Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

All the things she said

Lowri Turner's fag hag status evaporates thanks to her no-holds-barred views on why gays shouldn't be Prime Minister.

I've never really had much of an opinion on Lowri Turner. I am aware of her, but I've never really given her a second thought. She first came properly to my attention as a fashion columnist in the Evening Standard. She would dole out advice on a weekly basis to women who foolishly thought that Ms. Turner, a broadcaster who had appeared on shows such as 'Would Like To Meet' and, oh, lots of other dull stuff, would guide them kindly towards what sort of stuff they should wear.

Lowri's column was pretty acidic. Despite the fact that she's probably less than 5 feet tall and certainly not a size ten, Ms. Turner felt no qualms about really going to town on the physiques and sartorial tastes of her readers. Rather than being helpful, she was kind of spiteful.

After I stopped reading the Standard about three years ago, Lowri disappeared off my radar. I gave her nary a thought for all of this time. And then, I came across an article that Ms. Turner had prepared for the website icWales entitled: "However much I love my gay friends, I don't want them running the country". I was, understandably, intrigued.

In around 700 words, Lowri tries to convince us that she is not homophobic and that 'all her friends are gay'. The phrase nearly always precedes a severe gay bashing, but I thought I'd give her the benefit of the doubt. The gist of this article, written with a slightly poisonous pen, is that following the revelations that Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes of the Lib Dems may or may not have had a willy or two waggling inside them, she would like to go on record and say that gay men do not make good party leaders or Prime Ministers, because, and I paraphrase here, they don't have the wealth of experience that straight people WITH CHILDREN do.

Ah yes, the children argument. Gayers often get this thrown in their faces by people trying to prove a point. I was once asked by a straight girl, who was the sister of one of my boyfriend's friends, what was the 'point' of being gay. "I mean," she drawled, "It's not as if you can have kids, so once the passion and non-stop shagging are over, what do you do?". I can't remember what my answer was, and it's not important now. I suppose.

Allow me to quote our Lynda Lee Potter in training:

"Gay men face challenges of their own, but they do not face those associated with having children which is the way most of us live. I have gay friends whose biggest headache is whether to have a black sofa or a cream one. If they have a child it is a dog.

My gay friends have not sat in accident and emergency with a small child. They have not had to make the decision over whether to give them MMR. Without these experiences at the sharp end of our public services, they do not know how they function."

Hmmm. So is her problem with gay people or those that don't have children? Should there be a prerequisite that you can't stand for parliament or consider the dizzy heights of Westminster because you haven't shackled yourself to somebody and reproduced? Shall we hurl the straight, childless MPs out of parliament until they've 'come up with the goods'?

Bisexuals come in for a bit of stick, too. They're 'fudging' the issue. For somebody who claims she's the biggest fag hag this side of Old Compton Street, she's not doing very well, is she?

Surely MPs should represent the country they serve? Why shouldn't there be someone in parliament speaking up for those who don't have gurgling offspring to consider? Lowri is playing a dangerous game here. If she thinks that party leaders shouldn't be gay because they can't "represent the interests of the population in general", what about gay MPs? Surely their mainly-heterosexual constituents could argue that they're not being properly represented? Where do we stop?

I know quite a few gay men, none of whom are politicians. What colour sofa to have is important to them, of course (for everyone, no? Do people really not give a shit about the colour of their sofa?), but not a life or death decision.

Lowri's right about one thing, though. Gay men do have many other problems that straight people don't face. I'd say that not being taken seriously by heterosexuals because of the 'things you do in bed' is a pretty major one. Thanks Lowri.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Boys will be boys

Coming out isn't always the best option; not everybody is as tolerant as we like to think, as this week's MP sex scandals show.

London is abuzz and indeed agog with the so-called revelations that some politician is actually gay after all. This wouldn't really be news if he hadn't denied it so strenuously over the last couple of weeks. But of course, as the UK's press detest liars, they're making Simon Hughes out to be the devil incarnate.

Perhaps this admission of Hughes wouldn't be so newsworthy if he hadn't such a dirty and bitter campaign in the 1980s to make sure that gay rights activist Peter Tatchell didn't win his seat in Bermondsey. The seat had been a Labour stronghold for years, but thanks to a totally unsubtle ad campaign, turned to the Lib Dems (or Liberals as they were back then) and the rest is history.

Now, let's get off the subject of politics before this turns into a Daily Telegraph leader column. Hughes's situation is an interesting one, though. When should you stay in the closet for the sake of your occupation or reputation?

I can see why Hughes would have been reluctant to come right out and state he tapped his foot to the odd Kylie track. If people who weren't previously aware of your sexuality suddenly are, it can be (for them) the most interesting thing about you. For a relatively short while, you're all but held up to the light and twirled around in someone's hand; a conversation piece to liven up an otherwise dull evening.

For the recent closet evictee, this can get boring. Being gay isn't as exotic, or indeed erotic, as the tabloids would have you believe. We don't all get shat on by rent boys and not all of us live in converted lofts furnished sparsely with objects that cost more than a £1,000 just to look at.

Although we now live in more enlightened times and most people are accepting of 'known homosexuals', some of the screeching headlines of this and last week really hit home the point that not everybody's there yet.

Letting the secret out at work can be a whole different kettle of fish. It depends on where you work, of course, but in one of my early jobs, a manager who I couldn't stand found out about my dirty little secret and tried to make my life hell. Anonymous texts; nightmare appraisals; snide comments; subtle threats. Eventually he was fired for sexual harassment (of just about every female in the office) and I went on to bigger and better things.

Since then, I have made no effort to conceal my sexuality, but neither have I felt the need to announce it along with the first handshake. One thing about being gay that helps to pass the time is that you occasionally get asked some really, really stupid questions:

1. Which one do you call husband and which one is wife? Are you both wives?
2. What made you decide to be gay?
3. Do you like Madonna because you're gay?
4. Are you gay because you like Madonna?
5. How come you don't dress in women's clothes?
6. You'd never know you were gay to look at you! How do you do it?
7. What do you actually do when you, er, you know?

There are loads more, but I can't think of them right now. If you're not a gayer and you meet one for the first time, try and keep your mind-boggling curiosity about where we stick it- and how often- to yourself and just carry on sipping your drink and nodding. Thanks.

One final thought for Simon Hughes (who, incidentally, now has the full backing of his former nemesis Peter Tatchell). Although his gay 'career' doesn't consist of scat-heavy gay frat boy threesomes, the fact that he is gay and, I guess, lied about it has probably seen off his chances of becoming a party leader. That's a shame. He'd probably never have become PM but wouldn't you have just loved a Commons debate to end with 'and you can sit you ass right down, you BITCH!'? I would. I think we all would.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hung up

Beating the bullies isn't about getting your own back, it's about moving on, as Jodie Marsh needs to realise before she self-destructs.

It almost feels wrong and, indeed, dirty to be mentioning Celebrity Big Brother twice within the space of two weeks, and I don't want to become a one-trick pony, but I feel that I must.

The series is in its death throes as I write. What started out as amusing and, at times, interesting has now descended into parody, but it's not the contestants who remain in the house that concern me. I want to talk somebody who probably really doesn't need the extra mention: Jodie Marsh.

I remember clearly Jodie's entrance onto the showbiz circuit. She claims that she originally obtained publicity and infamousness at a stroke by wearing two belts as a top to some dead-eyed showbiz bash, but this isn't true. The only reason she was at the party in the first place is because she appeared on a reality TV show called Essex Wives. I saw it twice, and couldn't sit through a full episode on either occasion. Not because of any of the characters, willingly giving up their time and freedom to be followed around by cameras tracking them from suntan parlour to strip bar to McDonald's; my problem with the show was more that it reeked of TV company cheaply putting together a load of shit masquerading as a documentary, heartlessly ridiculing its stars.

From an unremarkable show stepped a fairly remarkable character: Jodie Marsh. She doesn't usually appear on my radar; my gossip mag days are behind me for the most part and that's the arena in which Jodie thrives. She's famous for fuck all, but that's OK by me. People have been getting famous for fuck all for years and years, so why should it change now?

Jodie's tumultuous time in the Big Brother house is well documented and everyone from Germaine Greer to Garry Bushell has had an opinion on it. I admit that I did feel sorry for her as she was attacked by most of her fellow celebrities, and sighed a little as she shed a tear on being evicted.

I then heard that Jodie herself has a blog, and it's on her official web site. I'd heard that she making borderline-libellous comments on there about her former housemates, and wanted to see for myself her take on what went on in the house. I went in with an open mind; I thought that on her blog you really would get to see the real her. It was something she'd claimed she'd wanted to show in the Big Brother house, so I thought she's use the opportunity of a blog to do just that.

The first entries I read talked about the messages of support that Jodie had received since leaving the house. Around 100 text messages from Jodie's friends, famous and, er, ordinary, were printed out for all to see, along with Jodie's assertion that nobody would ever grind her down, and how she'd been bullied all her life and she'd been called a 'slag' and she just wanted respect. She also made some close to the bone and probably ill-informed comments about her other housemates' private lives and even found time to give her arch-rival, the hydraulically-breasted Jordan, a slating.

Other posts continued in a similar vain: how Jodie had been bullied all her life; what bastards these bullies would been and how she was now shoving it right to them because she had had x amount of celebrity magazine covers; how ugly they all are when she couldn't help the way she looks because she broke her nose; what a skank one of her housemates was for being nice to someone who wore a coat; how this housemate should be stripped of her PETA contract; how much she loved her new mate 'Chantel' (sic); how she was definitely sticking it to just about everybody who looked at her the wrong way by being in loads of newspapers. It went on and on and on until I could take no more.

In summary: fuck you all because Jodie is a huge star, loved by loads of second-rate stars, a really nice and generous person, not ugly unlike everybody else, doesn't have to rely on surgery and is therefore better than everybody else that ever appeared in a magazine, ever ever ever.

The sympathy I'd felt for her all but evaporated. Being bullied is shit, it truly is. It can make the victim miserable, wretched and determined to get revenge. I feel genuinely sorry for her that she was bullied, but short of hunting down and killing each and every person that called her a name, what closure is she hoping to get from the way she talks on her web site?

Jodie seems to feel that by appearing on magazine covers, and slagging off the world and his wife she's showing the bullies that they were wrong all along. She remains embittered and totally hung up on the bullying, which seems to be leading her down a very destructive road. Nobody can take her success from her, and she has achieved what she seems to have always wanted to achieve, but a sign of growing up is that the only person you to have to prove anything to is yourself.

People who called me 'gaylord' (I went to a school for the criminally unimaginitive) or mocked my then lack of height at school aren't going to give a shit how much I'm earning or what I'm doing; I won't even be a blip in their subconscious.

The bullies who took the piss out of Jodie's nose will probably be the ones reading about her in The Sun and thinking 'stupid slag'. Going on reality TV shows isn't going to change their opinion, so she just might as well move on.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Girl interrupted

What's the biggest shock about the latest happy slapping crimes? That they happen at all or that it's not just a boys' domain?

It's been difficult to turn on 'rolling' news or pick up a newspaper without reading the tale of the so-called 'happy slappers' who killed a man on the South Bank of the Thames while one of their accomplices filmed it on a mobile phone. This has been a disturbing case, but what has struck me most about this terrible crime is the media's reaction to the fact that the 14-year-old behind the camera was female. Yes, that's right, a girl! Shock!

A front page, which I saw fleetingly as I negotiated my way on to the tube screamed 'face of a killer' and showed the girl's glaring mugshot. She didn't act alone, being one of four, but it's her that most web sites and newspapers are picturing.

I can't quite decide whether it's because some members of the press loves to say how shit women are or whether it's because of the refusal to really believe that girls are capable of sadistic and violent behaviour. Because Chelsea O'Mahoney was only 14 at the time of the attack, and therefore unlikely to have tried to 'have it all' by going out to work and leaving a baby at home, I can only assume it's the latter that's getting their goat.

The fact is that anybody who has gone to school with, gone out with or indeed met a teenage girl will be able to tell you how cruel and ruthless they can be. And this isn't a new phenomenon that started with the so-called rise of binge drinking. Even before our nation's teens were knocking back cans of Kestrel and getting pregnant and arrested, all at the same time, girls were still capable of acts of incredible viciousness.

When boys fight, a few punches are thrown, a name is called and it's all over by the time the teacher's put down his custard creams. Girls, on the whole, go more for torture. The preamble can go on for days, as the girl or girls' victim is treated to a barrage of threats, a hair pulled here, the defacing of the front of a schoolbook there. Only when the victim's fear levels have been raised to 99 does the girl then strike: clawing, biting and scratching her way until the person on the receiving end feels small enough to crawl under a stone.

This never happened to me- girls at school never saw reason to hit me- but I saw it many times. I fear sometimes for my younger sister as I watch her run through the school gates towards certain bitchfighting. My sister claims she can hold her own, and I believe her. Another misconception about girls is that they can't handle themselves. They can and they will, so beware.

Boys too can be cruel and violent, but that we seem to look upon these attributes as being more shocking in a girl makes me wonder how in touch with reality we are.

So what's shocking about this crime isn't that a girl was filming it and probably having a laugh about it. It's shocking because it ever happened at all. Chelsea was sentenced to eight years in prison.

That's an awfully long time to sit and think about what you've done.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Somebody's watching me

Like mainlining the purest of smack, Big Brother is once more turning into the most addictive TV ever.

Does anyone else remember Pete Burns the first time round? I do. I remember him preening and gurning all over my TV screen as I sat glued to Top of the Pops at the age of nine. From the little I saw of him- he had but two hits and then fucked off for the rest of the Eighties- he seemed to be a bit of a 'me-monster'. From the odd interview I've read over the years, and his now 'legendary' appearance on the cultural shitsack that is Celebrity Big Brother, I see that very little has changed.

Pete is entertaining in the same way that drunken brawls in the street make for good viewing: if you're far enough way not to get caught up in it, and know that you're safe, it's great to watch. Pete doesn't throw any punches physically, but his mouth can deliver coma-inducing blows just as easily as you or I could peel a banana; it seems to come very naturally to him to be horrible and he appears to revel in this fact.

There has been enough written about what a monster/ demi-God he is in the press without me adding anything else. Everything that could be said about him seems to have already been said. Just one thing: from someone who dresses, acts and looks like a woman, he sure seems to dislike them. You are what you hate, eh?

I've seen every series of Big Brother. Some of them I've watched in their entirety; others, if the housemates aren't that appealing or the tasks start to get ridiculous, I dip in and out of over the course of the series. Last summer's series saw me switch it off completely after around three weeks. The housemates bored me; the 'twists and turns' instigated by the production team were unpredictable only to the retarded; Davina's high pitched braying finally got to me. Oh, and it was hot outside.

Watching eviction nights, you can almost smell the cheap perfume, fake tan and faux-Burberry slingbacks- I know they smell like this because I once attended one- as the crowd of viewers insane enough to make the trip to Elstree wait for their new tabloid headliner. Incapable of speech, they 'boo' and 'yay' when directed to by production staff, wildly jumping up and down whenever the High Priestess of smarm makes her appearance on the stage, and wave their home-made banners, rife with mis-spellings, in preparation for the camera to swing briefly in their direction. It seems even fifteen milliseconds of fame will do for them.

The show gets a lot of stick in the press. It's 'dumbing down' of TV and promotes the 'fame culture', apparently. What critics of the show don't realise is that this 'Big Brother's is not like its counterpart in the George Orwell novel that inspired the concept. You can turn this screen off; you really don't have to listen to Big Brother all the time.

I have more or less just started watching this year's celebrity edition. It's the most compelling, horrifying, boring, thrilling piece of shit I've seen so far this year, but without it, what else would there be to do in January?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Keep on movin'

No sooner have I unpacked all the boxes than I'm wanting a change of location yet again.

I want to move house. Desperately. The problem is that I have only lived in my current home for about four months, and the last move nearly killed me. Now, I don't mean to exaggerate, but it really did nearly kill me. The stressometer would regularly top 99.9 as I negotiated Antipodean movers, twattish Council Tax clerks, oily estate agents and other horrors you forget exist until you start packing that first box.

I currently live in SE14, which is also known as New Cross Gate. I live atop the very lovely Telegraph Hill, which has marvellous views across London. And it's there the redeeming features end with a jolt.

It's predominantly known as a student area, which wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't graduated over six years ago and didn't find the company of students tiresome. Other residents include hopeless, trendy homosexuals, fledgling media types, horse-faced Felicitys with SUVs and blonde children and violent criminals. Some might call it a cultural and social melting pot, or an up and coming area. I call it a fucking mess.

My decision to move there was entirely my own. Lured, dream-like, by the promise of a reasonable rent coupled with a decent-sized property, I nodded in all the right places and conveniently ignored the distinct lack of pubs, bars, restaurants, indeed absolutely fucking anything except a trillion hair weave shops and a gigantic Sainsbury's (yes, I'm the King of hyperbole) and signed, signed, signed on the dotted line, imprisoning me there until the following year.

At first we were perfectly happy there. The prospect of climbing up a huge hill to get home didn't seem sp daunting once I'd done it a few times and it was nice having two bedrooms, even though all we do in one is dry laundry. Things took a sour turn in November when my partner was mugged on the very road we live on.

Another thing that bugs me is that, theoretically, I am closer to work, but because of lengthy walks to stations and irregularity of tubes, it's still taking me around the same amount if time as it did when I lived in bar-strewn SW12. The simple act of popping out for a quiet drink has now taken on the proportions of planning a family holiday: where to go; how we're going to get there; how we're getting back.

I've decided that I should try and live 'in the thick of it' while I'm still young enough to do so. There's no point doing suburbia if it's not particularly nice Suburbia. New Cross Gate may be in Zone 2, but it might as well be in deepest, darkest Kent.

Suggestions of where to move to are greatly appreciated. I quite fancy Farringdon. It's central, there are a few bars and although it's merely a hop, skip and a jump to work, it's enough of a distance to avoid feeling like I live under my desk.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The weekend starts here

The good old Friday feeling again...

What is supposedly good about London is that there 'things to do' at the weekend.

Most of the good stuff costs money, so it doesn't pay to be skint in London, especially at the weekend.

Here are just some of the things I like to do at the weekend in London. It honestly is a very tiny selection.

I'm doing precisely NONE of them this weekend, though. If they make me look boring, so be it, but I don't really have that much time and, hey, at least I'm blogging.

Drink in Greenwich

I don't live too far from Greenwich so I quite like nipping over there for a drink in the afternoon or evening. It's full of tourists, over-priced and deeply over-rated, but it's about the 'nicest' place near to my house that doesn't involve getting on a train.

There are some OK places to go, but what does strike me about the place is that Im wouldn't have been seen dead there five years ago. Now, it's a 'treat'. I've never felt older.

Shopping in Spitalfields and Brick Lane

To some, it might be height of Shoreditch twattery, but when you strip away the ironic shoe stalls and falafel-weaving, there's actually some decent stuff in these markets. It gets very busy on a Sunday, but Spitalfields is currently under development and lots of new 'space' has been added, as well as some horrifyingly expensive shops.

If I were a bit more of a tree-hugger, I'd say that the 'boutiques' are detracting from the spirit of the original market or something, but I'm all for progress and there's no room for moist eyes and prominent bottom lips when it comes to me going shopping.

The Brick Lane markets have pretty much everything you'd ever want or need: Arabic toothpaste, stolen bikes and hair straighteners that would probably electrocute before half of your mane had been tamed.

Going to new places

London's pretty big and I haven't been to all the areas yet. I'm incredibly nosey and so even though I knew I really wouldn't want to see Brent Cross, I just had to take myself there and see for myself.

If you get pissed off with wherever you are and fancy a change and don't mind a bit of a trek, you can get a change of scenery just by hopping on a bus or train. It helps you understand how colossal and diverse London is, and you can discover some real gems.

I also like doing other things at weekends, but I shall leave that for another time, because this is even boring me now.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Oh what a Circus. Oh what a show.

London's main artery could do with being slashed.

Oxford Street is the 'major shopping street in London', according to every tourist guide you'll come across on the web. What they conveniently forget to tell you is that it's also the worst.

Like every bad shopping centre has been picked up by a mythical, city-dwelling giant and their contents shaken liberally into the middle on W1, Oxford Street lies like a slashed artery, pumping out blood consisting of chain stores, bus stops and people smoking.

It's a truly revolting thoroughfare. It is always, always extremely busy, no matter what time of day and night. It has the largest branches of perhaps every major UK store, but also the crappest. The M&S next to Selfridges may have 'everything' but its layout seems to have been put together by a blind, psychotic schoolgirl and its shop assistants hand-selected from failed 'Big Brother' auditionees.

Buses hurtle up and down Oxford Street at breakneck speeds of 3 m.p.h. as hapless pavement slaves bump into each other/ fall over/ smoke woodbines/ are mugged.

Halfway along this hallowed avenue is Oxford Circus, where the main tube station is situated. Topshop can be found here, and it seems to be a legal requirement that if you don't really know London that well, or can't be arsed of thinking of a decent meeting spot, you must arrange to rendezvous with your friends somewhere around this 'Circus'.

Framed by retail giants such as Niketown, H&M (the worst one in the world ever; sells only vests), Shelly's and, er, Benetton, the Circus heaves with window-shoppers chewing on cheap cigarettes and anxiously glancing at their watch, pausing only to crane their necks in the direction of the tube station's tiny exits to see if their mates have made it out in one piece.

If you're extra lucky, there'll be a man with a megaphone describing in great detail, and occasionally iambic pentameter, that using your debit card brings you one step closer to spending all eternity clipping Old Nick's toenails for a living.

Depending on the season, the street will have its own distinct fragrance. In winter: the smell of urine, regret and roasting chestnuts. In summer: sweat, urine and despair.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

They built this city

I managed to get out of London this weekend, instead of being Lost in London, I became temporarily-but-not-particularly-lost in York. I quite like York; well, I like the idea of York.

I once worked there in the summer of 1998 and got to know it pretty well. It bored and excited me at the same time and evoked memories of the umpteen school trips there that I'd had to endure due to the relative proximity of my school to the ramshackle old ruin of a town.

What I liked about it in 2006, and what also convinced me that I am getting way too old, was how well the ancient architecture fits in with the 'modern way' of life. Huge Roman gates straddle streets and nobody pays them any mind; crumbling walls constitute main thoroughfares and it's all taken for granted. It reminded me a bit of Edinburgh (where I used to live) in the way that it was like a big museum with a few modern bits thrown in to make it more interesting for the people who lived there. That's not a slating against Edinburgh- I loved it there- but it did at times seem as if it was all about keeping the tourists happy, and sod the residents.

I was in York with my Dad. It was fun, and wonderful to get out of London. Because I spent my entire Christmas and New Year in the capital for the first time ever, I'm quite down on the place at the moment. It's starting to feel like a hopeless and grey place. I think I need to move house again; pity I only last moved in September of 2005.

As usual, the train journey back down south was absolutely horrendous. It was all 'rail replacement' this and 'reservations cancelled' that. If I were about 60, and had more time, I would go into one of my rants about how utterly deplorable I find the actions of most train service providers. I won't, though.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Confessions on a Blog Page

Well, it's clear to anybody who even bothers to look at this blog that I'm a lazy fuck who never blogs. There are, er, several reasons for this, so I'll list them in-ooh look- bullet points like a fun essay plan that one used to do at school:
  • I write for a 'living'. This means I spend my entire day tippety-tapping on a lunch-encrusted keyboard. By the time it comes to writing for fun, I can't be arsed.

  • I can never think of anything to write about. At first my blog was going to be all about London but I'm so fucking sick of London that writing about it would probably only serve to send me completely and utterly demented. And that would be a crying shame.

  • I'm genuinely lazy. I'm congenitally apathetic, to the point where instead of being a world-famous and loaded journo, which I guess I could have been had I had a bit more 'oomph' in the get-go department, I am still a not-particularly-loaded online journalist, which distinctly lacks any 'glamma'.

  • I'm too busy reading other blogs. On well, clearly there are now more than several bullet points; never mind. Other blogs seem to do it so much better than I could that it's tempting not to bother.

  • I couldn't think of any song titles. I hit on the idea that my posts would have song titles or album names or lyrics or twists on all of these things, which is oft-done but still something I like to do, even at work. Most of my headlines are tongue in cheek lyrics from Madonna b-sides or titles of songs that are big in the current 'hit parade'.

So now that I've explained why I haven't been blogging, I guess I had better get on with some, er, blogging.