Friday, October 28, 2005

British or South African?

Is this a British blog or a South African one? Or is that too simplistic a question as it incorporates elements of both even though, arguably, it’s more South African than British? If my nationality helps answer the question then it would be both as I am a dual national.

This is hardly an important issue but it came to mind on noticing that today’s statistics showed more South African readers than others for the first time. Until now, South African readers have mostly been in third place, behind the Brits and Americans. I was also reminded of the fact that my application to join Britblog, the association of British bloggers, was rejected a few weeks ago. No specific reason was given but the standard rejection email I received stated that I failed to comply with their conditions. I’ve emailed them about this on two occasions but have not received a reply. So while the Home Office is happy to call me British, it appears that Britblog is not.

I wonder what my readers think?

Sometimes I do answer unrecognised numbers

My mobile rang about 8 last night - a strange foreign number showed up and I answered it even though I didn’t recognise the number. It was K ringing from Switzerland. He sounded sober and was perfectly coherent. I couldn’t think of any reason for him to ring me so expected him to be seeking a favour. It seems that he hasn’t gone to Milan and won’t be going to Russia as originally planned. We spoke for about 10 minutes but no request for a favour was forthcoming. Towards the end of the conversation he said that he was going to have a huge party there in mid-December and that I had to come. ‘It’s going to be a blast!’ I’m sure it will be but I won’t be there.

I tried to get him to talk about more personal stuff - he deflected that as usual but now that I have his email address I’ll attempt to find out more via that route. It didn't seem likely that he would be returning to Northampton so even if he were to be more forthcoming in person, the likelihood of me seeing him again seemed remote.

There was an email from him this morning, talking about parties, dole queues and more mention of the foreign female names he's always going on about. At the end he says, 'I've got to collect a jacket from Moss Bros in Northampton and could have a session in the King Billy.'

Ok, so perhaps I will be seeing him again. Who knows?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's black and white and red all over?

The Second World War is defined by the iconic black and white images and photography of the time. When one thinks of that time (and the rest of the century that preceded it), the images formed in one’s mind are all black and white. Think of the Nazi rallies at Nurenberg, the US marines raising the flag in the Pacific, that famous kiss on the streets of Paris after its liberation, the crowds in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. They’re all black and white. Translating them into colour is inconceivable. So when one does see pictures and film from that time in colour, the effect is incongruous and slightly unsettling. Pictures of London in bright sunlight, swarming with red double-deckers and people wearing colours other than black and grey are startling yet strangely artificial.

With the rapid advance of visual media and entertainment technology, are we going to reach a stage, sometime in the near future, when we'll look back at now and feel the same sense of how a particular time is created by the technology of that time? Some sort of future virtual reality technology will make the way we view and hear things now seem old-fashioned yet right for perceiving images and sounds of the time.

Am I rambling, am I making sense? And if I’m making sense, is there any point to all this? Let me wind back a bit.

Stalker D spent the night with me on Friday. It was the first time I’d seen him since leaving Nottingham over 2 months ago. Unlike Stalker A, he didn’t know that I’d been to Nottingham several times since starting work here in Northampton. Having the two run into me at the same time would have been too complicated for even me to handle. I really am far too nice to my stalkers!

He was perfectly sober when he arrived and had probably not had more than 5 joints during the day. So, for a change, he didn’t start one of his philosophising rambles until much later. It was good to see him again, especially seeing him ‘straight’. I knew that I’d probably want to see the back of him by midday the next day but, for the time being, it was good being in his company.

We swiftly consumed the first bottle of red wine that he’d brought and then he brought out the dope. Ages ago, I used to smoke a lot of the stuff but I hardly ever do these days, particularly if it’s ‘skunk’. If I am going to get stoned, I far prefer getting stoned in a slow, mellow sort of way rather than have my head caved in by a sledge-hammer as happens with a drag or two of skunk.

‘Do you want some,’ he asked, expecting me to decline.

‘Yeah, why not?’ I said, thinking that being on D’s wavelength couldn’t be too bad a thing for a change.

D rolled up while I opened a second bottle of wine. By the time I’d reminded him that I’d said I wanted some, he’d already smoked a third of the spliff.

‘Oops, sorry, I forgot.’ He actually looked embarrassed but that may have just been the glow from the wine. I took two drags and passed it back.

The effect was immediate. I felt a warm whoosh rushing from my chest to the rest of my body while my skin started to tingle. The whoosh reached my head before it got to my toes. D’s face loomed large and he looked more like Bart Simpson with a wobbly head than ever. I had a sudden desire to envelop him in my arms and feel his breath on me.

‘Some more?’ he asked.

I shook my head. As nice as the feeling was, it was too quick, too extreme. By the time we’d finished the wine, D had had another spliff.

In the next half hour or so before we ripped each others clothes off we listened to music and talked about all manner of things, including the Second World War.

My head felt very fuzzy the next day but it didn't have to contend with D for too long. He left just after midday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Twenty Random Things

How random can thinking 20 random things of me be? In the first place, I’m influenced by having read 20 random things about others. And, secondly, I’m biased towards the more eccentric and ‘interesting’ things about my life. Even if I happened to be the most boring person on the planet, I’d rather you thought I was fascinating and a judicious choice of ‘random’ things would help create that impression. I did say ‘judicious choice’ not lies!

Anyway, here goes:

  1. I love hot, spicy foods yet I don’t like hot mustard; I love most cheeses including the ‘smelly’ ones but I don’t like the ‘blue-veined’ types.
  2. When I was 10, I wanted to be called Gavin as I had a crush on a boy of that name.
  3. When I was 6, I only invited one girl to my birthday party as I had a crush on her. She didn’t come.
  4. I prefer thin, narrow ties to the wider sort. This has nothing to do with fashion. In the seventies and eighties, when wide ties were fashionable, I sought out narrow ones from charity shops. When they came back into fashion, I bought them from regular outlets. If work still required that I wear a tie, I’d still be wearing them even though they are unfashionable again.
  5. As a child, I was thrown off a horse and cracked my head open on a stable wall. I wore a large metal ‘staple’ in my skull for months afterwards.
  6. I don’t have a thing for redheads yet my wife, both children and ex boyfriend of 7 years (first proper boyfriend) are all redheads.
  7. My favourite ice cream flavour is vanilla.
  8. Enid Blyton taught me to read Portuguese – when I ran out of English ‘Famous Five’ novels I borrowed Portuguese translations of those I had not read from my Portuguese-speaking friends.
  9. I lost one sort of virginity at 11.
  10. I lost another sort at 16.
  11. I only realised I was South African when I was 27. Until then I had thought of myself as Mozambiquan or British. It took moving to live in the UK for me to realise that I’m South African.
  12. I can’t really sympathise with death. If friends suffer the death of someone close, I go through the right motions and make the right noises but I don’t actually feel anything emotionally. This must have something to do with my losing many loved ones when very young.
  13. I seriously despise bigots, authoritarians, self-importance, and snobs, yet have snobbish tendencies of my own.
  14. In grade 2 I was seriously reprimanded for calling a mixed race classmate the k-word yet my neighbours and best friends were mixed race.
  15. When I was 6, a friend’s mother contacted my mother to say that I’d stolen Kool-Aid from their kitchen. I was horribly embarrassed. In my late teens, I stole money from a friend and felt justified by the fact that I had next to no money and he did.
  16. I was head boy of my primary school – there were only 4 boys in the senior class; I was a hostel prefect at high school yet often sided with the other pupils against the teachers one of whom once referred to me as a Satanist because I listened to Black Sabbath.
  17. I went through a very religious (Christian) phase at 13 but turned towards psychology and Eastern religions a year later. I abandoned all that in my late teens.
  18. With a great deal of concentration, I could probably still get both my legs around my neck. I am, however, still supple enough to…
  19. Thinking about my children and the fact that I don’t see them often will often bring me to tears.
  20. Up until 30, I was rather skinny. Although I’m not fat (but I’m fatter than slim), I still feel like a thin person.

    Hey, this gets easier and easier after a while! Because I’m limited to 20, I’m now tempted to replace some of the random things with more ‘interesting’ ones. No, I haven’t!

    Buddess, of the 9 ½ toes, tagged me with this task, the cow! For the time being, I’ll not be tagging anyone. This may change in the next day or so.

David Cronenberg disappoints

Purely by chance, I watched two David Cronenberg films last week. The first was 'Dead Ringers' on the little telly in my hotel room. I'd not seen it before and was captivated by Jeremy Irons's brilliant performance as identical twin brothers in a compelling and disturbing tale of obsession that ends in a descent into madness. The second was 'A History of Violence', currently on circuit.

I've not been to the cinema for months now and, until recently, I've not had ready access to a cinema. So, I jumped at the chance of going to 'the pictures' when J invited me along on Saturday.

'What are you going to see?' I asked.

'A History of Violence,' he said.

Although I don't go to the cinema as much as I used to, the intention to go is always there so I tend to keep abreast of what's on circuit and usually read the reviews even if I don't actually get to the cinema. But, as I've said before, the bit of rural Surrey that I spent over 6 weeks in felt a bit like Outer Mongolia. The shop was too far away for me to bother about getting the newspaper regularly and getting to a cinema would have been a major geographical expedition. Probably as a result of my not having ready access to a cinema and having had less access to the newspapers, I got out of the habit of knowing what's on.

'What's that all about?'

'It's a Cronenberg film about a guy who tries to escape his past,' said J.

'Great, I'll come along. Thanks.'

So, apart from knowing that it was a Cronenberg film, in itself quite a lot of information, I knew very little about the film I was about to watch. I reflected on that several times during the film - what a great, almost liberating feeling! Even where/if parts of the film happen predictably, watching something without having been influenced by friends' descriptions and opinions and newspaper reviews makes for an entirely different viewing experience. The story unfolds very much like a well-told story narrated by a friend as part of a conversation. Or, for those who can remember that far back, very much like being told a gripping story as a child. Slick modern marketing tries to entrap us into buying whatever commodity is being advertised, whether it be a film or a book. Watching a film in this way is a very unusual experience these days. Reading a book in such a way is almost unheard of since all modern books have enough cover copy to give you an idea as to what the book is all about.

Of course this rather novel way of watching a film doesn't make a mediocre film good. And 'A History of Violence' is not much more than a mediocre film. It's yet another adaptation of a graphic novel (Cronenberg does like the rest of them!) and, consequently, has high levels of graphic violence. Unlike Sin City (a beautifully crafted film that I loathed), it does not try to re-create the atmosphere of a graphic novel even though it's beautifully filmed. Which film isn't these days? It has a great cast (Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, William Hurt, etc) and the performances are uniformly good. I especially liked Hurt's comic portrayal as the ruthless gangster older brother and Ashton Holmes portrayed the only really sympathetic character as the teenage son. It's a good yarn and very well put-together. But the questions it raises about identity and society are very predictable and not worth dwelling on. Oh, and it's much too long.

I'll stop complaining now as it was enjoyable enough. Go see it and see what you think.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Colleague Implodes

Last night, just after 9, I went downstairs to settle my bill and go out for a meal. The landlord handed me an envelope with K’s passport, some passport photos and a passport application form, and told me that he’d had to ask K to leave as he was so drunk and he didn’t want a repeat of an episode that happened a couple of weeks ago when K had been asked to leave. I took the envelope with me to the Thai restaurant where I occasionally have dinner and filled in the relevant bits, counter-signed it and sent K a text message to say that it was ready for him.

There was no reply.

Via text messages, I’d agreed to meet him after work yesterday to counter-sign his passport application. He rang at about 7.30pm and we'd had a garbled conversation, leaving me uncertain as to whether he still wanted me to counter-sign it or not. The most I could make out was that he was happy to be going home ‘to be with my people’ and that everything would be better after ‘my first holiday in over 20 years’. Further flurries of text messages informed me that he’ll be in Switzerland this weekend where he has a house in Bremgarten, that he’d be in Milan during the week for a business show and that he’d be in St Petersburg for the following weekend.

This morning’s text message from K: Alan, sorry, I met a delightful young woman + 1 thing led 2 another. Now in Italian place next door.

I met him about 30 minutes later. It was the first time I’d seen him since last Wednesday when he was sitting at the same café, crouched over one of the outside tables, looking very much like a perspiring, florid toad listlessly toying with a half-eaten bruschetta. Apart from the fact that he was sitting inside this time (it was raining), the scene was identical. There was no way that he’d had anything to do with any delightful young woman. He confirmed that when he said that he couldn’t remember where he’d been the night before. I suspect that he may have seen such a person or even chatted to such a person but the likelihood of one thing leading to another was nil.

The previous Wednesday’s meeting was the day after K’s very visible and completely compelling breakdown. I’ve since referred to it as an ‘implosion’ but it was an implosion with explosive elements. If I had more inside information I’d be able to give you an ‘anatomy’ of his breakdown but in the absence of that, all I can give you is my encounter with his breakdown.

Day 1 (First week: Tuesday):
Welcomed by K with open arms especially on his learning that I’m a smoker and enjoy the occasional (!) pint at the pub. Learnt a bit about his background and got confused by a succession of foreign female names he constantly refers to. Found his obsession with getting a film made of the project by a TV producer friend of his for Italian educational TV rather bizarre. Noticed that he ‘disappeared’ a lot. He sent me alone to a meeting that both of us should have attended. I declined an invitation to join him for a drink that night.
Day 2 (First week: Wednesday):
K was very late for work. He looked as if he hadn’t showered. I was given a book on time management that he’d bought for himself. ‘Alan, you read this. I bought it as I've always been bad at this sort of thing but I haven’t got time to read it. You read it and tell me if it has any good tips.’ I joined him for an evening's drinking at the King Billy.
Day 3 (First week: Thursday):
K was even later for work. His stubble was longer and his body odour stronger. We had a meeting where he showed me a detailed storyboard of the film he wants made of the project but was unable to follow the logic of it. In a meeting with a female colleague, he kept telling her how he wanted the project to send him to the Swedish subsidiary because of the blonde women. I notice that K has another copy of the time management book.
Day 4 (First week: Friday):
K didn’t make it to work.
Day 5 (Second week: Monday):
K had shaved but the body odour hadn’t improved. On asking him for any emails relevant to the project he let me sit at his PC. I sent all of them to my PC including a couple that had been sent to him by the boss. They referred to his absences from work and any steps he may be taking to rectify the position. At the regular team meeting, he stood up to discuss his slot. There was lots of wild gesticulating and drawing of unrelated diagrams on the white board. Later, on his seeing an email referring to donations for the victims of the Asian earthquake, he got highly agitated. He hadn’t heard about it and was worried about the safety of one of his female friends travelling in the region. He rushed off to an internet café in town to see if there was news from her. He didn’t return.
Day 6 (Second week: Tuesday):
To try and get him on time for a 9.30 meeting, I sent him several messages and rang a couple of times to remind him of it. He still didn’t make it on time. At lunchtime, K is seen wandering around the lake in the gardens outside constantly pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, scanning it while shaking his head then crumpling it up and putting it back. At an afternoon meeting with several key project managers involved with our project he can’t keep still and constantly mumbles to himself and interrupts others while they’re talking. He keeps writing and drawing feverishly, sometimes tearing out pages from his notebook. He’s asked to keep still which keeps him quiet for a short while but the feverish activity resumes after a while. He disappears for the day after the meeting and I’m called aside by the boss and asked to get as much information from him as possible in the coming weeks as K’s continued presence on the project is in doubt.
Day 7 (Second week: Wednesday):
I bump into him at the Italian café near my hotel. ‘I’ve resigned,’ he announces. He also asks me to collect his bag from the office so that he can collect it from me later that day. He’s called the office by the time I arrive to announce his resignation. ‘What have you been saying to him, Alan?’ asks the boss. ‘Absolutely nothing,’ I say. I take his bag to my hotel that night and text him to say it’s there. No reply.
Day 8 (Second week: Thursday):
No one hears from him. I pop into the King Billy that night to see if he’s there but he’s not.
Day 9 (Second week: Friday):
S, another colleague and K’s landlord, gets a call asking for a spare key as K’s lost his. He meets K at the flat and finds the place littered with beer cans, fag ends, ash all over the place and an over-powering smell of beer and sweat. There are several fag burns in the newly-fitted carpets. He gives K a week to vacate the place. Out of nosiness and to see if his bag has anything important in it that he may need, I check the contents of his bag. It’s full of inconsequential papers, two glasses cases, both with cracked glasses, his Swiss residency permit, his driving license, and 5 copies of the time management book. Did he buy them to hand out to colleagues or has he been going into the bookshop to buy a copy every day having forgotten that he’d bought one the day previously? At the King Billy that night, I’m told that K has been in most nights and that he's been in a terrible state.
Day 10 (Third week: Monday):
I'm in Nottingham as I have the day off. K calls about his bag, sounding perfectly normal but ignores all questions about himself. I get the hotel to get the bag for him.
Day 11 (Third week: Tuesday):
No contact.
Day 12 (Third week: Wednesday):
No contact. The boss informs me that there's a dispute going on, via K’s agency, between himself and K. K insists that he didn’t resign and that he’d been given time off for ‘humanitarian reasons’ out of concern for his friend who was travelling in Pakistan during the earthquake. Someone who escaped unscathed and was now travelling in Bhutan.
Day 13 (Third week: Thursday):
K resumes contact to ask if I’ll fill in his passport application. I become the middle-man in a text conversation/argument between K and S, his landlord. I eventually resign from the position.
Day 14 (Third week: Friday):
I see K at the Italian café near my hotel.

During the past few weeks, I’ve actually been worried about K. He deserves more than just being dismissed as an alcoholic eccentric. I know next to nothing about him apart from him being a lonely alcoholic who hails from Manchester, now has a house in Switzerland and lived in Italy for 10 years. But, alcoholic or not, he was a fully functioning one until not so long ago - the boss was pleased with his work and his contract had recently been renewed. It seems as if something specific had led to his rapid and dramatic breakdown. This morning I tried my best to ask him about things and his plans for the future but he either ignored my questions or countered them with, ‘I don’t want to think or talk about that, I only want to think about my holiday.’

He’ll be back in Northampton on 7 November. I have no idea why he's returning here but should I see him again, I’ll see if I can get any insight into his condition.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Missing Person

The caller-id display function is probably the best telephony innovation of the past decade or so. Vetting calls from undesirables before you answer them suits me perfectly - stalkers can be kept at bay as can unpleasant calls from the tax office and any others who may be chasing me for money. My vetting process tends to allocate a blanket ban on accepting calls where caller-id is not displayed.

I'd told stalker A that I'd be in Nottingham two weekends ago, my first weekend back after almost 2 months away, and that I'd meet him for a drink on the Saturday evening. Once he heard that he'd be seeing me, I'd been flooded with calls and messages suggesting all manner of things we could get up to over the weekend. These were studiously ignored so on getting a call on Saturday morning with no caller-id, I assumed that it would be him as past behaviour had shown him to be a wily (deceitful?) character when trying to discern my whereabouts/actions/thoughts/etc. I didn't bother to listen to the voicemail after it arrived as I'd only gone to bed at 6am and the thought of his wheedling wasn't pleasant. Two more calls arrived within the next hour or so and I eventually listened to the messages.

'Good afternoon, sir, this is Detective Sergeant P of the Sheffield police. There is nothing to worry about but we're concerned about a friend of yours and would appreciate your contacting us.'

That caused a rapid clearing of my fuzziness and I got ready to return the call. The first (and only) person that I thought he could be referring to was K, he of the dissipated demeanour. Having seen his drinking habits and heard from colleagues that he'd been mugged several times here in Northampton, he seemed like a prime candidate for landing up in some sort of trouble.

A very pleasant policeman explained that a certain P.H. had gone missing and that they were trying to find out when he'd last been seen by going through the phone numbers on his mobile.

Did I know P.H?

So I hadn't seen him recently?

Had I lived in Newcastle about 2 years ago?

Although he was from Sheffield, he had worked in Newcastle then. Perhaps that explained the connection?

He had a good friend E. Does that still not ring any bells?

Ok, so it wasn't K. And, yes, it could have been a work connection but the mention of a 'good friend' pointed to some gay connection of mine. The name really didn't mean anything to me but I've been relatively liberal at handing out my number to people I meet online or at bars and clubs. And although it's conceivable that I'd slept with him and forgotten his name, I tend to remember people's names even if they are passing ships in the night. If the policeman had just said his first name and described him, I'd probably have remembered if he'd been a shag or not. A surname is such extraneous information in such circumstances - of absolutely no help at all!

The policeman thanked me for my time and asked me to ring back if I happened to recall any information about the missing man. The whole episode was mildly disconcerting. The man had obviously disappeared under suspicious circumstances and all possible contacts were being contacted for information. I wondered if he was dead, kidnapped or injured. I wondered if he'd deliberately disappeared. Had he been attacked by a stranger in a cruising spot? Or by homophobic thugs in a dark spot?

In an odd, warped way, I almost wished I'd recognised the name as it would have made the story more personal and interesting. No, I wouldn't actually wish that on anyone I knew!

I'd almost forgotten the whole episode by Monday when I got another voicemail from the Sheffield police. Did they doubt my story? No, it was a different policeman this time, asking the same questions - he had no record of the fact that I'd already been contacted.

I gave him the same answers and have heard nothing since.

Ending the silence

For those of you who have wondered about my well-being, I'm pleased to announce that I'm still alive. Life got a bit hectic since my first week at the new job both on the work and social sides. There's been lots to blog about but I've not had the time at work and no internet access after hours. Each weekend, I've escaped Northampton for Nottingham where I still had my flat until this week.

Rather than give Northampton the benefit of my doubts about wanting to live here, I've decided to return to Nottingham. I've managed to extend my lease on the flat so I'm going to become yet another long-distance commuter. Eventually, I'll get a car to do a daily commute but, for the time being, I'll come down to Northampton on a Monday morning and leave Friday evening. During the week, I'll stay at the same dodgy hotel that I've stayed in for the past 3 weeks unless I can find a better cheap alternative.

When I get the time and if I'm still in the mood, I'm going to have to blog about:
  • The 'implosion' of K, he of the dissipated demeanour
  • Further despair about the Northampton gay scene
  • Returning to Nottingham in a bang - actually, that would be several bangs
  • Being contacted by the police about a missing person
  • Attempts at avoiding stalkers

If anyone has any particular preference as regards which story I should blog about first, please let me know.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A vibrator dispenser

K texted me a coupled of times last night asking me to join him at the King Billy. I resisted, not that it was difficult, mind you. Instead, I had a quiet night in.

He rang at about 9.30 this morning saying that he’d be in later. Apparently, he met up with some people at the King Billy and went off with them somewhere else after last orders. I’ve just spoken to another colleague who spoke to him after he spoke to me. It seems that he won’t be in at all today. Ho hum, is this the way working with him is going to be?

In yesterday’s post, I forgot one of the more fascinating things I discovered about the King Billy. Next to the obligatory condom dispenser in the gents, you’ll find two vibrator dispensers. Yes, that’s right, two! For the princely sum of £3 or £5 you can buy the ‘perfect toy to make tonight a night she will remember’, batteries included. A randy biker needs a selection of vibrators, it seems. Actually, I’d have thought macho bikers would not like having to consider a vibrator necessary for her to remember a night with them. Or are today’s bikers that liberated that they realise there are more ways to pleasuring a woman than using their dicks?

I still have my Nottingham flat for another 10 days so I’ll be there this weekend. If I stay here tonight, I’ll see what the Boston Clipper has to offer but, if not, that exciting prospect can wait until next week.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Second night out

My arm got twisted and I relented. I went out with K, he of the ‘dissipated demeanour’.

We met up at 7.30 at the King Billy (his suggestion), a biker bar about 10 min walk from my hotel. It was very empty - a few people playing pool, a group of bikers in red and white leathers at a table in a corner, an overweight redhead wearing a Mettalica T-shirt and reading a book, a group of anaemic goths and an old man in a cap with his head on the bar. The barmaid was a buxom wench with a mass of dyed black hair with blonde roots and lots of tattoos. ‘Semi-goth’ would be an appropriate description.

K had been at another bar since leaving the office at 5.30 so, if anything, he looked even more dissipated than before. His face glistened with sweat and his unshaven jowels seemed wobblier than earlier in the day. We started drinking.

I really like him but know that working with him is going to be frustrating as he’s constantly going off at a tangent. That can be interesting in a social context but is less so at work. But it wasn’t work so it was ok and I discovered a lot about him. He probably discovered a lot less about me as he tends to talk at you and will often interrupt you before you’re able to finish a story.

A hard core stayed all night, others came and went. But the place didn’t get much busier even though it got much louder as the evening progressed. The redhead started singing to a lot of the songs – he seemed to know most of the words but every third or fourth line would be a variation on ‘Bush is a stupid cunt’ sung with a broad smile. Everyone ignored him. At K’s prompting, I choose songs from the jukebox. No Kylie, Steps, club anthems or anything R&B were listed. But there was lots of Black Sabbath, Linkin Park, 9-inch Nails, Metallica, Punk compilations and heavy metal bands that I’ve not heard of before. Also quite a lot of The Smiths and Nirvana.

‘Ah, the queer from Manchester,’ K said with pride when he heard Morrissey’s voice. K comes from Manchester.

After the first Smiths song, my head wouldn’t rid itself of the following Morrissey lines:
Say, billy budd
So you think you should ?
Oh, everyone’s laughing
Say, billy budd
So you think that you should ?
Everyone’s laughing !
Since I took up with you

Billy Budd hadn’t played but my brain must have linked the Smiths with the King Billy via the song. The lines are still buzzing around my head today.

The old man lifted his head at some stage and engaged us in conversation. He wanted to know why I was ‘digging holes’ here and not in South Africa. I discovered that he’d ‘dug holes’ in Northamptonshire all his life. He lost interest in the conversation when K and I started discussing Dostoevsky. No, I don’t know why we were discussing Russian literature.

Just before we left, the barmaid asked K if he needed anything to take home – I got the impression that he’d done this before. He bought 4 bottles of Newcastle Brown. If I hadn’t suspected it before, I knew it then – he has a drinking problem!

Going out with him is going to have to be limited to once a week or less.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Getting someone on my side

Not having an id card is a bit of a pain. Going outside for a fag means asking the security man to let you out then let you in again. I’ve come across two of them so far. Both sport lots of wrinkles and white hair, one is friendly, the other not. The unfriendly one looks depressed and groans audibly when he has to open the door. He has a South African accent.

It’s almost enough to stop me going out when he’s there – I don’t like having to deal with that obvious sort of unfriendliness. But, being manipulated by someone like that is stupid (and weak) so I dealt with it another way - I talked to him.

‘Are you South African?’ I asked.

‘No, I’m not,’ he said. Still no break in the taciturn façade.

‘Oh, Australian, maybe?’ He mumbles enough to confuse even me as to what accent he has.

‘No, I suppose you could call it colonial,’ he said. ‘I moved to Rhodesia when I was very young then, for many years, I was in South Africa. I’ve been here a long time now so I’m not sure what accent I have.’

Definitely South African but I didn’t contradict him.

‘I’m South African,’ I said, ‘but I’m originally from Mozambique.’

Suddenly there was a change in his attitude and he smiled. It also opened up a floodgate – if it hadn’t been for someone else wanting to get through the door, I’d still be there hearing him reminisce about ‘the old days’.

I’ve broken the ice now and I’ve seen him smile. It remains to be seen if he’ll be less grumpy about letting me in and out of the building in future.

An exploratory foray

The colleague who invited me out last night has that sort of dissipated look that says, ‘I enjoy me pints’. The sort of look that can be very appealing to me since I probably have the same sort of look. But, until I’ve received my first salary cheque, I’m a bit strapped for cash and I doubt that he’s the sort of guy who’d have wanted to stop after a couple. So, I postponed his offer to another night

I was tired when I got home and dozed off for a couple of hours, waking up at about 9. There I was, refreshed and alone in my hotel room. What to do? Telly? Read? Explore? Mmm…explore sounds like a good idea. Explore the gay scene.

At 10, I walked into the Jolly Anker.

At 10.02, I walked out. Actually not, but that’s what I felt like doing. Instead, I bought a pint of Stella and stood in the corner communing with my mobile. What did gay men, on going to a gay bar on their own, do before mobiles? Amongst the many messages I fired off in the next hour were these:

Just walked into the Jolly Anker (sic). 13 people here incl staff, 8 are women. Not promising! Will have to do further research.
(In case you’re wondering, I’m anything but a misogynist but the numbers seemed rather unbalanced)

Bar dyke says it will pick up in an hours time, it closes at 2. Too late for me tonight! She says the other place, Boston Clipper, is shit. Love it when the gay community sticks together!
(In case you're wondering, I don’t dislike lesbians as some gay men do – some of my best friends are.. blah blah)

Amongst the replies I got:

Hi babe. Don’t want to hear about you trying to pull. But good luck. Are you coming down on Sat? Have you had any luck with men since Nottingham?
(From mad, infatuated A who still seems to be holding a candle about us getting back together)

Yeah, ‘cos if that’s it you’re going to have to import someone.
(From the ex in Cape Town, implying that he be the one that I import – our ‘fatal attraction’ continues)

Maybe Northampton isn’t at its most sizzling on a Tuesday…courage mon brave!
(From Mike, ensuring that I keep my pecker up)

The place did get quite a lot busier after 11. The preponderance of lesbians continued and most of the men were very young in a very young kind of way – lots of spiky haircuts and funky hats. I did, however, get talking to a window-cleaner who seemed really nice. We exchanged phone numbers.

I was in bed by 12.30.

So, it wasn’t an early night but I didn’t drink much. On arriving at the office today, I let my colleague know that I was there to be collected at reception. He asked me to contact someone else, as he’d only be in about half an hour later. That would have been an hour ago. Perhaps that dissipated demeanour says something after all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stealing time from my first day at work

Yesterday morning I was feeling a bit sad about leaving my life of comfortable boredom in Surrey but by mid afternoon I was starting to really look forward to being one of the working class again. Later on, waiting at Clapham Junction, I felt even more chipper about everything. To the extent that I sent several friends a text message saying something to the effect of 'I'm feeling quite excited. Not sure why but it feels like an adventure.'

The train trip wasn't great - too many changes with too much luggage in tow. I arrived in Northampton just after 10pm and was at the hotel by 10.30. As suspected, it doesn't give the Savoy a run for its money but it'll do for a few days or weeks. It's not really a hotel, it's a real ale pub with a few rooms lurking at the back. My room is comfortable enough but sharing a bathroom won't be fun even though that may not be necessary as the place seems deserted apart from me. The worst aspect is the lack of a shower. This morning's bath was the first I've had in over2 years!

Not much is happening at work just yet - introductions, a few meetings and a load of reading matter. But, this unaccustomed sitting at a desk is proving rather tiring. At the moment, I'm totally at sea, with very little sign of light at the end of the tunnel. (Mixed metaphor alert!)

A colleague has invited me out for a meal and a drink later so I'm hoping to be filled out on the necessary office gossip right at the start for a change. Still not sure if I'll be going but I suspect I'll go.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Having a Ball in Bali

Bali's back. Three years after the bomb, and a year after the Foreign Office rescinded its advice to avoid the island, new hotels are opening and the number of visitors to this most exotic and culturally beguiling south-east Asia's destinations is increasing.

I read that this morning in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph's travel section while having my breakfast. It made the news of the weekend's lastest bombing there seem even more depressing. Obviously the Telegraph's newsroom didn't have time to pull the article and they probably feel the same.

Two Malaysian fugitives have been named as the suspected masterminds of the attacks, suspected JI leaders who have been on Indonesia's most wanted list since the attacks of 12 October 2002.

Despite Bali being such a popular tourist destination, bombings there don't have the immediacy and impact of a bomb in a major Western city. We must guard against not giving them the same sort of attention we tend to reserve for places like London and Madrid.

Perpetrators of this sort of deed need to be stopped wherever they are.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

The 'Guru of Nairn' aka Bill has challenged me to show me mine now that he's shown me his. And his certainly is a lovely piece of equipment so I feel that I need to rise to the challenge. However, I'm a bit constrained by technology, a lack of it in this case. I'm in a temporary abode and I don't have access to a camera apart from the crappy old webcam that's at the bottom of my suitcase. So, I'll see what I can do but be prepared for something you'd expect from an old man in a raincoat.

I do, though, have a more-or-less presentable pic of the desktop I use in Cape Town, a rather antiquated piece of equipment which demands to be replaced. Actually, when there, I tend to use this laptop - when I can get my kids off it. My wife has her own laptop that no one else is allowed to touch so the desktop is mostly used by the kids these days.

Cape Town desktopThis is the desktop, that venerable piece of equipment that was discussed in an earlier dispatch. My son, as usual, is playing games on it. Today's games demand ever increasing amounts of computing power so I'm used to this modern-day lament: 'Dad, we NEED a new computer!' Well, I've listened and I hope that I won't be hearing it for much longer. Not beyond Christmas to be exact.

Alan's laptopI'm surprised the webcam still works. It's old and been in the bottom of my peripatetic suitcase for years. The quality isn't that bad. But it's also not good enough to show you how dirty the keyboard and screen are. The basin in the background should give you an idea of how temporary my abode is at the moment. The abode will change as of tomorrow but it will be yet another temporary one, definitely not as comfortable as the current one.

Tomorrow is the day of the 'big move' to Northampton so that I can start work there on Tuesday. I'll be staying in a really cheap hotel for a few weeks until I find something more comfortable. It's very unlikely that I'll have an internet connection after hours unless I find an internet cafe nearby. My internet life is bound to be somewhat curtailed in the coming weeks, possibly just limited to breaks at work.

computer frustrationsWorking again after such a long break is going to seem quite strange, probably very tiring at first. I'm going to have to live by office hours, re-learn office etiquette, get to grips with a new working environment and possibly learn a whole lot of new skills. The weeks ahead could be rather trying and frustrating. So please beam lots of sympathetic thoughts my way.

When Bill first 'tagged' me with this task, I thought that I'd not be able to produce a decent picture without cheating in some way but a stray picture on my hard drive and my webcam seem to have saved the day.

Now, let's think whom I can challenge to show me theirs. I think Mike (Troubled Diva), Michelle (Drama Queen, Fag-hag, JAP ), Livewire ( In a Blink of an Eye) and ChittyChittyBangBang (Riding the Slipstream) are all more than capable of rising to the challenge.

Let's hope they do...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Last Weeks in Brighton - Dr Brighton's

This post can be read on its own or can be read as a follow on to Last Weeks in Brighton - Sunday Sundae.

Dr Brighton's was very full when I walked in at about 9pm. It's a very mixed pub but the crowd used to (still does?) get younger on Saturdays. It isn't really a pre-club venue but there's a DJ on Saturday evenings and the place can get really loud.

I got myself a pint of John Smiths (I don't drink it anymore) and squeezing my way through the crowds, moved towards the back. My eyes were taking in the faces, seeing whom I could recognise and checking out what was on offer. I saw the Canadian almost immediately. He was sitting at one of the high tables in the middle of the room with the same woman I'd seen him with the week before. Our eyes locked. We held each other's gaze but he showed no flicker of recognition. My mind went into over-drive: Does he remember me? He doesn't remember me. He remembers me but wishes he didn't. Should I carry on looking at him? Should I move out of his eyesight? He doesn't fancy me. He does remember me, he's pretending not to.

I moved away and stood near the cigarette machine where I wasn't within his immediate vicinity but was still able to see him. Each time I looked, I found him looking at me. I could also tell that he was talking to his friend about me. Fuck, I felt awkward. And stupid! By the time I'd finished my second pint, I was ready to go, ready to scuttle off into the night. As I went to place my glass on the bar, his friend came up to me.

'Hey, are you going? My friend fancies you.'

'Um, what? Me? Whose your friend?'

She pointed at the Canadian who was looking back. He was smiling at me in a shy sort of way. That same brilliant smile that I'd seen the week before.

'I fancy him too.'

'Cool, come join us,' she said, grabbing my arm as she made her way back to the table.

His name was P. It was very loud in there but he didn't sound Canadian. R, his friend, definitely did. Well, American, actually - my ear can't detect a Canadian from an American. In the space of a few minutes, I'd discovered quite a lot about him.

    He didn't remember talking to me (too many pills) but remembers having seen me somewhere before. I felt a whole lot better.

    He wasn't Canadian, he's from Middlesborough. I'd never heard of the place so he explained, 'A shit-hole in the North east, near Newcastle.'

    R is his best friend and she's Canadian. 'She rocks, she's a skater chick.' A what? Never mind.

    I don't sound South African, I sound 'posh'.

    He's psychic. 'Seriously, I am,' he said, noticing my obvious scepticism. R agreed with him. I chose not to delve into the subject.

The three of us sat there shouting at each other over the music until last orders. P and I really hit it off and I could tell that R was getting bored. Outside Revenge, we had a little debate on where to go. P wasn't keen on going there as he was short of money so we decided to go to the Zanzibar instead. R was probably pleased to see the back of us. 'Have fun, boys,' she called out as we left her in the queue to get in. We walked towards St James's street.

I wasn't pissed but, following him down the steep stairs into Zanzibar, I almost tripped and fell on him. I hardly knew him but he'd managed to press all the right buttons - being in his presence made me feel drunk.

We drank far too much but we danced little. We talked instead. It was crowded and loud and again we had to shout at each other, heads close together. We discovered how different we were and how much we had in common. Although we touched often while leaning over to make ourselves heard, it wasn't overtly sexual even though sexual tension enveloped us like a blanket. At 2am, closing time, we left.

Palace Pier, BrightonI was living towards the end of Kemptown so it wasn't that far to walk. For my first few weeks in Brighton, I'd stayed in a hotel before moving into a flat in Brunswick Square. After 6 months, I moved to house-sit a beautiful house while the owners were abroad. The Palace Pier, that monument to English seaside tackiness, fell more-or-less half way between the two places.

It was a beautiful night and I felt great. Alcohol and lust were coursing through my veins, a potent, heady cocktail. We ran, walked and staggerred our way back, laughing and chatting, our arms around each other for most of the way. We were like two kids, play-punching and jumping on each other. At one point we stopped, looked at each other, drew up closer then kissed. One of those kisses that seem to last forever, where nothing else matters let alone exists.

The house occupied 4 floors. Downstairs you only had the kitchen and dining room, the main sitting room was on the first floor. My bedroom was on the third floor. We only made it as far as the sitting room before we had each other naked. The sex was intense, hard, raw and urgent. But, while it couldn't be called love-making, it ended tenderly. It was just what both of us needed. Later, when we got to the bedroom, we made love.

As we did again the next morning. All morning and into the early afternoon.

P suggested we go eat something at one of the restaurants along St James's street. We found a quiet place that he knew and we both ordered bangers and mash with onion gravy. I suppose you could call it our first date.

He went home afterwards but he returned later that night.

It was my last week in Kemptown and I saw him every day until I moved into the Old Ship Hotel, the place I stayed at before returning to South Africa. In that first week, I pulled a 3-day 'sickie' so that I could be with him and we could lie in bed late together. I went with him to the hospital when he was worried about his 'twisted testicle'. I sat drinking at the pub he worked at while waiting for him to finish. We spent several sunny afternoons on a bench overlooking the sea, me seated, him lying down with his head in my lap.

I was in love.

(to be continued)

Pre-empting my arrival on the Northampton gay scene

I rang Mike earlier to catch up. And to see if his head hurted from a late night out last night. It did.

Mike: So, have you checked up on what the scene has to offer?
Me: Yes, I've looked on the web. There seems to be two or three venues. No great shakes but I said the same about Nottingham before I went there. So, they could be fun.
Mike: You'll walk in on your first night and some old queens will look up from their drinks, 'She's new', turn away and carry on drinking. Next time you go in, there'll be an almost imperceptible flick of the head, 'Her again.' (*)

No, Mike, it won't be like that at all. This is how it will go:

First night: 'He's new...phwoar!'
Next night: 'Hey, he's back...pwhoar!'

(*) Correction:
Mike, you are quite right - It wasn't 'She's back', 'Her again' it is. Sounds much better that way, of course.