My God’s Bigger Than Your God

Returning from one of our regular pilgrimages to the Great Metropolis, we took a different route home from Norwich Station. Just for the hell of it. Rather than hurry along the Prince of Wales Road and its grubby hotspots of ill repute, we headed for the Riverside development (all commuter flats and chain restaurants) and wandered across one of the fancy new foot bridges that span the River Wensum. The semi-industrial district on the other side is ripe for redevelopment. What the Luftwaffe hadn’t flattened was finished off by Fifties and Sixties planners. Thankfully, the breeze block and concrete grimness is moderated by a sprinkling of treasures, including the Dragon Hall, a stunning medieval trading hall on Kings Street and one of The ‘Norwich Twelve’ erections of distinction.

As we pushed up St Julian’s Alley (pun intended) we stumbled across St Julian’s Church, a tiny shrine now dedicated to Julian of Norwich. No, this Julian wasn’t a fella, but a lady named after the eponymous saint. She was a religious recluse who lived in a cell propped up against the wall of the building, a kind of hermit’s lean-to. It’s no surprise that prayful seclusion was the lifestyle of choice for many folk during the poxy ages.

The Lady Julian has quite a claim to fame. She penned the first ever book known to have been written in English by a woman. Fancy. She wrote her tome, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, in 1395 after experiencing intense visions of Christ during an illness that nearly saw her knocking at the Pearly Gates. Unlike many of her contemporaries (and ours), Julian talked of love, hope and forgiveness rather than duty, sin and punishment. Regular readers will know that I’m not remotely religious, but I reckon we could do with a bit more of Julian’s kind of divine message. So much better than the my-God’s-bigger-than-your-God world in which we still live.

Julian's Shrine

Exodus

exodus-560x372Nothing slaps you about the face better than God’s wrath in 3-D. I’m a sucker for a Hollywood style Biblical epic, particularly as the fairy tales of the Old Testament lend themselves to stunning special effects. So when Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ was released, I was front of the queue. For the most part, the movie delivers on spectacle, making up in drama what it lacks in depth. The plagues sequence is particularly delicious as the God of Moses teaches Rameses a thing or two about divine power. The film has dumped the preachy gravitas of the Cecil B Mille’s 1956 ‘The Ten Commandments’. Christian Bale’s doubting Moses is much grittier than Charlton Heston’s pulpit-style rendition and is better suited to today’s more secular age. Depicting God as a ten year old boy is either inspired or daft (I’m still not sure which). Having the child resemble Damien from ‘The Omen’ is masterly.

According to the BBC, the film has been banned in Eqypt because of ‘historical inaccuracies’ (sorry?) – partly because the movie depicts the Hebrews slaving over a pair of pyramids (the construction of which ceased centuries before the alleged great escape). I’m glad to see that the religious censors are on the ball and standing up for the truth.

National Coming Out Day

Coming OutIt’s National Coming Out day today. I highly recommend it. It’s good for the soul. Easy for you to say, you might think. After all, I grew up in metrosexual London not the bible-bashing Prairies or Koran-thumping Steppes. New York may be the city that never sleeps but London is the city that doesn’t give a shit. And, to a certain extent this is true. It was relatively painless for me to trampoline out of the closet, disco dancing to ‘I am what I am,’ (The Village People anthem not the later more famous song from ‘La Cage aux Folles’). Still, it wasn’t quite the walk in the park some might imagine. It was the Seventies and, at the time, few people joined me out in the cold. And anyway, this post isn’t about me. I’m old hat. It’s about those still struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. So to mark National Coming Out Day, I am republishing my classic 2012 hit ‘Letter of Hope to LGBT Teens’. If it helps a bit then I’m glad.

Rainbow Stripe

Dear 15 Year Old Me,

That was Then…

Jack, what the hell are you doing? She’s a nice girl and all that but, really, you know you’ll never get beyond heavy petting. Come on, be true to yourself. You’re leading her down the garden path to frustration and disappointment; she deserves better. Just admit that you don’t like ‘it’. Her pretty bits are all in the wrong places, aren’t they? Okay, it’s 1975, it’s the decade that fashion forgot and you’re only fifteen, but you know you know. It’s not just a phase.

London may well have swung through the Sixties when androgynous men wore makeup and liberated ladies burnt their bras, but it’s not stopped you thinking you’re the only one. Yes, trendy Chelsea is just across the river but it might as well be on a different planet. Pick up a newspaper, any paper, and it’ll scream ‘pervert’ at you. ‘Paedophile’ even. The thing is, you don’t feel like a pervert and you’re certainly not interested in pre-pubescent boys. You’re just different from your brothers and the other boys in your class. Stop beating yourself up and get a grip. It’s okay to be different. Your parents will love you regardless, though I admit the conversation might be awkward, perhaps painful. They won’t like it. There may be tears and recriminations. No parent wants their child to stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. It might be dangerous taking centre stage in a hostile world but you’re strong enough to take the flak. Come on, Jack. You learned real pride and you learned it at your father’s knee.

This is Now…

Jack, what the hell are you doing? Turkey’s a nice place and all that but, really, it’s a Muslim country and you and your partner are living openly as a gay couple. You are 51 and resolutely ‘out’ to everyone, take it or leave it. I hear you got ‘married’ back in 2008, a splendid fanfare of friends and family. So, they came round then? You’ve had a life full of peaks and troughs, good times and bad. This is life as it should be. So, your sexuality is only one of the things that define you but it is one of the important things. You’re a happy, rounded individual. You don’t compromise. You change attitudes just by being you. You see? You did it.

Godspell Reloaded

Godspell Reloaded

Godspell from Mixed Voice

September has been a bit of a culture fest – a fabulous film about rainbow comrades rattling the tin for the cause, Liam’s born again experience when kooky Kate flew out of reclusion and, right at the start of  the month, a musical treat from Mixed Voice at the Norwich Playhouse. Every year, Norfolk’s premier entertainment company asks the audience to vote on a show they should try on for size. Last year it was Rent. This year, the vote went to a revival of Godspell, the retelling of the parables attributed to the famous Galilean. With its happy clappy tunes, a flower power cast in primary colours and a newly polished script fit for the iPhone generation, it’s huge fun. Not nearly as successful as the unstoppable and overhyped Lloyd Webber juggernaut, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell offers more of a playground intimacy and really suits a smaller venue. Believers and non-believers alike, who could argue with the carpenter’s message of peace and love, particularly when it’s delivered by the multi-talented players of Mixed Voice? But I did spot a small congregation of dog collars fixed firmly to their seats during the standing ovation at the end. Maybe they didn’t like the frocks. There’s no accounting for taste.

The Oldest Gays in the Village

rory's boysAside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage?  The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.

Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?

I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about  Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.

Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but  generally, that’s it.  When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.

Bearded Men in Dresses

Conchita Wurst’s hair-raising victory at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest was historic for two reasons:

  1. A country not associated with the Balkans, Baltic and/or the former Soviet Union actually won for a change; and
  2. She was a he in a frock and whiskers (just in case you hadn’t noticed).

Naturally, the Russian Orthodox Church (among other right wing reactionaries) is outraged by the swirling cesspit of sodomites that the contest has become. After all, real bearded men don’t wear dresses do they?

Men in Frocks

The Norwich Book of Records

The Norwich Book of Records

Norwich is stuffed with the biggest, finest, oldest and firsts in all the realm. There’s a gem on virtually every corner. These are a few of my favourites. Hover over the image for a brief hint and click for more scintillating facts that you never knew you wanted to know.

With thanks to Visit Norwich for much of this treasure trove.