Apart from clacking about in my mother’s heels when I was six (and who hasn’t done that?) I’ve only cross-dressed once – dragging up as Mary Hopkins at a fancy dress Eurovision Song Contest party back in the day. I picked up a dodgy blonde wig and cheap black dress on the Roman Road Market in London’s East End. In DMs and black eyeliner, my Mary looked like a gothed-up pantomime dame. I made sure all the photos were destroyed.
With my drag days long behind me, imagine my surprise to get this delivered from dependable ol’ Marks and Spencer, the cornerstone of the beleagued British High Street.
Not so dependable, after all. Right name, right address, wrong order. We wanted fitted sheets. We got fitted bras. And not any old bras, oh no. These were M&S bras, sumptuously soft with full cups in 36B. Still, it made us giggle on a slow day.
Here’s the real Mary doing her thing on Eurovision back when the UK had a fighting chance of winning. Not that Mary did win. Despite being red-hot favourite, she came second to Ireland’s Dana, a sweet-voiced chanteuse with fire and brimstone views.
This year, Liam and I jollied in London for our birthdays. A state of the art, hi-tech micro-room in St James’ was the perfect base for our foraging. We arrived on Remembrance Sunday and the centre of town was buzzing with blazers, badges and bling under a canopy of Christmas lights. It was fun being tourists with time on our hands to roam and drink it all in, something we rarely did when we were worker bees on the treadmill.
Talking of drinking it all in, no trip to the West End is quite the same without a jar or two in a local hostelry. As seems to be our habit these days, we ended up at Halfway to Heaven, a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square and the splendid den of iniquity where Liam first caught my roving eye 13 years ago. Quite by chance, we arrived just in time to catch their annual Remembrance Day show.
The pub was rammed with military veterans – men and women, young and old, straight, gay and everything in between, all in their Sunday best – enjoying a convivial mingle with the regulars.
Halfway to Heaven has become something of a safe and welcoming place for ex-military LGBT people. Who knew? But it was a wonder to behold. When we were at the bar ordering drinks, a middle-aged woman was chatting to the manager.
“Thank you for being so nice to my dad and his husband,”
she said, pointing at two old soldiers in the corner.
The world may be going to Hell in a handcart but the Pansies keep on blooming – year in, year out. I keep them fed and watered and I’m grateful to those who pass by to admire the display. As the New Year dawns and more dark clouds lurk on the horizon, it’s a good time to look back at the pansies that perked the most in 2018. Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum, romped home by a mile. Who knew a drag show in a circus tent could strike such a chord?
As for the also-rans, it’s the usual eclectic bunch – as befits my random rants and ramblings from daily life: cowboys, cross-dressers, the curse of modern parlance, movie misses, gym bunnies, Hellenic heaven, and stories old and new from the Land of the Sunrise.
This year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival has been in full swing with the usual eclectic mix of the traditional and the avant-garde in words, music, dance, acrobatics and eccentricity. And they don’t come more avant-garde or eccentric than Le Gateau Chocolat, a black, fat bearded drag queen from Nigeria with a rich baritone voice and a thoughtful line in diversity and exclusion. ‘Chocolate Cake’ delivered his jerky, quirky cabaret with pathos and panache, receiving an enthusiastic hand from a full house of well-oiled whiskery types.
Quite by chance, a foe from my pre-Liam Soho days parked his skinny arse in the row in front of us. It was a blast from the past that instantly chilled the air. Thankfully, the cabaret raised the temperature to heart-warming. By the encore, the old foe threw a tantrum (nothing to do with me) and sleeked off into the night with his entourage.
When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.
Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.
I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…
You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.
Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.
It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.