Sunday, May 30, 2004

Under the bonnet

What I love about being gay is that it's unpredictable. It's like getting a daily letter from the Reader's Digest. Sometimes you are Mr S of Kent, winning the cruise of a lifetime. And sometimes you get a free pen.

When a child, I was so convinced by those letters from the Reader's Digest. I knew my family was but a few weeks away from financial joy. I knew that my mum would be able to give up her second job as a cleaner, and that I'd get to finally buy every Tintin book.

So sold on the dream was I that, when we moved, I wrote to Reader's Digest to inform them of our new address. I got a charming, and slightly startled letter back.

Anyway, my point was that you never can tell what's going to be in the day's envelope. How was I to tell yesterday morning that I'd spend my evening under a blossoming tree shunting a muscly used car salesman called Tom?

Afterwards, he told me he was out clubbing again that night. He'd been out last night on pills, and was off for some more. He knew of a club that started at 4 in the morning and went on till teatime. It's rough and brilliant.

For a second, I felt whistful. I put aside the fact that both large groups of people and drugs make me paranoid and claustrophobic, and instead yearned for a sweaty sleeze pit in Vauxhall. Instead, I went home, and watched a french musical about murder.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Health and Vitality

Went jogging past the Millennium Eye. Burst out laughing.

The Mystery of the Sealed Room

Got to read some confidential scripts for an upcoming project.

Travelled a long way to read them, signed a piece of paper, and then got to sit in a room with them.

Each page had my name embossed on it. Which was strangely thrilling and intimidating.

Owing to the nature of the piece of paper, however, I cannot discuss the contents of the scripts with anyone. Which instantly becomes frustrating when sat in a pub.

They gave me the option of taking the scripts away with me. Which seemed like suicide. Last year, in a similar situation, my boss promptly left a Dr Who script on the train.

And then sent his assistant hunting for it at a London Transport Lost Property Office. Manned by a Dr Who fan. With hilarious consequences.


Why do boys love buying cable so much?

I have a theory that cables are like shoes for ladies. Puzzling to the other gender, peculiarly irresistible, and it's inexplicable why you end up buying expensive ones that don't fit very well.

This would be why I staggered back from a Dixons sale, having just spent about £20 on cable. Only to get it home, unpack it, stare at my hi-fi, sigh, and then quietly and sadly pack the cable away for a special day.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Dental pain

Nice things about my dentist:
- He is blonde.
- He is cute.
- He works quickly.
- We had the following conversation about my gag reflex: "God, James, honestly, I can't fit a thing in your mouth."

Nasty things about my dentist:
- Well, he's a dentist.
- Every time I see him it costs me £200.
- The drugs he gives me cause a dramatic character change.

I'm trying to watch an old kids show with Toby Anstis. Instead of my normal reaction ("he's dreamy") I instead find myself yelling: "Who's the dead-eyed freak?"

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Mitford Girls

Wonderful book about seven naughty siblings who flitted through London society in the 20s and 30s.

Heart-warming, charming, batty and scatty - until around about page 200. By which point...

1) Brother Tom Mitford appears to have had most of the girl's boyfriends and at least one husband. Now spends time with pretty blond SS men.

2) Nancy Mitford is hopelessly in love with a gay. He's thrown her off the scent by getting engaged to a lesbian. Idiot friend proposes to Nancy while drunk. Nancy accepts. Loveless marriage ensues. Nancy starts to write slightly hysterical comic novels.

3) Decca Mitford has eloped with Winston Churchill's communist activist cousin to fight in the Spanish Civl War.

4) Diana Mitford is secretly married to Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascist Party.

5) Young Unity Mitford has quite had her head turned by charming Adolf Hitler, is often at tea with darling Goebbels, and is writing rather sickening letters to the papers about the beastly "Jewish Problem". She's also started doing the Nazi salute in the village sweet shop.

Oh, how I miss the early pages which were all about eccentric nannies, practical jokes and pet snakes.


Why is there always someone distractingly pretty doing sit ups in the gym?

And why is there always someone strangely large and sweaty on the treadmill?

Oh. Thinking about it. That one answered itself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Boring Management Styles: The Bully

One of our managers is an outright bully. He's brilliant at his job, but has the people skills of a starved council house pitbull.

He's the only person in the department ever to reduce me to tears. I discovered I'm not alone. His name came up at lunch today.

"Oh, him." someone said. "I had a meeting with him for two hours last week. My line manager was there and said nothing. Afterwards I spent 20 minutes in the loo crying."

There was a sudden round of nodding.

Apparently it's a common experience - you suffer through the meeting alarmed, surprised, hurt and frustrated - and then, afterwards, as soon as the meeting is over - on come the waterworks.

I wonder how he's crafted such a technique that cunningly prevents people from bursting into tears *during* meetings?

Whatever, he's very good at being completely unreasonable, vicious and cruel. A lot of it, I've discovered, involves low murmuring, statements rather than questions, and abruptly standing up and walking away, shaking the head and growling. Hmmn. It's oddly like chatting someone up, but in reverse.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Farewell HomeChoice

Goodbye, then HomeChoice.

Four years ago, you were irrestistible. Less than 20 quid a month for really fast internet access was unbeatable. And the ability to pay to watch the odd TV programme on demand down my phoneline was too good to resist.

So much so, that soon enough I was happily paying £35 a month every month for Broadband internet access, great comedy shows on demand, and a staggering on-demand music chanel. Sigh - how many shags were impressed by being able to watch every Madonna/Five video ever? A shocking number.

And, on quiet Friday nights in, my flatmate and I adored curling up in front of the projector to watch big screen movies - sent down the phoneline at adorable quality.

It was too good to be true. And it was too good to last.

The On-Demand channels suddenly got a bit skimpy - gone were vast archives of wonderful shows, replaced by scrapings from BBC One and the odd Canadian fantasy show. True - there was the odd moment of brilliance (State of Play) - but pretty much nothing else.

Then, all of a sudden, a new HomeChoice box arrived. That didn't work. They'd obviously somehow beefed/stuffed up the copy protection, so now it wouldn't work going through a video - which made it a bit of an arse watching anything.

Worse was to come. They relaunched the interface. Suddenly everything was a channel. A really hard to find channel. With not much on it. And no easy way back. Or forward. Or anywhere. But all you had to do to watch last night's EastEnders was press the green button. Shudder.

Then, they proudly announced the addition of extra channels - including UK Gold and BBC Four. Obviously, these would be on demand - which would be fantastic. I mean - they wouldn't just rebroadcast the channels would they? That would be silly.

Oh. They did. But without UK Gold. Or anything interesting. How anyone's proudest marketing boast could be "now includes BBC Three" is beyond me.

And the box still wouldn't work through the projector - despite constant assurance from technical support of "ongoing difficulties/MacroVision reboot" etc. Engineers would come and go. Or, occasionally, just forget to turn up.

They were turning into NTL. Only with worse service. I was now paying £40 a month for a freeview box that I couldn't watch. God knows what the 5,000 other subscribers thought.

They kept on sending out service upgrades almost weekly - including a ridiculously large, scary remote control, and a glossy, glossy brochure about how some of their channels (like BBC One) contained programmes you could watch on demand (like, uh, EastEnders).

Rubbish. I'd rather spend £40 a month on having fun.

Fear of the new

Which would you say is easier? Building a shirt cupboard from scratch, or getting a working DVD recorder?

Hmmn. Let's just say that my shirts are now neatly hanging in their very own cupboard.

Dunno what it is about modern technology. It's so shiny. And yet so rubbish.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Strictly Come Dancing

I'm enjoying Saturday evenings in the office watching Soap Moppets try and dance far more than I thought I ever would.

Seeing Christopher Parker from EastEnders go from plank of wood to confidently quickstepping through "The One That I want" by the BeeGees is laugh-out-loud wonderful.

It's such feel good television. I've seen lovely Lesley Garrett shout "I've lost ten pounds and had the most fun!", I watched Verona Joseph (Nurse Serious from Holby) fight off rumours that she's had secret professional training - and, best of all, discovered that squeaky clean Claire Sweeney blagged her way onto Chicago by bribing a member of the chorus line to teach her the routine before the audition.

Plus, the frocks are fabulous. It's odd - an hour-long pocket of campness light entertainment, po-faced irony, and genuine human endeavour.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Canadian Charm

All is going *slightly* well with Matt and Darryl, my visiting Canadians.

Well, kinda. The problem is that Matt and I would rather like to go to bed with each other. A lot.

And Darryl is elevating gooseberry to levels of anguished matyrdom.

Before Matt came over, I suggested to him that he might enjoy a day trip to Brighton. The night before we set off, Darryl announced "I'm really looking forward to coming to Brighton with you guys."

But what harm could there be - and why should I deny anyone the pleasures of Brighton, just so that I could get quality time with a hunky sunburnt Canadian?

So yesterday, we headed off the Brighton, gooseberry in tow. Occasionally marching in-between us, or, if we pulled ahead, stopping short and shouting out our names.

So unrelenting was it, that the only moment of physical contact we managed was on the rollercoaster. And that was clutching each other with fear.

It's not helped by the fact that Darryl earns less than we do. Which means that, even after I've subbed the bill, he still stares at it muttering "We can't afford to carry on like this."

I'm a mean old sulk pants at the best of times, but I've finally met my match. While walking along the beach yesterday, we saw a lovely bar. "Ooh, cocktails!" announced Matt. He's enjoying training English barmen how to make a Manhattan. His arms bulge when he shakes a cocktail. *sigh*

"Guys, do we have to?" whined Darryl. So we end up sitting on the beach, eating ice creams while Daryl whinged at the price of a 99.

I've been on his side of the fence - when Rick first got his big city job, I used to dread summons for drinks in posh wine bars. But, if I had the cash, I'd go and have fun until I was broke. And, if I didn't, I'd make up an excuse.

Anyway, we managed a fun day of sorts. Both of them enjoyed Brighton's bohemian charms, and I nearly bought an antique 52 bottle wine-rack. If the Master returns as an alcoholic, it would be his TARDIS.

We got back to Victoria. Darryl announced he was keen to go explore Westminster. "Great," said Matt. "I could do with a nap back at the hotel. James - fancy a nap?"

Did I ever? By this point I was gagging for a nap.

Darryl stopped mid-stride. "You guys going back to the hotel? Hmmn. Then I guess I'll come back and read."

So we napped. While Darryl read. It was a book about elves and princesses and unicorns.

Rag On Bone

What is it about restaurants and fish bones? Is there some EU definition of "fillet" and "filleted" that I'm unaware of?

I hate fish bones, and have long ago learnt that they will find me out in whatever form I choose to take my finny friends in.

Years ago, my mum tried to cure me of this with an M&S "Absolutely, Guaranteed - Stake Our Lives On It And Our Good Name In Knickers - Boneless Kipper Fillet". It was so full of bones it would have finished the Queen Mum off ten years early.

The other week, I was at an Indian restaurant, and the waiter was pressing on us the special Mela Menu:

"And this is prepared with a boneless fish - steamed in a coconut paste and banana leaves - just one big spine bone, and then some small little ones you can crunch up in your mouth."

And then, there was my favourite seafood restaurant yesterday....

ME: "Hi. Can you tell me which of your specials don't have bone in? I really hate fish bone, you see, and I'll happily order something else if -"

WAITER: "Monsieur, I can assure you there are no bones in our filets."

ME: "Yes. But I really, really hate bones. I'm not looking for mostly boneless. No bones."

WAITER: (offended) "Then I recommend our Mackerel fillets. No bones. Absolutement."

The fish is served. Along with a slightly sniffy pouring of our Sancerre.

A few minute later, the Waiter returns.

WAITER: "Monsieur. What is the problem? You have hardly touched your meal..."

ME: "It's full of bones."

WAITER: (narrows eyes suspiciously) "But our mackerel fillets hardly ever have bones in. It is rare."

ME: "Hardly ever? But -"

WAITER: "Oh. But those are small bones! Is this a problem?"

ME: "I told you. I hate fish bones."

WAITER: "Have you tried the other end - I'm sure it's almost bone free..."

ME: "Almost? You assured me-"

WAITER: "Would sir like something else? I can assure you our kippers are-"

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Porn Idol

There are good moments in life. Reassuring moments. Especially when you're feeling tired, out of sorts, overweight and under seige. When nothing seems certain. When all is dark. When your taste in men is being questioned.

That's when it's good to have a Canadian in your life. They're polite souls. They're softly spoken. They're well presented. And, if they're the lovely Matt, they're also very pretty.

I'm not saying this with the understandable bias of a man for his amour du jour. I'm saying this cos Matt and Darryl took me to Porn Idol at GAY last night, and Matt got picked out of the queue by a talent scout, eager to have him enter the competition. In the case of Porn Idol, this is meant in almost every sense of the phrase.

Matt, being bashful and quiet, blinked and stared at the man waving forms at him. "Do I have to get my cock out?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," replied the recruiter, rubbing Matt's arms appraisingly.

"Then no. No, thank you."

Instead we sat up above the stage, got quietly drunk, and watched other people strip in the hopes of being in a gay porn film.

It must be odd taking your clothes off in front of a thousand people. To music. When you've never done it before. They had had some offstage help - they'd solved the Sock Problem (it being impossible to take off socks sexily) by coming on stage barefoot - but none of the entrants had had much training in the art of slipping off jeans to music. True, they started well - undo top button, slip a thumb inside, pause, look up at the crowd, smile, pause, undo another button, pause again - maybe even suck a finger in cheeky Dirty Den tribute...

But, once the jeans had slipped to the knees, it all went a bit wrong - it's quite hard to dance with your jeans round your ankles. It's even harder to try and pull your feet through - it looked rather like that desperate man in the Andrex ads chasing the puppy who'd stolen the bog roll.... having trod on a pin... to music.

It's worth at this moment, saying a word or two about the penises. Contestant number 2 (Pete), was black, and therefore had more rhythm, and more to show off - but the others were understandably lacklustre. Standing naked in front of a thousand people isn't exactly going to encourage tumescense, but it was fun seeing great oaks of men stripping down to reveal tiny acorns.

The smart ones, when they were just about to peel off their boxers, would turn away from the crowd and run through what is best described as a short motivational exercise with the little chap - but sadly to little avail.

It was a strangely comforting, if unerotic sight - completely overruled by the shock revelation from the token mad drag queen contestant (Lulu). Lulu was not only a few centimetres short of the full six inches in all respects, but had also never trimmed her pubic topiary - resulting in a sudden spillage akin to having Rolf Harris erupt from her knickers.

As we stood watching eight naked men on stage, Matt turned to me. "If I was on stage now, would you still respect me?"

I considered. "Probably not. But I'd really want to sleep with you."

Matt gave this a careful Canadian pause. "Good," he said.

Monday, May 17, 2004

My dignified facade is over

Due to the sweltering heat, they've opened the windows, causing our office display of standees to wobble and topple slightly in the breeze.

I rushed over to try and help, pushing the cardboard monsters back into place - but then a sudden gust of wind brought them toppling onto me, sending me crouching to the floor, making alarmed swatting gestures as Worf, Buffy and Angel piled down on me in a scrum.

Luckily, it was difficult to hear the derisive laughter over the air conditioning.

(PS: Thankfully it was only a cardboard version of Angel that landed on me. Otherwise I'd be dead)

I'm with Stupid

Eurovision night was a thing of wonder which began with Strictly Come Dancing (I may be biased, but it is great) and ended in the Black Cap.

There was a lot of dancing with a topless man, which ended up with me taking him home. The only problem was that Lee was staying over in the living room. It wasn't so much the performance anxiety of knowing Lee would be lying sleepless next door, glass pressed to the wall, marking everything down on a scorecard. No, no it wasn't so much that as the walk home, with Lee announcing "You know, of course, I hate him."

I suspect Lee was against the poor fellow because he was that winning combination of stupid and arrogant.

I have nothing against one night stands with intelligent people - indeed, the pillow-talk is fascinating. But the advantage of shagging stupid cocky men is that you don't get round to pillow talk.

I may sound as though I'm being hard on him (pause. memories. giggle) - but I'm not. He was an Australian Cockney - all laughter, cheap cigarettes and opinions without thought. He was a cameraman for News24.

Shiny things

I now own a Digital Radio and a DVD Recorder with Hard Drive (a Panasonic thingy). The cheap digital radio came from a Dixons (spit) sale. The DVD-R came from a lot of argy bargy with Richer Sounds, who are lovely people, and terribly patient with people like me who always feel like they're making A Terrible Mistake whenever they buy hifi equipment.

I can work the Digital Radio, and am now old enough to enjoy 6Music.

The DVD-R demands more work. And probably a five year old. I've read the manual cover to cover twice. And I'm still baffled.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Available now!

I've never understood the phrase "all good newsagents".
There is no such thing as a good newsagent. Their sandwiches are always terrible, their cigarettes are too expensive, and they are too full of weird smelly men with school anoraks buying beer and porn for breakfast.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Tube train derailment

A tube train flew off the tracks at White City yesterday. Strangely undramatic.

What was nice about our office's bird's eye view of the situation was the vista of twenty puzzled engineers scratching their heads and tutting. For a whole afternoon.

My bad habits

  • Smoking

  • Drinking

  • Flirting

  • Crying during The West Wing

  • Howling during Alias

  • Babestation

  • Picking my nose on long tube journeys

  • Picking up boys on long train journeys

  • Not being able to forgive

  • Being very able to forget

  • Bitter, bitter cynicism

  • Irrepressible joy

  • Jaffa cakes

  • I'm irresistible!

    It was in the dark of cinema that I discovered my inner thigh was unstoppably appetising.

    Alas, it wasn't being munched down on by an exciting man, or a desperate woman - but by bugs.

    I'm suddenly covered in vicious insect bites that are really rather sore, deliciously temptingly itchy, and curiously placed.

    Correct. There is one on my bum. It makes cycling peculiar.

    The one thing that soothes them is Deep Heat. Although... *new fact*... am learning to be careful where I apply it.

    Monday, May 10, 2004

    St Pancras Hotel

    Ex-flatmate Paul is over from Australia. Which seemed like the perfect excuse to tour St Pancras' Chambers - the old Midland Hotel, also known as "That Weird Gothic Fantasy that gives NW1 its only touch of class".

    The Hotel closed in 1935, and has been abandoned since the 1980s. It's about to be closed down and restored as a hotel in time for the Eurostar opening in 2007. Which is terrible exciting. Although, as a "Five Star Deluxe" hotel, I doubt I'll ever do more than sniff gin at the bar.

    It's an amazing, oddly moving building - haunted, echoey, and an absolute must for a visit.

    At the moment, there's also a lot of filming equipment there, as it's a location for Batman IV.

    A Witch In White Heels

    My friend Nat went to WitchFest '04 this weekend. It was in Essex.

    I wonder, were they casting spells round their handbags?

    Friday, May 07, 2004

    To Mr Sark

    (contains minor Alias Season 3 spoilers)

    I no longer love you Mr Sark,

    When you came into my life in Alias season one, you were great. You were young, stylish, cultured and British. You were evil to the core, dressed nicely, knew obscure martial arts, and always called for fine wines whilst being tortured. Yes, you were a little bit gay - even though you were sleeping with Syd's best friend Francie's evil lesbian twin. But we could forgive you that - she was a diva, after all. You were bad, and yet so good for me. Oh, and, yeah, you looked like this:

    But all that's now changed. Now, in Season three, you've gone really, really evil. You're no longer charming, you've started buying duff sunglasses, and wearing combats, for goodness' sake. And Francie's gone downhill - I can't believe you'd be seen near all those silly feather boas and skirts she's nicked from Portobello Road.

    You also killed your father - but first, you tortured him with one of those creme brulee torches. You're still magnificently gay, but I no longer like you.

    Of course, if I'm going to be truthful, I think it's because of the hair. You look like a raped mole. It's rubbish:

    Tuesday, May 04, 2004

    Relapse (don't do it)

    One minute I was sat, talking about the world over a plate of goat curry. Then, all of a sudden, I felt this strangely familiar dizzy sweating sensation, accompanied by an inability to feel my arms. And fainted.

    One minute later I was lying on the pavement outside a restaurant in Camden, with Kate holding my hand while Guy went to fetch ice water.

    Horrid, weird meningitis flashback. Oddly, came on as soon as I started talking about work. Perhaps my panic attacks have mutated.

    Worst of all was seeking sanctuary on a Camden pavement. They are the filthiest in London - what brought me round was probably the stench of urea combined with the stickiness of someone else's chewing gum on my cheek.

    Saving the world.

    My friend Jalpa saves the world. She's worked in disaster relief and humanitarian aid in countries I haven't even heard of, and she's now doing a year long course in this thing.

    This term's project is AIDS.

    You start off being presented with the problem "Solve the AIDS crisis in Africa." You do some workshopping, and realise you need to create a fundamental cultural shift, providing contraception, encouraging men to use it, and empowering women to demand that their sexual partners do. It's fairly radical - probably similar to trying to make all Englishmen watch football through a veil. This isn't cheap - but we're just playing here.

    On top of that, you also have to fund AIDS drugs for those infected - although in Africa this only extends life expectancy by five years.

    Same problem as week one. But you only have £10 million pounds.

    Step one - forget all about the AIDS drugs.

    Same problem as last week. But this time your £10 million pounds come with real American Government demands - that funds aren't used to promote contraception or the distribution of condoms, and can only promote abstinence and faithful marital sex as the only acceptable behavioural models.

    Bad train journey

    Every now and then I can't afford the tenner for a Weekend First upgrade. And travelling standard on a train isn't *that* bad. Except...

    I found a seat. Opposite a single mother, with her brood. Three of them. All howling, clambering, spitting crayons. One, dressed as a ballerina, stood on top of the table all the time, trying to out squeal her siblings whilst wetting herself in a constant trickle down onto the table.

    Her name was Sky.

    Never ever name children after a digital television channel.

    (Although, if I owned a kitten, I would call him Babestation)

    Good Bank Holiday

    Spent it by the seaside, restoring a set of Victorian library steps. Started reading Other Powers, a history of lesbian spiritualist prostitutes in America.

    West Wing Season Three (no spoilers)

    Naturally, completely adorable - and addictive. The one problem with the series, when you watch enough episodes in a row, is realising that each episode is a meditation a single word.

    To take the first four episodes, the words are - Islam, Relieved, Torpor, and Boxes.

    It reminds me of an old, old BBC Radio programme called Ask The Experts, where the mighty and wise all sat in a room outclevering each other. Each week, the experts were easily outdone by philosopher CEM Joad, whose standard tactic in reponse to each question ("What is the meaning of life?", "When should I plant roses?") was to suck in roomfulls of breath, pause, and then say, "Well, it depends what you mean by..."

    Of course, once you've uncovered the trick, it's fairly straightforward. But no less entertaining. Especially when you're central character is
    a) President of the United States.
    b) Married to Stockard Channing.
    c) Can't resist calling helplines for a laugh.