Alec Secăreanu). It’s a kinda coming out tale for the Brexit generation and a tad ironic given the reception gay people usually receive in Romania. Liam thought it was all a bit too Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the desolation but only because it was finally relieved by a bit of boy-gets-boy at the end. The critics praised the film but damned the redemption. Critics seem to love grim tales that leave you reaching for the gin and pills.

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The Party.jpgWe also saw The Party, a dark satirical farce filmed entirely in black and white about a soiree of smug, fizz-swigging Islington intellectuals whose lives (and leftie credentials) visibly unravel before your eyes. They wriggle while the vol-au-vents burn. I really wanted to like this film but didn’t. There were some great lines…

“You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker,”

…and a great twist at the end but it all got a bit too slapstick – and not half as clever as it thinks it is. I nearly reached for the gin and pills.

And then came the main event. Murder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most ingenious plot. I’ve seen the 1974 star-studded version many times so I know whodunit but did I care? Kenneth Branagh’s re-make (both as director and as Poirot – the Belgian sleuth, sporting gravity-defying face furniture) may be slightly less stellar, cast-wise, but it more than made up for it with spectacle and opulent period detail, dishing up characters less cardboard cut-out than the usual Christie servings. The famously snowed-in train provided an afternoon of pure escapism that really dried out a rainy day. It sparkled – from the dramatic Istanbul skyline to Branagh’s anguished Poirot. Later, we raised a gin or two to the new Hercule. No pills required.

 

 

Magical Mystery Tour

We boarded the bus.

Where’s he taking me? A little rural retreat with ancient beams and hearty fare, deep in the flatlands?

We boarded the train.

We must be going to Diss, a pretty little market town with fine Georgian architecture.

Where’s Diss? Near Dat, as the in-joke goes.


Diss came and went.

Liam bundled me off at Ipswich and we headed for the Marina.

Fancy a drink?

Ipswich Quay

Well, I don’t need asking twice but why Ipswich?

This is why.

It was an inspired birthday treat – a complete surprise. Marc Almond in his torch song years is right up my street and his ‘Tenement Symphony’ album is one of my favourites of all time. Marc was in fine voice, supported by a full ensemble – strings, guitars, percussion, keyboards, brass, backing vocalists – a quality set and a rich wall of sound. New songs, old songs, a couple of Dusty Springfield classics (‘the sixties have been very good to me,’ he said) and a bit of Northern Soul chucked in at the end to get you to your feet. Just brilliant.

We polished off the evening in a very pleasant watering hole near our hotel, full of fun and fantastic punters. This was one of them:

Thank you, scary lady, for letting me take your photo and thank you, Liam, for my magical mystery tour.

So, ladies and gents, I give you my favourite Almond track from my favourite Almond album superbly delivered on a memorable night – ‘the Days of Pearly Spencer’. It’s a song I first heard one balmy evening in a gay bar in old Ibiza Town. It was 1991. But that’s another story.

Gay Britannia

Gay Britannia

If you are LGBT, 16 or over and living in the UK, Her Maj’s Government wants to know about your experiences of living in our always green but not always pleasant land. The National LGBT Survey should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. It’s a bit tick-boxy but you won’t be identified and you can add comments at the end. This was my two-penneth worth…

I’m one of the lucky ones. I came out in the seventies when only the few came out. I was fine with it, my family were (mostly) fine with it and I’ve faced surprisingly little direct or obvious discrimination. But then, I grew up in London so I was hardly the only gay in the village and worked in sectors that were accepting or at least tolerant. I stuck two fingers up at the bigots and the hypocrites and did what I wanted because it wasn’t anyone else’s business. Ironically, I do wonder what will happen should I need to go into care towards the end of my life. Will I be forced to shuffle back into the closet?

Our voices must be heard because, despite the enormous progress of recent decades, bigots still feed at the bottom of the pond. As an example, take the reporting of this year’s Norwich Pride by our local rag, the Eastern Daily Press. The coverage was full of hope and celebration. Some of the reactions to it from anonymous trolls hiding behind their silly handles were not. I was particularly taken by the observation from some Nazi called thefastestfox1…

Degenerate, selfish behavior from a small minority with no thought for the long term existence of the human race not to mention the waste of tax payer’s hard earned money.

Don’t degenerates pay tax then? Nobody told me. Can I get a rebate? For my sins, I was going to spit back but someone called Silver Machine got there before me.

But enough about you, this is meant to be a discussion about the article, do keep up.

Ridicule is the perfect response.

So, what’s 15 minutes out of your life? The closing date is the 15th October 2017 so get clicking here. No, you won’t earn Tesco’s Clubcard points or the chance to win a lifetime subscription to Grindr but you just might make a difference. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

What’s the Point of Pride?

What’s the Point of Pride?

They used to say,

‘they shouldn’t be allowed to march.’

Now they say,

‘Why bother to march?’

Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.

Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.

 

Pretty and Witty and Gay

Pretty and Witty and Gay

The words famously not sung by Natalie Wood in West Side Story – and there was plenty of pretty, volumes of witty and oodles of gay at yesterday’s Norwich Pride. With colourful coppers leading the way, frisky fireman bringing up the rear and the whole world in between, the pride march reflected all the colours of our rainbow. The legions of young people out and proud brought a lump to my throat. Well done Norwich and well done to those who made it happen.

The Day the Rot Set In

The Day the Rot Set In

On this day fifty years ago, the Sexual Offences Act received Royal Assent. The act partially decriminalised male homosexual acts. I say partially because the repeal only applied to rumpy bumpy between men 21 and over in England and Wales. It excluded the rest of the UK and those bastions of red-blooded machismo, the Merchant Navy and the Armed Forces. The ripe phrase ‘rum, bum and the Navy’ must have seemed even more ironic to randy sailors on a long and lonely tour of duty. By contrast, girl on girl action has never been illegal, perhaps because the (almost exclusively male) elite were rather titillated by the thought of it (well, those who weren’t fiddling with the altar boys or servicing the groom, that is). Reform-wise, the Scots didn’t join the party until 1980 and the Northern Irish brought up the rear in 1982. This may explain the over-representation of ginger queens on the pink streets of London during the seventies and eighties.

If the holier-than-thou pulpiteers, tight-arsed little Englanders, mighty-mouths down the pub or queer bashers on the streets thought the 1967 act was the one and only concession to be made, they were in a for a nasty surprise. It was a call to arms. The eighties and nineties brought the darkest days of AIDS and many hoped we’d all sashay back into our closets and die. No such luck. Despite the violence, the ridicule, the outraged press and pushy coppers in rubber gloves, a growing band of brave souls kept the rainbow flag flying higher than ever. Direct action and the outing of mitred hypocrites became rather fashionable. And it worked. One day, the walls came tumbling down and what followed was a bonfire of the prejudices.

The age of consent was reduced (first to 18 then to 16), the armed forces ban was lifted, the offence of gross indecency was repealed, Section 28* was abolished, gender re-assignment was recognised, fostering and adoption laws were liberalised, employment protection secured, civil partnerships were introduced and, by 2014, full marriage equality was realised across Britain. Then came the royal pardon for past deeds no longer illegal and, in time, so too will come the official apology.

On equal marriage, only Northern Ireland is still holding out, with some dour old dinosaurs desperately trying to hold back the tide, Canute-like. Their days in the sun are numbered, despite their last hurrah propping up Chairman May.

Rainbow Copper

The gestation of the 1967 Act was a long one. It was the Wolfenden Report of 1957 that recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences and concluded:

“…unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”

Some still get hot under the collar in matters sex and sin, stoked up by bigots from across the religious divide. The issue even hit the headlines during the recent general election. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a devout Christian, was repeatedly harangued about whether he thinks gay sex is sinful. The poor man squirmed and wriggled presumably because in his heart of hearts, he probably does. After the election, he resigned because of it. I don’t normally feel sorry for politicians but even I thought it was all too much. I’m well-acquainted with oppression by the majority and it smacked of bullying. And I don’t like bullies whatever their persuasion – left, right or centre. Mr Farron’s personal religious beliefs are his own business and, to paraphrase the Virgin Queen, I have no desire to make a window into anyone’s soul. Mr Farron can think whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t move to impose those beliefs on others. And as far as I know, unlike the orange relics and meddlesome priests of the Emerald Isle, he never has.

So I celebrate the day the rot started to set in. It eventually brought the whole edifice of hypocrisy crashing down. Now we can live happily ever after. Or can we? For some in our sceptre’d isle, life is still a little bit shit – bigotry can lurk just beneath the surface and the pendulum never stops swinging. And what of rainbow life beyond our shores? You only have to look around to see how really grim things are for many – the recent roundup and torture of young men in Chechnya is a case in point. And Allah only knows which way the wind will blow now Turks have foolishly voted sweeping presidential powers to an autocrat with a messianic streak. As for Saudi Arabia and Iran, the sword and the noose are kept on standby just case anyone dares poke a toe out of the closet.

*A shameful and largely symbolic law banning the alleged ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, as if sexuality were a choice.