Following a boozy afternoon on the tiles, I had no memory of making it back to our hotel in East London. This is despite staggering from Soho to Piccadilly Circus to get the Tube, changing at Oxford Circus, taking the Central Line to Stratford, finding the hotel and checking in. I was thankful to wake up in the right room in the right hotel with the right person. Liam couldn’t remember anything either.
I rolled out of bed and peered through the window. The first thing I noticed was how high up we were. It was quite a view, with the London 2012 Olympic Stadium – now home to West Ham Football Club – in the foreground and the city skyline beyond. There were cranes everywhere – saluting the ever-evolving cityscape. The sky was winter bright and the sun hurt my eyes; I drew the curtains and clambered back under the duvet.
After a couple of hours’ dozing and dossing, it was time to drag our weary carcasses back home to little old Norwich to nest and rest. Easier said than done. The Schindler’s lifts were on a go slow and it took ages to get down to the first floor reception to check out. Rather than wait for another sulky lift, we decided to take the stairs to street level. What we didn’t know was that the hotel was perched on top of a high-rise car park and the stairwell just went down, down and down. Our heads thumped in sync with every step into the abyss. For some inexplicable reason, the treads were numbered with felt-tip pen.
And there were the directions just in case we lost our way. Clearly, the cleaners didn’t make it down very often. And who could blame them?
We had an hour or so to kill before our train, so we settled on the best hangover cure – a full English in a fancy restaurant. Yes, that’s a dead tree behind Liam. Very fancy.
It was high time for a little naughty fun in the smoke – a chance to spend a boozy afternoon with the London landlady of our Turkey years and an old mucker of mine from way back when. First stop was the French House, an iconic Soho watering hole popular with arty types. It’s a…
…fabulous and entertaining spot to raise a glass in London, the French House truly deserves its reputation as the best known pub in the world’s naughtiest square mile. It’s no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones rule makes it a haven for conversationalists and a firm favourite among some of the best known names in show business.
Even if they do say so themselves.
And converse we did through four bottles of their finest house plonk. Sadly, the clientele was a bit light on thespians and there was nobody famous to gawp at.
Next up was a Thai vegan restaurant. Imagine me doing vegan? Not when I’m sober. It was tasty enough but a bit of pricey for a plate of rice and veg sprinkled with a few cashew nuts and not at all fit for soaking up the Devil’s brew.
Finally, we fell into The Admiral Duncan, a gay bar made famous by a nail bomb which, in 1999, killed three and maimed many others. It was good to see the old place still thriving after all these years despite the advent of ‘dating’ apps which have killed off many a clip joint. It’s the Amazon effect. Why bother with the faff and expense of propping up the bar hoping for a chance liaison when you can order in with free delivery?
Our former landlady popped to the loo to spend a penny and got more than she bargained for. Liam asked if she was alright.
Not really, no. There’s a transsexual masturbating in the ladies.
I had no words.
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.
In Istanbul, tear gas and rubber bullets broke up small groups of brave souls attempting to defy the ban of this year’s pride march. In London, the rainbow flag flies proudly over Tower Bridge, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Just sayin’.
Happy London Pride today. For those, like us, who won’t be parading down Whitehall, what better way to mark the event than to watch the cast of the Lion King featuring the London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Circle of Life composed by England’s second biggest queen?
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.
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.
We were in London for cake and fancies to celebrate my Mother’s 88th birthday. The old girl was in fine fettle – fag in one hand, brandy and coke in the other. I was going to post a video of her blowing out the candles to Happy Birthday, but with the lights off, it came out like a scene from The Blair Witch Project (the cult horror film not the dodgy dossier that did it for a former prime minister).
On our way home the next day, we had a couple of hours to waste before catching the train back to old Norwich so we took a wander round Spitalfields and Broadgate in the City. Last time we were there, we were richly entertained by Tangoing couples. No such luck this time, more’s the pity. So instead, I’m posting a few random shots from our meander. As with much of London, the area is a mishmash of styles old and new, tall and short. It’s what makes the City what it is and I rather like it.
Bankers in the Sun
Nanny on Bishops Square
Large Lady Reclining
Verde & Co
While supping coffee in the afternoon sunshine, Liam spotted a tiny bird nearby begging for a tasty titbit. Pigeons are commonplace in London but this little birdie was a pied wagtail, or so Liam told me. Liam is hardly well-acquainted with birds, so I had my doubts.
Back to Liverpool Street Station in time for our train, we stumbled across one of the Kindertransport memorials which commemorate the rescue of around 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi persecution just before the outbreak of World War II. It was an age when Britain and others were a little less shoddy to refugees.
There’s a much grander statue on Hope Square in front of the main entrance to the station. But I like this one better as it seems to merge with the ebb and flow of the crowd. There are similar memorials in Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Gdansk. ‘Lest we forget,’ as the saying goes. Trouble is, I think we already have.