Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Glamour and Glitter

Joanna as Purdey‘Alan, we’ve been invited to one of those Mnet dinners in a few weeks’ time.’

‘Um, no thanks,’ I said.

My wife, E, was constantly being invited to various media events and I’d long learned that I didn’t enjoy them. She usually insisted that I go; I’d go under great sufferance. Sometimes, unexpectedly, I’d enjoy them but they mostly bored me. You’d constantly see the same incestuous bunch of media people, dressed to the nines, self-congratulatory and pinning medals on themselves and each other. And, of course, constantly back-stabbing every one in and out of sight. Talk about big fish in a small pond!

'I think you’ll enjoy this one, we’ll be having dinner with Joanna Lumley,’ she said.

‘What?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I thought you’d be interested.’
Joanna as PatsyThis was 1995 or 6, several years after the first series of Absolutely Fabulous had hit British television screens and become such a huge hit. I’d seen the series on video courtesy of my friends G and M in London. And like all true queens, they were infatuated with the show and with Patsy. I’d enjoyed it too but I was much more in love with Purdey than Patsy! Although I may not have become quite the Patsy fan many of my friends are, I’ve revised my allegiances since then.

‘Yes, I’ll definitely come along!’

The dinner was being hosted by Mnet, the subscription television service who were just about to launch the first series of Absolutely Fabulous on South African audiences. As part of their launch, they’d invited Joanna Lumley out to South Africa on a publicity tour. Various dinners were being held in several major centres and we’d been invited to the Cape Town one being held at the Rotunda in Camps Bay. The Rotunda, Camps BayAs E’s magazine had ‘scooped’ an interview with Lumley and she was going to be doing the interview, we were to be seated at her dinner table. We later found out that the mayor and mayoress would also be at the table, a very provincial touch despite Cape Town being South Africa’s second biggest city. A very South African touch, actually.

E had wangled some tickets to the dinner for a few of our friends who were grateful but terribly envious about our being the ‘chosen ones’. I’m not really one to get excited about such things, but I couldn’t wait.

In the weeks running up to the dinner, E agonised about what she’d be wearing.

‘I think I’ll have to get something new,’ she kept saying. This from a woman who’d recently returned from New York where she’d gone a bit wild with the plastic. I’d keep quiet or grunt in as neutral a way as possible.

‘What are you going to wear?’ would sometimes come my way, E’s way of trying to engage me in her quandary.

‘Oh, I don’t know, I’ll find something, I’m sure,’ my stock phrase when asked to think about clothes to be worn any time longer than an hour into the future.

In the end, she got a new outfit, some designer thing she looked marvellous in. And, as usual, I didn’t give the matter another thought until I was forced to the night before the dinner. I rummaged through my wardrobe and settled on the tuxedo I’d worn to our wedding, a fifties tuxedo that I’d bought in a charity shop. It looked good on me so E approved but she wasn’t so keen on my choice of shirt. She wanted one of my old silk shirts with a tie but I wanted one of the old collar-less dress shirts I’d found in an old department store that had recently closed down. You know the sort, the ones that you attach collars to with collar-studs. I wanted to wear it plain, without a collar or any other adornment around my neck. An argument developed - E insisted that I wear a collar or something around my neck.

We compromised on a cravat. A bit old-fogey-ish, I know, but just how gay is that!?

It was a beautiful night when we arrived at the Rotunda. A queue of cars had developed at the entrance to the car park; smartly dressed people were passing us in droves. Instead of getting stuck in the queue, we parked up one of the residential side streets. On the way to the entrance we passed scores of people that E greeted, the people that I hoped to avoid by not going to functions like this. We showed our tickets to the doorman at the entrance.

‘Oh, good evening Mr and Mrs F, please come this way,’ he fawned.

inside the RotundaHe was a short, fat man who wobbled with grace as he wove his way through the crowd and between the tables. As its name would suggest, the Rotunda is a very large circular room. The tables seemed to be arranged in spokes that radiated out from the centre. I saw our friends waving to us from the far end of the room where they were seated. He took us right to the middle to a large round table. The four people already seated there looked up at us and smiled.

‘Here you are,’ he said, pointing at our place names, ‘please enjoy your evening.’

The men at the table stood up, introducing themselves and their wives as they shook our hands. I don’t remember the names of the one couple but I recall that they were boring white suburbanites who for some strange reason were minor celebrities on the local political scene. The other couple were the Rev William Bantom and his wife, Cape Town’s first black mayoral couple.

We sat down and accepted glasses of champagne from a hovering waiter.

I was sitting next to Rev Bantom; there was a gap on the other side between me and E. Fortunately, neither of us was going to be sitting next to the boring couple - E was going to have Joanna at her other side. At first the conversation was stilted - even though we had an obvious topic, the fabulous Ms Lumley, to talk about, our fellow diners knew next to nothing about her. They certainly knew nothing about Absolutely Fabulous. But we battered along and I slowly warmed to the very personable reverend.

'I wonder when she's going to arrive?' I whispered across to E.

'Let's hope it's soon!' she replied.

About 20 minutes later we were suddenly aware of three people standing at the table. She'd arrived! The room had quietened for a moment and then got much louder. Everyone was looking towards Joanna. With her was one of the local bigwigs from Mnet and a pleasant-looking but rather nondescript middle-aged woman. We all stood up as introductions were made.

'Good evening, everyone,' said Mr Mnet Bigwig, 'this is Joanna Lumley and Myfanwy X.’ (*)

Both of them smiled broadly as we all shook hands then sat down. Myfanwy was sitting between me and E. Every eye in the room was on our table but Joanna seemed oblivious to them, choosing to direct her attention solely at us. Their glasses were filled by the hovering waiter and we clinked glasses.

She charmed us immediately. Her interest was sincere and relaxed, putting everyone at ease. Before long, the room seemed to close in upon us and I almost forgot that we were sitting in the middle of a huge room surrounded by scores of people all there to see Joanna. We found out that Myfanwy and Joanna are first cousins and often travel together when Joanna isn’t travelling with her husband. She too was engaging and interested and I took to her quickly. We also discovered that they were much of a same age even though Joanna looked years younger and light-years more glamorous.

Our second glasses of champagne were being sipped when Mr Mnet Bigwig stood up and talked over the microphone. His speech was brief – not much more than welcoming Joanna to Cape Town and a bit of information about when Absolutely Fabulous would be on air. He also suggested that should anyone want to chat to Joanna or ask for an autograph, they wait until after the main course, before dessert. Fortunately, we hadn’t been subjected to a long gushing speech.

Patsy

I don’t remember much about our conversation except for the fact that we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing our respective childhoods in the ‘colonies’. Joanna and Myfanwy discussed their family’s connection with the Indian subcontinent and I discussed mine with Mozambique. I’m sure we discussed the New Avengers, Girl Friday, Absolutely Fabulous and other Lumley roles. We probably discussed the, at the time, new political dispensation in South Africa. And, the mayor, being such an obvious example of that, was, no doubt, very involved in that conversation. Although the other table guests were not excluded, certainly not by Joanna, there were times when it felt as if the only people there were Joanna, Myfanwy, E and I. This is not to say that the other guests felt out of their depth, far from it, but there seemed less of a connection despite Joanna’s impeccable manners and inclusive anecdotes.

Before long, we’d finished our starters and were about to sit back and relax before the next course. A trickle of well-wishers and autograph-hunters began to make its way towards Joanna. A trickle that turned into a tide.

‘Please everyone, there will be time for chatting to Ms Lumley after the main course.’ Mr Mnet Bigwig tried his best to deter the fans but it took a while before he stemmed the flow.

Patsy and Edwina

At that point I remember looking around the room and being aware of something rather gay about many of our 'fellow-diners'. It wasn’t anything obvious like feather boas or the clashing of overly-pungent colognes. I think it may have been the preponderance of a particular trendy, over-tanned, and sometimes over-buffed look amongst many of the men. I’d almost forgotten how much of a gay icon Joanna had become! One especially flamboyant character was a well-known local actor whom, in later years, I often played pool against at Castro's pool bar down the road from Manhattans.

Throughout, Joanna was perfectly gracious and charming. As she was later, after the main course, when faced with another surge.

She and Myfanwy disappeared quite quickly after desert but we stayed on talking to Rev Bantom and our friends who’d come up to find out what she’d been like.

‘So you won’t be so offish about coming to these events next time?’ I was asked when we were in the car going home.

'Not if she’s going to be there!’ I said with a smile.

In my ignorance at the time, I didn’t realise what kudos I’d gained that evening in the eyes of a lot of my friends. And future friends! Since then, of course, I know when to dredge up that evening if I want to impress people. And here I am doing it again!

Joanna in the SixtiesI wonder to what extent Joanna remembers that evening? Probably not a lot beyond being in Cape Town and going to a publicity dinner. I suspect that she has very little or no recollection of who was at the dinner. So, in the very unlikely event that she heard about Rev Bantom’s resignation (read dismissal!) as mayor of Cape Town in 2000 for downloading child porn in his office, I’m quite sure she’d not have realised that she'd had dinner with him that night.

The Rotunda gave me my brush with fame and real glamour. Unbeknownst to Joanna, it gave her a brush with a fellow-traveller of Gary Glitter's.

Alternative titles for this post:

  • Purdey and the Paedophile
  • Paedophile's Patsy
  • any other suggestions?

(*) I don't remember her surname

Mobile madness

Last night was yet another of little sleep.

Every time I mention that to various friends, I can see them raising their eyebrows or, if we’re not actually in each other’s presence, I can imagine it. Do I have some sort of reputation, I wonder? Alas, the lack of sleep has nothing to do with carnal pleasures and all to do with strange sleeping patterns.

I was tired – only three hours of sleep the night before - and got back late so I didn’t go to the theatre as originally planned. The bed leered seductively at me as I entered the flat at about 7.30. I plonked myself down on it and picked up a book. By 8 I’d almost fallen asleep but I nipped that nap in the bud to ensure that I’d be properly exhausted for a decent sleep later on. There isn’t much to keep me busy in the flat so I made a feeble attempt at cleaning up surfaces and things then ironed two shirts. It seemed like a good idea to eat something so I heated up the left-over pasta from the night before and ate it. Now what to do? I tried to see if I could connect to my neighbour’s ‘badass3’ wifi network and found that I could. Hurrah! Decided to postpone any surfing or chatting until later and went out for a pint at the Lord Robert’s. I didn’t stay long even though I bumped into P whose farewell I’d attended on Friday night, an event that gave me such a dreadful champagne hangover the next day. Awful enough to not go and see ‘Flightplan’ with Michelle on Saturday afternoon!

I jumped straight into bed once I got home and tried to connect to ‘badass3’ again. Damn, it had disappeared again! Ok, I think they may have cottoned on to my bandwidth banditry. Or, maybe, they’re just being more environmentally conscious and switching off their computer? Back to dial-up. So slow! But did it stop me from being on there for too long? Oh no. It was way after 2 by the time the light went off.

The alarm on my mobile rang at 6.15. God, I felt rough! But, things to do, places (work) to go and I was out of bed 5 minute’s later. Coffee. Fag. Get out clean underwear and socks. Strip bed. Make bed. Shower. Get dressed.

Oops, almost running late, only 5 minutes before my lift arrives!

Shove bed clothing and dirty clothes into washing machine, add soap powder and switch on. Gather my briefcase things together. Keys. Mobile phone? Mmmm…can’t find it. No time to hunt so I ring it from my landline – it immediately goes to voicemail.

Two weeks ago, when still at the Fish Inn, I’d spent half an hour hunting for my phone, looking into every conceivable place, including the rubbish bin and under the bed (three times!) and not been able to find it. Later that day, I rang the landlord to ask him to go to my room with his mobile to find it by ringing it. He found it under the bed. I had looked under there three times! I’d pulled it all the way to the other side of the room! I don't understand why these things sometimes happen to me.

Today, I didn’t have the luxury of spending so much time hunting for it and despite the tiredness, my mind quickly suggested three places. On or near the bed? Nope. In the bathroom? Nada. Near the sink or washing machine? Nothing. Um, wait a minute, what’s that funny-looking thing in the washing machine?

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Yes, it’s well and truly fucked! But I still have the sim card so will have all my numbers when I get to replace the handset.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Again and again: some things never end!

This ‘coming out’ business really is a bit of a bind.

It never actually ends even though people tend to think of coming out as a single defining moment in a gay person’s life. Or, if they don’t view it as a single event, they think of it as a small series of events that occur within a small space of time.

First there’s the coming out to friends and family, two events that don’t usually happen together. Some come out to their family first but most gays come out to friends first. As it becomes easier for teenagers to come out, coming out to family first may become the norm and the two events will tend to meld into one.

These two events are followed by a wider coming out which mostly relates to coming out in larger social settings such as educational institutions and the workplace. By the time that that occurs, you can assume that the full ‘coming out process’ has happened and that person can no longer be defined as being ‘in the closet’. To this day, with much wider acceptance of gays in all walks of life and with legislation to protect gays from harassment and discrimination, there are still many gays, particularly those working in conservative professions and work environments, who can’t be regarded as ‘fully out’. Because they still feel uncomfortable coming out in such environments, they tend to keep quiet about their sexuality, often using the very valid excuse of ‘I don’t ask to know what they do at home or in bed so what I do there has nothing to do with them.’ That excuse, as valid as it may be, misses the point, somewhat. It also brings me back to my statement above where I say that coming out never really ends.

No one asks or speculates about what straight people get up to in the bedroom because people are assumed to be heterosexuals indulging in heterosexual behaviour. In an environment that makes that assumption, gay people will always need to come out. Unless someone is known of as gay, or is very obviously gay (a rather inexact way of identifying gay people!), a gay person is always going to be met with questions and assumptions about his or her private life based on the assumption that he or she is straight. And unless that person accepts or allows people to believe that false impression, it will be necessary to come out. Yet again!

And again and again and again.

Personally, I can’t ever see this changing. Of course coming out will become much easier with an ever-widening general acceptance of gays as being a permanent presence in all walks of life. But being a minority within a heterosexual world, gays will have to come out repeatedly throughout their lives beyond the first few major coming out episodes.

Are you wondering why I’ve inflicted this rather dry, unoriginal social commentary on you?

Well, sitting in a car with a colleague for close on 3 hours each day tends to produce conversations that delve into the more personal aspects of one’s life. Those aspects can be skirted around or ignored but eventually one has to face them and either tell the truth or lie. At the risk of having my daily 3 hours with him turn into a rather awkward affair or, worse, have my lift brought to an abrupt stop, I told him I’m gay. :-)

So, since I came out again today, I thought I’d tell you about it as a precursor to making the obligatory ‘coming out post’. It may not happen soon, but when it does, you’ll have read this as an introduction.

Commuter's droop

yawning awayThey were still drifting in at 9.30am. Some stragglers only got in after 10! There may have been a bit of yawning going on amongst them but they mostly looked as fresh as daisies. How dare they come in so late! How dare they look so fresh! I’ve been here since 7.45 and the day seems to stretch endlessly ahead.

It’s the second day of my daily commuting to Northampton from Nottingham. I’ve got to get up at 5.45am each day for my lift at 6.30.

Getting up at that time shouldn’t be that difficult if it were not for the fact that I’m naturally a night-owl and that I’ve been finding it hard to sleep these last few nights. Last night it was after 2 by the time I’d put out the light and then I kept waking all the time. Usually, if I wake up before I need to, I prefer not to look at the alarm in case it’s almost time to get up - I’m not keen on ending the comfort of a deep sleep with the anxiety that comes from knowing that I need to be up soon. Whenever it happened last night, I wrestled with looking and not looking at the alarm. I knew that if I didn’t look, I’d probably lie there expecting it to ring soon and delay myself getting to sleep, thus wasting sleep time.

Actually, I think that the best policy in such circumstances is to the check the time even if one’s head hurts or one is suddenly faced with the prospect of only having 5 more minutes to sleep!!

I’m meant to be off to the theatre with Mike and Michelle but I’ve warned them that I may not go if I’m still so tired when I get home this evening. At the moment I’m constantly yawning and having to get up for a walk, cup of coffee or a fag break.

I need to make a concerted effort to adjust my sleep patterns to get used to all of this.

It was good while it lasted

It seems that my brief career as a bandwidth bandit is over!

On rebooting my laptop last night, I discovered that I could no longer connect to the wifi network that I’d had free rein to over the past few days. The fact that this happened immediately after rebooting made me suspect that it may have had something to do with my computer settings but no amount of fiddling could get my computer to recognise the network I’d been using since Saturday. So while it may have something to do with my settings, it’s also quite likely that the neighbours had noticed an intruder and done something about it.

Rather appropriately the network had been (still is?) called ‘badass3’ – I assume that there was no space for a fourth badass in their world.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One other thing

Is stealing bandwidth a crime?

I discovered that I can connect to a wifi network in this building that isn't mine. It's much faster than my dial-up connection and, for now, it's free.

Will they track me down? Can I get into trouble?

Nausea

The real sort, not the Jean Paul Sartre sort!

Long gone are the days when I read that sort of stuff and loved it. And all those wonderful Russian authors. Nowadays, I'm too much of a lazy reprobate to even entertain indulging in such intellectual exercises.

I'm referring to the sort that comes about after buying something from the kebab shop. I realised some time ago that I don't actually like kebabs even if drunk so I now turn to their other offerings. Tonight, it was a tried-and-tested cheese burger and chips liberally doused in garlic mayo. The burger was ok but I felt my stomach rebelling against those chips that had been deep-fried in oil that has probably seen too many chips and too many drunken nights.

Please stop me from going to such places in future.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I didn't realise I had so many names!

wish you were hereanus bandit • arse-bandit • arse-pirate • ass boy • ass burglar • ass king • aunt fancy • auntie • back-door bandit • back-door commando • back-door kicker • badger • bag • balloon-knot bandit • bardache • battie-boy • batty bwoy • b.b. • beachcomber • belle • bender • bent • berdache • betty • bicha • biscuit bandit • bitch • blackmarket butcher • blow-boy • bog queen • boigl • bone smuggler • bone-stroker • boong-moll • booty-buffer • boretto-man • bottle-opener • bottom • bowler from the pavillion end • boy toker • breechloader • brilliant • broad boy • broken wrist • brown artist • brown dirt cowboy • brown-hatter • brown-pipe • bruce • brunser • budli-budli • bufu • buftie • bufty • bufty-boy • bugger • buggeranto • Bulgar • Bulgarian • buller • bum bandit • bum boy • bum buddy • bum chum • bum cleft speedway rider • bum-fucker • bummer • bummer-boy • bum plumber • bum-robber • bun bandit • bun duster • bungie boy • bunny boy • butch • butt buddy • buttercup • butthole surfer • butt pirate • butterfly boy • cackpipe cosmonaut • Cadbury's canal boat cruiser • Cadbury's canal engineer • cakeboy • cake-eater • calamite • camp • cannibal • capon • cat • catamite • catcher • cha-cha queen • charlie • charlotte ann • cheerful • chemise-lifter • chichi • chicken • chicken hawk • chocky jockey • chocolate runway pirate • chocolate speedway rider • chocolate starfish poker • chuff adder • chuff chum • church mouse • chubby-chaser • chutney-farmer • chutney-ferret • cissy • clacker-smacker • clear • clone • cloven hoofter • closet queen • cocksucker • cocoa-shunter • colon choker • cork soaker • cornholer • counterjumper • crapper-tapper • cream puff • cuilón • culero • daffodil • daisy • daisy duck • dandy • dash • date-puncher • deviate • dick-sucker • dick-smoker • dicky-licker • dinner masher • dirt highway cowboy • dirt-tamper • double-barrelled ghee • doughnut-puncher • drag queen • ducky • dung-puncher • dyna • eerquay • effie • ephebophile • ethel • eye doctor • faddle • faerie • fag • faggot • fagola • fairy • family • fancy man • fantail • faygele • feigele • fembo • femme • finocchio • flamer • flip • flit • flower • fluff • folle • foop • freak • freckle-puncher • frit • frocio • friend of Dorothy • fruit • fruitcake • fruiter • fruit-fly • fruit for monkeys • fruit loop • fruit-plate • fuckboy • fudgepacker • funny man • gal-boy • ganymede • gay • gay boy • gay caballero • gayola • gear • gentleman of the back room • gentlemiss • gina la salsa • ginger • girl-boy • gladys • goat blower • gobbler • goluboy • gonsel • Greek • green and yellow fellow • gussie • gut butcher • gut fucker • gut scraper • gut stuffer • hæmorroid hitman • hairy fairy • hairy Mary • handbag boy • hasie • happy • haricot • hawk • hen • hen-hussy • Hershey • hesexual • hesh • himmer • hip-hitter • hitchhiker on the Hershey highway • hock • hole-filler • hole-puncher • Hollywood hustler • homo • homogene • homophile • homosexual • hoop-stretcher • horse's hoof • huckle • hula-raider • hundert-funf-und-siebziger • in-between • indorser • inspector of manholes • intersexualist • invert • Irish by birth but Greek by injection • iron • iron hoof • isophyl • jam duff • jessie • Jesuit • jobby-jouster • jocker • joey • john-and-john • jota • joto • joy boy • juicy fruit • keester bandit • ki-ki • King Lear • kinsey six • kisser • knick-knack • knob polisher • knob shiner • lacy lad • lad-lass • lavender • lavender boy • lavender cowboy • lick-box • lick-spigot • lightfoot • light in the loafers • lily • limp-wrist • lisper • log-cabin raider • log-pusher • lollipop • madge-cove • madge-cull • malkin • mama • mampala • man-eater • mandrake • margery • maricon • maricona • mariposa • mariquita • Marmite driller • Marmite masher • Marmite miner • mars bar • mary ann • mattress-muncher • maud • meat-hound • member of the union • midnight cowboy • mietje • milquetoast • mince • mintie • Miss It • Miss Molly • Miss Nancy • Miss Thing • moffie • mole • moll • molly • molly-boy • molly-mop • morphodyte • mother • mo-tho • moumoune • mouse • M.S.M. • mud-packer • mud pumper • musical • nance • nancy • nancy-boy • navigator of the windward passage • nelly • nelly duff • nervous • nice enough • nick-nack • nimfadoro • nudger • omee-polone • one • one of those • one of us • oofterpa • Oscar • pansy • pantyman • pantywaist • pato • peanut buffer • peanut-packer • peanut popper • pédale • pederast • perv • pervert • peter-puffer • piccolo player • pickle kisser • pile-driver • pillow-biter • pilot of the chocolate runway • pineapple • pink-pants • pipe-cleaner • pipe smoker • pitcher • pirujo • pixie • poggler • pole-climber • pole-pleaser • pole-smoker • ponce • poof • poofdah • poofta • poofter • poojabber • poo percolator • poo-puncher • poo-pusher • poo-stabber • poop pipe plunger • pork-and-bean • pouf • powder puff • princess • pretty-boy • prune-pusher • puff • punk • pure silk • pussyboy • putty pusher • quean • queen • queenie • queer • quiff • quince • rabbit • reamer • rear admiral • rear seat gunner • receiver • rectum ranger • rectum wrangler • rice queen • rimadonna • ring master • ring pirate • ring raider • ring-snatcher • ripe fruit • royalty • rump ranger • sarasa • sausage-jockey • sausage smuggler • scatman • schwuchtel • screaming queen • semen demon • sexual outlaw • shandy • sheena • sheep-herder • shim • shirt-lifter • shirttail-lifter • shit-stabber • short-arm bandit • shunter • similsexualist • sis • sissy • sissy-boy • sissy-britches • sissy pants • sister • six • skid-pipe plumber • skin-diver • skippy • smockface • snake charmer • so • soapy • sod • sodomite • soft • soft boy • soft sucker • song-and-dance • sperm-burper • spurge • stem-wheeler • stern-chaser • steve keith • stir-shit • Stoke-on-Trent • stuffer • suckster • sweet • sweetcorn shiner • sweetie • swish • sword swallower • tailgunner • tante • tan-track rider • tan-tracker • team player • teapot • teen queen • temperamental • third-sexer • three-dollar bill • three-legged beaver • tidda • tonk • tooti-frooti • tootle-merchant • top • town shift • triss • trizz • trouser bandit • twank • twink • twinkie • twixter • tubesteak tarzan • turd-burglar • turd-packer • turk • tutti-frutti • twilight man • undercover man • carpet burnsuphill gardener • uranian • urning • usher • variant • vegemite driller • viado • visitor to Vegemite valley • waffle • warmer Brüder • weirdie • whoops boy • willie boy • windjammer • winte • wolf • woofter • wooly woofter • woman • woman-man • wonk

Friday, November 25, 2005

Little(r) Britain

Vicky and teacher
I wonder if anyone else also feels that 'Little Britain' has lost its way?

The first two series were brilliantly funny and clever. The new series (straight to BBC1 this time) has introduced some new characters but the old characters have become far too predictable. I can see the new characters becoming just as predictable.

Or should I be questioning myself?

I like something when it's new and subversive but as soon as it enters the mainstream, some inner sense of superiority begins to find fault.

Barflies buzz and Vultures circle

A vulture of the feathered varietyWhen it comes to drinking hours, Britain has finally joined the rest of the non-Muslim world!

Instead of being unceremoniously chucked out of pubs at 11pm, you’ll now be able to carry on drinking until a much later hour. And instead of being told that no alcohol is being served after 1.30am at a club and being chucked out at 2, you’ll be able to drink and dance until you drop. Well, within reason. It remains to be seen if this liberalisation of licensing and opening hours will fuel the mad binging that already happens every weekend in every British urban area. Without going into the whys and wherefores of the whole debate let me just say that I think that this is a positive development and that while things may worsen initially, the situation will stabilise after a while. A bit like how the liberalisation of pornography and the sex industry in South Africa in the early nineties led to an explosion of skin-mags and sex-shops which fizzled out a few years later.

The strict 11pm limit on pubs and 2am limit on clubs disappeared years ago but, until yesterday, you could assume that most pubs and clubs, particularly outside of London, operated on those times. My first experience of them was when I lived in Brighton 5 years ago. I arrived there used to Cape Town closing hours that were much less rigid. It was quite a shock to be faced with such limits in a country that seemed so liberal in most other ways. Having lived in the UK before and having visited here often in between, I was more-or-less prepared for the call of ‘last orders’ just before 11. But I was completely unprepared for the 2am curfew at Revenge, Brighton’s biggest gay club.

a useful pick-up lineIn those days, I was less comfortable about going to gay venues on my own so it took a bit of courage to arrive at Revenge at 9.45pm. It was a weeknight and I wasn’t planning on a particularly late night. I approached the place expecting it to be open as a flashing, revolving light kept spraying its name high above the entrance, seemingly inviting one in. The door was closed. That seemed odd and I walked passed wandering what to do, not sure if I should knock or wait or simply go home. After a few minutes, I decided to knock.

‘Are you open?’ I asked the guy who poked his head around the door.

‘It’s too early mate. We open at 10.30.’

10.30? I knew that 10.30 was early to be going to a club but I also knew that Bronx in Cape Town was open, albeit quiet, way before that. I contemplated going back to the hotel where I was staying but went back to the pub for a few drinks before returning once Revenge had opened.

A steady trickle of people was entering the place when I returned an hour later. The place wasn’t particularly busy but slowly got busier as the night progressed. Over the next few hours, I knocked back the pints, gave the cold shoulder to a few undesirables who tried to get my attention and wandered around in the vague hope of picking up my first Brighton god. I was probably too drunk to notice that the crowd started thinning out after 1.30am or had I noticed it, I probably put it down to the fact that others were being more sensible on a school night.

Suddenly, on the dot of 2am, the place was flooded with light and the music came to an abrupt halt.

What? What’s happening? It seemed as if something was wrong. Maybe a fire alarm had rung and I’d not heard it?

No, that wasn’t it - it was closing time and we all had to leave. It was then that I first noted the vultures that circle a gay club at the end of the night, those who hadn’t managed to score and were still hopeful that they’d be picked by one of the other vultures who’d ignored them until then. On getting outside, I noticed that a smallish crowd continued to mill outside, displaced vultures still on the scrounge.

I’d never come across anything like it before.

In Cape Town, there being a much gentler way of coming to the end of a night, the circling vulture phenomenon was much less obvious. As at any gay club, there were scores of men who’d go hoping to score but because the club closed much later and less abruptly, those that hadn’t scored tended to slip away into the night largely unnoticed. For those gay men who get a complex about being seen to want to score but being unable to do so, the British way of closing a club was not conducive to peace of mind.

After that, I made sure that I didn’t leave after 1.30am!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tippling in the Tropics

Miss England 1932My grandmother (*) was of the generation, perhaps particularly so of whites in far-flung remnants or ex-remnants of the Empire, who drank a lot. Socialising always involved consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Wine was consumed at meals but less so as a recreational drink consumed without food. Spirits, especially scotch and brandy, were favourites as were various liqueurs. And, being of British extraction, her tipples of choice were often the clichés associated with the colonial set - pink gins, Pimms, and an assortment of favourite cocktails.

I think that I first realised that my father was an alcoholic when my mother and I went looking for him in a downtown bar one morning after he’d not been home for a few days. I must have been about 8 at the time. He wasn’t there - that didn't stop me from feeling the pain and embarrassment my mother was going through when the sympathetic barman explained that he’d been there the night before but that he wasn’t sure where he’d gone. But I only realised that my grandmother had a drinking problem a few years later once she’d become my guardian. She may not have been an alcoholic in the traditional sense as despite being a regular drinker, she rarely got drunk but she used to have periodic alcoholic binges when she lost control of her life and wreaked havoc on those around her.

The first binge I recall was the one that happened over the festive period that culminated in her refusing to allow my brother and me to go to the Maxixe club ball. There was absolutely no reason for her refusal except pure selfishness. For days prior to that, she’d not left her room at all but she let her demands be known by shouting down to the staff, to Mac (her boyfriend) and Cecil (her son, my uncle), and to my brother and me when she needed something, usually more to drink. Mac and Cecil had told the staff to not give her anything but the staff were in an even weaker position than they were when it came to resisting her demands. Us boys had also been told not to give her anything but we’d often have to sneak downstairs into the bar when Mac and Cecil weren’t looking to get her more to drink. It was cruel and unfair to us and we hated having to do it.

In later years, when I heard about the things she’d said and done, I realised that there had been times when we’d also been subjected to the side of her character that some people despised.

Probably the worst binge occurred when she and Mac came to collect my brother and me from boarding school in Barberton. Those three-monthly trips to South Africa were usually combined with a major shopping exercise to stock up with provisions for the hotel so we’d sometimes spend a few days in Nelspruit, a much larger town about 30 km from Barberton, before returning to Mozambique. She was in such a bad state that we didn’t manage to get to Nelspruit that time. We spent a week in the Phoenix Hotel, mostly in our rooms where we ate our meals, read comics and played board games while wishing desperately that we’d be going home soon. Mac tried his best to stop her drinking but he’d eventually give in when he noticed that she was trying to coerce us into getting her drink even though it was illegal for us to do so. We thought that things were improving when we got across the border into Mozambique and seemed to be on our way to Maxixe. When we reached Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) many hours later, after several stops at roadside 'cantinas' for drinks, she insisted that we check into a hotel there. We didn’t leave that hotel until 3 weeks later when it was time to return to boarding school.

She'd wrecked our holiday.

Without there being anyone to ask about how long those binges had been going on for or explanations for them, I can only speculate. It may have been a coincidence, but they seemed to start after the death of my mother and then seemed to get worse even if not more regular. During those binges, her moods would swing wildly. Sometimes she’d be deeply unpleasant to everyone but she’d mostly fall into a deeply maudlin state in which she would berate herself for upsetting those around her and discuss, at length, the tragedies in her life. There was the death of her father before she’d known him, the death of her mother, the death of my grandfather and, most awful of all, the death of her daughter, my mother. And then there was the breast cancer that had resulted in severe mastectomies of both breasts. Occasionally she’d bring up long forgotten slights, possibly imagined, that had upset her.

And once, just the once that I recall, she got weepy about not having won the Miss Europe contest. She’d come second to Miss Austria, a woman she said who'd won simply because she’d worn false eyelashes!

(*) Go here for an introductory post about my grandmother

Fish(ing) In(n) Northampton

Fish Inn signThe Fish Inn – my residence from Monday to Thursday while in Northampton. It has about 8 rooms but it’s more of a real-ale pub than a hotel. When I first arrived here, I was the only resident for a few weeks but the place seems to have become more popular of late. The sort of people that stay here are temporary workers such as scaffolders and shop-fitters and, um, me. So, going on that, you have to know that the rooms are cheap, very cheap. I discovered the place on the net by doing a bit of googling before I started work here; the rooms were advertised at £25 per night. On ringing to book myself a room, I told the woman who answered the phone that I’d be here for a few weeks and asked if she’d give me a discount. The price went down to £22.50. Owing to the lengthy referencing procedure, it took another two weeks before I eventually arrived in Northampton. I rang them again the day before I left and a man answered the phone this time. I mentioned that a discount had been offered to me before and asked if it was still available. This time the price went down to £20. At that sort of price, you know that you aren’t going to be living in luxury. So, no breakfast and no bathroom en suite.

There seems a good chance that I may be able to arrange a daily lift between here and Nottingham so, with a bit of luck, this may be the last week that I spend my nights in this place. I just happened to have my webcam in my bag so I’m able to record for posterity, room 4, the room I’ve occupied on-and-off for the past 6 weeks. Being a rather cheap, crappy webcam, the resolution isn’t great and it doesn’t do justice to the tackiness of the place. But you should get some idea of what it's like.

From the outside, the Fish Inn is a very typical British pub, probably at least 100 years old, quite attractive in appearance. The bar area is very typical too and it has a warm friendly atmosphere and is popular with the locals who congregate here for a few hours after work. Once you pass through the door that goes to the bedrooms, there's a dramatic change in feeling.

A dark Victorian staircase climbs up one floor in a gloom that is created by threadbare, red-speckled carpets and bad lighting. The place smells of stale cigarette smoke and a special mouldiness that seems to have been created for establishments such as this. The rooms are all on the first floor but the staircase goes up one more floor to some more rooms that are, I think, occupied by some of the staff members.

the bathroomOpposite my bedroom is one of two communal bathrooms, both without showers, both with several broken fittings and a standard of cleanliness that leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve learnt to spend as little time as possible in there.

The room has the obligatory kettle with sachets of coffee, tea and sugar and little containers of UHT milk. The thick china cup has no saucer, the light over the basin doesn’t work, the tiny telly has two remote controls both of which don’t work, the bed only has one pillow that is hardly thicker than a folded towel, there’s no bedside lamp and there aren’t enough coat hangers in the tiny cupboard.

Hey, I told you the place is cheap!

one side of the room
other side of the room

There’s a sticker that says ‘Party Crasher’ behind the desk – makes you wonder where it spent a previous life. The window overlooks Fish Street which is a small offshoot from Abington Street, the main shopping street that leads down from Market Square. I’m one minute’s walk from the entrance to Grosvenor Shopping Mall that gives me a covered five-minute walk to the bus station. Downstairs is a great little Italian café that serves good coffee and tasty pastries and Italian fare such as bruschetta. Opposite, is an O’Brien’s sandwich shop and a William Hill betting shop.

view from the window

Being in the centre of town and being a pub, you’d expect the place to be very noisy but, on the whole, it tends to be rather quiet. Weekends are probably bad but I’ve only spent one Friday here so I haven’t had to face that prospect. Occasionally, I’ll hear the sharp trills of plastered bimbettes and loud, aggressive expletives coming from groups of male low-lifers. I even got to hear (and see from behind my curtains) a man threatening to carve up the face of a woman sitting in a car. And last week, on one of the rare occasions when I’d fallen asleep before 1am, I was awoken by very loud hammering right outside my window. I shot out of bed and looked out of the window to be faced by a man looking straight at me. It wasn’t an erotic fantasy but a council worker hanging up Christmas lights. Those were isolated incidents so I can’t complain about a lack of peace and quiet.

But the manager (owner?) and staff are friendly and helpful which goes a long way towards making me feel relatively at home when here. Not at home enough, however, to stop me from having a spring in my step on a Friday evening as I approach my trendy little loft apartment in one of Nottingham’s converted lace factories.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Maxixe 1972

the beach at Maxixe - 1972
For those of you who liked the look of the hotel my grandmother ran from the mid-Sixties to the mid-Seventies, you may like this picture taken of the beach in 1972. I received it courtesy of a blog-reader who lived there at the time and now lives in Portugal. If I were at home in Cape Town, I'd be able to delve into my photograph box and retrieve lots more pictures from those times. I shall have to remember to do some delving when I'm next there.

Incidentally, while Maxixe is a small tropical town on the Mozambique coast, it may interest you that it is named after a Brazilian dance.

Mad Dogs and Englishwomen...

Postcard of Miss England 1932She called my father a whoremonger in front of me. She upset me horribly by refusing to enter our house after my mother died. She went on a drunken binge one festive period and refused to allow my brother and me to go to the club dance despite all our entreaties. Instead, we sat on her bed pulling hundreds of Christmas crackers while she drank countless Brandy Alexanders that she had sent up from the hotel bar even though it was closed. In 1932, she was crowned Ms England and was the toast of London’s high society when she came out at that year’s annual debutante’s ball. Two years later she’d married a South African doctor, my grandfather, and was living in Livingstone, Zambia, a colonial backwater.

What a grande old bitch she was - I loved her unreservedly!

The trouble with people dying when you are a child is that you never get to know them as an adult so your memories of them aren’t shaped by a knowledge of the world and how people are shaped by that world. Later, when you realise that a loved one was just as flawed, maybe more so, as everyone else, the realisation is logical rather than emotional, sudden rather than evolutionary. Their flaws will forever seem incidental rather than integral to their makeup.

When I was born, my grandmother was living in a huge old mansion in Johannesburg that she’d turned into a guesthouse to make ends meet. Her second husband had died in 1961 and she was living in reduced circumstances but did not want to lose the house that she’d moved to when she and my grandfather left Zambia in the late thirties. My grandfather died before I was born and I only have a very vague recollection of her second husband, probably not true memories but memories created from various photographs including several of him guiding me around their garden on top of a huge tortoise. Apparently he was a depressed, disturbed man whom no one liked, particularly my mother and uncle – he committed suicide by gassing himself in my grandmother’s old Jaguar. What a beautiful car it was too – long, sleek and black, deep red leather seats that I seemed to disappear into, lots of walnut panelling, shiny chrome trim everywhere. I loved it! Years later it got confiscated by the Mozambique police after my grandmother’s boyfriend had an accident in it, killing a pedestrian. He didn’t get charged but I never saw the car again.

In 1965, she was forced to sell the house to the South African government as they wanted to knock it down to make school playing fields. In a matter of months, a beautiful old house had completely disappeared without a trace except for the memories that lived on in the minds of those who’d lived and visited there.

An advert for a hotel on sale in Mozambique caught her attention.

She’d been going there for years. It was a favourite place for South African holidaymakers seeking tropical beaches and a Mediterranean lifestyle that seemed decadently liberal compared with a conservative, Calvinist South Africa that was entering the darkest days of apartheid. In earlier years, she’d gone with my grandfather and the kids, my mother and uncle. After he’d died, she went with her second husband, firstly on holiday but later to see my mother who moved to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) after marrying my father whom she’d met there. By the time she was forced to sell the house, she was living with Mac, her Scottish boyfriend. My uncle, Cecil, had never left home so the three of them travelled to Maxixe to see the hotel. Four months later they were living there, owners of a brand new hotel in a country of Portuguese-speakers, a language they didn’t speak.

Hotel Golfinho Azul, Maxixe, MozambiqueThe hotel was an immediate success with locals, South Africans and tourists from Rhodesia, a country that was inhibited by a small-town, English provincial mentality that existed in many of the British colonies at the time rather than the dourer South African Calvinism. It was a perfect example of Portuguese seaside architecture and, quite typically for that time in Mozambique, employed some rather innovative design concepts. By now, they’d be dated enough to be considered trendy. All the floors were covered by parquet flooring except for the vast sitting room and the bar that had the sawn-off trunks of coconut trees embedded into a cement floor coated by a high gloss. One wall of the bar was covered with concentric circles created by embedding coconut shells into the glossy cement. This almost avante garde interior was married to my grandmother’s expensive but traditional tastes. While the dining room and bar furniture were contemporary sixties, the sitting room was full of her expensive antiques from the Johannesburg home. Very expensive blue and white English china (not willow pattern!!) and expensive silver-plated cuttlery were used in the dining room. The reception area, sitting room, hallways and stairs were covered with expensive Persian rugs. The overall effect was astounding. It would have been astounding anywhere but was even more so in such a tropical setting.

Within a short space of time, Mac and Cecil could get by on their broken Portuguese but my grandmother never learnt more than a smattering of words necessary to help her with the kitchen staff. Her domain was the kitchen where the staff soon learnt English to cope with her lack of Portuguese. Some of them already spoke a bit of English, having worked on the South African gold mines through an arrangement between the South African and Portuguese authorities that exploited but supported thousands of poor black Mozambiquans while contributing towards the country’s foreign reserves. Men who worked or had worked on the mines were known as Wenelas, after the organisation that recruited them. Their relative affluence made them very popular with the local women. And shopkeepers! When she wasn’t in the kitchen, my grandmother was sitting behind the bar, surveying her public while drinking cane, brandy or scotch.

Instead of going to Johannesburg for holidays, we now went to Maxixe, a place that was to become my home after my parents died. There is so much more to say about her but not enough time right now.

Next time I must remember to write about some of the following:

  • Her superstitions that had my mother post her her horseshoes and her slapping sailors on backs
  • Her problems with Miss Austria
  • Her mouth full of golden fillings
  • How she and I modelled her vast collection of hats that she’d kept from her youth
  • Her sentimental attachment to letters written by old lovers
  • Her love for dogs, especially Great Danes, that ended in tragedy
  • Her vast collection of photographs from her youth including some rather interesting ones taken by my grandfather
  • Her attitude towards my father and his family
  • Her banishment of my uncle’s girlfriend, later his wife, to the opposite end of the hotel
  • Her having the waiters carry chairs from the hotel to the club for film viewings because she didn’t like the club chairs
  • Her method of slaughtering turkeys
  • Her drunken binges
  • Her telling me about an affair my mother had with a Portuguese show jumper
  • Her being ‘responsible’ for ‘turning’ me gay

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sleeping in Nottingham

For the first time in eons, I spent a working day in London on Monday. So rather than leave Nottingham at the crack of dawn, I spent Sunday night at a friend’s place in London. Getting to work meant catching a bus to Finsbury Park tube station, getting a tube to Kings Cross, another to London Bridge and eventually taking the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf.

I'm SO pleased I don’t have to do that every day!

Instead of going to Northampton that night, I returned to Nottingham. So, unusually, I was there on a Monday night and in need of company. I thought I’d let D know I was in town as I hadn’t seen him over the weekend. He said he’d be around at 7.30.

D tends to like a few drinks before he comes round – he says he feels nervous before coming to see me. Nervous of me? I’m no ogre, so it must be him? Joking apart, it really is him – he’s slowly emerging from his closet (at the ripe old age of 36!) and shares a house with a very good straight friend who’d prefer he be straight or, at most, bi.

He rang at 8 to say he’d be there soon. He rang again at 8.40, saying he wouldn’t be long. If phones were that advanced, I’d have smelt the alcohol fumes through my mobile. My doorbell rang just after 9. I let him in.

A breeze of beer and cologne accompanied him as he wafted in, head held back, one arm touching his opposite shoulder. He was dressed in black, tight-fitting jeans, a tailored, dark grey jacket with fur on the collar and one of those fur hats you see Russians wearing. God, he looked camp! He reminded me of a black Julie Christie who’d walked off the set of Dr Zhivago.

‘It’s real fur,’ he announced with a bit of a flounce, picking up that I was surprised by his attire. Then he launched into an apology for not having seen me over the weekend (it hadn’t bothered me at all!) and how he had a confession to make.

On the Sunday of the weekend before, A (we have a history!) had popped by to drop off a bottle of red wine and then we’d gone to the Lord Roberts for a drink. I’d spent the night before with D and hadn’t expected to see him on the Sunday but he popped in a while later. Things were awkward for the rest of the evening and I’d had to do a balancing act where I could be civil to both of them. Despite that, the three of us went on to AD2, followed by the club. Really stupid behaviour on my part as I had to be up at the crack of dawn to be in Northampton the next morning. I left the club about 10 minutes after A left, bidding D goodbye. He’d wanted to go home with me but I said I’d rather not as I needed to get as much sleep as possible before leaving in the morning. He thought that I’d gone home with A.

I knew that he’d have thought that and he confirmed it on Monday. It had upset him that I’d left without him and he eventually went home with a ‘fit Glaswegian’ who'd chatted him up at AD2 earlier.

Now D isn’t really very experienced in the world of weirdness that can be sex in the gay world so the following shocked him a lot:
  • Lots of slapping
  • Lots of verbal abuse
  • Lots of gob

Had it been me, I’d simply have left had someone wanted to indulge in that sort of thing. D, being a relative innocent in the ways of the big bad world, felt unable to. He says the guy was a really nice guy the next morning but that the whole episode had unnerved him.

D was feeling very guilty about it but it didn’t faze me at all. I was interested in his story, glad that nothing really unpleasant had happened to him but I was more interested in him getting naked and climbing into bed with me. Yes, I am such a shallow tart! After quite a bit more self-haranguing and trying to convince himself that I was ok with everything, we were naked in bed with each other.

Things got off to a good start although I had to warn him to be a bit more reticent with his teeth – I really didn’t want a repeat of a previous episode. Not too long into the proceedings, at a point where he was lying back with his head on the pillow enjoying my administrations, I detected a change in his breathing pattern.

‘D, don’t you go falling asleep on me! I said.

There was a grunt. The breathing pattern altered slightly before resuming its previous pattern.

‘Wake up!’ I said. No grunt this time and a slight change in pattern. Then nothing.

He’d passed out.

Oh well, so much for that. I got under the duvet and switched off the light, hoping to fall into a deep sleep so that I’d have a good rest before being up at 5.45. But, it was not to be – D’s snores were breaking the sound barrier. No amount of prodding made any difference.

I moved to the couch where I eventually fell asleep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Metropolis

Poster for MetropolisYesterday, the record price of $600 000 was paid for this poster, one of only four known surviving copies, by Heinz Shultz-Nuedamm for Fritz Lang's 1927 movie classic, Metropolis.

Not only is it a perfect example of classic art deco, I think that it has to be one of the most beautiful and appropriate movie posters of all time. It perfectly captures the promise of the future brought about by technological advance combined with the fears for the position of humanity if that future is mismanaged.

Blogging Nightmare

This blog was giving me nightmares last night. As with most dreams, I can't remember too much detail so you're spared a blow-by-blow account. Last night, however, there were at least two occasions when I woke up, apparently still having the same dream, when all the details seemed crystal clear. Details that left me a bit uneasy when I got up this morning.

The gist of the dream:

I kept running into people (not people I know or have known) who'd read the blog and taken extreme exception to what they'd read and, as a result, were subjecting me to verbal abuse and threatening me with physical violence.

They were being threatening enough for me to consider abandoning my blog
.

Although I 'anonymise' names as far as possible, I supply enough narrative for people to recognise themselves if they were to read what I've written about them. So far I know of only one person who's stumbled across things I've written about him without me having actually directed him to my blog. Even though I've said or implied some less than pleasant things about some people (him included), I doubt that any of them would threaten me physically over what I've written.

Mike recently posted his lecture notes on blogging for a Creative Writing workshop in Nottingham. This is what he has to say about the confessional aspect of a lot of blogging and how it can lead to unwelcome discovery.

Confessional aspect.

- depression/divorce/sexual misdemeanours etc etc
- cathartic for writer, car crash rubbernecking for readers?
- "online disinhibition effect"
- liberating effect of screen: confession booth/heart to heart with
friend/therapist
- "I'm insignificant"/"no one will find me"
- OH YES THEY WILL!

Many, many examples
- people have been sacked
- sites closed abruptly
- own experience (unfairly bitchy account of posh lunch party, found by
friend of the hosts)
- assume that they WILL find what you've said, don't say anything
wouldn't say to face
- stick to being rude about politicians/celebs: that's what we pay them
for!

OR... stick to YOURSELF as subject
- hence criticism "bloggers are self-obsessed"
- goes with the territory


I wonder if last night's nightmare is a warning signal of some sort?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Kinky Boots

Chiwetel Ejofor as Lola in Kinky BootsKinky Boots it was to be. And I’m pleased I saw it, not just because I saw it in Northampton which is a plus, but because I enjoyed it and had a smile on my face all the way from the cinema back to my bed where I’m writing this now.

It’s yet another British film in the mould of ‘The Full Monty’ (loved it) and ‘Calendar Girls’ (not seen it) and is a formulaic exercise (paint by numbers) of portraying how employing something unconventional in the face of adversity leads to triumph at the end of a bumpy road. So what? Sure, it makes for a predictable film but it‘s done well and succeeds as a feel-good comedy.

You could argue that since it’s based on a true story of how the owner of a failing shoe factory comes across a drag queen who inspires him to turn his production away from traditional well-crafted shoes to fabulous boots designed to withstand the weight of men as opposed to women, it could have been made with a deeper sense of social commentary (*). Achieving that while retaining its sense of fun and ‘feel-goodness’ would have produced a gem.

On leaving the cinema, my biggest regret was that while Northampton may have produced those fabulous boots worn by strutting, bitchy, over-made-up drag queens, there is no place here where you’d see them being worn.

It reminded me of George’s Bar and how much I regret its demise.

Go here for the real story behind Kinky Boots.
My first impression of George's Bar.


(*) update: quite a bit of artistic license has been applied to the true story

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A dinner party

An email arrived from one of my MBA classmates a few day's ago. He's arranging a 10-year reunion dinner at the Africa Café in Cape Town.

Ten years!!

As clichéd as it may sound, time really does fly!

Attached to the email was a spreadsheet with the names and contact details of the part-time class of 94/95. I've emailed a few of them including R who was in my first syndicate. Each syndicate comprised 6 members and R was the 'other gay one'. Well, the 'other gay male one' as MS, a lesbian, would have been yet another 'gay one'. Out of a class of 42, having 3 gays in the first syndicate is statistically significant, I'd have thought. Thought? I should know - goes to show how much of the statistics I studied that year is remembered.

Besides the three gay ones, there was MD, a blonde, athletic, pleasant but rather dim guy, F, a straight but camp accountant that I'd come across at university digs many years previously, and A, a rather earnest Austrian who worked at the same place I worked at.

I invited them round to dinner one Saturday.

the dining roomIt was a cold winter's evening so we probably had a fire blazing away in the hearth. The dining and sitting rooms are one very large room with a very high ceiling that needs a fire when the weather is cold. A heater or two would also do but a fire is so much nicer! The room looked set for a night of perfect entertaining.

R, MS and MD, all being single, arrived on their own. A arrived with his wife, an Austrian nurse who couldn't stop telling us how horrified she was by the standards of cleanliness at South African hospitals. F arrived with his wife, a very attractive woman, quite mumsy if I recall correctly - I think they left their children behind. Our children were tucked in their beds upstairs.

We'd only been in the house since the beginning of the year and we'd got Barney, an Alsatian puppy, soon after we'd moved in. Today he is an old man with stiff joints and lots of grey around the mouth, but Honey, a recently-acquired SPCA special, keeps him on his creaking toes. At that time, Belly, now long deceased, was the greying one whose joints he constantly taxed with his playfulness.

Some of the syndicate were 'doggy people', some not. I seem to recall that R didn't fall into the doggy camp. Being an overly friendly puppy, constantly seeking attention, Barney was banished to the kitchen for the evening as soon as everyone arrived.

Despite it being the first time that my wife had met them and that none of us had met the two other wives, the evening went well in an easy-going, serious kind of way rather than turning into raucous, frivolous, drink-fuelled riot. At some point, I think it may have been between the main course and desert, R excused himself to go to the toilet.

He was gone for ages. I went through to the kitchen to get desert.

It's a rather quirky house and the downstairs toilet is approached via the kitchen. In those days it was a room just beyond the kitchen door and had a door that looked out over the garden. These days it's still approached via the kitchen but it's just off the utility room and is properly contained within the house.

As I walked to the counter, I looked towards the toilet door. It was open, the light spilling out over the garden. R was standing on one leg, balancing with one hand on the door while he inspected his shoe. I opened the kitchen door and R stood up, looking slightly sheepish.

'What's up?' I asked.

'Um, nothing really, I was just cleaning my shoe.'

I looked towards his feet and could see that there were pale brown smear marks all over the bricks that made up the floor outside the toilet. I could also see a stick with a brown lump at one end and lots of bits of crumpled up toilet paper.

'Oh, looks like you stood in some dog shit,' I said. 'I'm so sorry. Barney must have shat in the kitchen.' I hadn't seen nor smelt anything but I hadn't been in the kitchen long before going out to R.

'Yes,' he said, 'I've been cleaning my shoe. Sorry I've taken so long.'

Once we got back into the kitchen, I looked around for the traces of Barney's mess. There was nothing there. I turned to R, 'You didn't clean it up, did you? You really shouldn't have.'

'No, I didn't, it was under the dining room table.' R looked embarrassed.

If it was under the dining room table, it had to have been there all night as Barney had been banished to the kitchen. It also meant that R had stood in it soon after sitting at his place. And that meant that his foot had been in it for a number of hours!

Unbelievably, it hadn't smelt as that would have alerted all of us to its presence right at the beginning. So R wouldn't have smelt it but he would have felt it. And once I had checked under the table and seen what a huge mound it was, I realised that R must have realised he was standing in it very early on in the evening but had kept quiet about it.

R, if you get to read this as is entirely possible, I really admire your manners and the way you were able to try and not embarrass us, your hosts, that night. I could not have done it!

I loathe the Sun!

No, not THAT sun, that sun which brightens every day, the sun which blesses (and damns!) Africa yet deprives Britain of its spirit-lifting rays.

I’m referring to 'The Sun', the UK’s biggest selling newspaper. Today’s edition refers to the Labour MP’s who voted against Blair in last night’s Commons vote to amend the terror laws as ‘treacherous’ , calling them ‘traitors’ who have ‘betrayed the public’. I haven’t bothered to read more than the front page as it lay before me at the newsagent but I doubt that there is any reference to the arrogance of Blair and his poor judgement of an issue he knew was very divisive. In an interview yesterday, he said that ‘sometimes it is better to do the right thing and lose, than to win doing the wrong thing’.

True, but sometimes it's even better to compromise than to do what you think is right.

Technically, the Sun may be correct in referring to betrayal of the public as a majority were in favour of the amendment. I wonder what they said at the time of the massive opposition to the Iraqi war by the British people – were the MPs that voted in favour of going to war branded as traitors then?

If the UK had a system whereby policy was decided by direct public involvement, something that has been tried on a number of issues in Switzerland, the statute books would be full of all sorts of new and old laws conflicting with basic human rights and civil liberties (eg capital punishment). Can you imagine how much more powerful the press, eg the Sun, would be in deciding government policy if the public were able to vote in that way?

A parliamentary democracy as we have it in the UK may not be a perfect democracy (bring in some form of proportional representation!) but MPs are elected to decide on behalf of the country even when their decisions sometimes conflict with the majority. If they consistently go against public opinion they eventually get chucked out. But, when they do, you very rarely find changes to laws enacted by the previous government that affect human rights revoked by the new one.

Sometimes MPs know best.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Kinky Boots or The Constant Gardener?

Having decided to not be a regular on the Northampton gay scene, I now take to my bed each night with nothing warmer than a book or the telly to keep me company. This is good for my liver, my bank balance and, probably, my soul but it makes for a rather boring life during the week. So, this being mid-week, my usual night for an alcoholic binge with Mike and others when in Nottingham, perhaps it's time to think of something to do here that doesn't involve fraternising with fellow queers.

But what?

The most obvious thing is to go off to see a film even though I prefer watching films with someone else rather than on my own. 'Kinky boots', the film that put Northampton on the map, so to speak, has been showing since soon after I arrived here. Dealing with a drag artist, kinky boots and Northampton, it would seem to be the perfect choice. But while it has been given mixed but generally favourable reviews and I'm sure that I'll like it, going to see something described by Michelle as ‘nice enough, but a typical, small, paint-by-numbers British film’, I’m more tempted to see 'The Constant Gardener', a much more complex-sounding film by Fernando Meirelles, the director of ‘City of God’.

Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More about Poppy Day

Now that you know a bit more about Remembrance Day, more commonly referred to as Poppy Day, I’ll give you a more personal connection to the day.

my grandmotherThe 11th of November is also the date of my grandmother’s birthday – she was born in 1914, the year World War I started. Her father died during the war and is buried in Flanders Fields, the fields whose poppies gave their name to Poppy Day. I don’t recall if she was born while he was away on duty or if he actually got to see his daughter before he went off to war. But whatever the chronology of events, to all intents and purposes she never got to see him as she would have been too young to have remembered him had he been around during and after her birth. Towards the end of her life she used to get drunk and maudlin about several things, mostly the death of her daughter, my mother, but sometimes she’d talk about the father she had never known.

Many years after her death, my brother inherited a lot of family odds and ends on the death of my uncle. Amongst those items were four letters written to my grandmother by her father from the battle front. Although my brother inherited all of the items as my uncle and I were no longer on speaking terms, he and I shared the items – I got to keep the letters. I wish I could transcribe them here but they are at my home in Cape Town.

They make terribly poignant reading.

On reading them, you can imagine the pain and longing of a young soldier fighting in the terrible conditions of the First World War and thinking of his young daughter at home. You can also imagine how a young girl who never knew her father reacted to receiving those letters from her mother. And you can imagine how a strong woman who led a fascinating life to the fullest hung on to those letters all her life and how they would still affect her towards the end of her life.

My children never knew my grandmother but they are terribly moved when they read the letters written by their great great grandfather.

Rembrance Day PoppiesUpdate on the origins of Remembrance Day:

Doing a bit more googling on Remembrance Day, I came across some information that suggests that an Australian, Edward Honey, suggested the idea of the commemorative silence 5 months before Sir Percy FitzPatrick. Quoting from the article:

The concept of a remembrance silence appears to have originated with an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, who had served briefly in World War One with an English regiment before being discharged due to ill health. Honey was born in St Kilda, Melbourne, in 1885 and died of consumption in England in 1922.

In 1962, a group of Melbourne citizens formed a committee to obtain recognition for Honey as the man 'who taught the world how to remember'. For many years, a South African politician, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, had been credited with the idea. The Melbourne committee succeeded in establishing that 'the solemn ceremony of silence now observed in all British countries in remembrance of those who died in war' was first published by Edward Honey.

Honey published a letter in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919 under the pen name of Warren Foster, in which he appealed for five-minute silence amid all the joy making planned to celebrate the first anniversary of the end of the War. 'Five little minutes only', he wrote, 'Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession … Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough'.

No official action was taken on the idea, however, until, more that five months later, on 27 October 1919, one Lord Milner forwarded a suggestion from his friend, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, to the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, for a period of silence on Armistice Day, 11 November, in all countries of the British Empire.

Sir Percy wrote, 'When we are gone it may help bring home to those who will come after us, the meaning, the nobility and the unselfishness of the great sacrifice by which their freedom was assured'.

King George V was evidently very moved by the idea and took it up immediately. There is no record that Sir Percy was prompted by Honey's letter in the London Evening News, but with the King, both Honey and Sir Percy attended a rehearsal for a five-minute silence involving the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace. Five minutes proved too long and the two-minute interval was decided upon.

On 7 November 1919 the King issued a proclamation asking 'that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead'.

Some more links:
BBC
Wikipedia - includes some information on South African celebrations of the event
British Legion

Monday, November 07, 2005

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

poppy day poppyIt always intrigues me how celebrated ‘Poppy Day’ is to this day in the UK. For weeks running up to 11 November, all politicians and TV personalities and many members of the public can be seen wearing poppies. Most large offices will have someone selling poppies, the proceeds going to support the charitable works of the British Legion. In recent years, it seems that there has been a noticeable decline in the sale of poppies in South Africa. Part of the reason must be that the generation that remembered the two world wars is slowly disappearing but another reason could be a perceived lack of relevance to South Africa. Despite large numbers of non-white South Africans serving in both wars, the two world wars are very much part of South Africa’s colonial legacy, something that South Africans are trying to distance themselves from.

However, most South Africans would be very surprised to learn of the South African origin of the idea of commemorating the 11th hour of the 11th of November with two minute’s silence:

Captain P.N.G. FitzPatrick, the son of Sir Percy FitzPatrick (author of Jock of the Bushveld amongst many other achievements), was killed in the First World War at the age of 28. In commemoration of the death of his favourite son, Sir Percy FitzPatrick bought Delville Wood, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting involving South Africans. That’s where he later constructed the South African memorial to those who gave their lives in the First World War. After that he decided to take the commemoration of his son’s death and those of others further.

He’d been impressed by a one-minute silence kept in his local church in 1916 after the South African casualty lists had been read out and this gave him an idea. The date and time of the Armistice – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month –inspired Sir Percy to suggest an annual commemoration across the Empire. He was able to feed this suggestion to King George the Fifth who promptly took it up and issued a “call to the nation” at the beginning of November 1919 asking that “for the brief space of two minutes, [there be] a complete suspension of all normal activities… to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.” And that’s how the Remembrance Day silence was initiated. Soon, the papers were reporting that “the whole world stands to attention.” The King acknowledged his thanks to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick for suggesting this simple act of gratitude. A year later, in November 1920, the silence was held again, this time at the Cenotaph at the time of its unveiling. Sir Percy was himself in attendance.

Five fresh veg and fruit is good for you

It seems that a healthy diet does make a noticeable difference.

On my return to Nottingham after almost 2 months of lodging with the sister- and brother-in-law, L and D, several people remarked on how good I looked. I knew that I’d lost some weight but they were referring to a ‘healthy look’ rather than a slight reduction in weight.

While there, I ate healthy, balanced meals, drank next to nothing and smoked a lot less than before. I know that I sometimes It seems that a healthy diet does make a noticeable difference.

On my return to Nottingham after almost 2 months of lodging with the sister- and brother-in-law, L and D, several people remarked on how good I looked. I knew that I’d lost some weight but they were referring to a ‘healthy look’ rather than a slight reduction in weight.

While there, I ate healthy, balanced meals, drank next to nothing and smoked a lot less than before. I know that I sometimes complained about sticking to boring Weight Watchers recipes that excluded almost all traces of fat but I wasn’t thinking of the benefits to be had from such meals. All of them would probably have been tastier with more oil but all of them were tasty and some were delicious. I’d probably have benefited from such a diet (proper quantities of freshly prepared vegetables, freshly prepared meat/chicken/fish) even if the fat levels weren’t acceptable to WeightWatchers.

Since returning to the Midlands, my diet has reverted to levels similar to those before I left Nottingham although I have drunk and smoked less. I really need to make an effort to eat properly so that I can maintain that ‘healthy look’.

Last night I spoke to L for the first time since moving back to the Midlands and forgot to tell her that my stay there had been good for me – I’ll have to remind myself to do so next time.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gay marriage

let gays marry

Bad positioning

I don't think it's entirely appropriate to post a perfect meal right after discussing urinal etiquette - talk about bad positioning! So let me separate them by slipping something in between.

A perfect meal

Portuguesa Nova has been making my taste buds tingle for some time now. You'd think she lives to eat the way she goes on about food. Her recent posts about various spicy dishs have prompted me to divulge two of my secret recipes, vital components of one of the most perfect meals. Those of you who cook should feel very honoured to have these recipes to add to your collection.

Chicken Piri-piri
Chicken pieces (from two chickens)
Piri-piri paste made from:
15-20 Dried bay leaves (or more)
10 Crushed garlic cloves
piri-piri powder
1 tsp crushed dried piri-piri
1 tbsp Black peppercorns
400 ml Paprika
1 heaped tsp coarse salt
Olive oil

Grind the bay leaves to a coarse powder in a spice blender or with a mortar and pestle (more effort and less successful). Add salt and peppercorns and continue grinding until well blended. Add the paprika and combine well. Combine the crushed garlic with the dry ingredients, slowly adding the olive oil until all the ingredients are well blended into a thick paste.

(control the heat of the paste by the amount of piri-piri - this meal is delicious without blowing off your head)

Using a knife, spread the paste over the outside of the chicken pieces, between the flesh and under the skin where possible – the skin can be gently pulled away from the flesh in places. Do not be concerned if the paste does not spread entirely smoothly and appears uneven in places. Refrigerate. After and hour or two, the paste will have acquired a smoother consistency. Using a knife, spread the paste evenly over each chicken piece. The chicken is ready to grill at this stage but leaving it to stand for longer will intensify the flavours. If left to stand longer, spread the paste over the pieces again prior to grilling.

Keep any remaining paste for the next time you make this dish.

Place the chicken pieces on a wire grill. The grill should allow ample space for the juices to seep through and collect into a pan below. Grill for 15 minutes on one side (skin side first) then turn over each piece and grill for 15 minutes on the other side. As the grill may get hotter during the grilling process, you may want to grill the chicken for 10 minutes the second time round, turn over again, and grill for another 5 minutes. This method is preferable because the skin tends to soften slightly when turned over and this crisps it up again. The chicken will be well-crisped and slightly blackened in parts.

Pour the juices (including any thick pieces of paste that may have fallen into the pan) into a gravy boat. Stir the gravy so that the pieces of paste soften and combine with the rest of the juices. Serve the chicken with rice(*), salad and crusty Portuguese bread. The gravy is used to pour over the rice and chicken.

(*) plain rice will do but I prefer the following Portuguese way of making rice:

Portuguese Rice
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
olive oil
2 cups rice (preferably Basmati)
salt
freshly ground black pepper


Fry the garlic in olive oil with the black pepper at a gentle heat until soft and golden brown. Remove most of the garlic but mash or chop the rest and leave in the pot. Add the rice and stir-fry for a minute or two until it gets a ‘tweedy’ look. Add 3 cups of boiling water, salt and stir in. Bring to the boil then allow to simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Add more water if necessary. Drain any remaining water and fork it up until fluffy.

And now for desert:

Yoghurt Pudding
500ml yoghurt
250 ml cream
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp (level) gelatin
1 tsp vanilla essence

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Heat the cream and sugar in a pan until it simmers. Stir the water and gelatin into the heated cream and sugar. Let the mixture cool slightly then add the vanilla and yoghurt.

Refrigerate until set – this will take 5-6 hours.

Slipped in for some light relief

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Inconvenience of Public Conveniences

Public toilets have never been a favourite of mine. And by that I also include the toilet facilities at work, places that tend to be cleaner than ‘true’ public toilets.

Pissing in such places isn’t really an issue but like all men, unless they are cruising in a gay place, I observe urinal etiquette (*). Even though I sometimes suffer ‘piss-shyness’, I’ll always use the urinals in a ‘non-gay venue’ rather than the cubicles unless I’m going to commit a major breach of urinal etiquette. In a gay venue, I’ll always use the urinals even if I breach etiquette – I’ll only use the cubicles if all the urinals are occupied.

However, when it comes to a number 2, I avoid public toilets like the plague. Some people seem quite happy to be heard blatting and grunting away but I like to reserve those pleasures for the comfort of my toilet at home. Consequently, I’ve developed bowels of amazing strength and resilience so it’s rare for me to have to use public facilities for a dump. But sometimes they let me down.

Cubicles don’t have equivalent urinal etiquette but, on the whole, it would seem that the first cubicle tends to be avoided and the furthest one seems most ‘popular’. That observation certainly applied to me but I’ve recently changed the way I use cubicle when I’m forced to use them.

According to evidence and statistics that were discussed at the recent International Toilet Conference, the first cubicle is the least used and, there, the cleanest. This concurs with my empirical evidence so it makes logical sense to me.

I now use the first cubicle if I really have to take a public dump.

(*) If any of you, male and female, want to test your knowledge of urinal etiquette, let me know your scores. I got 50 out of 60.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Last Weeks in Brighton - Old Ship Hotel

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

Meeting P in those last few weeks in Brighton would have been fine had I not fallen in love with him. A lot was going on at the time: work was hectic, I had to move out of the Kemptown house into a hotel, and I had to contend with P’s strange ‘disappearing acts’. There was no time to sit back and reflect on how consumed I was by the intensity of my feelings towards him – I only realised that I’d fallen for him on my return to Cape Town.

Old Ship Hotel - Brighton

Extended stays at hotels have never appealed to me, no matter how comfortable and luxurious they are. The Old Ship Hotel is one of Brighton’s oldest but I was staying on the fourth floor of an extension built in the sixties or seventies. The reception and dining rooms have character but the new bits are as soulless as any one of the hundreds of Travelodges and Ramada Inns that you find up and down England’s motorways. At least I had a room that over-looked the sea and I was only 5 minutes walk from work in one direction and 5 minutes from Dr Brighton’s, my favourite watering hole, in the other.

P helped me move my luggage, bike (I actually used to exercise in those days!) and the books that I’d accumulated over 7 months. We spent my first night there together but I didn’t see him for two days after that. Although he didn’t have a mobile, I knew where he worked, I had his work number and I knew where he lived. I’d expected to see him the second night as he’d said he would be round before work. I was surprised that he didn’t pitch but put it down to something unforeseen and expected to see him afterwards. By the time I knew that he’d not be round, there was only one way of contacting him and that was to go to his place. I decided to ring him at work the next morning and went to bed, puzzled and hurt.

‘What happened last night?’ I asked.

‘Sorry mate, R came round. She had some hassles that I tried to help her with.’

I left it at that, not pressing him on the fact that he could so easily have rung to let me know. ‘Ok, so will I see you tonight?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’ll be there in time for the Weakest Link.’ Ann Robinson had only just started her reign as the BBC’s Bitch Queen and we were hooked.

He didn’t make it. I knew that he had to be at work by 7pm but thought I’d let him ring me or arrive later rather than seem too keen and anxious. I went to bed alone again. This time I didn’t ring him the next day even though I wanted to. I was angry, upset and hurt but decided to wait for him to call me. He called that afternoon.

‘Hey, sorry about last night,’ he said. ‘I had R around again. I’m really sorry, ok?’

I could hear how cold I sounded but I was ecstatic that he’d rung. ‘Sure, ok.’

‘I promise to see you later,’ he said.

‘Ok.’

He spent the next few nights with me. It seemed just like the previous week when I was still staying in Kemptown. Most nights we’d go to the pub or the club then we’d stagger back to the hotel. On the way, we’d stop at the chippie, buy fish and chips and eat them on the shingles on the dark beach, leaning against each other and looking out to sea. It was on one of those inebriated, drunken nights on the beach that P convinced me that there may be something in his alleged psychic abilities.

‘Look at the light out there on the water,’ he said, pointing at a ship in the distance. ‘It reminds you of swimming towards the town on the other side of the bay where you grew up.’

I was astounded. ‘How did you know that?’

‘I could feel it. It felt like I was seeing it,’ he said.

It could have been a very lucky guess but it was totally unlike the other occasions when he’d deliberately tried his ‘psychic powers’ on me. I’m not entirely sceptical about such things but I’m a total cynic as regards the vast majority of things purporting to be evidence of an alternative reality. Previously, he’d managed to work out things about me that would not have been that apparent from things I’d told him but he’d also said a lot which wasn’t true. I’d put down the ‘psychically inspired’ truths as lucky guesses, or educated guesses arrived at by other things I’d said. This was different, very different.

It was probably a combination of excess alcohol, the night and the gentle lapping of the waves but his ‘psychic connection’ with me made me feel extraordinarily close to him. The anger and upset of a few days earlier were forgotten. I went into work late the next morning, preferring to lie with him as the sun streamed through the window.

That evening, he didn’t come round as he’d said he would at 5.30. I rang him at the pub before closing time. I was annoyed with him and annoyed with myself for ringing him instead of letting him contact me to explain his absence.

‘I’ll try come round later but I may stay at home instead.’ He sounded distant.

I didn’t see him nor hear from him until after work the next night. He rang at midnight and arrived soon afterwards. He reeked of booze and was drunkenly amorous, completely oblivious to how cold I was being towards him. I tried to talk to him about his behaviour but he brushed it off with a comment about ‘needing space’ while he lay heavily on me, making feeble attempts to remove my trousers.

It was just after 3 when I woke up feeling strangely unsettled. I immediately remembered Paul’s drunken arrival a few hours earlier and how cold I’d felt towards him but I knew that something else was unsettling me. I looked towards the open window, noticing the brightness of the sky brought upon by the large moon that I couldn’t see. I also noticed that it was 3.06 am. I turned towards Paul, seeing him stretched out on the bed next to me before I looked towards the small corridor that led past the bathroom to the door. Two people stood there, a man and a woman, both in dark clothes, clothes that I assumed to be evening dress. A shock ran through me and my mind raced into over-drive.

Who were they? Why were they in my room? How had they got into the room? Had they entered it mistaking it for theirs? How was that possible since the rooms operated on computer-controlled cardkeys? Perhaps I hadn’t shut the door?

In the seconds when those thoughts raced through my head there was no movement and no sound from the couple who just stood there looking towards me. My heart was racing and I tried to say something but was unable to - no sound would come from my mouth. I tried to sit up but felt completely paralysed. In what seemed to be an eternity, I struggled with my body, trying to get myself to confront the motionless couple as to the reason for them being in my room. Just as I managed to summons up huge reserves of strength and throw myself up off the bed into a standing position, both of them seemed to crouch down, disappearing from my vision.

With two strides I was standing where they had been but there was no one there. I looked in the bathroom and in the cupboard. No sign of them there either. By then I was wide-awake and my mind raced over the scenario and the questions that had flooded my brain before I’d managed to get off the bed. I was filled with a weird sense of loss that defied explanation.

I returned to bed and lay there thinking about what had happened, mostly staring at the ceiling but occasionally glancing towards the door, checking to see if they had returned. I’d not experienced the feeling of not being able to talk before but the sensation of paralysis wasn't new to me. It sometimes accompanied the sensation of someone sitting on the bed next to me or getting off the bed, similarly strange feelings but feelings that I explained away as a weird form of sleeping wakefulness. I dismissed everything as a particularly vivid dream.

P was lying flat on his back, mouth wide open and snoring when I got up in the morning. I had a shower, made us each a cup of tea then woke him up. My mind was still buzzing with the dream and I could still feel the loss that I’d felt on the abrupt disappearance of the couple.

‘I had the most amazing dream last night,’ I said as I put down P’s tea next to his bed.

‘About those two people who were in the room?’ he said.

I felt as if someone had hit me in the stomach, winding me. I stared at P in amazement. ‘How do you know?’

‘I saw them standing there, a man and a woman. They left when you got up.’

This was eerie, unbelievable. ’Do you know where they came from, how they got in to the room?’ I asked.

‘No, they were just there,’ he replied. ‘I think that they must have stayed here before.’

The sense of loss persisted for the whole day and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. At lunchtime, I would normally have gone back to the hotel as P was there but I felt a strange wariness about being in the room with him again. He wasn’t there when I returned after work and I felt relieved. He didn’t come round that night but he called to say that he would not be round. I didn’t mind and went to bed, eventually falling asleep in the very early hours.

I left the Old Ship and Brighton for South Africa a few days later. There was no repeat episode with the darkly-dressed couple but they weren’t far from my mind during those last few days. When I got back to Cape Town, I emailed the hotel asking them if they knew of any ghosts or unexplained phenomena in the hotel.

They never replied.

(to be continued)