Friday, June 30, 2006

Ghana: Thirty-five no more

Yesterday, I had a reader push my Ghana flag counter up to 36. It’s the first time it’s moved since Felicitas died in February. About 6 weeks ago, BlogFrog, had this to say:

Since I first read the story of Felicitas, I've regularly been looking at the same thing on your flag board and I've been kind of hoping that some mysterious reader from Ghana would appear in order to make figures change and enable you to forget this sad story. But I guess, Felicitas is still a reader somehow, by seeing the number stay on 35 is a way to show that she's still around, if you see what I mean.

Well, unless it’s her ghost, my mysterious reader from Ghana has eventually arrived. The counter has moved on. But, although no longer stuck on 35, I’ll continue to watch that counter with a rather unhealthy interest.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Forty today

June has beem a very busy month for birthdays. Today, Barclaycard turns 40 and all us wage-slaves have been given little gifts and a piece of cake to celebrate being credit slaves.

So, Barclaycard can be credited with initiating all of this:

  • 282 plastic transactions took place every second in the UK in 2005.
  • Plastic cards were used for 63% of all UK retail spending last year.
  • Total credit card debt in April 2006 was £56.0bn.
  • UK consumers accounting for two-thirds of total credit card debt in the whole of the EU.
  • Plastic cards in issue were 190m in 2004. This works out at an average of 4.1 plastic cards for every adult in the UK.
  • At the end of 2004 there were 74.3m credit and charge cards in the UK compared with around 59 million people in the country.
Happy Birthday Barclaycard!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I'm in the closet....

...when it comes to watching Big Brother! Yes, I'm a closet Big Brother watcher. I even pretend to myself that I don't watch it by not really paying it too much attention after I have the telly switched on to it. And, to make the illusion even stronger, I make sure that I don't have it on every night.

See, I despise most reality programmes, particularly Big Brother, so admitting to watching it goes completely against the grain. It's TV made for the lowest common denominator and panders to the generation obsessed with Heat, Hello and OK magazines. And since I'm from a previous generation and, more importantly, of an intellectual bent (!), I really can't want to watch it, let alone be known to be doing so.

What excuse could there be for this uncharacteristic behaviour of mine? Oh, I know, it's the local interest factor! One of the contestants, Lea, is a local 'lass'. Not only is she a Nottingham resident, but she works just around the corner, about a minute's walk from my flat.

Isn't she just too ghastly? She allegedly has the biggest tits in Britain and has 'acted' in several porn films. I really have no bone to chew about what people do to their bodies and what they do for a living but does she really have to look like that? Surely, straight men aren't turned on by that look? Well, some of them must, if most of them don't. Anyway, to discover that she works at the Adult Gift Shop round the corner from me is no surprise.

I often walk past the shop and always have my senses assaulted by its garish pink vulgarity. It's a larger-than-life embodiment of the Barbie aisle you find in the girls' section of a toy shop, another assault on the senses but one that is easily avoided if you don't make a habit of frequenting toy shops. Come to think of it, Lea could be an example of a perverse attempt at trying to make a real human being approximate the completely unnatural proportions of a Barbie doll.

hockley sex shopEarlier on, when I strolled down to the shop to buy some fags, I thought I'd take a picture of the place to show you what I mean. You must agree that you could imagine her lording it over a place like that? And, to give you a bit more evidence, I have provided you with a few clips of her. The clips also include another contestant, Nikki, who must have the most malleable face in England. She's extraordinarily irritating but horribly compelling to watch. Another clip shows Pete, the Tourette's Syndrome sufferer, the favourite to win Big Brother this year. Yes, he's a dinkum Tourette's Syndrome. Now you may begin to understand why this programme appeals to the great unwashed.

I'm not sure if these clips play outside the UK and Ireland so please let me know if you can't see them. Also, for some strange reason, it seems necessary to click on the play button three times before you see the actual clip. The first two times show short clips that aren't necessarily Big Brother related.

Since this will be the last time I pander to Big Brother fever or, at least, admit to it, I may as well go the full hog and show you a bit more. I came across a couple of clips taken from the lastest Big Brother in Australia where a contestant, Jamie, has caused a big stir. It seems that Big Brother there is a lot more explicit than the UK version so be warned should you want to play the clips at the office.

Oh, are we playing them both at the same time?

trinidad and tobago
A week after England played Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup, I got my first visitor from those beautiful islands, giving me my 111th flag. Even though I’m supporting England in the World Cup, I’d have been very happy had they been beaten by Trinidad and Tobago that night. Being the smallest country ever to qualify, they entered the tournament as the underdogs. I like underdogs.

Yesterday, I got home early enough to watch a bit of Richard and Judy (*). Richard was wittering on as usual and, at one point, regaled the audience with Judy’s ignorance of things geographical and football-related. On hearing that England were playing Trinidad and Tobago last Thursday, she asked:

‘Oh, are we playing them both at the same time?’

I must admit to not knowing too much about the place myself apart from it being the birthplace of V S Naipaul, an author I admire and like a lot even if he is a crotchety, arrogant, old bastard. But, with such an exotic name, being located in the Caribbean and with the people having that lovely accent I associate with West Indians, I'm sure that the place must be wonderful to visit.

(*) I’m not a fan of their programme but I find Judy much more palatable than Richard. They’re a British TV institution and are back on our screens after a run of the Paul O‘ Grady Show. Paul O‘ Grady used to be hilarious as Lily Savage but is loathsome as himself.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I have never.....

A fun new blog game to play. Found over here.

I will list 3 things that I've never done at the bottom of this post. They all begin: "I have never..."

You should copy these instructions and my list to your blog. BUT you should remove the top item and add a new item to the bottom of the list - it should be something that YOU have never done, and it can be about anything you like.

You should also go back over the remaining 2 things I listed and highlight (in bold, a different colour, italics, however you want) the things that are not true for you (ie You have done them).

This way, the list is constantly evolving and changing through every iteration.

You can only repost a list to your blog if none of the previous "I have never..."'s that you have answered are there.

PS - Dont forget to post a comment here if you are playing the game!

Here goes:
I have never had sex on the beach.
I have never used a dildo.
I have never had an orgy.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Robin Hood of Sheffield

'It won't go down well in Nottingham, but a pile of stones near Sheffield could be Robin Hood's home.'

So, despite the fuss about Nottingham’s decision to drop Robin Hood in favour of a slanty N to represent the city and the county of Nottinghamshire, perhaps they got it right without even knowing it? The upside to this is that the crime rate could go down. The local bandits may decide to relocate to Sheffield.

But, whatever fuss this causes locally, it’s unlikely to create the same stir when an eminent Robin Hood scholar, Professor Stephen Knight, claimed that Robin may have been gay.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Teenage Pukefest - A Parent's rite of passage

It being a holiday in South Africa yesterday, my son celebrated his 18th with a party for his friends at my house in Cape Town on Thursday evening.

My wife and I exchanged a few text messages yesterday:

Wife: Survived J's pukefest - just 3 pukes in the house - the rest outside. Typical kids, bought hideous coloured liquor to do shots etc. Real rite of passage for me!

Me: Marvellous! Did J have a hangover? I'll ring tomorrow or Sunday.

Wife: Bit of a one. But at least he didn't get puking drunk like so many others. Place stinks of vomit. M (daughter) sleeping over at K (*). Ahem! Tried to give her a casual chat about not allowing things to get too physical.

(*) K is the budding boyfriend, a boy she's known since her first year at school. Until very recently, she despised/ridiculed him as he was the fat little boy in first year, the only boy, who cried when given an injection by the school nurse. He remained fat until a year ago but has turned into a tall, lean boy who's rather good-looking. And, his parents live in a huge house on a farm miles out of the city.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The day that changed South Africa for ever

hector pieterson
Thirty years ago today, when I was at boarding school in my last year of school, the Soweto Riots started. The riots that were begun by black school kids protesting against the apartheid regime. Although I was at school in a rural, relatively remote part of South Africa, unlike the BBC correspondent at boarding school in Grahamstown, I didn't think that the blacks were about to embark on an orgy of white-killing. Perhaps as a result of living in Marxist Mocambique and my Marxist beliefs, I viewed the riots as the long-awaited revolt against racism and capitalism. My Marxism didn't last long but my belief in the justice of the unrest that arose from the day remains undiminished.

I've always believed that the riots started as a protest against the compulsory use of Afrikaans as the main teaching language in black schools. It certainly was a very inflammatory issue, but this article, '16 things about June 16', says:

According to the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the imposition of Afrikaans was not what had sparked the insurrection: rather, it was "primarily" caused by rates and service charge increases by the West Rand Administration Board (WRAB), which had just been cut off from the R2-million subsidy it had received from the Johannesburg City Council.

Although that picture of the dying Hector Pieterson seems to have been with me ever since the start of the riots, I don't remember when I actually first saw it. It may have been a day or two later if it appeared in 'The Star' that I read in the school library or it may have been months later in some other publication. The picture shocked the world and remains the most identifiable image of the Soweto Riots. Even though the circumstances were so different, it has always reminded me of the picture of the nine-year-old Kim Phuc, fleeing her village after a napalm attack during the Vietnam war.

It's the obvious picture to use to remember 16 June 1976 but I feel slightly uneasy about using it. I know that it's copyrighted but regular readers will know that I've tended to ignore the restrictions imposed by copyright laws on this blog. The unease comes from the fact that some members of the family of Mbuyisa Makhubu, the boy carrying the dying Hector, have called for a ban on the use of the picture, as Makhubu was never seen again. Also, it destroyed the career of photographer Sam Nzima, who took the photograph.

Lots of South Africans will observe today, a public holiday called National Youth Day, as a day to loaf off work, go shopping or go to the beach. I would do the same if in Cape Town. But, it's important not to forget that 16 June 1976 led to 27 April 1994, Freedom Day.

UPDATE: Read this article on what June 16 means to today's South African youth.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

You are so gay lame!

After the lengthy get-to-know-you talk with Lifter No 2 on the first day, it seemed as if there would be more conversation than when alone in the car with Lifter 1. That hasn’t happened even though the two lifters seem able to talk a bit more to each other than I can to them. Just a tiny bit more, mind you, as the journey is still largely done in silence. Apart from the radio, of course. Listening to the radio is one of two things that has changed with having another lifter.

One good, one not so good.

Because I’m the last person to be picked up and the first to be dropped off, I sit at the back. Sitting at the back means that I’m able to really settle down into doze-mode without having to endure the swaying and listing that comes from sitting at the front in the passenger’s seat. This is a good thing, in case you're wondering.

Listening to the radio has changed because Lifter 2 listens to BBC’s Radio 1, a contemporary music programme hosted by chatty, snappy, chirpy, crappy DJs. So, every other day, I’m regaled with the sometimes amusing, often annoying voice of Chris Moyles instead of the soothing sounds of Radio 4’s Eddie Mair or John Humphrys.

Not being a Radio 1 listener means that until Lifter 2 came on to the scene, I’d not heard Chris Moyles before even though I’d heard about him before. The inflated salary, his popularity with the under 30s, his clever wittiness, the in-your-face style often bordering on rudeness, the gaffes such as the one where Halle Berry accused him of being a racist. But, not having heard the specific program in question, I’d have missed the recent furore about his use of the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’ had I not read about it on several blogs that I read.

In response to complaints about his use of the word, the BBC Board of Governors have come out in support of him saying that his use reflects contemporary use of the word amongst today’s youth. Gay rights and Anti-bullying organisations have decried this support saying that were the word to signify another minority, eg blacks, instead of gays, they'd not have supported it. And although they know that it’s used by today’s teenagers to signify ‘lame’, often unthinkingly as regards the homophobic connotation, supporting that interpretation sends the wrong message to the youth where school bullying of gays isn’t uncommon and where allowing a derogatory interpretation of the word may contribute towards the negative self-image many young gays have of themselves.

I’ve heard my daughter use the word in that way and seen how surprised she looked when my son pulled her up about it. She’d used it unthinkingly, oblivious to how it could be offensive to gay people.

Uroskin has this to say about the issue:
Oh dear, precious queens up in arms about cultural appropriation. How deliciously ironic after all those protestations over the last 50 years by heteros shocked by the redefinition of the word to mean something not quite what they envisaged the word to mean.

I've never liked the word to describe my particular passion, because it always sounded so innocuous, so bland, so white picket fenced and completely out of step with my particular tastes, smells, sounds and vision in man on man action. So I have no particular problem with the re-definition: language use will always evolve and it will involve fashions among the young and brainless which no-one should be upset about.

The "nigger" analogy doesn't compute, because that is about the appropriation of the insulting term by the targeted minority (as queer is). "Gay" has outlived its usefulness and should in future only be used to denote a marriage arrangement that isn't "sad" (i.e. heterosexual)

Lubin says this:
It's hard enough to get through your teens when you're gay - but at least when I was growing up, "gay" just meant fancying people of the same sex. Now there is no word which means that and has a positive association. We no longer have a word left that isn't tainted in some way ("homosexual" has a criminal-medical-condition etymology, we can discount the hundreds of words like "faggot", "batty-boy" and "puff" which are straight-forwardly derogative and even the reclaimed "queer" is still used negatively by many people). How are gay people supposed to forge a positive self-image it there are no good labels?

Uroskin is mostly right when he says ‘language use will always evolve and it will involve fashions among the young and brainless which no-one should be upset about’ but so is Lubin when he says ‘now there is no word which means that and has a positive association’. While it may be impossible to change the development of meanings in the language, I’d venture that it’s really not a good thing for the BBC to defend the use of the new meaning of ‘gay’ while there isn’t an alternative word that doesn’t have a negative connotation.

It seems strange that the BBC, often accused of pandering to the PC police, should take this stance on the use of ‘gay’. Despite being a great fan of the BBC, I shouldn’t be surprised as their obsession with World War II has definitely contributed towards the anti-German sentiments in this country. Sentiments that have increased in recent years rather than having subsided as World War II fades away.

How strange that I should be ‘forced’ to listen to Chris Moyles just as this controversy has come about.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Eighteen today

My son is 18 today.

He can’t be! I don’t feel much older than 25 so how can I have a son that old?

But he is. Having been born two months premature, he once may've looked like a piece of raw chicken that fitted into one hand, but now he’s a strapping, six foot lad.

In January, it really depressed me that I wasn’t in Cape Town when he started his last year of school so one would have thought that my not being there for such a ‘big’ birthday would be even more depressing. Strangely enough, it isn’t. I really wish that I could be there but accept that I can’t.

Next year, he’s hoping to spend his gap year in the UK, based at my place. Of course, he’s much more than welcome to but it’ll mean circumscribing my lifestyle somewhat. I doubt that my red wine stories will cease completely but there’ll have to be a bit more self-control in my life. I have, however, warned him that should I get offered a decent job in South Africa, his being here won’t stop me from taking it. If that were to happen (I certainly hope it does), he’ll have to base himself at his aunt’s place in Surrey.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My first aristocrat

‘Alan, dear boy, were you fond of games at school?’

Every time I saw M, he’d ask me that same question. I’d vaguely nod my head at him, sighing inwardly.

‘Were you a footer or a rugger man?’ would be the next question. Despite his background, I knew that he was a footer man, something he was rather proud of. He’d played for the Navy while at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

For the next half hour, the conversation would follow the same pattern, almost word-for-word, of countless previous conversations. If you sat next to him at dinner parties, you felt as if you’d been dealt a bad hand. Immediately you’d feel guilty harbouring such nasty thoughts about such a kind, sweet, charming man.

When I first met M, in the mid-eighties, he was in his mid-sixties. He was an elegant, almost athletic man, always perfectly groomed and immaculately dressed. His mind, even then, was best described as unreliable. While he’d been blessed with looks, charm, sporting prowess and blue blood he’d been at the back of the queue, as the saying goes, when the brains were being handed out. His brain was a tad less than ordinary.

At the time, he was the Rt Hon MT, now he’s Lord T, the fifth baronet. There were already signs of premature senility then; now he’s firmly under the grip of Alzheimer’s.

My wife and I met him through a good friend of ours, whose mother, D, had married him in the early sixties. Although D hailed from the Eastern Cape, many years of living in England with M had completely disguised her South African origins. Even though he was the first British aristocrat that I’d met, he epitomised all the good and silly stereotypes I believed about the English aristocracy.

clare tennant by cecil beatonLike his father, the third baronet, M had gone to Eton. His strongest influence appears to have been his nanny (what is it about toffs and their nannies?), probably the only stable influence in a childhood largely bereft of parents where he was set off to boarding school at a very early age. His father, an inveterate gambler who played cricket for England, was largely absent. He was effectively abandoned by his mother, Clare Tennant, a woman once described by Barbara Cartland as ‘the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen’ and, in a review of Emma Tennant’s autobiographical book, ‘Strangers: A Family Romance’, is referred to as ‘her cruel, self-centred Aunt Clare, who plows through men, drink and cigarettes with cold indifference’. You’d never have known that from M who always refers to her as ‘darling Mummy’. Before entering the chocolate business and meeting D, most of his adult life had been spent in the Royal Navy.

Their house, not far from ours in Kenilworth, was traditionally but stylishly decorated with beautiful antiques and art. The mantelpiece was always decorated with embossed invitations to various important events hosted by famous people, including the Queen Mother. Sometimes you felt that invitations remained on display way after the event had passed just so that visitors would know that they had been invited. Every evening they’d get dressed for dinner and sit opposite each other at their long dining table. Not that he did, but you could imagine M, a very keen and able tennis-player, wearing a cravat with his tennis whites.

M was devastated when D died in 1995 and his mind became more unreliable than ever. Sometimes he'd confuse his stepdaughter with his beloved dead wife; others were recognised erratically or not recognised at all . He started making quite lewd sexual comments whereas he’d never have ventured opinions on the pleasures of the flesh in the past. He embarrassed his stepdaughter several times in the cinema by exclaiming loudly, ‘I liked to touch Mummy’s bosoms.’ Always fond of singing 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', he'd sing it at the most inappropriate times like standing in the queue at the post office. Although he’d recognise me whenever we saw each other and we’d have the same sports conversations as before, he no longer knew who I was. The large Kenilworth home had to be sold and he was moved into a luxury apartment with care facilities. D had always been much more interesting to talk to than M, even when talking about his fascinating background.

alfred, lord tennysonHad it not been for D, we’d never have known about his great grandfather’s popularity with Queen Victoria and that he was the first British writer to be elevated to the peerage. And we’d not have known about his great grandfather’s friendship with the likes of the famous Victorian photographer, Julia Cameron. His grandfather, the second baronet, was the second governor-general of Australia. D also told us about his mother’s family, arguably a more interesting one than his father’s.

Clare Tennant’s aunt, Emma, was the wife of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith during World War I. Her mother’s cousin was Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's lover and her brother, Stephen, known for his decadent lifestyle and famously said to have spent the last 17 years of his life in bed, was Siegfried Sassoon’s lover. M’s first cousin is the well-known English writer, Emma Tennant.

And on and on it goes. Not that M actually remembered any of this.

His brother, H, the fourth baronet, never married. He’d spent most of his life in Paris before moving to Cape Town to be near M. A very fat, unhealthy-looking man, he was quite unlike M, but he had the same impeccable taste and grooming. The family used to tut-tut about his extravagant flower-buying habit, spending close on ten thousand rand a week on them for his Rondebosch flat. And that was way back in the early nineties! Although it was never said, one does have to wonder, with close relatives like Lord Alfred Douglas and Stephen Tennant, if he batted for the other side. Talking of batting, not that there’s a connection, he apparently only had one testicle after a cricketing accident at Eton.

Ironically, we seemed to see M much more after D’s death. Being on his own, he was invited to dinner at his stepdaughter’s more often and we’d sometimes accompany her to have dinner with him at the restaurant in his apartment block.

He became a constant source of hilarious anecdotes.

Only M, on having a mugger jump into the passenger’s seat of his car (yes, he still drove!), would say, with a knife pointing at his throat, ‘Dear fellow, I donate to lots of charities, so, as much as I’d love to help you, I think it’s best if I don’t.’ The astonished would-be mugger left with nothing. M was unhurt.

Hilarious anecdotes aside, his fading memory made it more and more difficult to spend much time in his company. Fortunately, there was no family obligation on our side to see him that often but being present, whether at his or his stepdaughter’s place, was doing her a favour by making it easier for her to socialise with him. He could still remember his World War II stories and serving under Mountbatten and how he was the Royal Navy’s Cresta Run champion but not much else. We took to having him open up his photo albums and talking through them. That helped and the stories were fascinating. After a few more years, he forgot who the people were.

Julia CameronPaul César HelleuKate GreenawayPoet Laureate

kate greenaway illustrations
However, each time we visited his flat, it was wonderful to look at the beautiful artworks on the wall, particularly the Julia Cameron photographs and original Kate Greenaway drawings. A framed original letter written by Lord Nelson to a relative thanking him for his help during a naval battle hung in his study. My wife was especially taken by the beautiful pastel portrait of Coco Chanel by Paul César Helleu. We remembered where it hung in the Kenilworth house but it looked just as good in M’s flat.

coco chanel by helleuShe coveted it.

M had bought it for D soon after they’d got married. It had cost quite a bit of money at the time but its value had increased enormously over the years. Neither of us had heard of Helleu before but even had we never hear of Chanel, there was no doubting that it was a beautiful piece of art. M, of course, was comletely oblivious to its existence, let alone its beauty and value.

I doubt that it was my wife’s suggestion and it’s quite typical of something that his stepdaughter would suggest, so it’s she who probably said:

‘Let’s copy it, he’ll never know.’

To be continued.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What is it with all these flags everywhere?

st george's lensThis country has gone football mad!

God help those that don't like football. God help those who are going to feel suicidal if England doesn't win.

Is it just me or do others living in England find the mass display of St George's Cross all a bit weird? I know that I'm not a football fan but I do understand national sporting pride. Sure, bandish the flag about in Germany if you're there. Or if you're in another country watching the game amongst others who may not support England. Hang flag bunting at venues like pubs where people will be watching the games.

But why drape it outside private homes, public buildings and office blocks?

Why fly it from your car? How does displaying your flag in your own country, hundreds of miles away from where the games are actually being played achieve anything but an annoying addition to an already over-cluttered environment?

They remind me of those stickers you see on cars that say 'Baby on Board'. What the fuck are those about? I'm sure that were you to ask the parents for a reason they'd say they're there to warn fellow motorists to slow down so that there's less risk of injuring the child in an accident. But, no one reads them, let alone changes their driving habits as a result of them. They're just a way of proudly announcing your allegiance to the baby-owning fraternity.

News footage from the BBC

I'm such a wet blanket, aren't I? But, apparently, flying flags from your car is detrimental to the environment so that's another reason not fly those annoying things.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Growing up disgracefully

It all started so innocently....

...then the rot set in.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fireworks and flowers for me

It's my birthday today. Since no one (*) is going to give me any presents, I've had to get me something myself. I'm not sure if this present is fireworks exploding across the sky or a frail, delicate bloom frozen in time.

If anyone else wants their own special fireworks display or personalised bloom, make your own over here, a link I found at Gordon's place.

(*) I lie as I've already received something from A and James has promised to bake me a melktert which I may get if his boyfriend doesn't eat it first. Here is a recipe for melktert in English.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

World Cup: The Scots vs The Auld Enemy

It seems like there’s going to be a third member to my lift scheme. He gave us a lift today which meant I was sitting next to a different driver this morning while D, my usual one, snored at the back. Since it was the first time I’d met the guy, there was quite a lot of ‘getting-to-know-you’ conversation. No rocking back and forth for me this morning! His World Cup anecdote, involving his Scottish father, was rather amusing:

New Lifter’s Dad: I sent my entry in for the Daily Telegraph’s World Cup competition.
Lifter: Oh, what did you have to do?
New Lifter’s Dad: They want to know the name of the aeroplane flying the England team to Germany.
Lifter: How do you know the name of that?
New Lifter’s Dad: I don’t but I said the ‘Titanic’.

Had he said the ‘Lusitania’, it would have been even funnier but no one wants to mention the war, do they?

Jokes aside, read here, here and here about Scottish attitudes towards England in this year's World Cup.

No sign of the beast yet

666It's just over an hour into 6 June 2006 and I've seen no sign of the beast.

Damn, and there I was hoping for a good night!

But, recent revelations (how apt a word!) have said that 616 is the mark of the beast, not 666. In which case, my chance with it has come and gone.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cheating neighbours

Cape Town had severe water restrictions about two years ago. As the water reserves dropped lower and lower with very little hope of rain, they got progressively worse, At one stage, the restrictions were that bad that it made almost no sense watering the garden. Beautiful gardens all over the city got drier and drier. Favourite plants withered and died. If you were caught watering your garden you could be liable for extraordinarily high fines. City residents were urged to report any infringement of the restrictions as official policing of the restrictions was impractical, virtually impossible.

Spying on your neighbours became a new pastime. Evening the score with unpleasant neighbours had never been easier!

The telltale tic-tic-tic of a sprinkler and the occasional sound of water sloshing out of a hosepipe at 4am was enough for us to know that several of our neighbours (we're bordered by 7 houses) were cheating. It annoyed us intensely. The browner our garden got, the more annoying it was. We didn’t do anything about it and, apart from the neighbour in front, we weren’t sure who the cheats were.

Well, now I know that they were ALL cheating!

Google maps has recently added Cape Town to its list of cities for which it has aerial maps. It took a bit of effort finding my house but I eventually did. Had I known better, I should simply have looked for the brown patch surrounded by a sea of green. Yep, I have all the proof needed to show that we didn’t cheat but our neighbours did.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can’t hide from Google!

UPDATE: Here is the aerial map of where I live in Cape Town.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I fucked a football hooligan

When I first moved to Nottingham, I stayed in Mapperley Park, on the corner of Magdala and Zulla Roads. The flat was pleasant enough even though it was small and a bit dark during summer – a huge tree cut out much of the sun but cast a lovely green glow outside. What sold it to me was the rest of the building, a beautiful Victorian school that had been sub-divided into 12 flats. I liked the address too. ‘Magdala’ reminded me of ‘mandala’ and ‘Zulla’ reminded me of ‘Zulu’. If that sounds odd, it's probably no odder than my once changing banks in Cape Town simply because I loved the Victorian splendour of its premises.

The only disadvantage to living there was the twenty minute walk into town. Not really far, I know, but I’m lazy, particularly if carrying 6 pints of Stella under my belt. Moving into the town centre has saved me a fortune in late night taxi fares. But, despite the laziness and twenty minutes walk, there were times when I’d actually walk back home after a night out on the tiles.

Two years ago, on a Wednesday night, I was walking home after having been to NG1. I’d usually have taken a taxi home but, it being a school night, I thought the walk home would help clear my head before I sunk into my bed. Two thirds of the walk up Mansfield Road is uphill. At the point where it intersects with Prostitute’s Alley, it goes downhll all the way to the intersection with Magdala Road. Apart from the occasional taxi, the road was deserted so I was quite surprised to see someone approach me as I crossed over the intersection with Prostitute’s Alley.

‘Hey mate, do you have a light?’

‘Sure,’ I said, getting my lighter out. I looked at him as I lit his cigarette then lit one for myself.

He was about 5ft 9 with a slim, athletic build, probably in his early thirties. It was difficult making out his face in the streetlight and he was wearing a beanie pulled down over his ears. He wore shiny tracksuit bottoms and a loose-fitting sweatshirt.

‘Cheers, mate,’ he said as I started to walk down the hill. He walked with me.

‘Had a good night?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘how about you?’

As we walked down the hill, we talked about where we’d been that night. He’d been at a friend’s house drinking and smoking spliff. The streetlights got brighter near the bus stop and I could see his face better. No one would accuse him of being a looker but there was a rough sexiness about him that reminded me of the airport cleaner I’d seen for a while in Newcastle. But that guy was gay whereas this guy reminded me of the rough, straight lads you see stumbling out of the pubs most weekends. I found out that he came from Sheffield where he lived with his wife and four kids. He spent the weeks in Nottingham working as a scaffolder on a building site. His name was Paul.

Ten minutes later we were outside the Grosvenor pub near where Magdala intersects with Mansfield road.

‘Ok, this is where I go home,’ I said.

‘Do you want some spliff?’ he asked.

I paused before answering. I was slightly pissed, it was already too late and I had to be at work by 9 in the morning.

‘That would be nice, thanks. We’re almost at my flat.’

I could see him properly once we got inside. He didn’t look at all like the airiport cleaner and, if anything, he looked rougher yet sexier than before. There was a small scar near his mouth and one of his teeth was chipped. He had amazing brown eyes.

‘Nice place you got here, mate,’ he said, settling himself down on the couch to roll the spliff.

‘Thanks, do you want a beer?’ I asked.

He nodded and got on with rolling the spliff. I got us each a beer and sat next to him on the couch.

The sitting room only had the one couch and I wasn’t going to sit on one of the uncomfortable dining chairs just not to be sitting next to him. Unlike similar situations where I’d struck up conversations with straight men in the street when walking home late at night, he’d given me no sign of any sexual interest. I expected nothing from him even though the thought of doing something with him excited me. A lot!

Paul lit up the joint and took a couple of deep drags before passing it on to me.

‘This stuff makes me horny,’ he said. ‘Do you have any porn?’

I had some gay porn on my laptop but I wasn’t going to admit to that. I could feel that inner tremble I get when I’m on the verge of plunging into something that I desperately want yet am afraid of.

‘No, sorry, I don’t. It makes me fucking horny too.’

He was rubbing his cock through his trackie bottoms and it was obvious that he was very erect. I took his cue and started rubbing myself. I couldn’t take my eyes off his crotch. He started rubbing himself inside his pants while he watched me watching him.

I think that’s when he knew. Or, at least, knew for sure.

He took his cock out and started stroking it as I watched. It was long and thick. I could see his incredibly well-defined stomach and the trail of hair running down from his belly button. I got mine out. He watched my cock much in the same way as I’d been watching his.

After a few minutes, we both took our trousers off.

There was about a foot between us on the couch but our legs were extended towards each other so that our calves were touching each other. His skin felt wonderful against mine. I wanted to touch his cock but was still too nervous to make the first move. I knew it would happen but I was not sure about how far he wanted to go. Wanking together, not each other, may have been enough for him.

Paul made the first move by reaching for my cock. He did it while looking straight into my eyes. Then he kissed me. I was electrified, my response immediate. That opened him up like a tightly wound coil and he rolled over and on to me, pinning me down with urgency, his mouth hard against mine as his cock pushed hard against my body.

At some point, I took over and he asked me to fuck him. I did. After that he asked me if he could fuck me. He did. About an hour later, I tasted blood in my mouth just as he pointed out that there was blood on my lip. He’d cut my lip while kissing me.

We exchanged numbers before he left a few hours later.

I saw him quite often over the next couple of months, usually once a week, sometimes more often. He often arrived unannounced, usually having climbed over the wall rather than ringing the gate bell. Each time he did that, I expected a neighbour to call the police. We lived in parallell universes, our backgrounds and lives so totally different. He’d been to prison several times and had several kids other than those he lived with spread across the Midlands.

We had nothing in common apart from beer, spliff and sex but we sometimes talked football.

It was the summer of the European Football Championship of 2004. The only time I’m vaguely interested in football is during championships like those and the World Cup. I get caught up by the enthusiasm of friends and colleagues and will actually choose to watch games with them. Paul was a fanatical England supporter and had the tattoos to prove it. There were several occasions when he came to visit after England had played, very pissed and very horny. We’d fuck straight away. If anything, our sex was even more raw, urgent and passionate at those times. A week after England was eliminated from the championship, we were lying in bed smoking after having had sex.

‘I was at the police station today,’ he said.


‘I had to get my passport back.’

‘Why did they have it?’ I asked.

They took it off me before the Championships.’

POSTSCRIPT: There is a gay cliché about liking a bit of ‘rough’ but I can honestly say that I’ve never had any particular inclination towards it even if I did enjoy my time with Paul. In some ways, he was unusual for a ‘straight’ man who likes sex with gay men in that he enjoyed kissing. For some straight (and bi) men, kissing another man is almost the last taboo as the intimacy of the act goes beyond the pure lust of the sexual act. Our feelings for each other did not extend beyond sex but I felt quite strange on being told about his football hooligan past. Apart from the mindless violence associated with it, I tend to associate them with nationalistic fascism and everything that that implies. I would never knowingly choose to associate with someone like that so having sex with a football hooligan would have been completely off my radar had it not happened with him and in those circumstances.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Let me trim your bush for you

Dear Mr Reluctant Nomad

It has come to our attention that your bush is too big and is a hazard to pedestrians. We urge you to get your bush trimmed to prevent further action.

Yours sincerely
Mole Valley District Council


A few weekends prior to receiving that letter, our meek-and-mild busybody of a neighbour, Alan Squirrel (no kidding), had stopped me in the road. As usual, he was wearing green wellies and wheeling his wheelbarrow.

Neighbour: Hello Alan, how are you? Lovely day, isn’t it?
Me: Very well, thanks, Alan. How are you? Yes, a lovely day.
Neighbour: Great day for doing a spot of gardening.
Me: Yes, it is.

The sky was grey and it was far too cold for me to be in the garden. Neighbour Squirrel spent his life in his. The squeak of his wheelbarrow trundling between his house at the far end of the cul-de-sac and the woods at the other end was our neighbourhood’s equivalent of the screech of chalk on a blackboard. It happened all year round, especially on Saturday afternoons.

Neighbour: Alan, I know you’re a busy man and work long hours so I was wondering if you’d like me to trim your bush for you?
Me: Bush? Which bush?

He pointed towards the dense, beautiful rhodendendron bush that created a very effective hedge between our garden and the street. Two weeks before, it was ablaze with purple blooms. Now they were over. The frivolous purple bits had fallen off revealing the handsome dark green foliage that would stand there solidly until the following spring. Vigorous spring growth had made it a bit woolly around the edges, giving it the dishevelled look of an old man in need of a haircut.

Neighbour: I’m often clipping away at things so I thought you may want me to trim your bush. It’s grown a lot in the past month.
Me (icily): No thank you. I can do it myself.

Its woolly look didn’t bother me at all. I also had no immediate inclination to trim it. Neighbour Squirrel’s interfering but well-meaning offer did, however, bother me a lot. Every stubborn fibre in my body stood at attention.

A week or so later, my wife was getting shopping out of the car when an elderly couple came walking towards her, on the pavement. As they reached the car, they stepped in the road, walking around it instead of walking between it and the bush. She glanced up at them giving them her best neighbourly smile, prepared to exchange a few pleasantries. They cut her dead, their faces throbbing with haughty indignation.

It took a few seconds before she realised that our bush was the problem.

When she told me about it that evening, I felt all those stubborn fibres standing at attention again. I could imagine the curtain-twitching neighbours tut-tutting about the inconsiderate South Africans who let their bush grow too large. And who wouldn’t accept kind help to have it trimmed.

The letter arrived a few weeks after that. I trimmed my bush a couple of weeks later.

POSTSCRIPT: This happened about 18 years ago, soon after moving to England for the first time. I'd heard of the suburban, Little England character before but it was my first experience of it. Contrasting this episode with the 'real issues' back in South Africa made it seem even more ridiculous.