Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sad time for me

Last night the wife of one of my very few friends rang to tell me that he had passed away. John had been magnificently influential to me since we first met in a gay bar in Amsterdam in the early 1980s. He was at that time about as old as I am now and I could see that his then conspicuous age in a place where youthful looks was everything was isolating him. So, yes, out of pity, I started talking to him and what a fruitful friendship it turned out to be! Although he lived with his wife in an isolated part of England I did visit them once. But he visited me when I lived in Germany, we made further trips to Amsterdam together, as well as twice to Berlin, one time even with his wife. Even when I first talked with him he told me that he had six adult children and was a grandfather several times over. His wife was aware of an 'alternative' side of his personality, as were his children who, apparently, were all relaxed about it. (His youngest daughter thought it was 'hilarious'!) But John had a giant philosphical intellect which would put most, including me, to shame. He was also a Wagner-worshipper - a composer I can live with but don't adulate quite as much as he did.
In one very surprising respect John opened up a new feature of my life - disco-dancing. Before our acquaintanceship the thought of twirling alone on the disco floor so embarrassed me that I would always stand on the sidelines looking on longingly and enviously. But John found it so exhilerating he didn't care what anyone else thought. It certainly looked, erm, 'unusual' to see a white-haired old man energetically jigging around among youngsters some of whom looked askance or bemusedly at him. (By the way, he wasn't just sober - he was also teetotal.) So one day I forced myself onto the floor with him and started letting go. It was indescribably great. In fact for the next ten years there were hardly greater pleasures for me than shaking a leg or three on the disco floors of Gay Europe. I doubt I would ever have done that myself were it not for John's example.
He was 87. Last year he'd had a heart by-pass and a few years ago had had a hip replacement so the end was not totally surprising. But he was active right up to the last - caring for his very large garden which he and his wife let out for public viewings. I hadn't actuallyseen him since he visited me in 1997 when I lived in Brighton but we kept phone contact about once a month. It's unusual for me to lose a friend by means other than through the big 'A' but it makes it quite as devastating. I'll miss him one hell of a lot.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Eek!


Am I unusual in feeling giddy almost to the point of nausea when looking at this photo? (Yes, I know it's a well known pic. - 'Rockerfeller Center 1932') I think I read somewhere that there was actually a platform below the men just out of camera-shot, though still far enough under them to cause injury if anyone fell. But my imagination doesn't allow me to look at this photo for any length of time, feeling a disturbingly unnerving tingling in the soles of my feet as well as between balls and spine-base (why?). I keep having the curiously inappropriate thought "What if one of the men's shoes fell off?" when knowing full well that laced shoes hardly ever do so. I get a similar feeling of dizziness, though not quite so acute, while looking up at a very tall structure from ground level. Very strange

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Day of Shame

Just been announced that the Government has abandoned its attempt to make hatred on grounds of sexual orientation a criminal offence - as a result of sustained opposition from our unelected House of Lords who argued for 'freedom of speech and conscience'. This is the very same body which tried to stop the repeal of the blasphemy laws a few years back - unsuccessfully then, thank God (if there were one!). There are already such laws protecting against hatred on grounds of race and religion but, it seems, that, unlike this attempt to criminalise public expressions of homophobia, the former are really necessary! This sexual orientation provision was part of a larger Bill which the Government feared would be entirely lost due to lack of Parliamentary time if it continued to insist on all the clauses, so they've shown the white feather on this one. No doubt the religious bigots will be crowing at their 'victory'. Shame on this lily-livered Government! Anyway, what other democracy has an entirely unelected governing chamber (including 12 Church of England bishops, for goodness' sake!) with so much power? Whenever I hear that our system of Government (along with our system of justice, our police, army - in fact everything!) is the 'envy of the World', as is regularly claimed, I don't know whether to collapse with hilarity or to puke!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Disproportionate sorrow?

When I looked out my front window in the 5 a.m. gloom today my heart jumped when I saw a largeish shape lying in the middle of the road. It was twice the size of even my larger cat and anyway the I could see under the road light that the colours were wrong. I went down and gingerly approached it, fearing that it was another cat or a dog. It was a fox, clearly dead by being run down, but a big handsome beast it was. I know that others would describe such animals as vermin, a danger to other beasts which would have killed one of my own cats given the chance, even attacked a child or adult if cornered etc etc. Nevertheless I did feel more than a little distress as I nudged it gently to the side of the road. I do so hate to see a life snuffed out, any life at all, needlessly. Of course I've seen a few dead foxes lying on or by the roadside in my life, but not that many, and certainly never touched one before, albeit with my shoe. I had to wait until 9 0'clock until the Council offices were open to report it. The men came an hour later to remove it - before which naturally curious schoolchildren were walking past and stopping to gawk at it - some of them laughing, which I also found difficult to take. I've only just come back home after seeing M.J.'s 'This Is It' at my local cinema but all the while I felt a heavy feeling in my guts caused by seeing this creature - the sadness is still with me even now. I wish I had a thicker skin but I do feel for the suffering of all animals. Even if in this case the fatal blow was sudden I'm now thinking about whether it had a mate and cubs. I'll just have to wait until this particular mental scar heals over. Yes, I know, I know. There are far more important things to get distressed and to worry about. But I am what I am.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Feline Fear of Fireworks

One of my cats, Blackso, hates this time of year especially. Of course it's Hallowe'en tonight, but for us in the U.K., the kids are only warming up to the 'proper' bonfire/fireworks just five days from now - and there'll be occasional or frequent bangs right up until then when, for poor animals, it must seem that all hell has broken loose. He's right now cowering, terrified, under a large, easy-chair where I've put down a multi-folded large bath towel to give him something soft to lie on and draped old curtains down the sides to give him a sense of safety. I had to push him outside this afternoon because he'd been refusing to go out since yesterday evening. Just ten minutes later he was down at the front looking up at the window with eyes pleading to be let in. He's particularly frightened by the fireworks that whistle before exploding though it's odd that my other cat, Noodles, doesn't seen half as bothered.
When I was growing up Hallowe'en wasn't marked as a special day. It was only after I moved to Oxford in 1975 that on this date I had my first taste of the annual event when a young lad came knocking at my door and when I answered he kept saying what sounded like "Triggertree?". After repeating this mysterious word several times with a smile on his face, he saw that I hadn't a clue what he was going on about and he gave up with an "Aw, okay." and disappeared. When the next day I mentioned this in the office I was told what it meant.
That was then. Now, due entirely to American influence, it's all over the place - pumpkins, 'scary' costumes and, of course, fireworks. I'm not complaining. I'm sure if I was at a suitably young age I too would be participating. Just sorry that for poor animals it must be mental torture - even moreso because here, as I say, the two dates are so close together so that as far as fireworks are concerned it's a prolonged relentless period of bangs for successive evenings. At least after next weekend it ought to die down - but only for a couple of months until New Year when we have the influence from the continent taking over, which we also didn't have until some thirty years ago, and all it starts again!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tony Blair - President of Europe? Gawd help us!

Much heated debate here about whether the 'grinner' should become the first long-term President of the Council of Europe - an (unlected) figurehead, a post he apparently wants very much. Up to now there has been a rotating 6-monthly tenure so that each member state has a crack of the whip sooner or later but it's been felt that one unchanging leader (though only with limited powers) would be better able to represent the Union. I don't detect much support for his nomination, even here in the UK, apart from those political allies who stood by him through thick and thin. But I think it can fairly be said that for the majority of Brits he just carries too much negative baggage with him, in particular his disastrous foreign policy adventures as well as his inadvisable cosying up to 'Dubya' despite reservations from all over the continent, not least from his own country. Nevertheless he does appear to be front-runner - in fact the only other candidate, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, is so far behind it's all but settled. But if Monsieur Sarkozy and Frau Merkel get their way it's too early to give up hope that he won't be accepted. Actually it seems that the only other major European leader who supports Blair for the post is that joke-on-legs, Silvio Berlusconi. Say no more! Blair, like Thatcher and Gorbachev (and B. Clinton?) historically carries more respect outside his home country than domestically. I did indeed vote for Blair back in 1997 - not just to kick out the tired old scandal-ridden Conservatives but at that moment he did seem to be a breath of fresh air - though that same air grew fetid remarkably quickly. Having said all that, we gays must never forget that it was his dogged determination, more than anyone else's, in the teeth of strong and often hysterical opposition, which was responsible for bringing us legal parity across the board. So we must be eternally grateful for that, of course - though there are still religious leaders and others still yapping on about their right to discriminate against gays on 'grounds of conscience'. So no surprise there. But now, after he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after leaving office and his active support for religious foundations (of whatever faith) Blair has tarnished himself in a way I find difficult to overlook, though it would be the appalling historic legacy that I would regret most of all in him as President. I certainly wouldn't want someone with such a C.V. to speak for me! - and, I repeat, it'll be an unelected post. Mind you, he might have had his ambition's guns spiked by the Conservative opposition (who will almost certainly win next year's election) declaring that they would regard the appointment of Blair to the post of President as a 'hostile act'. Nice one! So, we'll wait and see what happens. Interesting days ahead.

Monday, 26 October 2009

My next read.

I'm not going to mention in my blogs every single book I read - anyway, my rate has been around 70-80 books per year for at least the last decade. But I'm currently with Joseph Heller's 'Closing Time' (1994) which is basically some of the characters from 'Catch 22' some 30 years on. I've read C.22 at least five times to date - you might guess correctly that I'm a fan. The film wasn't that bad either, though of course, translating a brilliant book into another medium is very nearly every time a flawed achievement, if it is indeed a success at all. But for me, now halfway through 'Closing Time', this doesn't have the easy flow of the earlier work with all its outrageousness. The effort involved in producing it is almost readable between the lines. But one can hardly blame Heller for not being as youthful as he once was! Nevertheless I shall proceed and try to prevent my mind from wandering too much. I've read others of Heller too - 'Good as Gold' being one of them but I've yet to read anything from that period as joyously anarchic as 'Catch 22.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Augusten Burroughs - my verdict after reading one book.

'Running with Scissors' - hugely entertaining. Can't remember the last time I found a book so amusing. Many laughs. Highly recommended. My next read of this author when I get round to it - 'Possible Side Effects'. Hope it's even half as good. (Thanks particularly to you, Wonderboy, for mentioning A.B.)