Fifteen-Year Itch

For our fifteenth wedding anniversary we were itching for a big city scratch with a difference. Despite my heathen leanings, I do like an impressive church, and few are more impressive than London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren’s tour de force topped with its heavenly dome. The earlier Gothic pile was torched along with much of the old medieval city in the Great Fire of 1666. It’s reckoned the blaze started in a bakery in the appropriately named Pudding Lane, bringing a whole new meaning to the hallowed phrase ‘give us our daily bread’.

Meandering around the flashy Baroque splendour brought back happy memories of my first pilgrimage – back in my spotty teens when I accompanied my grandmother, who was over from Ireland.

According to the annals, there’s been a church on the same spot since 604 AD, and possibly as far back as the late Roman period, as suggested by a plaque listing the pre-Norman bishops with their glorious tongue-twister names.

In stark contrast to the lavish decor above, the crypt is simply appointed and stuffed with the tombs of kill and cure notables from days long past, from Florence Nightingale and Alexander Fleming – who discovered penicillin quite by chance – to the victors of Trafalgar and Waterloo, Nelson and Wellington. Napoleon must be spinning in his monumental Parisian grave. Wren is there too, of course.

After piety came avarice, with indulgent afternoon tea and bubbles in The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre followed by mother’s ruin at Halfway to Heaven, the homo watering hole near Nelson’s massive column, where Liam and I first met. They knew we were coming judging by the ultimate gay megamix playing on the jukebox – Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Marc Almond, The Communards, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dead or Alive, Gloria Gaynor and Hazel Dean – with Liza Minnelli’s ‘Love Pains’ bringing up the rear. Liam’s shoulders shimmied to the beat. Perfect.

Send in the Clones

When, in the late seventies, I took my first tentative steps onto London’s knock-and-enter gay scene, facial hair was all the rage. Walk into any smoky dive bar and you’d be confronted with an ocean of moustaches – the bigger, the bushier the better. It was like a Tom Selleck convention minus the Hawaiian shirts. We called ’em clones – the Frisco Crisco look. Even the limp-wristed tried to butch it up during the clone wars. The entire lookalikee-ness was gloriously sent up by the Village People in their camp 1978 disco classic ‘Macho Man’. I had the 12-inch.

And clones were only attracted to other clones – that was the Clone Law – dancing round each other in some strange narcissistic mating ritual. I couldn’t really grow convincing face furniture, and pretty boys like me didn’t get a look in. Still, it didn’t hold me back.

By the nineties, hirsute was out, supplanted by the clean-shaven and the fully-waxed. Roll on the noughties, and Desperate Dan* wannabees reclaimed the streets with overgrown hipster beards. But now the lumberjack look is old hat and tashes are back among the trendy young things. And so the world turns.

Being older and furrier, I saw this as my last chance to release my inner clone. For about a month, I nurtured my new whiskers with pride; a bit more salt than pepper perhaps, but full-bodied all the same.

Freddie Mercury’s clone phase

But then a young chap accidentally brushed passed me in a crowded Norwich pub. “Really sorry, old man,” he said.

That was the end of my seventies pornstar tash.

*Desperate Dan was a big butch cartoon character from the Dandy comic with a beard so tough he shaved with a blowtorch.

Labours of Love

As a superannuated member of the grumpy grey herd, I still read newspapers, those quaintly old-fashioned printed sheets of paper that leave ink smudges on your fingers. I recently read in one daily rag that renovation, decorating and domestic chores can cause tensions in relationships. Really? Who knew? This month, Liam and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and we decided very early on in our career that the only way to avoid the divorce court was a clear division of labour in the home.

Here’s that newspaper list and how we stay (mostly) harmonious:

  • Flat-pack furniture: me. I’m a sucker for an Allen key. It makes me come over all butch.
  • Bathroom cleaning: Liam. Getting my hand round an s-bend is an insertion too far.
  • Painting and decorating: Liam. I’m no Jack of all trades and he’s handier with a brush.
  • Loading the dishwasher: both but I reload it when he’s not looking.
  • Clearing out the shed. Jack’s man cave – keep out! It’s where the smut is stashed.
  • Laundry: me. I’m happy to rinse through Liam’s knickers. That’s real love for you.
  • Putting up a shelf: neither. Get a lesbian in.
  • Cleaning the oven: Liam. Life’s way too short to drop to my knees for a cooker.
  • And the hardest of all… interior design choices. Have you ever seen two old poofs throw a hissy fit over some scatter cushions in IKEA? It wasn’t us, obviously.

Paul O’Grady, RIP

We awoke this morning to the sad news that Paul O’Grady, AKA Lily Savage drag queen extraordinaire, has died. Even though I didn’t know Paul personally, somehow it still feels like a big loss. Lily Savage was such an important part of my formative years as a pretty young gay about town. Before Paul hit the big time on the telly box, firstly as his alter ego and then as himself, I misspent many a boozy night of slapstick and sequins watching Lily click her high heels on the velvet-draped stage of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, South London’s premier drag pub. Quick-witted, caustic, filthy and utterly original, Lily always brought the house down. I laughed so much it hurt. Nobody dared heckle Lily when Lily was on a roll. She was more than just drag. There have been countless drag queens down the ages, some great and some dire, but Lily stood wig and shoulders above them all. Lily was comedy royalty.

There are loads of videos of Paul and Lily on YouTube. I’ve picked one – outtakes from the Lily Savage TV Show back in the day on the Beeb. If you’re easily offended, best change channels now.

Kinky Boots


A glitter bomb of drag queens in outrageous slap and the highest heels sashayed onto the stage at Norwich’s Theatre Royal to add a little glamour to the naughty but nice musical Kinky Boots, the very latest thing from the class act that is the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. The show is based on a 2005 British comedy* of the same name, which itself is loosely based around the true story of a Northampton cobbler struggling to save his family-run factory from closure by producing fetish footwear for men.

With songs by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the show is a glorious celebration of diversity and acceptance. Despite being set against the grim reality of deindustrialised Britain, it’s a heart-warming tale of hope and salvation, and strangely resonant given Norwich’s own long history of shoe-making. The dazzling cast did Cyndi proud, and dowager drag queen Lola was simply fabulous. The show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

I’ll leave the last words to that camp old crooner Barry Manilow and aptly named sixties supergroup The Kinks.

Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl

With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.

Copacabana‘ by Barry Manilow

Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand

Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man

‘Lola’ by Ray Davis

*A film directed by Norwich’s very own Julian Jarrold. The Jarrold family are big round here.