Lost in London

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New balls please

If further proof were needed that my life is slipping away from me, Wimbledon has started again. It seems like only two minutes ago whoever won it last year was holding the trophy aloft and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

The return of the tennis championships Wimbledon is an exciting time for London. Or so I'm told. I take less notice of it now I live here than I did before I made the move. I once spent an entire summer as a student lying on my stomach smoking cigarettes, eating strawberries and watching the tournament on a temperamental black and white portable. Perhaps this was a vain attempt to soak up the glamour attached to the event; more likely it was a summer job avoidance technique. If I was to attempt to lie on my stomach on the floor these days, I'd probably never get up again. Wimbledon's influence, despite it being a usually predictable two week affair, throws up certain truths and I've decided to list them for you.

As sure as night follows day, piles of coverage in all kinds of media will be given to whatever Tim Henman (laughingly labelled 'British No. 1' as if it means anything at all) is up to, usually before he even picks up a racquet. Pictures abound of flag-waving Henmaniacs on 'Henman Hill', all cheering Tim on to his inevitable early defeat. Shouts of 'Come on Tim' during play are obligatory, even if he's not involved in the match.

Murray Madness
As Tiger Timmy nudges retirement age, sporting eyes have been desperately searching for another Brit who can pick up a tennis racquet without dropping it. Greg Rusedski was the great hope for a while, but he's turned to shit again and is Canadian anyway, so young Scot Andy Murray is the latest tennis star on whom the Great British Public's pathetic hopes can be pinned. I think they even renamed Henman Hill as Murray Mountain or something equally tenuous in his honour, but I think I was too busy rolling my eyes at the inanity of it all to fully take in the horror.

Strawberries etc.

Every year without fail, most newspapers will complement the usual boring articles about Timmy and Andy and Greg with little 'fast fact' boxes which always list in great, mind-numbing detail how many strawberries, bottles of champagne, sandwiches, portions of fish and chips and indeed mouthfuls of air each social climbing wannabe will imbibe as they sit agog on Centre Court. Every year. Without fail. I see that today's Evening Standard has not disappointed me.

Flying the flag
Just as cricket stopped becoming a bore-a-thon beloved by men with eyebrow trimming issues and was reinvented as a sexy sport loved by all Brits and played by real men with bad dye jobs and libidos, tennis is similarly promoted to 'Nation's Favourite' status for two weeks in late June. Then when it's over, it's forgotten about again; the home-made banners and threadbare flags packed away until another year, or the next BNP rally, whichever is earliest.

It's impossible to get tickets unless you're filthy rich, queue for hours each morning, blag some corporate freebies or have sex with an official. Some people take two weeks off work and endeavour to try all four.

This year I don't think I'll be watching. I hardly recognise any of the players these days and all of that grunting can be off-putting. That said, if anybody's got a corporate freebie, wants to give me a ticket they queued for, is filthy rich or an official who'd like me to shag them in exchange for a ticket, email me at the usual address.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thank you for the music

An iconic music show is put to sleep and a whole generation bemoans the loss of a programme they've not watched for years.

And so Top of the Pops has been consigned to the great televisual dustbin, joining Grandstand and They Think It's All Over as recent TV schedule evictees.

Much like the relatively recent axings of Just Seventeen, The Face and Smash Hits, there's been an outpouring of grief and nostalgia for the stricken show, mostly from people who haven't watched it since becoming sexually active.

TOTP, as it has become affectionately known, has been wearing the brave face of a terminally ill patient for many years now. Many attribute its demise to schedule shifts, change in chief, the death of the chart and- oh- there are too many reasons to mention. The real reason is: nobody wants to watch it any more.

The journos who are decrying the quality of the show are so way out of its target audience it would be like your grandfather moaning that Gamesmaster isn't as good as it used to be. Pop music and the way it's consumed have changed over the last few years. That's not to say that the BBC's decision is the right one: there's certainly room for a pop music show on TV, as the clever Popworld and the soon-to-be-revived CD:UK will testify, but the BBC can't be arsed working out what teenagers want from a weekly pop show and so will be fulfilling their public service remit to produce music programming with more Jools Holland smugathons and live broadcasts of classical music concertos, driving away for ever the teenagers who just want to turn on, tune in and hum along to the number one single.

The news that TOTP has gone to the great studio in the sky isn't brilliant news for record labels either, as they struggle to find a platform on terrestrial TV for plugging artists that isn't the execrable Strictly Come Dancing or that graveyard of uncool Parkinson.

What's also strange is that it isn't the TOTP brand that's bothering the Beeb. It will live on in spin-off show TOTP2, which shows vintage clips, and its magazine and web site will be retained. So what have they got against good old Top of the Pops itself? While I agree that the show couldn't continue in its current, viewer-toxic form, I reckon it's a shame for the BBC to be holding their hands up and admitting that they've lost their knack when it comes to the simplest of things: bringing pop to an audience that craves it. They seem happy to leave it to MTV. Out of touch, bumbling and puzzled as to what makes teens tick; the BBC's 'Auntie' tag has never seemed so apt.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Splendour in the grass

When the sun shines, is shirtless enough or is it time to get naked? Just how far should you strip in a public park?

Summer is traditionally a time where people wear less. Depending on your viewpoint, this has upsides and downsides. Upside number one for me being that you get to see more flesh on display; the downside to that being that it's rarely the people you'd like to see baring more who are actually getting their bodies out. And even when it is a hotter 'rack' on show, sometimes you just want to scream "Put something on!" Nakedness can be exhausting.

I went for a picnic in the park near my house on Saturday. As I lazed around reading the newspaper and eating my way through the too-large pile of picnic food, I glanced around to see that a few guys had their shirts off and most of them were accompanied by girls with vest tops and shorts on. I personally didn't think it was hot enough for shirts to be ripped off, but I never display my body in public and temperatures would have to get up to a level high enough to make Old Nick tug at his shirt collar before I'd 'expose' myself. I really don't think people want to see my frame out in the open and shorts are a no-no for me unless kind of sport or physical activity is involved. Which it never is. Ever.

When I looked up again from an extremely dull and badly-written article on the availability of alternative therapy in Islington, I noticed a new couple had just arrived at the brow of the hill. He was taking off his shirt (to reveal a very flat stomach, the bastard) and she was beginning to take off her cardigan. So far, so normal. The two of them didn't stop there, though. At first I thought they'd both had too much sun and thought they were undressing for bed or at least got hopelessly lost when trying to find the nearest lido. Within seconds, the girl was in a skimpy bikini and her consort was stripped down to his very white underpants. Once sufficiently denuded, they plonked their near-naked forms on the grass. A little excessive for a south London park, I thought, and temperatures were hardly on a par with Barbados, but I suppose if you've got it, you might as well flaunt it. Maybe if I went to the gym a bit more, I could 'get it' but even then I think I'd keep flaunting to an absolute minimum. Anyway, SE14's answer to Malibu Ken and Barbie clearly (and quite rightly) cared not a jot what an old prude like me thought and sunbathed regardless.

What caused us no end of amusement was that every time a girl looked over to check out her man, the girlfriend would suddenly become very sexually aroused and kiss, fondle and rub herself all over her guy until her potential love rival looked away. It does strange things to you, the summer sun.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Push the button

YouTube is a marvellous invention and I can't believe I survived without it for so long. The below video is just one of the reasons why. Video parodies, long lost interviews you thought you'd never see again, opening credits to decades-old and horrendously bad TV, dreadful video montages made by sexually repressed Atomic Kitten fans; YouTube has got it all.

Much is made of the internet and the way it's 'revolutionising' the way we live, but the thing is, it really is. While there are the obvious concerns about manky paedos terrorising our sweet, innocent children and bullying teens setting up hate sites to intimidate those weaker than them, there's a positive side. The internet has changed from just being another way of getting information; it's giving the world a voice. People whose lives might otherwise be a mystery to you are laid bare for your consideration thanks to blogging, YouTube and even the frankly rubbish MySpace.

I wish that this new wave of user-focused internet technology and content had been around when I was an impressionable teen. The hours I wasted pretending to do my homework in front of Sings of Praise when I could have been getting all dressed up and acting out my favourite pop videos or blogging the inner thoughts of my bizarre teenage mind.

The internet gets a bad press at times, but without it, I wouldn't have a job and millions of people out there wouldn't have a voice of their own. So, in short, hooray for the internet. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cry me a river

Believe it or not, Britney Spears has been around for over seven years. When I say 'around', I obviously don't mean that she's been alive for a mere seven years, but that she's been out in that famed showbiz arena, jiggling, wiggling and, generally, niggling for three quarters of a decade. And she's still only 24.

Tomorrow night, an exclusive interview with Britney will be screened in the USA, where she promises to tell the 'truth' about her marriage, pregnancy, motherhood skills and much, much more. Anyone who's ever watched Ms. Spears being grilled before will know that the diapered diva doesn't really give good interview. Like many of today's stars, she's media-trained to within an inch of her life and has a knack of giving the blandest, most vanilla answers to whatever remotely difficult question comes her way. One of her tactics for deflecting interrogation is to cry. She did it famously on a Diane Sawyer interview a few years ago when quizzed about the dreadful Justin Timberlake and judging by the preview clip I've seen, she employs it again when the authenticity of her husband's feelings are called into question, except this time she's got waterproof mascara on so the effect is less Grand Guignol and more 'I've lost my mommy'.

I feel quite sorry for Britney on the whole. The world seems to be treating her like disappointed, Barratt home-dwelling parents treat their blonde, beautiful, favourite daughter who didn't pass her A-levels and go to uni as expected but hooked up with Kevin from the estate and got knocked up and moved into a high rise council flat. Bizarrely, aside from the press, her fans have been her fiercest critics during this stage in her life. Quite why the world at large had such high expectations of Britney confuses me and it must baffle the shit out of Britney. After all, anyone who's seen a documentary on her will know she's from fairly standard Louisiana stock, where ambition stays confined to dreams scrawled in the pages of a diary and motherhood is pretty much the only career path apart from waitressing that a girl of average intelligence can realistically expect to skip down. I reckon she's actually not done too badly for herself. Thanks to a pushy stage mother and hard work, she's escaped the drudgery that awaited her and at least waited until she had a few bucks before letting the almost snakelike Kevin Federline impregnate her. She seems to be happy. Mind your own business, world.

Britney's new fragrance was launched earlier this month. It's called 'Fantasy' and carries the strap line "Everybody has one". Hmm. I wonder what Britney's fantasy is, then. Perhaps it's become a reality already. There's not many of us can claim that, is there? Is the world secretly a little bit envious that, at 24, Britney's probably got just about everything she ever wanted?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Steal my sunshine

The sun's out, the sleeves are up and the gloves are off.

It's hot. Very hot. You can tell summer's in full swing because not only is everybody's skin a little pinker, but there's more of it on show. Sunglasses wearing has reached fever pitch; as I stood patiently in the queue at Boots this lunchtime, I spotted no less than 13 individuals wearing their shades in store. Presumably this was pre-emptive action to block out all those harmful UV rays emitted by, um, Advantage cards and sandwiches.

On returning to my place of work, I noticed a throng of people standing in one corner of Broadgate Circle, a hive of activity for finance-type City drones at any time of day. Today, though, there was really quite a crowd, the likes of which are only seen when somebody is run over or jumps from a building or a Beckham is in the vicinity. On closer inspection, I saw that this Old Trafford capacity crowd was standing outside a pub. It's been so long since the sun shone that I'd forgotten that unwritten rule of summer: at first sight of sunshine, thou shalt stand on concrete pavement, pint in hand, laughing loudly at a mildly racist joke. It's something these here City types follow with zeal.

The only blot on the landscape this summer is the World Cup. I know that people get really, really excited about it, but I just can't relate at all and, believe me, I've tried. One year at uni, I tried desperately to get into football, thinking that I was missing out on something, that it was much more than just a few men kicking a ball around. My shock discovery? That's all it is! I tried again in the 1998 World Cup and could only get remotely excited about it after ten pints and even then I think my cheering was more to do with being pissed than a new-found adoration for the beautiful game. We have a 'sweepstake' at work and I've been assigned Sweden. I am told this is not good. Oh well, yet more ways in which football can disappoint.

Enjoy your scorching weekend.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Must have been something you said

One throwaway comment is all it takes to send me spinning into a cyclone of self-doubt, it seems. Who knew?

This weekend somebody called my sunglasses gay. I was shocked of course. They'd never previously mentioned any desire to go clubbing in Vauxhall and have never made bitchy comments about the clothes I wear. They've shown Kylie and Madonna nothing but indifference and have yet to sit me down and say they've got 'something important to tell me'. So what makes my choice of eyewear homosexual? Oh yes, how silly of me; it's the fact that I'm wearing them.

My shades were 'outed' by a girl I don't see that often. She offered a compliment and said she liked them, before adding the barb: 'They're a bit gay, though'. This puzzled me somewhat. I didn't buy them from Clone Zone or a stall on Old Compton Street; the sunglasses came from that bastion of (largely) heterosexual fashion: Top Man in Oxford Circus. They're black, plastic shades; the likes of which are seen all over London on men gay, straight, bi and asexual. Clearly my shades weren't gay at all, but because they were perched on the end of my nose, she felt it was OK to label them as such, which brings me to the next problem.

I have never like being labelled, despite the fact that we all, at one point or another, judge people and pigeonhole them in accordance with our preconceptions of them. I don't particularly mind people knowing I'm gay. Anyone who spends more than a couple of hours in my company would be able to hazard a guess as to my sexual leanings, but when my homosexuality is used to describe me, to define me, as if it were the only thing setting me apart from everybody else I know, my hackles are raised.

On talking to the girl who thought my sunglasses were gay, I discovered that she used to know someone I worked with. When bumping into this person she asked him if he knew me. We work on a different floor, have spoken once and to be honest I don't really socialise with colleagues often, so he couldn't place me and thus asked her to describe me. She could have perhaps told him what job I do, what I look like, commented on my build or even, if she'd been stuck, my personality. She eschewed all of these options and instead said I was the 'gay one'. Thankfully, I'm not the gay 'one', because there are at least two other gay men in my office, but that this was the best word she could use to describe me really irritated me. I'm not ashamed of my sexuality at all; it was a long, hard road to get here and I'm certainly not about to renounce my, er, gaydom, but it got me thinking. Is that the most interesting thing about me? Is it my defining characteristic?

Another part of me wonders why this annoys me so. I think that the reason it irritates me so is that, as a gay man, I want to be recognised for my personality and my achievements rather than what is really a small part of my life: my sexuality. It's hard enough to be accepted and to convince people that 'the gays' are just like everybody else in every other way without someone mentioning it as if it was a) unusual and b) a legitimate personality trait.

Am I so dull in every other aspect of my life that the one 'exotic and interesting thing about me' (stolen from a line in Absolutely Fabulous- fuck I am a big gaylord) is my sexuality? Is that all I've got to offer? I don't know who I feel more sad for: myself for letting this bother me or those who'll never bother to look further than my supposed 'gay badge'. What a shame.