It is said that if you hang around Piccadilly Circus for long enough, the entire world will pass you by. In my day, working the Dilly was popular with rent boys, so hanging around could get you arrested. When we passed by it was a convenient place to convene for those taking part in the Extinction Rebellion demonstration that coincided with our visit. At the time, the circus was ringed by brightly painted lions. This animal trail malarky has really got out of hand. Apparently the King of the Jungle on his Tusk Lion Trail can be spotted all over town.
Our last night in London was a Soho pub crawl reminiscent of the good old days. Thank God we were staying local so we only needed to stagger back to our pit. Next day, headache’d and hungover, we rode the bus to Liverpool Street Station for our train back to Norwich. The Tube would have been quicker, but nothing can beat the top deck of a London bus for a bit of sightseeing. We got to the station early, so it was a spot of overpriced lunch and a hair of the dog in nearby Spitalfields. The area is graced with a series of bronze statues, mostly of cutesy baby elephants – the Herd of Hope – to highlight the plight of orphaned calves in the wild.
But the most evocative sculpture on display is of a boatload of refugees. It’s intended to reflect the history of Spitalfields as a haven for migrants down the centuries. Ironic really. These days the area is mostly given over to plush offices and fancy eateries – not a damp slum, cold-water tenement or raggéd refugee in sight. Any remaining housing is some of the most expensive on the planet.
John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Boy George, despite (or perhaps because of) his well-documented dependencies on booze and drugs, and his well-deserved real imprisonment for the false imprisonment of a rent boy in 2008. George is clean now and has been for years. From androgynous painted pop star to hard-boiled drug addict, DJ of considerable note to grubby punter, the rise, fall and rise again of George O’Dowd has been remarkable. He’s a survivor with insight, a rare commodity among the brattish celebrity class. I was never much of a Culture Club devotee but I do like a lot of George’s post-Culture Club solo work, particularly the haunting, lyrically waspish ballads that show off his voice to greatest effect. Recently, I tuned in to watch George sing with the BBC Philharmonic and I was surprised (shocked even) to hear that his voice has hit the floor (along with his balls, George recently said with typical candour). His deeper sound is growing on me. George’s latest challenge is a vocal polyp that may require surgery and it has forced him to cancel a Culture Club reunion tour. Get well soon, George.
A cursory glance at my stats shows that Perking the Pansies pops up on the internet in totally unexpected ways. My irreverent ramblings seem to attract the lost, the lustful, the inquisitive and the ignorant – and from the four corners of the world. These are a few of my favourite search terms:
Pussy lovers (for feline aficionados, obviously)
Gran Canarian Sex (for a bit of bump and grind in the sun)
Rent Boys (believe me, my street-walking days are over)
Hardon All Day (hit it with a stick)
Is Marti Pellow/Gary Lineker/Kate Adie gay (they seem happy enough to me)
Gumbet Love Rats (for the ladies who never learn)
The Turkish Living Forum (keeping my 2012 rant right up there in the rankings)
And then came:
Now that one completely threw me. Dowdall was my old girl’s name before her soldier boy popped his ring on her finger. Who was the mysterious surfer? I don’t know, but if s/he ever surfs back, do drop me a line and put me out of my curiosity. And yes, that is me in the picture (the one in shorts, not the fabulous Sixties frock). Bless.
P.S. It’s Doreen Dowdall’s 85th birthday tomorrow. Apart from being a bit mutton with a touch of arthritis and a dodgy hip, the old girl’s in fine fettle. I just hope I’ve inherited her genes.
Picture it, a sultry night in sinful Soho and a pink twist on an old family favourite. Our penthouse pals treated us to a night at the theatre – a much appreciated welcome home gift. We took our seats at the Soho Theatre, artistic home to the innovative, the avant garde, the experimental and, sometimes, the plain bonkers. The intimate auditorium has a steep incline providing an unobstructed view of the snug stage and the bald spots in the rows below. The entertainment was Soho Cinders, a modern fable fit for the Grindr age. Think grubby spin doctor oiling the wheels, angelic rent boy trying to make an honest crust, clip joint sisters in pussy pelmets and ‘straight’ Tory politician knocking off the pretty boy on the side. The only Buttons on show were the ones on the punters who couldn’t keep their flies shut. It was fabulous. The score was full of fun and pathos, the lyrics were comically topical and the performances were bouncy and vital. The salacious sisters got my vote for the best lines. From one ugly trollop to the other:
You’re like a ten pin bowling ball – picked up, fingered and thrown back down the alley.
Cinders went to the glittery Ball and the rubber johnny fitted, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘He’s behind you.’
I give you They Don’t Make Glass Slippers, one of the many splendid songs from the show.