Friday, April 28, 2006

Today is Mike and Kevin's Day!

Alan: Full of bridal jitters today?

Mike: My hair! My make up! My trousseau! Where are my fucking bridesmaids?!!

Later today, Michelle will shower the newly ‘unioned’ couple with confetti and rice. Unfortunately, I’ll be on the M1 between Northampton and Nottingham but I’ll be showering them in spirit.

Once I’ve got home and changed, I’ll join them for some celebratory spirits of another kind.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Freedom Day

Twelve years ago today, South Africa installed its first democratically elected government under the premiership of Nelson Mandela. I gave a brief account of how emotional a day it was a few weeks ago after having seen a programme on television about the right-wing violence in the run-up to the election. I’m not in South Africa today so I’m not enjoying a day off but Freedom Day gives me a good excuse to indulge my flag obsession by giving you a good look at the South African flag.

south african flag
When the new flag was designed it was specifically stated that the colors had no official meaning and/or symbolism, other than the reason for their choice arose from their use in the past in flags in the country (red, white and blue from the Dutch and British communities and black, green and gold from the flags of the various liberation movements: ANC, Inkhatha, PAC etc). Only the Y, the ‘pall’, has an official meaning, namely the convergence and going forward as one unified nation of previously disparate groups in South Africa. However, the following meanings have been ascribed to the flag:

  • Red for bloodshed
  • Blue of open blue skies
  • Green for the land
  • Black for the black people
  • White for the European people
  • Yellow for the natural resources

A nationwide competition invited the public to submit flag designs but none of those submitted were supported by the committee charged to select the final design. An interim flag was designed by State Herald Frederick G. Brownell for the 27 April elections, the nation's first fully-inclusive elections, and for Nelson Mandela's May 10 inauguration. The flag was so well received that the interim version was made the final, national flag in the South African Constitution.

The advent of true democracy in South Africa led to the adoption of the constitution on 8 May 1996. The constitution, one of the most progressive of its kind, includes the Bill of Rights which contains the following clause:

The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

With a clause like that, you can see what a huge break from the apartheid past was heralded by the democratic era.

Twelve years later, things have changed in so many ways for so much the better but South Africa has its fair share of woes that make the daily lives of millions of South Africans a misery.

Various commentators have said that until the youth of the country are able to live in a country that does not suffer a 40% unemployment and have one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, they are not truly free. I fully understand those sentiments but despite high levels of government incompetence and corruption, I believe the country is immeasurably better than it was.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gay 'marriage' cards

kitschMany years ago, a gay friend of mine said, ‘When gays get it wrong, boy, do they get it wrong!’ He was referring to matters of style and taste.

While our arbiters of style may consist of a disproportionately large number of gays, there’s nothing quite as hideous as the ‘creativity’ displayed by someone who wants to flaunt his style under the horrible misconception that it’s tasteful/adventurous/avante garde/interesting/etc whereas it’s kitsch (in a bad way) or just plain awful.

I shudder when I think of waking up in the chintz-festooned (synthetic fabric, of course) and pillow-laden four-poster bed that dominated the tiny ex council house of some man I’d found attractive the night before. That was on the outskirts of Newcastle. The thought of waking up surrounded by hundreds of porcelain figurines of Disney characters in Epsom isn’t something I feel the need to do again. Then there was Cape Town anaesthetist who had too much money – everything seemed to be orange and brown (this was before the retro seventies look came back into favour) and a preponderance of over-large furniture in leather made me wonder if I’d had sex in a furniture showroom. While not really a fan of minimalism, it has the advantage of reducing the number of cardinal style sins that can be committed in a small, confined space.

I won’t get on to dress sense apart from mentioning how much more common it is to think of ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’ when in the company of older gay men than it is amongst older straight people.

Weddings are the perfect vehicle for the worst in kitsch bad taste being glorified to an embarrassing extent in public. So when it comes to gay ‘weddings’, you just know that there are going to be some spectacular explosions of bad taste. But does this have to extend to gay wedding cards as well?

Strolling around Manchester on Sunday, James wanted to visit Clonezone (WARNING: not office safe!!) to buy a few things like music (yeah, right!) and look at their cards with Mike and Kevin in mind. I decided to tag along as I needed to buy some fags. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! I don’t make a habit of wandering around porn shops but whenever I do, I’m always amazed by the bizarre array of gadgets and devices that allegedly heighten the sexual experience. What do those strings of red balls do? Why would you want to stick an electrode up your arse? Do people actually use those 18 inch dildos or are they implements of torture?

It felt as if my eyes were out on stalks but I think that may have had more to do with the class A after effects than any assault on my innocent sensibilities. I did, however, like the idea of the ‘mould a dildo from your own cock’ kits. I can think of someone in particular that I’d like to give that to. The kit, not the result. Maybe both, actually. Anyway, moving swiftly on…

gay marriage cardThere was a large array of cards, mostly of muscle men with unfeasibly large dicks, against one wall. Hiding away in the corner, much like a blushing bride, were the civil union cards. They had every right to blush - some were coy, some twee, and some were stereotypically very pink.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pink (it can look good on the right person and in the right context) and the pink triangle has a very admirable history but I do sometimes wish that pink wasn’t the colour associated with all things gay. It seems to be the colour most prone to being accused of being kitsch or being used in the kitschest way possible. Perhaps that’s Barbie’s fault? But, I digress - back to the cards…

gay marriage cardEven though they all tried to look understated and tasteful, most of them managed to stumble into the realms of the seriously kitsch. And all of them presumed ‘new love’ whereas many civil unions are between men who are very devoted to each other but who have been together for many years beyond their seven-year itches. While many straight people will live together for many years before legalising their bond they do that out of personal choice. I don't know if cards for that specific type (delayed legalisation) of union exist. Probably not. Or, if they do, they're probably ironic or tongue-in-cheek. However, the legalising of gay partnerships that have existed for many years owing to the illegality of such unions is unique amongst the ways in which partnerships have been legalised until now. Not having a straight equivalent, I wonder if anyone has designed cards more appropriate to such unions? Cards for that sort of union have never been necessary in the straight world so possibly not. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has produced cards appropriate for this type of union?

I’ve got two cards to get before the end of the week. Both for couples who’ve been together for a rather long time. I suspect that whatever cards I get, I won’t be entirely satisfied with them.

This selection of cards includes some acceptable ones amongst the sort that don't make me want to rush out and stock up on them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Clare, Elizabeth and Stuart

Out of the interests of discretion, I left out pictures of Clare, Elizabeth and Stuart in my previous post on Mike’s ‘stag night’. Yes, wonders will never cease – I can be discreet when called upon to do so! Not that I was actually called upon but I know that some bloggers prefer not to have their pics displayed to the whole wide world. But, on reliable authority (Mike), I’m told that the aforementioned are not averse to having themselves on display so here they are.

Chig and Elizabeth at MoonChig, Elizabeth and ClareMike and Stuart at TaurusMike and Stuart having a laugh

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mike in Manchester

I’ve just been to my first ever blog meet.

The first one since I’ve been a blogger, that is. A blog meet of those who guest-blogged on Mike’s blog was my first but that doesn’t count as I only started blogging a year later. However, the reason for the blog meet had nothing to do with blogs as the purpose of the occasion was to tie Mike up in clingfilm, polish his bollocks with boot polish and have him parade around Manchester wearing an L-plate. Yes, it was Mike’s ‘stag night’. Not that it’s a term he likes but in the absence of anything better, it’ll have to do. That makes another first:

I’ve just been to my first ever gay stag night.

And, it being my first visit to Manchester, that makes a third first. But this isn't about me, it's about Mike, so let me get on with the story.

Three of us (Mike, James and I) took the train from Nottingham; Chig took the train from Birmingham.

Four queens booked into the Princess Hotel. After a drink, four queens went shopping in Selfridges. Before long, four queens had freshened up at the hotel and were prepared for a long night of indulging.

We started with ornate cocktails at Socio Rehab where we were joined by Clare. The event only became a fully-fledged blogmeet once we were joined by Elizabeth and Stuart at Moon where we ate dinner. Apart from Mike having met Elizabeth before, none of the out-of-towners had met the locals before. Andrew, James’ colleague, was the only non-blogger who joined the party towards the end.

It must have been about 10.30 by the time we got to Canal Street. Taurus was chilled and laidback, the right sort of place to drink and converse, probably the best sort of place to go to before getting caught up in the pumping noise of Queer and Essential. By arrangement, I met C, a friend from my Newcastle days, at Queer. He was very drunk and surprised me by his attention and the nice things he had to say to me. Apparently he used to park his car outside my old flat in Newcastle as it reminded him of me. Poor, misguided boy!

Essential was loud, crowded and great fun even if populated by gorgeous, muscled boys who seemed to have been created from the same sausage machine. We could have stayed until 8am but left just after 4.

Only James made breakfast the next morning.

Manchester, allegedly the wettest city in England, was bathed in glorious sunshine yesterday so our last few hours were spent sitting outside where we had lunch.

Despite the lack of debauchery, I had a great weekend. I slept like a log last night.

Mike's first drinkCocktail hourMike and ChigCanal StreetHooded James
New sunglassesWine reflectionsSpringtime in ManchesterLet's walkWish we'd called a taxi

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Interview questions for PJ

My introduction to the Interview Meme began with volunteering to be interviewed by Gay Banker. As per the rules (*), after answering his questions, I made myself available as an interviewer. After my first two interviews (Xmichra and Caroline) and before I got round to interviewing Buddess, I noticed that there was a difference in who was volunteering to be interviewed by Gay Banker and who wanted me to interview them. All my interviewees were straight females whereas all of his were gay males. I was merely making an observation and wondering why there should be a difference as opposed to complaining about this fact. But, as a result, I got my first request to interview a gay guy.

PJ put his name forward.

waves in Mallorca
embankmentStumbling across PJ's blog via the link on Gay Banker, I immediately liked it even though it's a totally personal blog that refers to personal issues in an almost oblique manner. You are given hints about his interests and anxieties but they're often not expanded upon in a way that gives you a true insight into what he's writing about. Consisting of small snippets of information about daily life, interesting, almost poetic, snippets of 'stream of consciousness' writing and beautiful pictures that he takes, its very unlike the 'typical gay blog' one so often comes across. It's the sort of blog that may not immediately grab your attention but if you persist it draws you in.

For someone who reveals himself slowly and subtly, it appears that PJ is a bit of an interview-me whore as this will be his third go as an interviewee. You have to wonder why he would want to put himself forward three times. Is he a closet attention-seeker? Or, having admitted that he gives away very little of himself, he wants to be a bit more open? Actually, he probably just likes putting the spotlight on the interviewer by getting an idea of how the interviewer thinks.

Before I get on to the questions, I'll give you a short summary of what I know about him:
PJ is in his early thirties and lives with his boyfriend of four years and their 'house guest', Purdey, a cat that supplies them with various offerings from the garden and surrounding countryside. purdeyThey live in a rural part of the East Midlands (Matlock, I think) and PJ works for and environmental NGO. His big interests are travel (they do a lot of it), books, films and cooking and has very little interest or contact with 'typical gay life'. Although he wasn't particularly fond of children, relatively recent contact with the offspring of family and friends has opened his mind to the potential joys of having his own.

In many ways, apart from the lack of contact with 'typical gay life', he sounds like the ideal man for me. Pity about that boyfriend he loves so much! :-)

And now for the questions...

holly blue
hares tailHere are two excerpts from his blog:
Excerpt 1: I remember playing in the piles of empty boxes at the supermarket while mum worked her way through the checkout, back before they renovated the supermarket and put electric conveyorbelts on the checkout and before the tomatoes all became the same size and the same bland tasteless taste and before the pile of boxes were gotten rid of to prevent accidents, before the world had heard of health and safety, when the boxes were still fun. when we were allowed to have fun without worrying about sueing anyone for not having fun.

Excerpt 2 - Overheard on the bus:
Old Man: "Kids these days, they've all got guns and knives. When I was a kid, in 1954, you could leave the back door open all day. Leave it open for 2 minutes now and you've got yourself a robbery"

Old Woman: "You'd be lucky if you managed to get to two minutes. I blame all them illegals."maple leaf

My favourite thing was how exact the old git was about when he was a kid! They then went on to moan about weapons of mass destruction ("they didn't find any, but the intention was there"), and how the Christmas lights in town "aren't what they used to be". And these two didn't know each other, they were talking (very loudly) across the bus to each other. Gotta love public transport. Can't wait 'til my train journey back to the parents' on Christmas Eve...

Question 1: Like the old git but in a much milder form, you could be said to be guilty of sprouting the age-old mantra of the aging, ‘Things are getting worse, they were better when I was young.’ As a gay man, however, or, for that matter, any group that suffered discrimination in the past, things are becoming better. But, with the improved rights and freedoms being granted to all citizens there has been a corresponding increase in the powers of the ‘nanny state’ that curtails some freedoms. Societal conventions that kept unhappily married people together, stigmatised single mothers and kept gays in the closet have largely gone but social cohesion has unravelled with the increasing disrespect for all forms of authority and fellow citizens. Have we gone beyond the point at which society was improving or are we still evolving to something better? How do we balance the improvements with the accompanying lack of restraint that has seen many lives blighted? Yes, I know that the government would pay you millions if you had the right answers, assuming they exist, but let’s hear some of your opinions on the matter.

fenced inSnatches from what PJ wrote after the London tube bombings last year:

For some reason, when it was nameless, faceless 'foreigners', medieval 'others' who were bringing their fight from their desert caves to our streets bylightening leaving rucksacks full of explosives in tube doorways to blow limbs and life from London commuters, it was something that made me sad and weary.

But for reasons that, for now are beyond me, the fact that it would appear that it was angry young men from Leeds and Luton who got on the GNER on Thursday morning with the single and simple intent of tearing peoples bodies apart with hot metal, that makes me angry. Beyond angry, it fills me fury. .... But to know that that community of tacit approval is closer to home, is sharing the same shopping centres, bus stations, towns and cities as 'us'. See, how easily it has become 'them' and 'us', and the questions that previously wouldn't have even sprung to my mind and right there at the forefront.

When it's young men from Palestine, young men who've seen the hopes of their families crushed... Then, when you have nothing left to lose, I can see how people could think that the only way to be heard is through hurting other people. But Leeds is not Palestine. Luton is not Palestine.

canadian greetings.... What value is there in interviewing 'community leaders' if they have lost contact with a section of their community in such a way that their 'lost' are out there deciding that this is a good way of moving forwards? Instead of 'it wasn't us, it's nothing to do with us, it's just evil people, don't blame us all', wouldn't it be more constructive to say 'yes, there is clearly a problem, we have failed somehow and somewhere, we are inordinately ashamed of these people and we will be the first people to hunt them down and bring them to you'. I find it difficult to know what I think anymore. My liberal sensibilities aren't happy, but the thoughts that come to my head aren't overly liberal, it has to be said.

Your thoughts at the time are a very accurate depiction of how many liberals must feel about the onslaught on cherished liberties being waged by religious fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism in particular. Recently, we’ve had the world-wide chaos provoked by the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed where many Western governments were seen to curtail freedom of expression to preserve social order. However the intervention by Westerners to preserve the life/rights of an Afghani who converted to Christianity was rejected as interference in matters that were none of their business. A clash is developing between those who believe in universal rights and multiculturalism (not necessarily easy bed-fellows) and those who are fundamentalist in their beliefs and deeds.

In the test to determine which political party upholds your beliefs the most, you are classified as a Liberal Democrat, a party that is a strong believer in universal rights while promoting multiculturalism. I suspect that while you believe in both, were particular aspects of multicularlism to threaten universal rights, you’d be tempted to curtail certain rights to preserve liberal values. Pim Fortuyn, the assasinated Dutch politician, was commonly believed to be right wing (which he was in many regards) but I believe that he was very much a liberal who felt threatened by the changing political landscape and wanted to bring about changes that would help preserve most of the traditional Dutch liberal values.

Question 2: Without wanting you to put yourself up for crucifixion, I was wondering at what point you, as a liberal, would start on insisting on illiberal solutions to the threats being faced by society today? New Labour, one of the most authoritarian governments the UK has ever had (my opinion, of course!), has removed or curtailed many long-held freedoms, explaining their actions as being necessary to preserve larger freedoms. Perhaps their methods are preferable to some of the methods being proposed by Fortuyn. Perhaps not?

pj's natal chartWhile you may not provide too many concrete facts about yourself, you do give away your birth date: 13th September 1974. You’re a bit more reticent about revealing where you live but my ‘research’ indicates Derbyshire. Assuming that you were born in Derbyshire, a completely illogical assumption, I know, I have the two most important details needed to work out your birth chart. With the help of Astrolabe, I did exactly that. The analysis of the results (click on the picture) makes for interesting reading when I compare them to the the ‘personality profile’, sketchy as it is, that I’ve built up from reading your blog.

Question 3: Do you think it’s a good reflection of you? How much of it do you agree with? How much of it don’t you? There’s a lot of information there so you may just want to score it out of 10 and comment on a few things you feel are definitely you and things that definitely aren’t.

How did you meet your boyfriend? On your blog you answer as follows: 'We met on the internet. Emailed back and forth, chatted online for a while, chatted on the phone for a while. He lived in the same city as one of my friends, so I went up to visit her, and arranged to meet him in a bar the same weekend. Turned out he'd used a fake photo. Turned out I liked the real him better than the fake photo.'

pj and boyfriend?

Since there's no point to me asking you that question let me rather ask you to expand upon it:

Question 4: People who are cynical about online-dating are prone to ask, ‘How do you know you’re not chatting to an old man in nappies who walks with a zimmer frame?’ I always tell them that I insist on a picture and rely on the person providing a reasonable facsimile if their intention is to meet people.

Since you preferred the look of your boyfriend to the fake photo, the scenario I describe isn’t exactly appropriate but I’m interested to know how you reacted to him using a fake photo. He probably sent you the fake photo early on in getting to know each other but why didn’t he warn you about it before you actually met up? Did it make you feel wary of him at all? If so, how did you overcome that?

If you've managed to pay attention until now your head probably hurts or you're yawning your head off. If you've actually attempted to formulate answers to those rather heavy questions your head must definitely hurt. So, in the interests of balance, the last question will be a lot lighter.

Question 5: Travel seems to be one of your greatest passions and you have an artistic eye and a flair for writing. Have you ever thought about 'proper' travel writing as a hobby/career? Perhaps we have another Bruce Chatwin in the making? And, sticking to the theme of travel writing, I assume you've visited Daunt Books before? Perhaps you don't particularly like travel writing? I don't see any travel books on your Amazon wishlist.

PJ, it took a long time to eventually get round to preparing my interview questions for you but now that they are here I hope that you aren’t regretting putting yourself forward. Some of the questions are quite ‘meaty’ (and long-winded!) so it may take some time for you to get round to answering them. There’s no rush – I made you wait so I can wait in return. And, even though the questions are long-winded, feel free to answer them as pithily or as expansively as you want.

I look forward to your replies.

(*) The Official Interview Games Rules:

  • If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying, "interview me".
  • I will respond by asking you five questions - each persons will be different.
  • You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  • You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  • When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hotdogs for Homophobes

It must be tough being a straight guy constantly being faced with phallic symbols, many of which are delicious when inserted into the mouth. Of course a true macho man isn't going to be seen dead sticking 'rabbit-food' like carrots into his gob but what macho man doesn't like a good pork sausage or a spicy bit of boerewors in his mouth?

Well, some enterprising company has come to the homophobe's rescue so that he can munch away at his favourite things and never have to worry about being thought of as a cock-sucking fairy.

Many thanks to Andrea for this video clip.

If you find that this clip takes too long to load, you may want to see it here.

Grotesque, understated and romantic, truly scary, and deeply satisfying.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen quite a mixed bag of films, two of them in the cinema, two on DVD.

As a great fan of B-grade horror schlock, I was looking forward to ‘Hostel’, a film produced by Tarrantino and directed by Eli Roth whose previous film, ‘Cabin Fever’, had the slutty girls outliving the virgins in a neat reversal of the usual moralistic route taken by so many films of the genre. Despite that twist, it had nothing to redeem itself and any queasiness it may have induced in me was soon forgotten along with the rest of the film.


Philip French, in his Observer review, sums it up rather nicely:
‘Two American students backpacking around Europe are lured to a small town outside Bratislava, which is both olde-worlde and post-industrial. Appalling things happen to them and to an Icelandic friend. The picture combines soft porn and sadism and is unlikely to do for Slovakia what The Sound of Music did for Salzburg.’

Two thirds of the way through the film I suddenly thought to myself, ‘I’m really not enjoying this, why am I watching it?’ There was no dramatic tension, no suspense, nothing scary and no sense of anticipation. Once the maiming, mutilation and killing started, you knew that there’d be more and that it could only get worse. Gratuitous violence is expected from this sort of film but I found it gratuitously gratuitous.

It was truly grotesque.

Just before the film started, I saw whom I thought must be Moviebuff sneak into a seat near the front of the cinema. I confirmed it a day later and am gratified to know he thought much the same as I did about the film.

brief encounter
Just a few days later, I watched a film that is a masterpiece of understatement and repressed desire. David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter’ (also known as ‘Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter’) was released in 1945 and describes the love affair that develops between two married people who chance to meet at a railway station.

For the next few weeks, they continue to meet at the station on a Thursday, sometimes going on to see a film together or to take a drive in the country. Their affair ends when the character portrayed by Trevor Howard, a doctor, moves to Johannesburg with his family to take up a position there. It was made during the second world which, arguably, was the time in which the British were at their peak in terms of selflessly doing their duty for society at large. Watching it from the perspective of our much more individualistic ways there are times when you want to knock their heads together and urge them to follow their hearts. But the strength of the emotion conveyed by both actors, especially by Celia Johnson, portrays love, doomed love at that, in a much more powerful way than any amount of nudity and passionate declarations of love found in the films of today. The over-refined, clipped English accents (think of the Queen) of the time are almost laughable in these much more egalitarian times but they become incidental once you get drawn into the affair.

brief encounterFilmed in black and white, the impossible choices faced by the actors are beautifully captured. Each time they leave each other, amidst the hissing and puffing of majestic steam trains, is almost clichéd in its portrayal of separation and distance but the atmospheric power of the film banishes most of the cynical responses one has as a modern movie-goer.

In case you think I’m a fan of films made in that era, I’m not. So if you’re not either, you may also love this film.

It was back to horror a couple of days later.

the descent‘The Descent’, directed by Neil Marshall, director of ‘Dog Soldiers’, a great werewolf flick, tells the story of six women who go caving in the Appalachian mountains where they discover some very nasty troglodytes who give them a rather unpleasant time. Before the arrival of the supremely vicious troglodyytes, the film works brilliantly as a psychological thriller exploring how the claustrophobia of the caves affects the women whose friendship is beset by multiple personal agendas.

There’s a dramatic change after the first gory attack – the film turns into standard gory horror fare but it's done effectively and scarily, making excellent use of various lighting effects. And, unlike the male bonding that happens in ‘Dog Soldiers’, these women turn on each other in a way that is almost more frightening than the troglodytes.

A really good horror film needs suspense, anticipation, dread and sufficient amounts of gore to make you want to hide your eyes.

‘The Descent’ has it all.

amy adamsAfter hearing Amy Adams being interviewed on Radio 4 the other day, I knew that I wanted to see ‘Junebug’. I saw it last night and, getting up from my seat at the end, ‘sighed with satisfaction’, to use a phrase by Peter Bradshaw in his review of the film. He sums it up perfectly as follows: ‘This is a movie that sheds fascinating and compassionate light on families: when a stranger comes among them, each individual family member behaves atypically, strangely to them, and they become strangers to each other.’junebug

Amy Adams more than deserved her Oscar nomination for best actress for her role as Ashley, the naïve, maddeningly chatty, pregnant woman who latches on to her sophisticated, older sister-in-law with endearingly infuriating enthusiasm. Nothing much happens in the film apart from a subtle exposition of how an unsophisticated family living in a rural area of the US southern Bible Belt reacts to the arrival of their son who lives in the big city with his new wife, an ambitious art dealer. Amy Adams is excellent but the acting is uniformly good. I particularly enjoyed Ben McKenzie's portrayal of the reticent and resentful under-achiever, her high-school sweetheart whom she marries. They live at his parents' house.

george and madeleineGeorge, the older, successful son who's moved to the city, is played by the deliciously hunky Alessandro Nivola. Madeleine, his art-dealer wife, is played by South African actress Embeth Davidtz.

Several of the reviews refer to Madeleine as being an upper-middleclass Englishwoman although she's not referred to as such in the film and she doesn't try to disguise her South African accent. In fact, Madeleine's description of her background is very similar to that of Embeth Davidtz. I know that the English South African accent, particularly if quite mild, is notoriously difficult to imitate and, I suppose, to recognise, but there are enough flat vowels for a film critic to know that the accent isn't English upper-middleclass.

I know that some people will find the lack of pace and barely discernible plot bad for their attention span but I think it's a really great little film that satisfies on many levels.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Easter

easter bunnies

Friday, April 14, 2006

Broad Street

A few months ago, in a rushed early morning daze, I put my mobile phone in the washing machine and had to get another. Not being the sort who puts much store in the latest gadgets, I've always regarded mobiles as communication devices in no need of fancy extra bits. In my case, communication by mobile is restricted to voice calls and text messages, so being able to take photos and videos with my mobile has never been of any interest to me. My replacement phone, probably the cheapest available, with its retro mainframe green-and-black look is more than adequate for me.

Or so I thought.

But, having decided that I should move from the more expensive pay-as-you-go service to a contract, I found myself in the market for a new phone. Since the handset was going to be 'free', it seemed a bit silly not to go for the best I could get.

My new baby, a Nokia N70, arrived yesterday and already I'm in love with it!

For some time now, I've been meaning to get a digital camera and I'm sure that I'll eventually get one but the camera on this phone is rather impressive. I took a few snaps earlier when I returned from the shops. They're all taken in Broad Street where I live.

Taken from the doorway to my flats, looking towards Goosegate and Stoney street.

Doorway to my flat to the right of Revolution, behind the blue car.

Taken opposite my doorway, just to the side of the Broadway cinema and looking towards the Lord Roberts, my local.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Four Hundred years of the Butcher's Apron/Rice Flag (*)

union jack
With its striking design and its long and chequered history associated with the British Empire, the union jack is one of the world’s most recognisable flags.

Four-hundred years old this week (yesterday to be exact), the union jack is one of the world's oldest national flags... if you overlook the fact it's only meant to be flown at sea, the proportions are wrong and no one can agree on its name.

Its striking red, white and blue design harks back to a time when Britannia ruled the waves, but the history of the union jack is as tangled as all the mothballed bunting it decorates.

It is a story about custom over clarity, assumption over assertion, anomaly instead of consistency.

In the words of union jack historian Malcolm Farrow, "a mish-mash - but what do you expect from the British constitution?"

Even its real name has been known to pitch grown men into heated argument, 400 years after the flag's creation.

On 12 April 1606, a new flag to represent this personal union between England and Scotland was specified in a royal decree, according to which the flag of England (a red cross with a white background, known as St George's Cross) and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire with a blue background, known as the Saltire or Saint Andrew's Cross) would be "joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects."

origins of the union jack
Even with the demise of the British Empire, the union jack still appears on the flags of four independent countries (Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu and Fiji) but also appears on a number of flags representing regions and British colonies:
Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Canadian Red Ensign, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Falkland Islands, Hawaii, Manitoba, New South Wales, Ontario, Pitcairn Islands, Queensland, Saint Helena, South Australia, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tasmania, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, Victoria, Western Australia

old south african flagUntil 1994, when the flag was completely replaced, it also appeared on the South African flag. As far as I know, there’s only one place in South Africa where that flag still flies in an ‘official’ capacity and that is over the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. The Castle (its foundation stones were laid in 1666) replaced Jan van Riebeeck’s fort, Cape Town’s first building and, as a result, has existed through all the South African political dispensations. To reflect this, six flags fly over the castle: Dutch, British, Dutch, British, old South African, new South African.

Although the union jack was more of a naval flag at the time of the first British occupation (1795-1803) and may not have been used to indicate land possession, for most of that period the union jack would have been the original union flag (the current one came into being in 1801) that didn’t incorporate St Patrick’s cross. As far as I’m aware, the two British flags flying over the castle are both the current union flag.

For those of you who are Rocky Horror fans, you'll remember the dinner scene where Eddie gets eaten. Little flags decorate the food, including the old South African one. It’s strange that it should be included as South Africa was already a pariah state at the time the film was made (1975). Ironically, however, much of that scene was cut when it was first shown in South Africa, the censors not being too fond of anything that smacked of cannibalism. A few months later, the film was banned altogether.

(*) Butcher's Apron / Rice Flag

  • Butcher's Apron: sometimes used by Irish nationalists.
  • Rice flag: nickname used by the Chinese as the pattern looks like the Chinese symbol for rice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why would you want to do drag?

tim curry in rocky horrorExcerpt from today's email exchange with James:

James: What are you watching tonight?

Alan: I don't know what I'll be watching. I owe a blog-reader an interview from months ago - may have a go at getting that done having just finished one yesterday so am still in the mood to do it. If I don't, it will just drag on.

James: Have you ever done drag?

Alan: No, apart from going to two cross-dressing parties but I assume that doesn't count?

James: Same kind of thing, Rocky Horror and parties and stuff. I could see you in drag...maybe we'll have to have a cross dressing
party then.

Alan: Why would you want that?

James: Just for fun; it'd be nice to have hair for a night.