Sunday, 4 October 2009

Never enough!

After being dazzled by La Streisand's take on Ne Me Quitte Pas on BBC1 Friday night, here's Discofied Divas Squared from 1979, the year I graduated and Thatcher came to power. I was a baby gayer then and happy to sign up to the prevalent worship of both Barbra and Donna that was prevalent at the time in the gay world. Donna's gay-friendly reputation was briefly blotted by an interview where talked about her religious beliefs and said some unpleasantly anti-gay things but Streisand not only has a phenomenal voice but has been a stalwart champion of the gayers and has done a sterling job supporting the voice of American liberalism and the Democratic Party through the past three decades. But let's hear her duet with La Summer:

And here is Miss Streisand singing Brel (it was better live though, imho, on the Jonathan Ross Show where she gave a very well judged interview too).

And that holds its own, I think, with my previous favourite version of the song, by Scott Walker, which is a thing of great beauty.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Music to toddle to

Last night I posted the song Miracles by Jefferson Starship and a chum told me she really liked it but she was 4 years old when it came out. What a four year old made of the lyric I'm not sure, when it seems to be all ladies and gentlemen doing filthy things to one another with ecstatic results, including some rude words and noises slipped in which the censors possibly missed.

So I thought of what songs I had liked myself at the age of four. 1960! Before I started primary school, before The Beatles, before we had a tv or a fridge or a phone, before Dusty Springfield, before so much! I had a vivid childhood memory of loving Ronnie Hilton's A Windmill in Old Amsterdam in my infancy but it turned out that I was actually 8 when it was a hit. Late developer... So here are ten tunes I was enjoying at the age of 4! These were mostly 78rpm single recordings or 33 1/3rpm albums that belonged to my father or one of my mother's younger brothers (they were often off abroad in England or Egypt or Norway or the Gulf and would store their stuff in our loft).

1. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters
We had a 78rpm dinner plate of a record that we (me and my baby sister) played over and over but we had no idea who The Platters were or what they looked like. I now see that lead singer Tony Williams (above) was a bit of a shag.

2. Carmen Jones How my dad loved this film soundtrack. I could probably sing all the songs as soon as I could talk. I was ignorant of the story, of Bizet, of the politics, had never seen the film, but loved the songs. This is the anglicised lyric matched to the tune of L'Amour est Enfant de Bohème, which I learned to love afresh when I grew up and discovered the opera. For me though, the Bizet was never going to accrete the emotional load that the Oscar Hammerstein version had. I wonder why the lyrics are subtitled here? She's singing, magnificently and with great clarity, in English anyway.

3. Eartha Kitt and I Want to be Evil. My dad, I now know, had a very male adolescent relationship with sex throughout his life. I was impressed as a toddler that he thought Eartha was "sexy" although I really had no idea what that meant. But I liked the tune and the words and had seen her on tv (where I thought she looked a bit like my grandmother). In later life, I came to love her even more and once even saw her in the glorious flesh at the Edinburgh Festival.

4. Kaw Liga by Hank Williams.
In working class industrial-belt Scotland, there's a crossover between some Scottish folk and American country music. This was the original A Side of a disc that had "Your Cheatin' Heart" on its flip. As little kids, we loved this and felt deeply the tragedy of the wooden cigar store Indian with his knotty pine heart. Phrases such as "Native American" were then unknown to us and we had very confused, romantic ideas about "Indians".

5. Before I ever fell in love with Doris Day on film (as I certainly did!), I knew all the songs from Calamity Jane and, of those, The Deadwood Stage was my favourite. It was such a thrill, when I finally saw the musical, to see the songs in context, and Doris Day's performance cemented the love inculcated in me as a little boy for her breathy voice. I wonder if my folks knew this exposure to Miss Day was beginning the path to gay awareness for me?

6. The great Perry Como singing What Did Delaware? You seldom hear about Como these days but he was enormous when I was a tiny chap. We had lots of his recordings in the house but this was my favourite and I could recite all the puns in order in those days.

7. The Glenn Miller Orchestra and In The Mood. My dad would bang on about his National Service and play this but the bigger treat for my sister and me was when my mood-swinging mother would be a bit hypomanic and would teach us to jive to this tune. The man himself we never saw, just Jimmy Stewart playing him later in The Glenn Miller Story, which I must have watched a hundred times. I love the swagger of the purse-lipped pianist in this film. You see him in close up first about 30 seconds in. I've since seen (mostly American) marching bands performing this and it thrills me still, every time.

8. Here's one of the first songs I probably ever learnt to sing, at my grandmother's admonitory knee. Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff The Bus!. I loved my granny. I loved her sieved broth, her butterscotch puddings, her stories about the King and Mrs Simpson or The Great Strike. I was therefore not always comfortable with the suggestion of violence in this song. However, the granny I loved so much was my maternal grandmother and I didn't like the paternal one much, so I would join in with this when we sang it on long journeys or in the playground. This clip has extra verses we never sang but I remember lots of bus journeys like this one. It's very Scottish and I was surrounded by all sorts of Scottish music as a kid. Everywhere else in the world they have other words for this tune: She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

9. So, here's some tartan stuff, plundering the music hall image of Scottishness. Andy Stewart was a master of this genre and I could have chosen several of his tunes which the extended family would belt out at Hogmanay when they gathered at my Granny's house from all parts of the world. The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre is an old Scottish folk song and Burns wrote a version too. This differs from those but we loved it as kids, particularly the section that mocks Received Pronunciation. So many of those old Scottish tunes we loved, I realise in retrospect, were about getting gloriously drunk. Doris Day may have made me gay but Andy Stewart made me a binge drinker. My first thought was to place the gruesomely sentimental A Scottish Soldier here because I remember how I used to weep over the poor soldier far from home as as tender little soul. It reaches dizzying heights of mawkishness and my, frankly, alcoholic and chain smoking old grandmother would play it and weep and think of her two soldier sons. It's as bad as Rolf Harris' Two Little Boys for the reliable jerking of tears.

10. The Three Bells by Edith Piaf et les Compagnons de la Chanson. This is a cheat. My granny, I'm sure, didn't have this Piaf version but the inferior American one by The Browns. Either would have me welling up but this one's classier.

Next week, I will rummage around in 1961. Or perhaps not, since this playlist plucks at my heartstrings a little too much.

Friday, 25 September 2009

My Favourite Record OF ALL TIME!

I haven't checked the date stamp on this but it transports me instantly to University Halls of Residence in first year, Edinburgh, the only gay in the village near enough (or so it seemed) but making a big splash!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Pink Prada Purse

Our Lady J is celebrating 20,000 hits on Pink Prada Purse on YouTube. Let's add a few more!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Duckie Report

Another absolutely splendid Duckie!

We went down to Peckham to have food and drinks and fun with some friends, at an event organised to exploit the presence upon these shores of a friend from Iowa. Despite the torrential downpour that suddenly broke over us, we all managed to make it to Duckie to maximise our friend's enjoyment of London. Five of the Duckie Six were there and Simon was very sharply suited as if to make up for the absence of the legendarily well tailored Father Cloth.

We had two cabarets and the second was a German chap called Noisy Pig who had lots of multimedia stuff going on: pumping eurobeats, projection of images behind him, comedy eyewear. It was fine. But the first of the cabarets was venerable septuagenarian Bette Bourne reminiscing about Quentin Crisp, apparently an old friend, and giving us some of the great man's lines, delivered with the same withering crispness. I was fortunate to have met Quentin years back and to have seen him do his own show and I have to say Bette did an exemplary job, in my peripheral opinion. You could have heard a pin drop in the RVT and that doesn't often happen at Duckie. Marvellous!

Our friends had all gone the other side of the Activity Island to have a fashion model makeover from Amy, celebrating 25 years of British Fashion Week or something. Amy worked fast and everyone came away even more glamorous than before. The only downside was, for me, that I had recommended the Norwegian Nazi Zombie horror film Dead Snow to Kim Phaggs in the past and he had since watched it and found it wanting! I love his musical tastes but clearly that doesn't correlate with our respective film tastes. I really liked Dead Snow! Hey ho.

We all ended up back on our roof terrace, fortunately only a short trot in slingbacks from Duckie, annoying the neighbours and draining the alcohol from the fridge. I went slightly mad with the cheese and mushrooms on toast but it was all eaten. What a great, great night! Still had one friend with us this morning. We went round the corner to The Oval Lounge for an English Sunday roast, with another friend from close by, and damn fine that was too. In bed early tonight and taking life easily after a mofo of a weekend! Brilliant though :)))

Sunday, 13 September 2009

District 9

Went to the pictures this afternoon, an appropriate entertainment for a day that had proven suddenly autumnal. Saw District 9, a South African sci fi film. It's great! It explains very little and shows you a great deal of fun stuff.

Like all the best sci fi, it takes themes from contemporary culture and presents us with metaphorical teasers. On the surface, this one is about race, about the othering and subjugation of millions of people. It's about the ways that political oppression is sustained and how easily we can all be hoodwinked by the powerful. It has so many more delicate touches in it too.

It works on every level, I think. The cinematography is great (it reminded me hugely of City of God), the sound is great (the click language of the aliens, the incidental music) and the effects are very well managed. The 'prawns' make the Cylon centurions look clunky and robotic. But the main thing is that it's a rattling good story that moves along at a fair old lick, and you can't predict every turn of the plot, right up until the ending where much is tantalisingly unresolved. I admired the ending very much. And the central figure of Wikus van der Merwe is played by a guy who's apparently never been in a film before: Sharlto Copley. He does a great job. You like him, he's funny, but even from the first he is seamlessly inserting crude racist epithets into everyday exchanges and he's no mindless mass-market Hollywood good guy.

I'm sure there's lot more to say but have to go cook some prawns.

Friday, 11 September 2009

An earful

Like London buses, you wait for a blog post for ages and then two come along at once! I am in the middle of several jobs but waiting for something to happen in every case before I can proceed further, so shall use the time to muse here.

I wanted to say a word about audiobooks. I have always, throughout my bookwormy life, been a voracious reader, slower than my partner but relishing the process just as much in my way. He says I am a hobbit; I am happiest when I know how the story will end, pleased that the conventions of the genre are respected. I like storylines to resolve. All true. I would add though that I am not immune to the quality of the prose or to the interpenetration of big ideas and themes with a swiftly moving plot.

Perhaps because I now accumulate piles of textbooks that I must read, attentively, as I work my way through successive modules of a postgrad degree, or perhaps because I spend so much time these days in surfing the quick moving internets and focusing on quick bursts of communication, I read little now, off the page, for pleasure.

I do, however, listen to audiobooks. Even in the old days of the Sony Walkperson, I would occasionally buy a book tape and listen to it. Some I recall very fondly. These were huge box sets: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster by David Attenborough, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke, hundreds of them over the years...

Then came the Age of the iPod and, from iTunes, I can download many many books and listen at my desk as I do dull work on the computer, on tubes and trains and buses as I traverse South London (which I do frequently to get to and from bits of work), or just around the house as I clean and tidy and vacuum and pair socks.

I find I say often to people that I have ‘read’ a book when what I mean is that I have listened to another read the book for me. There is little distinction in my mind between the two except that I read one book these days for every half a dozen to which I listen.

I prefer the unabridged offerings and some of those can run to 12 or 24 hours’ worth of recording. I can be listening attentively at one point and then go off woolgathering, only to realise half a chapter has slipped by, so I find I rerun and review the spoken text very frequently. I do that with books too though, rereading pages at a time, either because I am puzzled about a development in the narrative and have to backtrack, or because of the particular quality of a piece of prose.

Recently, I have enjoyed all of Boris Akunin’s (Erast Petrovich) Fandorin thriller novels: The Winter Queen, The Turkish Gambit, The Murder on the Leviathan, The Death of Achilles, and The State Counsellor. They’re all set in late Imperialist Russia, spanning the reign of Alexander III. Some, like the State Counsellor, were wonderfully read. Others were less so. You’d think it would be basic when reading a novel set in Russia, translated from the Russian, where everyone has Russian names, that the narrator would have learned how to pronounce those names (and the few Russian terms used in the books) correctly. I doubt that I would have read these in print but I find I enjoy thrillers much more as audiobooks.

When I listen to U.S. voices reading American novels, I notice some linguistic quirks that I haven’t picked up from American friends. Such as, the word ‘shone’, past tense of ‘to shine’. In the U.K. that’s pronounced ‘shawn’. In the U.S. it seems it’s pronounced ‘shoan’. In at least three recent audiobooks, I have observed this pronunciation. In general, the standard of locution is high. I marvel at the number of slight variations some narrators can produce to differentiate between characters. It’s quite an acting job, I would imagine.

So, hooray for audiobooks! Why then do I feel slightly ashamed of my increasing reliance on the iPod as the medium for enjoying fiction? I read more reviews in the Sunday papers of new audiobooks than I do of new literary fiction. I rage at iTunes for the absence of some favourite texts or unread text by favourite authors. I like the fact that they seem to growing cheaper all the time - I can download some texts that run to 20 or more hours for less than a tenner and yet some bestselling thrillers last 2-3 hours and cost twice that. Well, that’s a nonsense. I will be reading those in paperback then…

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Blog Resurrection!

My dear partner has recently posted to his blog after a gap of some many months. Shamed by his sudden industry, I shall do the same. And shall decorate with some photos from birthday trip to Italy - my return to Florence after 33 years!

I don’t know why I stopped, really. Just found I had less time than I'd been used to and something had to give. For about nine months, I was going to the gym every day (lost 20kgs), busy working on a sequence of demanding assignments for my MSc (two at once at one point), and monumentally busy at work. Over the past few months, the gym fell by the wayside, I went supernova with the two simultaneous assignments and haven’t picked up a textbook since handing them in, and work became much less intense (always does over August when everybody is on holiday, as was I).

Some highlights of the past few months:
I put all the weight back on that I had spent months shedding. Oh well. So it goes. But I did eat some lovely food in the process, particularly when on holiday in Florence. I had pizza at least once everyday (usually Pizza Napoli) and most days I had a risotto of some kind. Italian food must be the best in the world. Have been making risotto twice a week since getting back. I am currently in the process of psyching myself up for another monster slimming down programme. I think I’m almost disgusted enough and uncomfortable enough with my present weight and shape in order to be driven to dire measures like abjuring carbohydrates entirely for many months, having a limb amputated, or having my mouth sewn shut by the Bad Mother from Coraline.

Watched some excellent films. Five of the best were:
Let The Right One In, which I watched on holiday and adored! Hard to describe and ‘Swedish teen vampire movie’ does it no justice. It’s brilliant.
Moon, which I went to the picturehouse to see and very much liked. The apple obviously hasn’t fallen far from the tree in the Jones / Bowie family. Pleased to have watched Sam Rockwell performing so well when I thought I didn’t even like him. Great little film, much deeper than it appears on the surface and more complex than its apparently simple design suggests.
The Baader Meinhof Complex, which I downloaded from iTunes and hugely enjoyed, if enjoyed is the correct word. It was enjoyable to be reminded of that very potent period in my memory, when the Red Army Faction were great popular bogeymen, but the film did more than evoke nostalgia for the 70s in a divided Germany. It examined many levels of faith and doubt, freedom and control, innocence and corruption. Clever film.
Dead Snow, which is undoubtedly the best Norwegian zombie horror flick I’ve ever watched. A delight from start to gloriously over the top finish, all in the snowfields of Norway. Observed the requirements of the formula and then torqued them up.
Brüno, which I didn’t think I’d like and was rather coerced into by partner. I didn’t watch the Ali G movie and wasn’t all that taken with Borat although I did laugh quite a lot. To quote Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’, I near enough peed my pants. I was sore from laughing at some points and barely stopped chortling long enough to draw breath between start and finish. I was also in awe at Baron Cohen’s balls of steel, particularly in that final section where they’re making out in the cage at the wrestling match. He both enlightens and delights as he trots along poking shibboleths in the eye.

Books wot I red!
Just finished The Poisonwood Bible which has been burning a hole in my bookshelves for years since a friend gave it me to read on holiday. Books recommended by friends often acquire a curiously leprous association that somehow causes me to read anything else I come across first. Don’t ask me why, makes no sense. And when somebody actually gives me the book, to put on my shelves to gather dust, the effect is magnified. Thus it was with Barbara Kingsolver’s book and I can’t believe I have been denying myself this marvellous treat all this time. It’s exceptional. Her observation of place, biology, anthropology is all outstanding. The sweep of the tale is enormous, from the US to South Africa but mostly centring on a small Congolese village. It takes you from post war Georgia to the Reagan presidency. It puts you inside the heads of grown ups and of children, of whites and blacks, of mighty and humble, of Christian and heathen, even recounts the narrative from the point of view of an Okapi at one point. It is a joy and I was sad to have finished it.

Similarly with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I gather this has just been made into a film with lovely and very talented Viggo Mortensen as The Man. Partner insisted it was excellent but I thought it just looked too bleak. He gave it to all his friends and family for Christmas, which seemed like an odd choice. Those who read it loved it though and so I finally cracked the spine. It was describing a bleak world but it’s not a bleak book. There’s a strong narrative despite the limitations and the vivid conjuring of the inner lives of the two protagonists and the (sometimes horrific) events that unfold around them makes this one of the best books I’ve ever read. Can’t see how the forthcoming film is going to match it in any but the most desultory way. It’s such an intelligent book and tells you so little by way of explanation of anything. It leaves you to figure out which is or might be happening and why. I think a Hollywood film will feel obliged to explain too much.

One last happy literary find from over the Summer. Dirty White Boy by Clayton Littlewood is a series of blog posts gathered into a touching little book. Dirty White Boy is a shop that Clayton and his partner ran for a short time on one corner of Old Compton Street. If you know Compton St, you’ll recognise so much of what he describes of the life he sees through his big plate glad corner window while jotting his musings in a notebook under the shop counter. It’s Queer Street now, awash with gay bars, cafes, shops, but there’s still lots more going on in the neighbourhood than the noisy bars spilling their pink punters onto the pavements. And there always has been that mix, to judge from the history Littlewood serves up, gulled from his encounters with so many local characters. Its blogging origins mean it’s composed of several short chunks, so it’s a perfect book for someone like me who has trouble devoting long periods to reading. I tend to want to read a short bursts these days, my concentration span shrunk by my excessive laptop use. When I saw that it had been made into a piece of theatre, performed at the Soho Theatre recently, I wondered how that would have been structured, but there are some robust threads running through it upon which one could hang a drama.

Hmmm, I seem to have written a lot, without much effort. All it took was a free half an hour. Maybe there will be more. Maybe not. Who can say?

Saturday, 14 March 2009


I understand that BBC Radio 1 Morning Show DJ and Utter Prick, Chris Moyles, managed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro safely, for Red Nose Day, and managed to get safely back down again. Millions, consequently, are in despair! I should have bunged that Cheryl Cole a wad of notes to trip him up and push him off the mountain. She's good at coping with bad publicity after all, and she knows an Utter Prick when she sees one.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Milk, unskimmed

Saw Milk the other day. Friends had been unhappy about Sean Penn getting the Oscar, just for playing a gay man. The generally quite reliable Dr Kermode said it was good enough but suggested, IIRC, that it was plodding and that it sanitised the 70s in the Castro. I don't think it sanitised it - it just edited it. It wasn't a film about bathhouses after all (although they were talked about), and it wasn't Friedkin's Cruising. It had that measured, metronomic feel that you get with all biopics, but I felt this was better than most of the breed.

And Sean Penn so deserved the Oscar! I thought he was tremendous. He didn't deserve it for playing a gay man when he's, to all appearances, a straight man. He deserved it because he played Harvey Milk beautifully. You saw the (perhaps, slightly unlikely) charisma and you saw the business skills turned to good purpose in the gay rights struggle. You saw light and shade. You saw how brave he was, how angry he was, how lonely he was, and how inept he was with his personal life, lucking in and lucking out. Happy times with James Franco (much better looking later in the 70s with the shorter hair and the clone moustache) and less happy times with the flaky man (portrayed thus at least) he took up with latterly.

So much bad clothing (1970s), so much bad hair (1970s), so many bad pairs of specs (it was the 70s, FFS!). You get Sylvester, you get Josh Brolin as the sexy assassin, you get James Franco and a spectacularly good Sean Penn. Plus you get to cry several times, laugh several times, tap your toes several times. I really liked it, lots. And I was there, so you should listen to me! Well, not there as in SF but there as in 1970s. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...

Friday, 30 January 2009

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

Patrick McGoohan has died. I am very sad. There was The Prisoner, of course. And that was fabulous. But he did so many other things through the years. I loved him as George Bernard Shaw and I'm old enough to remember him as Danger Man.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

But no bottle of rum (Wrong kind of pirate)

The body of a Somali pirate who drowned after receiving a huge ransom has washed ashore with $153,000 (£100,000) in cash.

Renaissance Faces

Passed by the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing and saw that this exhibition was still on for a little while yet. Slightlyfoxed gave it a good review a couple of months back and I really enjoyed it too. The paintings I liked the best were some I knew well:

Christina, Duchess of Milan, (a Princess of Denmark and the niece of the Emperor Charles V, thus the great niece of Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon) painted by Holbein for Henry VIII, which clever woman said at the time "If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England's disposal." That she was painted full length was, apparently, most unusual. That was a privilege reserved for male sovereigns. The guide tells you that but doesn't hazard any guesses as to why the custom was forsaken by Holbein here. If Henry wanted a full figure portrait, the better to appraise the physical attributes of a potential spouse, Christina's mourning clothes (she had just been widow by the death of her husband, the Sforza Duke of Milan) would surely have spoilt his fun.

There's another Holbein, Lady With a Squirrel (and a Starling):

which is charming, and Holbein's famously cryptic The Ambassadors:

There are a few portraits by Titian and by Antonis Mor and sculptures by Leone Leoni of ugly, charmless King Philip II of Spain (a first cousin of Christina of Milan), which manage to convey the sourness and the pomposity of the man and show the birth of propaganda in the way they are contrived to glorify him.

There's so much there and Slightlyfoxed has described some of the other good stuff. I'll just mention one more, Moroni's The Tailor:

He's a cutie. And not a noble or a monarch, so unusual that he was the subject of such a portrait. How comes a mere tailor to be wearing a ring with a big red gem set in it on the little finger of his right hand?

There's lots to see and only a few more days to go. Very stimulating stuff, well assembled and displayed. Prompted lots more questions than it answered but that's OK. I'm not an art historian, so I liked being gently introduced to the history of the portrait as I moved from room to room. There's a chronology that's clear but the arrangements are thematic, guided by the purpose of the portrait as a form at different periods.

The Lost Post

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Sudden Death

Somali pirates receive an enormous ransom in cash. Then their boat sinks and both pirates and ransom go to Davy Jones' locker. As we say in Scotland, Nae luck...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Sámi Magic Drum

When I was at the BM to see the Babylon exhibit, I also happened across the Sámi Magic Drum. It was a delight! Such a splendid little exhibit, all spun from the one little artefact that was owned by Sir Hans Sloane and has been in the museum since it opened 250 years ago. It was made in the 1600s and is magic because of the totemic paintings daubed on the reindeer skin that stretches over it and because of the way it was used in Sámi ritual. It's charming. I always wondered what happened to Rudolph when his glow had gone.

(drum size not as pictured, unless that's a tiny Sámi shaman)

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Finally tottered along to the BM to see this exhibition: Babylon - Myth and Reality. Bit more Myth than Reality but that's OK, nothing much but lumps of clay with cuneiform scribbles all over them and some sandy ditches remain of the glory that was Babylon. Doesn't have much original artefact on display but it has lots of imagery based on legend and approximate history, with some reconstruction based on archaeological finds.

The legendary stuff is fun but it's not originals by and large: copies of Brueghel's Tower of Babel (see top), Rembrandt's Belshazzars's Feast (see right) and other depictions of that old testament hullabaloo that were new to me, Blake's Nebuchadnezzar (see below).

There were several absolutely marvellous original panels from the processional way that led from the Ishtar Gate down to a channel off the Euphrates. I was particularly interested in Mushhushshu (see below), the Babylonian dragon, many images of which adorn the Ishtar gate. Its name means "furious snake" and it has the head and tongue of a horned snake, a lion's legs and feet at the front, the claws of an eagle at the back, and a serpentine tail. And it had scales. I want one of those! There are those who think that it's the Behemoth of the Book of Job.

I learned lots of other stuff. The biblical legend of Nebuchadnezzar being banished to the wilderness for 7 years where he became bestial, conflates two kings. The exhibition suggests that this may be a reference to a later king, Nabonidus, who abandoned Babylon for the oasis of Teima and abandoned the worship of the great god Marduk for the henotheistic worship of the moon god Sin. I also had never twigged that Nabucco is the Italian for Nebuchadnezzar. But, then, I've never seen the opera. Explains why it features The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves then, of course. I am a simpleton...

And other stuff: the Hanging Gardens, the Whore of Babylon, the prophet Daniel (although not this camp one!), the Writing on the Wall, further artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel (above), the damage done by the war and by the US Army building a base of operations right in the middle of one of what is now, belatedly, a World Heritage Site. Go and see for yourself. It runs till March. Only £8. A Credit Crunch bargain!

Mr Grumpy

Just watching Above Suspicion on Skyplus, new Lynda La Plante thing, filling the Jane Tennison (of blessèd memory) gap. Quite liking it, in a genre way, since my expectations aren't that high and she's doing different things with her female protagonist this time.

Two parter, end of Part One, about to move on to watch Part Two, and then there are a series of trailed scenes from the upcoming episode. Now, if I liked Part One and watched it all the way through, you might put money on me watching the second half whatever, but ITV has decided to show me how the plot unfolds through Part Two, just in case. Presumably they think that spoiling the suspense of the narrative by showing me what happens next will whet my appetite.

Arseholes, say I.

OK, finished my rant, watched the rest of the show and very much enjoyed it, despite all my protestations about the plot being ruined. Of course, might have enjoyed it considerably more had ITV not told us whodunit in their trailers. Will watch the next one but it's not Prime Suspect.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Sunday, 4 January 2009

'How 2008 was for me' Meme

Have been ignoring this self-absorbed meme till now but wtf, bored... 40 questions about your year to prompt a review of the one just gone as another one starts. Questions as answered by several online friends.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
--Locked myself out of my own house and had to get help from the police to get back in. Emergency locksmith cost £400. Did a good job though.
--Attended a Buddhist funeral. It did the job and I hope all the Buddhists I know live forever so I never have to attend another one. As funerals go, it was a good one.
--Danced on stage, dressed in Cardinal's robes and hat, to defy Benedict XVI's proclamation that the gays are killing the planet. It wasn't me, Gov! It was my partner, Queer Royale, wot killed the rainforest and Warmed the Globe, honest.
--Had an eight course meal in the best restaurant in Prague, on Valentine's Day.
--Went with my entire family, three generations, shopping for a gold cocktail frock for their fifty two year old son to wear to a drag ball.
--Visited Blackpool, and Liverpool too.
--Ate gin pie!

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and did you make more for 2009?
I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.
Actually, there's one thing I've been procrastinating over for years and I have promised myself I'll take care of it this month. I need to contact a lawyer to help me with it so I'll wait till nearer payday because of the likely expense.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Baby brother for my godson and namesake. How his dad, an old friend who looks like a potato, manages to have such lovely babies defies the laws of Genetics.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, my much beloved aunt died suddenly just into the new year. Then one of my very best friends died very suddenly just before Christmas. The Grim Reaper is a bastard.

5. What countries did you visit?
Czech Republic, Germany, The Azores, Scotland.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
I can't think of any important thing that I need.

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
--St Valentine's Day in Prague: a perfect day!
--Celebrating thirteenth anniversary with my partner by doing some very fine dining at Bacchus in Hoxton and returning there to celebrate our civil partnership anniversary in delightful company, a couple of months later, just before Nuno Mendes closed for good to move on up, to Mayfair.
--5th of November! Waking up to confirmation that Obama had won! Hooray, someone with a brain and a conscience will be running the US for the next four years!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going to the gym daily for the past six months. Losing almost 20kg of unwanted flab.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failing to seduce Brandon Flowers.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing worse than toothaches. And there was the heartache over Brandon Flowers of course...

11. What was the best thing you bought?
New iPod, shiny silver and altogether better than the old one. Six times as many songs and hours more battery power.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My dad's tenacity and cheerfulness in the face of rapidly declining mental and physical health.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Benedict XVI. Eurovision audience who voted for Russia. Julie Bindel. Jeremy Clarkson. Prince. Robert Mugabe. Sarah Palin.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Paid in bonuses to useless bloody bankers.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Brandon Flowers.

16. What songs will always remind you of 2008?
--Grace Jones' La Vie En Rose (saw her at Meltdown and she was breathtakingly good):

--M.I.A.'s Paper Planes (Readers Wifes' favourite at Duckie)

--Fettes Brot's Emanuela (I first heard it in Berlin in June but it's three years old)

--And, of course, The Killers' Human (Brandon, lovely Brandon...)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier. I'm alive and healthy. In defiance of Armistead Maupin's dictum that you can't have a good man, flat and job all at the same time, I am happy with my lovely partner, our house in the middle of this great city, and a fulfilling job that doesn't stress me too much (currently...)
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner, much! Yay me! Weight loss programme went into reverse over Christmas / New Year though but I only beefed up by about 4kg in a month. I'll soon exercise that off!
iii. richer or poorer?
Poorer, like everybody in the Western world, but I'm not selling the Big Issue so I'm not going to whinge.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Random acts of kindness. Staying in five star hotels. Eating in swanky restaurants. Spending time with my friend who died just before Christmas.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Hissing at people on the tube. Judging other people harshly. Worrying (about the day that never came). Raiding the fridge late at night.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Wandering through empty London to eat gay turkey in a gay restaurant with Queer Royale. Lovely. Then home for Doctor Who (an OK one but not a great one). I had a mild toothache but was too drunk to care.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Yes, with Brandon Flowers. I may be suffering from erotomania... He's not really my type but I melt whenever I hear him sing I'm on my knees, looking fir the answer.

22. How many one-night stands?
Don't be silly. I'm 52. I grew out of that decades ago. Best I would manage is a quick fumble in a dark room... Unless that's Brandon on the phone.

23. What were your favourite TV programs?
Battlestar Galactica. Boy A. Doctor Who. The IT Crowd. Mad Men. MasterChef. The Restaurant. Survivors. The Tudors. Wallander. The Wire. Lots of good tv in 2008, and thank Miss God for iPlayer! Lost went off the boil and Heroes was just irksome rubbish this time around.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Nobody whom I have actually met. Have taken an intense and instant dislike to Matt Smith. And Milo Ventimiglia but I hated him in 2007 too.

25. What were the best books you read?
Top Three:
--1. What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn.
--2. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.
--3. No Blade of Grass by John Christopher.
I have read far too few books this year and they had to be good to keep me interested! Read so-o-o-o many books on the philosophy and practice of education for my course though...

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
German rappers Fettes Brot. They are probably very unhip over there now (on Wikipedia they're called hip hop dinosaurs but then I'm also a dinosaur). I first heard Emanuela when I was visiting Berlin and I've listened to it more or less non-stop on my gym playlist since, and have sampled much of their back catalogue too.

27. What did you want and get?
Everything I needed. Plus trips abroad. And my niece found and bought for me a pair of black opera gloves that were the answer to my prayers when putting together an outfit for the drag ball. I love her.

28. What did you want and not get?
The face I had when I was 25. Brandon Flowers' taut butt.

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
In ascending order:
-10. No Country for Old Men.
--9. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.
--8. Wall-E.
--7. Sweeney Todd.
--6. Cloverfield.
--5. The Dark Knight.
--4. Son of Rambow.
--3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon).
--2. In Bruges.
--1. Mamma Mia.
The Winner Takes It All!

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Two long flights and a long sit in an airport. I am now a Silver Fox, apparently. I'd rather be a Silverback. They're sexier than foxes.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
That nobody would have died, nor have started to rust.
That Paterson Joseph would have been the new Doctor Who.
That Azerbaijan would have won the Eurovision Song Contest:

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Uncle Fester in jeans.

33. What kept you sane?
Duckie. Daily gym. Lots of sleep. My good buddies. Plymouth gin. Lots of spinach.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Brandon Flowers.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The sudden fulfilment of all those forgotten prophecies of the death of international capitalism.
The London Mayoral Election (which was won by a poorly house-trained Labrador).

36. Whom did you miss?
See answer to Question 4.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
--Little sister's new partner. A big improvement on the utter shit she's divorcing.
--Garethwyn, fellow denizen of the RVT Activity Island. Cymru am byth!
--My new boss turned out to be fine and dandy too.
--As did the course leader for my Masters programme. She's a sweetie. Of course, I might change my mind about that when the last assignment is marked and returned.

38. Did you enjoy this year?
Absolutely and, as a good friend said elsewhere: And the bad parts made me appreciate the great parts all the more.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008?
Enjoy it while it lasts. As my dad is wont to say: Ye're a lang time deid...

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
We love this exaltation
We want the new temptations
It's like a revelation
We live on fascination.