He’s Behind You!

Cinderella at the Palladium

I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned Grimm tale. And if it comes triple-wrapped in high camp and topped with flying fairies, then I’m hooked. And they don’t come more camp or more soaring than Cinderella at the London Palladium. Panto’s not for everyone, I know. All that ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no, he isn’t’ slapstick leaves some people baffled. But only the truly sour would sniff at this lavish, no-holes-barred, gags and glitter extravaganza. I haven’t laughed so much in years. With the likes of Julian Clary and Lilly Savage in the cast, the hard core double-entendre was not for the faint hearted but there were no profanities among the lewdness – so that kept the mums and dads happy. Lilly was a tad under-powered so it was left to Julian to steal the show. Seeing him in leathers and feathers flying over the stalls on a Vespa was surreal. And the rest of the cast were pretty sparkling too. Amanda Holden can actually sing. Who knew? There’s something very winter-warming about this peculiarly British theatrical tradition. Oh no there isn’t. Oh yes there is!

Thank you to our very own fairy godmother for getting us to the ball. You’re a star.

A Manifesto for Life

A Manifesto for Life

We recently attended the funeral of David Harries. It was a bittersweet gig, sad but not in the slightest bit depressing. Stripped of dust-to-dust religious delusions, the ceremony was the perfect celebration of an OTT life lived totally in the moment. Never was the old adage ‘live fast, die young’ any more apt. It was a motif David wore on his designer sleeve without apology or regret. Laughter echoed through the chapel. We were celebrants, not mourners.

On the way to the funeral in London, we stopped off for a spot of tiffin at Balans Soho Café. They have an interesting mission statement, something they call their ‘manifesto’. It goes like this:

Balans Manifesto

I know it’s just a corporate mantra but it’s more uplifting and less cynical than most. And I think it’s a sentiment David would have heartily approved of.  I know I do. We raised a glass.

David leaves behind my old mucker, Philip, his partner of 21 years. In place of floral tributes to wither and rot, Philip asked people to donate to the Za Foundation, a friend’s charity currently raising money to give a Christmas dinner to children in South Africa who might otherwise go hungry. Few if any reading this will have known David and I know it’s an expensive time of year but if you have any pennies to spare… well, you know the drill.  Here’s the link.

Za Foundation

If you do donate, please mention it’s in David’s memory. Philip would be really chuffed.

David Harries

David Harries (1960-2016)

Pride 2016

Pride 2016

The marching season is in full mince and after the slaughter in an Orlando gay club, Pride has a special resonance this year. Cutting through the noise, it now seems the carnage was the work of a closet case whose religious beliefs fried his brain. He happened to be a fundamentalist Muslim with shameful stirrings but could just as easily have been a fundamentalist Christian with the same sense of self-loathing. That’s the trouble with blind faith, those who fall from grace sometimes lose the plot. Ironically, some from the religious right don’t know who to condemn more, the man or his victims. And, the Second Amendment is a godsend to the trigger happy. Jesus wept.

My beautiful picture

On this side of the pond, London Pride was heralded by a flypast from the RAF’s Red Arrows and a rainbow flag flew over Parliament. It’s hard to imagine that happening in many capitals around the world.

Predictably, Istanbul Pride was banned again this year. To avoid the brutal oppression of 2015 when everyone was swept from the streets by tear gas and water cannon, Istanbul’s Governor gave plenty of notice. Last year, the holy month of Ramadan was the excuse. This year it was the threat from ultra-nationalist groups. Or maybe the powers that be just didn’t like it. Come the day, a few brave souls turned up anyway and were met by riot police and…well, you can guess the rest. And that was followed a couple of weeks later by an attempted military coup to ‘protect’ human rights and ‘preserve’ Turkish democracy. Since when was democracy ever preserved by soldiers in tanks? Was the coup real or not? Conspiracy theories abound but it was real enough for those who died as a result. Whatever the truth, you can bet your bottom lira life will start getting tougher and rougher for those who won’t or can’t toe the party line. Get thee to a mosque and to Hell with human rights.

Norwich Pride is on the 30th July and the only aggro expected is from a few nutters whispering hell and damnation from the wings. Even the zealous are painfully polite in these parts (as befits the ‘second kindest’ place in the kingdom, according to YouGov research). We’ll be there to wave our rainbow flags accompanied by a couple of old reprobates from the Smoke. We’re praying for a bit of sun – minus the fire and brimstone. I hear we’re to have a beer tent this year, thank the Lord: a first for Norwich Pride and a major step forward in my humble opinion. Cheers!

A happy pride season to one and all, whoever you get down on your knees for.

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest

Norwich Bus StationYou need a second mortgage to park in Norwich city centre.  When we moved into the micro-loft, we flogged the sexy-arsed Mégane (to my sister) and Liam now rides the bus to work. He no longer risks life and limb on the narrow country lanes with their tail-gating yokels, blind bends, loose livestock and black ice.

Bus travel in Norfolk belongs to a bygone era.  People still (mostly) queue at bus stops and drivers apologise for being late. Just imagine that! It’s the kind of civilised behaviour long since abandoned in London, a place where the law of the urban jungle prevails and it’s survival of the fittest. The last time I visited the Smoke, a bright red double decker actually yelled at me. Over and over it screamed…

This bus is under attack. Call 999!

London Bus

I’m delighted to confirm it was a slip of the driver’s wrist. Still, it was enough to wake the dead and give nervy tourists on-the-spot seizures. The hapless driver was frantically trying to switch off the announcement as the bus cruised slowly by. After events in Paris, Beirut, Turkey and elsewhere, I felt his pain.

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van PosterI’ve always admired Alan Bennett’s writing – witty, insightful, dead pan and very British. He has a remarkable knack of making magic from the ordinary and finding humour in the humdrum. If only I had a fraction of his talent. So when the adaptation of his play ‘The Lady in the Van’ was released, we bought our tickets and nudged politely past the grey herd at Cinema City, fruity red in hand. ‘The Lady in the Van’ is the far from ordinary tale of a crabby old woman living in a battered Bedford van squatting in the driveway of Alan Bennett’s North London home. He offered a parking space for three months. She stayed for fifteen years. Alex Jennings’ portrayal of the unsentimental and stoic author is uncanny and Maggie Smith as the aromatic old eccentric with a van-load of dark secrets is splendid. Top notch film acting is all in the eyes and the delivery. Maggie Smith lit up the screen with both. I feel a BAFTA coming on.

The clever script, littered with crisp one-liners, gradually unveils the old girl’s back story and, in doing so, reveals quite a lot about the author himself. To write any more would only spoil the plot. The supporting cast playing the hand-wringing Camden Town socialistas, desperate to see the back of the old bag, is rock-solid. There are some nice cameos from a few of the former pupils from Alan Bennett’s ‘History Boys’ too.

Here’s the trailer…

Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu

I’m sure I’ve been here before.

So said my mother after she took a sip of her brandy and coke and looked around the large smoke-filled room. It was 1980 and I was stepping out with Bernie, a salesman from Somerset. We were treating my mother to a night of slap, sequins and perversion at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, South London’s premier drag pub. As it turned out, her feelings of déjà vu were spot on. In the Swinging Sixties, she and my soldier dad had slipped out from the barracks on the other side of the river to catch an act or two.

Bernie was a close friend of Pat, the jovial landlord. Against all the odds, bent-as-a-nine-bob-note Bernie and straight-as-a-die Pat had consummated their bromance at the horses, shelling out a king’s ransom at the Cheltenham Gold Cup every year.

RoyalVauxhallTavern

Pat was Irish. Digging roads or running pubs were the standard professions for the Irish back in the day. Just a few months before, Pat had been the manager of the Colherne, the grand old queen of gay bars in West London.  But Pat had ambitions to rise above the ranks and saved his pennies. When the tenancy of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern came up, he grabbed it with both hands, moved in his wife and kids and spent a small fortune reconfiguring the original three bars into one large single space. It was a masterstroke that saw the till ka-chinging for years.

Royal Vauxhall Tavern Charity Night

Charity night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern with the late Diana Dors flanked by the Trollettes. That’s Pat the landlord (top row, third from the left. Next to him in the bow tie is someone everyone knew as Terry ‘Allcock’ – can’t think why we called him that.

Image courtesy of the RVT Community.

Time marched on, of course. Pat and his missus retired back to Ireland many moons ago and, sadly, I lost touch with Bernie in about 2006.  The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, however, continued to thrive, standing firm against the constantly changing rainbow landscape as a venue for drag and alternative cabaret.  Arguably, the venue’s most famous turn was Lily Savage, Paul O’Grady’s theatrical alter-ego before he hung up the blond wig and became every housewife’s favourite.

And then the iconic building was bought by an Austrian property development company. There’s a vast building boom going on in Vauxhall and Battersea these days, with a tube line extension, the redevelopment of Nine Elms, Battersea Power Station and a new state of the art American embassy. The future of the pub was looking bleak. That was until some punters swung into action and applied for listed building status. And guess what? They got it. Historic England (the organisation responsible for such things) decided…

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

It’s the first time any building has been listed on this basis. While the new status protects the building for posterity, it doesn’t mean that the venue will survive in its present form but it’s a start, a great start.

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.